The Laundromats of Europe

When one is travelling for four months, one must do laundry. Because it’s impossible to pack four months worth of clothing if you don’t wash any of it. We stayed in a lot of Airbnbs that had laundries, which was super helpful, but in some cities, we needed a laundromat. And luckily for us, because so many people can only afford to live in small apartments, Europe has plenty of them. Here’s the highlight reel – hopefully it help you when you need clean clothes on your travels… or at least give you a Monday morning laugh.

 

Barcelona: Bugamatic
http://www.bugamatic.com/en/

Pros: Easy to operate with instructions in English as well as Spanish. You can buy laundry detergent there if you don’t have your own. And there’s a small coin-operated coffee machine in there.
Cons: The coffee machine didn’t work.

 

Bern: Wash-Bar
http://www.wash-bar.ch/de/

Pros: The washers and dryers all have names (Bruce, Marie, Frank, Cindy). The staff are quick to help foreigners who can’t read the instructions. You don’t need to add detergent – it’s already in the machine and included in the price. You can buy food and drinks there – alcoholic drinks. At 10am. Because it’s an actual bar.
Cons: The instructions aren’t in English so you can’t pretend to know what you’re doing.

 

Berlin: Waschsalon 115
http://www.waschsalon-berlin-mitte.de/

Pros: Lots of machines available. A few decent restaurants nearby to eat at while you wait. A small store selling alcohol and snacks a few doors down if you visit at night. A café on site if you visit during the day. Apparently run by some eccentric German twins who we didn’t have the pleasure (terror?) of encountering.
Cons: Instructions were a little vague (but by that point in the trip, we’d worked out they’re all the same).

 

Venice: Effe Erre Laundry
https://www.yelp.com/biz/effe-erre-venezia

Pros: Had a few extra large machines for giant loads of laundry. A few cafés nearby to supply caffeine and snacks while you wait.
Cons: Not many machines, and not super cheap, but nothing in Venice is.

 

Prague: Prague Andy’s Laundromat
http://praguelaundromat.cz/en/

Pros: It was like an apartment – there was even a couch and beanbag lounge with books and toys. Free hot drink for every customer. Free wifi. Computers available for use if you attend sans smart phone. Great café a few doors down for sandwiches while you wait.
Cons: It was like a sauna in there – in minus 2 degrees Celsius, I sat in there in a singlet, sweating bullets.

 

Vienna: Schnell & Sauber Waschsalon
http://waschtraum.de/schnell-sauber-waschsalon-hoegn-in-wien/

Pros: Heaps of machines. Easy to operate. Supermarket and free public toilets across the road. Café close by for caffeinating while waiting.
Cons: We got yelled out for eating a bag of chips while we waited for our laundry to dry by a grumpy little Austrian lady.

A Weekend in Ronda, Spain: Why to go & how to get there

A few years ago, I saw a photo of this bridge and the surrounding area in a travel brochure. Before I knew where it was, I decided I had to go there. I had to see for myself this incredible little town that seemed to be built on rock cliffs.

It turned out this place was Ronda, in Spain. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to, and it’s constantly overlooked because of bigger tourist towns like Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and San Sebastian. We found there was so much more information on all of those other places than there was on Ronda online, so I wanted to put together a bit of a guide for others who are travelling to Spain. Because Ronda is very much worth visiting while you’re over there!

 

HOW TO GET THERE:
By train – cheap and easy.  The best airport to fly into is Malaga, and you’ll be able to catch a direct train from there, which takes 2 hours each and cost us around AUD$35.00 per person.

You’ll be able to book online a month or two before travel, and the best website we found to book with was on Loco2, which has a really user-friendly booking system. Their website will advise you if your tickets can be downloaded to your phone, if they need to be printed, or if they are paper tickets that must be posted to you, and you can create an account so that you can access your trips easily.

 

WHERE TO STAY:
We stayed at the Hotel Colón, which I couldn’t recommend more highly. Its a basic hotel (we’re not fancy-hotel people), but in a great location that’s within walking distance of everything you’ll be wanting to see, lovely staff, 24 hour reception, free Wi-Fi, and a huge complimentary breakfast served in their restaurant.

 

WHAT TO DO IN A WEEKEND VISIT:

Day 1:
– Go for a morning walk through Alameda del Tajo Park
This gorgeous 19th-century park is full of enormous trees, wide walking avenues and park benches. It also has an absolutely insane view out over the gorge, if you’re not too bothered by heights.

– Keep walking on to the Ronda Bullring
Built in the 18th century completely out of stone, this was the heart of the city for a very long time. You can head in and check it out from the inside for around €7.00 per person, or just have a wander around the outside. Be sure to check out some of the gift stores around the bullring selling hand-painted ceramics.

– Check out the Puente Nuevo bridge over El Tajo gorge
Yup, the bridge in the first photo. Built in the mid to late 1700s (it took over 3 decades to complete), this is one seriously impressive feat of engineering.

– Take a break for lunch
Visit Casa Quino on Calle Nueva for a platter of Iberian cured meats, cheeses and a jug of sangria. There isn’t a better lunch in Ronda.

– Visit the Jardines de Cuenca
The gardens are gorgeous, even when we visited in winter, but it’s also one of the best places in the city to visit for a killer view of the Puente Nuevo.

 

Day 2:
– Get an early start with a hot air balloon ride
Hands down one of the best experiences of my life was driving down to the bottom of the gorge and rising up over the town of Ronda in a hot air balloon at sunrise. We went with Glovento Sur, and they were fantastic, even bringing us to a local eatery for breakfast after the ride.

– Make your way back into town and visit the Arab Baths
Similar to the design of Roman bath houses, the Arab Baths in Ronda are believed to have been the main public baths for the Moorish population back in the 11th century. It’ll cost you around €8.00 per person to walk through the remains, and there’s a great little film playing in there to show you how the baths would have operated.

– Stop for lunch, again
Keep heading south and order from the hand-written tapas menu at De Locos Tapas – the patatas bravas are especially delicious. And more sangria, obviously.

– Climb up to look down
After lunch, look over your table and across the plaza, and you’ll find some steps up to a wall – climb on up to burn some of those lunch calories and you’ll also get a great view.

– Visit Mondragon Palace
Once the palace of a Moorish ruler, it’s now a little natural history museum. It’ll cost you around €4.00 per person for entry, and is well worth it – a lot of the ceiling and tile details are well-kept originals, and the garden is completely magnificent.

Eating the city: Berlin, Germany

It’s not all meat and potatoes… well, I mean, there is a lot of that, but it’s really, really good!

Potato dishes

Why get it:
Germans do potato particularly well – there’s a lot more to it than mashed potato with meat. Dishes like this one from Zur Rose make it a kind of replacement for pasta, without making it just like gnocchi.
We got ours from: Zur Rose, Weinbergsweg 26, Berlin 

 

Goulash and potato dumplings

Why get it:
When you’re travelling through Germany in winter, you want warm, hearty comfort food. That’s goulash with the aforementioned mashed potato. It may look like dog food, but the meat is fall-apart-in-your-mouth soft, the sauce is rich, the sauerkraut is the perfect food to cut through the richness of the goulash, and mashed potato is always a welcome addition.
We got ours from: Georgbräu, Spreeufer 4, Berlin

 

A cured meat and cheese breakfast spread

Why get it:
It’s not all rich, hearty food – places like Alpenstück are breaking the stereotype with some really basic but delicious options for the modern traveller. Everything is so fresh and simple, it’s the perfect change from the typically heavy meals you’ll eat later in the day.
We got ours from: Alpenstück Bäckerei, Schröderstraße 1, Berlin

 

Pork knuckle

Why get it:
For that heavy meal later in the day, you can’t beat a crispy-skinned pork knuckle. This is the quintessential German plate of meat: juicy, soft pork under a crispy, salty layer, sitting on yet more sauerkraut with a side of yet more mashed potato. Sounds like it’d be getting repetitive, right? Wrong.
We got ours from: Weihenstephaner, Neue Promenade 5, Berlin

 

Traditional German sweets

Why get it:
After all that meat and potato, you’ll be wanting some sugar to balance things out. And Germany does sweets just as well as they do meat and potato. Some delicious options to look for are strudel biscuits – basically a jam covered butter biscuit with ‘crumble’ on top, and nussecken, an absolutely delicious nut/apricot jam/chocolate concoction (click on over to get my recipe for them!) that you really have to try.
We got ours from: A tiny little café that I can’t remember the name of…

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.

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

Bern Münster (Cathedral), Switzerland

Bern Münster
Münsterplatz 1, Bern, Switzerland
https://www.bernermuenster.ch/en/berner-muenster/infos-kontakt/

After several days of indulging in mulled wine, cheese, and potato rosti, I figured we were due to do something slightly more labour intensive than raising a plastic cup to our mouths. Over a 10am beer and pretzel, I asked husband what he thought of climbing to the top of the cathedral’s bell tower. He looked down at morning tea and agreed.

We arrived around midday to find the gates just being opened, and made our way in – it may be a place of worship, but it gets a lot of international visitors, so you’ll still enter and exit via the small gift shop. It costs CHF 5.00 (around AUD $7.00) for a ticket to climb the 100 metre bell tower, and there’s only one staircase to take you up and down. One staircase made up of 312 steps.

Word of warning: it is small and dark, and as I mentioned, there is only one way up and down, so if you’re on the claustrophobic side, please be careful! But if you can push yourself up, you’ll be rewarded with some really spectacular views over the UNESCO World Heritage city.

I also really loved the carvings up on the bell tower itself – they’re one of those things that look like such small, insignificant details from the ground, but up close they’re some seriously impressive pieces of art.

On the way down, you’ll pass the actual bell of the bell tower. It’s an absolute behemoth, and when it rang on our way down (we were almost at the bottom), the whole tower vibrated. Consider your timing on the climb – I’m not sure how pleasant it would be standing right next to that bell when it rings…

If your legs aren’t completely jelly after 624 steps, you can make your way into the cathedral, too. It’s small, but beautiful – the stain glass windows and ornate ceiling are worth the visit alone. There’s no entry fee, it’s just asked that you’re quiet and respectful, as it is still a functioning church with parishioners.

Because Bern’s historical centre is so small, climbing the bell tower really does give you the best view over it. And the good news is that when you’re done climbing, you’re in Switzerland, so a big pot of cheese fondue won’t be far away to replenish your energy stores. Everyone wins!

Eat here: Flavio Al Velavevodetto, Rome, Italy (Italian)

Flavio Al Velavevodetto
Via di Monte Testaccio 97, Rome
http://www.ristorantevelavevodetto.it/en/home

In Rome’s Testaccio district, the ex-garbage dump of the ancient Romans (literally, there’s a hill around the corner from here that we found while walking around to kill time before lunch that was made from broken Roman terracotta), where the tourists rarely venture, is a bowl of pasta that is the stuff of legends.

It’s a dish that’s just now gaining momentum and becoming trendy (god help us), and it’s so simple it sounds downright boring, made with only three ingredients: pasta, cheese and pepper. Seriously – that’s it. Well, it’s not, there’s a real art to it, and Elizabeth will explain it to you better than I can if you want to take a quick detour to her blog.

I knew we were eating cacio e pepe when we visited Rome, and there’s only one person I trusted to recommend the right place to eat it – and Elizabeth Minchilli didn’t let me down. Having seen a ridiculous number of bowls of this dish on her Instagram account in the year leading up to our trip, all from the same restaurant, it was decided we’d make the trip out to Testaccio to visit Flavio’s.

The restaurant itself is one of those you’d-miss-it-if-you-weren’t-looking-for-it kind of places. No big flashy signs out the front, no neon lights in the shape of pasta bowls, just a little gated courtyard with the name clearly printed above it.

We rolled in right on opening time, because we heard it got busy fast – it did. The place is surprisingly big inside, with several dining areas seperated by walls and corridors. The tables were laid with crisp white linen, and the staff gave the immediate impression of being a very well-oiled machine, to the point of being almost mechanical – I’m guessing the Roman regulars have a bit of a warmer welcome, though.

I knew what I wanted to try well before I saw the menu – cacio e pepe, obviously. A deep fried artichoke. And pasta carbonara. Oh, and a bottle of wine, because, when in Rome…

I’m used to my family’s artichokes, which are marinated in oil and herbs (and are very good), so a deep fried one was very different – and so, so good. The petals were like salty little artichoke chips, and the heart was still soft and sweet underneath all that crunchiness. Perfect starter, clearly, because every other table in the room had one, too.

Then came the pasta – the tonnarelli (like fat spaghetti) cacio e pepe did not disappoint. Perfectly al dente pasta smothered in cheese and pepper is a thing of beauty. Husband said it was the best bowl of pasta he’s ever eaten. Again, a clear winner, because every table seemed to have at least one bowl of this.

The other bowl of pasta I chose was rigatoni carbonara. This is one of my favourite meals, but I don’t order it at home, because most restaurants don’t know how to make it. Contrary to popular belief, carbonara is not made with cream; it’s made with eggs. So when restaurants make it with cream and call it “authentic Italian,” it makes my blood boil. But here, they make it right, with eggs. And guanciale (cured pork jowl, one of my favourite meaty things). And more cheese. And let me tell you, even though it may not look like much, that was the best bowl of pasta I’ve ever eaten (sorry, Nonna).

We washed it all down with what was left of the bottle of wine, used the contents of the complimentary bread basket to mop up what was left of the sauces, rolled out the front door and continued to talk about lunch for the next three days. If you’re only going to eat pasta at once place in Rome, make sure it’s at Flavio’s. And that’s coming from an Italian.