A Travellerspoint blog

Remembering the Western Front

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After saying goodbye to Germany it was time to head to Belgium – the land of beer, chocolate, waffles and fries. It was also the beginning of the WWI Western Front, a journey we would be taking over the next few days.

First stop in Belgium was Brugge. After a hearty lunch of soup we explored the beautiful village. Ancient buildings lined the canal; colourful buildings surrounded the square, the smell of chocolate wafting from every second store and a peaceful monastery made this village special. Unfortunately we were only here for the afternoon so to cheer ourselves up we indulged in some waffles with chocolate sauce and banana. Yum.

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Our accommodation for the next two nights was at a B&B, recommended by our good friends the Hawthorne’s. It is situated on the edge of a major battlefield of WW1, Passchendaele. In 1917, within 100 days, 500 000 causalities fell for only 8km’s of gained ground. The land now consists mainly of farms and the owners of this property had a collection of guns and grenades and other artefacts that had been collected over the years, often when ploughing the fields.

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The following day we headed to Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth war cemetery. The Commonwealth War Grave Commission do a wonderful job in maintaining the Cemetery's and Memorials.

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Next was a visit to the Passchendaele Memorial Museum, which provided a complete history lesson on the battle as well as a trench and dugout experience. Over the coming days we would all learn so much about the Great War, being here certainly drums home the sacrifice these brave people made.

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We also visited Hill 60, where bullet holes still exist in the memorial situated there from WWII.

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A highlight of our stay was attending the last post at the Menin Gate in Ypres. At 8pm every night the local Fire Brigade perform the last post. The only time it did not go ahead was when the Germans occupied Ypres in WWII. Having missed ANZAC Day at home it was very moving. Also, having been away from home for so long it was comforting to see and hear so many Australians making the pilgrimage to Ypres for this event. ANZAC Day wreaths and flags were aplenty.

Menin Gate

Menin Gate

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As we headed south into France to Amiens we followed the Australian WW1 Remembrance Trail. This would take us through locations of some of the fiercest battles Australians would fight in. We travelled through and paid our respects to soldiers who fought at Fromelles, Bullecourt, and Pozieres.

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The Windmill site at Pozieres, a small memorial by the roadside is said to mark a ridge more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth. Soil from the site was cast over the coffin of Australia’s Unknown Soldier during the funeral at the War Memorial in Canberra.

Pozieres - Windmill Site

Pozieres - Windmill Site

We also visited the Thiepval memorial, an Anglo – French Cemetery and the Canadian Vimy Memorial Park. The Vimy Memorial Park is spectacular. A lot of the land still remains as it was at the end of the War, electric fences keep animals and humans from entering as bombs and mines fill the area.

@ Vimy Canadian War Memorial

@ Vimy Canadian War Memorial

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Our final stop was to the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

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We had hoped to be there for ANZAC Day but were unable to. The memorial is well kept and fitting to the soldiers who gave their lives for our country. After leaving a poppy for the only Parkinson (no relation) we found amongst the 10,000 names listed at the memorial it was time to head to our home for the night. Lest we Forget.

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Next stop Normandy

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Posted by AllisonP 11:24 Archived in Belgium Comments (2)

Berlin.

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Vibrant and cosmopolitan, Berlin, much to our surprise became one of the cities we enjoyed the most. A history lesson on every corner, five days was not enough time to cover this massive city.

Building Art? in our neigbourhood

Building Art? in our neigbourhood

Our apartment was located within the Kreuzberg area, with a strong Turkish community very close to the Berlin wall. With an organic fruit and vegetable market, bakeries and Turkish restaurants as our neighbours I knew we weren’t going to go hungry!!! And we didn’t.

Our first stop was the Berlin Wall. Although parts of the wall remain intact throughout the city, the section we visited was by far the most popular with the tourists, it is known as the East Side Gallery. The wall has been painted with vibrant murals, some sections colourful and fun, others a stark reminder of what the wall represented.

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

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Next we hopped on the train and headed to the Brandenburg Gate, originally built during the18th century it was located in no mans land, between East and West during the time of the Berlin wall. Reagan’s famous speech calling on Gorbachov to tear down the wall was in front of the gate in 1987. Since the fall of the Berlin wall, the gate has now become the symbol of a unified Berlin.

@Brandenburg Gate

@Brandenburg Gate

We then visited the site where Hilter had his bunker during the war and the place where he ultimately ended his life. A car park now occupies this space and other than an information board there is nothing else present to signify the area.

Just near the bunker is the Holocaust Memorial that takes up a whole city block. It is known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

Memorial for the Murdered Jews

Memorial for the Murdered Jews

There are various monuments throughout the city dedicated to those who fought and died during the war, as well as a photo display known as The Topography of Terror. The display has lots of information explaining the history of Berlin, its people and the Nazi party very well. It is well worth the visit.

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Lunch for the day was a German specialty, currywurst – a German sausage cut into small pieces, smothered in a tomato sauce and topped with curry powder. Not bad, but not great either, certainly didn’t go back for seconds during our stay!

Currywurst

Currywurst

Using Tripadvsor walking tours we were able to efficiently explore Berlin. These tours took us through Check Point Charlie, The Gendarmenmarkt, The Berlin Cathedral and Museum Island, and the impressive Reichstag Building.

Check Point Charlie

Check Point Charlie

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The Reichstag

The Reichstag

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Our second last day was spent visiting Sachsenhausen concentration camp which is now a Memorial and Museum.

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It was used by the Nazis’s during the war and then the Russians post war. It was the model camp and used to train Nazis to run other camps. Too much death at this place and definitely not the highlight of Berlin, but certainly a place that needed to be seen to fully understand the cruelty of the Nazis and war in general. If you wish to read more about the camp we visited click on this Link The blogger writes about his experience at the camp and some of its history.

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On our final day, having had enough sightseeing, we decided to go shopping. Without a doubt Berlin has the best shopping we have seen on our trip. With three major districts within the city, it is a shopper’s paradise.

Our final days in Germany were spent in beautiful Cologne, on the banks of the Reine River. The town is extremely picturesque with the city’s cathedral taking centre stage.

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Next stop Belgium.

Posted by AllisonP 11:46 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Germanys River and Sea

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After saying a reluctant goodbye to Bavaria we were back in the car headed north. After an overnight stay in Hannover we arrived at out next destination – St Peter Ording that is in northern Germany by the North Sea.

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St Peter Ording is where another one of our exchange students, Chris spends his holidays. His family own a house that is about 300 years old and is very traditional to the area. We were very fortunate to be able to spend the night there with Chris and his parents and one of his sisters and her partner.

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After afternoon tea we headed to the beach. Having seen many beaches during the course of our trip and in Australia, nothing has compared to the beach at St Peter Ording. Our photos speak for themselves. Amazing.

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That night we had a beautiful seafood meal at a local restaurant, which is on piers on the beach and only open in Spring / Summer as it is not accessible in other times. We later walked along the dyke wall and onto the pier watching the sunset. A great way to spend the evening.

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The next morning we headed to a different part of the beach. A walk along the beach, beach soccer and photos in a traditional beach basket filled the morning before we headed to Hamburg - Gateway to the World.

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We were fortunate to have Chris with us on this part of our trip. Even though knowing how to speak German and having an insight to a city is not necessary, it sure does help. As soon as we arrived in Hamburg, it was off to the football to watch Hamburg play. Hamburg are the only team to always play in the top German division and they have a clock in the stadium counting the years and days, but at the moment they face relegation. The result for the game did not help; losing 3-1, and the crowd were extremely depressed on the trip home.

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On our first full day in Hamburg we took a river cruise, a great way to see the city. Exclusive homes line the foreshore and shipping boats fill the harbour. Normally the docks operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except for five days of the year. We happened to be there on one of those days – Easter Sunday.

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Lunch for the day was a tasty fish burger, a Hamburg specialty. After lunch we headed to Miniature Wunderland, a massive display of miniature trains, cars and aeroplane’s from famous European regions. The displays were very impressive and the detail was amazing. I’m not sure who enjoyed it most-the younger kids or the young at heart.

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The following day we enjoyed a guided bus tour of the city and saw houses of Hamburg’s rich and famous, the new opera house (still a work in progress) and St Pauli – Hamburg’s Kings Cross.

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Having enjoyed all Hamburg has to offer we said our goodbyes to Chris and his family with a light dinner at Chris’s family home where we where able to meet his other sister.

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Next stop Berlin.

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Posted by AllisonP 14:13 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

Goodtimes in Bavaria

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After the craziness of Southern Italy we were all looking forward to our next destination - Germany.

View from Wallgau

View from Wallgau

First stop was a small village by the name of Wallgau, just outside of Garmisch on the Austrian border. A traditional German house with all the trimmings was to be home for the next few days. We hadn’t planned on doing much as the boys were resting up prior to a few days skiing in Obertauren. Walks around the village and trips to Mittenwald and Oberammergau filled our days.

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Next stop we returned to Obertauren, the Alpine village in Austria where we had spent Christmas. The snow was falling when we arrived and with reasonable skiing conditions the boys enjoyed a few days on the slopes. It was great to catch up with Peter (owner of Petergstamm) and his wonderful family, and of course have a few schnapps and speck! Hopefully it won't be too long until we return again.

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After saying goodbye to Peter and the snow we headed to Gauting, a leafy suburb on the outskirts of Munich, Bavaria where we would be staying with Alex (our first exchange student) and his family. After a quick hello we all headed to the football to watch Unterhaching play in the Bundesliga 3. Alex’s cousin is the club president so we were all treated to the VIP area. The beer flowed and the food kept coming on what was a sunny Bavarian day–hospitality at its finest.

VIP treatment at Unterhaching game

VIP treatment at Unterhaching game

The following day we explored the Olympic Stadium and surrounding parklands with Alex and his family. The area is a fine example of quality design that has become a part of Bavarian life for the past 40 years.

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Later that day we visited the amazing Nymphenburg Palace. Our first Asian dinner since leaving home at a local Vietnamese restaurant topped off a great day.

Nymphenburg Palace

Nymphenburg Palace

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Our next days where filled exploring the Munich city centre with our own local guide, Alex. We visited churches, many historic locations including where Hitler tried to first take power, the sad scene of the White Rose group, the Oktoberfest precinct, the ‘surf’ and of course the beer and Bavarian food.

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Surfing in Munich

Surfing in Munich

Our last day was spent exploring Starnberger Lake where many of the Bayern Munich players and Munich’s rich reside. We also stopped to see where the last King drowned or some say was killed. After a few hours we headed home passing by the famous Andechs brewery, which is a must for all Australians – or so we are told.

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However, the highlight of our trip to Bavaria was spending time with Alex and his wonderful family. We look forward to spending more time with them in the years to come.

7 years later

7 years later

Posted by AllisonP 11:11 Archived in Germany Comments (6)

Arrivederci Italia


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Our final week in Italy was spent in places that were a world away from everything we had already experienced. The toe and heal are full of surprises.

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Our first stop for the week was Tropea, a beautiful seaside village with an amazing sandstone church that sits upon its own cliff. Once again the cool weather prevented us from doing everything you would expect from a coastal town, but it was nice to totally relax for a few days.

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The next stop was Matera.

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The village (Sassi) is one of a few towns that have remained continually civilised for the last 10,000 years. It is also a favourite of Hollywood. A number of films have been made here, including Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion of the Christ’. We were fortunate enough to find accommodation right in the middle of the “Sassi Caveoso” amongst the abandoned caves in which people lived in up until the 1950’s.

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The poorest of people lived in these caves without running water or electricity and the living space was shared with their horses, pigs and chickens. Time had literally stood still.

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Ostuni, in Puglia was our final stop for the week. Known as the ‘White City’, the village is approximately 8km’s from the coast and sits atop a hill.

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Everything is painted white, reminiscent of a Greek village. A beautiful sight and very different from any other hilltop village we have seen. A short drive from Ostuni is Trulli, an ancient village of unusual round houses with dome like roofs, souvenir shops, bars and restaurants. Bizarre best describes this village!!!

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Puglia is best known for its olive oil and driving through the region you can understand why. There are olive trees for as far as the eye can see; both young and some that have obviously been around for a few thousand years. The oil is sold everywhere and tasted amazing. Stocked up with enough oil to see us through the remainder of our travels we were ready to head back up north as the weather for the south was predicted to turn bad.

As we headed for Germany our first stop for the night was at Rimini and is best described as the Italian Surfers Paradise. Accommodation and restaurants lined the streets along with the tacky souvenir shops.

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The owner of the restaurant where we had dinner, as always, asked where we were from (they don’t get many Australians in these parts, mostly Russians and Scandinavians). When we told him his face lit up, he had a son working in Bundaburg and another had worked in Sydney and Port Douglas. He even gave us a complimentary banana liquor to celebrate our connection. Just love Italian hospitality.

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Our last day was spent driving to our final Italian destination Riva Del Garda, a picturesque town at the foot of the Alps on the river. This was probably one my favourite places in Italy and would love to have stayed longer than one night. I’m grateful however for that one night, it’s going to make planning my return trip to Italy a little easier.

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Next stop Germany.

Posted by AllisonP 12:15 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

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