I know a lot of people love Malta and on the face of it, there’s a lot to like. A Capital city that’s just won the European City of Culture 2018, great weather, relatively cheap drinks and only a couple of hours flight from the UK. The Mediterranean region is a sure fire hit with the Brits, with temperatures never dipping below the mid 20’s from Spring through to Autumn and the Island of Malta is well placed to take full advantage of our attempts to blend in our Truckers Tans. But it had to come some time; we’ve been to too many amazing places across Europe like Stuttgart, Ljubljana or Helsinki that I knew it couldn’t last – but Malta don’t take it personally, it’s not you, it’s me.
Not content with visiting both Finland and Sweden on our Scandinavian trip, the Family P. also managed to swing into Copenhagen for a couple of days as well. How many things can you name that Denmark is famous for without using Google? We got Carlsburg, Bacon, Hans Christian Anderson, Danish Pastries, hygge, Noma, lego and of course, the band Aqua. With such an international appeal for a country that is about half the size of Scotland, there is so much going on that when the Family P. called in on our Scandinavian leg of our EU Tour, we could only try to fit as much in as possible.
Answer: Not enough.
Sandwiched on our EU Tour between Denmark on the left and Finland on the right, many of my friends and acquaintances have visited and left singing it’s praises. You’ve probably already got a view about Stockholm even if you have never visited, I know I did, but our staging post between the train from Copenhagen and the now infamous ferry ride over to Helsinki, Finland still held some surprises for us on this second stop of our Amazing Scandinavian AdventureTM.
I’ve managed to see a fair bit of Europe by now including Austria, Slovenia and even Scotland but nowhere is like Finland. Here are just a few things I learned during my recent trip to Helsinki: 1) There are more saunas in the country than there are people. 2) Despite what the BBC would have you believe this is not the happiest place in the world, everyone is in fact, bloody miserable. 3) The Finish love a cruise, and I mean LOVE them. 4) If you think Sweden was expensive (and I can assure you it is) then hold on to your hats because Finland is summet else. And finally 5) if you go all the way to Finland and don’t swim in a sea pool then we can no longer be friends. Continue reading “Finland; naked saunas and icy sea swimming, is this your #dreamholiday?”
When you travel for work as much as I do, you get used to a specific type of hotel room. It’s not the Ned, the Grosvenor or even the Fairmont. It’s a Travelodge, Premier / Holiday Inn or Best Western if you get lucky with the booking (although I have stayed in some properly dodge Best Western’s in my time, the one in Tiverton particularly stands out for all the wrong reasons – and the time I suffered through three days there is another, very specific, story). So it’s rare that I come across the odd one that I walk through the door and immediately call Mrs P. to say that I’ve found a cracker. But that’s what happened when I got to the Rocksalt Rooms and it always means we’ve got something special .
What is it about a white Christmas? We seem obsessed about it in this country, ferociously reminiscing about ‘that year when I was a child, when Freddos only cost 10p and there was so much snow that the schools were closed for weeks’. It seems strange that our continental cousins don’t seem to suffer from such an affliction and we as a nation, seem almost too happy to chide them on their lack of gratitude for the daily snowball fights. Well more fool us because as the TwoMenAboutTown EU tour was conceived and implemented not long after I had agreed to spend Christmas away from home and with snow having been in very short supply this year after trips to the thermometer exploding heights of Croatia, it came as a very welcome contrast to the P. family.
Some people don’t like going to Italy. But then some people don’t like washing their hands after going to the toilet and we don’t trust them either do we? What’s wrong with Italy? Yes it’s full of Italian rantiness, yes it is difficult to get something done quickly and yes they do make you pay twice for train tickets (compulsory seat reservations that are not included in the ticket price? That makes no sense guys, just FYI). But it is also full of great wine, Roman architecture, art and fashion that’s so fashionable that if you understand it then you can’t afford it.
But I love Italy. A lot. I love the food, the culture, the language, the wome… the food and pretty much everything else. So making a list of all the places we needed an excuse to see and all the things we wanted to do on the next leg of our #TwoMenEUTour wasn’t hard but fitting them all in to the few days we had was the tricky bit. But as you will see, we did our best! Unlike our previous trips to Brussels or Ireland, we took a bit more time in Italy traveling down on the overnight train from Vienna in Austria to Florence, then on to Pisa, down to Rome, over to Pompeii and then back to Rome to fly home.
So far on Trip 4 of the #2MenEUTour, it’s been a rampage across central Europe as we’ve taken in Amsterdam, Brussels, Luxembourg and Stuttgart in a non-stop juggernaut of continental culture dunking. But we knew we couldn’t keep that up, we needed somewhere to slow things down for a few days and what better destination to do that than Austria? Stunning countryside meets fascinating history in this wonderful land of all things Von Trapp. Home to old skool Music moguls Mozart and Beethoven, the famous Spanish Riding School and of course some of the friendliest locals you could ever hope to meet, all made Austria one of our favourite destinations of the tour so far.
UPDATE July 2018:
We encountered Gennaro on a bus travelling from Sofia, Bulgaria to Thessaloniki, Greece. Is he a millionaire? Well, he said he is and quite frankly I have no idea how much bitcoin it takes to be one so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. He wanted to tell us all about Brexit and why he thought it was an understandable if regretable reaction to the state of the EU and Europe at the moment. ‘My family are immigrants to Germany’, he told us ‘but I’m German. Germany has some problems but we all do, the UK can’t hide from theirs by running away from theirs. The world is so small that we have to work together, no-one is losing their National Identity by being part of the EU. It’s a shame and I hope the UK makes it work I think my generation will still see the UK as friends either way because there are much bigger problems in the world.’ Thank you for those wise words Gennaro. I hope that Monsieur Barnier is as pragmatic as you…
Now back to the original post…
‘Guess what kids? We’re going on holiday to Luxembourg!’ Said no-one, ever.
When planning this trip, we had several conversations with people about where we were going and they usually went along the lines of: ‘the architecture in Brussels is beautiful’ or ‘You’ll love Croatia, the sea there is incredible’, perhaps even ‘can you bring me something back for me when you go to Amsterdam?’ But when it came to Luxembourg, most people were saying things like; ‘Where?’ ‘Is that even in the EU?’ or ‘I’ve been there, but only driving through on the way to Germany. I didn’t stop, obviously.’
So what happens if you actually take some time to get to know Luxembourg? Well I’m glad you asked because I'm going to tell you all about the time that the Family P spent some time in perhaps one of the most surprising EU countries of all.
Belgium is obviously an important stop on our EU Tour because as we all know there are actually only three things to do there; eat waffles, eat chocolate and drink beer. Well, maybe it’s a bit important for the EU as well. As we got off the train from Amsterdam, Mrs P. let me know in no uncertain terms that she had the first two things on the list covered without my assistance and so that evening I was at liberty to go and explore the third = Best. Wife. Ever.
The Ned, London’s new £200m hotel, opened its doors earlier this year within the former grade 1-listed 11-storey Midland Bank headquarters, designed in 1924 by Sir Edwin ‘Ned’ Lutyens, located adjacent to the Bank of England. I’ve been walking past The Ned on my commute for the past few months and have wanted to pop in, but a recent opportunity to stay was something I leapt at the chance to experience having heard many marvellous things about the place.