Category Archives: Getting active

Weekly wisdom – live well

It’s too easy to wait until we get really unwell to do something about how well we live:

Eat and exercise like you’re a diabetic heart patient
with a stroke – so you never become one.    

                                                            Author unknown

A great reminder – if only I could remember where I read it (apologies to the author).

Girl on bike (bronze)

A bronze sculpture in Singapore’s Botanical Gardens


5 great reasons to take the Eurail

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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

Convenient

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…

Relaxing

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…


The colours of Madrid

© Louise Creely 2017

A different perspective… city view from the Caixa Forum on the Paseo del Prado

© Louise Creely 2017From museums,  art galleries, gardens, enormous monuments and stunning architecture, to delicious food and wine, and welcoming people… Madrid knows how to switch it on.

One of the things EB and I love to do when we hit a new city is to walk. A lot.

So it’s no surprise that hitting the streets with a bunch of like-minded food and wine lovers, and getting the inside goss from a local expert, is the perfect thing to do.

In many of the cities we visit, we’ll book into a foodie and vino tour, just to get a feel for the place.

food-and-wine-tour-pouring-ciderThis time we’re off on Viator’s Madrid Tapas Night Walking Tour. Apart from practicing weird cider pouring methods and learning the joys of tapas and Spanish wine on a tour like this, we often pick up tips and tour ideas from fellow travellers and have heaps of fun doing it.

Back out on the streets on our own, we soon discover some favourite places to hang out, like Vinoteca Vides on Calle Libertad (freedom street). It’s the place to be for brilliant wines, switched-on service and a great atmosphere…

With our thing for Asian-fusion food, we can’t walk past Bambubox and we’re not disappointed.

This is Thai food with a delicious modern twist, served by our lovely waiter (now friend) Thao!

Of course, there are so many great places to eat (it is Spain after all), but it’s not just about the amazing food, wine and people (well, it kind of is…).

There are wonderful – sometimes overwhelming – palaces, monuments, galleries, gardens and buildings in Madrid, and it seems that around every corner there is something divine or surreal!

© Louise Creely 2017

Divine glimpses around every corner…

© Louise Creely 2017

serenity on the streets

© Louise Creely 2017© Louise Creely 2017

A heart-warming sight…

© Louise Creely 2017

Green and blue moments

© Louise Creely 2017

Bright and delicious Mercado de San Miguel

Ah Madrid, such a colourful, welcoming and fascinating city. But don’t take our word for it – put it on your wishlist and see for yourself. We might even bump into you there…

© Louise Creely 2017


A splash of colour in Cuenca

Autumn has arrived in Spain – and with it the rain. But nothing can put a damper on the arty, colourful city of Cuenca.

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To say we are blown away is an understatement. From colourful apartment buildings, to hanging houses that look like they will topple off the cliff at any moment…

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…to incredible art in contemporary art museums, on the streets and in ruins we stumbled across on one of the many walking trails around the mountains (and yes, EB found them all – including those endless stairs!).

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art-in-the-ruins

tulipsEverywhere you look, there are pops of colour – even tulips growing among the weeds.

And then there is our hotel, Parador de Cuenca, suspended on a cliff opposite the city, overlooking the River Huecar.

It was originally the Convent of San Pablo, built in 1523 in stunning late Gothic style.

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Access to the city is across a long suspended bridge that spans the ravine. I know right? Heaven can wait…

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Okay, I’m running out of adjectives here. And EB is hopping from foot to foot. There are trails to walk (or run!). And a slight downpour isn’t about to stop us!

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Off-piste in Granada

I know what you’re thinking… but I’m not talking about Granada’s legendary nightlife. Although I’m told there are 60,000 students at the university here. And they didn’t just come for the studying bit (but don’t tell their parents!).

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This is about getting off the tourist trail, high up in the ‘hills’ above Granada, where a network of precarious tracks meander around the steep edges of slopes – and making way for mountain bikers (jealous!) and trail runners is an interesting balancing act.

We started in the historic centre and walked up past Alhambra, one of the most visited monuments in Europe. We thought we’d take a little wander up the dusty track to check out the mountain biking trails.

Three hours later, we’d wound our way up and down steep hills on some breathtaking trails – and discovered the ancient water channel above the Rio Darro.

Built by the original Arab settlers, the network of channels carried a fresh water supply down to irrigate the extensive Generalife orchards and gardens, through to the Alhambra palaces and back into the river system.

2016-10-06-12-21-29-hdrWe followed the water channel for a while, until it came to a private olive grove – with a full-on sprinkler system going.

After running the gauntlet of water jets turning the steep track to a slippery slide, we decided to head back up and find a drier way down the slope.

This involved a bit of scrambling and, of course, a rather inelegant butt slide by moi.

But we finally found our way back down to civilisation, a well-earned snack… and a drink or three.

…because going off-piste is thirsty work.


Turning on the Autumn heat in Lagos

If you love water sports and beach chill time then Lagos, in the beautiful Algarve region of Portugal, is the perfect place to hang out. Especially when the Autumn temperature feels a lot like summer.

First on the list for us was a Days of Adventure cruisy kayaking trip, where a catamaran took us to the kayaking spot… no hardcore paddling involved (poor EB!).

We paddled along the coastline, past the most stunning beaches and into eerie grottos and sea caves.

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2016-09-27-12-47-12Along the way, we passed towering cliffs that looked like they would completely crumble at the slightest puff of wind, and rock stacks crafted by tides and time into shapes like elephants, camels and even the Titanic.

The perfect end to the trip for me was diving off the boat into the deep, chilly aqua-blue waters.

It was sheer bliss to swim away from the boat, relax in the water… and not have the theme music to Jaws playing in my head.

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EB all at sea…

In Australia, the whole shark thing always lurks in the back of your mind (or the front, if you’re a tiny bit neurotic like me), but here you just go with the flow…

Are you up for dolphin watching, snorkelling, surfing lessons or paddle boarding? There’s so many options for getting wet or awestruck here and all easily booked in town or at the marina.

Soaking up the sun at the beach is also de rigueur here – with not a sun-smart slip, slop, slap routine in sight.

Of course, people-watching is endlessly entertaining too.

streets-of-lagos-1All that activity definitely works up an appetite (and a thirst).

It’s time to stop at one of the beach or marina restaurants, or head to the historic town centre.

Inside the town’s ancient Moorish walls you can meander along narrow streets passed a charming patchwork of crumbling, life-worn and revamped buildings and some incredible street art, to chill at one of the many great eating places and bars there.

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The Garden

We loved The Garden, a bohemian-style bar and restaurant with delicious barbequed meat (EB assures me) and great choices for pescatarians and pure veggos.

A short stroll away is the fascinating Mar D’Estórias, where it’s easy to get caught up in the arty retail area and galleries as you wind up each narrow staircase until you reach the Terraço Bar.

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Quick snap from the Terraco Bar

Here you’ll find great food and wine, a relaxed atmosphere and views stretching along historic streets to the ocean.

With only one more day here, we’re off explore more of this delightful town – which will possibly involve me annoying EB as I stop to take more photos of street art.

Assim é a vida.

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I wandered lonely as a cow…

2016-09-11-21-34-03I’m sure that would have been the original version of Wordsworth’s poem – especially if he’d written it in Switzerland.

On our way back down from the stunning Mt Titlis, we jumped off the cablecar at the mountain lake of Trübsee to walk the rest of the way back down to Engelbert (and yes, downhill walking is weirdly harder on the legs and knees than going uphill).

Along the way, the cow-studded hills were literally alive with the sound of … cowbells.

Whether they’re walking or grazing, chewing their cuds or flicking off flies, those bells are full-on ding-dang-dong.

It probably sends them a tiny bit mad, but it’s certainly music to our ears as we make our way down the mountain. Just a brilliant way to spend a few hours in Switzerland…

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View from Mt Titlis

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The path begins winding around the lake at Trübsee

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A perfect place to walk…


First stop, Surry Hills

Copyright: Louise Creely

Last weekend we took a quick trip to Sydney to try out a tandem touring bike (as you do), to catch up with family and, the unplanned bit, to fall in love with Surry Hills.

Located on the city fringe, adjacent to notorious Kings Cross and right near Central Station, Surry Hills was once a bit of a slum area.

Today, it’s a melting pot of cultures, with a delicious retro, arty, entrepreneurial flavour – a happening place that has a village feel and a real sense of community.

Copyright: Louise Creely

Sunday breakfast in Surry Hills

Wander along its tree-lined streets window-shopping, then stop for a coffee (or vino) to watch the world go by.

It’s the perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon – and you’re likely to be served by switched-on wait staff, who are easy going and up for a chat.

If you’re keen to see some great parts of Sydney on foot (I’m with EB, so keen or not…) take a stroll past the Domain to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, then walk along the foreshores of Farm Cove to the Opera House, and back through the city to Surry Hills.

Of course, you can always take the civilised option and jump on a train to Circular Quay to catch a ferry around the harbour… but this 1.5 hour easy walk is worth every step.

The ‘civilised’ option comes later at one of our favourite restaurants, Longrain. It’s just down the road from our hotel and a perfectly delicious way to end a great stay in Surry Hills.

Copyright: Louise Creely

Fort Denison is a former penal colony and defensive facility

Copyright: Louise Creely

A swim with a view – a battle ship docked at the Garden Island Defense Base


Coastal wanderings – Crowdy Bay National Park

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I’ve worked out what it is. I’m a natural woman. Not the Woodstock, flower power flavour of natural (although there have been moments…), but natural in a bushland, beaches, rocky coastlines and wildlife kind of way.

I know there are those for whom ‘natural wonders’ equal five stars and a sea horse swizzle stick in their cocktail, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for me, I feel the most at home in a national park somewhere.

Copyright: Louise Creely 2015It’s where I feel my chest expanding and I can finally breathe – even while scrambling up or down precarious rocky slopes (and that’s saying something when you have asthma!)

We’ve just arrived at Kylie’s Beach camping area in the stunning Crowdy Bay National Park.

It’s a favourite place of ours, even though the beach is particularly windswept today and the water is so icy it makes your feet ache.

Copyright: Louise Creely 2015

Australian author and poet Kylie Tennant’s writer’s retreat.

Instead of braving the icy waves and strong rip for too long, we head off along the coastal track.

Along the way, we pass the restored hut that was once the writer’s retreat of Australian author and poet Kylie Tennant.

At the peak of the hill, we leave the trail to wind our way down to a rocky, windswept headland.

Copyright: Louise Creely 2015

Here, the waves disappear into sea caves and burst through an arch into an amphitheatre carved by time and tides.

As we enter the impressive amphitheatre, the ground moves with a thousand crabs that swiftly disappear into secret places among the rocks and seaweed.

Copyright: Louise Creely 2015Back at camp, a wallaby and her joey feed on fresh spring grass.

The joey looks at us curiously, then nuzzles into mama’s pouch for a milky snack. Eventually, she bats him away and hops off, leaving him to feed on the grass alone.

Above us, a kookaburra perches on a branch, watching us sipping our crispy chardonnay.

It soon leaves to check out other campers who may have meaty treats to share.

A red aphid-like bug lands on my arm… and there’s a black fly in my chardonnay.

There’s a song in that, EB says.

All around us, bush creatures wake to hunt, mate and play under cover of darkness. The roll of distant thunder is oddly soothing and the waning moon is rising.

Ah, this is perfection – and, for me, this takes five stars to a whole new level. Just sayin’…

Copyright: Louise Creely 2015


Hanging out in Port Stephens

Copyright: Louise Creely

The most striking thing about Port Stephens, on the NSW coast, is the pristine beaches curving around each bay and cupping the gorgeous aquamarine waters.

Somewhere out there in this huge marine park are dolphins, turtles, sponge gardens, fish and more. While there are dolphin tours for all tastes, I was keen to get in there with them in their natural environment with Dolphin Swim Australia.

Talk about bad timing – and a reminder to book ahead if there’s something you really want to do on your holiday – the boat was out of the water being prepared for the tourist season. So… no wild dolphin swims for me.

This didn’t phase EB. He was itching to get me up a hill somewhere and, on the hottest day so far (of course), we headed up to the Tomaree Head Summit. There are a lot of stairs and a lot of locals panting up and down them with their earphones firmly wedged in place.

If you like to do more than just sweat up and down hills, the panoramic views are worth the effort.

You can also see the historic gun emplacements and other reminders that Australia was once ready to protect its shores from invasion.

In World War II, this natural harbour was an ideal entry point for hostile forces, intent on attacking the aerodrome at Williamstown and, more importantly, the Newcastle steelworks.

Steel was a vital wartime commodity, so Fort Tomaree was built here in 1942. It was a perfect vantage point, with 360 degree views covering the coastlines, headlands and surrounds.

Copyright: Louise Creely

Port Stephens is a great place for a family holiday, with beaches the kids (and you) will love.

I admit I was a little disappointed at not spotting a single dolphin, even from the headlands.

But we did have gorgeous early morning swims, and lots of walking and cycling. So I’m leaving fitter than when I arrived…and that has to be a good thing.

Next stop… Crowdy Bay National Park.