Travel Plans

How to Choose Your Next Adventure

How to Choose Your Next Adventure

It’s the start of 2017 and you’ve made a New Year’s resolution to ‘travel more’. However, there are so many places you could go in the world – 193 countries spread over seven continents – how do you choose where to go?

From other people’s travels

Have you started back at work this week only to hear about the great trip your colleague took over the holidays? Are you drooling over a location on your Instagram feed? Does one of your friends constantly talk of how great their recent vacation was?

Sometimes the best destinations come from the recommendations of others. Iceland didn’t become a must-see destination for me until it seemed like everyone I met during my travels had visited and loved it. Now it’s one of my favourite places in the world. My decision to go to Canada last year was made partly because of the stories my parents told me of their trip there, and partly because of the amazing photos I’d see on the Internet (yes, it really does look like that over there!).

Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake in Alberta, Canada. (Make sure you take the path up to the top of the Rockpile when visiting. There’s a lot of steps to climb but the view is absolutely worth it!)

From your favourite book

Whether fiction or non-fiction, some books describe a place in so much detail that we long to visit for ourselves. You could also flick through travel magazines at your local newsagency, or drop into the library and look through the travel guides for inspiration on where to travel in 2017.

From your favourite movie or TV show

How many Harry Potter fans have planned to visit Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross station, or to see the “Harry Potter bridge” in Scotland (otherwise known as the Glenfinnan Viaduct)?

Since movies and TV shows are so visual, their locations capture our attention and make us think “I’d love to go there!”. From visiting Sycamore Gap where a scene from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was filmed, to the locations in the Isle of Skye and Iceland that were featured in Stardust, movie filming locations are often the inspiration for my travel plans!

The Quiraing on the Isle of Skye
The Quiraing on the Isle of Skye: one of the locations for the movie Stardust

From your childhood dreams

Remnants of memories from when you were little could inspire you to re-visit that beach your family always went to during the summer. Or you could visit the real-world equivalents of the fairytales your parents read to you at night: the stories of Sleeping Beauty, the Pied Piper of Hamelin, the Three Musicians of Bremen and the Goose Girl come alive along Germany’s Fairytale Route. Then there’s one of the biggest childhood dreams of all: a trip to Disneyland!

Throw a dart at a globe

Just want to get away? Close your eyes and point at a random spot on the map, and see how that location makes you feel. If your first location doesn’t excite you, you could always try it a second time and see if you are more inspired by your second choice!

Follow your heart

Sometimes you just feel like going to a place without really knowing why. Something about the culture, history or ambience of the location calls out to you. Permit yourself to follow your heart – it won’t lead you astray!

Travel Plans

What’s Happening in 2017!

What's Happening in 2017!


Happy New Year and welcome to 2017! I hope you celebrated last night in style surrounded by friends and family.

It’s the start of a new year and like a lot of people, I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to see, be, and achieve over the next 365 days.

After an epic 2016 with travels to the US, Ireland and Canada (posts coming soon!), I’m looking forward to where 2017 will take me. Some plans are already in the works, while others are just pipe dreams that may or may not eventuate, but I feel like sharing them here will keep me accountable and inspire me to work harder to achieve them!

Here are the destinations that I would love to travel to this year:

The capital cities of Australia

Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, and of course Australia’s capital, Canberra.
Over the past six years, most of my travel has been overseas. I’ve left travelling within my own country by the wayside, intrigued by the draws of foreign sights and culture. However, my childhood memories of summer holidays spent travelling around Australia with my family are fading faster the older I get. It’s time to make some new memories, and where better to start than our diverse capital cities?

Eastern Europe

Croatia, Slovenia, Romania and surrounds
Every single photo I see of Croatia and Slovenia makes me long to visit and see the beautiful lakes, picturesque towns and formidable castles for myself. It’s time to venture in to Eastern Europe!

Eastern Canada

I tried to visit the east coast of Canada as part of my Canadian Rockies trip last year, but didn’t have enough time to visit both the east and west coasts. I would love to visit Quebec (and it would be a good opportunity to practice my French!). We’ll wait and see whether a trip is on the cards for 2017.


Tasmania and Western Australia are the two Australian states that I have not had the opportunity to explore. That’s changing this year, when I plan to visit the Apple Isle for my birthday. I’m looking forward to exploring the beautiful Tasmanian forests, the walking trails and the early Australian history, though at the moment the part I’m most excited about is crossing Bass Strait on the overnight ferry!

Local day trips

When I’m home I tend to be a creature of habit, and when I’m not pottering around the house I seem to visit the same places over and over again. It’s time to break out of the mould and explore the restaurants, museums, national parks and places right near where I live that I never go to. There has to be more than the well-trodden tourist trails of zoos, wineries and beaches. It’s time to really explore my local area.

Hopefully 2017 can be a year filled with local, interstate and international travel for me, along with growing Castlephile Travels, finding ways of promoting and conserving Australia’s and the world’s historical monuments and areas, learning more about history and how those lessons can be applied to the present and indulging in other cultures and stories.

What are your travel goals for 2017? Please share them in the comments and let’s inspire each other to great things in 2017!

Castlephile Travels is now on Instagram! Follow me: @castlephile_travels


Phnom Penh from the Water: A Cruise Along Tonle Sap River

After a week of catching up with old friends, learning about the recent tragic history of Cambodia, and getting used to culture shock, we decided to go on an early evening river cruise to celebrate our last night in Phnom Penh.

Houses along the river in Phnom Penh
Houses along the river in Phnom Penh

After five days sweltering in the humidity, I was ready for a break from the weather. Even as the daily afternoon rains poured down, it did little to stop the sticky heat. Getting out on the water, away from the traffic and buildings, sounded like a nice way to escape to somewhere slightly cooler.

Walking down to the boats to begin the river cruise
Walking down to the boats to begin the river cruise

Our boat departed from Riverside, an area filled with markets, restaurants and hotels, right next to the Royal Palace complex. As the boat pulled away from its mooring, we slathered ourselves with mosquito repellant and headed to the back of the boat to take in the scenery.

More views of Phnom Penh from the river
More views of Phnom Penh from the river
Seeing Phnom Penh from the river gave us more time to appreciate the style of Cambodian buildings
Seeing Phnom Penh from the river gave us more time to appreciate the style of Cambodian buildings

Being on the water gave me a chance to look at Phnom Penh from a different angle than what we had seen zooming past us from the back of a tuk-tuk. We were out of the thick of the moto drivers, away from the constant beeping of horns and the random odd smells of the city itself.

The grandness of the Sokha Hotel from the river
The grandness of the Sokha Hotel from the river

We saw fishermen trawling for catches, local youths hanging out on the concrete river banks, and the grand Sokha Hotel on the eastern bank contrasting with the fishing boats that were clustered behind it.

Boats clustered behind the hotel
Boats clustered behind the hotel

As our boat slowly turned back once it had reached the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers, Phnom Penh put on a beautiful view for us – a double rainbow.

A double rainbow: a lovely way to end the cruise!
A double rainbow: a lovely way to end the cruise!
Admiring the double rainbow from the back of the boat
Admiring the double rainbow from the back of the boat

Current Obsessions: Outlander

I’m currently obsessed with Outlander, the TV show based on Diana Gabaldon’s series of books of the same name. And when I say obssessed, I mean in the past three weeks I’ve watched both Seasons 1 and 2, and instead of enduring the wait for Season 3 of the TV series, have begun reading the third Outlander novel: Voyager.

After watching Neil Oliver’s documentary series A History of Scotland in 2013, I decided that I wanted to go to Scotland, but when I was there, I felt I didn’t quite understand how what I had seen on TV all fit together with what I was seeing on my travels. I loved Scotland: the beautiful Highlands with its lochs and castles, the dramatic islands of Orkney, Harris/Lewis and Skye. The stone circles intrigued me, and my Scottish tour guide had a thing for encouraging us to hug the stones – a habit I’ve adopted as I’ve visited more standing stones throughout Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland (though I’ve yet to fall through them and find myself in another time like the character of Claire does in Outlander!).

Callanish Standing Stones
Visiting the Callanish Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis

I felt deep sadness standing on the battlefield of Culloden, trying to imagine the bloody battle as I stared across the empty, flat moor, and took in the memorials and outdented bricks in the wall at the visitor’s centre which shows the vast number of Jacobite supporters who died during the battlein comparison with the British army.

Culloden Moor
The emptiness of Culloden Moor, where the Battle of Culloden took place

When I was visiting Scotland, I didn’t understand enough about the history to understand how important Bonnie Prince Charlie was to the clans who supported the Jacobite cause. I left Scotland with pieces of fact, fragments of clansmen tradition, and a whisper of folktale but still not really much of an idea of how it all fit together to form part of the history of Scotland.

Watching Outlander changed that. It gave me someone to relate to – someone who learned the history of Scotland as I did – through visiting the sites as a tourist – before they were plunged right into the middle of events as they unfolded. Things began to make sense and what I had seen during my travels began to jump out at me when they were touched on in the story. My heart dropped to the pit of my stomach whenever Culloden was mentioned, even when the characters were only passing by it and the day of the fateful battle was still years away in story-time. Maybe that’s part of why I like Outlander so much – we are right there with Claire figuring out how what we know of history is going to matter in the story.

Doune Castle
Doune Castle acts as Castle Leoch in the TV show

Seeing locations such as Doune Castle transformed into Outlander’s Castle Leoch, or the characters of Jamie and Claire wandering the streets of Prague done up as eighteenth-century Paris, brought back my own travel memories of visiting those places. Outlander has made me want to put Scotland back at the top of my where-to-go-to-next list!

Until then, I’ll have to be content with catching up on the novels while waiting for Season 3 to be filmed!


Adopting Traditions From My Travels: St Nicholas Day

St Nicholas Day
Celebrating the tradition of St Nicholas Day, with chocolate and small presents being left in children’s shoes

Tomorrow is St Nicholas Day (Nikolaustag), where ‘Saint Nicholas’ makes his yearly visit to the houses of children in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and many other countries throughout the world. If you’ve been well-behaved he’ll leave you chocolates and sweets. Been bad? Coal, twigs, or other less pleasant things might be headed your way.

The real Saint Nicholas was known for his generosity, and there are many stories about how he would use secret gift-giving to help those most in need. I first heard of Nikolaustag when I was eleven years old and sitting in my first year of German language classes. We learned about German children waiting anxiously for the arrival of Saint Nicholas and learned to sing German songs, such as “Sei gegruesst, lieber Nikolaus”. It all sounded wonderful – Saint Nicholas seemed to be a Christmas version of the Easter bunny, leaving chocolate in his wake.

Six years later, I experienced it first hand while on a German exchange trip. While Saint Nicholas visited the other students in my school group the morning of December 6, he took until that evening to get around to my host family’s house! There, in one of my boots left out by the stairs, was not only a Kinder Surprise and a bar of Milka chocolate, but also some gloves and a scarf. The extended family came over, songbooks were handed out, and a night of fun and song commenced (no “Sei gegrusst lieber Nikolaus” but plenty of other traditional German Christmas carols).

My brother stayed with the same family when he was on school exchange, and since he returned we’ve made sure to celebrate Nikolaustag every year. It usually falls right near our family’s long-held tradition of putting up our Christmas tree on the first Sunday of December, which is our first sign that the holiday season has started.

Have you ever adopted the traditions of other countries for yourself?


Christmas Tree Day: Celebrating Family Holiday Traditions

My family has many traditions around Christmas. From singing carols on Christmas Eve, to the extended family lunch, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without them.

Putting up the Christmas tree is my favourite of all of our family traditions. Each year, on the first Sunday of December, we get together, pull out the Christmas Tree box (my parents’ fake Christmas tree has lasted for more than 30 years and is still going (mostly) strong!), and put together the tree branches, string up the lights, and adorn the tree with tinsel, baubles and decorations. Since they’ve had the same tree and most of the same decorations for forever, there’s a lovely sense of nostalgia to the routine of putting up the Christmas tree.

My parents' 36 year old Christmas tree
My parents’ 36 year old Christmas tree. I couldn’t imagine Christmas without it.

This year is the first time I’ve had my own tree, so after we had gathered at my parents’ house to put together and decorate their tree, we all came around to my house to do the same for mine.

My Christmas tree
My Christmas tree. As the years go on and I travel more I hope to add more decorations! to it.

While travelling, I usually buy Christmas decorations to give to my parents as souvenirs, which makes decorating the Christmas tree that much more interesting. We reminisce about each decoration as it is given a place on the tree. Among them, there’s a puffin from Iceland, a Scottish guard from Edinburgh, and a train made out of Waterford crystal that I bought for Mum on my latest trip to Ireland.

My globe Christmas decoration
My globe Christmas decoration, bought in 2014 from an Oliver Bonas store when I was staying in London.

Now that my Christmas tree is up and my living room is decorated with candles and tinsel, it feels like Christmas is finally here. All I need is the weather to make up it’s mind and for the Aussie summer to show up – it’s currently 34 degrees Celsius here but pouring with rain!

What are your favourite holiday traditions?

Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas!
Fleurieu Peninsula Other

Walking the Heysen Trail: Cobbler Hill to Cape Jervis

Early on a Saturday morning, I met up with a group of friends and we drove just over ninety minutes south of Adelaide to the coastal town of Cape Jervis. Our plan was to walk the first section of the Heysen Trail, a long distance hiking trail named in honour of Hans Heysen, a famous German-born South Australian artist. Leaving one car at the Kangaroo Island ferry terminal, we drove the other into Deep Creek conservation park to the Cobbler Hill campground so that we could walk from the fifteen kilometres from the campground to Cape Jervis, and then drive back to collect the other car.

Looking over to Kangaroo Island from Fishery Beach
Looking over to Kangaroo Island from Fishery Beach

As we left the Cobbler Hill Campground, signs warned of a steep descent, and it wasn’t long before we told ourselves we had made the right decision to walk to Cape Jervis instead of beginning there and walking towards Cobbler Hill Campground. The ground sloped sharply downwards, and when we came across some stairs, we had enough trouble walking down them – climbing up when going the other way would have been an exhausting way to end the walk!

The rugged coastline, with Kangaroo Island hazy in the background
The rugged coastline, with Kangaroo Island hazy in the background

The landscape soon took its revenge on us, however, as we climbed up and down a series of rolling hills. The scenery was spectacular though – the deep blue waters of the Backstairs Passage with Kangaroo Island hazy in the distance was our constant view as we walked through farmland past grazing sheep and cattle.

Thankfully, three-quarters of the way through the hike, the trail began to flatten out!
Thankfully, three-quarters of the way through the hike, the trail began to flatten out!

Both Blowhole Beach and Fishery Beach were opportunities for us to catch our breath and gaze at the white sands, turquoise water and rugged cliff faces that formed the coastline. We were lucky enough to see a dolphin as well as a pod of seals!

The rugged coastline near specactular Blowhole Beach
The rugged coastline near specactular Blowhole Beach

By the end of the walk I was exhausted – we had underestimated how long the walk was going to take! What we had originally envisaged as being a two to three hour walk ended up being a six hour trek. I kept my eye out for the Sealink ferry as it made its way back and forth between Cape Jervis on the mainland and Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island, knowing that the bigger the ferry appeared to be the closer I was getting to the end of the walk. It kept my motivation up for the final three kilometres of the walk as we trudged through sandhills, the harsh rays of the afternoon sun beating down on us.

Since we had done the walk in reverse (it’s intended for people to begin at Cape Jervis and finish at Cobbler Hill), it wasn’t until we saw the Trail sign at the very end that we realised how far we had actually walked.

Start of the Heysen Trail sign
We walked the trail backwards, so it was only when we got to the end that we realised we’d walked fifteen kilometres!

On the way back to Adelaide we stopped in at Yankalilla Bakery to re-fuelWe managed to recover by stopping in at the Yankalilla Bakery for Cornish pasties and chocolate donuts to re-fuel before making our way back to Adelaide.

Along with gorgeous sea views, the rolling hills and the dams of the neighbouring farms were pretty in their own right
Along with gorgeous sea views, the rolling hills and the dams of the neighbouring farms were pretty in their own right

Open from April to October the Heysen Trail covers 1200 kilometres in total, making our sixteen kilometres seem insignificant! Though if the rest of the scenery along the trail is as picturesque as the walk from Cobbler Hill to Cape Jervis was, then it might be worth the effort to explore a few more sections of it.


Where to buy the Paris Museum Pass

Where to buy the Paris Museum Pass

If you’re heading to the City of Light this July, you might have heard of the Paris Museum Pass – a multi-day pass giving you entry (and in some places the ability to bypass the queues) to more than sixty museums, art galleries, and monuments in and around Paris.

While you can buy it online, if you’re anything like me, you might not make up your mind about the Paris Museum Pass until after your plane has landed at Charles de Gaulle. If you find yourself in Paris before you’ve had a chance to order a pass online, should you rush out to get it? And where can you get your hands on one when you’re on the ground in Paris?

Is the Paris Museum Pass worth it?

Before buying the Pass, make sure you will get value for money. If you’re not going to save money by getting the Pass, then perhaps buying tickets at each of the museums that you visit is a better option for you. For a guide on how I spent my time in Paris using a four-day Museum Pass, see the following posts:

Where can I buy the Paris Museum Pass?

You can buy the Paris Museum Pass online, or according to the Paris Museum Pass website it can be bought at the ticket desk of most museums.

I have purchased the Paris Museum Pass twice, and both times I waited until I was in Paris. I have bought it from:

  • From the tourist information stand in front of Notre Dame de Paris. In July 2012 I purchased a Paris Museum Pass from a tourist information stand outside of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. The stand might only be set up during the peak tourist season – when I returned to Paris in November it wasn’t there.
  • From the Museum’s membership centre on the Allée du Grand Louvre. We tried buying a pass from the Louvre ticket desk, and they sent us to the membership centre, in between the large pyramid and the Galerie du Carrousel arcade. They also offer Friends of the Louvre memberships here, if you think you’ll come back to the Louvre often.

Have you bought the Paris Museum Pass? Where did you buy it from? Did you think it was worth it? Let us know in the comments!


A Day Out At Monarto Zoo

A Day Out At Monarto Zoo
A Day Out At Monarto Zoo

It’s usually a spur of the moment decision to visit Monarto Zoo. It starts with an hour-long road trip through the Adelaide Hills along the South Eastern Freeway, past rolling hills and farmland, and ends with finding yourself at the gates of one of the largest open range zoos in the world.

Just arriving at the visitor’s centre carpark feels like an adventure in itself – the speed limit in to the park is set at 30km/h, and gives you plenty of time to spot wild kangaroos and emus stalking their way through the bushland as you make your way towards the carpark.

Monarto Zoo Visitors Centre
The Visitors Centre – home base for any day out at Monarto

Once you reach the visitor’s centre, there are two ways of exploring the zoo – you can either hop on a free bus that drives you through the exhibits, or if you’re feeling energetic, there are over ten kilometres of walking trails that take you through the zoo.

We decided to tackle the trails.

Right outside the Visitor’s Centre you’ll find a mob of meerkats. Meerkats are one of those animals that I could spend all day watching as they scurry and dig and stand up on their hind legs when something captures their attention.

Meerkats at Monarto Zoo
Meerkats are one of my favourite animals – I could sit and watch them for ages!

Unfortunately, we couldn’t spend all day with the meerkats – we had an entire zoo to explore!

Walking away from the visitors centre, we came across the Yellow Footed Rock Wallaby enclosure. Usually when we come through here, we don’t glimpse the timid wallabies but today we were lucky and saw two basking in the wintry sun.

Yellow footed rock wallaby at Monarto Zoo
We were lucky to see this adorable yellow footed rock wallaby – they’re usually pretty good at hiding!

Close by are the chimpanzees, who come right up close to you in their undercover playground, which is where they tend to hang out. The success of Monarto’s chimpanzee breeding program means that there’s often young adventurous infants playing, though today the most recent addition to the troupe was cuddled up with its mum, hidden from view.

The Ridge Track at Monarto Zoo
Walking through the scrub along the Ridge Track, on our way to the Waterhole to see the zebra and giraffes

From there we took the Ridge Trail, walking through the mallee scrub, where we stopped at various lookouts to gaze at herds of black rhinoceros, zebra, Indian antelope, scimitar-horned oryx.

It’s a peaceful walk – most families who come to the zoo opt to take the bus around the zoo so there’s generally not too many people around – and it’s pretty cool to look out and feel like you’re in the wild.

At the end of the walking trail, we came out on to the Water Hole – an area containing ostrich, Chapman’s zebra and Australia’s biggest herd of giraffe.

Feeding time at the Water Hole
Feeding time at the Water Hole

Arriving just in time for the keeper talk, we were introduced to ‘Kinky’ – a giraffe who was born at the zoo but because her mother sat down to deliver her instead of standing, she was born with a broken veterbrae, thus giving her a kink in her neck.

Giraffe at Monarto Zoo
‘Kinky’ the giraffe at Monarto Zoo

We took the Creek Track back to the Visitors Centre, narrowly missing being crashed in to by two emus dashing across the path (emus and kangaroos roam around the zoo).

After lunch at the on-site cafe, we queued for the Zu-loop shuttle bus. Besides the driver, a zoo volunteer also comes onboard to provide commentary on the history of the zoo and trivia about the animals it houses as well as the conservation programs they undertake to ensure the survival of the animals.

Giraffes and the Zu-loop bus at Monarto
Going on one of the guided bus tours allows you to enter the animals’ enclosures and see them up close

Doing the bus tour around Monarto Zoo always makes me feel like I’m about to enter Jurassic Park – the bus draws close to a gate, and waits for it to open, and before you know it you’re inside the animal’s enclosure. If the animals are feeling curious, they’ll come right up to the bus.

Przewalski's horse
Przewalski’s horse

On the bus tour, you’ll see Prewalski’s horses, bison, deer, white and black rhinoceros, zebra, bongoes, ostriches, eland, waterbuck, oryx and cheetah.

Cheetah at Monarto Zoo
One of the cheetahs at Monarto Zoo

There are bus stops along the way to get a closer view of the animals – including at the Water Hole to see the giraffes, and the Boma to get up close and personal with a rhino (and maybe have a chance to pat one!).

To see the carnivores, you’ll need to get off at Windana, the furthest away of all the bus stops, and either view the hyenas, African painted dogs, and lions and lionesses from the viewing platform, or by taking a separate bus through their enclosures.

Lionesses at Monarto Zoo
The lionesses enjoying a sleepy Sunday afternoon

Ryan captured our visit on video – he’s just invested in one thing he thought he’d never buy – a selfie stick – and tried it out for the first time during our zoo trip.

Zoos are important for animal conservation and the work they do with breeding programs to protect animals under threat from extinction. Because of this (and the opportunity for a lifetime of ‘free’ zoo visits!), I purchased a Zoos SA Lifetime Membership on my thirtieth birthday, so I could support the zoos in the work that they do in ensuring these endangered animals will thrive and be around for many generations to come.

It’s always a good day out at Monarto Zoo – I get to have the feeling of going on a safari without straying too far from home!


Simple Pleasures

Over the past few days, I’ve been reading Lessons from Madame Chic, a book about author Jennifer L Scott’s study abroad trip to Paris, and the habits and traditions upheld by her French host family which she has brought into her everyday life.

Lessons from Madame Chic got me thinking about my own school exchange trip to Germany, and my own host family. The more I thought about the time I spent with them, the more nostalgic I became about the whole experience. If Jennifer could bring aspects of her host family that she liked and admired in to her life, could I do the same?

Radio in the Morning

Madame Chic would prepare breakfast while listening to the radio. Having the radio playing in the mornings had also been a staple in my own host family’s routine.

Lately I’ve picked up the habit of having the morning news on TV playing as I get ready for work. Unfortunately, I’ve tended to watch it when I should be listening to it, which means I waste time and make myself late for work. I’ve decided to listen to the radio instead, and have been switching between the local radio station, and listening to French and German Internet radio stations, to practice my languages while getting ready in the morning. It’s been a far more relaxing start to my day!

The Magic of Driving in the Dark

I spent December and January living with my German host family, which meant that the sun didn’t rise until 8AM and it was dark soon after 4PM. It took about forty minutes to drive from the village we lived in to the school in the nearest town. The drive there was soothing; there was something about driving in the morning darkness that has stuck with me ever since.

Kaffee trinken

After coming home from school and work, my German host family would all congregate and have Kaffee trinken (literally, ‘to drink coffee’) together, which was basically a daily afternoon tea where we’d have coffee and hot chocolate, as well as homemade cakes and biscuits. It was one of my favourite traditions. It was nice to come home and relax for a bit, and catch up with everyone, before the rush of the evening routine began.

When I went back to visit my host family in the summer, homemade lemonade replaced the hot beverages and fresh fruit bought from a roadside seller replaced the heavier baked goods, but it was still a nice and relaxing interlude as day turned into evening.

Weekend Explorers

Maybe it was because they had an exchange student with them, but it seemed like every weekend we were going out and exploring the local area. I was lucky enough to see many of the castles which dotted the countryside, climb the Harz mountains (and watch my hair freeze!), go sledding in the freshly fallen snow, and visit gorgeous Christmas markets. It reminded me of the days when Mum and Dad used to take my brother and I on Sunday drives, where we’d take off in the car for a day and stop at whatever place looked interesting. It’s a habit I should really pick up again. I don’t really do much travelling when I’m home, and I need to make it more of a priority – there’s so many interesting things to do and beautiful places to explore!

Christmas Traditions

I stayed with my host family over Christmas and New Year’s. Every family has their own unique Christmas traditions. For my own family, it’s putting the Christmas tree up on the first Sunday in December, having a huge get together with my extended family the week before Christmas, baking gingerbread biscuits, singing along with my family to the televised carols on Christmas Eve, and eating so much for Christmas Day lunch that we don’t eat anything for dinner! My host family had their own traditions. They made their own carol songbooks (and included some English language carols for me alongside their traditional German carols) and brought them out several times in the lead-up to Christmas. They lit Advent candles and my host parents made an Advent calendar for each of us where we received a small toy or a chocolate every day in the lead-up to Christmas. They baked Stollen and biscuits, and visited Christmas markets. They gave each other gifts on Christmas Eve, and then spent the next three days celebrating with family gatherings.

My brother has also spent time over Christmas with the same host family (they’ve even hosted my parents!), and every year since then we’ve included German carols in our repertoire. Our favourites? Kling Glöckchen, Oh es riecht gut! and the traditional Stille Nacht.

I am so fortunate for having spent time with my host family – my time in Germany wouldn’t have been as wonderful without them. I must keep in mind what I enjoyed the most about spending time with them, and incorporate what I can into my daily routine, remembering to appreciate the simple pleasures in life.