The coastal stretch along the Italian Riviera known as Cinque Terre is a cluster of 5 small villages right on the edge of the cliffs surrounded by clear blue salty water. Each town has colourful houses that lead you all the way down to the water and terraced farms spanning the hills above… mostly growing grapes and lemons. Each town is similar but each unique in their own way.
Riomaggiore is the town we stayed in. It’s the southernmost of the five. As soon as we arrived we dropped all our stuff off at our airbnb and went straight to the beach. The beach was pebbles and big rocks, so we found ourselves a rock and got straight in the water. It was crystal clear and a perfect temperature, refreshing, but not too cold. Then it was time for aperitivo so we found the best place, a little table nook with a perfect view, and got some bruschetta and limoncello. We wandered through the streets and found a cute dinner place. Then we had gelato and went home.
No one was swimming anywhere at this village so we found a nice spot out of the way and then million people joined us. It’s was crazy… legit no one, then everyone. After we splashed around, Chris went for a crazy long swim while I layed in the sun. We then got our daily gelato and went for what we thought was a leisurely walk up the hill through the farms…but the path just kept going. we went for quite a while until we couldn’t see the town any more. Then people told us it was a trail to the next town. We didn’t expect that as the tourist guide had told us all the hiking trails were closed… Apparently only the coastal walks between the towns are closed (due to erosion and landslides) but there are massive long hikes through the mountains which are open. We didn’t go all the way because we had left it too late in the day and weren’t fully prepared for a hike. (neither were some girls wearing heels… what!?) Then it was that time again: Aperitivo! We found the best place up on the hill overlooking the whole town. We had amazing Bruschetta with fresh local pesto and orange juice. Then home for sunset.
Coniglia was very different to the others. Most towns have buildings down near the docks, and then farms higher up. Coniglia has buildings at the top of the hill, and farms below it all the way down to the sea. At first we thought there might not be any access to the sea and we would miss our daily swim! But after a treasure hunt, we found the path down to the best swimming spot of the whole trip. It was a crystal clear rocky little bay, with not too many tourists around. You can even climb up the cliffs and jump off if you’re dedicated. We found a big rock to sunbake on after our swim… can you imagine me and Chris sunbaking? Haha you would never know! We then went and found the best gelato and soaked up the sun and scenery, before moving on to Vernazza.
Vernazza is packed with tourists and has a small sandy beach right near all the boats. We had no desire to swim there. We just ate, drank, sunbaked, and explored. There was a blocked off area with no entry allowed, so we DIDN’T sneak in and walk through a beautiful natural tunnel to a lovely private beach, where we could relax on the rocks with our gelato as the sun went down.
Monterosso is the biggest of them all by far! And the most tourists walking about. The beaches were sandy and you had to pay even to lay your towel down. There are a few small public beaches that are packed. We found some rocks to leave our stuff on and got in the fresh cold water. We swam over to more rocks and climbed up to an old nazi bunker overlooking the sea. That was pretty cool. We had gelato and lunch, and then Chris tried to hide from the sun for the rest of the afternoon. We had a little explore around the new and old town that splits Monterosso into two. There was a super cute old cinema that sadly didn’t seem to be running any more otherwise we would have watched a movie. Montrerosso is known for their lemons so we went for Aperitivo and each got a lemon spritz and sat with a random older couple that happened to be from Australia too. We had a good chat!
We landed in Genoa, rented a cute small Italian car and pinned it down the highway to Florence. Driving on the other side of the road (and car) was alright, but driving in Florence was very stressful even for me the passenger. The streets were filled with tourists walking which made us question Google maps…is this even a street? Is it one way, and if so, which way? A million gray hairs later we got to our air bnb and went straight out for dinner and gelato. Best gelato I have had I might add! Please do yourself a favour and order the flavour Cremino… it’s basically vanilla ice cream with a thick layer of Nutella on the top.
We stayed right in the centre of the old town. There was a bell nearby that donged the hour, every hour, so you can tell the time in dongs. This stops at 11pm (we think) and the streets become quite and then begins at 6am accompanied by the street noise starting up for the day.
In the morning we went straight to what’s known as the best panini shop Florence. The sandwich was huge and totally not what I expected… way better than how we do paninis in the western world. We ate as we strolled down the street to the coffee shop. At the coffee shop you line up to order then you sit down and enjoy your purchase then line up again to pay… can’t say I was into that.
We then wandered the streets looking at all the old stuff. There is a great street art scene in Florence with several distinctive artists that had pieces all over town. There was one that defaced all the street signs with stickers to make them funny… that was my favourite. Most of the signs were defaced with this artist’s stickers. It made walking around the streets even more interesting.
For lunch we went to a covered market called Mercato Centrale which was very cool…all the food looked and smelt so good! But we had to choose just one so we got gnocchi and it blew our minds. Then we met up with a friend, who is now a Florence local, and she took us up a hill to look out over the city. What a stunning view. Then we wondered through the streets, stopped at a coffee shop and enjoyed our company. In the evening we had Apertivo at a really cute little bar. This time of the day is really cool! You can pretty much go to any bar and buy drink and there is free snacks available to enjoy with your drink. We moved on to dinner at a fancy restaurant and ate some traditional foods. Chris’ favourite was the dessert which was a sweet wine with a heap of biscotti to dip in it.
The final morning we skipped breakfast and went straight to the Train station to get to Cinque Terre… we were very hungry on the train.
When we got to Nara we went straight to the deer park to play with the deer, which roam freely around the park doing whatever they please. We brought some deer cookies and immediately they all turn and come towards you because they can smell the food. They are very cute and well behaved. They even bow to you before you give them the cookie.
Our Airbnb in Osaka didn’t have a shower so we got unlimited free tickets to the local Onsen and went every day. Our first night in Osaka we stumbled upon the best Okonomiyaki ever…there are no photos to prove it because it was in our stomachs before we could even think of taking a photo. Second day we came across a tasty cafe that has a special for each day and that’s all they serve at lunchtime. It was the most massive mind blowing salad I have ever seen and tasted. Then we spent the rest of the day naked with other naked strangers… for the people who don’t know what I am talking about: we went to Onsen. It’s a public bath (please refer back to my first blog post “when in Toyko” for best description of Onsen). This particular one we went to is massive. It’s called “Spa World” I had two favourite baths one was outside and it was pink and the second one was inside the Japanese themed room and it was freezing cold (it’s summer in Japan so cold baths are a dream). We went to dinner at a place near our Airbnb called “The Lock Up”. It’s a scary themed restaurant. There is a little walk through bit at the start that’s like a haunted house, then you enter the restaurant and a girl handcuffs you and takes you to your cell where you eat. All the food items look scary but are totally normal and tasty. We ordered, ate and had a good time. When we were done, we rang the buzzer and no one came. We jail-broke out of our cell and still could not find anyone so went back to our cell to wait. Then the lights went crazy and the music turned up really loud and for 20mins there was scary masked people scaring us and it was amazing! Totally scary and insane… just so random and such a fun experience.
We went back to Northshore for some delicious breakfast because yesterday blew our mind. Then spent most of our time at the aquarium looking at interesting creatures, like Chris’ favourite the Common Clione, and patted a slimy Honeycomb Stingray. We decided to discover our neighbourhood we were staying in, called Tennoji, and found a cute place for dinner run by a very nice lady who who speaks English very well and has never left Japan because she is afraid of flying. She said she is self-taught… we were impressed. We ordered Okonomiyaki for the millionth time, plus a tofu salad, and we liked it. Then went to see the oldest temple in Japan, Shitennō-ji.
We tried a coffee shop that was the best coffee we have had here in Osaka. Chris even reckons it was high by Australian standards… haha. In the hottest part of the day we decided to walk up a hill to a castle, so we brought a black sesame ice cream to cool us down. In Japan there are these super cool roller-slides you can find on playgrounds, instead of just sitting on a slide that’s still you actually sit of loads of mini rollers all the way down which makes you go faster than a normal slide. We went to Spa World for the last time to relax before going back to reality.
Our airbnb had two free bikes so we rode into Gion which is old town Kyoto. It’s where all the cool shrines and temples are. We stopped first to get coffee to help us get up all the hills. We walked all over the hilly streets buying everything that looked tasty. There were so many people, mostly girls dressed in kimonos they all looked amazing. The sun was turning us into grilled fish, so we had to go back for a nap… Chris was sunburnt. We googled “best Okonomiyaki” (Japanese pancake) for dinner and went there…we waited 1 hour, they cooked our food on our table In front of us and it was so delicious. We just got back to our accommodation in time before a big storm rolled through and we lay in bed listening to the thunder.
The next day we brought sunscreen straight away, then wandered through the cute back streets leading us to a lovely cafe… most café’s seem to do drip coffee rather than espresso. We went to Toei Kyoto studio theme park because we wanted to have fun but hide from the sun. It was a great choice. The theme park was all about samurais and ninjas, and the park is used to film a lot of movies set in that time period. We went through a haunted house attraction and it was scary… even Chris got scared, usually it’s just me. It was a creepy shinto graveyard during the Edo period with actors chasing you or jumping out at you during the walk through…it was a lot of fun. We also did some ninja training which was all in Japanese and with a group of small school kids. There was three rooms of different training techniques, it was interesting as we couldn’t understand any of it so we were just watching and following. Then we were sent off alone through a maze and had to find our way out but it wasn’t easy, as the way out of every room was hidden and it was up to us to find it… lucky we had our ninja training first.
We walked up Fushimi Inari Taisha. It’s a big walk up a mountain covered in thousands of vermilion-coloured Torii (shrine gates). It was beautiful. I didn’t really know what I was in for. I was wearing a dress with a flower headband, not dressed appropriately at all for the hike I unknowingly was committed to… other girls were the same, at least I had runners on. Halfway up there was a nice place with a view so we got the best ice cream flavour in the world. It’s called soy bean flour ice cream. On our way back down we couldn’t resist buying another. In the evening we rode down the long street to sushi and ate till we were full then rode back in the sunset and stopped by a supermarket to buy some snacks for the road tomorrow.
For the first time we really had the Australian experience, you know, the one all the tourists want. We went to Bec and Wall’s wedding in Donnelly River, WA. It was a beautiful small village in the Australian outback we were really in amongst it. Groups of emus just chilling around. An uncountable amount of friendly kangaroos wanting a pat. It was actually my first incounter up close and personal with a kangaroo. On the first night one kept coming toward me and I thought it would hurt me. It wasn’t until daylight that I saw other people patting them, so I gave it a go. Being away from Australia I have really gotten used to the idea that not everything wants to kill you, but as soon as I landed back in Australia everything looked like a snake.
Coffee in Australia is better then any place we have ever been in the world. Taking that first sip was so refreshing! Australians are total legends with coffee.
Cairns is sourrounded by tall mountains and costal beaches. No matter where you live you are a short drive from a freshwater creek, good hike and coffee. We stayed in the valley which feels like a tucked-away hidden place from the rest of Cairns, with great swimming places, natural swings made out of vines, lots of sticks to make a fire and lots of flat, round, smooth rocks to skim in the water. The outdoor entertainment is very relaxing and refreshing and on everyone’s doorstep.
We love travelling! We have been so lucky to be able to explore this world we live in! It’s a beautiful place and I highly recommend to anyone who is curious to get out and explore it. But there is something so special about coming home and seeing friends and family. Those familiar faces, those relationships. Even with all the distance in between us, it’s still like getting dealt the best hand of cards and winning the game! Our hearts feel really full from all the wonderful friendships we have individually with each of you. We still call Australia home.
I love flying long distance, because when you get to your seat you are always welcomed by gifts. I immediately put on the complimentary red socks and blanket. Thanks Virgin.
Hong Kong is warm and foggy. The city is layered on the mountain slopes like a complex web of jungle trees and brutalist architecture. As you raise your eyes, instead of sky, you see more trees, more roads, and more towers. The air smells rich and sweet and exciting.
Our hotel was dripping in fake glitz. Gold mirrored tiles covered every surface and there were chandeliers on every ceiling, including above our bed. We were up on the 26th floor looking over the water. It’s very foggy here so everything feels mysterious as you wander the tiny streets. We met up with our friend Laura who is a local and showed us around. She took us to amazing food and dessert places that were very local Hong Kong foods. Everything here is Mango flavour. It’s the local’s favourite, we have been told. They actually have amazing Mango, unlike London! We caught a ferry over to the mainland to get a sick view of the island we were on.
It was hot the next morning as we did some last minute exploring. We walked up a steep hill to Third Street, which is a cool up-and-coming area and grabbed a cold brew, then rode the escalators the rest of the way up the hill… that’s what you need in all hot cities! It’s so hot here you need a constant cold drink in your hand. We stopped at a juicery for our second drink. There were cute cats in the local food shops just chilling with the food.
We walked, we sweated, we talked, we ate, we drank and we looked. We enjoyed Hong Kong.
We set off into the sunset, leaving London behind, with Edinburgh in mind, stopping in Leeds for the night. We passed millions of canola farms and fields with wind turbines both of which look very beautiful. We got to our Leeds airbnb late, made friends with a cat named Mitsy, and went to bed.
We rose early to get a good start on our journey. Leaving Mitsy was hard but we had to say our goodbyes and move on. We made an important stop to eat bad road-trip food… The service stops here in the UK are massive and very good, this country was made for road trips. We thought we spotted the Harry Potter train bridge, so we detoured for it. It was amazing but it definitely wasn’t the right one. When we got to Edinburgh, we hit up Mother India for a feast, chilled out at a jazz bar and almost got kicked out by a stern woman because we were high-fiving and had Australian accents. Edinburgh is known for ghost tours so we made sure to fit that in. We did the 18+ Auld Reekie tour and it was pretty impressive! We went into vaults that were 4 stories underground. It’s pitch black except for a few candles and the guide’s small torch. The guide told us all about the many people who had lived and died there, and still haunted the halls. He showed us the old instruments of torture with delightful names like The Jaw Breaker, The Tongue Twister, The Thumb Crusher and the Ball Smasher.
In Einburgh there is a sweet coffee scene and the best seven joined together to become the “Disloyal 7”. They have a loyalty card that has one stamp space for each one, and if you visit all seven you get a free coffee. Such a cool idea. We visited two of them today, Baba Budan and Lowdown Coffee. We then went on a whisky tour at Glenkinchie Distillery and it was good and Chris liked it, but I still think whisky tastes like poison… I tried.
We climbed Arthur’s Seat and it was amazing! Great exercise, views and pretty flowers. Then we went home to Netflix and eat all the chocolate in the world we wanted (to stick to tradition for Easter). Ready for our long road trip home. Catch ya Scotland.
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