Mike’s biggest disappoint at Versailles, France was the absence of a hedge maze. In his mind, every self-respecting castle or palace should include a confounding labyrinth of greenery in its gardens. Preferably with a minotaur.
Forget chandeliers, intricate paintings, and fancy decorations… this is what every palace REALLY needs
So, when we found out that the gardens at Schloss Schonbrunn in Vienna had an area called “The Labyrinth,” there was no question about whether we would pay the 3,50 Euro entrance fee (the fee is for the Labyrinth, the gardens are free).
When we entered the Labyrinth area, we were greeted with a children’s playground. Wanting to squeeze every last bit of value from that entrance fee that we could, we played in it. Alright, alright, it wasn’t about the money – we’ve actually played in at least a dozen playgrounds since we left home. What can I say, we’re young at heart!
Part of the playground consisted of a series of “carnival” style mirrors that we naturally had to stand in front of while taking pictures of our distorted reflections while small children had to wait. Hey, we were there first!
Where did my body go?
And, of course, there were the mazes. Three of them. Well, two and a twisting path with no deadends which I can’t bring myself to call a maze.
One of the hedge mazes
Mike, playing in the hedge maze
Mike, playing in the hedge maze
They each had puzzles and games hidden within their paths, but… alas!… no minotaur (sorry to mislead you with the title) – though Mike certainly tried to fill the void.
Mike as a minotaur
And even if we got shown up by a six year old in the maziest maze and stumped on the math puzzle in the “one-way path that we shall not call a maze” path, we had a great time. Definitely worth the 3,50 Euro. (As long as you’re a fan of hedge mazes, that is. If you’re not a fan of hedge mazes, crazy mirrors, or moving pteradactyl playground equipment, you might be better off staying home. Or, I’ve heard that there’s some sort of palace there that’s supposed to be a big deal. You could probably check that out).
It’s left! … or is it right?
We finally made it to the centre! (picture taken by the smarty-pants six year old kid that beat us there)
Mike, hugging the male harmony stone in the centre of the labyrinth
For children, Disney World is like a white Christmas and a summer holiday all rolled into one joyful and ecstatic package. It is like a birthday party that never ends, where Mickey Mouse and his gang of merry henchmen drop off one party gift after another. These were your thoughts, anyway, as you led your family through the Magic Kingdom on a particular hot day in Florida. There is a reason why the Americans call it the Sunshine State; the glowing orb in the blindingly blue sky was already turning your kids the colour of a Maine lobster, and you have only been at the theme park for two hours. At this rate, they will have third degree burns after a five-day holiday.
It’s A Small World
It’s a Small World, along with Pirates of the Caribbean, are the two most beloved and iconic rides in the Magic Kingdom. This is ironic, considering the Disney World resort complex is anything but small. You read in your Florida guidebook that the entire resort, which consists of four sprawling theme parks, is roughly the size of Boston, Massachusetts. In other words, the entire American Revolution could fit within this popular holiday destination in central Florida. Disney World is certainly a kingdom, but you are still unsure whether it is magical or not. In the meantime, the kids have led you through the Fantasyland section of the Magic Kingdom and into Tomorrowland. The hot sunlight gleams off neon, metal and glass. There are metal palm trees that would not sway in the breeze, even if there were a breeze.
A View of the Future
Originally created to represent Disney’s idea of the future, Tomorrowland has gone through major renovations over the years. Disney, realizing that it could not keep pace with all these futuristic updates, decided to rethink this section of the park. Today, Tomorrowland more closely resembles a 1920s science fiction writer’s idea of the future.
There is a bit of compromise during every family holiday. Back in Fantasyland, you had to ride on Dumbo the Flying Elephant and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, so now your family can wait for you as you buckle in to be shot through the cosmos on Space Mountain. This is the theme park’s signature rollercoaster, and the kids are too small to ride on it.
You exit the dark, cool confines of Space Mountain smiling, and you cannot get the smile off your face. You are happy and elated, and you feel like a kid at Christmas. Now you know why they named this place the Magic Kingdom, and you feel silly you ever had doubts about its magical qualities.
After walking every day for a little over a month, we were ready to settle down. For the past three weeks or so, we’ve been renting an apartment in Loosdorf, a small town in the middle of Austria. To get here, we flew from Santiago de Compostela to Barcelona where we spent another lovely night in the airport. From there, we flew direct to Vienna.
Vienna is the “city of music”. We gave ourselves three days to enjoy the big city before heading to our new home town (for a little while anyways) and checking into our apartment.
For those budget minded folks out there, our Vienna cost per day was $80.01 CAD for the both of us.
St. Marxer Friedhof & Zentralfriedhof:
If you ever wanted proof that Vienna deserves to be known as the “City of Music” just head on down to the graveyards. There’s a whole host of famous composers buried here including: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, and a few Strausses…
Mozart’s grave (one of two in the city)
Mozart’s actual grave can be found in the St. Marxer Friedhof. A monument to him, along with the graves of the other composers listed above can be found in the enormous Zentralfriedhof among over 300,000 graves and crypts (and over 3 million “inhabitants”). There are no entrance fees.
After walking 800km to see the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, it was kind of nice to be able to take the metro to see this church. We were lucky enough to walk in during the middle of a choir/symphony rehearsal. We stayed there for most of an hour listening. There’s something really quite special about hearing live classical music being played in a stone vaulted roof church. The ambience was fantastic, and it satisfied our need to buy tickets to one of the many, many nightly symphonies, operas, or chamber music sessions that Vienna is famous for (they all seem to cost between 35-45 euros for the cheapest tickets if you’re interested).
What better way to get a feel for the local cuisine than to check out the largest outdoor market in the country. The Naschmarkt is held every day of the week except Sundays. For the most part, it seemed a bit more expensive than the numerous supermarkets we stumbled into, but there was a very good selection of vegetarian and health foods at reasonable prices. The vendors seemed more than willing to give out free samples, so we indulged our taste buds a bit. In the end, we stocked up on various grains and beans, sampled the dried fruits (the dried apples were simply amazing!), cheese, falafel, and a spinach stuffed pastry.
On Saturday, there was a “flea market” attached to the Naschmarkt. We walked through it quickly, because there was nothing too exciting. There were tables and tables of “junk” on sale. The type of stuff you expect to see left behind at the end of a garage sale. Maybe the trick is to go early, or we just hit a bad weekend, but I wouldn’t be too concerned about being at the market on a Saturday to see the flea market.
This palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s huge, and I imagine over the top luxurious. The large building and gardens brought back memories of Versailles in Paris, which we had just seen not too long ago. Because of that, we didn’t feel the need to pay to go inside. We did stroll through the garden however, and eventually came across a labyrinth and hedge maze…
The Gardens of Schloss Schönbrunn
So here we are, in the City of Music and our timing couldn’t be more fantastic. Vienna was hosting a FREE music festival the whole time we were there! We spent most of our days and evenings listening to music and sunning on the grass. The festival is held on a man made island in the Danube rive and takes place over a space of about four kilometres. There was a large variety of music ranging from Austrian folk to English oldies to death metal. With 20 stages (each with back to back performances), we had a lot of choices. When we didn’t like something, or felt like a change, we just walked over to the next stage in line.
In proper music fest fashion we ate some fried dough (langos – A thick dough shaped into a large flat circle, fried, and brushed with butter and garlic. They were refreshingly not sweet), and fresh chips. Of course everyone else seemed to be eating bratwurst and sauerkraut, but we weren’t interested in that. Okay, maybe we were tempted, but we managed to keep our vegetarian diet intact. What we really wanted were mini-doughnuts, which they had at the crazy price of 0.50€ a piece. Alas, it was too much.
Thanks for a wonderful free weekend of music, Vienna. We really, really enjoyed it. Though you may want to consider upgrading your washroom facilities on the island. There were something like 1.8 million people in attendance at the music festival over the weekend, and almost no washrooms. On top of that, the washrooms all charged an entrance fee. Of course this was no problem for me, I just walked into the bush and took a leak with 50 other guys. Ashley, however, waited in line with the other ladies for 25 minutes and had to pay 0.50€. In the future, Vienna, if you are going to have a huge music festival, put out some free porta-potties please.
Ashley in line for the ladies room
Liquid Glam Rockets (One of the many bands we didn’t know)
One thing that we really wanted to do in Paris was have a wine, cheese, and bread picnic beneath the Eiffel Tower. So one fine day, we wandered down Rue Le Cler, stopping at the fromagerie, the boulanger, and the wine shop to pick up the necessary items. [FYI... while food generally isn't cheap, you can buy a fine bottle of red wine for about 1,50 Euros (about $2 CAD) and champagne comes as cheap as 1 Euro a bottle.]
Best. Picnic. Ever.
Maybe it was the wine, or maybe this post from Don’t Ever Look Back was still stuck in the back of my mind, but after our picnic I felt the insatiable desire for some more cheese…of the photo variety.
Everyone wanted some cheesy Eiffel Tower pictures
You know what I mean… those really cheesy Eiffel Tower pictures where you’re holding it or pushing it down? We got a little more creative than most… and had a blast taking them. Luckily for me, Mike was a good sport (and a great photographer!) so we got some my favourite photos from our trip thus far…
Holding the Eiffel Tower
Push though you may, that tower isn’t going anywhere
Just hanging out
It’s all about balance
A little Eiffel Tower love
Not so much Eiffel Tower love here
Good to the last drop
Too much wine?
Under the Eiffel Tower
Mike thinks he’s King Kong
Pinching the Eiffel Tower
Makes a great leaning post
Playing with the wide angle at night
Hungry hungry Mike
Cheesy photos aren’t just for the Eiffel Tower… we got the pyramid at the Louvre in on the action
Mike, pretending to be the pyramid
Wow… anyone else notice how destructive Mike is in all these pictures?
Around two million Britons take road trips around Europe each year, either taking their own vehicles across the Channel or hiring one when they arrive. If you plan to join their ranks, it’s best to be fully prepared.
If you’re taking your own vehicle, it’s essential to check that you’re covered by your existing insurance policy. Studies have shown that around a third of all drivers wrongly assume they have the same level of cover wherever they are. In reality, comprehensive policies are often downgraded to third-party policies for anyone leaving the UK.
If you have such a policy and your car is damaged, you will have to meet the entire cost of repair and repatriation of the vehicle yourself as your insurance will only cover you for damage to third parties. Many companies will allow you to extend your cover for a small premium and this could end up saving you thousands.
Once your insurance is arranged, the next item on your list should besorting out breakdown cover. Finding yourself stranded and in desperate need of spare parts in a country where you don’t speak the language is every traveller’s worst nightmare.
A policy will not only cover almost all of your costs in the event of a problem, including towing your car to a garage or bringing it home if it can not be repaired, but will also provide you with total peace of mind. Visit Green Flag for European breakdown cover that will help keep you on the roadno matter where you roam.
If you choose to hire a car, you will be covered in the event of a breakdown but keep a close eye on the amount of excess that is applied should you be unfortunate enough to have an accident. Excess payments of thousands of pounds are not uncommon.
It is usually possible to reduce the excess to a more reasonable level by paying a daily fee and this is well worth considering.
Driving on the wrong side of the road with many of the usual controls reversed can easily cause confusion, which in turn can lead to a costly accident.
You can take some of the stress out of travelling abroad by investing in a GPS system that covers your destination. Such a system will not only guide you on your way but can also be extremely useful when it comes to finding the nearest petrol station or public toilet.
Finally, if you want to avoid an on-the-spot fine, it’s important to check the driving rules and regulations for each country you visit. In Austria and France, for example, you are legally obliged to keep a fluorescent jacket in your vehicle at all times. In the event of a breakdown, you must wear your jacket. You also need to put it on if you stop to assist someone else who has broken down.
Most EU countries require you to carry a warning triangle and first-aid kit but in Belgium you must also have a fire extinguisher. If you’re hiring a car rather taking your own, these items should already be in the vehicle but it’s probably best to check just in case.
If you know me and my love of numbers, you were probably wondering where all the stats were in our one year travel post.
Well, here they are! I never meant to disappoint. I simply had so many wonderfully awesome and arguably useless stats that they needed their own post. And don’t worry… I’ve managed to contain myself to just a single pie chart.
The BIG Number: Budget
We (ok, I) have meticulously written down every penny spent in the past year… the cost of each hotel room, pupusa, dive lesson, tube of toothpaste, bandaid and bottle of water has been carefully recorded in a notebook and then transferred to the nifty little site, budgetyourtrip.com.
So, at any given time, I know our spending to the penny.
Drum roll please…
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Total Spending after One Year of Travel (for 2 people): $20,040.68 CAD (16,013.46 €) Average Cost per Day (for 2 people): $54.76 (43.76 €)
Our original budget goal was $100/day, so it seems we’re doing pretty good spending wise. Obviously, that goal was too high for us. Having realized that about 6 months ago, we decided to make it our spending cap goal for expensive places. Our new budget goal is $50-55/day, but as with everything else on this journey, even that’s a work in progress.
Here’s a breakdown of where we spent the money:
But wait, there’s so much more…
Countries & Transportation
Countries visited:11 (Visited means we spent at least 24 consecutive hours in the country) – Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador, USA, Spain, France, Austria
Number of times we were turned back at a border: 1 (in Costa Rica, but they let us through after making us spend $50 on overpriced return bus tickets)
Total Distance Traveled: 29,764 km
by plane: 9492 km on 6 flights
by bus/automobile: 9444 km on 98 buses/colectivos/pick-up trucks/vans/tuk tuks
by train: 185 km on 4 trains
by boat: 9662 km on 32 boats
by foot: 923 km
by bike: 58 km
Most memorable mode of transportation: other than walking the Camino, definitely hitchhiking and getting a ride in the back of a pickup with dozen other people in Mexico
Average daily accommodation cost:$12.94 CAD
Most expensive bed: $78 CAD for dorm beds in Paris (but it included breakfast and supper!)
Least expensive bed (excluding free places):$3.65 CAD for a private room ensuite in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala
Number of different beds slept in:98 (39 of these were on the Camino)
Number of nights spent sleeping in:
Private Rooms: 146
Dorms: 95(most of these, 52, were in Europe – while on the Camino and to cut costs in cities)
Five star cruise ships: 14
Work exchange programs: 11
Friends’ Homes: 5
Couch Surfers’ Homes: 5
Airports: 2(both in Barcelona… and let me tell you, it’s a lot more comfortable when you’re past security!)
Private Islands: 1
Climbing a Volcano (ok, there was no sleeping), then watching the sun rise: 1
Average daily food cost: $10.51 CAD
Meals cooked/purchased in grocery stores & bakeries: 61%
Meals eaten out: 30%
Meals included with accommodation/tours: 8%
Free meals: 1%
Favourite foods: tacos, Guatemalan pineapple, baleadas; Jewel Cay donuts, gingerbread, banana tarts, and pizza; pupusas, gallo pinto, fried yuca balls, mangoes, cashews and cashew fruit, French Brie, Paris baguettes, aged Spanish sheep’s cheese, lentils (yup, our home province is the second largest producer of green lentils worldwide, and we had to travel halfway across the globe to try our first taste of them), chocolate croissants, dinkelbrot, and really any bread in any bakery in Austria
Weight Lost: 56 lb (Mike – 22 lb, Ashley – 34 lb)
Sick Days: 20 (17 for Ashley, 3 for Mike)
Bouts of Traveller’s Diarrhea/Food Poisoning: 3 (Ashley – 3, Mike – 0… man with the iron stomach!)
Number of Doctor’s Visits: 1 (needed physicals for divemaster program)
Number of Times We Probably Should Have Seen a Doctor, but Didn’t: 3
Surprise, surprise, it’s all Ashley here – 8 consecutive days of Montezuma’s revenge in Mexico (should have self-medicated), nasty sinus infection in Utila (did self-medicate after I realized it wasn’t going away), and food poisoning on the cruise ship (they require that you report all gastrointestinal issues to the ship’s doctor, but I self-quarantined myself while I was sick instead of a forced quarantine)
Unintentional Changes to the Gear List
Number of Times We Were Robbed: 3 (camera pickpocketed in Quetzaltenago, Guatemala; bag stolen from overhead bin of bus in Costa Rica; wallet with ~$15 pickpocketed in Antigua, Guatemala)
Number of Items We Lost: 5 (Ashley’s hat, both our Nalgene bottles, camp soap, Ashley’s quick-dry Northface t-shirt)
Number of Items Broken: 2 (Ashley sat on her Kindle in Antigua, Guatemala and Mike’s (cheap) beard trimmer)
Money Earned from Working:Mike – $30 (divemaster job = $5, cutting the grass at our apartment in Austria = $25), Ashley – $0
Number of Photos Taken: 6071 (actually, this is the number we’ve kept… many many more were taken)
Books Read: 96 (Ashley – 56, Mike – 40)
Postcards Mailed Home:34
Souvenirs Purchased: 0 When I left home, I fully intended to buy something from each country or region and mail it home. That way, when we eventually settled down, we could have a house full of cool stuff from our travels. I even made Mike promise me that he wouldn’t harass me about the money when I did the souvenir shopping. But, to date, I never saw anything that I just had to have. I’m 100% satisfied with the memories (and maybe a few photos) of our experiences… no stuff necessary!
Number of Times We Paid to Get Our Laundry Done: 1 (Rio Dulce, Guatemala… I’ve never seen it rain so much for 3 days straight… we had no hope of hanging our clothes to dry)
Mountains Summited:4 (doesn’t include mountains crossed on the Camino, as they weren’t summited)
Total Time Spent Underwater: 74 hours, 30 minutes (each)
UNESCO World Heritage Sites Visited: 19
Like these stats? You can find just about all of them, updated year-round, on our permanent stats page.
366 days ago today (no, I haven’t forgotten how many days are in a year… 2012 was a leap year), we stepped off a plane in Cancun, Mexico with no idea what the future would hold. Literally. We had no plan past getting to our Couchsurfing host’s house and even that turned out to be an adventure in itself.
Here we are, one year later, with a totally different perspective on life and travel. If you’ve been following along the whole way, you’ll know what a journey it’s been. Here’s a little summary for you.
Where Have We Been?
After a year of ever-changing plans, we’ve discovered the only itinerary we can claim to have is the list of places we’ve already been. Everything else is up in the air and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Before we left, we posted a rough itinerary that we haven’t really looked at since. So here’s a visual of where we’ve actually been.
Click for larger image
Where We Are Now?
The literal answer to that question is an apartment in Loosdorf, Austria. But you could have read that on our sidebar.
Digging deeper, I can say we are happy. And that’s all that really matters, isn’t it? We now value happiness in a way that we never did before. We wake up each morning excited to experience the day. We hope that no matter what happens, this will be true for the rest of our lives.
We have both explored spirituality to a deeper level than ever before, particularly the ideas and values of Buddhism (Ashley) and Hinduism (Mike).
We are now happy, healthy vegetarians. Contrary to popular belief back home in Saskatchewan (the land of meat and potatoes), we CAN get enough protein, iron, and all that other good stuff from plant-based food. Not only are our bodies not suffering from four months of being vegetarian, they have never felt stronger or more energetic. And our heads are clearer too.
We’ve talked about the physical changes we’ve gone through many times before, but here’s a quick reminder. Mike has lost nearly 20 pounds (9 kg) and I’ve lost about 35 (16 kg). We’ve gained muscle mass. Our hair has grown out and been bleached by the sun. Our skin has a healthy glow, instead of the pasty whiteness of people who spend all their time indoors. Even though we’re a year older, we look and feel significantly younger. (In fact, we have a hard time convincing fellow travellers that we’re not fresh out of university. One lady was sure we had just graduated high school!)
Here’s a little photo montage of us in each country we’ve passed through… notice the evolution from the chubby faces and glazed expressions in the first ones to the happy, healthy people at the end?
Where Are We Going?
This is a loaded question. We have learned a lot about our travel style in the past year. Ask either of us what our favourite experiences were, and we won’t hesitate to list the Camino de Santiago in Spain, becoming divemasters in Honduras, working on an organic farm in El Salvador, and learning Spanish in Guatemala. We saw some amazing things in between, but we always come back to the list above. What do all of these things have in common? Two things… 1. they required us to STOP moving around and STAY PUT for a while (okay, we were constantly moving during the Camino, but we were always on the Camino) and 2. we were DOING something. So there you have it… as we travel the world, we want to stop, do something, and really experience a place.
Which brings us to our next “plan”. On July 26th, we have to leave Austria (and the wider Schengen visa zone). We’ll spend a few nights each in Zagreb, Croatia; Belgrade, Serbia; and Sofia, Bulgaria to break up the bus rides, before settling in for at least a month at an organic farm in north central Bulgaria. There, we will help harvest grapes, learn how to make rakia, play with their dogs, and train in combat jujitsu. Sounds pretty great, right? We think so too.
After that, who knows? We’re not heading home yet. The world is our oyster and we plan to take our sweet time exploring it.