Brussels, Belgium.

After Tomorrowland, we had scheduled another few days in Brussels to recover and to see the quaint and very international city. We were staying near the offices of the European Union, Brussels being the unofficial epicentre of the European Parliament. It was amazing to overhear conversations that switched from French, to English, then to Dutch in a matter of moments. Belgians truly are multi-lingual!

We walked into the centre of town and the famous main square which must be one of the most ornate squares in Europe! The statues and frescoes and gold-gilded figures were quite imposing.

Brussels main square.

Brussels main square.

We managed to withstand the constant onslaught of signs telling us that the best waffles and chocolate and biscuits in the world were right in front of us, we settled for Belgian potato frites instead. For a small country, Belgium seems to have their fair share of famous food!

We were also fascinated by the architecture in Brussles, most houses designed in the style of Art Nouveau. There were so many beautiful buildings overlooking lush parks and rivers that we decided Brussels was a very attractive city.

Tomorrowland, Boom, Belgium

I know it’s not a city, but our time at Tomorrowland festival was just as significant as seeing the Emperor’s palace in Beijing or St Basil’s in Moscow. You see, this festival is extra-ordinary.

Everyone who knows about Tomorrowland wants to attend, which is why tickets sold out in one second this year. Even though the festival has been running for almost ten years, it’s popularity has exploded in recent times thanks to YouTube and the Tomorrowland after movies of 2011 and 2012.

As often as we had watched those after movies and imagined ourselves adrift in the sea of people, being there (along with 180,000 other revellers) was infinitely better. Tomorrowland truly lives up to it’s hype.

Looking over the magical grounds!

Looking over the magical grounds!

What’s so good about this festival? The creativity and planning makes it an experience. For three days you visit the kind of Wonderland that Alice probably would have preferred in her later years. It’s a very different feel to the festivals back home where you’re herded into a stadium the highlight is just the music. Atmosphere is everything and Tomorrowland has got it in spades.

The main stage

The main stage

We met some awesome people and spent lots of time exploring the festival grounds where we saw some of our favourite artists and some more mainstream ones. We were disappointed on the Saturday night when a tremendous thunderstorm rolled in and flooded the last act of the night. We were armed with emergency ponchos but in the end, even they knew they wouldn’t withstand the pelting rain. We spent the best part of an hour trying to navigate our way back to the buses that would take us home, wading through water up to our shins along the footpaths.

The main stage lit up in the evening.

The main stage lit up in the evening.

Ultimately, the festival was everything we thought it would be.

Jez and I at the main stage, luckily with an Aussie flag in the picture too!

Jez and I at the main stage, luckily with an Aussie flag in the picture too!

Amsterdam, Holland.

Amsterdam looks good on paper. It’s got everything a tourist could need, some bikes and a few more canals than other cities (for the perfect photo opportunity!). There are museums and beautiful buildings and there was a lot of stuff I wanted to see.

In an effort to embrace this unique city, we enrolled for a bike tour on what the locals were saying was the hottest day of the year (actually, it was the hottest day of the past few years at 37 degrees Celsius). Amsterdam is THE city of bikes so it was all smiles as our group set off to see the sights of the city on two wheels.

Our guide had warned us that there would be some busy parts of the city, but that we (all twenty people on the bike tour) would all be able to stick together and as long as we all watched the person in front, he hadn’t lost anyone yet!

Well, I got separated from the bike tour.

Look, I know what you’re thinking. I can ride a bike. I can go fast but I generally like to go at a leisurely pace. I hate riding a bike in traffic. I won’t tell you the particulars but I returned safely, in one piece, pride slightly bruised.

The Prinsengracht canal - Anne Frank's House is next to the church.

The Prinsengracht canal – Anne Frank’s House is next to the church.

My favourite part of Amsterdam was our visit to the Anne Frank House. It will remain a very special part of the trip for me for many reasons. I read The Diary of Anne Frank in the lead up to our visit to Amsterdam because I had actually never read it before. I knew the premise of the diary but nothing could prepare me for how heartbroken I felt when I finished it – I felt as though I knew her.

The Anne Frank House is the house where Anne, her family and four others, hid from the Nazi’s. It is now a museum and if you have the chance to go, I would highly recommend it.

We also spent an afternoon at the Van Gogh Museum, admiring brilliant works of art. We found that Amsterdam was, in itself, a very lovely museum and art gallery all rolled in to one.

The sun setting in Amsterdam.

The sun setting in Amsterdam.

Devon, England.

We have never felt the saying ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ more keenly than during our stay in Devon. We had kept referring to our stay in England as a point so distant to us at the start of our journey back in May, it seemed to come and go so quickly!

We spent time with Jeremy’s family in both Teignmouth and Ivybridge, seeing lots of the Devon countryside and visiting wonderful places. There were National Trust houses, the wild moors, vintage steam trains, village pubs and of course, a Devon cream tea.

Brian and his partner Patsy took us on a ’round robin’ experience. We got on a ferry at Totnes that took us up the river Dart to Dartmouth. Along the way we saw tiny fishing villages, grand homes and wildlife. We had lunch at a pub called the Cherub, before catching a steam train along the coast to Paignton. Along this stretch we saw beautiful views of the coastline in the most amazing weather. From Paignton we then caught a bus back to Totnes taking in the rolling fields and hedgerows.

Dartmouth from the ferry.

Dartmouth from the ferry.

We visited two very beautiful National Trust buildings during our stay. One was Buckland Abbey, which was once home to Sir Francis Drake, and Cotehele, a grand building with gardens and a flour mill overlooking the river. I couldn’t help but imagine the Antiques Roadshow theme song in my mind as we twisted through the tiny hedgerow lanes of Devon, the music reaching a crescendo as we drove through the entrance!

National Trust building Cotehele, from the top garden.

National Trust building Cotehele, from the top garden.

At the top of Cotehele tower, in a paddock!

At the top of Cotehele tower, in a paddock!

Another highlight was our trip to Plymouth with John and Clare. We walked along the port and took a tour of the Plymouth Gin Distillery which has been in operation since 1793 and was the main supplier for the Royal Navy. At the end of the tour we sampled the products, including a delicious variation – Sloe Gin!

On our last full day, we gathered for Brian’s birthday in Exeter for a very lovely lunch.

Happy Birthday Brian!

Happy Birthday Brian!

Rome, Italy.

Rome is a city that can’t easily be put in to words.

The Colossuem

The Colossuem

The history buff in me was gobsmacked as to how a modern metropolis can exist surrounded by antiquities. Seeing the huge, ancient aqueducts running parallel to motorways was strange. I wonder how the Europeans do it, if they notice these monuments as I have? At home, I love driving across the Harbour Bridge. I find it such a thrill and a sense of comfort to see our beautiful city (and a glimpse of the harbour if there’s traffic…). I am so grateful to see these things regularly (the harbour, not the traffic!)

But is it the same as a city like Rome, where, in one glance you can see two thousand years of history?

The view from Medici park.

The view from Medici park.

We spent our days walking around the streets of Rome and managed to find surprising nooks and crannies of the city that were certainly ‘off the beaten track’. We found respite from the heat in the cool parks high on the hills of Rome and the leafy squares of Trastevere where the locals sat by water fountains.

We slurped on granita with fruity syrup, ate gelato at speed, grappled with the spring water fountains and salivated as every pizza place we walked past smelt divine.

Our highlight for Rome was the food tour that we took on a balmy Thursday evening where we had wine, gelato, pizza, pasta, mozzarella… No wonder our clothes felt a little snug! We visited one of Rome’s most reputable bakeries, famous for their bread and pizza. We were able to gain VIP access to the kitchens and saw the dough being prepared for the next day’s trading.

This one is for you Milly, how many pizza's could you make with THAT?

This one is for you Milly, how many pizza’s could you make with THAT?

Another stop on the food tour was a wine cellar in a room over two thousand years old. This stop was rather early on in the food tour and I’ll admit I was a little merry. Just as well there were other merry people who were able to take our photo!

Wine cellar in Trastevere

Wine cellar in Trastevere