Europe

Best of Amsterdam

One of Europe’s picturesque cities, there is so much to see and do, plus its full of culture, history and diversity.

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The city is best seen on foot or renting a bike whilst enjoying the good cycling lanes.

With a great selections of cafés that you’ll find on the canal side is a beautiful way to spend a day. The city has a fixation with tulips, the magnificently picturesque Keukenhof gardens has millions of them its definitely worth visiting.

In the Rijksmuseum you’ll find a magnificent collection of Dutch painters of the Golden Age, while the Van Gogh Museum hosts a vast array of the artist’s most famous works, as well as a selection of other well-known pieces.

Amsterdam tourist spot is around Zeedijk area famously called the ” Red Light District”, this personally was an eye opening experience ,with so many pubs and amusement things all mixed in one in Damrak area. The sex museum is a good place to spend an hour or so, its also one tick off the list.

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I’m in love with the buildings.

Wandering around or taking a canal boat through the city you will always find things to see or do.

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Whilst staying in this diverse city, the Anne Frank Museum is rated a place to see, I personally didn’t go there but its on my list when I go back.

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Exploring the city by night

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Personally I think at least 3 days is needed to get a feel of this place, whether the art, history , or coffee shops interest you, its got something for everyone.

Europe

3 countries one day 🇬🇧 🇩🇪🇫🇷 

Three counties in one day…. Sounds exhausting right.

I set off for the city of Saarbrücken in Western Germany this morning to catch a train directly to Paris. I decided to take this route mainly because of the travel journey time. The hours spent waiting around for a flight, Can be boring!
So at 10am this morning I had arrived into Paris, the train is great as it’s direct, fast and several hours I had arrived. With some time to kill before my connection to London, I wondered around the streets, busy with tourists and locals, I ventured to the Tour Eiffel, direct links with the metro are provided around the city so I hopped on and had quick look.

It was nice to finally be back here after 6 years.

Although both times have been flying visit, it’s nice to admire the beauty of this city. After taking some photos and admiring the scenery I headed towards Gare du Nord for the Euro star to London.
I got myself a coffee, 4.80 euro and the name elena being rolled off the barista lips, I find the french struggle to grasp the H in helena, I sat down briefly to enjoy it.


Boarding the euro star is literally the same procedure as a flight, passport checked, bags scanned as well as you. It was very proficient.

Once aboard, I enjoyed my window seat and the ability of WiFi, tearing through the French countryside at 330km per hour. We had reached London in two hours. It was lovely to be welcomed by sunshine, hopping onto the tube always is daunting for me, so when I manage to navigate myself around I feel so chuffed.

Whilst arriving into St Pancras kings cross. I wanted to a picture of the famous 9 3/4 platform from the harry potter books, so I did.

It’s been an eventful day hopping from one big city to another. But would definitely use the train service again to travel around Europe.
Now I am safely back in Oxfordshire ready to begin the next chapter.

Europe

Hiking in the Austrian Alps

When you think of the country Austria, probably mountains, classic music, Julia Andrews skipping through meadows and picturesque hillside towns comes to mind.

This is pretty much what you get, the lush green countryside and mountains is the reason why its one of my favorite countries in the world

My boyfriend and I decided to spend several weeks during the summer hiking through the Kitzbühel Alps, these are a mountain range of the Central Eastern Alps surrounding the town of Kitzbühel in Tyrol, Austria.

Truly a beautiful spot, we had booked the KAT walk a 6 day hiking trip, 106 km in distance with guest house accommodation. Its great value for money with breakfast and dinner included, and the option for a shuttle service for your luggage we decided to carry our rucksacks with everything needed for the week. Although I found I packed way too much and literally wore the same thing each day.

The range of hikes on offer is versatile and ranges from easy hikes in the valley, to hikes using the cable cars as support, right the way through to mountain tours to isolated summits.

Day one of the CAT walk started from the town Hopfgarten to the southern Kelchsau tributary, farmhouses, mountain farms and houses, almost from a different period in time, await you on the 17.5 kilometre day.

After some confusion on the start point, walking passed the sign post, we eventually set off and enjoyed the days hiking, the weather was lovely despite being quite hot, especially when carrying a rucksack but the scenery was beautiful and distracted me.

It was a great feeling reaching the highest point of the day, perfectly situated by an farm house which had a tub full of drinks for hikers. An apfelshorle never tasted so good.

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When we finally made it to the end point, It was nice to take our walking boots off and enjoy some dinner. The accommodation was decent, Gasthof Traube , it provided us with a nice spacious bedroom, the food was good and the balcony views were incredible.

The second day  of the KAT Walk takes you into a world away from any civilization. Narrow paths, great views and insights into an almost untouched nature with a fantastic 360° panorama. We even had the luck of meeting the famous dialect poet, Sepp Kahn, on the “Unteren Lärchenbergalm Farm” – he enjoys talking about his life as a mountain dairy farmer. He even let us drink some of his water.

This day definitely had the highest incline, reaching the highest point of 1923 m, On the Lodon summit, this provides fantastic panoramic views (the valley crossing between Pinzgau and Zillertal), Rofan mountains, Guffert Spitz, Mangfall and Sonnwend mountains, Hohe Salve, Wilder Kaiser and the renowned Big Rettenstein.

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Markus all set for the next day.

Reaching the Summit of Lodon.

Even though it was hard trekking in the heat the views were totally worth it.

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Reaching the Summit of Lodon.

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I was taking away by the sheer beauty.

The descent was quite gradual, leading into the forest which gave us some decent shade, we passed a dutch couple who also were doing the hike, it made us feel good that we had picked up the paste as we knew they had set off early that morning. After no more than an hour of hiking through the forest, it directly lead us to our next place to stay the Steinberghaus.

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 The view from our balcony

Here we also were offered a nice spacious bedroom with two double beds and a lovely balcony area, that evening we enjoyed a BBQ dinner, after a long day hiking it was perfect.

The third day of the KAT-Walk gives you lots of space and time to enjoy the feeling of absolute freedom. The impressive “Almrosen Lake”, set in the picturesque, gentle rolling grassy mountains, with culinary delights await the long-distance walkers on this 19 km stage of the trail.

Within moments of setting off, we made a wrong turn and ended up at a dead end. Becoming quite frustrated as where to go, after wandering around and following the guided map we eventually made it to the right turning. By this point Markus had been suffering from blisters quite badly, and both of us on the verge of wanting to give up, the combination of a rucksack + incline +hot weather = hard work. Still we decided not to give up and made the climb, this part was slightly less scenic than other parts and felt long.

It was nice stop for some shade and lunch

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I was also greeted by this lovely lady 

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After a short rest and filling our stomachs with food we set off, heading towards the Hintenkar Hochalm (the higher pastures, 1,722m). Then along the track to the Hintenkar Niederalm (the lower pastures, 1,546m). We were confronted with a lot of cows which made us wall along a verged as they didn’t want to move.

The views were just incredible. 

As we descended towards Labalm, the weather turned for the worse, thunder in the distance and a light shower of rain, it was perfect timing that we came across Alpengasthof Labalm which provides lovely meals and refreshments.

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Views from Alpengashof Labalm

The descent down was pleasant, following a road along the river into the town of Aschau we had reached our next place for the night Landgasthof Falkenstein.

We decided to have a early dinner and reclined to our room where we watched ‘Into the wild’ on my tiny iphone screen.

The next morning after a good hearty breakfast, we set off in the direction of Kitzbühel although looking on the map it was only a short drive away we were facing a lovely steep incline, this part of the KAT walk wanders over the tracks of the legendary Hahnenkamm-Downhill Race. You get a taste of the World-Cup atmosphere: Signposts along the “Streif Downhill Race Track” explain the various stages of the course. This day’s destination is the town centre of the legendary Alpine sports city: Kitzbühel! 

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Getting friendly with the locals.

This part of the hike we passed many other hikers and mountain bikers, The route continues steadily uphill through the mountain pastures and past the “Kleinmoos Niederalm” (1,624m).

The route runs along the mountain ridge above the “Pengelstein” summit (3h from Aschau, we decided to stop for an refreshment at the top. This was pretty crowded with people, which was a complete surprise from the previous days, majority of the public had driven up on the track roads.

Views from the top 

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Even the cows had a pretty sweet view.

For those who still have enough stamina to continue on foot, but there is the option to catch the cable cart straight down to Kitzbühel, we decided to hike down via the ski area in the direction of “Seidlalm”. Walking immediately alongside the world-famous “Streif” downhill race course.

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Quick selfie on the “Streif”

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The views going down were so impressive, it gives your such a great view down to Kitzbühel and consistently provides stunning views of the surrounding mountains as far as the Wilder Kaiser.

In Kitzbühel, the world-famous Alpine town, we were provided excellent accommodation at the Hotel Reisch situated in the centre of this historical town, where VIPs are also known to frequent quite often. We had yet another delicious meal, which consisted of 3 courses.

Our room for the night, I was so impressed with the bathroom hidden behind this impressive photo of the Wilder Kaiser mountains. The breakfast was out of this world, I mean champagne for breakfast, honey straight from the cone, selections of pastries, I would of been happy with water and cereal. It was incredible, sadly Markus wasn’t hungry to enjoy all this food, so I pretty much ate for us both.

IMG_9027Balcony view from your room. 

Wandering around the town

Day 5 of the KAT walk summit climb to Kitzbühel Horn, this is where fitness and stamina are required, from the “Kitzbühel Horn” to St. Johann and its grandiose summits, Fantastic views, an Alpine flower garden, a waterfall and a spectacular descent from the “Horn” to the “Harschbichl”. Unfortunately we did not do this part, the weather was not so pleasant, and Markus was suffering with his blisters. It was quite disappointing, but we both agreed the weather was too risky and we would not of seen much, a few other couples decided to do this part of the trek, but later said it was quite risky in places and did actually lose the trail in parts because of the low fog.

As an alternative we decided to stay on the flat and follow a pleasant path in the direction of St. Johann in Tyrol, this was around 10 km in distance which we had covered in a few hours.

We had arrived at our next stay for the night Hotel Park , out of all the places we stayed this was the most basic one, it was nice to have a shower and just relax that afternoon, with just a short walk to the centre of the town.

The final Day 6 of the KAT-Walk St Johann in tirol to Fieberbrunn, offers a lovely incline up to 1550m which is the highest point covered very early into the days hike. Due to the conditions of Markus’s feet we decided to take a train back to Hopfgarten to collect our car and drive to the final point.

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Alte Post Hotel

Our final hotel for the trip was a pleasant surprise, offering a wellness and spa area for the guests. We decided to take full advantage as soon as it was opened. It was complete bliss after days hiking in the heat to enjoy some relaxing time.

Private gym which matched my dream desire.

The only disappointment was the food, the restaurant menu was pretty limited, presented with chipped wine glasses, as well as onion soup you don’t expect half a onion floating around in water.

We also decided to have a early night, as we were setting off early, in the direction of Germany.

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Some of the food enjoyed over the week

Overall it was a great hiking trip, beautiful landscape, decent accommodation and food.

If you are considering a hiking trip in the future I would strongly recommend Austria.

Europe

A short break in Scotland

The past week in Scotland has been amazing, one thing the weather was on our outside.

The first couple of days were spent in Drumtochty castle, situated in a idyllic location, Surrounded by the Scottish countryside, it was magical and so peaceful.

Its definitely a perfect place to have a wedding or any special event, the staff were friendly, the food was excellent and just a beautiful place to stay.

After a lovely few days spent here we arrived into Aberdeen city, this is a city on the eastern side of Scotland, situated between the River Dee and Don. I had arranged to stay with some old friends, which I worked with. In terms of things to do in the city or to see, there wasn’t much, we struggled to find a cafe for a coffee. After wandering around for a while the best option was a Cafe Nero, a mocha and cheese and ham panini later we both felt content.

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The main square in Aberdeen 

After walking towards my friends house, we passed various impressive buildings, all being made of stone and the colour grey, its definitely worth having a wander around though.

After a cup of tea, meeting the gorgeous Bert (I’ll get back to him) and a nice chat with my friends, we decided to go for a drive to Balmedie, a lovely area, with sand dunes, and access to the beach.

This beach was lovely and definitely a dog friendly place, as nearly every person we passed had a dog. My friends dog Bert was loving it.

The weather was gorgeous and really was great to enjoy the eastern coastline with this summer weather.

Whilst in Aberdeen we decided to hire a car for 3 days, working out to be quite reasonable in price, it gave us the freedom to explore more. A short drive away we visited the little harbor town of Stone haven, free parking this was a pleasant surprise. We made ourselves a picnic lunch and enjoyed sitting near to the ocean, whilst watching the fishermen and boats.

Dunotter Castle was our next stop, perched on cliffs overhanging the North Sea and provides stunning views.The best ways to get there is either driving or the mile-long hike from the town of Stone haven. The hike is a narrow path along the cliffs that provides stunning views the entire way. Definitely a must see.

Whilst in Scotland the whisky distillery’s are a must see if this is your thing. My boyfriend is quite fond of a particular one (The Glenlivet) which is situated near Ballindalloch in Moray, Scotland. This is a single malt whisky, and the oldest running distillery. They offer free tours of the grounds, lasting around 30 minutes which go regularly during the summer months. You also get to try some of the whisky at the end!

These distillery’s below are all in a good distance of each other.

  • Balvenie
  • Dufftown
  • Glendullan
  • Glenfiddich
  • Kininvie
  • Mortlach

We decided not to venture to far on the final day in Scotland, having to return the hire car in the afternoon, we spent several hours walking along the beach and checking out the amusements ie arcades.

I also had to say goodbye to my latest new fluffy friend Bert

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This little guy was so friendly and entertaining, he definitely changed my opinion on small dogs. (Friend for life)

Europe

Love and moving abroad for it

After making the big decision, booking the flight, quitting the job, packing up my whole life in boxes. I got on my flight and moved to Germany.

I started to enjoy the new differences, the new pace of life, seeing new places, and of course living with Markus. It was a complete whirl win, which created such a major rush of adrenaline whilst trying to absorb everything during this time.

But then BAM!  Reality hit me!

As an individual there is no way to prevent this!

Culture Shock 

After some months I started realising the situation what am I doing here! What have I done! “I realised not much is true fully written about these experiences“.

For me this sent me in a spiral of confusion, anxiety, feeling lonely and homesick, this creative a barrier that became a obstacle in creating new relationships. To help overcome this I believe language courses are the key for the communication skills meeting people in similar situations to yourself, if only you can find more suited to your needs…sadly my experiences weren’t the most successful from finding one course taught by a french lady in a class of 20 students of mixed abilities, this was a horrifying experience to then nearly committing to paying 2500 euros for 6 weeks of classes, whilst searching for private tutors which is limited. It was all down to motivating myself to learn the language. ( After all my options felt limited).

Getting myself a job, any job!

I had already been on the search from day 1, having some opportunities but all leading to me moving away in Germany. I had to rethink of what I was doing. “I came to Germany to be with Markus”. It was hard, so many decisions and few opportunities arising but nothing which was ideally located. Markus was and still is completing amazing even with him agreeing to support me whilst living here, its a mistake to underestimate the effect of feeling useful on your self esteem and confidence.

How I see it whether you have a bank job or waiting tables, work gives you Independence. Not speaking the language is a tough one, searching for jobs which always came down to speaking fluent in the language…I felt I hit another dead end. However I was given the opportunity to go to work with my Markus’s fathers partner, which helped getting my feet out the door, to building up my communication skills to even building a friendship. Despite the language barrier, it was nice to have company and something to do.

“Look for work that requires language skills you have or even practicing the language.”

Have things planned that you can look forward too!

Having a idea when seeing family and friends always helped me each day, due to the distance I did’t see them that often or not enough during my first year. Skype, Facebook and Watsapp are a step closer to being in there lives, but still its not the same.

Choosing a date, making a plan and sticking to it!

This really helps me, having plans set that are stable, it makes me feel more at home. Especially reflecting on the last year it does make me sad that only one friend came to visit me in my new home. After all this is my new home, the house , Markus, the neighborhood, the things I want my family and friends to see with there own eyes.

Having goals, focuses and something to achieve 

There comes a time when you start to feel restless, your a bit bored, over the excitement of a new place, feeling you have already done everything. this is usually when people give up and go home. 6 months is when most hit this phase. I admit I was one, I felt so low, feeling I had achieved nothing beneficial, that going home was the only way to test if the move was really want I wanted, I was afraid to think of it as “I’m giving up, I felt so isolated and confused at the time. Markus felt it was his fault and he wasn’t doing enough, when really he was providing me with support. It took me a long time to even confined in my Mum, she suggested coming back as long as I needed, this is what I did, having that family time was well overdue, I admit this time I have now had to pay for because I did not speak to friends during this time. I felt it was so hard to open up about what I was experiencing and for it to be understood.

Thinking of goals definitely helps and helped me, striving for something to achieve “Whether its getting more close to being fluent in the language, visiting new places, or joining a club. Having a specific plan helped me, there were projects around the house which I was able to complete, redecorating the kitchen, making a workout room, having the advantage of a engineer as a boyfriend he has taught me many useful things. Even how to use a drill! Ha. I’m proud of things I have accomplished from his help from making a kitchen table to a monster of a bird cage.

I learnt working backwards is great to figure out how to reach goals, keeping a list of things was a helpful reminder to reaching the goals.

Expect to tough it out for at least a year! I’m just reaching the hurdle, and only just starting to feel more comfortable.

When moving to a new Country there will always be highs and lows 

One day is amazing, loving life and feel like you are progressing to the next you have a downer and a existential crisis. The one year mark is a good time to reassess. Asking myself the questions ” Can you see yourself staying here long term? Do you prefer this arrangement only temporary. Talking is important, as I really suck at hiding my emotions with Markus, he knows how I feel with the move, and we both know where we stand.

However….Warning Signs..its important not to ignore them, especially being a challenge or a red flag!. Cant find a job?…Challenge……Partner not allowing you to work…Red flag….Difficult making friends…Challenge….Experiencing racism, sexism etc…Red flag. The more red flags I feel its unlikely to be the place for you. I admit I have faced and have challenges when I don’t like to leave home, make conversion with people, ask for something in a shop, drive the car somewhere, or even say hello in German. I have my days but they are challenges and things which only can progress and get better.

The one thing I’ve learnt ..knowing you will lose friends and feel guilty/Lonely 

Moving away from close ones there is always; which sometimes is beyond your control, that you will grow apart. Respective contexts for the understanding the world does change. I often fear if I ever moved back friends may be distant because I chose to move anyway over them or even the fear you will move again. Feeling guilty having left my family and friends (YES)

Of course life is about learning and experiencing, so we make the choices which generally suit our needs and to result in us being comfortable and happy. There has been times with people I care for have achieved a milestone in there life, and sad that I’m not always there to celebrate, it feels hard when I’m missing out, like my nieces growing up or helping out on close ones who need it. I admit there have been times, when people close back home don’t quite understand what I’m going through, even my partner. It takes time to build a true friendship , all the while you feel lonely, but working towards goals and reminding yourself why you did the move in the first place.

Discovering new things

Its important to do this with your partner, especially as I live with markus, the greatest times have been discovering places in Germany that he hasn’t seen or been too.Doing activities together also helps to connect and form a unit. We pretty much always cook together, its nice to experiment, use our brains to be creative and generally make a mess! 🙂 I find routine is a relationship killer!

So moving forward…This Year start to say YES Helena!

Pretty much over a year in this new place, and I’m feeling more settled, its time to start saying yes.

  • Friends visiting the country and suggested meeting us say yes!
  • Friend invites you to join a club say yes!

I have learnt there is nothing to lose, but only gain experience…after all you don’t know until you try.

Already saying yes to moving was a big challenge. Reflecting on the great things that have happened. I’ve learnt so much of my new language, for any person speaking several languages it feels exciting knowing more than your mother tongue…I’m not fluent but I’ve even had times forgetting English words and asking Markus. I have also discovered my love for Yoga, become a domestic goodness (well in the making) ha

Moving abroad.. Opens yourself to opportunities, it not only puts you out of your comfort zone but helps challenge you to grow.

Final thoughts

Moving aboard for love can be a tough experience, pushing every button you have, its difficult for everyone, I understand that, even for my boyfriend, that’s why I believe its important to stay connected. I’ve learnt you get out what you put in. Regardless of the outcome, doing something that’s not many people you know have done and perhaps willing to do, makes you one of a kind.