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Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category

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Our rental house in Soriano nel Cimino circled in white

You’ve probably realized by now how much we loved renting apartments in Europe. I’m going to write a post soon on why and how to find a good one, but this post of our favorites is mostly for us so that we can remember the great times we had in these apartments.

If you click on the city names, you’ll be taken to the current listings with more pictures and information in case you’re interested in staying there too. The prices I list are what we paid at the time, including any service charges and cleaning fees. The prices for some of them, especially the ridiculously cheap ones, have since gone up as they become more established and build up positive reviews, but there are always great deals to be had almost anywhere with some digging and luck. And most offer significant discounts for longer stays, whether a week or a month. These rentals are in no particular order since I found it too hard to rank them.

 

Flinders Chase National Park, Kangaroo Island ($62 USD a night, sleeps 4)

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I’ll start with the Postman’s Cottage, which is where the postman used to stay when he came to the western side of Kangaroo Island to deliver mail. Now it’s part of Flinders Chase National Park and rented out to visitors. I already gushed about the fun old-fashioned wood stove and other appliances here.

Favorite part: the koala we found sleeping in a neighboring tree

 

Budapest, Hungary ($47 a night for 6 nights, sleeps up to 4)

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I had to drag myself outside to go sightseeing because I loved this apartment so much. It was beautifully decorated and the friendly, helpful owner obviously put a lot of thought into making the experience as comfortable as possible for us. She also gave us a free bottle of Hungarian wine. The location right next to St. Stephen’s Cathedral was amazing.

Favorite part: high ceilings and huge old-fashioned European windows provided tons of light

 

Vienna, Austria (well, we booked that studio but the landlord gave us this bigger one for the same price of $63 a night for 2 nights)

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This apartment was spotlessly clean and full of gadgets, like the fancy TV and stereo system and the espresso machine (unfortunately without any espresso included).

Favorite part: The best gadget of all was the shower. Scott and I still talk about that shower. It had a built-in radio that you could tune while taking your shower and all sorts of features with different sprays and even a steam sauna function. Did I mention we loved that shower?

 

Bruges, Belgium ($29 a night for 4 nights, sleeps 2)

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The price we got on this cottage was pretty ridiculous for the area. Technically it was a little outside Bruges and required a car to get to, but even with having to rent a car it was cheaper than it would have been to stay inside Bruges without a car. It felt like our own little cottage out in the countryside with a pretty patio and garden, chickens out back who we fed all our leftover pasta to, friendly neighbors down the road, and big corn fields all around us. The owners even gave us Belgian chocolate, two beers, and a bag of cuberdons (a cone-shaped Belgian candy).

Favorite part: the idyllic setting

 

Paris, France ($53 a night for a week-long stay, sleeps 2)

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This was the first apartment rental of our trip so it holds a special place for us. It was a tiny studio but used its space very efficiently so it felt cozy instead of crowded. It felt like our own Parisian pied-à-terre.

Favorite part: its location in the heart of Latin Quarter on a street surrounded by open-air markets, bakeries, crepe stands, and restaurants

 

Autrans, France near the French Alps ($39 a night for 3 nights, sleeps 4)

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Autrans is a picturesque little village that comes alive during the ski season. We were way too early for snow, but we enjoyed the wooden paneling and rustic ski chalet feel of our cottage (on the far corner with the white car in the picture above). The people there were incredibly friendly, and the owner introduced us to all of his family and eagerly showed us around. He was so excited to give us six fresh eggs from his own chickens that he dropped the egg carton and broke all of them while trying to put them in the fridge. He gave us more, but what a waste of delicious eggs! You can read more about our stay in Autrans and Burgundy here.

Favorite part: proximity to the hikes in Vercors Regional Natural Park

 

St. Boil, France in Burgundy ($63 a night for 4 nights, sleeps 3)

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We rented a cottage in the Burgundy wine region that had been fully renovated but also incorporated details like stonework from the area that was thousands of years old. The owners were a chatty Belgian couple who gave us a couple of Belgian beers when we asked them for recommendations on where to go in Belgium later. They even made a polished YouTube video of their cottage that I’ve included below.

Favorite part: the amazing view of the vineyards for miles around

 

Florence, Italy ($36 a night for a bedroom and breakfast in a shared apartment with the owner)

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We mostly rented private apartments for ourselves, but I wish we had done more shared apartments after meeting our Italian host Daniele. He was incredibly nice and friendly, providing us a giant breakfast every morning (including vegetarian “cold cuts” for us) and making a fantastic dinner one night while we chatted with him and his girlfriend. He normally had free bikes to rent as well, but they had been stolen right before we arrived, so he even gave us a good bottle of wine and a box of Italian cookies as an apology.

Favorite part: getting to know Daniele

 

Soriano nel Cimino, Italy ($100 a night 2 bed/bath for 1 week, sleeps up to 6)

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This was definitely the fanciest place we stayed in as we had planned to share it with Scott’s mother and stepfather, but unfortunately their plans fell through and we ended up there by ourselves. It was beautifully designed by an architect with giant windows and a rooftop terrace. I’ve already talked about it quite a bit here.

Favorite part: the views of the medieval hill town

 

Naples, Italy ($52 a night for one week, sleeps 2)

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Our large apartment on the top floor had a terrace with olives, grapes, sage, and tumbling purple flowers and provided a great view of one of our favorite cities. The terrace was even connected to a cave (although they told us not to go inside because it was dangerous). Our neighbor was a dog we nicknamed “The Scruff” and down the street we could buy the best pizza we’ve ever had for $5. You can read more about our love of Naples here.

Favorite part: everything except the mosquitoes

 

So those were our ten favorite vacation rentals. We enjoyed a lot of others as well, but they didn’t quite make the top ten. Next up: a post on why we chose to rent places so often and how to find a good one.

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After spending over a week on the islands of Tasmania and Kangaroo Island, we were ready to relax in the suburbs of Adelaide for a while.  We rented a lovely room with attached bathroom from a couple who also cooked us a big breakfast every morning.  My favorite part of the house was the spa bath in our giant bathroom:

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Scott’s favorite part was the black Rottweiler-Border Collie mix named Boaz who lived there.  He drooled a lot (Boaz, that is), but he was loads of fun to play with, especially when he tried to tackle the ocean waves in the nearby beach.

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Adelaide keeps getting awards for “Most Liveable City,” and we can see why.  It’s by some lovely beaches and rolling green hills with hundreds of wineries in Barossa and McLaren Vale, and the downtown area (although we didn’t get to see much of it) had great museums and a giant market.  IMG_9628 We went to wineries every day (free tastings!) and especially enjoyed going to Dogridge Wines, set in a beautiful location where the owner chatted with us for an hour (Scott said he reminded him of Ricky Gervais…he certainly had us laughing throughout) and served generous tastings of his delicious wine.  We also really enjoyed our tour of Langmeil Winery, which apparently has the oldest Shiraz vines in the world (I guess some of the older European ones were devastated by a disease?).  We marveled at all of the fermenting grapes:

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and we barely resisted licking the wine press (that barrel below on the left had wine oozing out from it while the press slowly moved downward).

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We also visited Warrawong Sanctuary, which converted old farmland into a forest that would attract and protect native animals, who roam about freely within the sanctuary.  We mostly hung out by the lakes, where we finally got to see two platypuses (after spending hours and failing on Kangaroo Island).  I wasn’t able to get a great picture of them since they move quickly, so the picture below is from Wikipedia:

Sorta kinda like a beaver except a lot smaller with a big ol’ duck bill.  Oh, and it’s the only mammal to lay eggs besides the echidna I talked about yesterday.  Very cool to see, although I’m still a little suspicious that it might be an elaborate hoax.

After Adelaide, we spent a few days in Sydney, mostly checking out the downtown area.  There was a fantastic Chinatown with delicious cheap eats (our first encounter with good Asian food in the South Pacific…probably helped by the fact that 17% of Sydney’s population is of Asian descent).  We also spent the entire day at their contemporary art museum, four hours of which was spent watching Christopher Marclay’s The Clock – a 24-hour compilation of thousands of movie clips which happen at the same time you’re watching the movie.  So when a movie cuts to a watch face at 10:15 a.m., it’s also 10:15 a.m. while you’re watching.  It’s well-edited and flows surprisingly well and obviously makes you very aware of the passage of time.  I felt self-conscious looking at my watch after we left the museum.

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Of course we had to take a picture in front of the Sydney Opera House, too.  It’s definitely a cool building to look at, but I’m not sure what it says about me that I kept thinking about the movie Finding Nemo while I was there, with Dory’s voice in my head saying, “42 Wallaby Way, Sydney, Australia” over and over again.  On our last full day, we spent a few hours walking down the coast along some pretty golden beaches, and then got ready to fly to Thailand.   After almost two months in New Zealand and Australia, I was definitely ready to get to a cheaper destination and eat delicious Thai food instead of the same old food from the supermarket.

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Postman’s Cottage on Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island (a small island off the southern coast of Australia) was where we discovered the coolest place we have ever stayed in: Postman’s Cottage.  The postman used to stay there every 2 weeks when he came to the western side of the island to deliver mail.  It then became part of Flinders Chase National Park and is now rented out to visitors.  It may not look like much from the outside (ok, I guess the inside doesn’t look that exciting either), but there

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were all sorts of details that made it cozy and romantic and wonderful.  Built in the early 1900s, it had lots of fun old-fashioned things like a wood stove for heating and candles and funky old power switches, but also all the modern amenities you could want with a regular stove, lightbulbs, comfortable bed, oven, fridge, giant bathroom next door, etc.  I suppose we could have used the lights more, but instead we played Boggle by candlelight while drinking glasses of wine, soaking in the warmth of the fire, and listening to the Cape Barren geese go crazy outside our door.  It was also really neat to stay right in the heart of a national park with kangaroos and wallabies and other wildlife at our doorstep. 

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                                Nina with a wallaby

Too bad it was only on our last morning that we discovered that one of the neighboring trees had a koala sleeping in it!  Amazingly the cottage was only $60 a night (crazy cheap by Australian standards), but I have a feeling that it’s going to go way up next year because they had just put in a shower before we came.  But how many places can you stay in with a koala neighbor?

 

The rest of the island was also just teeming with incredible wildlife. While exploring a grove of eucalyptus trees packed with dozens of koalas, I heard loud grunting that sounded just like a pig, but when I turned towards it, there was a large male koala on the ground running around and acting grumpy. He went up to bother a wallaby, who quickly scooted away, and then started climbing up another tree with two koalas. The female koala had been happily eating eucalyptus leaves at the top before this, but stopped and made not-so-happy sounds at him. He ignored this and continued up the tree, but then the other koala in the tree (I assume a male and her mate?) woke up and started yelling at him, so the intruder quickly slid down the tree, hopped back onto the ground, ran to another tree, and then started braying loudly again. This finally attracted Scott’s attention (he had been off watching a sleeping koala while all of the above was happening), and since he had the camera, the video below just captures the end of the action, which is when the grumpy koala climbed up another empty tree before taking a nap (koalas sleep a bajillion hours a day to conserve energy since the eucalyptus leaves they eat don’t have much nutritional value).

Afterwards, we saw an itchy echidna poking around looking for ants and termites to eat.

Echidnas are one of only two monotremes (mammals who lay eggs) alive today. Ten days after laying an egg into her pouch, the egg hatches and out comes a puggle (not to be confused with a cross between a pug and a beagle) who gets milk from his mother’s pores (since she doesn’t have nipples) while he develops in her pouch. Crazy! The other monotreme still alive today also happens to live on Kangaroo Island, but alas, the duck-billed platypus is very shy and we didn’t see one there despite multiple trips to the waterholes they’re known to frequent. At least we got to see a couple of them later at the Warrawong Sanctuary in Adelaide.

Oh, and Kangaroo Island had some other neat features, too.  Enormously powerful waves created giant expanses of white foam and pounded the rocky shoreline (there were so many shipwrecks they installed 3 different lighthouses on the island), carving features like the Remarkable Rocks.

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The seals didn’t seem to care about the waves much (other than fighting with each other to get prime waterfront property to sleep on).

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Anyway, we had a great time driving around in our Toyota Land Cruiser (free upgrade because it was the last car they had left), going on some short, pretty hikes, looking at funky rocks, seeing the amazing wildlife, and tasting the honey (apparently it’s the only place left in the world with pure Ligurian bees)…I don’t know that it tasted any different from regular honey, though.

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Tasmania is an Australian island south of the mainland, and aside from a couple stopovers at the Sydney airport, our first taste of Australia.  Delicious!

Tasmania is similar to New Zealand in a lot of ways – it’s an island that packs a lot of natural beauty into a small space – so I was surprised by how much Scott loved it compared to New Zealand.  I think some key differences were the amount of wildlife, fewer tourists (which also meant fewer regulations against things like freedom camping), encounters with friendlier people, and an upgraded campervan.  I loved both places, so what do I know?

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Our campervan was pretty sweet, with a kitchen and fridge and space to stand in, unlike the converted minivan we had before.  Our first night, we just parked by a lake and walked around dusk catching glimpses of kangaroos and wallabies.  During the night, we shined a flashlight at the nocturnal animals that had come out nearby.

 

Scott: Who’s that fellow?

Nina: I dunno, an opposum?

Scott: Yeah, maybe that one, but I think that other one’s a wombat.

Nina: No, I don’t think wombats have a tail like that.

Scott: Well, what do you think it is?

Nina: A racoony thing with a different tail.

Scott: A “racoony thing” is not the name of an animal.

 

Yes, our marsupial knowledge was woefully lacking.  One of the problems with a trip like this is that there’s no way to do the same amount of planning one might normally do for a one- or two-week trip months ahead.  Fortunately, we got to visit the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary near Hobart, which runs the only 24 hour animal rescue service on Tasmania, and also provides a guided tour about their marsupials, where we learned a ton.

IMG_9294 This wombat named Morris was orphaned (mother was run over by a car and someone found him still alive in her pouch) and they nursed him back to health.  They were getting ready to transition him to being released out into the wild.  He was mostly interested in sniffing the guide’s feet and totally ignored us.

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They had tons of Tasmanian devils, which was the main reason we visited the sanctuary.  This little guy looks fierce in this picture, and yes, his jaws are some of the strongest in the world, able to crunch through bone. But they’re also pretty slow and not able to see well so they mostly scavenge, and they don’t waste any of the animal since they even eat their bones and fur. Plus they’re really cute when they lumber around.

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I think that’s my hand petting Bert the koala (very soft).  He was brought in from Kangaroo Island (where we were heading next) because their koala population has exploded and they were eating themselves out of a home.

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Scott feeding the kangaroos – fun but a little scary feeding the big ones with the giant claws (only the little ones are in this picture).  Once we got over how different they looked, they reminded us a lot of deer.

 

Besides the awesome wildlife we saw (spiky echidnas by the side of the road, kangaroos and wallabies pretty much everywhere), Tasmania is just gorgeous and has sunrises and sunsets that seem to last for hours.

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After poking around some of the national parks in the central area, we drove down the eastern coast and the Tasman peninsula, which is just packed with one beautiful beach after another.

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One of the many oddly-colored starfish we saw at Spiky Beach

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Tessellated pavement – I’m a sucker for funky rock formations like this one

After just 5 days in Tasmania (and one hour walking quickly around downtown Hobart, the capital), we were sad to leave.  We’d love to come back and see some of the sights we missed, like the iconic Cradle Mountain.  However, we were also looking forward to heading over to Kangaroo Island next.

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