Liechtenstein – Prince’s Way Walk and Vaduz Castle

_MG_5974Another month, another country to conquer and this August we headed with our friends Matt and Kendall from New Zealand, to Liechtenstein.

This tiny, 25km long principality where Swiss German is spoken, is nestled between Austria and Switzerland and uses the Swiss Franc. Our main destination was the small mountain village of Gaflei, and to get here once we entered Liechtenstein we had to drive up winding mountain roads._MG_5850

The climb began after Vaduz, and the roads got progressively narrower after Triesenberg. Hairpin corner after hairpin corner, narrow one-lane roads and gradients which made us fear the car would start to roll backwards took us through storybook villages and higher into the mountains.

Finally we made it to the carpark
_MG_5893at the end of the Gafleistrasse, which sits at about 1400m. From here there are many signposted walks, and we chose to do part of the “Fürstensteig” or “Princes Way Walk”. The first half of the 6km loop is essentially all up, but offered breathtaking scenery to help us forget all about sore legs or puffing lungs.

Some parts of the trail traverse ledges along steep cliff faces, and even have cables stapled into the mountain side to hold onto. This walk is not for those with vertigo or a fear of heights! Once we rounded the side of the mountain, the terrain instantly changed from grey rock and shingle to grassy meadows and dirt tracks. From our vantage point at about 1650m, we could clearly see the Three Sisters peaks towering above spectacular valleys and a shepherds hut which must be inaccessible in winter.

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Once we reached the highest point of our loop, it was time to meander downhill back to the car park. We had a musical accompaniment for this journey, as we walked through meadows which were home to cows wearing bells around their necks.

After just over 2 hours of hiking it was time to head down the mountain in search of lunch. We arrived in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein to lunch menus in the order of 30 euros a main… luckily the supermarket was open on a Sunday so we could have some albeit expensive, bread and cheese instead!

Before leaving Liechtenstein, we checked out the famous Vaduz castle. We weren’t able to enter the grounds or the castle itself, as it is private property and home to the Prince of Liechtenstein. It was built in medieval times, and purchased from the Roman Emperor in 1712 at the time the family of Liechtenstein purchased the countship of Vaduz (events which followed resulted in Liechtenstein becoming a principality).

_MG_5993We found Liechtenstein to be very Swiss, but are impressed with its network of hiking and mountain biking trails as well as its natural beauty. It seems like a good place for a day trip or weekend mountain escape, and we won’t discount the possibility of a longer hike there some day.

A city escape in Frankfurt am Main

It was mid-way through the year, and we decided we should explore a little more of our own country after so many international adventures. It took 2.5 hours to drive North East to Frankfurt am Main – otherwise known as Mainhattan._MG_5780

Frankfurt is the only city in central Europe with a “Skyline”, and has been likened to New York. It is the business hub of the area and is where you can find the Stock Exchange and the European Central Bank. As we drove into the city we were struck by the Skyline, a magnificent collection of shining Skyscrapers, the likes of which we hadn’t seen since New York and before that, at home in Auckland._MG_5781 _MG_5785

It was a wonderfully familiar feeling to be in the city again, and we spent the first hour basking in what some would consider the boring, ugly business district. We found an espresso bar which produced a great flat white, checked out the trendy pop up cafes, vegan eateries and tapas bars and shopped on the main street. Here we also went into the MyZeil mall, a crazy silver construction famous for it’s cornucopia design._MG_5789

Frankfurt is more than its business district however, and we continued to explore. Berger Strasse is an artsy street with stores selling handcrafted wares and is lined with eateries. We headed for a Japanese restaurant and spent a leisurely hour eating our fill from a Sushi train.

The Markthalle, or indoor markets were an exciting place filled with fresh cheeses, meats, fruits and vegetables, dried fruits and nuts and local specialities. Here we sampled the famous Frankfurter Ebbelwoi – or Apple Wine. The tangy fermented apple drink is an acquired taste but mixed with sparkling water we didn’t find it too bad.

_MG_5792There is a green belt which runs right around the city; gardens and green spaces all connected with bike and pedestrian paths running through them, so that one can walk or cycle right around the city without encountering vehicle traffic. It was lovely to wander through part of these on our way back to our hotel.

On the programme for the evening was dinner at a Steak House – another city indulgence we had been missing. The next day we enjoyed a full english/american buffet breakfast, (its the small things) and headed just a few paces down the road to the Science Centre. As far as science centres go, it was small but interesting and we whiled away a couple of hours getting involved in the experiments.

Later on we crossed over the famous Eisener Steig (iron bridge) leading to Sachsenhausen. Sachsenhausen is somewhat more grungy, and is where Frankfurt’s nightlife can be found. Students are seen walking over the bridge on Friday and Saturday evenings, and often trudging back in the early hours of the next morning.

Along with the clubs are old traditional Ebbelwoi pubs and the area was fairly busy even on a Sunday afternoon.

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The Old Town of Frankfurt seems almost out of place with its timber buildings, but it wouldn’t be a German city without them. The Roemerberg is a huge Gothic Church and this square was bustling with tourists.

As in any big city _MG_5831there is a vibrant side and a seedy side. The latter we found in some back streets near the train station – sadly there were blatant drug use and some desperate looking people hanging out here. On a more positive note, sitting on the banks of the Main river, we watched residents running along the path or enjoying a drink on one of the bar boats._MG_5809

Frankfurt is a real mix of old and new, business and art, hipster and historic. Reluctantly we collected our bags that afternoon and headed back down to our little hometown. Admittedly we love our small town and wouldn’t trade it in, but being so used to Auckland, Sydney and even London, every so often a big city break is just what we need.


A day in Zurich

IMG_5772One of the fantastic things about living not only in one of the most central European countries, but in the south of Germany is that we have multiple international borders within a couple of hours drive.

We had time for a short day trip this month,_MG_5756 so we chose to zoom down to Zurich, in Switzerland. It took about 1hr 45 to drive there via the motorways. Apparently there is an annual toll fee one must pay to be allowed to drive on the Swiss motorways. We found this out after the fact, and luckily not from a toll controller as we would have been fined about 500 francs!

Upon arriving in Zurich we drove around for a bit, confused by all the signs pointing to the Centre… until we realised each suburb has a “Centre”. Zurich has a river flowing through it with the clearest water, which also bubbles up into fountains where the water is safe to drink (unusual in Europe).

_MG_5730We begun by strolling down Bahnhofstrasse – one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world. We are sure the designer label and jewellery stores are indeed expensive, given the price of our coffee! Even so close to the border, Swiss German is spoken. I was able to fumble through with shopkeepers speaking Swiss to me and me speaking German back, but I had about as much success understanding overheard conversations as I would have had they been in Russian.

Further away from Bahnhofstrasse is a hilly shopping suburb with cobblestoned streets and a variety of clothing, accessory, chocolate, gift and gourmet stores. We wound our way through this part of town down to the lake which is wide, glassy and beautiful. Tree lined and dotted with sailing boats it was soothing to the soul to stroll along its shores.

For a different perspective of the city we headed to the trendy Zurich West End, where an old viaduct has been converted into modern cafes, wine bars, slightly off beat labels and a large indoor market hall.


Having packed sandwiches for lunch, and forked out 50 euros on coffee and a couple of chocolates (when in Switzerland…) as evening fell we headed back over the the border in search of a meal which wouldn’t cost more than a weeks’ groceries!

Stockholm stories

At the end of May we ventured a little further from home, boarding a plane to Sweden. Well actually, we boarded a plane for a ridiculous 35 minute flight to Zurich where we had to change to fly to Stockholm!_MG_5530

Stockholm was a fantastic experience although it was cold. Really cold. We arrived to 10 degrees and chilly winds, which were soon accompanied by ice cold rain.

Stockholm is an archipelago of 14 islands, with a superb public transport system (trams, subway and ferries) and a number
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Our apartment was in the hipster Sodermalm area which was brimming with cool. Pop up bars, no-reservation cafes, food trucks and skateboard parks were frequented by young people in skinny jeans and over sized sunglasses.

To the north of Sodermalm is the central city and Gamla Stan (the old town). We were actually in Stockholm for me to run the marathon, and on Saturday I joined over 20,000 other runners in pounding the pavements through the centre of Stockholm, past many of the famous attractions such as the Royal Palace.

McdsAfter finishing my first marathon freezing cold, soaking wet and deliriously happy, we slowly made our way through town. Although I was exhausted, the multi story shopping malls and modern glam of the inner city did not escape me. Our first mission – despite the vast traditional, international, modern, fusion and downright delicious offerings in Stockholm – was to McDonalds. Scandinavia is the only place in the world where you can get gluten free burgers at Mcdonalds, and I did not just have one.

With as little self-powered movement as possible, we shuffled across the road that evening to catch a movie on the big screen – the first in probably over a year. In Sweden, television and movies are not dubbed (although they have Swedish subtitles), so we could enjoy some English media. English is widely spoken in Sweden, and we never had a problem communicating. As we noticed the night before, the sun didn’t set until after midnight, and rose again at about 3am. It is bizarre waking up in the small hours of the morning to bright daylight!

_MG_5412On Sunday it was sightseeing time! First stop via a ferry ride was Skansen, an open air museum with installations from various regions of Sweden throughout the ages. We wandered through villages of wooden houses from the 1700s, bought coffee from 19th century shops selling grains and cotton and enjoyed a view of Stockholm from the botanical gardens. In addition, Skansen has a zoo with Icelandic animals. The moose were probably the most impressive, with their graceful movements, impressive height and colossal antlers.

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Skansen is on what is called the “museum island” of Djurgarden, although there are museums all over the archipelago. After crepes for lunch, we headed to Vasa – our favourite museum of the trip. Within this museum is housed the huge wooden Vasa warship, which sunk in the Stockholm harbour in 1628 and was only salvaged in 1961. Aside from the massive, largely intact viking ship in the middle of a building, the 4 stories of educational journey visitors are taken on was amazing. We read about the building of the ship, the faults which caused it to sink, the lifestyles of the locals at the time, where the supplies for such ships came from and all about life on board for the sailors. _MG_5598We learned about finding the ship after hundreds of years, and the dangerous salvage mission. It was fascinating to learn about how experts needed to dig tunnels on the ocean floor and carefully float the ship. There were scale models as well as entire rooms set up as various areas of the ship, so that visitors could experience what it would have been like inside. Explanations not only of the decorative features of the ship but also of how conclusions about the colours of paint used were drawn and of other artwork of the time, really helped to add context. An entire floor was dedicated to the science of preservation and we learned about the difficulties in drying and preserving the various materials on board. It took over 15 years for the initial drying period, during which time 1.5 times its weight in water was removed. The drying process continues today, and over the last 5 decades advances in technology have seen more and more sophisticated preservation techniques being applied to the ship. The technical section finished with a delightful exhibition of skeletons and human remains found on board, along with forensic explanations about the identity of the people.

MtballsWe emerged from the specially temperature and light controlled environment of the vasa museum some hours later, and made our way back to the main island. Here we visited a restaurant named Unter Kastanjen for some traditional Swedish fare. Everything on the menu was available gluten free, so I even enjoyed some garlic bread along with my Swedish meatballs. Since our table was earmarked as gluten free, James’ burger also came on gf bread therefore I was able to eat from his plate much to his annoyance and my delight!

Whilst wandering the streets, I will admit that there were a few moments where I simply had to sit on the side walk, since my legs, post-marathon, refused to walk another step. Plenty of cafe stops and rests saw me battling through, and after dinner we still managed to cram in Fotografika – the photography museum. Here were installations from a variety of photographers, with an interestingly diverse range of styles.

_MG_5664After a deep and dreamless sleep, our last day in Stockholm arrived far too soon. Our first mission was to visit the library; well worth a bit of a trek out of the main city. This architectural masterpiece, designed by Gunnar Asplund has a rotunda as its centre, meaning that when one stands in the middle of the room they are surrounded by circular walls of towering bookshelves. I could have stayed there all day._MG_5662

_MG_5691The amusement park in Stockholm was also included in our 3 day pass, so we took advantage of a couple of sunny hours to ride the rollercoasters and play arcade games.

Later that afternoon saw us back in the old town, where unfortunately the Royal Palace was closed but the Nobel Peace Prize museum offered some interesting insight into Nobel, the prize and previous winners.

After checking out the cute boutiques,_MG_5676 stopping for “Fika”, the Swedish tradition of coffee and cake at 3pm (gluten free cake? No problem!) and admiring the water one last time, it was time to head to the airport.

Sweden has a different feel to Central Europe, and seems to be a mixture of Old-World Europe and modern Anglophone/American culture, with its own special touch of eccentric Scandinavian custom. Our action packed 4 days in Stockholm were exciting, refreshing, inspiring and wonderful. It was just a little bit of a relief however, to leave the Krone behind and return to Euros!


Istanbul – a city of contrasts

_MG_5095Last month, although the main purpose of our trip to Turkey was to attend the Gallipoli commemorations, we chose to stay an extra night in Istanbul after our Anzac adventure. We didn’t have many expectations of Istanbul, but within an hour we realised we had completely underestimated this majestic city so rich in culture, history and beauty.

Istanbul is a real East meets West experience, literally as well as figuratively. The city spans two continents (Europe and Asia), with its two parts connected by a bridge. Upon driving in and out of town, skyscrapers, glistening malls and brand new houses line the highways. The inner city suburb of Lalei where we stayed had more old-world charm and was a bustling center for locals and tourists alike. We wandered the narrow streets, always looking out for the rattling trams, speeding cars and nimble cart bearers.

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With some new found Kiwi friends (from our Anzac tour), we experienced Turkish cuisine beyond Doner kebabsIMG_4766. One restaurant we went to treated us to delicious wine and a local specialty – Testi Kebabi. Our meat was slow cooked with vegetables and sauce in a sealed clay pot, which was set on fire to create steam pressure on the inside. The pressure caused the lid to eventually pop off (during an entertaining display by the waiter), and the hot, freshly cooked stew was poured directly onto rice at our table. To finish, Turkish Delight was in no short supply and we sampled many different flavours.IMG_4771

It was a 10 minute walk from our hotel to Sultanahmet – the more famous old town suburb, steeped in history, bursting with high end restaurants and boutiques selling stunning hand crafted items. Along the way, we came across broken columns and Romanesque ruins. They were in fact Roman, since Istanbul was once Constantinople – one of the three capitals of the Roman Empire. Hinting to an even more ancient history, some of the columns were adorned with Greek Corinthian designs. After an earthquake in the 1860’s, columns from the destroyed buildings were moved underground and used to support the Underground Cisterns.

These Cisterns once housed the city’s water supply, but have now been drained and are open to the public. We walked down a few flights of stairs into this softly lit cavernous space, where tall columns stretched to a high ceiling and the water below us (we walked on purpose built bridges) dampened all sounds.

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Before long, we saw the Blue Mosque rising above the trees on _MG_5061the skyline, named because of the blue tiles lining the inside walls – blue being a holy colour representing the sky and house of god. The building itself is composed of a series of eight small domes, six spires and one huge, main dome. It used to be an educational as well as a religious institute, and the domed architecture can now also be seen on many university buildings in the area. We were required to don headscarves and remove our shoes before entering the large hall, where we were introduced to a place of worship which contrasts with the many christian cathedrals we have visited in Europe. One major difference is that there are no human faces painted or represented inside the mosque. Instead, handcrafted tiles, mosaics and geometric patterns line the walls and ceilings. The large prayer carpet is laid down so that worshippers can face Mecca. We learned that the Muslim people pray 5 times a day, say rosaries and that men and women pray differently (women gesture from their hearts and men from their ears).

Outside the mosque, as if Roman, Greek and Islamic influences weren’t enough to delight (and confuse!), there is an Egyptian obelisque, sent by Marc Antony. Actually, only half of the obelisque is in Istanbul as the whole obelisque was too large to transport!

Our next visit was the Hagia Sofia. This church really is a perfect example of the _MG_5119conglomeration of religious culture in Istanbul. The red clay to build the church comes from the Greek Island of Rhodes, the marble inside is from the Marmara Sea in Turkey and it is the 4th largest church in the world. It was initially built as a Greek Orthodox church and was converted to a Catholic one by the Romans, where many Emperors were coronated. After conquering Constantinople, Mehmet converted the Hagia Sofia to a Mosque, covering up the christian mosaics (especially the faces) with plaster. After the 1860 earthquake, many of the mosaics were uncovered but Italian artists were hired to replaster and recover them. In the 1920s, Atuturk converted the Hagia Sofia to a museum, and allowed the mosaics to be uncovered again – their restoration is still ongoing today. Inside we saw the two levels so that men and women could pray separately, the original christian altar, the art depicting Rome as the center of the world, and the later added Muslim altar, off-center so that it could point in the direction of Mecca.

Later, we wandered down to the port where our friend Shiv was on the NZ Navy ship Te Kaha. We walked together through the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen. Tulips were perfectly arranged in flower beds, colourful sculptures were dotted throughout and the clean paths took us to fountains surrounded by manicured hedges. Here we also saw some of the remnants of the old city walls – still standing from Roman times.

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No visit to Istanbul would be complete without a trip to the Grand Bazaar. I was expecting this to be a cacophony of noise and hassling market stall holders but was pleasantly surprised by my peaceful shopping experience. The indoor market is huge, and a maze of side alleys and hallways – it is so easy to get lost, especially when distracted by the colourful pottery and glassware, sparkling gold jewellery and intricate carpets.


We left Istanbul wistfully wishing we had booked more time here. We didn’t make it to the famous Galata bridge for fresh fish, or to the Asian side of the city. We barely grazed the surface of this exciting, fascinating city which drew us in and earned our adoration almost instantly. I have saved some Turkish Lira and we plan to return sometime soon!

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Anzac Day at Gallipoli 2015: “Lest we forget”

_MG_4909Every year as children attending school in New Zealand, we learned about Anzac Day. This story which has so strongly influenced our cultural and national identity is entrenched in the minds and hearts of every New Zealander, evidenced by the crowds which turn up to dawn ceremonies all over the country every April 25th.

Anzac Day is not only a day to remember the fateful landings at Gallipoli, Turkey in 1915 and the brave campaign fought there for months on end by the New Zealand and Australian soldiers, but a day to honor all men and women who have served our country, defended our freedom, left their families and comfort to fight or peace-keep in far off lands and a day to celebrate who we are as a nation._MG_5030

In the early hours of the morning on April 25th 1915, Britain launched its attack on Turkey. The idea was to take over the Dardanelles straight, opening access to Europe (in particular Russia), to necessitate diversion of enemy resources from the Western Front and to aid in victory over Germany. The British war office deemed the Ottoman forces to be weak, likely to be easily overcome and sent in the Anzacs – a new fledgling corps made up of young men from New Zealand and Australia. These young men had been promised travel and adventure overseas, easy victories and that they would come home heroes. They knew very little about the realities of war, and Australia and New Zealand were excited to contribute to the war effort – one of the first times they would internationally be recognised as countries in their own right, not just colonies of Britain._MG_5028

From the beginning, the Gallipoli campaign was a tragic failure. To start with, the soldiers were deposited not on flat open expanses of beach but at Anzac Cove, a narrow stretch of sand surrounded by cliffs. As the soldiers landed at dawn, they found atop these cliffs thousands of Turkish soldiers armed with machine guns. Hundreds of our men lost their lives within the first five minutes of landing on Turkish soil. Despite this, the men roared up the hills, scrambling over bushes and rocks in an attempt to storm the Turkish troops. In the months to come they gained a reputation for their raw bravery, tenacity and perseverance despite being so outnumbered. For months on end the soldiers lived in shallow trenches they had dug themselves, exposed to horrific disease due to the sanitation conditions, and becoming increasingly weak thanks to inadequate supplies of nutrition and medical care being shipped in.

The surrounding terrain at Anzac Cove

The surrounding terrain at Anzac Cove

Many times the message was relayed that this battle was hopeless, the conditions were terrible and the army should withdraw. Bodies piled up day after day yet those in charge issued the command that they were to keep fighting. The news that reached British, Australian and New Zealand newspapers was that the war was going marvelously, and Turks were falling at the hands of the Anzacs – that it was a big success. Further misinformation resulted in the death of more young men… such as the directive to empty their guns of ammunition and charge the Turkish forces with bayonets instead as this would be much faster. After the first wave of 100 men to attempt this were gunned down by Turkish machine guns, three more waves were forced to run to their certain death.


Remains of some of the trenches

There are many more stories such as reinforcements arriving too late or bombardments being called off too early which make one seethe with the incompetence of those in charge. Still, we choose to celebrate instead our men’s bravery and successes, which were significant. _MG_5033

During the 8 months of this campaign, the Anzacs and the Turks gained a mutual respect for one another. Turks would throw cigarettes to the Anzac trenches (sometimes only a few meters away) and the Anzacs would throw food or other supplies back. They wrote notes to one another and on one occasion called a truce so that each side could finally bury their dead. The Turks couldn’t understand why the Anzacs were so far from home, fighting for another country and they themselves were only defending against our attack – they hadn’t chosen to enter into battle. The humanity of both sides is brought home with such stories, and we remember that they were all men with hearts, not machines and not evil forces.


Ataturk, the first president of the Turkish republic’s message to us: Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives. You are now living in the soil of a friendly country therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

Eventually, after briefly capturing Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair, the Anzacs were given permission to withdraw. Overnight, every single soldier was safely evacuated – making it the most successful evacuation of the war. The Turks celebrate Anzac Day also, as for them it represents a turning point in history – they defended their country and owe their freedom to their troops and the battles won at Gallipoli.


Anzac Cove

Back to the present day, and each April 25th at 5:30am, New Zealand and Australia remembers the Anzacs. Dawn ceremonies are solemn affairs, with prayers, poems and speeches performed as well as hymns being sung. The flag is raised to the tune of the Last Post played on a bugle or trumpet and service men march in formation. Often Air force planes fly overhead, and members of the public lay wreaths and poppies (the symbol of Anzac Day due to the fields of blooming poppies where so many men died) on local war memorials. This day is a public holiday in both countries, and is one of 4 days out of 365 where shops aren’t allowed to open (before noon anyway).

Each year the same ceremony is performed at Gallipoli itself, and many young New Zealanders and Australians make the pilgrimage to Turkey to honor the fallen, and partake in this patriotic display of thanks and pride.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. Since so many people were expected to want to attend, the Turkish government limited attendance to 10,000 people – 8,000 Australians and 2,000 New Zealanders. This represents less than the number of men killed at Gallipoli from each country, which when considering that the populations of our countries were 4 million and 1 million respectively were significant. Over 120,000 men were killed at Gallipoli and many of them (including 74% of NZers) remain unidentified and lie in unmarked graves.


Early in the day, when there was still plenty of space

People who wanted to attend the commemorations had to apply via a ballot process, and James was lucky enough to win a double pass. Whilst many of our compatriots travelled all the way from Australasia, we were fortunate enough to only have a 3 hour flight from Frankfurt.

Shortly before 6am on the 24th, our Top Deck tour group left Istanbul and drove 4.5 hours to Gallipoli. Here we went through a number of security check points and I have to say I am utterly impressed with the military organisation of this years commemorations. We spent some hours at Mimoza beach in a waiting area, after which time we were allowed to walk 2km along the coast to Anzac cove and through another security check point. The cove is maintained as part of a national park, and there are no buildings or permanent structures. We were allowed only to bring a backpack, with no camping gear permitted.

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Upon arriving at Anzac cove, the first thing that struck us was the sheer faces of the cliffs towering above the beach. We could only imagine the surprise followed by confusion and then finally dread the soldiers must have felt upon realising the position they were in. The small grassed area was surrounded by plastic seating, but we managed to grab a spot on the grass where we could stretch out for a few hours at least. As night fell, the temperatures dropped, the mood became somber and more and more people filed in. By 3am it was standing room only throughout the cove. 10,000 Nzers and Australians kept an overnight vigil, during which time films, speeches and stories were played on the big screens erected at the site. We heard untold stories, were reminded of facts we had previously learned, watched teary interviews with veterans, heard heartfelt performances by school children and listened to letters and reports from the battlefields. The army band played at regular intervals._MG_4970

We felt a mixture of pride for the bravery of our soldiers, and anger at the senselessness of their deaths. It was heartbreaking to hear gravestone inscriptions written for men by their mothers – because they were too young to have wives and were really only boys of 17 or 18. When “dying for a worthy cause” was mentioned it really was difficult to reconcile this with the thought of young men being slaughtered fighting someone else’s battle. We were reminded of the bravery and dedication of the Red Cross nurses who spent sleepless weeks caring for wounded and diseased soldiers whilst shells fell all around their hospital ship, and heard of the reporters who tried valiantly to get the real stories published.


The ocean behind the podium was a peaceful scene


At 5:30am, the place was _MG_5008silent. All we could hear was the lapping of the ocean on the shore, and the air was eerily still and thick with anticipation. At this moment, it was not hard to imagine the soldiers dropping into the sea with their heavy packs (many of them drowned at this point) and coming ashore to the very spot where we were standing, to meet their death. The bones of thousands of unidentified soldiers lay under our very feet.

The ceremony was a moving affair, with speeches from our Prime Ministers, Prince Charles and representatives from Turkey. We sung our national anthems with pride and reflected more deeply than we ever had before during the annual two minutes of silence.

Once the dawn ceremony was over, it was time for the next part of our journey. We filed out of Anzac cove and began the trek up the steep 6km track towards Chunuk Bair (where we were security screened twice more). After 3km we left the Australians at Lone Pine for their own ceremony. Along the way we visited some of the many cemeteries dotted all over the Gallipoli national park, and stood in the remains of the trenches trying to imagine how life must have been for the soldiers. It was near impossible to do so.


At Chunuk Bair we had a 3 hour wait while the Turkish scouts commemorated their own victories, and the cold hard ground has never felt so welcoming! Our group lay down a blanket and slept solidly for these 3 hours after which time we were allowed to enter the site. The New Zealand service was somewhat more uplifting than the dawn ceremony, with more of a focus on celebrating the accomplishments and bravery of our soldiers. Prince Harry spoke at this service as well as John Key once again, and youth ambassadors from NZ entertained the crowd with New Zealand songs – from Crowded House to Pokarekareana. As we sung the national anthem and the service ended with a prayer, the emotion in the crowd was palpable and we felt very much at one with our countrymen.

Still smiling after a sleepless night. Feeling proud to be NZers

Still smiling after a sleepless night. Feeling proud to be NZers

After our service we were incredibly fortunate to be one of the first buses called up to drive back to Istanbul – many others were waiting until 9pm. Throughout the waiting and the services we were reminded that no matter how cold, or tired or hungry we were, our ancestors and predecessors endured much, much worse. Their actions and the sacrifices of their families determined our future, by way of contributing to the Allies’ victory, and in shaping our identity as a doggedly determined, remarkably resourceful and tremendously tough nation.

My own great grandfather fought at Gallipoli, and was one of the fortunate few who made it home. This makes the connection I felt with Anzac cove even stronger. There is something uniquely special about setting foot on such sacred ground, especially when it is somewhere we learn about, talk about and see pictures of every year. It was an incredible privilege and an indescribable experience to have visited this site which is such an important part of our history, and to remember the Anzacs in the very place where they lay down their lives._MG_5035

Extravagance, elegance and experience! From United Arab Emirates to France in March

This month, James travelled overseas alone to Abu Dhabi, where he had the perfect holiday. After months of daily _MG_4275 German courses, homework and study being fitted in around his other part time job, not to mention the short days and icy temperatures, he was well overdue for a break and what a place to spend it. James’ parents Michael and Jennene were in Abu Dhabi for a conference, and since it is only a 7 hour flight direct from Stuttgart (like flying Auckland to Perth), it was an opportunity not to be missed for James to catch up with his parents after nearly a year of being away from home._MG_4354

After the ancient cities of Europe, Abu Dhabi was like another world, one where the line between fantasy and reality is blurred and the level of opulence is realms beyond any other country we had ever visited. James was awestruck from the minute he landed, with the scale of the buildings, the brightness of the lights, the modernness of the interiors and the sheer luxury which was everywhere. The streets could have literally been lined with gold and noone would have blinked an eye.

All of this luxury comes at a price however – which James learnt on the first night after ordering a single glass of whiskey…and receiving a bill for 75 euros! The hotel where the Brosnahans were staying was directly over the famous Formula One track, and they breakfasted whilst watching Ferrari’s zoom around the track below them. James and his mum visited Ferrari world, riding the roller coaster and ogling the cars.

A highlight of the trip was a visit to the Sheikh Zayed mosque. The mosque itself covers an area of 12 square hectares, and was intended to be a symbol of unity, to represent_MG_4270 the cultural diversity in the UAE and the world. Materials and pieces of art from many different countries are included in the _MG_4197design, notabu dhabi james least the huge chandeliers made from Swarovski crystal, imported from Germany. The carpet in the main prayer hall is over 5,500 m squared and is one single piece woven from wool sourced partly from New Zealand.

Marble and precious stones abound inside the mosque, with inlays of pearl and gold everywhere. In order to enter the mosque tourists must respect the religious and cultural beliefs of the local community, therefore James was required to don a full length garment to hide his bare legs.

A day trip saw the family plus some friends from the conference, including a good friend Justin from New Zealand, visit nearby Dubai. Here the Mall of Dubai held hours worth of entertainment, with an aquarium (complete with sharks) in its midst. Other sights included the Gold markets, spice markets and a boat tour along the Dubai “creek”, as well as a view of the world’s tallest building towering above the other skyscrapers.


At first distracted by the shining attractions, James later did notice that this sparkling oasis is still in the middle of a desert. We wonder what life would be like when the majority of daily life is conducted indoors, and main attractions include shopping (especially important since a lot of emphasis does seem to be placed on wealth and status in these cities). On the road between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the unspoken seedier side of the UAE was evident, with poverty stricken immigrants lining the streets, on their way to 15 hour work days and certainly nowhere near the clean, beautiful streets of the main cities. _MG_4425_MG_4433

In general, 5 days in the sun and heat, relaxing by the pool and partaking in the extravagant lifestyle that is life in the UAE, were a complete delight for James. He returned home raving about Abu Dhabi and we can’t wait to go together one day! Seeing his parents after so long was also fantastic and he enjoyed every minute of his holiday.


Although Abu Dhabi certainly counted as a country for our goal of visiting a different land each month…. I wasn’t there so we needed to get me across a border as well! In the last weekend of March we headed to Strassbourg in France. From Stuttgart, Strassbourg can be reached in just over an hour with the TGV however this convenience does not come cheap. We instead took advantage of the Baden Wurttemberg ticket which allows us both to travel on all commuter transport in the state for 24 hours, for just 28 euros. We set off from Tubingen at 7am and 3 hours later crossed the border into France (our ticket got us as far as Kehl, from where it is just 10 minutes to Strassbourg). It was a stunning sunny day, perfect for exploring the pretty Alsace town. Even the main train station was distinctly more French than German, however we were relieved to find that German and English are spoken widely. I have never met such friendly French people as I did in Strassbourg and was grateful for the hospitality of the cafe owners, shopkeepers and tourism operators .


After strolling through the old town and stopping off at the numerous chocolate shops, we stopped at a cafe, where we enjoyed a coffee and a spot of people watching in the sunshine. Having stimulated our appetites we proceeded directly to lunch – at a creperie of course! Being able to enjoy both a savoury and a sweet crepe was as always a treat for me since the French make their ‘Galettes’ with gluten free buckwheat flour. Afterwards we made our way to the Cathedral… but not before picking up some macarons from a very sweet and elegant patisserie.

The Strassbourg Cathedral is a magnificent site, and was the world’s tallest building until 1874. Its gothic architecture is so intricate, and thousands of carved figures adorn its sandstone outer walls. Inside the wonderment continues, with high curved ceilings, stained glass windows and an astronomical clock.

In complete contrast to this building from the middle ages is Strassbourg’s more modern claim to fame – the headquarters of the European Union and Parliament.

We took the quintessential covered boat tour, which cruised along Strassbourg’s canals and took us past these sights. The Parliament building holds an amphitheater with 750 seats, and is surrounded by gardens which create a wall of green. The court of human rights of the EU is also here, and is a symbol of conciliation and peace. We floated past the Rhine Palace, Fisherman’s Quay and half timbered houses – which used to be like furniture; non-permanent fixtures to be moved around at will. Many of the buildings along the canals have a rich history, having over the years housed hospitals, then convents, then schools, then prisons. The four canals along which we rode are on two levels, and we had to go through Locks where 360,000 litres of water flows in to raise the water level 1.8 metres, allowing boats to access the next level of canals. We passed under many covered bridges where gunners took their positions during battles throughout time – the bridges were covered not to protect the gunners from the elements however, rather the gunpowder!_MG_4591 _MG_4594 _MG_4597

The waterways have many stories associated with them and form part of Strassbourg’s identity. One such example is that the washing of the rich was done upstream of the poor, but if something from the rich escaped the washerwomen and floated downstream, they had to pay the poorer women to get it back! The old tanneries next to the water which are now closed in, used to have open roofs to dry the skins, and criminals were tortured in cages hung from the bridges around the city. The contrast of medieval history, centuries old buildings and churches (with tombs dating back to 1180) with the modern concept of the European Parliament mean that Strassbourg has an interesting and ecclectic collection of sites. Combined with its German influences and French culture, mixture of locals and tourists and of course the crepes and macarons, this gem in the Alsace is certainly a place we will visit again.

Making the most of our travel ticket, we crossed the border again and headed slightly south back into the Black Forest, to stay the night in Freiburg. We didn’t check out too many sights in this attractive student town, but I ran in my first European race which was a real experience! I have never run in an event with so many participants, where for the first few kilometers it was impossible to find elbow room and where I was never wanting for company.

_MG_4626_MG_4661This March update has been somewhat delayed… thanks to the adventure that has been moving house! That story deserves a blog post in itself, but suffice to say we have been kept extremely busy and are looking forward to our next mini-break overseas.

February Freeze

February for us is usually a blissful month of long days, hot sun, after work swims at the beach, weekends spent sipping iced beverages and paddle boarding, kayaking, sailing, swimming, sunbathing or various other activities involving the outdoors and the water.


Watching the snow fall

This year, were introduced to snow shoveling, below freezing temperatures, darkness falling before 5:30pm and Netflix. Lots of Netflix.

We haven’t been completely deterred from being outside however, IMG_4409and feel very fortunate to be living in an area where we are within a couple hours drive of multiple ski fields. Making the most of winter, we’ve enjoyed taking up skiing as a new sport and have spent February working our way up to the real slopes. At the beginning of the month, we took a bus from nearby Reutlingen to a small ski field in the Schwaebisch Albs just 24km away. Having only skiied about twice before (the last time being a traumatic experience on far-from-beginner-slopes in Austria 4 years ago), this small field was the perfect re-introduction. We may have been some of the oldest people there, but at least we weren’t the only ones struggling to master the T-bar lift! The gentle slope allowed me to get the feel of skiing, although it was highly embarrassing when I thought I was doing quite well only to hear “beep beep”… I turned around and found a 3 year old trying to get past me. He proceeded to zoom off into the distance… no parents, no poles, no fear!

The next weekend we stepped it up a level and took a bus to the Feldberg ski area in the Black Forest. IMG_4415Although it is only about 1.5 hours by car, I was very impressed with the ease at which we managed the journey with public transport. The bus took us directly to Titisee, from where we got the ski bus up to the Grafenmatt ski field. IMG_4408 It is still a real novelty for us to ski amongst pine trees, since the only ski field we’ve ever known is on the bare face of a volcano. After an hour of practice, we decided we should each have a private lesson, in order to improve our skills since we knew that at the end of the month we would be braving the slopes in Austria again. James’ lesson proceeded as follows:

Ski down blue run. Too easy. Ski down red run. Too easy. Instructor: I don’t actually think I can teach you anything. Hmm. Ski down black world cup run! Lesson over.


I’m the one in pink pants

Mine was a little more constructive. My instructor immediately realised that my biggest problem is confidence, so we did some exercises involving skiing without poles, and switching them from hand to hand. I managed to comfortably ski down a short red run a few times. After lunch unfortunately the snow had become icy in some parts and very uneven with hills and holes in others which increased the technical difficulty. We decided to try out a new red run, however I learnt that not all red runs are the same level! This was bumpy, icy and steep and many people were struggling to ski down with control. I managed the first 2/3rds but ended up taking off my skis and walking down the last part. We learned afterwards that it was exactly the same terrain and gradient as the neighbouring black run, and only classified as red because it was wide. I didn’t feel quite so bad after hearing that!

Due to the worsening weather and snow conditions we headed back to Titisee a little early. This town is beautiful in summer and almost more so in winter. It was like a scene from a postcard, IMG_4420with shoulder deep snow drifts piled up on the side of the road, trees glistening with white and perfectly formed icicles hanging from the roofs. Since we had some extra time, we embarked on our first European sauna experience. Read: no clothes allowed. It was definitely a strange feeling for the first 5 minutes to be so exposed, but since the other patrons were also naked and nobody was paying attention to anyone else it felt normal in no time. The heat of the saunas and the spa was just perfect after our freezing hours on the ski field.

Our month finished off with the penultimate ski trip to Austria. This was a trip organised by the local sports shop, and it’s hard to believe how easy it all was! We paid 50 euros in advance for the bus and the lift pass, and left Tubingen at 5:30am, drove across the border and arrived directly at the ski field at 9am.

Heading up in the gondola, ready to hit the snow!

Heading up in the gondola, ready to hit the snow!

We had already received our lift passes on the bus and having hired our gear in Tubingen, all we had to do was put on our ski boots and get on the Gondola. The bus departed exactly on time in the afternoon, had beers and water waiting on board and we were home by 7pm. Just taking a day trip to another country is still mind boggling for us.

The Montafon Golm ski field is great for intermediate skiiers, with its wide open pistes, good range of runs and it was not crowded at all. A group of 6 of us were on the trip together, and we had the best day out. It snowed lightly all morning, and was overcast in the afternoon but the snow condition was great and it was a very mild temperature. Within the first 5 minutes James attempted a stop at high speed and managed to bowl our friend Alex over, and I didn’t have the skill to turn quickly to get out of the way of another skiier so careened straight down the slope, promptly tumbling over of course. With our first falls out of the way, we took the chair lift to the highest point and it was straight onto a red run. The previous two ski excursions had served me well, as my confidence and skill were at a level where I could at least do most of the runs the others did, albeit a lot slower! The others sped ahead, I took my time, the boys ventured slightly off piste (complete with tree-collisions and faceplants) and we all met up to ride the lift to the top together. At the top of the lift we would use the map to plot our way down and we must have done at least 10 or 12 runs during the day. It was fun to be able to pick and choose routes, James enjoyed having another guy to zoom around with and with my confidence slowly on the rise I certainly challenged myself.IMG_4393

After nearly 3 hours of skiing we took a lunch break, after which we were all somewhat tired, and the snow was becoming bumpy so the afternoon session was at a somewhat more sedate pace. With the snow being so uneven I was inadvertently forced to do a few jumps, and I have to admit I eyed up the ski jump with keen interest… maybe next time!

A neat feature of Montafon Golm is that from the top of the lift to the carpark, you can ski for 9.2km nonstop. We had planned this as our last run of the day, but unfortunately my shaking muscles and weary body meant I only made it the first 7. Still, it was overall a successful, laughter filled day out with friends and we ticked off another country for February.


The weather is becoming more mild, flowers are starting to bud and Spring is on its way. The ski fields are likely to be open for another couple of months however, and since James in particular has the skiing bug I don’t think we’ve seen the last of snow this season!

The first day of the rest of our lives…

The day we’ve been waiting for has arrived! We are in the final throes of packing our things, and enjoying some last minute New Zealand fresh air. Over the last month we have been exploring our own backyard, visiting family and catching up with IMG_8715friends.

Over Easter, despite the miserable weather James suggested a Sunday drive to Manukau Heads, where we were lucky enough to be the first ones to the Lighthouse for the morning. A surprising number of families turned up within the next half hour, but for a brief time we were alone with the view of the wild ocean.

After flying to Palmerston North, we drove the 3 hours to New Plymouth to spend some time in my original home town with family. My sisters were visiting from Australia, and my aunt came across from Napier so we enjoyed going back to our old favourite places, checking on our old house, driving past our old schools, seeing the changes to the city and our beloved Pukekura Park.

Searching for treasures…

IMG_8829      IMG_8920       Searching for treasures

Luckily we had enough of a break in the rain to spend some time rock-pooling; a pastime we spent hours on as children. These days there are far fewer starfish to be found, but James did collect a crab (and promptly dropped it after it nipped him hard!). IMG_8919The next week and a half were spent at home in Palmerston North, relaxing, being well fed by mum and enjoying quiet runs and bike rides along the river. We hiked the Gorge Walk, an old favourite running trail of mine which has been redeveloped and is far less rugged than the rough bush track it used to be.


The views have remained just as stunning though!



Instead of flying back to Auckland, we took the Northern Explorer scenic train. It was a delight; a r_MG_9369elaxing and interesting 10 hour journey and not in the slightest bit boring as I had imagined! The train itself is a modern and spacious facility and the views were spectacular.


Mount Ruapehu from the open air viewing carriage on the train

We were however the youngest people on the train by about 30 years!

We had a blast at our leaving drinks in Auckland last weekend and have since been sorting out our things… every time we think we’re done we look in our bedroom and it looks as though we haven’t even started! I think we’ve finally succeeded. Unfortunately there have been some hold ups with processing James’ residency which has caused some stress – not least about only receiving his passport back on Thursday! Small hassles aside, everything is packed and ready to go now.

We’ll be heading to the airport in just a few hours to start our adventure. We’re beyond excited and can’t wait to land in the States! There will be more frequent posts over the next few months of course, so keep an eye out for photos and stories of our antics.