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Polaroid of the week: The Berlin Wall

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week germany berlin wallThis blank, menacing concrete wall is what Berliners saw from their windows or when walking down the streets of their divided city for 29 years. While most of the wall was chipped away quickly once East and West Germany were reunified, there are still several large sections of the wall throughout the city. The biggest remaining part is now an outdoor art gallery, called the East Side Gallery, which is painted with thought-provoking, clever street art, but several smaller parts look just like they looked when Berlin was divided. The fall of the Berlin Wall is so incredibly relevant to us  – first because we could have never met had it not happened (me being from the GDR and Jess from America) and second, the globetrotting lifestyle we live today makes it so hard to imagine the level of restriction forced upon the people of the GDR at the time.

Because of that we have focused on learning the history while in Berlin and one of the most shocking things for Jess to discover was that the wall only went up in 1961. You just always imagine it as the representation of the political division between east and west, the cold war, capitalism vs communism. The border in Berlin was actually much more fluid from after the end of World War II until then. West Berlin was a strange political island surrounded by communist East Germany, but there was no wall and families with people on either side of the wall could visit each other rather freely. People even commuted and worked on either side. However, within just a few years, living conditions became distinctly different. The West was supported by occupying powers of America and France, and West Germany was quickly catching back up to its neighbors, while the economy in the East dragged and personal freedom was increasingly restricted. People started escaping into West Berlin in the 1950s. The GDR’s solution was to build the Berlin Wall in 1961, construction started literally in the dead of night between August 12th-13th 1961. Many people woke up with a wall in front of their house, cut off from family and commuting to work in the western part of the city no longer possible. Phone lines were even cut.

From that point on, anyone trying to cross would suddenly be imprisoned or shot down and killed. For 29 years this ugly, imposing wall stretched 100 miles, the people living behind it divided from families and contained within the Communist bloc until 9 November 1989, when the GDR announced borders with West Berlin were now open. 11 months later, on 3 October 1990, East and West Germany reunified into one single state.

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Polaroid of the week: Polaroids of Berlin

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polaroid of the week germany berlin polaroid magnetsOn a walk through our Kreuzberg neighborhood, we stumbled upon a shop that sold Polaroid Berlin fridge magnets. This stopped us in our tracks and made us think…what a great idea to put together some of our favorite Polaroids Of The Week.

Did you know this is the 167th Polaroid we’re posting here? That is 14 annual calendars, filled with beautiful, quirky, creative travel Polaroids! It also means that we have been traveling for a really long time, and we estimate there will be at least 100 more Polaroids to come.

Now the question goes out to you – what do you think we should do with our Polaroids that would inspire people to travel? Should we make fridge magnets? Some sort of weekly calendar planner? A book?

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Polaroid of the week: Renewing our energy in Germany

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polaroid of the week germany wind turbinesAfter two months exploring New York, the two of us need some serious downtime, so it’s fitting that we are renewing our energy in Germany, a country leading the world in renewable energy.

The cynical might see the fields of wind turbines and solar panels as an eyesore, but for us this technology represents serious positivity and a kind of forward-thinking we rarely see as we travel the world.

President Angela Merkel, once a supporter of nuclear energy, has taken a complete turn toward renewables since the 2011 Fukushima catastrophe in Japan, and while the country is already at over 25% renewable energy in 2013, if the Energiewende, or energy transition, goal is met, this number will hit 80% by 2050.

Such a transition has hiccups, such as higher electricity bills for private homes, but poll after poll indicates that Germans would prefer to pay higher prices in the name leading the way to energy independence. First generation turbines are being swapped out for far fewer, much more powerful second generation machines (taller than a redwood tree) that are safer for wildlife. Today we drove past hundreds that were newly built in fields along the highway.

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Goodbye 2011: Our year of travel in pictures

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Another unforgettable year is coming to an end – this time it is our second year as full-time travelers! We’ve literally been around the world this year and, rather than rattle off a list of everywhere we’ve been, this Goodbye 2011 post will highlight our favorite pictures of the year, starting in Central America and ending in Thailand after stints in Europe, the U.S. and Canada.

January 2011

As we mentioned in our Goodbye to 2010 post, we began the year at Lake Yojoa in Honduras, where we were the only guests at our hotel. 2011 started out as laid-back as can be…

January Lake Yojoa HondurasFor more January highlights, check out our Facebook album Best of 2011: January (Honduras & Nicaragua).

February 2011

Shortly after the start of the New Year, we moved on to Nicaragua – and fell head over heels in love with the country. The picture was taken in Masaya, just outside of Granada…one of Nicaragua’s most visited cities. Throughout the country, the horse and buggy is still a common and totally valid form of transportation – alongside cars, buses, SUVs, motorcycles and bicycles.

february nicaragua masaya church &horse carriageFor more February highlights check out our Facebook album Best of 2011: February (Nicaragua & Costa Rica).

March 2011

After three relaxing weeks in Costa Rica we made our way to Panama and were most impressed with the Casco Viejo area of Panama City (check out our picture post of Casco Viejo). We resisted actually picking up a Panama hat, but couldn’t resist photographing them. Panamanians have certainly got style!

March Panama hats in Casco Viejo panamaFor more March highlights check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: March (Costa Rica, Panama & Germany).

April 2011

Going from six months in the developing countries of Central America to visiting the mighty castles of Germany was an extreme contrast. This is what we love most about our nomadic lifestyle! At the end of the month we completed our first year on the road (find out how much we spent in one year of travel here).

april neuschwanstein castle bavaria germanyFor more April highlights check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: April (Germany, Austria & Italy)

May 2011

In Spring we traveled in Europe, from Germany and Austria to a few weeks in Tuscany. While we were both blown away by the romance of the countryside, the taste of the wine and the warmth of the locals, it was the pizza…the glorious pizza…that became the highlight of May 2011 for us.

may italy montaione pizzas & wineFor more May 2011 highlights including Jess with a group of aliens in Spain, check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: May (Italy & Spain).

June 2011

In the first week of June, we went on our first ever cruise and followed that up by reaching 400 days on the road! Just a week later we would discover a city that could possibly, one day, be called home: Lisbon, Portugal. The Portuguese capital just ticks so many boxes – laid-back, sunny, warm, good (and cheap) coffee, beaches as far as the eye can see, plenty of history and oozing with charm. What struck us most was how similar Lisbon is to San Francisco. We spent three fabulous weeks here in June (despite a near heart attack experience that still has us cracking up).

june portugal lisbon tram 28For more June highlights, check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: June (Spain, Corsica, Portugal).

July 2011

From Lisbon we flew directly to Toronto to begin an entirely new North American chapter of our travels. We spent six weeks house-sitting outside of Ottawa. These weeks were filled with exploring adorable villages, peaceful sunset bike rides, evenings in the jacuzzi and hanging with the friendly neighbors drinking great Canadian micro-brews.

july kemptville ontario sunsetFor more July highlights, check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: July (Canada).

August 2011

August was truly an unforgettable month that brought us through Montreal, Quebec, Boston, and the start of our NYC2NOLA road trip through New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC on our way down to New Orleans. While we loved the freedom of the open road, it was our four nights in New York that dazzled us the most. There is just something about this concrete jungle that gets us every time.

For more August highlights, check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: August (Canada & USA).

September 2011

After four weeks and over 4,000 miles we finally made it to New Orleans in September. What we found when we arrived is a city with style, individuality and people with a zest for life and love of music like we’ve never experienced before. We could easily spend more than a week in the Big Easy…in fact we toyed with the idea of a few months here sometime in the future, too. On September 13th, just before reaching Chicago, we hit 500 days on the road.

september New Orleans voodoo skeletonsFor more September highlights, check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: September (U.S. Road Trip).

October 2011

And then we flew to the other side of the planet – for our first trip to South East Asia! We started in Thailand, and it was definitely a relief to gaze out at this crystal blue water after a few chilly weeks in Chicago and Colorado!

thailand long tail boats phi phi lei islandFor more October highlights, check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: October (Chicago, Colorado & Thailand).

November 2011

After finding a good place to settle down to work in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, we hopped a series of buses and boats to travel around northern Laos for the last two weeks of November. While the two countries have their similarities, we were struck by how much simpler life in Laos is compared to fast-paced and modern Thailand. We have learned so much since arriving in Asia, especially about Buddhism – and have become accustomed to sharing our daily lives with the hundreds of monks populating cities and villages across the Buddhist nations.

november young monks luang prabang laosFor more November highlights, check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: November (Thailand & Laos).

December 2011

The last month of 2011 marked a major milestone for us, as we hit 600 days on the road! In some ways it feels as though we have just started traveling. Looking back at everything we have done in these six hundred days truly feels like an accomplishment. One lesson we have learned is that in order to be happy as nomads, we need to know when to take longer breaks and relax. That’s why we booked ourselves in to an apartment in Chiang Mai for one month in December. We love this city, as it has everything we could ever need or want. We celebrated Christmas with friends, went on hikes, spent time with elephants, eaten endless veggie cuisine and learned so much about Thai culture and tradition.

december moat at sunset chiang mai thailandFor more December highlights, check out our Facebook album: Best of 2011: December (Laos & Thailand).

Happy New Year 2012 to all our readers!

We would love for you to tell us about your travel highlights for 2011 in the comments below – we’re always on the lookout for new locations about where to travel next!

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Vegetarian food in Germany? Yes, everywhere you look!

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A country famous for its sausages and schnitzels, vegetarian visitors to Germany might worry that they will have to do a bit of hunting to find meat-free munchies. However, once you look past the bratwurst stands and pig roasts, there are actually plenty of vegetarian options, both in traditional cuisine and common international staples the Germans have accepted as their own.

Käsespätzle

While the basic ingredients make this essentially a German form of macaroni and cheese, Spätzle couldn’t taste more different. The southern Bavarian dish is made with egg noodles covered in baked, grated Emmenthal cheese and crispy fried onions.  It is usually vegetarian, but it is always better to ask.

Kasspatzn

German Pretzels

Germans make the best soft pretzels in the world and have found infinite excuses to eat them often. The traditional twisted shape, known as Brezeln or Brez’n for short, is eaten plain, with sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds or with salt, cut open with a half-inch thick layer of butter or cream cheese and chives. The pretzel dough, called ‘Laugen’ is also made into rolls, baguettes, even croissants and come as fully dressed sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, cheese, and a special (always delicious) sauce, and are found in most bakeries.

Bakeries

It is customary to eat only one ‘warm’ meal a day in Germany, with the other two main meals made up of bread, cheese and, for meat-eaters, deli slices, and while the Germans look down their nose at American fast food, they are not opposed to the idea of grabbing a quick bite. This is most often done by popping into the bakery. German bakeries can be found on every corner, sometimes there are two, three or four on one street, and considering that Germans do bread and cheese better than anywhere other than France, you can’t go wrong by following the herd into the bakery. Veggie options abound here: Baguettes, rolls, croissants, pizza bread, salads, and let’s not forget about the shocking variety of addictive cakes the Germans have thought up!  If you eat eggs and cheese, you can’t go wrong in a German bakery.

Herrentorte

Rösti

Although similar to what North Americans understand as potato pancakes, röstis are very thick, shredded potato patties found in restaurants and outdoor fests. They are always served with large dollops of apple sauce on top, while not healthy, they are deeeeelish!

German Dumplings

Potato dumplings can be found throughout the country, as can bread dumplings, which are different but equally yummy. The only problem is that while both bread and potato dumplings are vegetarian-friendly, the sauce is often very meaty. If you see dumplings with mushroom sauce on the menu, order it straight away, and wash it down with a half liter of Hefeweizen beer!

Dumpling & mushroom sauce

Hard-boiled eggs in mustard sauce

This might seem like a strange one, but it is definitely meat-free and commonly found in traditional German restaurants. If you are staying with friends, your host will most likely be able to prepare it for you easily. Eier in Senfsoße is a thick, tangy mustard sauce generously poured over four hard boiled egg halves. That’s it. It’s simple and actually pretty good. If you don’t believe us – here’s an easy recipe to try it yourself.

Camembert with cranberry sauce

This breaded cheese dish may have been borrowed from the French, but it is one of our absolute favorite dishes to order in Germany. Basically, an entire 250 gr wheel of Camembert cheese is breaded and baked until the inside is a pool of gooey, cheesy heaven and is served up with a thick cranberry sauce. Perfect for chilly Winter lunches or afternoon snacks.

Baked camembert

Pizza, Pasta

There is no food more German than Italian cuisine! Italian restaurants are as common as the bakeries we mentioned, so you can get pizza and pasta anywhere in Germany the same quality as you’ll find just south of the border. Note: Germans make fabulous Italian-style pizzas, but pizza delivery joints attempt an American-style pizza without all the fun – Not a lot of cheese and even an XL is smaller than a U.S. medium, so make an occasion out of it and go out to a restaurant to eat pizza.

Döner Kebabs

There is no food more German than the Turkish Döner…wait, did we say that already with Italian? Kebabs, shawarma, however you know it, you won’t get one as good anywhere in the world as in Germany (that might even go for Turkey), and the streets are lined with döner shops – generally open late to soak up all that Hefeweizen. While döners generally come spilling over with turkey or lamb meat, the meat-free versions are our absolute favorite food to eat in Germany. You can order any variation of a classic Veggie, which  comes overloaded with red and white cabbage, onion, cucumber, tomato, feta cheese and a creamy garlic sauce in a thick, warm pita bread, or a Durum, which is a wrap stuffed with the same ingredients but also with Falafel or Halloumi. Döner shops are one of the few food places in Germany where the customer is always right, so order one of these gut-busting bundles of flavor with exactly the sauce and toppings you want for under $3.

doener kebap vegetarian

Survival tip – always ask. Germans love to throw in meat, especially speck, just ‘for flavor’, so any one of these dishes could come with meat unexpectedly. Don’t just ask, “Is there meat in this?” or “Is this vegetarian?”.  Be specific – ask if there is speck, beef, ham, bacon, chicken, fish, seafood – whatever makes sense.

Survival Tip 2 – You can eat Peperoni. The German word does not mean small disks of meat usually found on pizza, but rather they go by the Italian definition of semi-spicy green peppers, eaten on baguettes and often as part of garnish.  The word Salami is actually used for meat on pizza.

What are we forgetting? Are there other common German foods out there that are veggie friendly? We’d love to hear your suggestions!

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Go Beyond… Munich: From Fairytale Castles to the Top of Germany

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To some, a visit to Munich might mean steins of beer, bratwurst and oom-pa-pa music, typical for the city’s largest and most famous party – Oktoberfest. Ask the locals, however and they will describe any number of aspects they love about Munich  – from the sprawling parks and world-class shopping to up-and-coming trendy artist neighborhoods.

There is one exciting part of Munich life that almost everyone can agree on – getting out of it.

The city’s proximity to the idyllic Alpine landscape means that the verdant foothills can be reached in less than an hour; the most extreme peaks of the Alps within two. We’re no mountain climbers and we certainly don’t ski, but, like us, everyone can enjoy the classic Bavarian villages, cheese factories, beer gardens, hiking and biking, and there is one mountain everyone is more than welcome to climb. So let’s start right at the top.

Driving into the Alps

Top of Germany – The Zugspitze

Just south of the Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, we drove our tiny Smart car along a road which snakes through a valley dotted by half-timbered houses and ends abruptly on the shore of an ice-blue lake, called the Eibsee. As we stared out over the sea and looked up, we spotted thousands of feet of reinforced steel cable which transport cable cars stuffed with people  2,962m or 9,718 ft up to the mountain in under ten minutes.

Zugspitze Germany

The Zugspitze, the highest point in Germany, actually sits on the Austrian/German border, and although the restaurant, beer garden and all the skiing is located on the Bavarian side, the viewing platform is split between the Bavarian side in Germany and Tyrol, Austria.

In fact, in addition to the Eibsee Cable Car, the top of the mountain can also be reached from Austrian side by the Tyrolean Zugspitze Cable Car. There is a third option to reach the top as well: The Bavarian Zugspitze Railway. The 45-minute train ride begins by chugging up and through the fresh pine forest before slicing its through the inside of the mountain. While I found it nerve-wracking to speed through three climate zones while zipping up the side of a glacier in a cable car, it was far better than the train ride back down through the dark 3-miles long tunnel, which is just a much slower, more claustrophobic method.

Bayrische Zugspitzbahn

No matter how you choose to reach the summit, make sure to dress warm, as the Zugspitze is also the meeting point of three glaciers. Whether you are skiing or just out enjoying the view of the Alps, even summer days at the top can be chilly. Of course, if you get cold, there are two restaurants, a beer garden and a Zugspitze Museum to keep you warm indoors.  While you are up at the top, make sure to get your picture taken with the Zugspitze Photostop Camera, and once you get home, you can download the picture from the website for free.

Eibsee & clouds

Out to Sea…Sternberger See

This lake, Germany’s fourth largest, sits just 27km (16 miles) outside of Munich, but its expansive blue waters dotted with sailboats, jet skis, and canoes make it feel worlds away from the bustle of the Bavarian capital. The lake is no hidden gem, but rather a popular escape for everyone from Munich socialites sipping wine in elegant lakeside restaurants (we’re pretty sure we spotted at least one German celebrity) to families hiking and biking their way around the lake’s well-paved perimeter path. We stopped off at several points along the lake by car, but the main town of Starnberg can also be reached by commuter train from Munich. Starnberg itself is an upmarket yet traditional Bavarian town with shops, restaurants and quaint homes lining narrow village roads.

Lake Starnberg dock

The Disneyland Castle – Schloss Neuschwanstein

That’s right…the famous Sleeping Beauty castle located in California’s Disneyland Park was based on this famous 19th century castle.  Neuschwanstein, which literally means ‘new swan stone’ in German, is a magnificent structure, perched neatly on hill overlooking the sprawling valley and village of Hohenschwangau near Füssen in southwest Bavaria.

Newschwanstein Castle

Commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as his personal refuge, the reclusive king spent less than six months here in his still unfinished castle before he was captured and fell from power. The barely-lived in symbol of 19th century Romanticism was an extravagantly designed homage to classical composer Richard Wagner and also contains thousands of depictions of swans sewn into pillows, drawn into wallpaper and carved into wooden door handles and frames.

Since opening to the public immediately upon the King’s death in 1886, over 60 million people have visited the castle, making this one of Germany’s most popular tourist attractions. Ironically, the town below, where 1.3 million people per year line up for tickets, felt to us very similar to Disneyland, with traditionally-themed restaurants and hotels (with their costumed staff) lining village streets crowded with horse and carriages waiting to take visitors up to the castle, street performers and, by 10am, crowds of people heading up to visit the castle, which sees over 6,000 visitors pass through its gates each day in the summer.

Throne room Neuschwanstein

We would most certainly recommend taking part in the 35-minute guided tour of Neuschwanstein, which is the only way to see the inside of the castle, and a combo ticket will get you entry to Ludwig’s second castle, Schloss Hohenschwangau, located on the hill right next door. However, make sure to hike up and around Neuschwanstein, stopping for a picture along the Marienbrücke bridge, which affords spectacular views of the structure itself. On your way back down, opt for the path alongside the river (which flows under the bridge above). At times the path lays lazily along the wide river bank, while other times you are suspended over river rapids on steel steps bolted into the side of boulders. The path is perfectly safe, family-friendly and gets some hunger-inducing adrenaline flowing right before you arrive back in the town for lunch! If you have time, you can even hike to Austria from here. There are both long and short distance walking trails, and paths leading all the way round the Alpsee lake at the bottom of the hill.

Alpsee & Hohenschwangau view

The Allgau Alps

This mountainous region about 80km (50 miles) south west of Munich includes several traditionally Bavarian stop-offs plus fabulous hiking and biking opportunities for outdoor lovers,  but unless you’re up for a major round trip cycle, we’d suggest picking up a rental car in Munich for the day. We rented our tiny Smart car from Enterprise for just €16 ($22) per day.

Our first stop was Schloss Linderhof, the third and smallest of King Ludwig’s palaces and the only one he lived to see completed. The palace was inspired by the French palace of Versailles, and its gardens, which combine Baroque and Italian Renaissance styles, are considered one of the most beautiful creations in Europe. Close to the palace you find the village of Ettal, and its ornate 14th century Benedictine Ettal Abbey is also worth a visit.

Ettal abbey

The fresh air, sunny skies and great weather have made this part of Bavaria a popular health resort location, with Ettal located near the picturesque villages of Oberammergau and Unterammergau and countless spa towns found in this area of Southern Bavaria such as Bad Kohlgrub and Bad Tölz (don’t be fooled by their names ‘Bad’ means ‘spa’ or ‘bath’ in German). The rolling green landscape of these Alpine foothills also make for some of the best golf breaks in Germany. Egmating near Starnberg offers some of the most relaxing golf Europe has to offer, with stunning views over the Alps.

Church near Neuschwanstein

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Tops and Flops of 400 days of travel

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We spent a wonderful day in Madrid last Sunday, where we celebrated a major milestone – we’ve been on the road for 400 days now! Over tapas and beer in the Spanish capital, we reflected on the last 100 days, which we spent in Costa Rica, Panama, Germany, Italy, Spain and cruising the Mediterranean. As usual, there are always highs and lows throughout our travels. The past 100 days were filled with the highest of highs, and luckily no dramatic lows – read on for our Tops and Flops:

Top travel moments


House-sitting in a B&B in Tuscany

Before we ever set off as permanent travelers, we looked into house-sitting, thanks to this article in the Guardian newspaper. The journalist spent time house-sitting in an old Italian farmhouse B&B. From the moment we read this article, we had dreamt of doing exactly that, and although we have loved all of our other house-sits, we jumped at the chance to housesit in a Tuscan B&B, high up in the mountains between the medieval town of Barga and the buzzing city of Lucca. For ten days in April we explored northern Tuscany, sampled as much pizza as possible, and enjoyed our time in the cozy Italian farmhouse!

Borgo a mozzano Italy

Cruising the Mediterranean

We like to identify as long-term, budget travelers – the kind of travelers who stay for long periods of time in each location, learning and adapting to each new way of life. Spending a week on a cruise ship visiting a new port city each day certainly does not fall into this travel style, but when Jess’ parents invited us to join them on their Mediterranean cruise, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to test out such a different way of traveling.

Cruise Ship

To our surprise, it turns out that we really enjoyed it! After months of fairly hard-core travel through Central America and Mexico, and new hotel rooms every other day, we really appreciated a week of easy travel, comfortable beds, hot showers, the fitness center and spa, plus all the (really tasty) food were all included. The biggest disadvantage of a cruise (in addition to the extortionate wi-fi rates on board) is that you only get a teaser of each port of call, but since we had already visited nearly all the ports before, we just enjoyed the vacation and showing Jess’ parents some of our favorite places in Spain and Italy.

San Gimignano view

Seeing the Panama Canal

Dani has always been fascinated by ports and giant freight ships, so the Panama Canal was a definite highlight of the last 100 days. It was fascinating to witness these massive ships being lowered through the locks of the Panama Canal on their way around the globe, seeing first hand this element of international business and how we acquire the goods like cars, TVs, spices, fruits we have come to expect to be available to us every day.

Gatun locks Panama

The Top of Germany

During our time in Germany, we literally went all the way to the Top, so we just had to include this in our Tops section! We took a gondola up to the very top of the country’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze, which is not only the highest mountain in Germany, but also forms part of the border between Germany and Austria. We spent some time watching snowboarders and skiers, eating a German dumpling meal and chugging down Bavarian Hefeweizen beer – which surprisingly tasted much better all the way up there!

Globetrottergirls on Top of Germany Zugspitze

Favorite places

 

Siena, Italy

This charming town in southern Tuscany combines postcard perfect medieval buildings and tradition with a modern urban feel thanks to the well-established university in town. This modest sized city has good shopping, great restaurants, cheap eats, and plenty of fun bars, but drive just five minutes outside of town, and you are back in the heart of the vineyards, cypresses and olive trees which make up the colorful Tuscan countryside.

Piazza di Campo Siena Italy

Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama

Panama City can be easily divided into two very distinct areas to explore. The skyscrapers that make up the Panama City skyline rival almost any U.S. city, and the people who live in this area have adopted an identical lifestyle – pimped out SUV trucks, fast-food joints, wide multi-lane city streets and strip malls galore. Head on down to Casco Viejo, however, and the feeling couldn’t be more different. Fully-restored buildings and their still dilapidated neighbors line tiny winding cobble stone streets. The area can feel European, and at the same time, with the Latin rhythms, Panama Hats and laid-back vibe Casco Viejo feels like how you imagine Havana, Cuba might feel. This was easily one of the memorable places we experienced throughout our last 100 days.

Casco Viejo Panama

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

This Caribbean town in Costa Rica has something to match everyone’s tastes, and without even a sliver of stress. We rented bikes and explored the stretches of nearly empty beaches, had overpriced fruity cocktail drinks in a fancy beachside bar, ate street food, and danced to reggaton with blurry eyes until late… we couldn’t have had a better time here!

Music with that Jessie chick in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

San Gimignano, Italy

The medieval town of 13 towers is the quintessential Tuscan town. It is walkable in a few hours and loaded with restaurants and shops selling everything from cheesy tourist trinkets to gorgeous pottery. Make sure to climb to the top of the Torre Grossa, the tallest tower, for breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside and keep your eyes peeled for one of the many free wine-tastings available in town!

Plaza in San Gimignano Italy

Bavaria, Germany

We are unable to pick out just one place in Bavaria as our favorite. We just had a storybook time during our house sit in Germany. Neither of us has ever done much exploring in Bavaria before, and we enjoyed taking the time to get to know this very traditional and very green area of southern Germany. We took several day trips to Munich, Neuschwanstein Castle, the picturesque town of Fuessen, visited Innsbruck in Austria and even just strolling through the village we lived in, climbing the snow-covered mountain behind our house and seeing the monastery of Ettal was all really fun.

Bavarian village, Germany

Most disappointing places

Bocas del Toro, Panama

Bocas del Toro comprise several tiny islands off Panama’s Caribbean coast, not far from the border to Costa Rica. We thought we would find gorgeous beaches and a purely Caribbean feel. In reality, the beaches are a bus trip or water taxi ride away, and some of those beaches charge to get in and are packed with people. The scenery was gorgeous, but having come from some amazing beaches in Costa Rica and Nicaragua’s Corn Islands, we were hoping for a bit more from all the praise Bocas had been getting from fellow travelers.

Bocas del toro street Panama

Florence, Italy

When it comes to Tuscany, Florence tends to be named as the city to visit, but we missed the ‘Wow’ factor we felt in other spots we visited in Tuscany. We found Florence to be overpriced, overcrowded with bus loads of tourists, and not as pretty as Siena, Lucca or San Gimignano. For art lovers, Florence can be the ultimate destination, as the city is home to the Uffizi gallery and the Academia, which both house incredible paintings and sculptures, as well as being home to an ornate Cathedral and the Ponte Vecchio bridge. Most people love it, but the famous city didn’t inspire us as much as we thought.

Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati, Florence, Italy

The Panama Canal train ride

Sure, train rides in Central America are rate, nearly non-existent, and one along the Panama Canal sounds fascinating. But we say don’t bother getting up at the crack of dawn for this disappointing train ride along the canal. We had read about this train ride months before we even got to Panama, and descriptions such as luxurious and unforgettable experience really drew us in for the ride from the Miraflores Lock 50km cross country to the Gatun lock. Tourists are herded into one very old car on the train which may have been luxurious 50 years ago, but today feels run down. Very little of the ride offers actual views of the canal, and despite the luscious jungle and blue lakes, the hour-long ride for $22 is a one-way trip which leaves you in the undesirable town of Colon forced to make your way to a bus station to hop on a bus back to where you started.

Panama Canal Train Waggon

Travel recommendations

House-sitting

We recommended house-sitting before, but having had two more great house-sits in the last 100 days, we can only recommend it again. We are signed up with two house-sitting websites which has brought us to two places we wouldn’t have visited otherwise: a tiny German village in the Alps near the Austrian border and a cute Italian mountain village north of Lucca, plus in the very near future, a housesit in Canada, which was not on our itinerary either. Not only did we get to know these regions, but we also took advantage of having a house again for a while: our own kitchen, showers and toilets and having a car – all things we didn’t have while traveling through Central America for the last seven months. We also appreciated the fact that showers were always hot, we did not have to share the bathroom and we didn’t pay a penny for accommodation during that time.

Our home for two weeks - an Italian farmhouse in Tuscany

Car shares in Germany

Car-sharing, or carpooling, in Germany is a well-developed market, and just as common as taking a bus or a taxi. There are several websites for car-sharing, which allow you to search for drivers headed in your direction and book a ride with them, for not more than your fair share of the gas. We moved throughout Germany entirely using car-sharing, and we even went to Italy and back using the same websites and paying only 35 Euros per person instead of 229 Euros which we each would have paid for the train around Easter. Speaking German is a plus not only for reading the site but also when spending time in the car speaking to the wide variety of drivers and other passengers. However, enough Germans speak English well-enough to get you from A to B and save you a ton of money while traveling around the country.

Stay at Belmonte Vacanze

Our time in Tuscany easily competes as the absolute top of our 400 days of travel. There is no question that our overwhelmingly positive experience is due, in large part, to our time at the family-run Belmonte Vacanze holiday apartments, set in the perfect location for the perfect Tuscany farm holiday. Although it feels like you are staying at a villa in the deepest Tuscan countryside, Belmonte Vacanze is actually just a 15-minute drive from San Gimignano, Volterra, ten minutes from our new favorite little town of Montaione, 30 minutes from Siena, and you can even make it to the Tuscan coast and Pisa in 1 hour, and Cinque Terre within 2 hours. There is an on-site horse-riding facility, a large swimming pool, and our one-bedroom apartment which came equipped with everything we needed, including sweeping views of the Tuscan countryside and the friendliest owners we’ve come across yet!

Belmonte Vacanze holiday apartments in Tuscany

Worst travel moments

Bank card fraud in Panama City

When Jess tried to use her debit card in Panama City, the ATM spit out her card, but no cash came out. After this happened four times at two different ATMs, we returned cashless to our hostel and checked the online bank statement: several hundred dollars had been withdrawn from Colombia, and as we were in Panama, not Colombia, we saw quickly some major fraud was in action. The bank (HSBC) was quick and efficient in returning the charges, but we were stuck without the only debit card that still worked after a series of debit card issues throughout the year. Luckily this happened one day before we flew to Germany, where we had a fixed address for long enough to get new cards sent over. Cash advances on our credit card ended up being very expensive though.

Top travel mishaps

Opening a bank account with a sh** bank

When we arrived in Germany we finally received our new Nationwide Bank debit cards which had been forwarded to us, after 5 months without being able to use our joint account. After the debit card fraud on our other account, we were more than happy to hold our new cards – the smiles on our faces disappeared quickly though when we read the bold print in the accompanying letter: This card can not be used for cash withdrawals abroad. I’m sorry, can you repeat that?!

We had opened our account with Nationwide in England just before we left on our trip because they were offering free international withdrawals – and now they changed their policy so that the cards can not even be used abroad. If you are from England and about to set off on a RTW trip – do not sign up with Nationwide. Nationwide sucks.

Bad planning: Arriving in Panama just in time for Carnival

When we crossed over from Costa Rica into Panama, we had just found out that all of Panama was celebrating Carnival, which is one of the biggest parties in the world. With the entire country on holiday, we crossed the border into the country on a day when no local buses running and hostels were completely booked. We ended up overpaying for a taxi to the ferry to Bocas del Toro, where we ended up spending a night together in the bottom bunk in a grungy hostel right next to the three-story mega-speakers of the main carnival stage in Bocas. Oops!

Bocas del toro carnival devil Panama

Top food moments

Italian Pizza at Il Ciampo, Montaione in Italy

During our stay in Italy it took us a while to find decent pizza. In fact, we didn’t even like the first few pizzas we ordered. However, the longer we stayed, the better the pizza was that we found! The best pizza that will stay with us forever in our memories of Tuscany was a mascarpone & tomato pizza and a rucola & parmesan pizza at Pizzeria Il Ciampo in the small town of Montaione near San Gimignano.

Pizza at Il Ciampi in Montaione Italy

Pretzels in Bavaria, Germany

Jess loves German soft pretzels, called Brez’n in Bavaria. Pretzels are equal to bread and are used for making any kind of sandwich or come with cheese baked on top. Jess had at least one pretzel every day throughout the seven weeks we spent in Germany off and on in the last few months – she can’t get enough!

Pretzels in Bavaria

Tapas at Restaurante Carmela in Seville, Spain

We always seem to find a great restaurant in Seville, and Restaurante Carmela is no exception. We filled the entire table with vegetarian tapas and were thankful for the long walk back to our hotel to help digest it all.

Delicious Tapas at Carmela in Seville Spain

Gelato in Monterosso al Mare, Cinque Terre in Italy

We each had delicious gelato from a beach-side stand in Monterosso al Mare, but really, you can go to almost any gelateria in Italy and find delicious gelato – chocolate, strawberry, tutti-frutti and even some more exotic flavors such as zabaione and pistachio. Sure some places are better than others, but we did a lot of work as amateur gelato testers and have yet to find gelato that didn’t taste good!

Gelato in Italy

More:

Our Tops and Flops of 300 days of travel: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica
Our Tops and Flops of 200 days of travel: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador
Our Tops and Flops of 100 days of travel: Las Vegas, California, Arizona, Mexico

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One year of travel: Our expenses

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We have on been on the road for one year, and want to share our expenses as a follow up to our first 6 months of travel, which we posted here. Read on for a total sum of every single penny we spent between 30 April 2010 and 30 April 2011.  We decided to provide our spending summary for two reasons. Firstly, we would like to compare with other long-term travelers and see if we are in the same range of spending. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we would like to show our readers who don’t travel long-term just how affordable and realistic this experience really is.

Note: Expenses are stated in both USD and GBP since we both earn money in GBP, but did most of our spending comparing various currencies to US Dollars.

In Total – How much did we spend?

Per Couple $28,483.55 £18,181.51



Per Person $14,241.77 £9,090.75

Average expenses: Per Month

Per Couple
$2,373.63
£1,515.13



Per Person $1,186.81
£757.56

Our expenses include all every flight we took, our pricey Corn Islands vacation, every hostel / hotel / motel / apartment that we slept in, every bus / boat / tuktuk / taxi / train we took, every car we rented, every meal we ate, every beer we drank, various medications, every donation we gave, plus everything else we spent our money on.

Latin America vs Europe and North America

We spent two thirds of the time (8 months) in Mexico and Central America, and one third (4 months, 2.5 / 1.5) in the US and Europe, but over half of our expenses come from our time in Europe/US: $13,232.24 / £8494.41!  Had we traveled only in Latin America, we would have probably spent a lot less.

We have to admit that this budget was a bit higher than we expected, but we never really tried to keep our expenses down. Unlike other travelers, we are technically digital nomads and earn money as we go, so we never have to worry (knock on wood) about scraping the bottom of the money barrel. We rented cars in the U.S. and Europe (not cheap!) we ate out a lot, we didn’t always stay in the cheapest hostels, and we recently booked a rather expensive flight to Europe.

Jess backpacking through the jungleHousesits save money
Thanks to the various housesits during this past year, we saved more than 10 weeks accommodation. This free lodging helped us cut down this part of our budget!

Average Daily Expense: Per Country

This is our average daily spend breakdown per country – both for us as a couple and what that averages out to per person.

U.S.A. Per Couple $90.00 £60.00
Per Person $45.00 £30.00
Mexico Per Couple $41.16 £26.91
Per Person $20.58 £13.45
Belize Per Couple $108.00 £68.20
Per Person $54.00 £34.10
Guatemala Per Couple $46.24 £29.25
Per Person $23.12 £14.62
El Salvador Per Couple $48.10 £29.58
Per Person $24.05 £14.79
Honduras Per Couple $57.36 £36.87
Per Person $28.68 £18.43
Nicaragua Per Couple $63.63 £40.35
Per Person $31.81 £20.17
Costa Rica Per Couple $53.24 £32.97
Per Person $26.62 £16.49
Panama Per Couple $71.42 £43.92
Per Person $35.71 £21.96
Germany Per Couple $52.82 £33.45
Per Person $27.41 £16.73
Italy Per Couple $113.62 £68.83
Per Person $56.81 £34.42

A few notes on these daily averages:

1. Belize was so high because the amazing tours available- snorkeling and caving – are quite costly, but very worth it. Food and hotels can be very cheap if you do your research.
2. Nicaragua was only so expensive because of our trip to the Corn Islands. Without that, our time there would have been dirt cheap.
3. Honduras would have been cheaper, but we were there over Christmas and New Years, so we had lots of justifications for splurging.
4. Costa Rica is really not as expensive as everyone thinks!
5. Renting a car in Italy makes it expensive – the car ($35 a day at the cheapest rate), the gas (avg. of $9 per gallon!) and the tolls on the Autostrada (roughly $6.50 for a 45 minute drive, $35 for a three hour drive from Milan to Lucca).

Fiat 500 Rental Car Italy

Have you traveled long-term? How did our budget compare to yours? Have you ever considered travelling long-term but thought you don’t have the budget? Did our budget help push you in the direction of long-term travel? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Polaroid of the week: One of Bavaria’s best inventions: Pretzels!

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As our time in Bavaria comes to an end, and we prepare for the heavenly culinary delights of Tuscany, we realized how much we actually enjoyed the cuisine of Southern Germany! We indulged (too much!) in delicious German chocolate and Kaiserschmarrn (pancakes cut in little slices & served with apple sauce), devoured dumplings in mushroom sauce, developed a thing for a Bavarian cheese spread called Obatzda, gained a few pounds by eating too much cheese spatzle and not to forget the famous Hefeweiss beers!

And of course we had countless pretzels (or ‘Brezn’, as it is called in German) which are available in all sizes and varieties at each and every bakery. You can get XXL pretzels, pretzel balls, croissant pretzels, even entire baguettes made of pretzel. They make ’em with salt, no salt, sesame seeds, even pumpkin seeds and fill them with chocolate, cover them in cheese and pineapple or cut them in half with an inch-thick layer of butter in the middle.

We made sure to try as many different kinds of pretzels as possible and we officially vote them our number one food of Bavaria!

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