My photo
Comprising Spagus (derived from Asparagus), or Cam. Previously rural banker and farmer that has decided to ditch his tie and gumboots in exchange for a backpack and shaved head. Partnered with Shroom (derived from Mushroom), or Cat. Formally a country/city/country girl that has left behind the world of policy consulting and has ditched her high heels for some comfortable (yet stylish) footwear to support a wee bit of globetrotting through 2010 and 2011. We hope you enjoy following the travels of SpaguShroom through Europe, North America and South America!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Germany (June 26 - June 28)

We had been told by many to expect only great times during our stay in Germany’s capital city München (Munich). This has certainly been the case as we cheerfully filled our weekend wandering the streets; taking in the festival like atmosphere and enjoying the celebratory chaos of Germany’s victory over England in the football.

Our hostel was excellent. Being the first hostel of many, we were stoked that we got this one right therefore easing ourselves gently into hostel life. After unintentionally attending a church service (all in German obviously), we headed to the world famous Hofbrauhaus beer hall. The place was absolutely steaming hot and jam-pack with tourists from all over the world-though I think there were a few locals too. With the Bulvarian brass band cranking we got amongst and had a great night alongside a French family (that spoke no English).

On Sunday we took part in a 4 hour bike tour of the city with Mike’s Bike Tours. This had been recommended to us and proved to be fantastic. It was a great way to see the city and learn about its’ history, as well as partaking in a traditional lunch in München’s biggest beer garden (seating 7000 people), the Chinesischen Turm.

A recommended “must do”, the dancing Glockenspiel located on Neus Rathaus in Marienplatz, would most certainly be left off the list if we visited here again. Very over-rated and not worth standing around for.
After completely indulging in Germany we look forward to a bit of reprieve at our next destination, Prague.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Switzerland (June 18 - June 26)

We had a fantastic week in Switzerland all made possible thanks to Emma and Raffi’s generous hospitality. We had our own attic for the week in their lovely apartment located on the shore of Lake Zugersee, in Zug.
Vicki joined us from London for the weekend which, despite the Wintery conditions, made for great times and a good catch up for us three girls that are not often in the same country together! We all joined Raffi on a volleyball trip to the French part of Switzerland, Lausanne. Lausanne (home to the Olympic Committee) was indeed very French, identifiable not only by the change in language but also in the food and buildings. We ate fresh food from the markets and explored the magnificent old town located in the hills above the lake shore.

Back home in Zug we were treated to a buffet-brunch cruise on Lake Zugersee which gave us a different perspective of the area. It was nice to be snuggled inside munching on delicious Swiss cuisine when it was cold and misty outside. There was more wonderful Swiss food later that day, with a home cooked five course dinner at Raffi’s family home. We were very spoilt indeed!
For the remainder of the week as the weather returned to normal Summer goodness we enjoyed exploring the Zug area, including a 50km cycle around the edge of Zugersee. This was a real highlight for us both as we rode through small farm villages and were able to observe the differences between farming in Switzerland and farming at home. The sound of ‘clanging’ bells worn by the cattle greeted us as we cruised (helmet free!) through farm lanes with hay fields either side. Like everything here the farms are just so pretty and the cattle (which are housed during the Winter months) look like they could be on show with their shiny clean coats and friendly nature.

We also took a day trip with Emma to Bern, the capital city of Switzerland. Emma and I had visited Bern together four years ago so it was nice to return to this amazing city and to also see the two new baby bears! Bern’s mascot is the bear and is therefore home to a family of bears which live in a large enclosure in the city.

Bern has the feel of a relaxed town as opposed to the bustle of a capital city. With a large and superior old town extending to a sweeping river and forest, Bern proved yet again to be a great place to visit. We ended the day with a BBQ in the lovely Summer sun with our local friend Dave.

This week has been a great opportunity to spend quality time with Emma and to see her life here in Zug. We are extremely impressed and proud of her, as after one year of living in Switzerland she has completely embraced the Swiss culture and become fluent in German! It has provided Cam and I with more confidence to push ourselves outside our comfort zone in our journey ahead. Bring on Munich.

Danke Emma and Raffi!!

Friday, June 18, 2010

London (June 13 – June 18)

Over the 5 days we were in London we covered all the usual attractions and sights that should be ticked off the list when visiting this great city! Highlights included the War Museum, a sunny afternoon spent in Greenwich, a stroll through Camden Markets and of course catching up with our lovely friends based in London. We stayed in Clapham (thanks Em and Vic) and made the most of the many local restaurants around us. A good time for sure, but hanging out for some decent sun - feels a little like a Wellington summer at the moment! Next stop Switzerland...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Olden, Bergen (June 10 - June 13)

The change in temperature was noticeable as we headed south and distanced ourselves from the Arctic. After a day at sea our next port was Olden. The sail into Olden is the main reason why many people choose to holiday on this cruise.
I woke early and the view from the port hole as we sailed through the Nordfjords was breathtaking. A stunning warm day, blue skies and not a breath of wind made for a very special occasion. We were treated to a perfect vista of snow capped mountains with a lush base of green farm land, traditional large wooden homes dotted to the shore line and all reflected perfectly in the still water. I could feel the serenity.

I escorted on the glacier safari tour, which began with a drive along the shore of Floen Lake, an opportunity for some (more) great photos. Then a hike up to Briksdal Glacier, with giant waterfalls, wild flowers and birds flittering around; it all felt some-what like a scene from the Sound of Music. Summer had arrived in this part of Norway! Once we reached the glacier lake we donned life jackets, helmets and gumboots and jumped aboard a rubber raft where we paddled within metres of the base of the mighty (6 million year old) glacier. This was very impressive, but I was glad for the sun on my back as we paddled amongst chunks of ice.

Our last port was Bergen. The day was chilly and drizzly but it was nice to jump off with Hel for a brisk walk through the cute sea side town. We explored through the harbour-side markets and admired the 11th century wooden buildings located along the harbour front (World Heritage site). A very picturesque city.

As the Artemis headed back to South Hampton I cannot believe how fast the two weeks flew by. Not only have I loved the sites of Norway, but it has given me a great insight into what has been Hel’s life for the past few years. I have been completely pampered in the spa and incredibly well looked after by my big sister (thanks F!). Very spoilt indeed. I can see why people choose to cruise for their holidays, it is a great way to see a number of places in a short period of time.

Honninsvag, Hammerfest and Tromso (June 6 - June 8)

At the top of Europe, or what felt like the top of the world, we arrived in Honningsvag on an extremely icy and rough ‘Summers’ day. We were unable to dock and were tendered ashore which added to the excitement and anticipation of reaching our destination, Nordkapp or the Northcape. Hel and I were both escorting groups on this excursion. Our drive up to the visitors centre took us through a lunar like landscape covered in fresh snow where we stopped to visit a Sami camp. It is not certain when the Sami people came to Norway but it is thought that they arrived, originally from Russia, prior to Roman times.
In the North Cape the entire disc of the midnight sun is visible between mid May and early August. The visitors centre is located on a cliff top 307 metres above the Arctic Ocean, providing panoramic views (on a clear day). After a quick dash outside in the sleety conditions for a token photo in front of the globe that represents peace, we headed in for (more) hot waffles with jam and cream. We were all grateful to return to the ship that evening after our bus ironically overheated and slightly delayed the Artemis’ departure.

Our next port was Hammerfest-the world’s northern most town which has been rebuilt twice as a result of an 1856 hurricane and fire in World War 2. It is located on the island of Kvaloya, one of Finmark’s largest islands, off the coast of Norway. This was my least favourite town we visited as we docked in bleak conditions and the town did not boast the amazing architecture of previous places. After a short stroll through the town and a climb of a big hill for some quick photos, I walked along the waterfront back to the ship in the biting wind. This allowed me to reflect how truly difficult life must be in this part of the world. With the harsh cold most of the year and complete darkness for at least 3 months of the year, this lifestyle would only be for the most hardy!
Later that evening as we cruised south the sun broke through the clouds for the first time in several days, which made for a surreal occasion as many people braved the chill on the ship deck to witness the bright sunlight at midnight!

Tromso! I was looking forward to this port in particular as I had signed up for a tour to a husky farm. It was lovely to wake to a stunning warm (six degree) day, cruising through more snow capped mountains. Just glorious. The drive to the farm took us around the edge of the harbour boarded by the most picturesque mountains reminding me much of home. It was truly breathtaking. Once at the farm, which was home to approximately 100 Alaskan Huskies, we were able to pet the dogs and visit a week old pup. We learnt about how the dogs race and their different roles in pulling the sleds. These dogs are incredibly beautiful with their icy blue eyes and amazing intelligence. It was hard to resist the urge to take one home with me.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Kristiansand, Oslo, Stavanger, Alesund (June 1 - June 4)

Firstly I must introduce the Artemis. The smallest of the P&O fleet (although she looked big to me!) which means she can visit a range of ports compared to the larger ships. The child-free Artemis holds approximately 800 people and is 26 years old, on this particular cruise the average age was 70.

After a full day at sea which consisted of eating, pampering from the Spa (thanks to my lovely sister), eating, napping and more eating, it was exciting to set foot in Norway at our first port Kristiansand. Kristiansand or the ‘Pearl of the South’, is a lovely town, where many Norwegians keep a holiday home to enjoy the warmer southern temperatures. By escorting on a tour to an open air museum I was able to gain a glimpse of how life may have been over two hundred years ago, with the recreation of a village and farm houses.

Our next port was Oslo, the capital of Norway. With clear blue skies and a lovely warm sun on our skin, Helen and I took the opportunity to stroll through this absolutely stunning city. The buildings throughout the city combine neoclassical architecture, with modern constructions and traditional Norwegian timber houses these seem to complement and contrast perfectly.
The city had a very relaxed yet vibrant feel and we made the most with ice-cream and people watching on the waterfront. This is most definitely one of the prettiest cities I have ever visited.

Our third port was Stavanger, another cute town with tiny cobbled alleyways and brightly painted shop fronts, not to mention some interesting shop names including ‘Shit’ and ‘You look gorgeous but whats with your hair?’ hair salon-anything to crack Hel and I up. The day was grey and chilly so we warmed up with coffees and chocolate.

In the afternoon I was fortunate to escort on the Lysefjord and Pulpit rock tour. We boarded a boat and travelled along Lysefjord which provided breathtaking scenery of sheer cliff faces (formed 10,000 years ago), waterfalls and even fed some local goats that were chilling on the rocks. We saw the famous mighty rock, Pulpit, which stands 604 metres above the sea. Most make the two hour climb to the top-but for obvious reasons we cruised along below-which was nice. On our return we stopped at a riverside restaurant for traditional Norwegian waffles with jam and cream and much needed steaming hot coffee.

Working our way northwards along the west coast of Norway the next port was Alesund. Here I escorted on a walking tour of the town which was destroyed by fire in 1904 and is therefore host to a mixture of gothic, neo classical and art nouveau architecture. A small climb to a grassey knoll provided an excellent view over the town on this gorgeous sparkly day (photo). The sail away was the most spectacular yet, cruising through the snowy alps I managed to find a sheltered spot on top deck to enjoy the magnificent and peaceful views (and then fell asleep).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Safely arrived and ready to cruise

Smooth flying and a relatively sweet stop-over in Hong Kong for the night, ensured I arrived fresh faced and ready for my big adventure to London Heathrow. Great friend Victoria escorted me through the 5pm (Bank Holiday Friday/no tolerance for backpackers) commuter traffic, to her cute home in Clapham.
After a one night stay in each London and South Hampton I was ready to embark cruise ship the ‘Artemis’, my home for the next two weeks as I journey around the coast of Norway with my sister Helen. With flowers, chocolates and a fruit bowl delivered to the cabin on arrival and champagne and a live band playing for sail away-it all felt a little bit Titanic and a great bit exciting for the adventures that lay ahead. A taste of luxury that I must lap up in its entirety as 11 months of travel as a backpacker loom shortly after I disembark this mighty vessel.