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EUROPE, Travel

Elf School, Mulled Wine and Reindeer: 10 Magical European Christmas Destinations

December 22, 2015

Christmas, for those who celebrate the holiday, is traditionally a time to spend at home with the people that are closest to your heart. But if you have the means (and your family isn’t too upset!), why not consider a last-minute trip over the festive season? Europe offers some of the most magical Christmas experiences in the world, with cities all across the continent transforming into winter wonderlands full of Christmas cheer. Here are some of the best places to celebrate Christmas in Europe and ones that will have you feeling as though you’re a kid all over again!

10 Magical European Christmas Destinations:

1. Nuremberg, Germany

Home to one of the oldest and most spectacular Christmas markets in the world, the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is world-famous and is unrivalled in its beauty, atmosphere and traditions. Most of the wares sold here are made by traditional, regional manufacturers and browsing the lavishly decorated stalls with their twinkling lights with the aromas of gingerbread and mulled wine gently wafting make Nuremberg one of the most festive places to spend Christmas. Nuremberg also has a long toy making history, which makes it a great place to buy some stocking-fillers! (Image via Franken Tourismus)

For more German Christmas market inspiration, read 10 of the Best German Christmas Markets to Visit.


2. Rovaniemi, Finland

For one of the most magical Christmas experiences possible, head to Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland and official hometown of Santa Claus. Here, against the backdrop of a winter wonderland full of sparkling lights, you can visit Santa Claus Village, make gingerbread cookies with Mrs Claus, drop into the Santa Claus post office manned by happy elves, enrol in Elf School, or go on a reindeer sleigh ride — any Christmas lover’s dream! (Image via Lapland Welcome)


3. Vienna, Austria

With its grand, imperial architecture, Vienna is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and it becomes even more majestic in the wintertime when the city is blanketed in soft snow. All corners of the city are lavishly decorated in the lead up to Christmas. In addition to browsing the exquisite Christmas markets, don’t miss a classical Christmas concert, a visit to the cosy Viennese coffee houses as well as a visit to the Snow Globe Museum. (Image by Marek Slusarczyk via Flickr Creative Commons)


4. Prague, Czech Republic

Prague is a favoured place to spend Christmas in Europe, as this season reveals the city at its romantic best. Book tickets to see the ballet or opera and browse the Christmas market in the Old Town Square against the backdrop of some of the most impressive gothic and baroque architecture in Europe. Be sure to sample a trdelnik, a traditional, sugary Czech pastry too. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Find where to get a real Czech meal in Prague here and be sure to experience the city at night.


5. Trømso, Norway

Located in northern Norway, a Christmas spent in Trømso is about as close to the North Pole (or Arctic Circle) as you’ll get! The polar nights that blanket the city in darkness over the winter months make it one of the best places to base yourself if you’re hoping to spot the Northern Lights – the most magical of all Christmas experiences! (Image by Gunnar Hildonen via Flickr Creative Commons)


6. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The Netherlands celebrates the tradition of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas), the patron saint of children and the main figure of the Dutch holiday season, who makes a grand entrance into the country by boat on November 15. Amsterdam’s canal houses are strung with twinkling lights in the lead up to Christmas, adding even more magic to a city that already seems too beautiful to be real.

Exploring Amsterdam after dark is really something special. Start planning your trip with these photos as inspiration!

Amsterdam at night, canal

7. Strasbourg, France

The quaint town of Strasbourg, located near Germany’s border, has a long Christmas tradition and is home to France’s oldest Christmas market, which dates back to 1570. Beautifully festive, the market is made up of over 300 wooden stalls selling wooden toys, Christmas tree ornaments, roasted chestnuts and vin chaud (mulled wine). The Old Town is UNESCO-listed and the half-timbered houses provide a fairy tale backdrop for the festive season. (Image via Travel Zoo)


8. London, England

London is rich with Christmas traditions that make it a truly special place to spend the holiday. Ice rinks pop up at iconic landmarks all over town and the city glitters under a spectacular show of Christmas lights. Be sure to leave room for some Christmas pudding for dessert, a tradition that dates back to medieval times. Even Scrooge would appreciate London’s Christmas cheer! (Image via Visit London)


9. Paris, France

In the wake of the recent, horrific terror attacks, Paris’ nickname, the ‘City of Lights’, rings truer than ever before. The sparkling display of Christmas lights and the glittering Eiffel Tower reinforce the message that love and light will forever triumph over darkness and hatred. Browsing the animated window displays at the Galeries Lafayette, ice-skating at the L’Hôtel de Ville , or attending midnight mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral are just a few of the many lovely ways to spend Christmas in the city of love. (Image via Paris in Four Months)

For a truly special stay in Paris, book with Special Apartments Paris and get excited about your trip with this photo diary.


10. Salzburg, Austria

For a traditional, wintery Christmas, you can’t go past Salzburg in Austria. Being the birthplace of Mozart, one of the highlights of a Christmas in Salzburg is the impressive classical concerts that play all across the city in the leadup to Christmas. The Christkindlmarkt in front of the Salzburg cathedral is one of the most romantic and oldest in Europe and the backdrop of the magnificent architecture gives the whole place a fairy tale feel. (Image via Holiday Guru)


Over to you! Have you spent Christmas in a European city? 

Inspiration, Travel

5 Romantic European Getaways for Couples

July 22, 2015

Today The Department of Wandering welcomes guest blogger M. D. to share with us five of her favourite European destinations for a romantic getaway minus the crowds.

If you and your partner want some romantic time together and you suddenly have the chance to get away for a couple of days, then Europe is perfect for that romantic holiday vacation you have been dreaming of. The continent, for a long time, has been one of the most popular destinations because of the diversity of attractions in every country. You can whisk away your partner on a wondrous adventure that will help seal your relationship even further. While a lot of people go to popular cities, others prefer to break from the monotony and try something new. Here are a few hidden gems in Europe where you can celebrate your relationship.

5 Romantic European Getaways for Couples


A romantic walk past medieval castles will boost the passion you have for each other. It is a beautiful city with a very romantic atmosphere. As you slowly stroll on cobbled streets past canals, you and your partner will have serene emotional moments where you can savor the time together. You will love that the place is filled with lovely restaurants to fill your appetite as you make toasts to your relationship on Belgian beer. Don’t miss sipping on hot cups of chocolate as you look out from your hotel’s window or try the famous chocolate treats they make.

Romantic Couple Getaways, Bruges

Image via Wiki Commons


This island is full of promising romantic activities that you can enjoy. You can go visit tons of archaeological places or get lost in Baroque cities such as Ragusa Ibla. Cycling or horseback riding in the mountains or nature reserves is a perfect way to watch the beautiful landscapes while you get to spend quality couple time together. Take a boat ride to the Aeolian Islands and relax in the black sands of Stromboli Island or walk up 40 minutes to the Observatory to watch the volcano spew up lava while you gorge on delicious Sicilian pizza. If you love adventure, climb up Mt. Etna and have a close-up experience of the most active volcano in the whole of Europe. Holiday homes in Sicily are numerous but you need to book in advance.

Romantic European Couples Getaways, Sicily

Image via Wiki Commons


This is an archipelago located in Nordland, Norway and is perfect for an unusual holiday vacation with your love. Despite its high location, it experiences the largest positive temperature anomaly in the entire world. As such, you won’t feel the bitter cold of winter like other northern countries do. You can explore the place on foot or go around the islands atop Icelandic horses as you visit Viking trails and nature reserves. You will be amazed at the ancient cultural landscapes. You can also join the rowing trip and try to sail a Viking ship, providing you a unique experience. This is a place for couples who are physically active as there are a lot of activities to do such as kayaking, horseback riding, fishing, and hiking.

Romantic European Couples Getaways, Lofoten

Image via Wiki Commons


A beautiful place in Portugal, it exudes romance and tickles the emotions, ideal for a dreamy couple getaway. There are so many things to see as the place is a jewel with a grandiose cultural heritage. There is the magnificent palace built atop jagged mountain tops. It will feel like a magical trip with ostentatious palaces and buildings to enthrall your senses. You can make this as a daytrip from Lisbon as it is only a 45-minute distance. On the other hand, if you prefer to walk around and get to know the place, there are many accommodations around and you can get to see all the sights. There is the Moorish Castle where you can find lovely views of the city.

Romantic European Getaways, Sintra

Image via Wiki Commons


For a short holiday trip, Kotor in Montenegro is a perfect place to visit. You can also make it a side trip from Dubrovnik. You will surely enjoy the place as you evoke romantic memories with your partner. A hike up to the fortress will be worth it as you will truly appreciate the lovely view from the top. The old town, with 20-meter walls and are over a thousand years old, is full of boutique shops, alleys and cobble-stoned streets that will allow for a unique romantic experience. It is worth a visit to the middle of Kotor Bay where you can find two islands with a church perched atop one and a monastery on the other.

Romantic European Getaways, Kotor

Image via Wiki Commons

M. D.

A big thanks to M. D. for sharing these hidden romantic spots in Europe for a special weekend away!

What are your favourite destinations for a romantic European getaway? Share them in the comments below!

Austria, Expat Life, Italy, Travel

European Road Trip: Innsbruck to Bolzano

October 27, 2014

It’s not easy, literally living half a world away from your closest people. Sometimes, unexpectedly, the reality of the distance thumps into you at full force out of nowhere, throwing you off-centre. A heaviness sits solidly on your chest, refusing to budge for a few days, a week, sometimes longer. You find yourself teary often — too often — and at places highly inappropriate for tears: the gym, on the train, at dinner. You can’t pinpoint exactly what it is that is making you feel this way — nothing specifically upsetting has happened — and you search relentlessly in the darkness for the expat manual that will tell you exactly how to get through it. You never find it, of course, and must ride the wave all the way to the shore. In the end you emerge, carelessly spat out, but slowly feel your feet finding the solid earth again, grounding you once more. Yes, this expat life is a complex one.

So evidently, one of the most exciting things that can happen to someone living literally as far away from their home as possible, is news that loved ones are coming to visit. This doesn’t happen often. Flights are expensive and it is a long, long way to travel from Australia to Europe. But we had some news! Our best friends would be flying into Innsbruck for a work commitment and would happily extend their trip for a few extra days, on the proviso that a European road trip had to occur. No arguments from me.

Picture-perfect Innsbruck, nestled at the base of the jagged spires of the Nordkette mountain range, would be the starting point for our mini European road trip. The destination for day one? Bolzano, Italy.

Innsbruck, Austria

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Japan, Tokyo

The Complete Guide to Tokyo’s Best Neighbourhoods

March 2, 2016

Home to over 13 million people in the city centre, Tokyo is the world’s largest metropolis. Intense, right? Encompassing over 50 neighbourhoods, deciding which one to base yourself in on your visit can be overwhelming to say the least! Whether you’re looking to experience the Tokyo of Lost in Translation or you’re seeking a quieter, more traditional feel, here’s your complete guide to Tokyo’s best neighbourhoods:


Nicknamed ‘Electric Town’, Akihibara is Tokyo’s electric and anime district that is filled with endless arcades selling all manner of electronics and gadgets. Multi-level gaming and pachinko parlours create a 24-7 virtual reality world and this is the anime and manga hub of all of Tokyo. It’s also the birthplace of the famous Maid Cafes.

Highlights: Electronics, subculture, anime, manga, gaming



Located to the west of Harajuku, Aoyama is a classy neighbourhood that is filled with high-end fashion boutiques and sleek architecture. It’s chic, stylish and upscale.

Highlights: fashion, shopping, design, coffee



Not so many tourists stay in Asakusa, which has meant that this neighbourhood is more traditional than others. Here you’ll find Tokyo’s oldest temple, Sensõ-ji and the famous Nakamise Dori, a long shopping street with stalls selling trinkets and street food leading to the temple. If you want to stay in a traditional ryokan, your best bet is to stay in Asakusa where you’ll find a greater number of them than in other parts of Tokyo.

Highlights: Sensō-ji, culture, tradition, street food, izakayas, ryokans



Ebisu is tranquil and upscale and has a decidedly European feel. It’s great for people watching and is located in a prime location next to central Shibuya. This neighbourhood is more laid back than some of the other busy central districts.

Highlights: fashion, shopping, art galleries, dining, tachinomi (standing bars)



Ginza is Tokyo’s most expensive district, offering high-end fashion and luxury labels. On weekends, the main street is closed to traffic to help shoppers get around even easier. Ginza is also home to the Imperial Palace — an iconic site that mustn’t be missed in Tokyo. Not sure where to stay in Ginza? I stayed here.

Highlights: high-end fashion, dining, central location, Imperial Palace



Located within the Shibuya district is the smaller Harajuku neighbourhood, known for its eccentric and ever-evolving street fashion. Head to Takeshita Dori on a Sunday where you’ll find Tokyo’s bright young things dressed to the nines. In the backstreets of Harajuku you’ll find hip, one-of-a-kind boutiques and small eateries or you can do some window shopping on Omotesandō Road.

Highlights: fashion, shopping, subculture, dining, people watching



Ikebukuro is located in Tokyo’s north and is a busy and bustling district that almost feels as though you’re in the very centre of Tokyo. The main attraction here is the shopping, with attractions such as Sunshine City, with its 240m-tall skyscraper offering an extraordinary array of dining, shopping, museums, an aquarium and even theme parks to visitors! Ikebukuro is also famous for its ramen.

Highlights: entertainment, anime, manga, shopping, well-connected, ramen



If you’re looking for peace and quiet in Tokyo, Koto is your answer. Despite being home to a number of corporate offices, it’s a mainly residential district and is not touristy at all. The streets are quiet and the residents are mostly families who want to escape the chaos of central Tokyo. There are lots of green spaces to relax in and the district also houses sporting complexes and Tokyo’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

Highlights: quiet, art, museums, waterfront views



Meguru is low-key, hip and residential. Come here to eat at the neighbourhood’s organic cafes and famous izakayas and shop for vintage treasures and in old bookstores. This is a beautiful place to come to admire the cherry blossoms along the canal in spring. The enclave of Nakameguru offers trendy boutiques, galleries and cafes.

Highlights: quiet, shopping, cafes, vintage, laid-back



Roppongi is one of Tokyo’s hottest destinations for nightlife and entertainment and has lured expats, locals and tourists alike for a long time. It is jam-packed full of restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs and features swanky modern complexes such as Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown, which are shopping and entertainment hubs. This district boasts the largest number of international restaurants out of anywhere in Tokyo.

Highlights: nightlife, entertainment, art, culture, dining



The Tsukiji district is most known for its famous fish market and is within walking distance from sleek Ginza. The Tsukiji Fish Market is of course the main attraction and the fishing village atmosphere permeates the entire neighbourhood. There are also a number of peaceful shrines and temples hidden away which are great to explore.

Highlights: Tsukiji Fish Market, dining, culture



This is the neighbourhood that is built on Tokyo’s man-made island in the middle of the Sumida River and is one of Tokyo’s most interesting neighbourhoods. Here, it seems as though time stands still. Traditional dwellings sit side by side next to modern high-rises and the blend of the old and new is fascinating.

Highlights: peaceful, traditional, waterfront, monjayaki (similar to okonomiyaki)



Shibuya is the Tokyo that every traveller has seen photographs of. Bright, neon lights, an endless wave of people, with a big city feel, a stay in this district will put you smack-bang in the middle of it all. You absolutely can’t visit Tokyo without experiencing the Shibuya crossing, often claimed to be the busiest intersection in the world! For a more peaceful experience in Shibuya, head to Meiji Shrine, which is the most famous of Tokyo’s Shinto shrines.

Highlights: nightlife, Shibuya crossing, Meiji Shrine



Watch this space. Shimokitazawa is Tokyo’s hub for bohemian creativity. It’s hip, stylish and laid-back and loved by young Tokyoites. The narrow, winding streets are lined with charming, vintage boutiques and the neighbourhood is known for its artistic and musical culture. This is one of the best neighbourhoods to base yourself in Tokyo and not one that a lot of tourists make their way to.

Highlights: shopping, music, subculture, design



Shinjuku is the Tokyo of popular culture; it’s bright, fast-paced and vibrant. It is the embodiment of ultra-modernity and is home to one of the world’s busiest railway station where over two million commuters pass through daily. Shinjuku really comes alive after dark when the neon signs light up and the bars open. Head to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices for sweeping views over the city and down Memory Lane for some yakitori in a tiny izakaya.

Highlights: central, shopping, nightlife, entertainment, Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices, Shinjuku Gyoen, Memory Lane, the Golden Gai


Images: 23 | 4 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 13 |

Have you been to Tokyo? Which neighbourhood do you recommend?
Japan, Tokyo, Travel Tips

A Beginner’s Guide to Tokyo: 20 Things to Know Before You Go

February 18, 2016

Japan is one of my favourite countries in Asia and one that will forever be special to Ben and I, now that we got engaged in Tokyo last month! I’ve visited Tokyo twice now and, while I felt quite at ease the second time around, I do remember feeling quite overwhelmed the first time I visited. It is a vast, sprawling metropolis — the most populous city in the world — that encompasses ancient customs deeply rooted in tradition as well as a passion for everything modern. It’s dense, bright and busy and a feast for the eyes, ears and taste buds. If you’re travelling to Tokyo for the first time, here are 20 things you should definitely know before you go:


1. People are exceptionally nice

The Japanese are some of the most welcoming and hospitable people I’ve ever encountered on my travels. Rather than look upon tourists with disdain, they will go out of their way to help you and make you feel comfortable. On my first visit to Tokyo in 2009, I must have been staring at a map with a puzzled expression on my face, because a nice Japanese man stopped and asked whether I needed help. When I explained that I was trying to find a particular restaurant (surprise, surprise), he looked at the map and then declared that he would take me there himself! We all ended up getting lost on the way (read on for a tip on decoding Japanese addresses) and so he garnered the help of a policeman to assist us and the troupe of us eventually found my restaurant! I was so in awe of how helpful these two lovely people had been and had not been expecting such kindness from strangers.


2. Don’t tip

Unlike in many countries, tipping is actually considered rude in Japan! There’s no need to tip in restaurants, bars or in taxis. The total price of the bill is all that is required and expected. Save your yen for more bowls of spicy ramen.

3. Bins are scarce

You might think that in a city as large as Tokyo, there would be bins on every corner. No. It is notoriously difficult to locate a bin in Tokyo. Be prepared to carry around your rubbish with you all day, because chances are, you won’t come across one.

4. The metro system seems complicated but is actually really easy to navigate

When you first descend into the depths of Tokyo’s metro system, getting around can seem really complicated and overwhelming. The city is enormous and the metro maps are exceptionally detailed. It’s very easy to get around by train, however, once you understand how the system works. On the metro maps, look for the station you wish to travel to and an amount in yen will be listed — this is the fare for your trip. The ticket machines all have English options and you simply select the fare price you need and insert your yen. Easy! Trains are almost always on time and run until just after midnight.


5. It is very safe

Japan is a very safe country to travel in, with rates of crime very low. If you need help, most Japanese would be very pleased to help you in any way they can. There is a very strong focus on crime prevention and petty theft is very uncommon.

6. Toilets are either high-tech machines or holes in the ground

You’ll get more than you bargained for when visiting the restroom in Japan. Most toilets are high-tech technological gadgets complete with heated seats, music to hide the sounds of bodily functions and automated lid opening and flushing. In public places such as in train stations though, you’ll still find some traditional squat toilets thrown into the mix, just in case you prefer to go back to basics!


7. Expect the chef to shout at you when you enter a restaurant

Upon entering a restaurant, the entire kitchen staff and probably the service staff as well will shout at the very top of their lungs, irrashaimase! Don’t be startled — you haven’t done anything wrong to deserve a chiding — this is a welcome greeting in Japanese which translates to ‘come in’ and ‘we’re happy to serve you’. It’s actually a lovely ritual and makes you feel really welcome and at home when you enter a restaurant. Just smile and nod your head in response and wait to be seated.

8. Stay to the left

The Japanese strictly follow the unspoken rule of staying to the left of a wide footpath. If you go against the flow, you’ll disrupt the system and it will take you a lot longer to get anywhere!

9. Expect to see a lot of face masks

No matter where you go in Tokyo, you’ll notice many people wearing what looks like surgical face masks. Initially you might think that they are being worn to protect the wearer themselves, but actually, they are worn for the opposite reason: they are worn to protect other people from their germs if they are sick. Quite considerate, don’t you think?


10. It’s not that expensive

Although Tokyo carries the myth of being one of the most expensive cities to travel to in the world, in reality, it is much more affordable than what it’s made out to be. Sure, if you book a four or five star hotel and you want to eat at the city’s top restaurants, prices are going to add up very quickly, but if you want to have a more local experience, you’ll find that it isn’t any more expensive than Western Europe.

11. Smoking is prohibited on footpaths

Don’t think you’ll be able to walk and smoke around Tokyo. Many public footpaths have a strict non-smoking policy, with patrols monitoring passersby. Interestingly, many smaller bars allow smoking inside.

12. You can buy almost everything at vending machines

It’s hard to travel 10 metres without passing a vending machine in Tokyo. It’s not surprising, considering that Tokyo has over 5 million vending machines — the highest number per capita of anywhere in the world! They stock all manner of items, from hot drinks to fresh eggs, from bouquets of flowers to women’s underwear (yes, really), these machines really do take convenience to a whole new level.


13. Bow when you meet somebody

It is customary in Japan to bow when you meet somebody for the first time. It is a sign of respect. When greeting an elder or someone of authority, be sure to bow lower than that person. This shows that you respect them highly. A quick, high bow should be reserved for friends or people of similar social standing.

14. Finding an address is almost impossible

Deciphering Japanese addresses is a fine artform and one that is almost impossible for visitors. Addresses in Tokyo contain information not only on the Ward, District and Chome (subsection of District), but also the city block and building number. The main problem lies with the fact that buildings are not labelled sequentially, but actually by the date they were erected. Given the amount of rebuilding and redevelopment Tokyo has seen in the past 70 years or so, this system is confusing to say the least! Google maps is your best friend here so make sure you’ve got internet connectivity.

15. It’s rude to eat quietly

Contrary to what we’re taught about ‘good manners’ when growing up, in Japan it’s actually rude not to slurp your noodles loudly. If you eat too quietly, you send the message to the chef that you are not enjoying your meal. Slurping loudly indicates that you are relishing it. You might feel self-conscious at first, but when you notice everyone around you slurping the same, you’ll quickly feel at ease and even relish your new piggy-like ways.


16. Remove your shoes at thresholds

Whenever you enter someone’s home or a restaurant, it is usually expected that you remove your shoes. Place them on the rack near the entrance. Most times, there will be some indoor slippers you can wear but remember to wear only your socks on tatami mats since shoes and slippers damage them. If in doubt about this shoe-wearing etiquette, simply follow the lead of those around you and copy what they’re doing.

17. Conformity is king

Drawing attention to yourself in Japan is a big no-no. Don’t speak loudly in crowded areas, don’t blow your nose in public, don’t cross the street without waiting at the traffic lights and avoid eating on the go. All of these things make you stand out like a sore thumb (you will to some extent anyway given that you’re a westerner, but there’s no need to make it any worse is there?)


18. Wash before you bathe

Instead of bathing to get clean, in Japan you should ensure you are already clean beforehand. Public bathhouses known as sento are popular in Tokyo as are onsen which are traditionally visited on weekend excursions. Ensure that you scrub your body from top to toe until you’re squeaky clean before even stepping foot in the bath. It is a big taboo to be seen to dirty the water in any way, since other people will also be bathing in the same water. Also, be aware that it is expected that you bathe nude at these public bathhouses. For more on nude bathing around the world, read my post on my confronting German spa experience.

19. Cover your tattoos

Tattoos are taboo in Japan since they are associated with the Yakuza and organised crime. If you have tattoos, it is a good idea to cover them up while you’re in Japan. These ideas are slowly changing but it’s best to be conservative while you’re there.

20. Use two hands to give and recieve

Whenever you need to hand something to someone, such as a business card or credit card, use two hands and deliver it with a small nod. This shows respect to both the person and the item.

For more inspiration on Tokyo, you might like 10 Must-Have Culinary Experiences in Tokyo.

Stuck for where to stay? Read my full reviews of the Park Hotel Tokyo and the Peninsula Tokyo.

Have you been to Japan? What advice would you give to a first-time visitor?
Sunday Selections

Sunday Selections

February 14, 2016

Hey all you lovers out there. Happy Valentine’s Day! Did you get your special someone something special? I didn’t. Ben and I don’t make a big deal on Valentine’s Day. Yeah, we’re one of those couples. We find it all a bit cheesy and materialistic. But that’s just us. What about you? Did you spread the love today?

So last week was all about catching up with lovely friends, planning this (very) exciting trip to the U.S., continuing my gym kick and then ruining it all by drinking wine in cute wine bars. But really, that’s the whole point of working out isn’t it? To be able to drink more wine? I think so anyway… It was my Dad’s birthday yesterday too, so my family and I had brunch and it was lovely. I tried antigravity yoga for the first time too, where I felt like a trapeze artist hanging upside down. I can’t say I loved it. I found the pressure of the blood rushing into my head while in an inversion to be pretty uncomfortable, but maybe I’m just a lightweight and need to practise a bit…

Next week is our last week in Melbourne before we jet off to LA for a little while and it’s my 30th birthday this Friday (yes, the big 3-0). The prospect of 30 is terrifying for some, but I have to say I’m pretty excited to be entering this new decade. I have a feeling that it’s going to be a good one. Can’t wait to catch up with you next week from ‘MERICA!


Here are this week’s favourite links:

WATCH: I never made it to Morocco even when I lived in Europe for almost three years and I was so close! This video reminds me that I need to get there.

READ: This piece about stepping out of your comfort zone is so relatable.

EAT: Cook me this and I will love you forever.

MAKE: Did you forget about Valentine’s Day? Here’s a cute printable to save your butt.

BUY: How cute is this little getup?!

GO: These beautiful photos from The Field & Forest Journal are making me so itchy to visit Yosemite. How pretty is it in winter?


Travel Tips

How to Survive a Long Haul Flight in 25 Tips

February 11, 2016

Let’s face it. Long haul flights are never fun. Being stuck upright in a cramped space with hundreds of others for 12 hours plus is the very definition of a nightmare to many. No matter how incredible the destination waiting on the other side is, there’s not a whole lot that makes long distance air travel enjoyable. Not even binge watching Making a Murderer. I’ve flown enough long haul flights back and forth from Europe to Australia over the years since I became an expat in Berlin to know a thing or two about how to survive these trips which can be upwards of 24 hours in length. Here are 25 of my best tips on how to survive a (painfully) long haul flight:



#1 Pick your seat (very) carefully

Not all seats are created equal and landing a crappy seat can seriously make or break your flight. While the back of the plane might mean that you’re seated away from the screaming babies who are usually at the front where the bassinets are attached, you don’t want to be too close to the toilets and have people milling around you the entire flight. Also be aware that some seats have cramped legroom or limited recline. I always input my flight information into SeatGuru before I pick my seats so I know which ones to avoid and which ones to grab! For example, here’s a look at the seat map for my upcoming flight from Melbourne to LA with Qantas. You can hover the mouse over the seats and detailed information will pop up about legroom, recline, seat width and proximity to toilets and the galley. I definitely want to stay away from rows 86-88!


#2 Get on your destination’s timezone before you travel

Jetlag’s a bitch. There’s nothing worse than being wide awake at 3am but then feeling like you want to collapse at 3pm! You can minimise the effects of jetlag my attempting to reset your bodyclock to your destination’s timezone prior to travelling. There’s a really handy website that I use for this, Jet Lag Rooster. You can input information including your flight details, the normal time you wake and when you usually go to sleep and it calculates what adjustments you should make three days before flying to help get your body on your new timezone. Here’s a screenshot of what it recommends for me in order to adjust to LA time:


#3 Allow extra time (for everything!)

I get anxious before I travel and I can’t relax until I’m literally on the plane! One of the worst feelings is rushing to pack, rushing to get to the airport and worrying about not having enough time to clear security and get to the gate. I like to start packing early so that I don’t have to stress about whether I’ve forgotten something (like my passport!) and to take into account traffic jams and delays. There has been more than one occasion when I have almost missed a flight (I was the last person to board and squeezed in just before the gate was closed) because I didn’t leave the house early enough and there were public transport delays. It is seriously one of the most stressful feelings and not something you want to experience before a big flight!


#4 Do some light exercise on your travel day

Let’s face it, you’re going to be confined to your seat for a torturously long time, so it’s best to be active in the 24 hours leading up to your departure. While a heavy weights sessions at the gym is definitely not recommended (aching, recovering muscles and long-distance flying don’t work together so well), I like to do some light exercise on the day of my flight, even if it’s just a brisk walk or a yoga session. This helps with circulation, anxiety and boosts energy levels.


#5 Consider booking a stopover

To break up a long-haul flight, why not book a stopover and have the chance to explore a new city for a few days? Common stopover cities in Asia include Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo and in the Middle East, many travellers stopover in Dubai, Doha or Abu Dhabi. Depending on which airline you fly with, some of them even offer free international stopovers for connecting flights in the hub city, like Emirates in Dubai, Japan Airlines in Tokyo or Osaka, Singapore Air in Singapore, Etihad in Abu Dhabi and many more. While not necessarily a logical stopover point when flying from Berlin to Melbourne, I did take a cheeky detour through Tokyo recently, which still broke up the big journey nicely.


#6 Download white noise or meditation sounds

To help drown out the sounds of the airplane (let’s face it, it’s noisy onboard), white noise apps like White Noise Free Sleep Sounds can help. I haven’t used these since I am usually fine with a good set of ear plugs, but if you want to be extra prepared in case you forget to pack some, these kinds of apps are a good option.


#7 Pack an eye mask

There’s no way that I can get any shut eye if I don’t have my eye mask with me. Sometimes the airline will provide you with one in the onboard travel kit they come around with, but usually the quality isn’t great and they’re not so comfy. I adore this one, don’t you?


#8 Pack a rich moisturiser

Because the dry air in the plane dehydrates both your body and your skin, you need extra hydration all round. Your everyday, light moisturiser just won’t cut it on a long-haul flight. Pack a rich, thick cream instead that will treat your skin to extra hydration and care.

#9 Bring a squishy travel pillow

There’s no way I can sleep without my travel pillow. To stop your neck from lolling from side to side and jolting you back awake every five seconds, or worse, intruding on your neighbour’s personal space (a big no no in flying etiquette), be sure to board the plane with a travel pillow. You can usually pick them up in the airport for a pretty reasonable price.

#10 Invest in some decent earplugs

They say that silence is golden and when you’re trying to get some sleep, this couldn’t be more spot on. Don’t assume that the earplugs you’ll get onboard will really do much to block out noise. In my experience they haven’t worked at all, so I prefer to bring my own that I know will do the job. These EarPlanes plugs are known to be some of the best on the market and not only succeed in blocking out noise, but also help to regulate air pressure so you don’t feel as much discomfort when taking off and landing.


#11 Dress comfortably

You’re not going to get any rest in pants you can’t breath in, a scratchy top or pinching shoes. While you might want to look somewhat stylish both before you board the plane and when you land at your destination, there’s nothing to say you can’t change into a nice pair of comfy, stretchy clothes once you’re up in the air! Settle in, get some rest and then simply change back before landing. Changing out of your ‘plane clothes’ also works wonders to help you feel (somewhat) fresh after that mammoth flight.

#12 Pack your toothbrush and toothpaste in your carry-on

No one wants to arrive at their destination to begin their holiday with furry teeth. Remembering to pack your toothbrush and toothpaste to give your teeth a quick brush before you land will work wonders in lifting your energy and helping you feel fresh(er). The deluxe Le Traveleur weekender travel kits contain all the toiletries you’d need for the first couple of days of your trip and is the perfect size to pack in your carry on.

#13 Shop for healthy snacks to eat on board

A few days before your flight, go to the supermarket and buy some healthy snacks like fruit or nuts to snack on during the flight. You won’t get hungry in between meal times this way. Packing your own snacks also comes in handy during layovers when you’re too tired to do the currency conversion in order to work out how much a meal costs in a foreign airport. Some of them are not cheap (I’m looking at you, Switzerland)!


#14 Avoid alcohol and coffee

Even though the complimentary alcohol can be tempting (I’m seriously the last person to ever turn down a glass of wine), I never drink on long haul flights. Alcohol, combined with the pressurised cabin and the air conditioning, is severely dehydrating and you’ll come off the flight feeling a whole lot worse for wear than you would if you didn’t drink. Coffee also has a dehydrating effect and the caffeine also disrupts your normal sleeping pattern. Go for a green or mint tea instead.

#15 Pack an extra jumper

Planes get chilly on board. I don’t know about you, but unless I pack something warm, I freeze and feel uncomfortable the entire flight. It’s also impossible to sleep when you feel cold. I always pack an extra jumper to keep nice and cosy.

#16 Don’t bring too much onboard

While I’m the first one to admit that I LOVE travelling with carry-on only, chances are that if you’re on a long-haul flight, you’re going away for more than a weekend and, consequently, needed to check some luggage. In this case, try and limit what you bring with you onboard to a minimum and only bring what you really need. If there’s no room in the overhead lockers, you may have to store your jacket or smaller bag under the seat in front of you, which means less room for your legs! Not ideal when you’re already feeling cramped…



#17 Pounce on an empty row once boarding is complete

You know the situation. You’re stuck sitting next to someone large and stinky or a guy who has a serious case of manspreading going on, causing you to shrivel up and cower in the corner of your seat. There is an entirely empty row opposite you and then as soon as the pilot announces that boarding is complete, some other undeserving person pounces on it before you’ve realised. Don’t be that sucker. Keep a careful watch around you and move like lightening as soon as you can. The flight will be a million times better.


#18 Don’t mindlessly consume airline food

I hate feeling like I’m not in control of my nutrition when I fly. I scrutinise the nutritional labels of everything I eat and hate it when I don’t know what exactly my airplane meal is made from! I like to know that what I’m putting into my body is healthy and so always bring my own fruit and nuts on board to nourish my body with the good stuff and not some stodgy, calorie-overloaded yet nutritionally vacant ‘meal’.

#19 Bug the flight attendant for water relentlessly

Flight attendants seriously think I’m the most annoying person on the aircraft. I’m forever pressing the call button for a water top up and I don’t care one bit! Some of the better airlines like Qatar, Singapore Airlines and Qantas will actually provide passengers with big water bottles and keep topping them up as needed throughout the flight, which I love, because I don’t have to deal with a parched mouth. Keeping hydrated when flying is so important because it helps your body fight bacteria and viruses that can cause you to fall ill after air travel.

#20 Ice your eyes

It might sound weird (and maybe it is a bit), but wrapping some ice blocks from the drinks cart in a plastic bag or towel and placing it over your eyes for a few minutes really helps to reduce puffiness and helps ease stinging, sore eyes from lack of sleep. This also works wonders for when you land and you want to freshen up!

#21 Move around regularly

On long flights it’s important to keep your circulation going. When we sit for too long in our seats on a long flight, the blood pools in our legs and feet which makes them swell and is generally not good for us! Get up from your seat regularly — try for every hour — and move around the cabin, walking up and down the aisle. This will also help to combat DVT (deep vein thrombosis) which is rare but can cause blood clots. While you’re seated, remember to squeeze your calves and move your feet around, which helps too.


 #22 Bring something to keep you occupied

There’s nothing that makes the clock tick slower than boredom. Bring a good book, download all your favourite podcasts before you fly (my favourites are Serial, This American Life, Death, Sex and Money and Radio Lab), or bring your laptop or notebook to get some work done. Actually feeling productive when you fly is one of the best feelings in the world since it’s time you could have easily wasted! There’s also usually some pretty decent movies on the in-flight entertainment systems too.

#23 Request a special meal

In the vast majority of cases, I always seem to feel worse after eating airline food than beforehand. A lot of the time it can be really carb-heavy and not very fresh. By requesting a special meal like the vegetarian meal or the fruit platter, you’re guaranteed to feel a lot less bloated afterwards. You also have the added bonus of receiving your meal before everyone else does. Score!

#24 Don’t eat if you’re not hungry

When you’re trying to adjust to a new timezone, eating mindlessly at the time the meals are being served might actually do more harm than good by disrupting your body clock. If you’re not hungry, don’t eat. You can always request a meal when you do feel hungry later on.

#25 Wear shoes to the toilet

Airplane toilet floors are the most dirty places in the entire plane. You don’t want to be walking around in there without shoes. That’s just downright disgusting.

Over to you: What are your tips for surviving a long haul flight? How do you do it?

Disclosure: some of the links in this post are affiliates which earns me a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting The Department of Wandering!

Hotels, Japan, Reviews, Tokyo

When Only the Best Will Do: Checking in to the Peninsula Tokyo

February 5, 2016

Ben and I wanted to end our stay in Tokyo with something special so on our last night, we went all out and booked a room at the iconic Peninsula Tokyo, one of the city’s most luxurious hotels. With a reputation of offering unrivaled luxury accommodation across ten of the world’s cities, the Peninsula Group is a name synonymous with refined luxury and impeccable service. I had been itching to stay at a Peninsula hotel for a while now and, seeing as we were in my favourite city in Asia, there was no better place to book a room! From the moment our taxi arrived to our departure for the airport the following day, this was a stay I would never forget, for more reasons than one!



The Peninsula Tokyo is in a prime location in Yurakucho, a vibrant business district sandwiched between Ginza, Shinbashi and Hibiya park and only a stone’s throw away from the Imperial Palace. The hotel is set back on a relatively quiet street and is well-connected to public transport, with 3 subway stations only a 5-10 minute walk away and the high-end shopping district of Ginza only 3 minutes away on foot. Even though the hotel was so well-located, we did find it difficult to tear ourselves away to go exploring — it was just so lush!


Design concept

The Peninsula hotels all expertly blend international design with inspiration from the heritage of the city they’re located in, and the Peninsula Tokyo is no different. Throughout the hotel, Japanese culture and reference to the four seasons is reflected in a modern context in hotel’s design and facilities. What sets the Peninsula Tokyo apart from other international luxury hotels is its focus on creating a modern Japanese ambience, whereas other hotels adopt a standard international décor. The Peninsula Tokyo’s interior and exterior is contemporary, yet echoes Japan’s rich heritage and culture in its design. The hotel boasts over 1,000 Japanese artworks created almost entirely by Japanese artists using traditional techniques and methods.



Checking in

From the moment our taxi pulled to a stop out the front of the hotel, we were treated as if we were royalty, just as all guests are at the Peninsula Tokyo. The smiling bellboys, dressed head to toe in white, greeted us in the warmest way, whisked away our luggage and guided us through the revolving doors and into the hotel.


As I stepped into the calm, warm glow of the lobby, it seemed as though there was a staff member on hand for everything — someone to warmly greet us, someone else to guide us to the check-in desk and someone else entirely to look after that process!


The check-in staff did everything in their power to make us feel welcome and nothing was a too-difficult. Although we had arrived a few hours before check-in time, it was no problem to check us in early. We had also been allocated a twin room at the time of booking, but we were kindly offered the option to a switch to a king room instead. I already felt so relaxed and I hadn’t even stepped foot in my room yet!



We were kindly shown to our Deluxe King Room on the 23rd floor and, let me tell you, I could barely retain my composure when I stepped through the door. This was, by far, the biggest hotel room I had ever stayed in and the fact that this was in Tokyo (a city known for its cramped rooms) made it even more impressive! The Peninsula Tokyo prides itself on having some of the largest and most technologically advanced guestrooms in the entire city. And they’re not joking.

The entry corridor led towards this spacious open-plan bedroom and sitting area bathed in rich, earth tones, plush textiles and luxuriously soft linens. The expansive floor-to-ceiling windows ran from wall to wall, offering spectacular views of the Tokyo skyline. The living area not only had a cozy sofa in soft-grey, glass coffee table and work desk, but also a dining area, magazine rack stocked with all the design and style publications and a beautiful Japanese tea set stocked with traditional green tea.



But it’s the thoughtful little touches that really make a place memorable, isn’t it? From the fresh yuzu (a rare citrus fruit from Japan) and personal welcome note on the dining table, to the fresh orchids, newspaper and rice crackers laid out on the coffee table, we couldn’t have dreamed of a warmer welcome.





Can we just take a moment to appreciate how luxurious the marble bathroom is? The deep tub was so heavenly that I had to have multiple soaks during my stay. I especially loved the wall-mounted touch control panel and the ‘spa’ button that, when pressed, dimmed the lights, switched off the TV and played soothing music. So relaxing!


I always love it when there are dual vanities in hotel bathrooms — I hate sharing my space with Ben! There was a separate toilet (with all the high-tech Japanese toilet functions) as well as a large, separate rain shower with fluffy bathrobes, slippers and luxurious Oscar de la Renta toiletries. I haven’t stayed in many hotels that have a TV in the bathroom before, so it was a bit of a novelty to be as I soaked in the tub and watched quirky Japanese TV shows.




Then there was the separate walk-in dressing room opposite the bathroom. I don’t know about you guys, but I have never before been treated to such an expansive area to store my luggage, hang my clothes and do my makeup and hair! This is definitely some inspiration for my future dream home! I also have never stayed in a hotel with a valet box before — what a handy idea! Instead of waiting for housekeeping to collect your plates or deliver your newspaper when you want some privacy, you can use the valet box which connects to the hallway outside which the butler can access. Very cool!


But let’s just stop for a moment to talk about the integration of technology at the Peninsula Tokyo, because there’s something pretty special going on here. The intuitive integration of the most advanced technology into guestrooms is legendary and has made Peninsula Hotels is a pioneer in this area. You won’t find a standard technological setup here. Yes, there is complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi and long-distance calls. But there’s so much more. What I discovered in my room over the course of my stay was like nothing I had ever seen before. Yep, it was that impressive!

Guestrooms are designed with a view to ensuring that every control and switch is located precisely where it is required so its use is intuitive and effortless. The bedside control panel allows guests to control temperature, lighting, telephones, curtains, alarm clock and audio-visual systems at the touch of a button. You really don’t need to get out of bed for a thing. There’s no need for adaptors here because the rooms are custom-fitted with dual-voltage, multi-pin sockets which was super helpful to us since we didn’t have an adaptor with us for our European plugs. But wait, it get’s better. In the dressing room there is a built-in nail dryer for busy ladies on the go who want to look fab but are in a rush to get to that meeting or go out exploring! I also loved all the temperature monitors set into the wall that measured both the indoor and outdoor conditions. You could even adjust the humidity levels in the room — high tech!



But should we talk about what made my stay at the Peninsula Tokyo even more special? In a groggy, love-filled morning moment, Ben proposed! I was in shock (we have been together for almost ten years!) and it took me a moment to believe it was real! It was all so perfect and I couldn’t have asked for a better setting than in one of the most beautiful hotel rooms I’ve ever stayed in. Now the Peninsula Tokyo will always be that extra bit special to us.







A sumptuous breakfast is served in the lobby between 6:30 - 11:00am each morning, which Ben and I indulged in the morning of our engagement. This was an occasion that called for french toast (although do I ever really need an occasion for french toast?)! Breakfast is not included in the room rate, but it really is a spread to remember and I definitely recommend treating yourself. The lobby also serves a famous afternoon tea every day as well as an international dining menu.



There is no shortage of dining options available to guests at the hotel. There are an incredible four restaurants as well as a café to choose from that offer guests a host of unique dining options. We didn’t dine at the hotel and instead went out for sushi in Ginza instead. We did, however, head up to Peter: The Bar on the 24th floor for a signature ‘Tokyo Joe’ pre-dinner cocktail. Gosh, what a gorgeous setting to sip on a drink overlooking the sparkling city below!



Other facilities and services

Occupying the 5th floor is the impressive pool and wellness zone. The 20m heated pool and adjacent vitality pool offer stunning views over the Imperial Palace and Hibiya Park.




The fitness centre offers cardio equipment and weights machines and there is even a team of personal trainers on hand for guests wanting to push themselves that little bit further. Considering the fact that I had been eating everything I laid my eyes on in Tokyo, I really should have undone some of the damage here in the fitness centre, but I guess I was a little preoccupied with being engaged to care much about the treadmill!


The award-winning Peninsula Spa occupies the 6th floor and offers a staggering nine treatment rooms. Next time I’m going to book one of the signature Kaihatsu Enlightenment Massages which celebrates ancient massage techniques that formed the foundation of Shiatsu today.

Finally, as the only hotel in Japan with a customised car fleet, if you can spare the cash, why not book an airport transfer in one of the hotel’s Rolls Royces? Or better yet, if you’re only travelling within two kilometres, it’s complimentary!


Book this hotel if…

If you’re looking for a hotel that will guarantee a memorable stay for years to come, you absolutely can’t go past the Peninsula Tokyo. From the moment you arrive until the (sad) moment you depart, the staff work tirelessly to ensure that your entire experience is relaxed, enjoyable and carefree. There was always someone on-hand to attend to my every wish — I felt as if I were royalty just like the Emperor in the Imperial Palace across the street! Every luxury is afforded to guests here — from the spacious guestrooms to the vintage Rolls Royces, from the world-class cuisine to the five-star spa — there is nothing left wanting. Although the hotel is expensive, this is the place to come for a special occasion (like an engagement!) or to simply celebrate being in Tokyo; worthy of a stay here on its own.

Rooms can be booked through the Peninsula Tokyo website.

Disclosure: I was welcomed at the Peninsula Tokyo as a guest, but as always, this review is an honest reflection of my experience. Seriously, this was one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed at!

Blogging, Top 10

10 Most Popular Posts of 2015

January 7, 2016


It’s been a huge year for me in lots of ways, but most significantly, 2015 was the year when I began to really focus on growing The Department of Wandering. Since I quit my full-time job around five months ago, I’ve been able to spend a whole lot more time working on content for the site as well as freelancing for various other publications. This was the year that saw The Department of Wandering really start to expand and I began to work with travel brands, PR agencies, hotels and tourism boards. You’ll be able to read my 2015 in review very soon, but in the meantime, here’s a rundown of what you guys LOVED to read on The Department of Wandering through this countdown of the 10 most popular posts of 2015:

10. Huge News! I’ve Quit My Teaching Job to Freelance Full-Time


‘Remember on Sunday how I mentioned that there were some pretty momentous changes happening in my life? I’ve been keeping tight-lipped about what this means exactly for a while now, but not anymore! Today is a HUGE day for me because I’m finally sharing all the details behind this huge piece of news! Let’s cut straight to the point, shall we?’

I’ve quit my teaching job!

Continue reading…


9. Why I’ve Lived in an Airbnb Flat for a Year (With No Plans to Move)

Airbnb, morning light, Berlin

‘I’ve been living in my current apartment, rented from Airbnb for 12 months now… and I have no plans to move. I know I’ve got a good thing going here and if things are good, why change them?

Continue reading…


8. So You’ve Moved to Berlin… Now What? 10 Items for Your Expat To-do List


Making the actual decision to move abroad is one of the the hardest steps of the entire process. But it’s only when your plane has touched down in the new city you’re going to be calling home that the real adventure begins! So what are the first things that should be on your expat to-do list?

Continue reading…


7. 10 Quotes About Expat Life

Expat life

Image source

‘If you’ve ever been curious about the complexities of expat life abroad, these 10 quotes shed some light into the expat world and those peculiar folk that inhabit it!’

The ideal place for me is the one in which it is most natural to live as a foreigner. –Italo Calvino

Continue reading…


6. ‘The Awful German Language’ According to Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Image source

‘German is certainly not an easy language to master and no individual has documented the struggle more publicly than iconic American author, Mark Twain. In 1880 Twain published his infamous essay titled, ‘The Awful German Language’, a humorous exploration of the frustrations a foreign speaker experiences when learning German. Without a doubt, however, in all of Twain’s criticisms, there does appear to be an inherent interest driving him to learn German. After all, he persevered with this ‘awful’ language for thirty years!’

On the creation of the German language:

In early times some sufferer had to sit up with a toothache, and he put in the time inventing the German language.

Continue reading…


5. 10 of Anthony Bourdain’s Best Travel Quotes


It’s no secret that chef Anthony Bourdain knows his food, but he also knows a thing or two about travel. Estimating that he has been travelling for about ‘250 days a year, for nearly the past decade’ filming travel food programmes such as No Reservations and Parts Unknown, he’s licked his plate clean all over the world and has put everything in his mouth from a raw seal’s eyeball to the nasty bits of a cobra. He favours travelling off the well-trodden path, connecting with locals and exploring a country through it’s food.

Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often though, they hurt.

Continue reading…


4. So How Cheap is Poland Exactly?

Cathedral, Wroclaw

There’s no denying that travel in Europe can be expensive, with Scandinavia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom ranking as some of the most expensive in the world. If you don’t want to burn holes in your pocket too quickly, a visit to Eastern Europe is the key. Poland is one of the most affordable countries in the European Union and a visit to this surprisingly warm and vibrant nation will ensure that your budget remains firmly intact, meaning you can travel for longer!

Continue reading…


3. How to Grow Your Instagram Following Fast


We all know that Instagram is not a true representation of reality, don’t we? That it is a carefully curated, edited portfolio that intends to portray a desired image. Yep, Instagram might not be an instantaneous, raw, uncut version of life (get on Snapchat for that), but everyone likes to look at pretty pictures don’t they? I know I do!

Continue reading…


2. Freetown Christiania: Inside Copenhagen’s Hippie Commune

Christiania, Copenhagen

Kun døde fisk flyder med strømmen — Only dead fish swim with the current. — local slogan of Christiania

I’m always on a quest to discover what makes a place unique when I travel. I try to find the best local food, always get around on local transport and try to do as much walking as possible to really get a true sense of where I am. Naturally, during my visit to Copenhagen a few months ago, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out Christiania, one of the city’s most interesting communities.

Continue reading…


1. The German Spa Experience: WARNING: Nudity Expected

German spa

The Germans take their spa culture pretty seriously. In fact, Germany has one of the largest spa cultures in all of Europe, with over 900 spas registered across the country. Since Roman times, when the spa culture first developed, spas have been recognised for their healing properties and contribution to mental and physical health, so much so that the German healthcare system regularly subsidises treatments as a preventative measure against illness. Yep, you read that correctly. Tell your doctor that you’ve been experiencing headaches and anxiety from stress and you may very well be handed a prescription for a three-week retreat at a German spa as a medical ‘cure’.

Continue reading…


Keen to read what was popular last year? Check out the 10 Most Popular Posts of 2014 roundup! Also remember to give your feedback in the 2016 Reader Survey to help The Department of Wandering be the best it can be in 2016!

Which post was your favourite of 2015? What kinds of posts would you like to see in 2016? Let me know in the comments below!

Reflections, Travel

2015 in Review

December 30, 2015



It’ll be a brand new year in only a few days time and before I go and start making new plans for 2016, I wanted to take a minute to appreciate just how incredible this year was. From making the transition to working for myself, to visiting home for the first time in a year, from skiing the French Alps to luxuriating in a five-star villa on the Portuguese coast, it’s safe to say that 2015 was pretty great amazing! Here’s a month by month (not so short) look at 2015 in review:

The highlights reel of 2015:


Bringing in the New Year with our besties

Having visitors from home is pretty rare for us all the way over here in Berlin, so when our best friends came to spend NYE with us, we really couldn’t contain our excitement! We had such a fun few days exploring Berlin and of course bringing in the New Year with a bang (literally!) from a Berlin rooftop.



January also brought a little more snow, which turned the whole city white and bright for a few days until it melted into a grey slush.




During the winter break in February (I was still teaching earlier in the year), we jumped on a bus and went to Wrocław in Poland for three days. It was such a pretty, colourful place! We spent the days wandering around admiring the beautiful architecture, spotting gnomes and eating too many pierogi. I posted a photo diary about our time as well as a post about how darn cheap Poland is.

Wroclaw Market Square, Poland

I got really sick

One of the lowlights of the month was when I got a virus and was laid up in bed for two weeks. The best part of it was that it all happened over my birthday and because I needed a doctor’s note for my job, I ended up spending half the day at the doctor’s office. I’m determined to have double the birthday celebrations next year to make up for it!



Nabbing some super cheap flights, Ben and I jetted off to Copenhagen for a whirlwind weekend. We stayed at a cute little Airbnb in Nørrebro and spent our days drinking great coffee, eating amazing food, getting around by bikeexploring hippie communes and just generally acknowledging the fact that we could totally live there (if the weather wasn’t so cold and grey). In fact, I was so enraptured by this Scandinavian city that I wrote a post on 10 Photos That Will Make You Fall in Love with Copenhagen.


Visiting home

In desperate need for some Vitamin D and good food, we flew the 23 hours home to Australia for a three-week visit at the end of March and into April. Almost as soon as we touched down, we were off on a roadtrip down the coast for some long-overdue beach action. Sunset down in this part of the world is pretty special. You can see for yourself here.


There was, of course, lots of coffee drinking and brunching as is the norm in Melbourne. I summed up my favourite things about my hometown in a post on 10 of my Favourite Things to do in Melbourne.

Gertrude Street, Melbourne

Visiting home also made me realise the things that I missed most about Australia, summed up. It was all summed up in 5 Things Australian Expats Miss About Home.




Leaving Australia was even harder than usual this time around, but we arrived back to Berlin to find that spring had sprung! Pretty, pink flowers had blossomed on trees all over the city and I just wanted to play under them all day long. I was so relieved that the cold weather was finally behind us.


Joining the World of Wanderlust team

April was also the month that I joined the World of Wanderlust team as the Europe contributor! I’ve been writing about all things Berlin and Europe in general on the WOW site ever since. Go check out the posts!



On the invitation from Guidilo, a new tour company in Prague, I travelled to this beautiful city to review a selection of tours they had on offer. I was so happy to be back in Prague. The food, the magnificent gothic architecture and the genuinely lovely people I met there, not to mention the fantastic tours I experienced meant that I had a wonderful weekend.



June was a quiet month travel-wise, and I spent my spare time admiring Berlin’s colourful street art, eating açaí and dreaming about the fact that I was finishing up at my job in only a month! Let me tell you how June dragged on and on and on…



I quit my job!

I don’t think there was a bigger month than July in the whole of 2015. July was when I decided to give my crappy job the flick and focus on the things that brought me happiness, energy and inspiration: my writing and this blog. It was a very weird thing to go from full-time employment where I was working tirelessly for a company, to being my own boss and completely owning my time and future. Not having a safety net of a regular, stable income was disconcerting at first, but the feeling of empowerment I had over my life again has never had me question my decision. Not once.



Under the Tuscan sun

In early August I headed off on a blogger press trip representing World of Wanderlust to spend a luxurious weekend at Villa Le Maschere, a centuries-old, restored villa hidden away in the Tuscan hills. It was just a dream. Read the coverage here on the WOW blog here.


Berlin street art

Back in Berlin I began working with Visit Berlin and our partnership began with a street art tour with Alternative Berlin. It was such a great tour — I got to see some of the most famous street art in the city, learnt lots about the artists and their techniques and even tried my hand at my very own stencil graffiti piece! After the tour, I wrote a post on Where to Find Berlin’s Best Street Art.

Street Art in Berlin

New camera gear!

August was also the month when I decided to upgrade my photography gear. Up until this point I had been using a Sony DSC-RX100M2 to take all my shots, which I loved. This compact camera is amazing in low light, has Wifi capability and is super easy to use, not to mention the perfect size for my handbag! But it was time to upgrade to a DSLR as I wanted more functionality. I went with the Nikon D750 with a 50mm f/1.8G lens and I really feel like I’ve upped my photography game with it. I have so much still to learn but I’m having so much fun taking it out exploring with me!


Summer lakes

Berlin was pretty hot in August and one of the things that Berliners love to do to cool off is to visit the lake district. Did you know that Berlin is home to over 80 lakes? We packed a picnic and spent some time down at Schlachtensee (about 45 minutes by train away) which is known for its clean water and peaceful atmosphere.



At the end of August, I flew down to Frankfurt to cover the opening of a brand-new design hotel, the Capri by Fraser Frankfurt, along with a couple of other bloggers. The hotel was super stylish and I wrote a full review of my experience here: Checking into Frankfurt’s Newest Design Hotel: Capri by Fraser Frankfurt.

Capri, Lobby

I also had the chance to see a bit of Frankfurt while I was there. I was surprised by how interesting Frankfurt was — something I had not expected to be honest! — and wrote a post about How to Spend a Layover in Frankfurt.



The last of summer

After a crazy busy August, the first part of September was quiet, which was just what I needed. I spent the warm days wandering around the city and the warm nights at rooftop bars.



Ben and I spent five days in London around the middle of the month as he was presenting at a workshop there. How could I not tag along and make a trip out of it? I was in food heaven in London and wrote a London Food Diary about everything I ate and drank.

London food diary, Kaffeine

I loved wandering the markets while I was there and wrote about it here in 3 London Markets You Need to Visit.

London Markets, Borough Market

I also fell head over first with Notting Hill. Oh my goodness. Have you been? I spent a whole day getting lost in the little streets imagining I lived in one of the colourful townhouses.

Notting Hill Townhouses


In late September we were off to Bologna — a destination I was particularly excited about. You can read why I adored it so much in this post on 10 Reasons You Will Love Bologna.


Of course, my love for this northern Italian city mainly stemmed from its culinary delights. I wrote about them all in this Bologna Food Diary.



Since I had won a stay in Florence, that was our next stop. Ben and I spent a beautiful few days in this dreamy city, exploring quiet, hidden lanes, eating gelato daily, feasting on porchetta and washing it all down with sangiovese. Bliss. I summed up my experience in this photo diary.

florence_golden hour


Hamburg layover

Only three days after returning from Italy, I was off again to Hamburg, from where I was catching my flight to Portugal to join the inaugural WOW Trip — a fun trip / workshop for the travel contributors of World of Wanderlust. I stayed overnight at the super stylish 25 Hours Hotel Hafencity, which had a fun maritime theme, before flying out the following day.


The WOW Team Trip: Lisbon

True to WOW style, our home in Lisbon for the first two days of our trip was the incredible Four Seasons Ritz Lisbon. Our days were jam-packed full of all the right things: private sightseeing tours of Alfama, Sintra and Cascais, pastéis de nata (those divine portuguese tarts), spa treatments and the most lavish brunch I have ever eaten.


The WOW Team Trip: The Algarve

Just when I thought this trip couldn’t possibly get any better, we all jumped in a rental car and drove three hours down to the southern Portuguese coast to the Algarve and Vila Vita Parc, where we would be spending the next three days in our own private villa by the sea. This was, hands down, the most luxurious experience I have ever had and I kept pinching myself to make sure it wasn’t just a dream!



After the most dreamy and inspiring trip to Portugal where I happily soaked up the last of the European summer, I returned to Berlin to find that autumn had firmly taken hold. I ventured out to Potsdam (less than an hour out of Berlin) with some friends to stroll under the golden, falling leaves, to admire the beautiful architecture and to pretend that I was a princess walking around the grounds of my very own palace.



Exploring abandoned Berlin

It’s always a little bit thrilling exploring places you shouldn’t, isn’t it? One Sunday in early November, a few of us went to explore an abandoned railroad yard only a few stations north of where we live. I took lots of photos and wrote a post about it here.


Hamburg (round two)

Since I only scratched the surface of Hamburg when I visited in October, I was determined to get back there as soon as I could — in fact, the very next month! I stayed at the beautiful Hotel Atlantic Kempinski Hamburg, a beautiful old world hotel, and spent a wonderful couple of days exploring more of the city that I didn’t get a chance to last time. I summed it all up in a photo diary.



The terror attacks occurred in Paris only a few days before I was scheduled to fly there, so I delayed my visit for a week and arrived in late November instead. There was no way I was going to be cancelling my trip — I love Paris more than any other city in Europe! I stayed in one of Special Apartments Paris‘ gorgeous apartments and spent my days dreaming that this was my permanent home.


And of course I posted a photo diary of all the dreamy moments.



Learning to ski in Val d’Isere

Determined to have the ultimate winter experience before I leave Europe for summery Australia, earlier this month I headed to Val d’Isere in the French Alps on a blogger press trip for Powder White, a bespoke ski operator. I was a little anxious about skiing since I hadn’t skied for a decade, but I ended up picking it up quite quickly and having easily one of the best trips of the entire year! I was skiing blue runs by day two, made some great new friends and enjoyed aprés ski a little too much. I just want to relive that trip all over again! Stay tuned for the post on World of Wanderlust soon.


Saas Fee

As if one trip to the Alps wasn’t enough, I spent the following weekend in Saas Fee in Switzerland, celebrating the opening of a new luxury alpine lodge, The Capraagain for World of Wanderlust. From the two-starred Michelin chef cooking up a storm in the restaurant, to wine tasting in the cellar, from relaxing in the spa to cosying up by the fireplace with negronis, I couldn’t think of a better way to end the year.


And there you have it! My year summed up! Before I began to write this post, I actually had no clue how ridiculously massive this year was. Now, looking back, I can’t believe the kinds of experiences I’ve had this year and feel so grateful for it all. This year and in particular these past six months, I really feel like I’m living the width of my life, not just the length of it. I am so excited to see what 2016 has in store!

If you’re interested in reading about my year in 2014, read: 2014 in Review.

Tell me: what were your highlights of 2015?

Disclosure: some of the links in this post are affiliates which earns me a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting The Department of Wandering!

Inspiration, Travel

10 Most Popular Instagram Photos of 2015

December 28, 2015

2015 has been an unbelievably huge year of travel for me and I loved nothing more than keeping you guys updated with my adventures on Instagram. I’ve been working hard to develop my photography skills this year and really feel like I’ve come a long way, although I have so much still to learn. I’m also blown away by how many of you guys are following along on Instagram: this time last year I had less than 1,000 followers and today it numbers over 12,800+ (I wrote a post about How to Grow your Instagram Following Fast)!

I’ve had so much fun sharing my photos on this platform, but I do feel like I need to preface this post with the reminder that Instagram is a carefully curated, edited portfolio of the BEST moments of my travels. All the photos I have posted on Instagram this year were taken with either my Nikon D750 or my Sony DSC-RX100M2, not my phone and all of them were edited in Lightroom or Photoshop before posting. Some of these shots were impromptu snaps and others were the result of a multiple takes! Instagram is the highlights reel and most of the time, travel is not as glamorous as an Instagram feed makes it out to be. Nevertheless, Instagram is without a doubt the source of much inspiration so to celebrate an incredible year of travels in 2015, here’s a roundup of my top 10 most popular Instagram posts of the year:

10. Potsdam, Germany

Berlin is painted head to toe in rich tones of yellow, orange and red in autumn, making it one of my most favourite seasons here. Strolling through the beautiful Sanssouci Park in Potsdam, about 45 minutes by train from central Berlin, I couldn’t help but take a seat under the pretty golden leaves that were drifting down all around me. I felt like I was in a painting!

How are these autumn colors even real? 💛🍂

A photo posted by Rachel Bale (@departmentofwandering) on

9. Dubrovnik, Croatia

This photo was actually taken last year when I travelled through Croatia in the summer. I re-posted this snap of this table full of fresh berries in Dubrovnik’s Old Town to promote a post I had written on The Best Healthy Travel Snacks to Keep you Energised on the blog.

I always get so hungry when travelling and if I don’t snack often enough, my energy levels really dip. New on the blog you’ll find my tips on choosing the best healthy travel snacks to keep you energized. These punnets of berries at a little market in the Old Town in Dubrovnik were perfect to grab on the go! 🍓🍒

A photo posted by Rachel Bale (@departmentofwandering) on

8. London, United Kingdom

I fell in love with Notting Hill’s cuteness when I visited London in September. I spent hours wandering around this delightful, colourful neighbourhood filling up my memory card with pretty doors and quaint townhouses. I posted this photo of a cute pink door I stumbled on to promote the post I’d just written on Exploring Notting Hill: London’s Prettiest Neighbourhood.

My heart skipped a beat when I passed by this little door in Notting Hill. 💕 See more on the blog (link in profile 👆)

A photo posted by Rachel Bale (@departmentofwandering) on

7. Val d’Isere, France

Earlier this month, I went on a press trip to Val d’Isere, a ski village in the French alps, on behalf of World of Wanderlust, where I’m the Europe contributor. I had such a blast — it was seriously one of the best trips I’ve ever been on! I learnt how to ski, drank far too much wine and partied it up with a great bunch of other bloggers. I just had to capture my glass of rosé against the bright, white, snowy background.

Never one to turn down a glass (or two) of wine. A little reward after a big morning of skiing. Alcohol + adventure sports totally complement one another 🙊🍷 @powder_white #PWSkiTrip

A photo posted by Rachel Bale (@departmentofwandering) on

6. Paris, France

I posted this photo of the Eiffel Tower the morning after the terror attacks in Paris happened. I had taken this photo almost two years earlier when I spent my first European Christmas in Paris. As my all-time favourite city in Europe, I wanted to spread the message of peace, like so many others around the world did on social media.

‘An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.’ ~ Mahatma Gandhi. Standing together with you, Paris. #peaceforparis #prayforparis

A photo posted by Rachel Bale (@departmentofwandering) on

5. Paris, France

I was scheduled to travel to Paris a few days after the attacks, but I delayed my visit for a week. I was determined to still travel and show defiance in the face of the fear the terrorists wanted to instil. I ended up having a wonderful time (I stayed at the luxurious Special Apartments Paris), falling in love with the city’s prettiness at every turn. I couldn’t visit Paris without stopping in at Shakespeare & Co. for  a little browse, one of the most famous English bookstores in the city.

I can’t ever go to Paris without visiting this iconic bookstore on the Left Bank. 💚

A photo posted by Rachel Bale (@departmentofwandering) on

4. Potsdam, Germany

This shot was taken on the same day as no. 10 above and in the same park in Potsdam. My friends and I stumbled on the most picturesque, fairytale-like setting we could have imagined. At the end of this golden, tree-lined path stood a magnificent palace and we had the whole place to ourselves. We couldn’t help ourselves to a little photoshoot!

Princess dreams 👑

A photo posted by Rachel Bale (@departmentofwandering) on

3. Berlin, Germany

I posted this photo when the first snowfall happened in Berlin this year. Late November was super early for snow to be falling and I was at once excited and slightly terrified at the prospect of a harsh winter on the horizon! This December has actually been exceptionally warm, so I didn’t have anything to worry about funnily enough! This photo was actually taken last year when I awoke one morning to a winter wonderland and went out to play.

It’s snowing outside! First snowfall of the season! While it’s still too warm for the snow to stick around, watching the snowflakes fall while I’m warm and cosy inside has me dreaming of the winter wonderland of last winter 💙❄️

A photo posted by Rachel Bale (@departmentofwandering) on

2. Paris, France

I love Paris and Instagram loves Paris, that’s for sure! Paris has got lots of love this year. I had choux à la crème pastries at gorgeous Odette in Saint Germain and almost died from the cuteness.

Prettiest pâtisserie in Paris? 💕

A photo posted by Rachel Bale (@departmentofwandering) on

1. Saas Fee, Switzerland

Hot chocolate on top of a mountain? It doesn’t get much better than that! When I was in Saas Fee in Switzerland a few weeks ago, I took the gondola up to the world’s highest revolving restaurant at 3,500m and sipped on a hot chocolate overlooking this view. While the freezing temperature turned my hot chocolate cold pretty quickly, there was no option but to drink it outside against this backdrop. You guys who follow along on Instagram loved this shot and it became the number one most popular Instagram post of the year!

Hot chocolate at 3500m + some of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever seen. Yep, Saturday was pretty darn great. 💫

A photo posted by Rachel Bale (@departmentofwandering) on


I can’t wait to bring you around the world with me in 2016! Where should I head next year?

Disclosure: some of the links in this post are affiliates which earns me a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting The Department of Wandering!

Berlin, Germany, Travel

The Best of Berlin in 48 Hours

December 21, 2015


With most people spending an average of only 2-3 days in Germany’s capital, it’s important to make the very most of your stay. It can be overwhelming to plan an itinerary that encompasses all the best sites as well as researching where to eat and find good coffee (equally important) in such a short timeframe, I know. Don’t fear! I’ve lived in Berlin for two and a half years and I love to help people plan their itineraries to create an experience to remember. It’s worth considering purchasing a Berlin WelcomeCard for your stay, which will enable you to travel for free on public transport as well as give you access to more than 190 discount offers across the city. So look no further — here’s your guide to the best of Berlin in 48 hours.

Day one:


Fuel up for a big day of exploring at Distrikt Coffee in Mitte, one of my favourite, centrally-located cafés. It’s going to be a big day ahead, so make sure you eat a big breakfast for lots of energy and try and get there early! Don’t go past the fluffy pancakes or the banana bread with a great flat white.

berlin_in_48_hours_distrikt_coffee berlin_in_48_hours_distrikt_coffee

With your energy and caffeine levels high, it’s now time to start your day exploring! Today we’re going to focus on some of Berlin’s most important historical sites to get a sense of how complex the history of the city is here. Your first stop is only a 5 minute walk away and is the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer, which is a memorial to the Berlin Wall that divided the city between 1961-1989. Here you’ll find a long section of the original wall as well as informative displays and personal stories.


From nearby Nordbahnhof S-Bahn station, take the train one stop to Oranienburger Straße, where you’ll find the gleaming Neue Synagogue, one of the most important places of worship for Jews all over Germany. It’s worth paying the small entrance fee (discounted with the Berlin WelcomeCard) to go inside and learn about the building’s turbulent history.



You’re right around the corner from one of my favourite places to grab lunch in Mitte and you won’t be disappointed. Yarok on Torstraße serves the most delicious Syrian food that won’t weigh you down. Everything on the menu is great, but I always seem to go for either the Lablaby chickpea and halloumi soup or the mixed teller for a little bit of everything.

From here it’s a lovely walk along the Spree River to Museum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage listed site that is comprised of five world-class museums all housed on their very own island in the middle of the river. If you don’t feel like you have time to explore the museums on a short stay, beholding the magnificent architecture from the exterior is definitely a must!


Also be sure to visit the Berliner Dom while you’re there, Berlin’s largest cathedral with it’s impressive green copper dome. For a small fee you can climb to the top of the dome for great views of the area.


From Museum Island, it’s an easy 20 minute walk down the grand Under den Linden boulevard past Humboldt University and Bebelplatz (the site of the infamous Nazi book burnings) to the Brandenburg Gate, one of Berlin’s most iconic attractions.


As you walk through the Brandenburg Gate, head towards your right and you’ll hit the Reichstag, the seat of Germany’s parliament and the site of many critical historical events such as the Reichstag fire of 1933 and the storming of the building by USSR troops in 1945, signalling the end of WWII for Germany. If you book early enough in advance, you can reserve a place to enter the big glass dome on top of the building for commanding views of all of Berlin at no cost.


In the late afternoon, take a short walk from the Reichstag through leafy Tiergarten (Berlin’s Central Park) to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe, which is only a 10-minute walk away. This memorial, built of 2,711 concrete pillars at various heights and angles on undulating ground, creates an experience of unease and dislocation, replicating the Jewish experience in WWII.



We’re heading to Berlin’s west to Charlottenberg this evening and we’re starting with an early dinner at Lon-Men’s Noodle House on Kantstraße, an authentic Taiwanese eatery. This area is where you’ll find the most authentic Asian food in Berlin. Be sure to order the chilli wontons, crispy duck bao and a bowl of the Taiwanese noodle soup.

After dinner, treat yourself to a spectacular ballet performance at the Deutsche Oper, only a 15-minute walk from the restaurant. With standout, classic shows like The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, you’re guaranteed to have a night to remember.

berlin_in_48_hours berlin_in_48_hours

Day two:


Yesterday was all about hitting the history and architecture in Berlin but today will be all about delving a little deeper into what it all means. Begin day two with a big breakfast at Silo Coffee in Friedrichshain where the baked eggs are incredible and the coffee is expertly brewed by Aussie baristas on the machines.

Silo Coffee, Berlin

From here, head back along Revaler Straße and down towards the river to the colourful East Side Gallery, the largest open-air gallery in the world. This 1.3 kilometre stretch of the original Berlin Wall, the longest remaining section, features a striking collection of artworks and makes for some great travel snaps! Image via Hand Luggage Only.


From here, cross the beautiful old double-deck Oberbaumbrücke bridge and over into Kreuzberg, one of Berlin’s most vibrant neighbourhoods. Continuing with our street art theme, this is the district where you’ll discover some of the best street art in the city painted by local artists. Keep your eyes peeled around Skalitzer Straße for some impressive pieces! For more information on where to find Berlin’s best street art, read this post. Alternative Berlin offers a great street art tour where you’ll learn lots about the artists and techniques if you have time.

Street Art in Berlin


Yesterday you sampled some of Berlin’s international cuisine, so today it’s all about traditional German food. Head to Max & Moritz on Oranienstraße for a taste of old world Berlin. This institution has been serving some of Berlin’s finest authentic, local cuisine for over 110 years, first opening its doors in 1902. Order the Berliner Eisbein (a slow-cooked pork knuckle) or the Bollenfleisch (a rich, lamb stew enriched with stout beer). They serve a great Wiener Schnitzel here too!

After lunch, from nearby Kottbusser Tor U-Bahn station, take the U1 to Uhlandstraße to Kurfürstendamm, one of Berlin’s most famous avenues. It is on this street that the Story of Berlin museum can be found, one of the city’s most popular museums. This interactive museum encompasses 23 themed rooms and spans over 800 years of Berlin’s history. Don’t miss a guided tour of the nuclear fallout bunker situated under busy Kurfürstendamm, which is included in the admission price.

berlin_in_48_hours berlin_in_48_hours


Take the S-Bahn from Savignyplatz back to central Alexanderplatz in the late afternoon to finish your day on a high (literally) at the Fernsehturm, or TV Tower, known affectionately as the ‘Eiffel Tower of Berlin’. This is the city’s most iconic landmark and one of its most popular attractions with over 1.2 million visitors per year. Catch sundown from the observation deck, 203m up in the sky, or book a table at the revolving restaurant for a meal to remember. Read about my TV Tower experience here.


There you have it! That’s my pick for seeing the best of Berlin in 48 hours. Two days is really only long enough to scratch the surface of the city, but it’s enough time for you to realise just how much there is to discover and you’ll be planning a return trip before you’ve even left.

WIN 48 hours in Berlin!

The folks over at the Berlin WelcomeCard are giving away a 48 hour stay in Berlin for two people! For your chance to win, head on over to the Berlin WelcomeCard website and simply fill out the entry form. The prize includes:

♥ 2 nights at the 4-star + Hotel NH Berlin (two persons in a double room)

♥ 2 tickets for a Stern and Kreis cruise (Berlin city centre)

♥ 2 tickets to the DDR Museum

♥ 2 tickets to the Story of Berlin museum

♥ 2 Berlin Welcome Cards for tariff zone AB for 48 hours

Be quick! The competition closes at 11:59pm on 31st December 2015.

Disclaimer: I received complimentary admission to some of the activities in this guide on behalf of Visit Berlin and the Berlin WelcomeCard. All opinions remain my own.

What do you think the best way to spend 48 hours in Berlin is? Leave a comment below or use the hashtag #BestofBerlin on social media!

France, Hotels, Reviews

A Luxurious and Unique Stay in Paris with Special Apartments Paris

December 16, 2015

Every time I visit Paris, I concoct a lavish plan about picking up and moving there. Of making early morning stops at the marché, of taking an afternoon detour along the Seine, of stopping for éclairs on the way home from work. Paris just has that spell over me, as it does on most people I imagine.

Since we’d made plans to leave Europe early in the new year, Ben and I suddenly realised that we couldn’t leave without visiting our favourite city in all of Europe again: Paris. We had been before — we spent Christmas in Paris the first year that we moved — and the city really a mark on our hearts. We had booked a beautiful studio apartment in Le Marais with Special Apartments Paris on that visit and had such a memorable and special time over that rainy Christmas. When we were planning our return visit almost two years later (where does time go, seriously?), I knew I couldn’t stay anywhere else.

We booked our flights, locked in our apartment and were due to visit only a few days later when the terror attacks happened. We briefly considered cancelling our stay, but knew in our hearts that this wasn’t the right decision. Paris has always been a city of magic and romance; a city for dreaming and celebration. Terrorism cuts to the heart of this, but letting fear control you is not the way to fight against it. For me, keeping my travel plans to celebrate Paris for all its loveliness was the most powerful retaliation. So, a week and a half after the attacks we took a pre-dawn flight out of Berlin and 75 minutes later, touched down in our favourite city in Europe.



The great thing about Special Apartments Paris is that they have a huge range of apartments that are dotted all over the city and so you’re bound to find an apartment in a location you love. Whether you want to stay close to the Arc de Triomphe (8th arrondissement), in the heart of Le Marais (3rd arrondissement), in quintessentially Parisian Saint Germain (6th arrondissement) or near the trendy Saint Denis area (10th arrondissement), you’re guaranteed to find something you’ll love with Special Apartments Paris. Whether location is your priority or you are motivated more by interior design, you’d probably be impressed with all of the 46 apartments available across Paris and will have a bit of a hard time choosing which one you’d like to stay in!


Keen to experience a luxury apartment decorated in period style, I couldn’t go past booking #009.  It was very centrally located and only a short walk to the Opéra Garnier, Place Vendome, the Louvre as well as the Printemps and Galeries Lafayette department stores. There were two metro stations located within only two minutes walk which meant that getting around the city would be super easy and quick too.

Design concept

What I love about the concept behind Special Apartments Paris is that every single apartment is unique. Whether you’re looking for something contemporary and chic like this or you’re searching for something more traditional and lavish like this, you’re bound to find something that suits your taste, style and budget. In contrast to hotels, where every room is decorated in exactly the same style, each apartment managed by Special Apartments Paris has been lovingly and uniquely furnished with the highest attention to detail. You won’t find two apartments the same!


Checking in

Keen to make the very most of our stay, we took a pre-dawn flight from Berlin and landed at Paris Orly by 8:15am — just in time for breakfast! We gave the Special Apartments Paris office a call from the airport before we left to inform them that we had arrived in Paris, which they kindly ask all guests to do. Because we had arrived so early, it meant that their office hadn’t even opened yet, but our call went through to the after hours support line and we were able to speak to an operator and pass along a message. I loved knowing that someone would always be available if we needed, no matter what time of day it was!

We had arrived too early for check-in, so we headed directly from the airport to Saint Germain (my favourite neighbourhood in Paris) for breakfast at Coutume Café. Lingering over fluffy pancakes and great coffee, before we knew it, it was time to head to the apartment to check-in there directly.


Although the normal check-in time is 2pm, the directors of Special Apartments Paris, John and Régis were so accommodating and flexible and offered to meet us at the apartment at 12:30pm to show us up. This personal touch was lovely. If you do arrive before check-in time, you are more than welcome to leave your luggage at the Special Apartments Paris office, which is centrally located and easy to find. We found our apartment easily as the instructions on our booking confirmation were very clear and included the names of the nearest metro stop, the door code, instructions on how to enter the apartment as well as a Google maps document to help us find the right location. Too easy!

Before long, John and Régis arrived and whisked us upstairs to the second floor and into, frankly, the most beautiful apartment I have ever set foot in. We were given a tour, shown the guest information folder and spent a few minutes chatting, all while we were trying to keep our cool and try and refrain from jumping up and down with excitement at the prospect of spending two nights in such a palace!

The apartment

As we entered through the front door, we found ourselves in the entrance hall and immediately noticed the grand living room to our right. I could hardly believe how luxuriously it had been decorated. I immediately felt as though I had been transported back to the early 19th century. The combination of the beautifully restored Directoire sofa, the crystal chandelier and the two Louis XVI-styled second-empire chairs had me imagining that I was a Parisian aristocrat living a life of luxury!

John and Régis explained that they had both lovingly restored this apartment themselves and transformed it from an office space into a modern interpretation of the Directoire style of the late 18th to early 19th centuries. The luxurious, antique furnishings were obtained from a local antiques auction house nearby. Everything was so beautiful that I could hardly believe that this was a real apartment and my home for the next two days!



Even though the apartment was decorated in period style, modern technological comforts hadn’t been neglected. The living area contained a flat screen TV with cable connection, a home cinema sound system, a telephone with free international calls to over 200 countries as well as free high-speed Wi-Fi.




special_apartments_paris special_apartments_paris


The master bedroom was located behind a set of double french doors at the back of the living area. The floor-to-ceiling windows, framed by heavy, striped curtains, let in a flood of natural light, bathing the entire room softly. My favourite thing about the bedroom had to be the sitting area by the window. I don’t think there was a more perfect place to pop the bottle of champagne that was left as a welcome gift! In all apartments, guests will find a welcome bottle of wine (champagne in this higher end apartment); another lovely touch to make your stay in Paris that little bit more special.


The queen sized bed was one of those beds that was so comfortable, I could barely convince myself to get out of bed in the morning. You know the ones I mean, right? Luckily, I had the lure of Paris at my doorstep, otherwise I might have spent the whole day in bed with Hemmingway! There was also an ensuite bathroom and walk-in-closet with loads of storage space for our luggage.

special apartments paris




For larger groups or families, there’s a second bedroom at the back of the apartment, complete with its own marble ensuite bathroom and huge bath. It was so relaxing to soak in the tub after a few too many glasses of Bordeaux rouge! But should it really be any other way when in Paris?




Each apartment managed by Special Apartments Paris contains a kitchen which gives guests full flexibility when planning meals. Sometimes when you’re travelling, you don’t feel like eating out for every meal. At Special Apartments Paris, you really feel as if you’re in a home away from home with the freedom to decide whether to cook or dine out. A welcome basket containing basic supplies such as coffee, tea and biscuits is left in the kitchen for your stay (the hot chocolate sachets are the bomb). We also had a really large dining table in a separate dining area off the kitchen and entrance hall.

Each apartment contains a very comprehensive welcome folder that lists a huge range of nearby restaurants specific to each apartment. We found the most incredible local place for lunch in this guide, Le Petit Vendome, and had probably the most delicious baguettes we’ve ever had.


John and Régis were also kind enough to take us out to Le Syndicat bar in trendy Saint Denis for cocktails during our stay and trust me, they know a great cocktail bar! We had such a nice time chatting about Paris, Special Apartments Paris as well as upcoming travel plans. They were two of the most genuine and kind-hearted people I’ve met who are so passionate about their city and the service they provide to their guests.


le_syndicat_paris le_syndicat_paris

Other services

Special Apartments Paris offers a range of extra services to make each guest’s experience as special as possible. These range from having fresh flowers or champagne organised for arrival (a welcome bottle of wine is included in the room rate of all apartments except #009 which includes champagne instead), a cleaner to come during your stay, organising a Paris Museum Pass on your behalf, to even doing basic grocery shopping so your fridge is stocked on your arrival! You can order any of these extra services during the reservation process.

Book this accommodation if…

If you’re looking for a memorable and unique stay in Paris, Special Apartments Paris will give you a truly special experience. If you’re someone like me who dreams of living in their own apartment in Paris, you can get a taste of the real deal in one of the many apartments managed by this team. No matter what your budget, you’ll find something within your price range, as each apartment is individually priced depending on size, location and furnishings. The communication with the reservations team and management is excellent and you really get the sense that the staff really want to help you have a special stay in Paris.

If you had been considering a trip to Paris but are now questioning whether you should visit because of the recent terror attacks, remember the things that attracted you to Paris to begin with — its magic, its romance and its sparkle — and remember that no individual or group can ever take this away. The poetic nature of the city will always live on in defiance and Special Apartments Paris will still be there to give you an exclusive experience like no other in the city of light. I had such a special stay and I’m so glad I kept my travel plans in the end.

Apartments can be booked through the Special Apartments Paris website.

Disclosure: I stayed with Special Apartments Paris as a guest but, as always, this review is an honest reflection of my experience. I truly had an exceptional stay and would recommend this company to anyone!

Germany, Travel

10 of the Best German Christmas Markets to Visit

December 14, 2015

While the weather outside might be dreary, chilly and grey, December is brightened up by the glittering Christmas markets that pop up all over Europe. While you can experience Christmas markets in almost all European cities, one thing’s for certain: nowhere does Christmas quite like Germany. After all, the tradition of the Christmas tree, the advent calendar and even Christmas markets themselves originated in Germany! There are over 1,500 German Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) scattered all across the country, so how on earth do you possibly choose which one to visit? Don’t worry. Here I’ve narrowed down ten of the best German Christmas markets so you can spend less time planning and more time sipping mulled wine!


1. Dresdner Striezelmarkt (Dresden)

Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? We can’t even start to talk about Christmas markets without beginning with arguably the oldest Christmas market in existence, the Dresdner Striezelmarkt. With accounts dating back to 1434, this year the market is celebrating its 581st year! The Dresdner Striezelmarkt is full of superlatives, from the world’s tallest Nutcracker to the world’s tallest Christmas pyramid. Don’t leave without sampling the famous Dresdner Stollen (fruit cake)! Image DresdenWeihnachten.


2. Nürnberg Christkindlesmarkt (Nuremberg)

Nuremberg’s Christmas market is regarded as Germany’s most famous and most beautiful. Over 180 stalls are lavishly decorated in red and white cloth, giving the market the nickname of ‘Little Town of Wood and Cloth’, selling handcrafted wares (mass-manufactured goods are strictly forbidden). Be sure to sample the original Nuremberg Bratwurst, prepared the traditional way on an open wood fire as well as the famous Nuremberg ‘Plum People’, little figures made from prunes. Image via LolliTop.


3. Weihnachtsmarkt am Kölner Dom (Cologne)

With the aroma of baked apples, Glühwein (mulled wine) and cinnamon gently wafting through the air, the Christmas market in Cologne’s main square is one of the most magnificent in the country. Set against the backdrop of the towering UNESCO-listed gothic cathedral that took over 600 years to complete as well as the largest Christmas tree in the Rhine, the atmosphere here is positively magical. The Christmassy taste of the biscuits here are something you’ll remember for years to come. Definitely pick up some boxes of Lebkuchen (gingerbread), Spekulatius (spicy biscuits) and Zimsterne (cinnamon biscuits) to put under the Christmas tree. Image via GetAway Travel.


4. WeihnachtsZauber Gendarmenmarkt (Berlin)

With over 60 Christmas markets spread across the city, Berliners certainly take their holiday season seriously. There’s a market for every taste, but the city’s most elegant and classical Christmas market can be found at the WeihnachtsZauber Gendarmenmarkt. Set in Berlin’s most beautiful square and bordered by the impressive Konzerthaus and the French and German churches, the market at Gendarmenmarkt is the prettiest of them all in Berlin. Visit this market for unique, handmade products and to taste the culinary delights from upmarket restaurants and hotels that set up outdoor stalls within the market. The live classical music and Christmas carol performances make for a lovely atmosphere. Image via Gendarmenmarkt Berlin.


5. Stuttgarter Weihnachtsmarkt (Stuttgart)

With over 280 lavishly decorated stalls, the Christmas market in Stuttgart is not only one of the oldest but also one of the largest in all of Europe! Spread throughout five cobblestoned squares in the centre of the city, the stallholders compete against one another enthusiastically for the claim of the annual best-decorated stall. The festive atmosphere is enhanced by nightly performances by talented musicians and choirs in the courtyard of the Old Palace against the backdrop of a magnificent Christmas tree. There’s an outdoor skating rink for kids young and old, a miniature steam railway and Grimm’s fairy tale figures – so nostalgic! Grab a bag of roasted chestnuts to nibble on as you wander around. Image via Stuttgart Weihnachtsmarkt.


6. Rothenburger Reiterlesmarkt (Rothenburg ob der Tauber)

Step into a real-life German winter fairy tale at the Rothenburger Reitlersmarkt in one of Germany’s most picturesque little towns, Rothenburg ob der Tauber. This little market has a long, medieval history and has been in existence for over 500 years. While you’re in town, make sure you visit Germany’s only fully-fledged Christmas Museum for a look at how Christmas traditions have changed over the centuries. Keep warm with a mug of Glühwein and a few of the famous Rothenburger Schneeballen (snowballs), made from shortcrust pastry rolled into balls and decorated with chocolate, nuts or with a marzipan filling. These treats have been enjoyed for over 300 years so it’s almost guaranteed you’ll love them too! Image via Rothenburg ob der Tauber Tourismus.


7. Freiburger Weihnachtsmarkt (Freiburg)

Located in the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) in southwest Germany, Freiburg has an enchanting medieval feel and, not surprisingly, a magical Christmas market. The little stalls fill the lanes of the old town, lined with half-timbered houses. One of the best things about the Freiburger Weihnachtsmarkt is the selection of locally made crafts for sale, such as ceramics, hand puppets, candles and amber jewellery. There are lots of interactive activities on offer to entertain the whole family, from beeswax candle making to biscuit-baking workshops. The Lebkuchen (gingerbread) and the Nonnenseufzer (freshly cooked doughnuts filled with apple) are festive favourites too!


8. Münchner Christkindlmarkt (Munich)

Historical Marienplatz, with its impressive neo-gothic Neue Rathaus (Town Hall), makes for a spectacularly festive setting for Munich’s oldest and most traditional Christmas market. The biggest attraction is the towering 26 metre Christmas tree, decorated with over 2,500 candles. There are over 150 stalls to browse and this is a great place to pick up some traditional Bavarian wood carvings for stocking-fillers or some Kletzenbrot, a Christmas fruit bread from the region. Image via Urlaubs Guru.


9. Augsburger Christkindlesmarkt (Augsburg)

The glittering Christmas market in this romantic city in southwest Bavaria near Munich is regarded as one of the most traditional in Germany. Attracting over a million visitors every year, it’s clear that this is a favourite among locals and tourists alike. Over 130 stalls are nestled snugly together selling all manner of Bavarian specialities and handcrafted gifts. A favourite among children is Augsburg’s ‘Fairy Tale Trail’ where scenes of well-known fairy tales are lovingly recreated in shop windows downtown. Don’t miss the incredible angel performance (every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 6pm) where 24 angels appear on the façade of the City Hall, transforming the building into a spectacular advent calendar! Image via Bavaria Tourism.


10. Bremen Weihnachtsmarkt (Bremen)

Located in north-western Germany near Hamburg, Bremen’s Christmas market is considered to be one of the most enchanting in Germany. Set amongst a city rich in Gothic architecture and historical tradition, the medieval-styled stalls create a magical festive ambience. Given the northern location of the city, this is a very good place to taste some smoked fish, a favourite among locals. Bremen also hosts something called ‘Schlachte Magic’ on the banks of the Weser River. Every day, a little door opens to reveal a new surprise, recreating the feeling of walking through a real-life advent calendar! Image via Bremen Tourism.

Have you experienced any Christmas markets in Germany? Which was your favourite?

Berlin, Expat Life, Germany

Why I’m Leaving Berlin (And What it Means for the Future)

December 4, 2015


In just one short month I’ll be packing up my Berlin apartment and boarding a plane back to Australia. What’s that all about? Why am I leaving Berlin and for how long? What will it mean for the blog and for the future? Here’s the lowdown on it all!

Why I’m leaving Berlin

There are a couple of reasons why we feel like we need to leave Berlin — a couple of them personal and a couple out of necessity. Firstly, and most importantly, we need to leave Germany for six months in order to keep our tax situation as uncomplicated as we can. Our company is based in Australia and so we need to be home for a certain proportion of the year to keep things from getting complicated with residency.

Secondly, our visa situation is a little tricky. You might remember that I applied for a Freelance Visa way back in August. My paperwork had to be sent off for approval and in the meantime I was given a six month extension on my previous Work Permit which was tied to my old job. I still haven’t heard anything about my visa and to be honest, I’m a little tired of german bureaucracy. Ben also needs to renew his Artist Visa, but the renewal process is complicated and requires a tax account to create a financial analysis of his situation, which in itself is costly and a bit of a hassle to arrange. So we’ve decided not to renew our visas or pursue it any further.

Then there are a bunch of personal reasons why we’re leaving and it really comes down to the fact that we’re simply missing home. We’ve been living in Berlin for two and a half years now and our time here has been jam packed full of adventures, but we need a break from Berlin now. We are missing our family and friends back home, are desperate to escape another seemingly interminable European winter in favour for an Australian heatwave and feel like we need to nourish our bodies with good-quality food. We miss how easy everything is back home and are becoming more and more frustrated with how difficult everything is over here (not only because of the language barrier but also because of the bureaucracy). Lastly, because for both of us our work is largely location independent, we are quite free to choose where we work and it just feels right to work from Australia right now.


What does this mean for the blog?

It means that you will start to see a whole lot more content on Australia! There isn’t much coverage of Australia on The Department of Wandering yet, since we’ve only had two short visits since we moved away, so I’m really looking forward to expanding this section on the blog. Living in Europe over the past couple of years has really made me keen to explore more of my home country — it’s so big and I really haven’t seen much of it! I hope to do quite a bit of travel within Australia while I’m home.

Of course, I still have one heck of a backlog of posts on Europe and also Expat Life to write about, so you’ll still be seeing lots of that content as usual.


Am I staying in Australia for good?

Not yet. Since Ben and I both work for ourselves now, our focus for the next little while is to continue to work towards building our businesses. That means that we need to be able to take opportunities that come our way or go and make them happen ourselves. Being tied to a lease, having to furnish a flat and accumulating ‘stuff’ is exactly the opposite of what we want to do right now so when we return, we’ll be shacking up with our parents. Since we won’t have a working space at home, we hope to rent a little studio space somewhere so we can be effective with our work. At this stage we’re planning on returning to Australia for a few months and then will re-evaluate where we need to be to give ourselves the best opportunities. And what about Europe? We’re coming back! We plan on following the sun and returning to Europe in mid 2016 sometime (just in time for the European summer), but just as tourists to keep things simple.

Guys, I’m itching to get back home and I can’t wait to take you with me x

Berlin, Expat Life, Germany

What is the Cost of Living in Berlin? My Berlin Budget Breakdown

November 25, 2015

In comparison to most other western European capitals, Berlin is a very affordable city for expats. In the past two and a half years we’ve been living here, we’ve been able to live a comfortable and enjoyable life (with lots of travel too) basically off one salary. There would be no way that we could lead the lifestyle we’re leading here back home in Melbourne, where prices are soaring. Being in Berlin has enabled us to feel like we have enough financial flexibility to take some risks and make decisions based on what makes us happy rather than what will pay mountains of bills. I get lots of emails about what it’s like to live in Berlin as an expat, so I thought I’d break down the cost of living in Berlin in terms of what we spend on the necessities evey month.


Cost of Living in Berlin: Our Monthly Expenses

Rent: €1070

Ben and I rent a fully furnished, large apartment in one of Berlin’s pricier neighbourhoods, Prenzlauer Berg. Our rent is on the more expensive side compared to what a lot of people pay, but it includes all utilities and internet and we didn’t have to furnish it. Our security deposit was only €200 too.

Health insurance: €165

It’s mandatory to have health insurance in Germany and, compared to prices in Australia at least, insurance is bloody expensive. I’m insured through Techniker Krankenkasse and pay the minimum amount, which I still find to be exorbitant, given that Ben is also paying for his too. Your premium is calculated based on how much you earn. If you are employed by a company, you pay half the premium and your employer pays the other half. When I worked at my last job, I was paying €200 per month, which meant that my insurance actually cost twice that. Paying this (ridiculous) amount of money every month is something I really resent. If I shopped around, I could possibly find a cheaper premium, but the insurance system is so complicated in Germany that many people (including Germans) need to rely on an insurance broker to help them navigate the system, which in itself is expensive.

Public transport: €58

Public transport is cheap in Berlin. I purchase a 10 am monthly ticket, which means I can travel only after 10am. This suits me just fine since I usually have nowhere to be before 10 am anyway!


Gym membership: €18.50

Yep, you read that correctly. I pay less than €5 per week for the gym, an incredibly cheap price compared to what I am used to in Melbourne. I go to SuperFit, which offers Les Mills classes and is open 24 hours, 365 days per year. A bargain!

Phone credit: €15

Since my phone is unlocked, I purchased a German sim card from Vodafone here and top my credit up when I need to. €15 usually lasts me the whole month, if I don’t obsess over Instagram when I’m off Wi-Fi!


Other Expenses: Food, Drinks and Entertainment

Depending on our income for that month, out spending habits vary. Here’s an indication of what we would pay for other things like food, drinks and entertainment.

Flat white: €3

Bag of coffee beans: €16

Coffee isn’t cheap in Berlin, since the Third Wave movement is still in its early stages. If you’re not fussy with your coffee though (I am) and are happy to have it from a bakery or convenience store, you’ll get a cup for a lot cheaper.

A meal out for two: €22

Generally we would order two mains and two drinks. We don’t go to expensive restaurants in Berlin, although we do like good quality ingredients and tasty fare. This lunch was €5 each and these mains were €8.40 each.


500ml beer in a bar: €3.50

500ml beer in a Späti (convenience store): €1.70

When it’s cheaper to buy beer than water, you know you’ve got a good deal here. You can even sit out the front of some Spätis and drink your beers there, like it was a bar. It’s not illegal to drink on the streets either, like it is back home.

Glass of wine in a bar: €4

Bottle of wine from a wine shop: €5

Compared to the heavy taxes on alcohol in Australia, which makes it very expensive, in Germany and in Berlin in particular, alcohol is incredibly cheap. A night out isn’t going to cost you an arm and a leg, like it would in Melbourne. I definitely drink more alcohol here in Berlin than I ever did in Australia and love to pick up my favourite bottle of red wine from Portugal for only €4.80 from the wine shop down the road.

Cinema ticket (Tuesday): €8.50


So there you have it! Obviously everyone’s situation in Berlin is different and there are lots of people that would spend less/more than we do per month on both the necessities and entertainment. The important thing for us is that Berlin’s affordability has enabled us to explore our passions without being crippled by money worries.

 What is the cost of living like where you are?

Australia, Expat Life

5 Things Australian Expats Miss About Home

November 17, 2015

Moving overseas to a foreign country is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’m so proud of myself for being courageous enough to dive headfirst into another culture and language, leaving all that is familiar behind. Living in Berlin over the past few years has seen me question the status quo, my career path and re-evaluate what I want from life. If I had never shaken things up by moving away from comfort and familiarity, I’m not sure certain that I never would have been as inspired and hungry for life as I am right now. There’s not much about being an expat that is easy, however, and all expats, no matter where they are in the world, come to miss certain things about home. For us from the land down under, here are five things Australian expats miss the most:


1. The weather

Australians are not allowed to complain about the weather. Nope. Not in my book. I don’t want to hear it. I’ve lived through not one but two harsh northern European winters now which last close to six months in length and I’m not even exaggerating. The coldest day in Berlin I’ve ever experienced reached a top of -14 °C . You can barely even call winter a season in Australia, with the average winter temperatures hovering around 13 degrees in the positive. Australia is a pretty warm place and even in its coldest season it’s often sunny so you can get a decent hit of Vitamin D. In northern Europe, come February when it’s been grey and gloomy for almost as long as you can remember, you better make sure you get your hands on some Vitamin D supplements before you get a serious case of the SADs. Believe me. I know.


2. The beaches

Australians are beach babies. Yep, just about all of us. 85% of Australians live within 50 km of the coast and for the majority of us, having easy access to the beach is something we take for granted. The beach occupies a special place in our national identity and plays an important role to most Australians. It wasn’t until I moved to Europe that I realised that beaches here are really nothing compared to what we have back home. Sure, they can be dramatic and rocky or smooth and pebbly, and the water can be crystal clear in places like Croatia, Turkey and Greece, but if you’re someone who has grown up near golden or white sand beaches with expansive stretches of coastline where it’s not difficult to find your own little spot to have completely to yourself, you realise when you move away, how good you had it back home.


3. The coffee

In all my travels, I have never visited a place that makes a better flat white than Australia does. Sure, London and Copenhagen serve top-notch coffee, but the coffee culture just isn’t as ingrained and widespread as it is in Australia and most specifically, Melbourne. I miss the days of wandering around the neighbourhoods of Fitzroy, Collingwood, Abbotsford and Richmond, cafe hopping and knowing with absolute certainty that any place I stopped into was going to serve a killer brew. For coffee fiends like me, Berlin is a little too slow on the Third Wave front for my liking.


4. The people

There’s no two ways about it: Australians are simply some of the friendliest people in the world. They’re approachable, relaxed and open, they love a good chat at the supermarket checkout and smiles come easily to them. Indeed, one of their favourite expressions is ‘no worries’. Germans, and in particular Berliners, on the other hand, are a little bit different. Pleasantries are not commonplace here. Smiles aren’t thrown around so easily. Small talk is deemed to be inefficient and a waste of time. Interactions are curt, blunt and direct. If I come across someone who smiles at me at the post office or offers to go out of their way to help me, I find myself marvelling at how nice that person was, when really, this is just commonplace in Australia. When I visit home, I seem to always be commenting on how friendly everyone is. It’s out of the ordinary for me to encounter so many warm people so when I visit home, I walk around almost in a state of blissful wonder. I seem to have forgotten that it’s normal to be nice where I come from.


5. The food

While Berlin does have a lot of different international food on offer, I’m honestly always surprised when I read about the ‘Berlin food scene’. To be honest, I’m constantly disappointed by the quality and range of food and ingredients on offer over here and find myself often let down. I didn’t realise how spoilt I was in Australia until I moved away. I mean, I haven’t been able to find broccolini since I moved here. Am I searching the wrong markets or is it just not a thing here? What do Germans have against baby broccoli? As a lover of spicy Asian, Indian and Mexican food too, I find it so strange that there is no aisle in the supermarkets that offer shrimp paste, fish sauce or corn tortillas for purchase — staples in my kitchen cupboard! When I go home and visit the supermarkets with their fancy self-serve checkouts, payWave functions and whole aisles dedicated to international ingredients, I walk around in a awe. So much choice! Better yet, when I stroll down the streets of my old neighbourhood in Fitzroy in Melbourne and I just casually pop in for a freekeh salad with barberries, quinoa, kale, beetroot, sumac yoghurt and honeyed seeds, or a proper legit bahn mi, I know now, having been away, that I’ve been more than a little spoilt back in Oz.


Thinking of moving abroad to become an expat yourself? You might like to read the following posts:

♥ Read about personal expat experiences from lots of expats around the world in the Expats Share feature.

10 Reasons Why You Should Become an Expat

10 Quotes About Expat Life

6 Australian Habits I Lost in Germany

So You’ve Moved to Berlin… Now What? 10 Items for Your Expat To-do List

Are you an expat? What do you miss most about your home country?

Italy, Wanderlust Wednesday

Wanderlust Wednesday: 15 Photos That Will Make You Want to Visit Florence

November 4, 2015


One of Europe’s most revered cities, Florence attracts huge numbers of travellers every year who come to feast on its art, architecture, history and food. When I learnt that I had won a voucher a few months ago, it didn’t take me much time or consideration to decide which city I wanted to visit. Set amongst the rolling Tuscan hills, Florence is the cradle of Renaissance art, with over one million works housed in its galleries. It’s been an Italian fashion hub since the 1950s, giving birth to the likes of Gucci, Roberto Cavalli and Pucci. Do I even need to mention the food? The succulent bistecca fiorentina (Florentine steak), a symbol of the city, the fruity gelato and the endlessly flowing chianti will send you into a blissful food coma you will never want to wake up from!

Florence is anything but a secret, however, and I wasn’t the only one whose imagination the city had captured. It was crowded, with the famous sites of the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, the Uffizi Gallery and the Piazza della Signoria exceptionally so, even in late September. You might know that I hate crowds, especially the iPad-wielding, selfie-stick kind, so Ben and I pretty much ran in the opposite direction and spent most of our time south of the Arno river where it was much quieter. We hid away and spent our days exploring the back lanes off busy streets, eating gelato and never missing aperitivo time. We didn’t see any art — a crime many would say! — but we just weren’t prepared to wait three hours in line when we only had two days in the city. We’ll be back, that much we know, and we’re saving the art (and associated crowds) for next time.

15 photos that will make you want to visit Florence:






florence_golden hour










If you’re planning on visiting Florence and want to see some of the city’s most popular sites (unlike what I did!), there’s a great post on World of Wanderlust you should read: You can’t go to Florence and not see these 20 must-see Florence attractions.

Have you ever been to Florence? Leave a comment below or use the hashtag #wanderlust_wednesday on Instagram to share your experience with me!

Berlin, Germany, Travel

Berlin Neighbourhood Guide: Mitte

October 31, 2015

Mitte translates to ‘middle’ in English and is Berlin’s central district and the neighbourhood where the majority of tourists choose base themselves. Home to the city’s most famous landmarks and most beautiful architecture, here is The Department of Wandering’s guide on how to make the most of Berlin’s historic centre.

Where: Central Berlin

Popular U-Bahn and S-Bahn Stations: Hauptbahnhof, Friedrichstrasse, Rosenthaler Platz



The Barn Roastery and Café

The Barn’s opening three years ago signalled a marked change in coffee culture in Berlin. Coffee is taken very seriously here, with all manner of Third Wave coffee contraptions filling the expansive roastery space on Schönhauser Allee. For a quieter, more relaxed vibe, head to The Barn Café, located off trendy Augustraße.


The beautiful, wooden, Nordic design and friendly baristas at Kaschk make it a lovely place to grab a coffee and set up your laptop for the day. The coffee here is some of the best in Mitte. If you’re not a coffee drinker, they also have a great range of craft beers on offer too.

Distrikt Coffee

Tucked away on a quiet street off hip Torstraße, Distrikt Coffee is a lovely place to spend a slow morning. It’s spacious but homely and you’ll want to linger over a few cups of great coffee after a great brunch. Top menu items here include the super food bowl with acai, chia seeds, goji berries, cacao nibs, berries and granola, or the buttermilk pancakes with berry maple syrup, banana, citrus butter and basil.

Oslo Kaffeebar

Owned by the same team as Kaschk, Oslo Kaffee Bar has been fitted out in a Scandinavian style. Its location is out of the way of the main tourist thoroughfare, which makes it that little more special.

Father Carpenter

This new café has been open for only a year and is tucked away in a beautiful brick courtyard off Münzstraße. They serve top-notch coffee in pretty blue cups along with yummy small treats.


Lunch / Dinner:

Café Oliv

This tastefully designed café is located only five minutes from Alexanderplatz on one of Mitte’s popular shopping streets. This is the place to go if you’re craving healthy food and quality ingredients. Prices are on the pricier side but you’ll be feeling fabulous afterwards!


Newly opened Neta at Rosenthaler Platz is a Mexican street food eatery with a focus on authentic cooking and simple, fresh ingredients. Mexican food can too often be heavy and oily, but the opposite is true at Neta. The pork burrito here is my favourite.

Shiso Burger

This little Korean and American fusion eatery serves the best Asian burgers in town that don’t make you feel like you want to curl up and fall asleep afterwards. The burgers are of a sensible size and are served in bamboo steamers. I always order a chilli lemon burger, sweet potato fries and edamame.



This popular hipster health food cafe serves nutrient-packed, vegan and raw food as well as fresh juices and smoothies. The health conscious will never want to leave!


Always packed, Transit serves mouth-watering Southeast Asian tapas. Order three or four small plates per person to share, which has the extra benefit of allowing you to sample more of the menu! Reservations are a good idea here.

Cocolo Ramen

Although a larger, second Cocolo Ramen has opened in Kreuzberg, the original, tiny restaurant is in Mitte right around the corner from Shiso Burger. Come here for the best ramen in Berlin and watch the chefs prepare it right in front of you.



This Jewish delicatessen located in the beautiful old building of a former Jewish Girls’ School is THE PLACE to come for the best pastrami sandwich going around. While service can be slow and prices aren’t the cheapest in Berlin, it’s so worth it.

Katz Orange

Save this one for a special occasion; Katz Orange serves some of the best food in Mitte with a focus on seasonal ingredients and beautiful presentation.

Dean & Dan

You can’t miss newly opened Dean & Dan at Rosenthaler Platz with its bright neon sign advertising ‘superfoods and organic liquids’. I love the acai bowls here.


La Foccaceria

For a quick, cheap lunch, duck into La Foccaceria near Zionkirchplatz. They serve focaccia topped with all manner of pizza toppings and you can buy them for only €1.50 per slice.

Chicago Williams

If you like your meat, Chicago Williams is your place. Come here for multi-person meat platters, ribs and smoked meat of all kinds.

District Mot

Although the service here is not the friendliest, District Mot serves surprisingly authentic Vietnamese food. While Monsieur Vuong might be busier, the quality of the food at District Mot is far superior. The focus here is on Saigon street food and I can never go past the Bun Cha.


To drink:

Mein Haus am See

Mein Haus am See is a former bookshop and warehouse located at Rosenthaler Platz and is a favourite gathering place. With its homely feel, flea market styled décor and unique stepped seating area, it’s a fun place to unwind at the end of the day.

Café am Neuen See

A Biergarten located in leafy Tiergarten, Café am Neuen See is a peaceful location for a drink in summer. Relax by the water or hire a boat and go paddling.

Strandbar Mitte

An open air bar located on the banks of the Spree opposite the Bode Museum, the Strandbar Mitte transforms into an open air dance party in summer, with salsa, tango and cha-cha evenings rotating.

Amano Hotel Rooftop Bar

For stunning views of the city skyline from a central location, the rooftop bar at the Amano Hotel near Rosenthaler Platz is a lovely spot to head around sundown in the warmer months.


To see:

TV Tower

While the iconic TV Tower can be seen keeping a watchful eye over you from just about anywhere in the city, it you’re keen to ascend to the top of Germany’s highest structure, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views across Berlin.


In 1933 it was here at Bebelplatz outside Humboldt University that thousands of books went up in flames during the infamous Nazi book burnings. Today there is a thought-provoking memorial here that should be viewed by any visitor.

Museum Island

The UNESCO World Heritage listed Museum Island contains a cluster of five world-renowned museums filled with treasures. Buy a three-day pass for the most economic way to see the best museums the city has to offer.


Hitler’s Bunker

When Berlin was burning in 1945 and the Soviets were advancing, Adolf Hitler committed suicide together with wife Eva Braun in his bunker. Although the bunker no longer exists having been blown up by the Soviets, you can visit the site of it where an unassuming car park has been built over it. A small information panel is the only clue as to what happened here.

Humboldt University

Here at Berlin’s oldest university, this was where Albert Einstein and the Brothers Grimm taught and Marx and Engels studied. A number of Nobel Prize winners were produced here and the grand structures are something to behold!


The seat of Germany’s parliament should have a place on every visitor’s itinerary. The building is magnificent and to truly appreciate all its history, book online to go inside and up to the glass dome for incredible views of Berlin.



One of the most beautiful squares in Berlin, Gendarmenmarkt, with its grand, opulent structures feels like no other place in the entire city. Home to two huge cathedrals and the magnificent Konzerthaus (concert house), this district feels more like Paris or London than Berlin.

Deutsches Historisches Museum

Covering 1500 years of German history, this incredible museum is housed in a Prussian-era armoury. There are a lot of very interesting artefacts housed here.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The extraordinary design of this memorial creates a feeling of unease and dislocation within visitors, replicating the Jewish experience during the Third Reich.


Berliner Dom

Berlin’s largest cathedral is located right next to the museums of Museum Island and is a truly magnificent piece of architecture to appreciate. Climb to the dome for great views of the immediate area.

Topography of Terror

On the foundations of where the Gestapo and SS Headquarters once stood now exists a chilling exhibition that tracks the stages of terror and persecution by the brutal institutions in power. Entry is free.

Brandenburg Gate

Undoubtedly one of Berlin’s most famous attractions, the Brandenburg Gate sits at the end of the beautiful tree-lined boulevard of Unter den Linden. Try and arrive early to beat the crowds.


Potsdamer Platz

Potsdamer Platz is located in the heart of Berlin at the junction between the former east and west. Be sure to check out the impressive architecture that is the Sony Centre and maybe check out a movie for a low-key evening.


Tiergarten is to Berliners what Central Park is to New Yorkers. This enormous park located in the centre of the city opposite the Brandenburg Gate makes for a lovely place to take a walk, ride a bike or have a picnic.

New Synagogue

The beautiful golden dome of the New Synogogue peeking out above the buildings is a dazzling sight. This historical structure is now on of the most important places of worship for Jews all over Germany. For a small entry fee you can go inside and learn about its turbulent history and admire its beautiful interior.


The Spree

Grab a drink and find a spot to relax along the Spree, the river that snakes its way through Berlin.

Platoon Kunsthalle

This exciting art venue constructed out of 34 shipping containers regularly holds exhibitions, workshops, performances and events. There’s always something exciting going on!

Do You Read Me?

This is the place to come if you need some new reading material for an upcoming flight. Stocking a huge selection of beautiful, indie magazines on travel, food and art, you won’t walk away empty handed.

What are your favourite places to eat, drink and see in Mitte? Share them in the comments below!

Germany, Wanderlust Wednesday

Wanderlust Wednesday: 10 Photos That Will Make You Want To Visit Hamburg

October 21, 2015


I’m not quite sure why it took me this long to visit Hamburg. Now that I’ve been, I see exactly what all the fuss is about and am pinching myself for not having visited sooner! This beautiful maritime city is home to Europe’s second largest port, which houses over 13,000 ships from all over Europe. No wonder Hamburg is fondly known as the ‘The gateway to the world’. Its maritime spirit truly does permeate into every facet of the city. There are entire hotels designed with a naval theme, the ever-present cry of seagulls, as well as it being the place to eat some of the freshest fish in the country. The latticework of canals near the Elbe has Hamburg rivalling Amsterdam, Stockholm or Burges for the title of the ‘Venice of the north’. There is much to be discovered in Hamburg and, having only spent an afternoon exploring the areas around the Speicherstadt (the oldest warehouse district in the world) and the port, I can’t wait to return to uncover what else this pretty city has to offer.

10 photos that will make you want to visit Hamburg:


For more travel inspiration on Hamburg you might like:

Dropping Anchor at Hamburg’s 25Hours Hotel Hafencity

If you’re planning a trip to Hamburg, Nomadic Matt has put together a great guide on some of the best things to do in this city in his post, The Saturday City: Hamburg

Have you ever been to Hamburg? Leave a comment below or use the hashtag #wanderlust_wednesday on Instagram to share your experience with me!

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