Asolo, Italy

I know I’m incredibly fortunate to have two parents hailing from opposite ends of the same country. The north and south of Italy couldn’t be more different, and I’ve had some wonderful opportunities to see both. Mum’s side of the family are from the north, up near Venice, so I really wanted to show some of the little towns and villages in the area that most people who visit Venice never get to. While the island is obviously incredible, I wonder how many people would kick themselves if they knew what they were missing on the mainland…

Asolo is one of those little towns up in the foothills of the Dolomites that you picture when you think to yourself “how gorgeous it must be to hire a car and just drive and explore little medieval cobblestoned villages.” Dating back to pre-Roman times, Asolo has been around for a very long time, and hopefully won’t be going anywhere soon. And getting there is as easy as leaving the Venice islands for the mainland and hiring a car.

With cobbled streets, creeping greenery, delicious food in windows, remainders of medieval buildings, and seriously stunning views, it’s easy to see why so many artists and writers find their way there. Dame Freya Stark, explorer, traveller and writer, was one of those – she visited Asolo for the first time in 1923, eventually retired there, and passed away a few months after her 100th birthday there. That’s her villa in the photo below…

Asolo is one of those towns that managed to retain all of its old-world charm while Venice was being slowly commercialised and destroyed by tourism. They don’t get a heap of visitors, comparatively, and it’s so much more beautiful for that (so if you visit it, please do so respectfully!) – it’s the sort of place you want to find a little table balanced on cobblestones to sit at while you drink wine, a place you’d want to visit with a sketch book and pencil, even if you can’t draw. The fact that there isn’t a heap of big tourist attractions to see and do there is what makes it such a great place to visit as a break from the chaos that can be Venice.

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Around The World In 18 Museums

I’m a bit (a lot) of a history geek, and its International Museum Day tomorrow, so I thought I’d take a look at some of the best museums husband and I have seen on our travels. They’re an easily overlooked activity when you’re travelling because they have a reputation for being boring (probably because a lot of kids were dragged to them against their will at school), but there are soooo many different types of museums out there that are a hell of a lot more fun than what you did back in year 5!

Top left: Banff Park Museum -Top right: Chicago History Museum – Bottom left: Museum at Mondragon Palace in Ronda – Bottom right: Saga Museum in Reykjavík

1. Banff Park Museum, Banff, Canada
91 Banff Ave, Banff
https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/ab/banff/index
Cost: free
This museum looks at animals of all sorts native to the area (like elk, mountain goats, bears, wolves). It also has some gorgeous geological displays of stones and crystals and random curiosities donated by locals. And on the way out, for bonus points, there’s a beautiful library!

2. Chicago History Museum, Chicago, USA
1601 N Clark Street, Chicago
http://www.chicagohs.org/
Cost: USD$16.00 per person
This was like walking through a history book in the best possible way. I learned more than expected to about Chicago’s history, random things like how the city flag came to be, and about the incredible work of Vivian Maier, which I’m not obsessed with.

3. Museum at Mondragon Palace, Ronda, Spain
Plaza Mondragon, Ronda
http://www.museoderonda.es/
Cost: €3.00 per person
This old Moorish palace has been renovated and restored, and given new life as a natural history museum. A lot of the ceiling and tile details are original, and the garden (while small compared to some of the other palaces) is stunning.

4. Saga Museum, Reykjavík, Iceland
Grandagarður 2, Reykjavík
https://www.sagamuseum.is/
Cost: 2.200kr per person
This is like a history picture book come to life – with an audio guide to talk you through, you walk through the museum’s displays of figures (all crafted based on descriptions found in the Viking sagas and chronicles), demonstrating events from Iceland’s history.

Top left: Guinness Storehouse in Dublin – Top right: Mardi Gras World in New Orleans – Bottom left: DDR Museum in Berlin – Bottom right: Czech Beer Museum in Prague

5. Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland
St James’s Gate, Ushers, Dublin
https://www.guinness-storehouse.com/en
Cost: €17.50 per person
I’m not a beer drinker, and I still had a blast here! Yes, you get to go through a proper tasting session, and learn how to pour the perfect pint, and enjoy said pint in the rooftop bar with a killer view over Dublin, but it’s also a multi-level museum looking at everything from the beer creation process to it’s many marketing campaigns.

6. Mardi Gras World, New Orleans, USA
1380 Port of New Orleans Place
http://www.mardigrasworld.com/
Cost: USD$20.00 per person
You can read more about our visit to Mardi Gras World here, but basically it’s a tour through one of the warehouses the Kern family use to create the incredible parades floats. You’ll get to see the props and some floats, as well as getting a peek at some of the artists at work.

7. DDR Museum, Berlin, Germany
Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 1, Berlin
https://www.ddr-museum.de/en
Cost: €5.50 per person
This is an incredibly interactive museum, encouraging visitors to open cupboards, sit in cars, and listen to the sounds coming through the headphones. You’ll get a disconcerting taste of life in war-time East Germany, including being able to walk through a full “apartment” and rifling through the kitchen, bedrooms and lounge room.

8. Czech Beer Museum, Prague, Czech Republic
Husova 241/7, Prague
http://beermuseum.cz/
Cost: 280CZK per person
Again, not a beer drinker, so this was mostly for husband’s benefit, but turned out it was a really cool little museum! It covered the history of beer, had some crazy beer collections (bottles, labels, model trucks), and at the end of the tour, you received 4 beers to sample. Not little 30ml sips, but full glasses of beer. Enjoy!

Top left: MOMA in New York – Top right: Bier & Oktoberfest Museum in Munich – Bottom left: Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome – Bottom right: Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan

9. Museum of Modern Art, New York City, USA
11 W 53rd St, New York, USA
https://www.moma.org/
Cost: USD$25.00 per person
It shouldn’t need much of an introduction – this is THE place to go for art in New York. The modern exhibits change regularly, but honestly, my favourite pieces were the classics like Monet’s Water Lilies and Van Gogh’s Starry Night – you see these in magazines and art textbooks at school, but in real life, they’re something else.

10. Bier & Oktoberfest Museum, Munich, Germany
Sterneckerstraße 2, Munich
http://www.bier-und-oktoberfestmuseum.de/en
Cost: €4.00 per person
This little museum lives in an old (when I say old, I mean from the 1300s) townhouse, accessible by a 500-year old wooden staircases, over a few floors. You’ll find an impressive collection of Oktoberfest paraphernalia (mugs, posters, etc), and can sit down to watch a short film about the history of Oktoberfest. Even as a non-beer lover, this was an awesome piece of history to see.

11. Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome, Italy
Lungotevere Castello, 50, Rome
http://castelsantangelo.beniculturali.it/
Cost: €14.00 per person
It took me three visits to Rome, but I finally got to Castel Sant’Angelo! It’s had a few lives, originally built as a mausoleum, and also serving as a fortress and castle before turning into a museum. The most stunning part of the museum are the paintings, Renaissance era frescoes, which have been preserved almost perfectly. Even if you’re not an art lover, they’re worth seeing. Speaking of worth seeing, make it all the way to the top and you’ll be rewarded with one hell of a view.

12. Totem Heritage Centre, Ketchikan, USA
601 Deermount Street, Ketchikan
https://www.ktn-ak.us/totem-heritage-center
Cost: USD$5.00
It’s not a huge museum, but the history it holds is massive. It holds some of the city’s most previous totem poles, as well as other native artifacts (think intricate hand-beaded purses and ornaments).

 

And, because this wasn’t our first (nor will it be our last!) adventure, here are a few more museums worth checking out that we’ve found on our travels…

– Holocaust Museum, Washington, D.C., USA
– The Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt

Charles Bridge, Prague

One of the most well known sights in Prague, you’ve the probably seen the Charles Bridge in many an Instagram picture, flooded with tourists. Read plenty of blog posts advising you to get there early to avoid said crowds. Heard that the best view is to be gained after climbing the tower at the end of the bridge. You’ll have read dozens of Facebook captions about just how amazing it is. And those floodlit sunset photos…

I want to give you a bit of a different post about Charles Bridge. One that I came across in my pre-trip reading. See, for the 12 months leading up to our world tour, I read as many books as I could fit in about the places we’d be visiting. Yes, by choice. Yes, I enjoyed history and English at school.

One of the books I found on Prague was ‘The Story of Prague’ written by one Count Francis Lützow in 1902. I imagined in a city as old as Prague, there probably wouldn’t be a huge amount of differences in the city’s basic structure since Count Lützow wrote his book, and thought it’d be interesting to see parts of the city under his 1902 guide. I’ll write more about his walking tour that we followed, but for now I thought I’d share some of his words on Charles Bridge, along with some of my images, taken 115 years after he wrote about it…

… there has been a bridge on or near the spot where the present edifice stands from very early times. Ancient chroniclers write that when, in 932, the body of St. Wenceslas was conveyed from Stará Boleslav, where he was murdered, to St. Vitus’s Church at Prague, those who carried the body, ‘hurrying to the river Vltava, found the bridge partly destroyed by the floods.’

When, in 1157, the floods had entirely destroyed the wooden Bridge of Prague, Queen Judith, consort of King Vladislav I., caused a new stone bridge to be erected at her own expense…

In the winter of 1342 the Bridge of Judith was destroyed by the floods, and for a time a temporary wooden bridge, partly founded on the remaining pillars of the stone bridge, alone connected the two parts of Prague. This bridge naturally proved insufficient, particularly after Charles IV. had founded the new town of Prague. In 1357 that King undertook the building of the present bridge. It was… only completed in 1503.

We first pass under the bridge tower of the old town, which is decorated with statues of the Bohemian patron saints and with the coats of arms of the countries that were formerly connected with Bohemia as well as that of the old town itself.
The statues that now ornament the bridge formed no part of the original structure. As can be seen in ancient engravings, a crucifix only stood on the bridge at first. Rudolph erected statues of the Madonna and of St. John, and the others were gradually added, principally during the period of Catholic re-action in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Eat here: Cochon Butcher, New Orleans (sandwiches/meat)

Cochon Butcher
930 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans
https://cochonbutcher.com/

A tribute to Old World butcher and charcuterie shops, Cochon Butcher melds a distinctive Cajun accent to the art of curing meat.

With a menu description like that, as if we weren’t going to visit this place! We first saw it through the eyes of Anthony Bourdain, then read a ton of great reviews, and then heard more good stuff about it once we got to New Orleans.

Much like places in Melbourne (think Jimmy Grants, Huxtaburger), Cochon Butcher is the super successful, less formal offshoot from the more fancy Cochon, drawing in a solid hipster and young professional crowd. The menu is very pig-centric, in the best possible way, with everything crafted, cured and smoked in house.

We visited at lunch time and shared a Buckboard bacon melt with collards on white bread (bottom left) and a charcuterie plate (top left). Buckboard bacon melt was probably the best spin on a ham & cheese toastie I’ve ever had – that bacon was amazing.

The charcuterie plate was next level – for a mere USD$16.00, we got dry cured pork loin, country terrine, spicy fennel salami, chorizo, pork rillon, flat bread crackers and pickles. And every single thing on that board was magnificent.

They also have a mean cocktail menu, heaps of beer and wine options, and you can shop their flatware, aprons, sauces and pickles after you’re done eating. They’d have every right to be a little arrogant and pretentious, but the staff were cool and laid back without being complete tools. They made the atmosphere like that of a fun, young deli, but the food was clearly the product of experience. We’d go back to eat there again in a heartbeat. And now all I want for breakfast is a bacon sandwich.

A One Day, Self-Drive Guide to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in Iceland

Iceland’s a small country, which means it is the perfect place to ditch the organised tour groups and drive yourself around. Now, we visited in winter, which made the driving conditions challenging on a few occasions. Like the night we arrived just before an Arctic snowstorm hit, and our projected 2.5 hour drive ended up taking 5 hours and we almost died. That’s a story for another day. But Arctic snowstorms aside, it’s actually a really easy place to drive yourself around, so I’m going to show you how you can day trip the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in a day without a tour guide!

I’m sure you’ll be able to get your paws on a slightly more accurate map, but this is the one I drew in my travel journal at the end of our day, which should (hopefully) give you a pretty good indication of where things are – the area isn’t too big so you should be able to find everything!

Airbnb in Hellissandur
We stayed in Hellissandur, which is a tiny little village which is starting to get a bit more attention from tourists. The Airbnb we stayed in was a beautiful two bedroom home with wonderful amenities and really lovely hosts, which I’d highly recommend –  if anyone wants the details, just email me! While the village itself is really small, the location makes it a perfect place to base yourself while you tour the Peninsula.

 

1. Ruins by the water

These had no signposts or descriptions, and I couldn’t tell you what they were from, but there were some remainders of old stone structures with a view out over the water. The area was completely deserted, so we figured we’d stop for a look around.

 

2. Djúpalónssandur Beach

Like so many other parts of the Peninsula, Djúpalónssandur used to be populated by fishermen. You’ll find a pebbly shore, lava formations and a beautiful view. Just stick to the paths, as much for your own safety as for the flora around the area.

 

3. Lóndrangar Cliffs
Volcanic basalt columns popping up out of the water in a castle-looking formation, you can walk down to get a little closer (as long as you’re careful!), and if you visit at the right time of year, you may get to see some puffins.

 

4. Arnarstapi

Another little fishing village sitting below Mt Stapafell, Arnarstapi is one of those places worth visiting just to look at. The little houses look like doll houses under the massive mountains and endless sky, the basalt cliff faces make for a pretty imposing sight, and the sculpture of Bárður looks like something straight out of the sagas.

 

On the drive…

Honestly, we took a lot longer to drive the Peninsula than we needed, because we just kept pulling over when we came across sights like these.

 

5. Búdir

Not even a town, Búdir is a tiny hamlet located on lava fields, and is probably best known by tourists for it’s black church – which is especially striking in winter, when almost everything around it is white.

 

6. Bjarnarfoss

Iceland is known for it’s incredible waterfalls, and Bjarnafoss is another shining example. Around 80m high, it’s easily seen from the road, but you probably won’t be able to get too close because the waterfall is actually located on private property.

 

7. Grundarfjörður and Kirkjufell
At this point in the day, we were getting a little cold and tired, and decided we’d need a time out if we were going to stretch the day out a little longer. On the way to see the 463m high Kirkjufell, we stopped in the little town of Grundarfjörður, where we found Kaffi 59, a cute little bistro that had hot tea and coffee and delicious chocolate cake for us to recharge with.

 

8. Ólafsvík
Last stop on our way home was in Ólafsvík for a grocery run. Eating out in Iceland isn’t cheap, so grocery stores were essential for us. With enough instant noodles, frozen veggies and snacks for dinner and the following day’s road trip stacked up in the back seat, we were on our way back to a hot shower after a long day on the road.

 

We obviously only just skimmed the surface, and there’s plenty more to see and do around this area, but we had to skip a few things because of spotty weather. But following that path should give you a great taste of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and allow you to discover a few more treasures on your way!

From my travel journal: Barcelona, 2017

To kill a little more time, we walked to the Mercat de la Concepció for a light lunch. We found a decent food market with a cute little corner stall with a little counter, again run by a sweet little older couple. We had beer + wine, with some potato tortilla & albondigas (meatballs) – absolutely phenomenal food! I’ll take those cute little lunch counters over a fancy restaurant any day. And it was a local market, no tourists = even better!

Eating the city: Vienna, Austria

I didn’t know much about Vienna’s food before I visited other than it was a city famous for a chocolate cake and veal schnitzel. Turns out they do other stuff pretty well, too…

 

Sacher Torte

Why get it: Because you actually can’t go to Vienna without trying this cake. Everyone knows it. Layers of chocolate cake and apricot jam encased in rich couverture chocolate. Yes, please.
We got ours from: Hotel Sacher, Philharmoniker Str. 4, Vienna

 

Krapfen

Why get it:
These apricot-jam filled donuts are particularly popular in Vienna, and for good reason. Light and fluffy deep fried dough full of sugar jam makes – delicious!
We got ours from: One of the Christmas markets we visited, but Café Oberlaa (several locations) is a local favourite.

 

Wiener schnitzel

Why get it:
The Wiener schnitzel is one of the city’s most famous exports – a thin piece of veal is crumbed and fried to golden perfection.
We got ours from: Pürstner, Riemergasse 10, Vienna

 

Fancy cakes

Why get it:
Vienna’s sugar game is tight, and one of the things they do best is cake. Not your standard sponge cake, I’m talking fancy, multi-layeredm gourmet delicacies that you sit down and take your time to enjoy.
We got ours from: Café Central, Herrengasse 14, Vienna

 

Käsekraner

Why get it: Because it combines the best of both worlds – a thick pork sausage studded with little chunks of cheese. Heaven. And even better – that cheese oozes out while they cook on thr grill, so you get this deliciously caramelised crust on it. Usually served with mustard and bread, it’s simple but ridiculously good.
We got ours from: Street side stalls. Yes, we visited several of them. Quality control, you know…

 

Schmarren

Why get it:
This little pan of heaven is made by first cooking up a thick, fluffy pancake. Then, it’s chopped up into little pieces and refried in butter with raisins, dusted with a heap of icing sugar, and traditionally topped with a spiced plum compote.
We got ours from: Heindl’s Schmarren & Palatschinkenkuchl, Köllnerhofgasse/Grashofgasse 4, Vienna