our visit to trakai castle

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So here we are in summer (supposedly – but let’s not talk about that) in Sydney. And it seems like the Northen Hemisphere has been snowed in of late. Our Facebook newsfeed is filled with photos of places covered in snow. Whether it be because of this winter or previous ones, we can’t be sure… but there are plenty going around. Trakai Castle in Lithuania was one of the ones that we came upon. Such a beautiful castle and even more magical and elegant in snow.

We saw it a couple of summers ago now and it was a stunning blue sky kind-of-day. What we saw and what it looks like at present is no doubt very different.

We do have a fascination with castles… Lured to them when we travel to old countries. Lifestyles of the rich and regal.

Trakai Castle is one of these castles we fell in love with from the outside. There is something so ridiculously “magical” seeing a castle out on an island in the middle of a lake, Lake Galve to be exact.

IMG_1169The castle was built in the 14th Century and was updated in the 19th Century. And no doubt has a colourful history like most castles do.

To reach the castle, we had to walk along a wooden bridge before entering the main gates.IMG_1174 IMG_1177Once inside, it is as if we are stepping onto a movie set, half expecting knights or lords or ladies to poke their heads out and jeer at us. IMG_1176 Exploring this castle is much like any castle – there’s a left wing, a right wing, Chapels, spiral staircases  up into towers or down into dungeons.

Here is David (red top:LEFT) looking around in awe as we sat and appreciated the Chapel and its architecture (and to rest our feet).IMG_1189Back up on our feet, we walk through doorways, and hallways and balconies. Up, down and around….

IMG_1200 IMG_1202Artefacts from archeological finds are displayed in the different rooms and we always love looking at things like that. To think how old some of the objects are simply blows our minds. And even more surreal when we are able to stand in the room that the royal families used to sleep in. Who would’ve thought! IMG_1193 IMG_1197And it’s not only within the city walls that visitors can explore. We walked around the island outside the city walls.IMG_1210Seeing too many castles whilst visiting Europe can happen but even so, we love visiting them.

So much history, so much intrigue and how humbling that we can catch a glimpse into what life once was like.

 

hotel review: little national hotel

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Ever wondered what it would be like to sleep on clouds?

Well, if you stay at the Little National Hotel in Canberra, you might get a little taste of what it could be like! The beds have pillowtops so huge, we have never been on anything quite like it. Sleeping on it was like sleepy in the arms of a marshmallow (at times a toasted marshmallow!). And not to forget the enormous and plump pillows for our heads. The bed, linen and pillows swallowed us up, it was like fighting a marshmallow to get out in the mornings.

Opening only last September, this boutique hotel, located in easy walking distance to the museums of Canberra, is still looking very fresh and modern.

The first thing you might notice upon arriving at the hotel is how minimalistic it is and that is looks like a big parking station from the outside. But, if you look up, there are two floors of accommodation at the top.IMG_0142

Reception & Check In/Out

Then it’s a long walk down the driveway (unless you drive down) arriving at typical revolving doors before entering quite a quaint reception area.IMG_0241One long tall desk with the staff perched on bar stools behind big Apple Mac computers, it’s not often you get to see the staff and their legs when checking in.

Check-in was prompt, smooth and easy. The staff were very friendly and helpful. We were given $25 credit per day to use for food at their sister hotel (Hotel Realm) restaurants which we put towards the buffet breakfast at Buvette Bistro & Wine (more about that later).

Check-out was a wee bit more clumsy and slow. Considering that it was about 9-9.30 am, there was only one staff member on with a line about 4-5 people to check out. This is probably where there could be improvement.

Rooms

So we’ve mentioned the beds and that is very much what dominates the room.IMG_0127The rooms are small and the name of the hotel is very fitting. But that doesn’t mean that we had to go without because we stayed there.

It probably is more ideal for single or couple travellers who are there only for a few nights, it will be a bit claustrophobic for longer stays.

Working our way from the door, there is the bathroom. The bathroom is equipped with the basics; a toilet, a shower and a basin with an enormous mirror. Although, we say “basics”, it is far from basic. The mirror has a button to turn the lights on and off, the shower head and pressure could shower a family of four at the one time. Then there are the little extras as well such as; hairdryer, toiletries, towels, shower cap, tissues etc.IMG_0119 IMG_0118Next in the bedroom is a wardrobe. Then a table with two seats.

And then the feature of the room, the BED. It is a king bed placed up alongside the window, from wall to wall: that is the width of the room.

We did scratch our heads how people could comfortably climb in and out of bed to go to the bathroom when they slept closer to the window. Hmmmm……

Anyway, at the foot of the bed is a TV with access to Foxtel (i.e. pay TV) and a huge range of new and old movies.IMG_0130And of course, there is air-conditioning which worked very well and which we had control over.

One of the best things about the room were the motorised blinds. Flick a switch and there is the option of two blinds coming down. The heavier one blocked out all light and we seriously had no idea what time it was when we woke in the mornings.

Breakfast

As mentioned earlier, it is across the road from the hotel at Buvette Bistro & Wine. With the large windows encompassing the seating area, the natural lighting made this place a great place to start the day. There was a variety of hot breakfast choices and cold breakfast choices, drinks, fruits, teas, danishes, breads…. We were very content with having our breakfast here two days in a row.IMG_0147 IMG_0144

Parking

Being above a parking station, there was no shortage of parking, at least not to our knowledge. But it does come at a cost of about $12 per day. We were fortunate enough to always find parking not far away for free as long as it was for 2 hours or less between 8.30 am and 5.30 pm. Outside those times were free for as long as we needed. It was convenient and saved us at least $24. Just make sure you read the parking road signs carefully.

The Other Bits

  • Free wifi
  • There is a bright lounge area where guests are welcome to sit, relax and enjoy.
  • Guests of Little National Hotel can use the facilities of that in Hotel Realm (such as the gym).
  • Hotel reception is 24 hours.
  • Tea/Coffee making facilities
  • MiniBar
  • Fluffy robe

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The Verdict

Little National Hotel was perfect for a short stay. It was comfortable and conveniently located for us to visit a lot of the touristy places of Canberra. For a little hotel, it made a big impressions.We really enjoyed our stay and were made to feel so welcome.

It really is the little things that often count.IMG_0120

So would we come back again? Most probably.

Disclaimer: Little National Hotel offered us a special room rate. There was no expectation for a review or endorsement. This review is a Wise Monkeys Abroad initiative and opinions are entirely our own. 

 

 

 

 

 

three must-dos in hokitika

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So… what is there to do in Hokitika?

“You mustn’t miss the sunset” were the last words we heard as the waitress cleared our table of dinner plates.

The sunset? Where better to view this than at the beach.

And right on cue as we arrive, the sun shyly ducks behind clouds. We wait patiently for it to show itself again before we start “snapping” away.

We love sunsets. We love the way the sky changes colour, the twinkle reflections on the water and the sight of the sun itself. IMG_0903 We love how the horizon gobbles up the sun in an instant; how the air feels automatically different the minute the sun is out of sight. IMG_0910 IMG_0917

The three must-dos (that are also free) when in and around Hokitika:

  • the sunset
  • the glow worms and
  • Hokitika Gorge

(1) Sunset

As already described.

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(2) Glow Worm Dell

This is free and easy to get to; easier than when we tried seeing glow worms on the North Island a few years back. No queues, no boats…. Only a short track, right off the main road out of Hokitika lies the Glow Worm Dell.

Be sure to go after dark. The track is pitch black with only lighting at the start, so bring a torch to see where you are going but turn it off when you are at the end.

If your timing is right, you will enter the area with only a few (hundred) speckles of blue-green glows but within minutes, the area is splattered with “a sky full of stars”. And if your timing is perfect, you will be lucky enough to get the place to yourself in complete silence – a little bit of magic right there in Hokitika. Unfortunately we were a little slack and did not take any pictures to share.

Word of advice: It’s not an epic experience, expect it to be short and sweet – it is a 5-minute walk from the car park and the viewing area isn’t huge.

(3) Hokitika Gorge

Don’t let the 30km detour deter you. It was by far ONE of the most incredible natural things we have laid our eyes on.

The colour of the water is like nothing we have seen before… so vibrant, so turquoise!IMG_0928The road to the car park of the gorge is narrow and sealed for most of the way. It becomes gravel on the last stretch. And then it is only an easy 10-15 minute walk down  (with a swing bridge crossing included) to the gorge viewing platform. IMG_0952IMG_0934

We saw plenty and did plenty in the South Island of New Zealand and these three things were easily in the list of our favourites! So if you are ever in Hokitika, don’t miss these if you can help it.

Hokitika is located on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island – an adorable little town. It was a flying visit, one night only on the way to Arthur’s Pass from Franz Josef for us.

Have you been to Hokitika?

Share your comments here.

travel tales of disaster accommodation

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We have recently decided to go to Scandinavia next year (YAY!) and for budgeting purposes had a quick look at accommodation prices.

*sigh* the fun of checking out places online and then reading about them on Tripadvisor. And then experiencing them for real.

Sometimes you get this:

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And sometimes you don’t!

How many times is it all a LIE?

We roll our eyes when we read reviews from people complaining that there was no TV, that the bathroom didn’t have a bathtub, that the room didn’t have a view… blah blah blah…

Yes! Okay, so that might be annoying for some. And generally we are quite liberal with our accommodation. We accept basic and don’t expect luxury. We understand that some places don’t have this, that and the other. And we get what we pay for sometimes.

BUT…

when it comes to cleanliness: that’s where we have to draw the line!

And then there are other places we stay where the memories will make us laugh purely due to how random they were!

This is NOT a post about naming and shaming hotels… we won’t do that. This post is more for us to collate our nightmare experiences…ones that we can laugh about now. But shocked, and at times, mortified us!

The one with the spiders 

As young, budget travellers on our first trip to Europe. We were away for 4 months and needed to make sure we stayed within budget. But we were so simply excited to visit Bath that we wanted to stay somewhere we thought would be half decent. And all we got were spiders. Let’s just say our experience with the staff left much to be desired BUT then to have to contend with spiders as well is a different ballgame altogether.

We were lying in bed one night talking when David calmly says, “Don’t move!” And when someone says that… well the natural reaction is to move first and ask why later! Next thing, you know there is a spider running across the sheet. Holy F&%$! And if you know Le, she cannot stand spiders!

There were webs throughout the whole hotel (and NO, it was not Halloween). Let’s just say when you see a footprint mark on the ceiling, you know someone used a shoe to squash something up there.

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Courtesy of Neograf Forum thread (www.neograf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=481314&page=3)

The one with the hair everywhere

On a weekend away, in our nation’s capital, Canberra, we chose to stay at a big name chain hotel. They are usually quite reputable from our experience but this one… let’s just say, we would found the experience rather “hairy”. Getting ready for bed, Le has a habit of ripping back the sheets to check that there are no creepy crawlies in the bed (thanks to our experience in Bath). Luckily, there were no spiders… there was in fact HAIR everywhere. Not just a few strands but it was like someone had a haircut while sitting in the bed! Top to bottom hair was scattered on the bed. YUCK!

The one with dirt and mould everywhere

We were booked to stay at another hotel in Istanbul, but due to being overbooked, they pushed the overflow into another hotel, apparently “4-star”. More like 0.4 star. The staff were rude and dismissive to start. The rooms were tight, dark, dirty and mouldy. The bathroom was absolutely putrid… imagine “Fawlty Towers” in every way but worse and NOT funny!

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The one where the toilet clogged

Anyone who has visited New York City knows that accommodation is not cheap and we were there for over a week. We chose one of the cheapest and most convenient places to stay… and well, much like our other tales, we were in for a bit of a shock. The first room they gave us was a small tiny little room, the second one they tried giving to us didn’t even exist (we walked around and around trying to find it to no avail), finally the third one they gave us was at least spacious and existed.

The toilet didn’t flush well and did this weird thing where it would fill to the top and then drain 5-10 minutes later.We just prayed each time that it would not overflow.

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The one where we got robbed

We stayed at these serviced apartments in Barcelona, right on Las Ramblas. We ducked out for our last day in Barcelona. Upon our return, we started to get organised for our departure the following day, and noticed that a padlock was missing from one of our bags. So we turned the room upside down looking for it. We didn’t think anything more of it until we went to start packing and saw that our little case of gifts for family and friends back home was missing. Nothing was of immense value but it was just annoying that someone had broken in to steal souvenirs from us! And that was ALL they took, thank goodness!

The one where we were chased by bees

On the Greek Island of Ios, we stayed at a hotel with a lovely view. Except a lot of random things happened at that place and just to name a few memorable ones.

On our first morning in Ios, we went down to breakfast. It was a beautiful warm day, and we wanted to enjoy some sunshine and cereal. Next thing you know, we were being followed by a swarm of bees. They would not leave us alone no matter where we sat, so we were literally were chased out by the bees.

 

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Courtesy of The Hob-bee Hive

The following morning, after a rather sleepless night, thanks to crazy young hooligans staying in the same place, we had a sleep-in. Mid-sleep, we had housekeeping come through. Yep, she came in and tried to be “invisible”, making no eye-contact, she hunched her shoulders to appear smaller, we think.  She mopped around the bed and cleaned the bathroom, all the while as we lay in bed. It was rather awkward. to say the least.

The one with the burnt toast

Staying in Malta, right by the waters, we had nothing to complain about this hotel. This experience is one we laugh at. At breakfast, we noticed that the toast was always burnt. Black toast every morning.  So on our final day, we thought we would ask for bread that was not as black, and clearly due to a lost-in-translation moment, the toast came out, and it was even more charred than we could ever imagine. It looked like a piece of black charcoal. Not a piece of bread in sight. We looked at each other as the waitress put it down, and burst into laughter.

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Courtesy of Kindness Blog

The reality is with where we stay… its purpose is for us to shower and sleep. As long as we can do those comfortably and safely, we generally don’t mind where we are staying. 

Now it’s over to you. Share a bad accommodation experience with us… Make us feel better that it is not only us that gets all this craziness!

What has been your most horrible hotel experience?