After more than two and a half years of no international travel—we arrived home from overseas only days before Australia closed its borders in March 2020—we’ve finally left the country.
Almost two months later, we’re back in Sydney. Here’s a quick rundown of where we went and what we did.
This trip was ostensibly a catch-up mission with UK family and friends we hadn’t seen since the start of the pandemic.
But rather than flying in to Heathrow, which has had a lot of problems with luggage, plus getting to our friends on the southeast coast from there isn’t easy, Christina and I opted to land in Europe, travel around for a week or so and fly to Stansted Airport on the cheap.
Landing in Frankfurt, we stayed there for a few days enjoying the local mid-week markets and getting back into the European vibe.
We stayed at the Mercure Hotel Kaiserhof, which was conveniently close to Frankfurt’s main train station but far enough away from the dodgy bits of town like the nearby red light district around Taunusstraße.
Taking one of the amazing OBB trains, we travel through southern Germany and into Austria to explore the elegant city of Vienna. It’s a long train journey—over eight hours in fact.
But choosing the comfort and romance of a first class compartment carriage makes the trip more enjoyable.
It’s also the most affordable option–at about €140–compared to flying or hiring a car.
We arrive in Vienna at 8.30 in the evening. We drop our bags at our delightfully old-school hotel—the Graben just off historic Stefanspatz in the centre of town—and go exploring.
From the Spanish Riding School stables and the State Opera House in the west of the city to the art weirdness of Hundertwasser House in the east we clock up a lost of steps in the one full day we’re here.
But all too soon, we leave the towering white Baroque streets of Vienna to hop on another train. This time we’re only on board for about two and a half hours, hopping off in Hungary. We’re finally getting to see beautiful Budapest.
We’ve always wanted to see this great city, split in two by the mighty Danube. And it does not disappoint.
In fact, looking at our step-counts on our phones, we realise we’ve hit Hungary hard: over 48km in three days (compared to Frankfurt – 34km and Vienna – 19km)—it feels like we’ve walked the whole city!
Thankfully our hotel room at the Arcadia Budapest is comfortable–though they’ve switched the aircon onto heat mode throughout the hotel because it’s supposed to be winter; we’ve been enjoying 24ºC days this October!
But after all the walking, all the spiral steps to the tops of church towers, all the amazing food, rivers, culture, history and even more walking, it’s time to hop on what’s probably the cheapest flight to the UK from mainland Europe.
Our Budapest-to-London Stansted flights are AU$134 total.
Once in the UK, we’re on a mission to see as many people and places as we can—though there is an element of relaxation we really want to enjoy too of course.
We start off with a trip away with my mum and dad to the pretty Suffolk town of Southwold before heading to our amazing friends—more like family in fact—Clare and Dave, and their fur-babies Flo and Ruby, where we’ll be based while we’re in the UK.
But trips to Kent, Brighton, London, St Albans, Hatfield Forest, Oulton Broad, Harwich and Cambridge keep us on the road quite a bit over the next few weeks.
We also manage to squeeze in a quick trip to Italy. It’s so close, we just can’t resist. We fly down to Puglia to check out a town we wanted to spend more time in when we were last here in 2017: Monopoli.
Things have changed a bit on the last five years, but it’s still as beautiful as ever. We spend our days wandering the cobbled streets of this charming harbour town and our evenings exploring the little trattorias, bars and enotecas.
Their background is in architecture but they moved back to their hometown a while back and started crafting beautiful pottery using the forms local to them; ricotta pots, seashells, sea urchins, little seed pods.
Anna and Gianni have moved things along quite a bit since we were here last too, trialling new techniques no one’s tried before and creating new even more beautiful designs. Seeing these guys again has been the highlight of our trip to Puglia.
We’re also amazed at how warm it is still in Puglia considering it’s now early November. Instead of winter clothes, we’re in swimmers. In fact Christina even goes for a dip at the beach in Monopoli. The water’s still over 20°C.
Back in the UK, with just a week left until we begin heading back to Sydney, we travel to the Midlands with my mum and dad for one more outing.
In fact, this is a bit of a busman’s holiday for us as we’re heading to Harrington in Northamptonshire halfway between Cambridge and Birmingham.
In this quiet little village in the hills is Warner’s Distillery. We’ve worked a bit with Warner’s over the years. They produce an excellent range of gins and are about to extend their reach in Australia even further with a fascinating collaboration with a distillery here.
We meet several of Warner’s superstars, including owner Tom Warner himself.
Mike Nield, the international commercial manager, kindly takes time out of his day to show us round where we meet the distillery’s groundsman Martyn Bachmet, one of the distillers Kundai Chakonda guides us through a tasting and we even get to meet Merlin, one of the distillery dogs.
After our site visit, we pop next door with Mike to the Tolly (The Tollemache Arms) for an excellent lunch where we’re joined by Tom and the distillery’s fascinating conservation and sustainability manager (and beekeeper) Jonny Easter.
We’ll tell you more about our visit another time, but we’ve had such an interesting visit to Warner’s. In fact a few of their gins are available in Dan Murphy’s now.
Then, all of a sudden, we’re on the Eurostar zooming under the Channel to Paris.
We’re staying at the absolutely superb Hotel de Sers in the 8th Arrondissement not far from the Champs-Elysees. Part of the B Signature Hotels and Resorts collection, which is still a family-owned brand, this hotel is driven by its superb level service and luxury as well as its incredible location.
We’re lucky enough to meet the director of sales (and granddaughter of the founder of B Signature Hotels and Resorts) Agathe Jousse, who tells us a bit more about this hotel and the company in general.
We also chat to the Hotel de Sers’ incredible Clefs d’Or Concierge, Cédric Gazou. You can find his secrets to Paris here.
Check out our full review and video of this beautiful hotel here, with its unrivalled concierge service, its glimpses of the Eiffel Tower and its truly enormous bathrooms!
Staying true to our MO, we walk, munch and swig our way round Paris, clocking up another hearty 48km in the three days we’re in town. As well as seeing the sights, we even get to catch up with our friend Alex, who we missed in the UK because he works in Paris three days a week.
Paris is a lot busier than we expected for mid-November though. There are queues everywhere—even to get in to look at churches. I think everyone’s getting in as much travel as they can after two years of being denied it.
Finally, we’re on the last leg of our journey: a brief couple of nights in Dubai as we head back to Australia.
It’s a quick five or so hours to the UAE from France, and we arrive in the morning at our five-star beachside hotel: the exquisite Andaz Dubai The Palm. My new friend Mustafa very kindly lets us check in a full eight hours early, which is a life-saver.
Our room—a suite actually—is massive.
It has a full kitchen, a lounge, bathroom and separate powder room, a workspace that also doubles up as a vanity, and views from the windows next to our super-king bed look out over the marina of the enormous tree-shaped manmade island that is the Palm.
But before we get too comfortable, we have a safari date with Platinum Heritage, a company that’s been running experiences around the Dubai for a decade. Our guide, Austin, meets us in a beautiful Range Rover and drives us to the meeting point an hour out of the city at the edge of the Arabian Desert.
We’ve got lots to tell you about this incredible experience, but let’s just say it was an evening we’ll never forget. Camel rides, falconry displays, feasts in a royal oasis and pyrotechnical acrobatics. And of course a safari drive amongst the flowing dunes of the desert.
Back in the city, we catch up with our mate Michaela, who moved to Dubai ages ago. It’s lovely to catch up.
We’re having dinner together on Bluewater Island in the lavish Alici. Highly recommend this place. The food and service are just brilliant, and with views out across the marina to the Palm Jumeirah, where our hotel is, and out across the Persian Gulf, you can’t really go wrong.
Across the road from our hotel is a skyscraper—the tallest one on the island—that has a viewing deck and rooftop, brilliantly called The View At The Palm. From here you can look out across the city and, more importantly, over the Gulf.
Short of a helicopter ride (which you can do in an Uber here!) this place affords you the best views of the Palm Jumeirah. We can even see our hotel.
You have to pay extra for rooftop access, and it’s only small, but it’s entirely worth it. Especially when the bored security guard up here does a whole photo shoot for you when you ask him for a single picture!
He even poses us and moves us around the roof, gets people out of shot and takes multiple angles. I think he’s missed his calling!
As we fly back to Sydney, we’re excited to be home again. I think we must be out of practice with this travel malarkey!