Category Archives: Five for Friday

5 great reasons to take the Eurail

Lisbon station - travelling light

At Lisbon station, heading to Oporto…

After a couple of brief train trips, at speed, in Italy and France, I thought we’d lost our minds deciding to (mostly) train it around Switzerland, Portugal and Spain for 10 weeks.

But after an ‘initiation of fire’ in Tokyo’s efficient maze of subways and metro lines, we were well-prepared for our train adventures in Europe. And now we are huge fans…

Here’s five great reasons to take the train – and five tips on doing it stress-free. All aboard!

Reasons to ride


On past Europe adventures, we’ve always hired a car and hit the road. Taking a train around Europe just seemed like too much trouble. Who wants to be tied to train schedules and stuck with booking seats, dragging baggage off and on trains – and up and down stairs?

In fact, it’s super convenient and relaxing. This was confirmed for us when we hired a car to drive from Oporto to Estoril – when the hire car people didn’t set up our GPS to recognise the streets of Portugal (read how to fix that problem here). Give me the train anytime…


View from train in SwitzerlandThe best thing about train travel is you can both sit back and enjoy the ride. There’s always a restaurant car if you’re peckish, and the toilets are usually clean (especially on Swiss trains).

There’s no traffic, tolls or fuel stops and you arrive at your destination ready for the next adventure.

Cost effective

It seems expensive to go by train, especially because you pay for your ticket, then you can pay up to €25 (for domestic travel) to reserve your seat for each trip.

But compared to the cost of hiring a car, insurance, fuel, tolls and a GPS – and finding your way around when the GPS has a hissy fit or the fuse blows – then train travel is a pretty good deal.

We had the ‘select pass’ which lets you travel in 2-4 bordering countries of your choice, for a specific number of ‘travel days’. Read all about it here.

It makes you travel light

Knowing you have to be mobile and flexible is a great incentive for lightening your load. So you pack what you’d like to take, and then you take half of it out. There is nothing better than streamlining your stuff (this from me, your classic over-packer) and feeling an incredible lightness of being.

It gets you out of your comfort zone

At first, train travel can be daunting. You’re in unfamiliar territory, you don’t speak the language and, when you arrive at your destination, you have to find your hotel. It helps to have a decent street map (see tips below) and to leave the station at the right exit!

But after you’ve been doing it a few times, you really get into the swing of it – and even enjoy the process.

Tips to keep you on track

Book your seats

Ignorance may be bliss, but not when you jump on the train, find a great seat – and discover it belongs to someone else. You end up standing uncomfortably near the doors, wondering what to do next…

While the guards were friendly and helpful to us two crazy Aussies, we made sure to reserve seats for our next trip each time we arrived at a destination. You can reserve your Eurail seats up to three months in advance, which is my ‘note to self’ for next time!

Fill in your travel document

Before the train leaves the station, always complete the travel details on your Euro-pass, with your name, passport number and (most importantly) the date you’re travelling.

Always complete your Eurail passYes, the guards will check it… carefully. No, never change a date or the information. We saw someone caught out and it wasn’t pretty. It would be hard to swift talk these guards (who have heard it all) when you speak the language, let alone when you don’t. As the hapless couple found to their peril (and a dent in their travel funds).

Travel light

travelling light

Leaving Australia for 10 weeks away, with just our small carry on bags. Can we do it? Yes we did!

The biggest thing I noticed on our train travels was the ridiculous amount of luggage people had with them. I swear some of them were moving house.

The size and weight of their bags made every entry and exit a drama – and I was so glad we travelled light.

It meant we were flexible and mobile – and our backs didn’t cave in with all the lifting.

It’s surprising how little you need – especially in Europe where the women have turned flats and loafers into high fashion.

If you want to spot the touristes femmes, look for women hobbling across the cobblestones in killer heels, while the locals are striding out in their stylish flats looking supremely elegant.

Know where you’re going

After peering at the black & white maps our travel agent printed off for us, we decided there are two types of maps you’ll need:

  1. The train line maps, available at any station, so you know the route and the stops – even though it’s announced on the train, it’s good to keep track so you’re not scrambling to get off at the last minute
  2. Colour maps showing your hotel and the station, so you know where you’re going when you get off the train – and the exit to take. Sometimes you’ll take a taxi, but if your hotel is easy walking distance, it’s great to hit the ground and get your bearings (as long as you’re travelling light!).

Get there early

We only got caught out once in Portugal, when we weren’t prepared for a huge line-up to get onto the train. We missed it and had to wait almost two hours for the next train. Cheap lesson – and we weren’t caught out again. It’s not unusual to see people rushing to their carriage, dragging massive bags, but that’s more like hell than a holiday!

There will always be train-travel skeptics, but we absolutely loved the whole adventure. So don’t be put off – but do travel light and be prepared. Then sit back and enjoy the ride…

5 great things to do in Cordoba, Spain

It’s Friday – here in Spain anyway. So here’s our Five for Friday great things to do in the beautiful city of Cordoba (and on your travels, wherever you are in the world).


la-furgo-1Don’t walk past La Furgo on Calle Ronda de Isasa! We found it by accident (or divine intervention) and knew we had stumbled upon foodie heaven.

Chef Manuel Morilla is passionate about creating innovative food and it shows – so be ready for divine flavours, great wine and service with attitude (in a good way).

We just had to go back for lunch the next day and Manuel invited us to taste-test a new dish. I’m a pescatarian but this could convert even me. Stunning.

And yes, there are delicious choices for vegetarians (I think I tried them all!).



© Louise Creely 2016Immerse yourself in history and tranquility at the Hammam Al Andalus Arab Baths.

Once a vital part of Islamic hygiene and public health, the hammam was also a meeting place where people could relax and socialise.

When we were in Ronda, it was the weekend so the hammam was fully booked. But we booked in early at the Cordoba bathhouse – and we weren’t disappointed.

There were a few tourists unfamiliar with the routine in the bathhouse and a little anxious about what they should do.

So be prepared to go with the flow – from that first icy plunge, to the tingling lukewarm soak, on to the hot bath, then the steam room.

Along the way there is time to relax with a massage, mint tea and cool water. Perfection right there.


Like Japanese Onsens, photos aren’t allowed in the bathhouse…


Okay, these aren’t exactly playmates – but they are fun to watch. This was another unplanned visit (because we like to discover stuff along the way), but Zoo de Cordoba is so worth it!

I’ll let the pictures do the talking with these content, cute and sometimes crazy creatures…



Be sure to get out on the streets at dusk and into the night. It’s safe, beautiful – and you never know who you’ll meet out there!



2016-10-11-18-17-17It’s too easy to just tick off all the tourist attractions – and to get caught up in the dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out).

I’m sure we’ve missed so much along the way – but we’ve also discovered amazing places, met great local people, and had exceptional experiences.

So wherever you are in the world, be there.

It’s the difference between being a traveller on this planet – or a tourist.

Happy travels!

Take 5 for Friday

It’s easy to get caught up in capturing the right shot and having the perfect life (thank you, social media). At some point, you might just wonder where the pure childlike joy went.

It’s time to Take 5. So strap on those runners, grab your camera (or phone), and head out the door.

As you walk, take five photos of things that catch your eye, give you joy or just make you feel good.

Take 5 (Aug 10)

It’s not about about being arty. It’s not a competition. It’s about noticing the things that make you happy.

The most important part happens back at home. Look at your photos and write down what each one means to you. Why did it grab your attention? Why did it make you feel good?

Here’s what the pics I took mean to me:

  1. Pandanus palms withstand sea spray, wind and drought and still look great – what’s not to love about such resilience?
  2. IMG_1903This pelican made me smile because it held itself aloof from the other pelicans waiting for the fisherfolk to arrive and clean their daily catch – no begging for this cool customer! Just comfortable in its own – um – feathers
  3. The winter wind was chilly but the salty water was deliciously fresh
  4. You can’t help smiling at Pigface, a creeping succulent that’s a pop of colour among the rocks
  5. Aqua blue water you just want to sink into.

It’s all about taking a trip without leaving your suburb.

Sure, it helps if you live near the beach – but those moments can happen anywhere. Even in your own backyard. Here’s proof from my place…


Now it’s your turn… Let’s get happy!


Five great reasons to visit Portugal

MP900305799I’ve wanted to go to Portugal for such a long time – and it’s finally happening! Why Portugal? I thought you’d never ask!

Here’s five great reasons to visit Portugal:

  1. Lisbon – a city that is truly vintage Europe, with all the traditions and gorgeousness without the hype.
  2. Feasts – naturally it varies from region to region, but there are national obsessions like bacalhau (salted cod) and cozido à portuguesa (stew), and other gourmet delights matched with perfect Portuguese wine, mmmmm.
  3. Pilgrim’s trail – the Camino Portugué is a more rural take on the traditional pilgrim’s trail in Spain… passing through lush forests, terraced fields, vineyards and sleepy villages (sounds perfect to me!).
  4. Porto – the home of port of course. Add cruising on the Douro with some port tastings along the way, and strolling through the maze of steep, narrow cobbled streets. Perfection right there.
  5. Beachy bliss – the Algarve region is a favourite coastal hangout for locals and tourists. With year-round sun and gorgeous temperatures, a stunning coastline and all the culture of Portugal, it’s a no brainer we’ll be spending some time there – and coming back to cycle it sometime soon!

But my favourite part is that Portugal is fresh – off the beaten tourist trail and the perfect place to hang out as part of our very compressed ‘golden gap year’ from September to mid-November. Bring it on…


Five for Friday: getting unstuck

Copyright: Louise RalphI’ve been thinking a lot about ‘stuckness’ this week, and what keeps us in that immovable yet frantically busy place where we just don’t have the time to do the things that make our spirits soar.

Perhaps it’s a kind of dysfunctional aspiration, where we’re literally buying into the myth that we have to work our butts off to get money, so we can get more cool stuff – and then struggle to pay off the debts we’re drowning in.

We’re constantly bombarded with messages that tell us if we get this thing or that thing, we’ll be happy.

Except happiness is usually in the other direction – in a life where you live with less, especially less stress. Where you don’t surround yourself with mostly useless stuff, and you don’t live to work so you can consume more useless stuff. And you get time, every day, to paint or write or surf or paddle… or whatever it is that you love to do.

So here’s my five for Friday:

  1. Reflect – instead of being consumed with busyness, take time out to reflect. To think about the things that really make you feel awesomely fulfilled.
  2. Be brutal – when you look at your life and how you live, work out what you really need to survive. Because most of us have a skewed perception of what we need versus what we want.
  3. Take the challenge – if you’re in a ‘stuff’ rut and your place looks like Hoarder Central, start to streamline fast, and then practice living with less. There’s something satisfying about selling or gifting things you don’t need, but someone else might! 
  4. Get real – we often run around frantically because we don’t want to face our fears. Sometimes we’re so smart, we get into more debt or more busyness because then we’ve got the perfect excuse not to make the change… (guilty, we are!)
  5. Make the change – it’s usually fear that holds us back from making those big changes – what if it turns out to be an epic fail? But… what if it turns out to be the best thing you’ve ever done in your life?

Copyright: Louise RalphFor us, it’s about adjusting the aspirations we’ve been sucked into (often willingly yet naively), so we can start living the life we’ve imagined.

With so much less, but ultimately so much more of everything important to us.

Especially time – time to look after our health, to hang out with family and friends, to take on the projects we love, to give something back to our community, and to explore our world… on a shoestring (or a bike).

We’re working on getting unstuck. Starting now. How about you?

Happy Friday!

What’s your excuse?

Here’s five for Friday…on Wednesday

Copyright: Louise Ralph

the silver path less travelled…

EB and I are always talking about one day… that mythical time when we take the plunge and go off on our golden gap year to cycle through Europe or travel around Australia.

But (and there’s always a ‘but’) there are so many reasons (excuses) why we can’t shake off the bowlines and sail away from the safe harbour

Here are our ‘bowlines’ – maybe you recognise some of them?

  1. Employment – we can’t give up our businesses just yet, it would be too hard to start again or get another job, and we have to keep earning…
  2. Money – we need to pay down debt, sell our properties, eat, save to support ourselves in our old age so we’re not a burden on our…
  3. Family – because being FIFO (fly-in, fly-out) parents and grandies sounds fun and exotic but it’s heart wrenching being away for a long…
  4. Time – because we never have enough of it, our schedules are crazy, it’s never quite the right time, and…
  5. What if… we throw our lives up in the air and it all comes crashing down in a heap, and we can’t rebuild it and we live to regret it.

But that’s the point, isn’t it?

Regrets. In the end, we would regret NOT doing it, which would define us more than money or business – or existing for our family (who want us to do it, if only so we’ll shut up about it).

So when I look at our list of bowlines (reasons or excuses), they seem pretty lame really.

Even family, because how inspiring would it be to know your parents or grandparents were out there in the world somewhere, living the life they’d imagined?

How much nicer to arrive bearing gifts, and leave while they’re still clapping…?

Perhaps the real questions are: Do you want to keep earning money to pay for a lifestyle you don’t want? And if not now…when?

What’s holding you back from your adventures?

Five for Friday… travel tips

Copyright: Louise Ralph

EB hanging around in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Who doesn’t love Fridays? As the work day winds down, everything seems possible and that delicious sound of your computer trilling its way to ‘off’ – well, it’s the call of the wild, isn’t it?

Speaking of wild, here are our ‘five for Friday’ travel tips – the things we love to do and definitely want to do more of when we get away…

  1. Be flexible – it seems easier to have everything booked, but what you pick up in security and certainty, you can lose in fresh perspectives – like being taken for a ride (literally) and picking up some brilliant and slightly weird travel memories in Ho Chi Minh city or getting lost and eating at a back-street trattoria owned by two elderly (and fiesty) sisters. And, of course, certainty isn’t always guaranteed even when you pre-book – like a friend who booked a hotel online only to discover, on arrival, that it was closed for renovation (aka indefinitely)
  2. Be flâneurs  – and hit the streets when you arrive (so make sure you’re fit enough to do it before you go). It’s definitely the best way to see places, meet people, get lost and find yourself…

    Copyright: Louise Ralph

    There’s nothing shy about these kids on the streets of Sapa… priceless

  3. Immerse yourself – there’s nothing wrong with getting a taste test of countries, but it’s so much better to base yourself somewhere for a week or more and really immerse yourself in the culture. After ten days in Sarlat-la-Canéda in France, we were on nodding (and sometimes hugging) terms with the locals, which just goes to show that a smile and a laugh is the universal language
  4. Book into apartments – when you’re travelling for longer than a couple of weeks, you really get tired of eating out (no matter how fabulous the food is!). Being able to make your own breakfast or buy local produce to whip up a fabulous dinner is just bliss. It makes you feel at home in the world…
  5. Say YES – because travelling isn’t all happy snaps. It’s a human drive to seek safety (and avoid feeling anxious, uncertain, uncomfortable, scared). It’s easier to stick to the tourist spots when you could go slightly off-piste and discover amazing places and people. Easier to drive when you could cycle or paddle or walk. Easier to take a cruise than experiment with indi-travel. But, now that you’ve said yes to travel, why not embrace the strange encounters and breathtaking experiences along the way…

Happy travels…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Five for Friday… places we’d rather be

Grassy Head near Yarrahapinni NSW

Grassy Head near Yarrahapinni NSW, Australia

It’s that time of year when the holidays are over, work’s in full swing, and you’re grappling with slipping resolutions.

EB and I have just made it through a ‘dry’ February – even celebrating our anniversary and moving house without the assistance of beer or bubbles.

And while our livers are no doubt eternally grateful, we’re feeling restless as that other ‘travel more’ resolution has our thoughts wandering off to places we’d rather be…

Here’s five of them, just for starters.

  1. Cinque Terre, Italy: The gorgeous villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore hugging the rugged coastline are top of the list for me, and kicking back to a slower pace (well, especially on those steep trails between villages) is simply irresistible…
  2. Lawn Hill Gorge in Outback Australia: Boodjamulla National Park has been on our must-do list for years. We’d love to be paddling through those ancient gorges right now, but the best time to visit is in the dry season from May to September – wildlife, indigenous art sites, emerald waters and serenity. Ah.
  3. Masai mara, Africa: I read Louise Southerden’s Memories or Mara (SMH, 23 February 2014) on Sunday and it gave me goosebumps – I love her writing style and now I really (really) want to go there.
  4. Croatia’s coastline: A Croatian friend swears it’s the most stunning coastline in the world and from the photos we’ve seen he’s not exaggerating. With 2,000km of coastline and 50 inhabited islands to choose from, The Guardian’s Reader’s tips look useful for picking where to be to lap it up (and not get swamped with tourists)
  5. Bourdeaux, France: A city surrounded by vineyards and delightful villages? Seems like the perfect place to hang out after our vino-free month – and because, of course, nous aimons France.

Well, that only made us feel more restless. What’s on your list of places you’d rather be? Happy (day-dreamy) Friday!

Five for Friday … fit for a traveller’s life

checklist2The silly season lists are getting ticked off. Santa’s about to get all the credit. You’re utterly exhausted – and you couldn’t fit another thing in.

But the new year looms, and I’ll bet you’re already getting swept up in that whole ‘resolutions list’ thing like I am. Even when I tell myself “not this year”.

Why do we consistently fail to do what’s on our list? Because we’re writing the WRONG lists.

Okay, it’s just a theory I came up with recently. But I’m so tired of writing lists I don’t stick to – like losing those extra kilos this year and getting super (try-athlete) fit and not letting life get in the way of… the list.

So here’s a new list for keeping healthy and fit wherever we are (or are going to) in the world:

  1. Be grateful: There’s nothing more energising than knowing you are blessed, even with the things we take for granted like wriggling our toes, shelter, sustenance, a breath, a thought, a heart beat…
  2. Re-sensitize: Battered as we are by constant stimuli, desensitizing has become our survival. Time to crank up those five gifts and lap up your life …. look, listen, smell, touch, taste (and enjoy!)
  3. Trip out: Travel every day, even if it’s only seeing ordinary things with new eyes
  4. Respect yourself: Love your body, whatever shape you’re in, and enjoy the passion of movement
  5. Indulge: In laughter, lots of it. Apart from giving your abs a workout, you’ll have more energy, less stress and a spring in your step.

Yes, EB is busy organising our cycling odyssey through Europe – and (loudly) delighting in my potential trip-specific training!

But whether it’s epic plans or minor moments, keeping fit and healthy so you’re ready to go anytime is important – because it slips, day by day and year by year, if we stop paying attention.

So let’s do the lists, but let’s do it right. It will make our new year resolutions so much more achievable.

Well, that’s my theory.


More posts you might like:

The Upside of Failure

Pitch (Im)perfect

Bistaarai, bistaarai… slowly, slowly.

Five for Friday… well said

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Everyone smiles in the same language (Vietnam, 2006)

I’m always coming across clever or quirky words some wise or witty person has said – words that inspire me, make me think or make me laugh.

I scribble them down on bits of paper… and they promptly get sucked up in the vortex that is my office and my life.

After scrabbling around for a bit, I’ve found some of my favourite (travel) quotes.

Here’s five for Friday… just in time for the weekend.


  1. “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” (Mary Anne Radmacher)
  2. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” (Mark Twain)
  3. “Personally I like going places where I don’t speak the language, don’t know anybody, don’t know my way around and don’t have any delusions that I’m in control. Disoriented, even frightened, I feel alive, awake in ways I never am at home.” (Michael Mewshaw)
  4. “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” (Ernest Hemingway)
  5. “I haven’t been everywhere yet. But it’s on the list.” (unknown)
Copyright: Louise Ralph

Vietnam (2006)