Europe Express 2016

My Topdeck bus

The bus that took me through Europe

It’ s been a while, but now that I’m well into the planning stages of my next Europe adventure I’ve been reminiscing a lot about last years trip and figured I should get my butt into gear and share all the wonderful experiences I had (while I can still remember them – at the moment they still feel like just yesterday).

As part of our first time venturing to the UK and Europe Jess and I were discussing where we would most like to visit in our few weeks together; a few places came up which made me think perhaps a tour might be the best way to see a lot in a small amount of time. We also figured this would be a safer, time saving option as well as an opportunity to meet some new people.

(Both of us really wanted to see Ireland so we hired a car and spent a week driving round the South of Ireland – but that’s a story for another post).

Next began the process of narrowing down which tour company and exactly which tour would meet our criteria (seeing places we wanted, not too rushed and not toooo much partying with a lot of sightseeing opportunities).
On our list were a few places including London, Paris and Venice. After comparing a few Contiki, Bus-about and Top Deck tours, we narrowed it down to one of two Top deck tours; eventually deciding on the Europe Express covering 5 countries in 11 days. This option was most appealing as it had two nights in the most interesting places, so we could drive for a day, have an evening enjoying some local activities, then have a full day to explore, have another night to relax and then drive on to our next destination the following day.

The Europe Express begins with a pick up in London, a bus trip via the Cliffs of Dover, a ferry ride over to Calais, and more driving down to Paris. All the rest is bus trips (with a lovely driver and very interesting tour guide to keep us entertained) during the day between destinations stopping for two nights in Paris, two nights in the Swiss Alps, two nights in Venice, one night in Munich, one night in Rhine Valley, two nights in Amsterdam then back onto the ferry and finishing where we started in London.

2018-map-of-europe-express-eendll-topdeck-travel

Inclusions

  • Driving tour of Paris & gourmet picnic by the Eiffel Tower
  • Walking tour of Venice
  • Vaporetto ride in Venice
  • Walking tour of Munich
  • Visit former concentration camp Dachau
  • Stay in the scenic Rhine Valley castle region
  • Walking tour of Amsterdam
  • Canal dinner cruise in Amsterdam
  • Dutch cheese & clogs demonstration
  • 10 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 6 dinners
  • 8 nights in hostels & 2 nights in bungalows (twin share cabins) at European campsites

Optional activities (make the most of these if you can – although they do cost extra)

Paris
-Traditional cabaret show in Paris
-Scenic river cruise on the Seine
-Bike tour of Paris

Swiss Alps
-Scenic excursion to Jungfrau (‘The Top of Europe’)
-Scenic helicopter ride in the Swiss Alps
-Skydiving in the Swiss Alps (100% recommend this!! one of my top 3 fav moments from my 5 weeks in Europe!!)

Venice
-Gondola ride in Venice

Rhine Valley
-Rhine Valley river cruise

Amsterdam
-Bike tour of Amsterdam

I will write more about each place we went to so if you are interested in doing either the tour, or the places on your own hopefully you can find some helpful tips there.

I highly recommend doing a tour like this for your first time travelling – especially if you are alone. I loved every minute, met some amazing people, felt I got a good taste of Western Europe and know where I would definitely go back when I next get the chance.  The tour guides and bus drivers were incredible, they have great knowledge of the countries with heaps of suggestions for extra things to see and places to eat in your free time. Also fantastic stories to share about other countries they’ve been and crazy things that have happened on other tours they’ve done.

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A nice quote I came across whilst reading “A Dog’s Purpose“.

hiking

A beautifully written book all from a dogs point of view. It certainly made me think differently about Opal (my dog) and others, and perhaps why they think/act the way they do.

When one door closes…opportunities await

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Photo credit: AARC.org

Relationship endings are always bitter sweet.

You say goodbye to the life you knew for the previous how many years, reminisce on all the memories, happy and sad times, and think of all the things that you used to do, places you would go and people you knew that will now change. If you look at it in a positive light it means that there is now room for new beginnings, many opportunities that can lead to an entirely different life. A new chapter for the book of you.

Part of the reason my last relationship ended up parting ways was because I had a long hard think about what I wanted to do in and with my life and our paths just weren’t heading in the same direction. Fortunately for me the reason I had to have that honest conversation with myself turned out to be the first step in creating a new journey.

Some people manage to go through life and have it just happen to them. I want more from life; I like the adrenaline, the excitement, the satisfaction of setting a goal and achieving it and overcoming the challenges that I face on the way.

It may sound selfish, independent, or stubborn, but I like to do things for myself. If I have achieved it mostly on my own it feels like I earned it and can be truly content with the fact it is mine and I did it and no one else can take credit for it. I have always done that so i don’t feel like I “owe” anyone for helping me out. I even have a hard time having other people buy me a drink, or dinner, without me having to repay them in kind.

After the necessary grieving period was over, I began to focus on the things that had made me come to that life changing decision in the first place. I wanted to buy a house, I wanted to travel the world, I wanted to have good real friends, I wanted to be a good real friend…and many more. I sat down and started to work it out using what I had been taught in school and throughout rowing training, if you are going to set a goal it needs to be SMART. Specific, Measurable, Attainable/Achievable, Realistic and Timely.

I wanted to travel overseas. I thought about where I most wanted to go, how much time I could realistically go for, what the main things I “had to see” if it was my only time going over there. Then looked into the best way to fit those in, priced up the options, worked out how long it would take me to save/pay for the trip and started booking.

I also wanted to buy a house. Again I worked out what I wanted in a house, what area I wanted to and could afford to live in, how much I had in my Kiwisaver, what I could realistically afford that I would be comfortable living in and how much more I needed to save to get there, and also about the timing of it – whether I bought it before or after going overseas.

Fortunately I have a good job with a regular salary and a decent amount of leave. Because I had planned these two main goals out in a lot of detail I then spent the next year and a bit saving, booking parts of my trip, looking at the housing market – keeping an eye on the prices and how it kept changing. With goals and a plan I found it easy to see the end in sight and managed to go to Europe/UK for 6 weeks and come home to buy a house the following month at the end of 2016.

Both of these goals had the added bonus that I was focused on something different. I was learning a lot about houses, the market, the whole process and a lot about the world, places to go, what to do and see, which in turn meant I was surrounded with an entirely different group of people and it opened me up to a lot more conversations with the people I already knew. I met a huge range of different people just through thinking and talking about these adventures I was planning on having and while I was living them.

I look at every experience as an opportunity to learn a lesson, or three, then I look forward to using those lessons to create something even better in my next chapter.

Those were my main goals for 2016 and since I have accomplished them I am now figuring out what’s next and how best to achieve that. The past two years really have been a life changing experience and many many new doors have opened thanks to one door closing.

Bitter sweet, yet onwards and upwards.
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Doggy daycare

Opals daycare

Opal & her friends at daycare

I have had Opal since she was 8 weeks old. I visited her since the day after she was born. She is my baby, my puppy and my best mate. Some people laugh when I say Opal goes to day care, some dog owners ask lots of questions about it and others get excited and tell me all about their dog’s day-care. It may sound like a silly concept, but I view it the same as putting your child into day-care. It is a place where your darlings can go during the day to socialise with other babies/dogs, have naps, get exercise and learn to take instructions from other carers.

I initially looked into day-care as the section Opal had at home wasn’t as big as I would like for her – she is a very energetic dog and being cooped up isn’t fair and can lead to bad behaviours (such as digging and excessive barking) driven from boredom. I talked to other dog owners I met at Day’s park – our local off-lead exercise area – about the places they sent their dogs, and I went to visit day-care’s available in Hamilton. The key things I was looking for in a day-care included:

  • A large GRASS area that dogs are free to run around and play in
  • Dogs who clearly liked and respected the carers
  • A variety of dogs, sexes, breeds, and ages to socialise with.
  • Carers that I got on with and treated dogs how I like mine treated

Doggy day-care is quite popular now and there have been a few new companies opening over the last 6-12 months in Hamilton especially. I had sent Opal to a day care for a few weeks three years ago however as I was studying it wasn’t financially viable at the time for me to continue sending her there. It just so happened when I was researching day-cares this time I contacted one that was recommended by my workmate – that runs from a property in Ngaruawahia (2minutes from my workplace) and they remembered Opal from her last day-care stint! They had changed venues and now had developed into two separate components – one for small dogs and the other for medium – large dogs.

 

Afternoon siesta at daycare

Afternoon siesta at daycare

I looked at three main day-cares in Hamilton. One was indoors and had concrete floors which turned me off it as this isn’t a natural grounding for dogs to run on all day. It had lots of wooden built structures which I also don’t think is a natural environment for dogs (although I imagine it could be quite fun!).  While talking with other dog owners at obedience classes, I came across one who was sending their dog to this particular place. He was a very active Border Collie who runs all day and sadly because of the concrete floors after his second day when he was picked up he could barely walk as his paw pads had been ripped up from the concrete. So that confirmed my choice against the indoor day-care as again Opal is a very active dog who enjoys racing around playing with other dogs for majority of the day.

The second day-care was inconvenient to drop Opal off to as it was on the other side of Hamilton. K9 Country Club – the one I was recommended by my workmate – their drop off point was next to Days park which was just around the corner from my house at the time. I organised a site visit to this day-care, met the carers, the owner and the other dogs who would be attending on one of the days I was looking at sending Opal. What I liked about this day-care was they have a minimum attendance requirement of two days a week to ensure the dogs get to know the routines and settle in with the other dogs on their days. It makes sense – it would be scary meeting 30 new dogs every week and just getting used to them after one day then having to meet a whole new 30 next week. It’s not how we make friends in the real world and it’s hard for dogs to work out their hierarchy every day with new dogs.

K9CC has a four week trial period to ensure that your dog fits in with the other dogs and the routines. Opal successfully passed this trial period and has been attending for seven months now. The owner, managers and workers are fantastic and Opal adores them. She gets very excited every time we get near the drop off point and wants to get straight in the van. I think this is an extremely good sign – if she loves it, I love it. They were also very flexible with Opal when I moved house and had to rearrange my finances. I decided during this period that Opals daycare was a priority for me as she loved it and it does wonders for her social skills and general well-being.

Another thing I love about K9CC is that they regularly put up photos and videos of the dogs playing at daycare (or in Opals case napping!) on their Facebook page so I can see what fun Opal is having on her days there. She was even lucky enough to share a doggy birthday cake when it was Navy’s birthday! Check it out and if you’re thinking about putting your dog into daycare I highly recommend K9CC, it’s definitely value for money and peace of mind in my opinion – Opal is a much happier dog for going there.

 

*Photos care of K9CC

Nap time at K9CC

Nap time at K9CC

Opal at doggy daycare

Opal posing at doggy daycare

 

What do I want to be when I grow up?

Growing up

This seems to be a reoccurring question; when you are little and can be anything you imagine, as you get to high school when you are choosing which subjects to study, when you finish high school and need to decide your next path, when you finish university – where will you start your career. As time goes on more and more of your life choices depend on how you answer this question. Believe me as you enter your 20’s and ask yourself this question frequently, and have others constantly asking, it starts to sound bewildering.

Growing up I always thought the pathway was: complete high school, attend university & gain a degree, get a job in the field you studied and build a career in that line of work. When I finished high school that was a daunting thought – I have to choose right now what job I want to do for the rest of my life! Of course I went with my favourite subject at high school – PE. As I was an avid sports player throughout high school it just seemed a natural path to follow. However after two years of studying a Sports and Exercise Science degree I was asking everyone in my class what they wanted to do when they finished. Majority of my classmates said “become a PE teacher” or “become a personal trainer”.  As I was still quite young and a little naïve my thinking was, “well that doesn’t sound like me for the rest of my life”. I didn’t realise that just because most people wanted to follow two main careers, there was a lot more available using this degree. Unfortunately as I came to that conclusion I withdrew from my degree with only one year to go, and went to work in hospitality while I figured out what my new career path would be. Now what do I want to be when I grow up?

Well after 5 years of working in various roles in hospitality I decided waitressing and bartending were not the career paths that I wanted. One of my waitressing roles expanded into assisting with planning weddings and functions. I loved the events planning side of this role and decided now that this could be a career I would really enjoy. At the time I was looking for fulltime jobs and it was a requirement to have a degree before anyone would consider hiring you. As I was just shy of completing my sports degree I chose to go back to university and do a degree in what I now enjoyed – event management.

At the time the only degree at Waikato University that offered any event management papers was the Bachelor of Communications, so naturally this is what I chose to study.

As I was in the last months of completing my degree majoring in marketing and public relations I again asked myself “what do I want to be when I grow up?” Now I have a degree what will I do with it? What career does this mean for me? Still thinking that your degree will lead to a career in the industry of what you studied.

Well after temping full time for a variety of businesses for three months, and a large amount of interviews for marketing jobs, I weighed up my options again. If I was to follow what I thought was the right path – working in the industry I studied – I would have to get a marketing job in Auckland. This meant changing my whole life just to get a job. I could potentially get paid a higher starting salary than what was on offer in Hamilton, however that would mean having a higher cost of living and leave all my friends and the lifestyle I was used to in Hamilton behind.

Again the question came up “what do I want to be when I grow up?” After asking yourself this question multiple times in a few years it starts to get scary when you still haven’t figured it out. It gets harder when your family starts asking year after year, reminding you you’re getting older and won’t have the same job opportunities much longer.

I am turning 27 this year and have finally come to terms with the fact that it is okay to not know what you want to be when you grow up. I now have a full-time permanent job that I love, I’m still in Hamilton with my friends and living the same convenient lifestyle (15 minutes or less to drive anywhere in Hamilton!). There is progression available in my job and there are opportunities for further study and potential to move into other areas within my organisation, so the future looks bright.

I have always wanted to have a business of my own and still haven’t quite decided exactly what that will be. I do know I want to get into property investing – whether that be my main business or a supplement to another business I am not yet sure. I am happy within myself that I have a secure job and goals for future career choices. I have options and as I was told when I was younger “the world is your oyster”.

So as I am approaching 30 I am comfortable that it’ll be okay, the world won’t end because I don’t have ‘what I want to be when I grow up’ sorted by then. Coming into the workforce and talking to others in my organisation I realised that thinking a career was a one track journey is actually unrealistic. Yes, it may work for some people, but majority of people have moved around doing different jobs and roles over their lifetimes before they settled into what they are doing now. I even know some people that are in their 50’s and still don’t know what they want to be and yet they have lived a full and happy life on their journey trying to figure it out.

I guess I am writing this to let you know that while you are stressing about ‘what next’ with the pressure you can put on yourself, especially in your 20’s, to figure it out – it’s okay. As long as you are doing something you are on the right path. Each choice you make opens up other opportunities and can lead to a world of options. You are still young and there is still time, so don’t let it get you down.

Everything happens for a reason – whatever will be will be, if it’s meant to be it will – that is my ‘motto’ if you will. I live by that and it has worked for me this far in my life. It means I take responsibility for my decisions, I accept that everything happens for a reason and I believe as long as I learn a lesson from each decision or the results of my decision and do something to ensure it changes my future opinions/actions that is good way to live.

Sauteed Beetroot Greens

I have been dabbling in growing a few different vegetables in my garden over the last few months, one of which is beetroot.

It has taken a while for the beetroot to grow to an edible size but they were finally ready last week!

I was going to a friends house for lunch and as I was brought up to always bring something to share when I go to someone else’s house (thanks mum) I decided I would make a raw beetroot salad. I shall write that recipe up soon as it is also delicious, however this post is about what I made with the beetroot stalks.

As I cut the stalks off the beetroot and was about to throw them into the compost bin I suddenly thought ‘surely there must be something I can make with these?’ It seemed such a waste to throw away so much of a vegetable!

Raw beetroot

Raw beetroot

My good friend Google came to the rescue and I found a delicious recipe that I’m going to share with you all so no-one has to waste beetroot greens again!

The original recipe was called: Sautéed beet leaves with coconut milk & capers, however I didn’t have capers so mine is minus the capers. I must give credit to themindfulfoodie for this delicious recipe!!

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 small brown onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 5 cups (~500g) shredded beet leaves & chopped stems
  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • sea salt to taste
  • squeeze of lemon

Method:

In a wide and deep fry pan, heat oil and sauté onion until translucent. Add garlic and sauté briefly before adding the beet leaves. Stir continually.

Once the leaves have wilted add the coconut milk. Saute for a couple more minutes, then turn off stove. Season and squeeze over some lemon juice.

(Note: the dish is not meant to be saucy — the milk evaporates off. If you would like it to be creamy, just add more coconut milk.)

Sauteed Beetroot Greens

Sauteed Beetroot Greens

I hope you give this a try as it really is delicious and full of nutrition. The greens are rich in calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. Beetroots are an excellent source of folic acid and a very good source of fibre, manganese and potassium.

Waffles – Tupperware style

I woke up and felt like something different for breakfast/brunch. I decided that I would like to try out my new Tupperware silicone waffle mold. I haven’t had waffles before and also don’t bake often so this was an exciting little adventure for me!

Tupperware Waffles with frozen berries and yoghurt

Waffles with frozen berries and yoghurt

I like to watch youtube recipes as I’m more visual and learn best by doing, also there is less chance I can go wrong. This is the waffle recipe video I used – note: it’s in English and Spanish and makes approximately 10 waffles. Here is a handy conversion chart that I referred to a bit (some of the measurements in the video are US imperial).

As you can see below I am slowly building up my Tupperware collection; becoming a hobby demonstrator has helped get even more products cheaper. Getting some of the products through earning incentives also made me want to practice more cooking and baking as there are some fabulous recipes that can be demonstrated at parties to help show the many uses of the products.

Waffle ingredients

Waffle ingredients

Ingredients:

3 Eggs

410mls milk (approx 2 cups)

2 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

110g (1/2 cup) butter

2 Tbsp sugar

Note: for those like me who don’t bake often tsp = teaspoon, Tbsp = tablespoon.

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk.

Tip: crack each egg into a cup first before adding into the main bowl – just in case the egg is less than desirable – it saves ruining all of your other ingredients. 

Eggs added to Tupperware 'That's a Bowl'

Eggs added to Tupperware ‘That’s a Bowl’

Add in the melted butter and milk while whisking.

Sift in the flour and continue whisking whilst adding in salt, sugar and baking powder.

Completed Tupperware waffle mixture

Completed Tupperware waffle mixture

Tip: Ensure the Tupperware silicone waffle mold is on a sturdy tray before transferring to the oven.

Pour in the mixture – just covering the raised bits.

Waffle mixture added to Tupperware silicone mold

Waffle mixture added to Tupperware silicone mold

Place into a preheated oven and cook until crispy golden on top.

Using oven mits, or a tea towel take out the silicone waffle mold and tip out the waffles onto a plate.

Tupperware waffles

Finished waffles

Add toppings of your choice. I used melted chocolate, plain yoghurt, frozen mixed berries (slightly defrosted in the microwave jug) and golden syrup.

Melted Chocolate in Tupperware Microwave jug

Melted Chocolate in Tupperware Microwave jug

 

Finished product:

Tupperware Waffles with frozen berries and yoghurt

Waffles with frozen berries and yoghurt