pets travelling

What to do with your pets when travelling

If you are anything like me you struggle with the idea of leaving your pets when you go travelling. Unless you take them with you, this can be something that could either stop you from doing extensive travelling or stop you from going anywhere at all.

Some of us are fortunate enough to have a support network or someone in particular that they can rely upon. Some of us don’t. Most of us do not want to leave our furry friends in the hands of strangers, but sometimes we may not have a choice.

Believe me, this is my first thing I think about when I am considering travelling. It is all well and good to throw caution to the wind and book something, but my two fur kids are my children and I simply will not leave them in the hands of people I do not know.

My two angels

How many of you that have animals watch your beloved fur friend get that sad look in their eyes when you start to pack for a trip? Oh, My Lord!!!! I tell you my two dogs, especially the older one, really make me feel like I am deserting them when I am packing. And as much as I try to hide the packing process from them (trust me I have tried many ways of doing this) they just seem to know.

My older dog, Ralph, picks up on things pretty quickly and man am I in the doghouse (see what I did there? Lol) for days on end. He has, many of times, turned his back on me and won’t give me cuddles for days! So, it is so super important that who I have looking after them is someone that I trust and someone that will give them the attention and love that they need.

For many years I was really lucky in that my brother and his wife would look after my two. They at the time lived in Melbourne and loved having time with my fur kids (well I hope that they did). I trusted them with my dogs and I know that the kids loved them immensely. But all good and easy things must come to an end at some point, and with their move up to the Gold Coast a few years ago the ease of booking a trip became a bit more complex.

While I could put them in a kennel, it simply is not an option I would consider. I am not dismissing the convenience of using a dog kennel as I know some people do not have the luxury of anything else. But for me, I just couldn’t. I’ll put my hand up and say my dogs are spoilt. They follow me around, they eat super well (home cooked food), we have snuggles on the couch every day AND they sleep on top of my bed.

One is a touch on the anxious side and quite old (14) and the other is adorably crazy. They are as reliant on me as I am of them. So, to put them in a kennel for an extended period of time just does not work for us.

My first trip overseas after my brother and his partner moved, I had two good friends look after them at my place.  The second time another two good friends took it in turns at my place. The third, a short trip to New Zealand, offered up a place for a friend who was in between houses. The fourth trip overseas my cousin was living with me at the time, so she looked after them. The last trip overseas, a work colleague who was in between rentals.

When I have family or friends staying at my place to look after my dogs and they have never looked after them before I will always get them to come over to go through a few things. It is important for your dog sitter to know how much to feed them, what they do’s and don’ts’ are, where to walk them and general quirks that my dogs have. We will always go on a walk together so that they know what my dogs temperament is like when on a leash.

I am also crazy enough to have a dog manual in print that stays on the kitchen table for them to use should they need. I know, I am a crazy dog lady! But it is important for me to feel comfortable leaving my fur kids as much as it is for the friend to feel comfortable in my home and with the kids.

I ensure that:

  • There is enough food and treats so that the friend does not have to go shopping for anything.
  • Leave extra money in case food runs out or the friend wants to buy treats.
  • The dogs are groomed, washed and smelling fresh for their visitor.
  • Beds are clean.
  • There are enough toys to keep them occupied.
  • The person has emergency contact list including vet, emergency vet, other family or friends in the area that can assist.
  • Offer to pay the person looking after your fur kids. I often get told to “piss off” with this one so I either buy them something from my travels, take them out to dinner, treat them to something or buy them a gift that I know that they will love.
  • I need to check my expectations. Just because they sleep on my bed does not mean that the friend is comfortable with doing that. Even though I walk my two daily, it does not matter if that doesn’t happen every day when I am away.
  • Remember the favour that has enabled me to travel.
  • Try not to be a pain in the arse by not contacting the friend every single day! You have them there for a reason, you trust them. Enjoy your holiday!

Being in contact while I am away is super important for me. I won’t lie. The first couple of days are always rough as I go through my own separation anxiety. But as soon as I settle in and know the dogs are ok, I tend to relax a little. I always ask for whoever is looking after them to send me photos or videos and let me know how they are going. This works really well for alleviating any anxiety that I may have.

Relying on friends and family not only gives you the option to be that crazy animal owner and ask them to ‘reeeeeally’ look after your family, but they are trusted people in your network of people. You know them, you trust them, and you know that they understand how important your fur kids are to you.

But what if you do not have that option?

  • Friends of mine have become connected to dog meet up groups on social media and have met trusted dog/house sitters through that option. Generally, people who join these kinds of groups love animals so will have your fur kids’ best interest at heart.
  • Consider taking them with you. I know not an option for a lot of overseas travel, but if you are travelling locally and if it is somewhere you can easily drive to, or if animals are allowed on trains and buses, why not try out dog friendly accommodation. Just as much as you love getting away, I am sure your animals do too. You can read about our recent dog vacation to Macclesfield here: ‘Dog Vacation Victoria – Luella Rise’.
  • Look at trusted house sitters’ websites such as: Trusted House Sitters, Mad Paws and Happy House Sitters. Be selective with who you choose. Remember you must be able to trust the person to look after your animals. Ask them questions, treat it like an interview and ALWAYS ask for references. Blind faith is a hard thing, trust your gut. If it feels like a good option, it is likely that it will be. If you are feeling too anxious about the person, find someone else.
  • Consider your animals staying at a family or friends place rather than in your own home.

I have been very fortunate not to have many mishaps while I have been away travelling. The dogs have been in good health, the people that have looked after them are people I trust explicitly. There has only been one time where I had someone booked in to look after my two that put me at unease. Communication was pretty shit leading up to my trip, and the limited contact we did have I was constantly told “not to worry, I have this sorted”, something did not sit right for me. So, I cancelled her and asked someone else.

If it doesn’t feel right for you, find someone or something that does. I know it is a huge responsibility to place on someone else, and I ALWAYS remember that this person/people are doing me a massive favour. But nothing would more heart breaking than knowing your beloved fur family was not looked after.

When you have someone doing you a favour as big as this (because it truly is) ALWAYS remember to be gracious. Your animals are ultimately your responsibility. But if you are having a family member or friend look after your fur kids, do the right thing and show your gratitude. I am so super thankful to the people that have looked after my dogs. If ever there is a time, I repay their generosity in some way.

What it has enabled me to do is that I have been able to travel knowing that the two things I love more than most things in this world are doing well, happy and content. Most of the times after the trip is over and things return to normal, the friend ends up back at my place because they miss my two! Hopefully me too!

For me, nothing feels better than turning the key to my front door after a trip away and a long flight home to see my two dogs. The excitement levels are through the roof and in all honesty, I don’t think ANY human has been as excited as my two dogs to see my face when I have come home from a holiday. Equally as good is knowing that they have been loved, cared for and they are happy and in good health.

So, when planning your trip when you have animals to care for, I hope the above gives you some insight on some of the things that you can do in order to feel comfortable travelling.  As well as what other crazy animal lovers do to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their beloved pets.

dog vacation

Dog Vacation Victoria – Luella Rise

Our dogs are such a huge part of our lives, so why not treat them to a holiday too. A dog vacation is the perfect way to have a get away with our beloved fur kids.

Well, the last twelve months for me, and for everyone else on the planet, has been all about staying safe and keeping out of COVID-19’s way. I don’t know about you, but never in my wildest imagination would have thought that I would, we would, spend a year at home, literally. And no travel? Ouch! It kind of makes me very grateful for my very indulgent 2019. Three overseas trips travel in one year was epic!

With Japan travel plans cancelled back in April, the furthest I got in 2020 was to Ballarat on Boxing Day and a couple of much needed trips to my hairdresser in Richmond. 8kms from home. Whoo!

So, when Melbourne’s COVID restrictions started to ease my travel planning brain went into overdrive.

Then my little family of three suffered a tough blow. My poor lil man, my fur kid soul mate, my 15-year-old little smooch of a dog, Ralphie, was diagnosed with Cancer and given a few months.

My lil Ralphie

So, our days are filled with making sure he is happy, loved, eating and drinking and can still enjoy his walks. So far so good. But I really wanted to do something special for him. But what?

Then it hit me when out walking with the dogs one morning. They needed a change of scenery. We ALL needed a change of scenery.

A dog vacation was was my first idea so as soon as I got home from our walk, the research started.

My findings. There is a lot of information out there about benefits of holidaying with pets and why animals also need a break! While Covid-19 has given me the opportunity to be at home for a year with my dogs (and I have treasured every moment), they have also been stuck with me and the same routine. Day in, day out. For over 12 months.

Poor things. So yes, a dog vacation was definitely a must for my little family of three.

Within an hour of the idea popping into my head everything was booked and paid for. Yes, I move quickly but time is of the essence when you are dealing with cancer. As I have learnt.

While there are quite a few organisations that offer pet vacation options in Australia, trusty old AirBNB came through with the goods this particular time. I didn’t actually realise that they offer dog vacation but really happy that they do. (I am affiliated with airbnb and you can use my booking page to book your accomodation any time).

After a small search on AirBnB one particular place stuck in my mind as the perfect get away for the three of us; ‘Luella Rise’ at Macclesfield.

Macclesfield is approximately 50 minutes from Melbourne CBD, past Emerald along the winding roads of the Dandenong Ranges. A quiet little village that hosts a few small shops and restaurants. Luella Rise was about a 3-minute drive further on from Macclesfield.

And what a stunning place it is set amongst the hills of the Dandenong Ranges. Luella Rise is the perfect place to get away from city life to relax and unwind whilst feeling like you are being utterly spoilt. It is a great base to explore the Dandenong and Yarra Ranges, visit Puffing Billy and many of the other attractions in the area.

Set on 10 acres, the property is run and owned by Victorialee, who lives on the property, but Luella Rise is separate from her place. She is warm, inviting and an amazing conversationalist. She will leave you alone if that is what you wish or stick around to have a chat if that takes your fancy too.

Victorialee is also a qualified massage therapist and I cannot recommend strongly enough that if you book in to stay at Luella Rise, that you treat yourself to a massage! Mine was incredibly relaxing and my body feels so much better for it. Victorialee is a fantastic host. Kind, generous and just really lovely. I especially enjoyed chatting and connecting with her.

What is so great about Luella Rise is having the ability to holiday with your pets. I hate leaving them home when I travel (you can read all about that ‘What to do with your pets when travelling’). I know they are always so well looked after but I miss my kids. So this was perfect for us and great to be able to give Ralphie something special and create some good memories.

I think that as much as I absolutely loved the place, my two dogs; Ralph & Maisie loved the open spaces even more. A big treat for them considering their space at home is a small courtyard with a bit of grass. They especially loved being able to meet Victorialee’s two horses, Hunter and Pippy. The first time either one of them had seen horses, so loads of excitement!

If you are looking for ultimate relaxation, the pool, spa and sauna are an absolute must. I enjoyed a swim and drying off in the sun while reading a book and having some music playing. I honestly can’t remember the last time I did something as simple and as relaxing as that. I also REALLY enjoyed the spa, with a bottle of Prosecco of course.

I did almost have a disaster with this though, I mean what would a travel vacation of mine be without some sort of stuff up on my behalf. Hint to anyone using a spa who does not know this; go very easy on the radox or bubble bath unless you want a mess spilling out of the bath and over everything on the floor. Luckily for me I saw this unfolding and avoided disaster.

There are a few walking tracks from Luella Rise if you feel like a bit of exercise and roaming around the area. The house is equipped with everything you need for your stay, shops and restaurants are not too far away either. As I was only staying the one night, I chose to cook myself dinner in the fully equip kitchen. Victorialee did mention that the restaurants in the area are quality and worth a look.

The bed was so super comfortable, I had a brilliant night’s sleep and woke to the beautiful sounds of birds chirping away. A nice change from waking to my neighbours or the cars on the street zooming past my place.

What was really lovely about our stay at Luella Rise was leaving the city behind and for the first time in over 12 months having a night away from home, in the hills with nothing but the sound of the wind through the pine trees, stunning views of the hills and landscape and nothing to do but relax and spend time away from life with the two things I love the most, Ralph and Maisie.

If you are after a peaceful getaway for you and your fur family in a fabulous, clean and nature filled environment, Luella Rise will not disappoint. Do yourself a favour, just book. You can thank me later.

Remember as much as we all need to get away from time to time, a dog vacation is the perfect way to treat yourself and your beloved pooch. Mine has a fabulous time away and I enjoyed the change of scenery with them. Something that I hope to be able to do again with Ralph & Maisie soon enough.

You can book Luella Rise through my AirBNB affiliation here.

Thornbury Fromagerie

Thornbury Fromagerie

Welcome to my new favourite place in Melbourne. In Thornbury. Where I live. The Thornbury Fromagerie. A short $8 AUD Uber from home. I could walk there it is that close.

Winning in life!

Imagine my absolute pleasure and utter delight in finding out early in 2020 that there was FINALLY a Fromagerie in my area. This cheese loving wine swilling lady of the inner north was in her element upon hearing this news. So, imagine the impression I was going to leave on this place when I finally visited!

Alas, I only managed to get one visit in with my equally as crazy wine loving cheese eating bestie before Melbourne’s first Covid Lockdown. But an impression we did make. I think the owners underestimated the amount of wine and cheese the two of us could put away. It was a lot but being seasoned connoisseurs of all things French we provided a classy round of entertainment. Expect no less people!

The impression however was what was left on us. The owners of the Thornbury Fromagerie are people that really love their cheese and their wine. And are not afraid to be proud of it. On that first visit, we received such a great introduction to French butter (who would have though that butter and bread could taste so damn good) and the most amazing of cheeses from around the world.

I can safely say now that no Australian soft cheese comes anywhere near as mouth-watering as the Delice de Cremiers. I’ve since eaten my fair share of the Delice and really cannot get enough of this creamy heavenly beauty that has made my eyes roll back into the nether regions of my head on a number of occasions.

Worth an honourable mention is the cheese that makes your tongue tingle (can’t quite remember the name of it), the sharpness of the Pyengana 24 month Vintage Cheddar, the Moliterno Al Tartufo (pecorino laced with thick veins of truffle), delightfully salty Le Conquérant butter and the Merlot infused Bella Vitano. The wine list changes from time to time but they pair it with what your cheese selection is.

In July 2020 in Melbourne, we were treated to 6 weeks of freedom between Covid lockdowns and the first place on my list to eat at was the Thornbury Fromagerie. Imagine my delight walking in and having owners Taz & Liv not only remember us but welcome us so warmly. Another night of fine butters and cheeses pared with beautiful wines and great banter. I have been a few times since, but not nearly enough.

During Melbourne’s first and second Covid Lockdown I was adamant that I would support and buy local and the Thornbury Fromagerie was first on my list to buy from. Adapting a new business model, the Fromagerie moved their store online, much to the relief of the local community. Within 30 minutes of submitting my first order online, cheese, crackers and wine was delivered by Taz (owner). That is the kind of service that goes beyond exceptional. Service that that will endear a cult following, and it would be totally deserving.

Thornbury Fromagerie
Special Delivery

Speaking of the owners, Taz and Liv are two of the kindest and loveliest people in hospo that I have ever met. And I have met quite a few! They know their cheese and they know their wines and they are not afraid to sit and chat with you to talk about what they know and just life. Cause they can and that is what makes the Thornbury Fromagerie my favourite place in old Melbourne Town. They are hospitable, friendly and proud of what they have built, and so they should be.

Post second lockdown the Fromagerie has expanded outdoors with a quaint little courtyard where you can eat drink and be merry. On Sunday’s they host musicians in the courtyard providing a perfect backdrop to a lazy Sunday session of wine and cheese and great entertainment.

Thornbury Fromagerie

In a year of utter chaos and uncertainty the Thornbury Fromagerie has been my shining light. I look forward to more sessions of delightful cheeses, butters and wines pared with exceptional service, banter and happy smiles.

Do yourself a favour, just visit. You will not be disappointed.

The Thornbury Fromagerie is located at 666 High Street Thornbury. Plenty of on street parking on High Street or on the surrounding side streets. The 86 tram stops close to the front of the Fromagerie.

Check out my other reviews of the Thornbury/Northcote/Preston area in Keeping it Local.

Zsa's Bar Bistro Deli

Zsa’s Bar Bistro Deli

Zsa’s Bar Bistro Deli is a Mediterranean inspired one stop shop/café/bar/bistro located on High Street, Northcote.

Opening a business in the middle of a global pandemic is definitely no easy feat. Trust me I know (I started my business Smart Artist Management *** at the start of 2020). But to open a restaurant while Melbourne in the middle of a Covid induced strict lockdown would ordinarily be a recipe for utter disaster.

But not if your reputation and your food is beyond exceptional. You at least have a fighting chance. And so with that Zsa’s Bar Bistro Deli opened amongst all the chaos.

I watched Zoe post on our local facebook page Northcote, Thornbury & Fairfield Takeaway about decorating the unopened bar, building the excitement, leaving us wanting to know more. The feedback she was getting and the excitement that was built by a community of people that have been if not nothing but amazing in support of our local restaurants, cafes and bars was incredible. And once opened, the pictures and the reviews that were coming back of what was on offer at Zsa’s was anything but lacklustre. My mouth was huuungray for the panino. HAHA….

So, it was on my mum’s birthday that I made my first visit to Zsa’s to get a takeaway Porcini Panino. Driving home was almost nauseating (in a really good way) from the smells that were emanating in my car. My stomach obviously craving what I had ordered. And let me tell you, I’ve had nothing like it. The best slow roasted pork, the creamiest of melted cheese, crustiest panini and whatever sauce was in that thing… um HELLO can I please know what it is? DELICIOUS!

Zsa’s is now a lunch favourite of mine and I have been several times. Now that we can, I like to eat in and have a glass (or two) of spritz. Which they do exceptionally well. Worth a recommendation also is the fish & chips panini.

There is a little store and deli at the front of Zsa’s where you can buy some condiments to fill your pantry (think Italian, French & Spanish) as well as fresh salads, cheeses, meats, pastas (the gnocchi is amazing) and breads.

Out the back Zsa’s now has a courtyard and they are open for meals that are equally as amazing as the panini’s you can takeaway or order in. My favourite is the gnocchi. I’ve never had one so tasty and fresh before.

The staff are super friendly, the food incredible and the spritz really does hit the spot on a warm summers day.

Well done team Zsa’s, what a delightful place to visit.

Zsa’s is located across from the Northcote town Hall at 202 High Street. Parking is available on High street or in the side streets. The 86 tram stops not far from the front.

Check out my other reviews of the Thornbury/Northcote/Preston area in Keeping it Local.

Le Café Flo

Le Café Flo Thornbury

What is now fast becoming the ‘French Quarter’ of the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne is the local staple Le Café Flo.

Located on busy High Street, Thornbury, Le Café Flo has been around for several years and I have been a happy patron for as many years as they’ve been open.

Owned by Frenchman Florian, the café is quintessentially a French café with a Melbourne twist. The specialties (well for me) is the savoury galette and of course sweet crêpes.  You can choose off the menu or you can create your own which leaves you to devise your own delightful creation. Same goes for the sweet crêpes if you are looking for a yummy dessert option.

Staple French options such as Croque Monsieur and Madame, charcuterie platter, baguettes and quiche Lorraine are very tasty options as well as the delicious French pastries and breads. It is really hard to go wrong choosing something to eat.

The coffee is strong, as you would expect and always my first go to when ordering. I highly recommend one or even two cups of their delicious brew.

My favourite is the Breakfast Galette with mushrooms, the eggs oozing with freshly cooked goodness of yellow yolk that soaks into the Galette itself. Tasty, delicious. Paired with a strong coffee. Of course!

Prior to Covid lockdowns and restrictions, Le Café Flo would host a dinner twice a month where you would get a 3-course meal dedicated to French cuisine. I look forward to these nights recommencing in 2021.

Le Café Flo is located at 709 High Street, Thornbury. Plenty of parking on High Street or in surrounding side streets. The 86 tram stops close to the front of the cafe.

Check out my other reviews of the Thornbury/Northcote/Preston area in Keeping it Local.

Rome Colosseum

Colosseum Tour: Arena Floor

I cannot stress to you that while in Rome and doing tours, especially the Colosseum Tour: Arena Floor that you really should be paying the little bit more to do a ‘Skip the Line’ tour. Who wants to be spending a good portion of their holiday waiting for entry into a famous historical site or a museum? At the end of the day, you are there to see this famous site and bask in its history and glory. The Colosseum in Rome is no exception. 

So it is because of that I chose ‘The Roman Guy’ skip the line Colosseum Tour: Arena Floor. And boy am I glad I did. 

You meet your guide across form the Colosseum where you are given an introduction of what you’ll be seeing on tour and given an earpiece to hear what the guide is saying. Handy when there is 20 of you on this particular tour and there’s roughly 10 other tours starting the same time.  

We move over to the side of the Colosseum where the guide gives us a lesson on the history of the Colosseum, how it was made and who fought there. Our guide also told us the stories of what would happen to the Gladiators if they won, or if they lost (poor guys), the animals who fought and what kind of spectators came to watch the fights. Interesting to hear all of this and how Roman class society dictated where you sat in the arena and what privileges you were given while being at the colosseum.  

All while she was talking, I was taking in her words but itching to get inside and see with my own eyes what it would have been like in its heyday.  

From the outside the colosseum is massive. It is actually so amazing that it is still standing and in reasonably good condition after close to 2000 years.  

I chose the gladiators entrance tour because I wanted to go out on that level and potentially feel what it may have been like. Walking out onto the arena floor is a life experience that I will never forget. Just so amazing! On this tour the entrance from outside and onto the arena floor happens really quick.

Once you are on the arena floor, I turned around and looked up into the stands, and imagined it full of people cheering on the animals and Gladiators who fought where I was standing. I imagined the women delegated to the top levels of the Colosseum, the people having Roman BBQs, drinking wine and enjoying their day out amongst the bloodshed on the arena floor. The important society close to the arena floor sitting on their marble seats. 


From where our tour group was standing, we got a close-up glimpse of what was underneath the arena floor. While it is partial ruin, you can picture what it would have been like full of animals and Gladiators, awaiting their turn to fight. Would they win, or would they lose and possibly die?  

Our tour group took us around the perimeter of the Colosseum on the arena floor level, then up some pretty uneven steps (there is a lift for those who can’t do stairs) to the third level. From here you get a bird’s eye view of the arena floor and also the wings of the Colosseum.  

From here the tour of the Colosseum finishes but it is off to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum next. It was quite a long wait to get into as we were herded in with the general public.

The day I did this tour was a beautifully warm and sunny day in Rome. It would have been not so much fun if it was raining, so keep an eye on the weather forecast. There is a fair bit of walking involved so be sure to wear comfortable shoes, bring water and use sunscreen. 

The tour guide had an exceptional knowledge of the Colosseum, The Forum and Palatine Hill. She really knew her stuff. I found her really engaging and really easy to listen to.  

In all the things I saw and did in Rome, this was my favourite. Seeing the Colosseum and walking out onto the arena floor is something I will never forget out all of my travel experiences. It is simply incredible. It was a place where I could really let my imagination run wild. Knowing a small part of what had happened there, how important the Colosseum was to the Roman’s almost made me feel like I was there amongst the crowds of people.  

Next time I go to Rome I will definitely be off to see the Colosseum again. That is how much I loved it. 

Read my review of The Vatican Museum Tour

St Peter's Basilica

Vatican Museum Tour

For my Vatican Museum tour, I chose a ‘Skip the line’ through City Wonders. Mainly and importantly because I didn’t want to stuff around losing precious time waiting in line to get into to the Vatican. For cost of the ticket ($101 AUD), and 3 hours in the Vatican, I’d pay it again over and over. I saw the lines at 7.30am. I pitied those people knowing I had easy access in. 


It is an early start but, you really do need this to be able to do The Vatican before loads of other tourists come in. Mostly our group of about 20 were able to walk through without the tangle of too many solo visitors and other tourist groups. The Sistine Chapel is an exception of course. It’s all kinds of crazy in there. More on that later though. 

Our tour starts by going through security checks as you would at an airport. You are given an ear piece in order to hear the guide clearly. Toilet stops done and then you’re in. Onto the Vatican Garden’s Balcony, and then into the Pinecourt Courtyard.

Following that it is through the Vatican Museums, Gallery of Maps and Gallery of Tapestries and various pieces of artwork by the Masters of the Italian art world. Everywhere you look there is a statue, a painting. Even the floor is decorated, but the roof is beyond amazing. I spent a lot of time looking upwards. The art is incredible. There is no other way to describe it. The thing is you are only shown a very small portion of the art that is housed at the Vatican, so the mind boggles as to what else they have.

From there it is off the famous Sistine Chapel, where upon entry I gasped! This is the place where new Popes are elected. This history of that alone is incredible. But what is MOST impressive is the artwork and knowing Michelangelo himself painted its most famous roof. You can read more about the historical facts of the Sistine Chapel here because it is far too much for me to put into words!   

While you’re in the Sistine Chapel you are expected to be quiet and to move on through without talking. You are also not allowed to take photos; it is on the signs saying that taking photos are ’forbidden’. But people do. And I may have a cheeky selfie looking up to the roof of the chapel. We are humans, following orders for most parts is easy enough but when you have soooo much beauty above you WHY CAN YOU NOT TAKE PHOTOS???? One thing I will take from being in the Sistine Chapel is the numerous times I heard “no talking”, or ”no photos” from the security guards. 

Anyway, being in there was actually incredible. Even with the number of tourists that were in there. On this tour you get a decent amount of time to wonder around the chapel. If you can, find a spot on the side of the chapel side for a while and just bask in the place. Think about the history and what has actually happened in there that has changed the course of history. That in itself is pretty massive. 

From the Sistine Chapel it was a quick walk to St Peter’s Basilica where you are taken in to roam around and a short brief about the crypts and other tours you can do from there. We got to walk around the Basilica with our guide for about 30 minutes which included a brief chat about its history, the altar and wings of the basilica.  

The tour ends out the front where you are now able to wonder around at your own pace and take plenty of photos. Which I certainly did. You can either head off and explore more of the Vatican City or move on to see more of Rome. There’s some great stuff within walking distance. 

The day I went they were setting up outside St Peter’s for a service by the Pope the next day, so there were seats everywhere. I was most impressed by the entirety and majesty of the Vatican. Not being much of a religious person (if at all anything) it was not lost on me the suffering and pain caused by this institution.

Where I come from (Ballarat) the Catholic Church has been the source of so much pain for too many children at the hands of pedophile priests. I know this is a problem the world over, so being in the epicenter of all of this was something that was at times a little hard to stomach. I waved the tourist flag, and a history lover. Plus, ticking off another country (superficial I know) was also a highlight. Another thing that blew my mind about Rome and Italy. 

If you’re in Rome, you can’t not do the Vatican Museum tour and I would recommend the one I did. If anything, just do a tour to skip the line. You’ll be thankful for it. 

Glimpses of art on my Vatican Museum Tour

Read my review of Rome’s Colosseum, Forum & Palatine Hill

Stella's apartment Rome

Stella’s Apartment, Monti, Rome

A great option while in Rome is staying in an apartment. I chose one that was a ten-minute walk from Rome’s main train station. Stella’s Apartment in the Monti area is a lovely charming place in an otherwise busy and crowded Rome. 

On the ground level, of an apartment building on via Dei Capocci the apartment is equip with all you need for your stay in Rome. Kitchenette, bathroom, washing machine & dryer, small lounge area, outdoor courtyard and a reeeeeeeeeeally comfortable bed. I will stress the importance of that comfy bed after days of walking around Rome. After weeks of not having your own bed, this was what long sleeps and good dreams are made of.  

A short walk to anything and everything you need. A 10-minute stroll to the Colosseum. Train station is about 2 minutes away as is small streets lined with places to eat and drink. People going about their day and night is a joy to watch and be a part of. 

Check in was so smooth and easy. With recommendations of places to see, where to eat and drink and how far to whatever sight you want to visit. The owners are super helpful and easily contactable. 

As it is on the ground floor it can get a little cool.  I am an Australian who is not used to much cooler weather but the place has heating (and cooling) so that is an easy fix. 

In all I would definitely and happily stay again the next time I am in Rome. and I hope to be back again soon enough. 

Thank you for a wonderful place to stay. 

I booked my accomodation through as I now have clocked up enough bookings to be rewarded with discount.

Read my post ‘Rome, Italy: An overview of getting lost amongst ancient history’

Streaty Food Tour Florence

Vera’s Rooftop Tour Florence

When researching tours to do in Florence I wanted to try something different. Like really different. Sure, there’s plenty of wine, history and art tours. But I wanted something that combined everything, with a twist. Cause I am a twist kind of gal. So why not try out Vera’s Rooftop Tour.

So, on a rainy late Florentine afternoon, I find myself in a back street not far behind the famous Duomo. Standing under my little broken umbrella lost, I find an as confused British woman looking for the same place as me. We eventually find entry and are escorted up several flights of stairs to the smallest lift I have ever seen. We have to go up one at a time. 

Emerging on the penthouse level we eventually find ourselves on the top level of a beautiful apartment with an outdoor section on the rooftop which mean’s another flight of stairs to get to the view, the food and the Prosecco. 

AND WHAT A VIEW. All of Florence and surrounds on a 360-degree spin. It is stunning in the late afternoon sun that has finally emerged from the rain clouds. The setting sun on the Duomo is nothing short of spectacular. 

We meet Vera. An American musician who has long since made Florence her home. I mean, why wouldn’t you when you are an artist. Vera has undoubtedly immersed herself in her new life in Florence, learning everything she could about the city and its history. For a new local, her knowledge is outstanding. Sometimes it does take an outsider to get an unobscured view. 

We are filled up with yummy food and our glasses are never emptied as Vera goes through the years and years of Florentine history. There’s a big dose of Medici history and how they shaped Florence’s (and the world’s) history. There were even tales of the sordid kind (yay). When you’re standing on a rooftop in the middle of Florence listening to these tales you cannot help but feel a part of it all, Vera is such a great story teller. 

This was a highlight of all the tours I did in Italy. A different perspective, a different way of doing things but I was made to feel very welcomed and in a sense at home on that little rooftop in Florence. 

Thank you Vera. 

I booked this tour through AirBnB Experiences. 

You can read more about my Florence experience here: “6 nights in Florence – how to live and chill like a local”

Streaty Food Tour Florence

Streaty Food Tour Florence

After doing a Streaty tour in Venice I was really keen to do another one in another of the cities they covered. Streaty have just started doing Food tours in Florence. So I was happy to be a part of the start of something, especially when it comes to food. This was a tour for me. 

I met my tour guide mid-morning for a walk to the Sant’Ambrogio Market in the Santa Croce area. Here I was able to sample some local meats and cheeses from the market before heading into another outdoor Market. It was really interesting for me to see the locals go about their business in the morning buying food for their families for the week. It wasn’t as hectic as some markets I have been to so set a nice pace for the rest of the tour. 

When we’d finished at the market we walked to a small food bar which was perhaps an Italian equivalent to a sushi train. The food comes out as small quickly cooked bites on little plates and it is, for most parts, finger food. Tasty, as expected! 

The tour guide had a great grasp of the history of Florence. It was a pleasure to be out early morning walking around, sampling food all while listening to the local history. The tour itself took 3 hours, was relaxing and a really great experience. 

I’d recommend any visitors to Florence who love food and history to do this tour. You get loads of value for what you pay and each tour can be accommodated to suit what your needs are. 

You can book online directly with Streaty

You can read more about my Florence experience here: “6 nights in Florence – how to live and chill like a local”

Chianti Winery Tour

Chianti Wine Tour

Well of course I was going to do a wine tour in Chianti while in Tuscany. What a no brainer!!

After getting lost trying to find the meeting point for this tour (it was a fair distance from the train station) I finally found my way to quite an organised set up. Quickly herded onto a big coach bus with about 25 other people, we were soon off on our way into the hills of Tuscany.  

Our guide, knowledgeable and entertaining, spoke in both English and Spanish so it did take a little longer to get information. Not that I minded at all. Was nice to hear her speaking in Spanish. 

The tour takes in tastings at two wineries in the Chianti region of Tuscany. It runs for approximately 5 – 5 and half hours. On the way back towards Florence you get to stop off in a little village called Greve.  

I cannot remember the names of the wineries we went to but they were fabulous. Great views, wonderful people and AMAZING wines. To be expected of course. Small samples in the first winery and the room the tastings were held in was quite small for a big group. The second winery gave us more of a tasting and delicious food samples. 

Greve was a cute little village which had one of my most favourite things; a wine dispenser. Such a great idea for tourists on limited time, or those wanting to try it all. You can purchase a card, load it up with Euro and sample different sizes of all the wines they have. I wish we could have stayed there longer so I could have sampled everything!! 

As a first timer to the Tuscany region, a tour such as this one is a good way to see the area, sample some wines and meet new people. Also, considering the number of people on the wine tasting, it was organised and handled quite well. In hindsight though, I would have probably rather a smaller group, alas that is what I will try next time I visit. 

I booked this tour through Get Your Guide.

You can read more about my Florence experience here: “6 nights in Florence – how to live and chill like a local”

Florence Apartment The Bright Eyed Explorer

Florence Apartment

There was nothing I could find wrong with this place. Clean and filled with everything you need for an extended stay. The apartment is very secure with numerous locked entry points to the actual apartment. 

Easy communication with the owner upon booking and with arrival with the owner’s mother whom was absolutely lovely. Armed with a lot of information on must-see’s and what not to do, she lives close by so if you need anything, she is there for you. 

Fully functional kitchen, clean bathroom and comfortable bed gives you the freedom to live life like a local Florentine. Which was exactly what I wanted for my stay in Florence. There is a washing machine/dryer which is great for travellers with extended time. 

The best thing about this Central Suites is its proximity to all things in Florence. The city itself is highly walkable but this apartment is in a ’residential area’ that is actually on the river Arno. Turn right at the front of the apartment and head towards the Ponte Vecchio and you walk amongst many shops, cafes, restaurants, bars etc. It is literally a 10-minute walk to Palazzao Vecchio or Pitti Palance. Walk across a bridge and you’re in the old city. Too easy. 

The apartment itself is on the ground floor of a building that hosts both a Pizzeria and Gelateria. AMAZING! The pizzas were yum but the Gelato even better. Often at night there was a line up to get in so you know it must be good Gelato. 

When I am in Florence next, I will most definitely stay again. I was comfortable, secure, and really felt I was living the life of a local Florentine.

Renovated Central Suites  

1 Lungarno Soderini, Santo Spirito, 50124 Florence 

You can read more about my Florence experience here: “6 nights in Florence – how to live and chill like a local”

The Bright Eyed Explorer Parione One

Hotel in Florence

What a cute little place to stay. Loved it 

Initially it is hard to find, as there is no signage until you walk into the small foyer. Even then it is confusing. For a while there I thought I was lost but admittedly I was early and the reception area wasn’t yet open. 

The staff here are incredible. Very accommodating and lovely. They couldn’t do enough to make sure I was happy with my stay. 

Located on Via del Parione, there are numerous restaurants, bars and cafes within walking distance. Markets are not too far away either. 

The room itself was beautiful and more than I expected for a small operation in Florence. The bed was super comfortable, the shower impressive and in general, a modern appearance that was both clean and minimalist. Best of all is that it is affordable. 

The only issue that I had, and not a big thing, is the phone ringing constantly at about 1am one morning that I was there. Perhaps some kind of messaging service for after-hours would be a good move to save waking up your guests. 

Would definitely stay again the next time I am in Florence. 

Parione Uno  

Via del Parione 1, Tornabuoni, 50123 Florence

You can read more about my Florence experience here: “6 nights in Florence – how to live and chill like a local”

Bologna food market

Best of food in Bologna

The tour was run by Elisabeth whom I discovered through AirBnB experiences. Elisabeth is actually from the Netherlands but I specifically chose her to take the tour so I could gain an outsider’s perspective on living in Bologna.  Elisabeth is a student and attends university in Bologna. Specifically choosing Bologna for the chance to learn more about Italian food, art and culture. 

The tour took us on foot through to Bologna’s oldest chocolate shop Majani Cioccolato Boutique which was established in 1796. In Majani, I was treated to sampling 4 chocolates of which I purchased one of each to ‘take home’. None of the chocolate I purchased even left Italy as I ate it all. Too good not to. My favourite was the FIAT Cremino, a 4-layer velvety alternation of hazelnut and almond paste, with sublime creaminess. 

After Majani we walked through one of Bologna’s many food markets. We sampled some Piadina’s together which was a great chance to ask a lot of questions and take in the morning ritual of market shopping by the locals. It was especially nice to have Elisabeth sit down and eat with me. 

Piadina, Bologna

The next stop was another food market area which was quite close to the Piazza Maggiore area. The streets are lined with butchers, fruit and vegetable shops, seafood places, bakeries and traditional Italian food shops. We were also able to sample some cheese and balsamic vinegar from around the area. I really enjoyed this part of the tour and made the decision to head back later to buy some lasagne alla bolognaise which I had been eyeing off.  

Wondering around for a while we purchased some Crescentins (also known as Tigelle) which are a type of small flat bread that were filled with some meats and cheeses from the local area. We grabbed our food and ended up at Osteria del Sole that from memory was the oldest of its kind in Bologna. What an amazing little place. Families gather there with their own little picnics gathered from the surrounding markets and feast together with wine purchased at the bar. We sat on a lively table of a family that was celebrating just being together. Amazing to watch and be a part of. Elisabeth purchased our wine and after talking and eating and drinking and having such a great time, I ended up buying us more wine. Of course. 


Lastly, we headed off along Bolognas famous porticos to Elizabeth’s favourite gelati place. My first (of many) gelati in Italy and let me tell you it was every bit as wonderful as I had imagined it to be. The shop has an abundance of flavours to try, I settled on two after a long wait trying to decide which ones to have. 

For a 3-hour tour we certainly packed in a hell of a lot and I did not need to eat breakfast (which I was advised not to upon booking) or lunch. For just under $100 AUD this tour was certainly worth every dollar spent. Not only was the food amazing but being able to head into some places I would never have thought to if I was on my own was a really great experience. For someone whom is a new local to Bologna she certainly knows its history and stories really well.  Elisabeth is also lovely, vibrant and a truly charming person to be around. 

I’d highly recommend booking Elisabeth for your walking food tour of Bologna. 

You can book Elisabeth through AirBnB Experiences

Bologna food market

Check out more about my stay in Bologna in my post 2 nights in Bologna – The foodie capital of Italy

Le casine di Vladimir

Bologna Apartment : Le Casine Di Vladimir

Apartment in Bologna 

I stayed two nights in Le Casine Di Vladimar whilst in Bologna. The apartment is about a ten minute walk from the main train station and less than ten minutes from the Centro Storico (main centre). There are some great café’s, bars, restaurants and grocery stores close by. Easily accessible on the second floor of the apartment building. The apartment is secure and you don’t hear much from neighbours or from the crowds in the Piazza close by. 

It’s a quaint apartment fitted out with all the necessities needed for your stay. Importantly there is a washing machine which comes in real handy when you are travelling around Europe using only carry on size luggage. 

The one bedroom is huge! You could fit a cot or another single bed in there if needed. The bed is super comfortable and dressed in modern bed linens. In the bedroom there is a wardrobe to hang clothes, hair dryer, clothes horse (to dry clothes), an iron, ironing board, desk and anything else you could need. 

The lounge and kitchen area leads out to a small balcony. The couch in the lounge can fold out into a bed for more than two guests. There is no TV but seriously, who needs a TV when you are on holidays. The kitchen is fully equip with everything need for your stay and to cook meals. The owner supplies coffee and tea and other such things you may need for your morning wake up drink. 

The owner is really lovely. She says she doesn’t speak English that well but I thought she really did very well. She gave me many recommendations on where to eat, drink and what to visit.  

If you’re headed to Bologna and looking for an apartment to base yourself I would highly recommend LeCasine Di Vladimar. I’ll definitely stay again when in Bologna next. 

Check out my 2 day review of Bologna, the food capital of Italy here

Monterrosso, Cinque Terre

Monterrosso: Affittacamere Sull’Arco

Located about 10 minutes from the Monterroso train station, Sull’ Arco is quite an easy find considering the winding streets and little alleys of the Cinque Terre. Just off the main little street in the old town, it is a very steep climb to find the hotel on the first level. If you have a lot of luggage, do not try to bring it all up at once. Definitely a place that you need the light on your phone to direct you in the later hours of the day/night. This is the Cinque Terre though, the steepness of everything is standard. 

Plenty of beautiful and quaint little shops within walking distance; yes, I did spend up large. A 2-minute walk into the old town and harbour. Cinque Terre is quite steep in most towns, however, Monterroso is considered as the flattest, so the hotel is not too steep a climb to find. 

That said, what a lovely little place run by equally as lovely people. Greeted by the staff they were so quick to pour warmth and great hospitality upon you. Going so far as to walk you through your room and tell you about all the wonderful things to see/do/eat in Monterroso. 

The room is simple but filled with everything you need for your stay. The bathroom was roomy, the bed comfortable enough and the room spacious. Definitely a great stay for a few nights in Monterroso. 

Situated in an alley that houses a brilliant bakery and a lovely restaurant which serves great Aperitivo, meals and breakfast. I’m a coffee snob, being from Melbourne, but the cafe underneath Sull’Arco serves a great cappuccino in the mornings. The hotel itself does not do meals but there is ample coffee and tea facilities at reception coupled with biscuits and other such things. 

Would definitely stay again. The hotel staff alone are just too lovely! 

Affittacamere Sull’Arco  

Via San Pietro 4, 19016 Monterroso al Mare 

Check out my post Cinque Terre: 2 days of rest, relaxation and beauty

Riomaggiore Cinque Terre

Riomaggiore: Alla Marina Affittacamere

I cannot tell you how lovely Alla Marina is! My favourite of all hotels on my stay in Italy and for being in the Cinque Terre, it is reasonably priced.  Modern, fabulous HUGE bed and the largest of showers I experienced in all of Europe. Thank you! 

It is NOT easy to find and luckily the staff know this so they meet you at the train station and walk you through a hell of a lot of alley ways and up and down stairs. I got myself into a bit of a tail spin on my way there with the hotel staff, however backtracking my steps it was really easy to find. Even after a few drinks. 

It is located somewhere in Riomaggiore, too hard to describe. This is why you need the staff to meet you and guide you. It is a 5-minute walk from the train station and the guide takes you through the main part of Riomaggiore pointing out numerous places to see/eat/drink/do. 

The staff are super lovely. They take you through your room and show you all the good things that they supply. Coffee, tea, biscuits and all the amenities you would ever need for your stay. 

I had not planned on any tours while in Riomaggiore and at whim decided a boat trip would be a good idea. As soon as I mentioned this to the staff at Alla Marina, they were straight onto it. Calling their local guides to try and get me a place. 

The hotel is down a series of steps so it is uber quiet. You really do not hear a thing when sleeping which is so lovely. Don’t think I slept better in all my time in Italy.  

Managed to meet the owner/manager several times. He’s a proud man and rightfully so. the place is a dream. 

Put it on your list of places to stay in the Cinque Terre. I will definitely stay again! 

Alla Marina Affittacamere  

Via San Giacomo 61, 19017 Riomaggiore 

Check out my blog post on my stay in the Cinque Terre: 2 days of rest, relaxation and beauty

Venice Canals

Ca’ Due Leoni – Venice

Ca’ Due Leoni is old school Venice. Set in the Cannaregio area of Venice the hotel is about a 5 minute walk from the train station. Or in my case 20 minutes as I managed to get myself lost at every turn. The hotel is hidden away in a little courtyard which makes it nice and quiet, being away from the hordes of tourists, but at the same time a little harder to find. Easy enough to get out for a decent 20 minute walk into the main touristy areas. 

When I did finally find Ca’ Due Leoni I was met by a very hospitable concierge who was more than happy to give me loads of tips for my stay. Actually, without his recommendations and what not to do’s I probably would have found myself even more lost with less money in my pocket. 

The rooms themselves are nothing flash but really quite comfortable like I said, it is old school Venice. And for Venice, it is quite reasonably priced. The rooms are located on the second level and whilst they are all on the one level and quite close together you really do not hear anything from other guests. The bathroom is spacious however, the shower is tiny but standard for Italian sizes. 

There is also a little courtyard out the back which is where breakfast takes place. No bacon and eggs but a huge supply of coffee, tea, toast, pastries, biscuits and spreads. The courtyard is also a quiet space to head to after a busy day exploring Venice. 

If I were to come back to Venice, and be on a budget I would definitely stay at Ca’ Due Leonie again. It was a charming and welcoming place. That in my book wins over something super flash and expensive. 

Ca’ Due Leoni

Cannaregio 565, Cannaregio, 30123 Venice, Italy

To read more about my stay in Venice, check out 2 days in Venice, Italy: Lost, happy & full of food!

Streaty Venice Tour

Streaty food tour – Venice

This was my first, but not the last time using Streaty for a walking tour while in Italy. I found them on AirBnb experiences and thought that what they had to offer suited what I was looking for in Venice. 

I chose to do the Venice food and wine evening tour which was hosted by a very knowledgeable local. Meeting point was over and under the Ponte della Costitutzione. Fortunately for me there was only one other person on this tour so we both got quite a tailored experience with our guide. 

In the tour you get to stop off at 4 ‘Bacari’, which is a wine bar, where you also get to sample small, tantalizing bites or cicchetti (small snacks like Spanish Tapas) of traditional Venetian fare, and a spritz or glass of local wine. 

All the food was delicious. It is quite seafood focused but the Bacari will cater for non-seafood eaters and vegetarians. The produce used is of really high quality and by the end of the experience, I was quite full. No need for dinner after this tour!  

The drinks were all amazing, even the grappa which I would normally never have.  My favourite was the food and 3 glasses of spritz in our second Bacari. The first one was really quite quaint and very busy. The guy running the bar is obviously doing a great job with both locals and tourists alike. 

Our guide was absolutely lovely. Really engaging and charismatic and someone who made you feel like you were out drinking and eating with a friend. He was genuinely interested in learning where the other tourist and myself were from and what we did. Once he found out I was from Melbourne he instantly said that he missed Melbourne coffee (it really is THE best) and loved Melbourne when he lived there. He took just as much interest in the other tourist who was from Quebec, so it was really lovely to learn about where she was from. 

I really appreciated the Streaty concept. It wasn’t expensive and for what you get it is great value. I think all up I had about approximately 10 cicchetti and at least 2 glasses of prosecco, 3 glasses of three different spritz, a glass or two of wine and grappa. Streaty obviously select locals who know their stuff but whom are willing to engage well with their tourists. What more could you want as a solo traveller, good food, great drinks and fabulous conversation all while walking slowly around Venice. I enjoyed my experience so much that I ended up using Streaty in Florence as well. 

To read more about my stay in Venice, check out 2 days in Venice, Italy: Lost, happy & full of food!

Novotel Queenstown

Novotel Queenstown Lakeside Resort

We stayed at the Novotel Queenstown, which is centrally located right on lake Wakatipu.

The hotel is approximately 15 minutes from the airport and close to all attractions including the ski fields. Literally a two – five minute walk into the shopping and restaurant precinct of Queenstown. The hotel is equip with all necessary facilities including car parking, one restaurant, one bar, room service, convention area and meeting rooms.

The concierge upon check in, Sharlene was super friendly, efficient and very helpful. She gave us plenty of information on tours, cafés, bars and restaurants that did help did us with our trip.

To the side of the hotel check in area is a mini tourist office which is where you can book all tours, experiences and bus trips as well as information on pretty much anything you need for your stay in Queenstown. The employees here were very knowledgeable and helped Hannah and I choose alternatives to tours when one of our previously booked tours had been cancelled.

Rooms range from standard rooms to one bedroom apartments. We chose a lakeside room with two double beds as we really wanted to see the view of the lake and mountains from our room. Considering you see this view anywhere you walk in Queenstown if I stayed at the Novotel next time I would rather save the extra money that we paid for the view and spend it roaming around on a winery tour.

But that very spacious, immaculately clean, and warm. The beds were really comfortable and also very warm, loved the heavy black throw rug so much I wanted to bring it home with me.

I’d be more than happy staying at the Novotel next time I visit Queenstown. It had everything I needed for my week stay. What made the hotel exceptional were the staff, so helpful, knowledgeable and efficient. Greeted every morning with a smile before heading out for the day was a welcomed surprise. The location of the hotel is superb, not right in the middle of the bars and restaurants but a quick walk away from it all which for us was perfect.

Cnr Earl St and Marine Parade, 9300, QUEENSTOWN NEW ZEALAND

Dinner is served at Rata, Queenstown

Fine Dining in Queenstown

I’ll start with saying, I am a moderately experienced fine diner. And with a great foodie reputation of course I was excited to try out some of Queenstown’s finest.

I always like to treat myself to one ‘fancy’ dinner experience while travelling abroad. I go all out, and why shouldn’t I? When it came to researching fine dining establishments for this trip to Queenstown it came down to three choices. My travel partner, Hannah and I did two. A girl’s got to treat herself once in a while right?

And treat myself we certainly did.


Rata is what I’d imagine heaven looks, feels and tastes like. Rata is owned and operated by internationally recognised Michelin starred chef Josh Emett, and highly regarded local restaurateur Fleur Caulton. From the moment that you walk in the door you are greeted with warm and earthy toned décor mixed with an industrial feel. The place is charming and so are the staff, as you’d expect from a restaurant with such a glowing reputation.

Hannah and I had already picked apart the menu the day before so we knew exactly what we were going to eat. Great forward thinking by us as the menu has such a delightful and comprehensive array of beautiful locally sourced meals it would have been hard for us to choose on the spot.

The wine list is impressive and is carefully selected to showcase the local Central Otago wine region. We chose to share a bottle of Carrick’s ‘Bannockburn’ 2015 Pinot Noir.

For our Entrée we decided to share three dishes:

  • Goats cheese profiteroles with Rata blossom honey
  • Free range chicken terrine with pickled baby leek, mushroom puree, toasted brioche
  • Southland cheese roll with bitter leaves, picked butternut, hazelnut, honey, pear

Our favourite with the entrée selection was hands down the Goats Cheese Profiteroles. What a taste sensation! This certainly does not take away from the deliciousness of the Chicken Terrine and the Southland Cheese Roll, as they were so flavoursome and fresh, but the profiteroles were light as a feather and the goats cheese smooth and creamy, the combination made for a perfect tasty starter to our meal.

For main we chose individual meals and some sides to share:

  • Glazed Wakanui beef cheek, red cabbage, Canterbury truffle quick brown fox jus
  • Pan fried blue cod, silver beet, Jerusalem artichoke, lemon, caper beurre noisette
  • Beetroot & goats cheese salad with rocket, candied walnuts, persimmon
  • Charred cauliflower with winter pesto, toasted almonds

I know Hannah really enjoyed her cod as I did my beef cheek. The cheek being very tender it fell away just with my fork, the accompanying jus was rich and tasty balancing out the cabbage and Canterbury truffle. We both took our time with our main meals and sides in order to savour each bite and fully concentrate on the tastes we were experiencing. A really delightful main meal, one that I am sure we will remember for a long time to come.

Now onto the most important part of this review…. The dessert. At this stage of the eating game we definitely had plenty and were about to call it quits as we thought we had experienced the best that there was of Rata. That was until our waiter pleaded with us to at least try the salted caramels. So, for dessert we ordered to share:

  • Salted caramels
  • Wet jacket mulled wine poached pear with cinnamon anglaise foam, pain d’epices ice cream with walnut granola.

I mean why not? When on holidays and all!

Normally I am not much of a dessert person, I’d rather have a cheese plate after dinner (that was on offer!) but we thought that with all we had experienced so far, the dessert just had to be special. And so it was. Beyond our expectations, next level amazing!!

I patiently watched Hannah bite into her first salted caramel and watched her eyes roll back in her head. I am serious!! So when I finally bit in to mine and the salted caramel oozed through the chocolate casing onto my tongue, I honestly think that I had a food orgasm right there in middle of Rata, either that or I’d died and gone to heaven. The mulled wine poached pear was lovely too, but nothing could ever come close to our new love, the most fabulous salted caramels.

I am still dreaming about those salted caramels and would definitely go back to Queenstown just to taste them again. That is a huge call for someone who doesn’t really ‘do’ desserts. In all, Rata was our favourite dining experience of all the food experiences in Queenstown and that says a lot considering 99.9% of food options are above what I’d consider to be really good. Josh Emett has done an amazing job of showcasing his talents and combining them with beautiful food and environment. Rata is the kind of special place where you can’t help but fall in love with the entire experience.

I still remember every bite I ate and the feeling I had when that salted caramel hit my tastebuds, it was the feeling of utter happiness and contentment. Walking away from Rata with a satisfied smile on our faces, my travel buddy and I didn’t even need to speak to each other to know that we had just experienced food nirvana. I don’t know when, if ever, a restaurant has ever made me feel that way. I’ll be back Rata!!

Te Nuku, 43 Ballarat Street Queenstown Phone +64 3 442 9393


In choosing our second night of fine dining in Queenstown we sought advice from friends of mine that were in the know. They went to Bunker in January after another not-to-be-named-but-very-well-known-restaurant would not allow them to bring a $1000+ AUD bottle of Grange to open to celebrate the night after their wedding. I get that they have their own wine list, but… wouldn’t that have been an honour for them to open such a bottle of wine?

Anyway I digress, so after explaining their request to Bunker, the staff there very accommodating and happily took on board my friends request being very excited to be able to share in this experience with them. My friends being that impressed with the level of service and care taken to ensure that their dining experience was special, gave their waiter a small glass of the Grange which he shared with the other waiters.

That goes a very long way in my book. Sometimes rules are mean to be broken or bent so that awesome experiences can be had. So, with all of that in mind, what goes around comes around, their kindness towards my friends meant that Bunker was a natural choice for our second fine dining experience in Queenstown.

Bunker has a cosy cocktail bar upstairs which is where we started our evening. It’s warm, inviting, kind of old school and while the cocktails are a little pricey, they are quite delicious. I tried an Espresso Martini and my travel buddy an Old Fashioned. Downstairs hidden away in a little alleyway called Cow Lane, the restaurant is equally as cosy as the cocktail bar and sets quite an intimate atmosphere. A perfect place for a quiet dinner with a loved one or good friend.

For entrée we both ordered the ‘Canter Valley Peking duck dumplings with sesame baby vegetables and hoisin consommé’. I paired this with a glass of 2017 Amisfield Pinot Gris from Central Otago. The Peking duck dumplings were simply delightful. The dumplings were soft and not too thick while the duck inside was very tender with a beautifully fresh Asian taste. The consommé, while not too overpowering in taste was quite delicious and a perfect accompaniment to the duck dumplings.

For main we ordered:

  • Seared loin of Central Otago Alpine Merino lamb with olive hash, walnut puree, herbed chevre, winter greens and thyme jus.
  • Spinach, almond and ricotta gnocchi with baby winter vegetables, toasted chevre and beurre noisette.

I was particularly feeling like some lamb and boy this was a treat. I paired the lamb with a glass of the 2015 Amisfield Pisa Pinot Noir, again from the Central Otago region. The lamb was quite tender and cooked to perfection, with the ride shade of red/pink in the middle. The meal in its entirety was superb! Right balance of taste, and presented like a piece of art. Hannah really enjoyed her gnocchi and mentioned that it was particularly light and balanced with fresh and crisp vegetables.

Dessert for Hannah was the deconstructed ‘Pavlova’ and I opted for a cheese plate accompanied with another glass of the Amisfield Pinot Noir. Perfect paring as far as I am concerned, you simply cannot have cheese without wine! New Zealand does this wonderful thing of putting fresh honey comb on their cheese plates/platters and let me tell you this is perfectly matched with a creamy blue. My cheese platter for those as obsessed with cheese as I am, had this:

  • Kikorangi blue, fresh honey comb
  • Manchego, spiced figs
  • Double creamed brie, candied nuts
  • Aged cheddar, quince jam

In all, Bunker did not fail to disappoint. The experience was quite different to that of Rata but by no less amazing. From the level of service, the ambiance, and the exquisite food, Bunker offers a remarkable fine dining experience that should not be missed if you happen to be in Queenstown.

Fergburger Queenstown


‘In Ferg we trust” it says on the sign above the door at Fergburger at 42 Shotover Street, Queenstown, and after a burger or two, you know that you can’t do anything else but trust. And love. And love I most certainly did.

There is so much hype that surrounds Fergburger. So much so, that when researching things to do, see, eat in Queenstown the first words uttered from every single one of my friends in Melbourne were “you MUST try Fergburger”. Every-single-friend. One friend even recommended eating Fergburger until we got sick and traumatised!! Ah huh!! So with that in mind, there was no need to do any further research, it was just simply something that one MUST do when in Queenstown.

Fergburger started as a late night, hole in the wall burger place for those spilling out of the numerous nightclubs and pubs drunk and in need of a decent feed to soak up the copious amount of booze consumed. It fast grew into a late night Queenstown institution and relocated to the spot it is in now on Shotover street.

We had been warned that there would be a wait for our burgers especially in peak eating times. Often the wait can be up to 45 minutes so Ferg now has an online ordering system to ease the congestion. Fresh from our flight and check in at our hotel, we arrived at Fergbuger at approximately 4pm with a line of approximately 20 people in front of us. Yes, at 4pm!! The line moves pretty quick as the staff behind the counter and grill move quicker than any I’ve seen in any McDonalds and I thought they were fast. It is a well oiled machine, so about 20 minutes later we had these famous burgers in our hands and were ready to see if they really were worth all the fuss.

And they are! They really really truly 100% are!!!

Fergburger Queenstown
Ferg Delux

I ordered a ‘Ferg Delux’ which has NZ beef, streaky bacon, cheddar cheese, sweet dill pickle, lettuce, tomato, red onion, aioli and tomato relish. And I continued to order this every time I visited thereafter. I mean why order something else when this was literally my burger dream! You can check out the menu here.

I’ll tell you why this burger is so amazingly good. Everything is so so so soooooo fresh. The beef is cooked so that there just the right amount of red in the middle without it spoiling the rest of the burger. The pickles are a plenty and delicious, the salad is ample, the burger roll fresh (comes from the Fergbakery) and the sauces, really tasty. And they’re large! You know like the old school fish n chip shop burger large, not like these pissy little half burgers we seem to get these days in Australia.

But the best thing aside from the taste, and this is what really shocked us, was that we felt so great after eating it. Normally after a burger I have burger regret, they may taste good but I mostly feel bloated and gross in the stomach for having eaten it, even those small pissy ones. Not with Furgburger!! Uh huh, no burger regret whatsoever! Winning!

So that being said we just had to sample more of the Fergburger. We went back another two times during our week stay in Queenstown, hey I’d have gone more if it weren’t for the fact that 99.9% of food in Queenstown is ahhhh-may-zing!!! As I said I never deviated away from the delicious Ferg Delux, but my travel partner, Hannah did try the Cockaddodle Oink. She said it was quite delicious BUT, the Ferg Delux was hands down the winner. Now that I am home, I have serious FOMO over Fergburger. Why Melbourne? WHYYYYY can’t you do a burger as good as the Ferg? Actually, probably a good thing you don’t.

Believe the Fergburger hype people, it is very real! Check out Fergburger here and while you’re there, don’t miss out on Fergbakery which is right next door to Fergburger. Their pies are to die for!

Bergen Bors Hotel

Bergen has many a great hotel, but most are well beyond the mid range budget. Especially if you want to stay close to the water. However I was lucky enough to stumble across a true gem of a mid range motel.

Immediately upon walking into Bergen Bors to enquire about a room I was met with the friendliest most accommodating receptionist, who answered all my queries happy and helpful.

After cancelling an Airbnb for my last night in Bergen I went on the hunt for somewhere closer to central Bergen and the airport bus as I had a very early departure the next morning. I had spent the day frozen to the bone after the Norway in a Nutshell tour and as my luck had it the same receptionist was there to greet me. She must have felt sorry for me and gave me an upgrade with the offer of anything else I could possibly need.

The room I had was simply stunning, the bed comfortable, and most importantly the shower was absolutely delightful and was soon able to warm me up. All the reception staff were lovely, very helpful and so enthusiastic about helping their guests. I had a very nice glass of French red in the bar on the third floor and a great conversation with the barman and a guest.

Breakfast the next morning was quite delicious. But the best thing about my check out was the same receptionist walked me over to the bus stop with umbrella as it was raining heavily. Exceptional service. I highly recommend Bergen Bors as a really great, clean, high standard hotel, but it is also their staff who are a huge credit to the hotel. My only regret was not staying there longer. Click here to check out the accommodation at Bergen Bors Hotel

Lofoten Islands

Arctic Buss – Lofoten Islands

I was so very fortunate to have booked the 6 hour sightseeing bus trip through Arctic Buss on a day that there were no other bookings, so was picked up from my hotel in a beautiful black Mercedes.

My driver (sorry I can’t remember his name) was a fountain of knowledge and gave me loads of historic and new information about the Lofoten Islands.

As there was only me on this tour, my guide was able to show me perhaps a little more than expected and whenever I wanted to stop and take photos he happily obliged.

The scenery is nothing short of spectacular and in autumn, the colours so very vivid. I got to see the start and end of rainbows, experience both sunshine and rain, cute little fishing villages and bigger towns with a lot of history. The Lofotr Viking museum was filled with artefacts, stories of the local chieftain and the chieftain long house was incredible.

I would highly recommend using Arctic Buss as these guys really know their stuff and go to all lengths to ensure that you get to see as much as possible and are highly knowledgeable on the Lofoten Islands.

Lofoten Islands
Lofoten Islands
Viking Hut Lofoten Islands
Anker Brygge

Anker Brygge – Svolvaer Lofoten Islands

Anker Brygge – Rorbuer

My stay at Anker Brygge, without a doubt, was my favourite in Norway. I stayed in one of the rorbuers right on the water which provided not only great views and subtle maritime sounds, but the accommodation was warm and cosy.

Equip with a mini kitchenette, I was able to cook for myself and have that all important morning coffee. The bed was warm and comfortable and lounge area, spacious and relaxing. The staff in reception were extremely helpful. Breakfast was served in the adjacent pub (more on that later) and was a hearty delicious meal in itself. Thanks to Phon for the chats and her hospitality. It was a pleasure to meet you.

Anker Brygge – Pub

The friendliest, most generous, and knowledgeable staff if ever there was! I spent 2 nights as a bar fly, hearing stories, learning about the Lofoten Islands and Norway and participating in numerous conversations with the locals and the bar manager Yohnas. He went above and beyond the call of good service, advising me on food options (his mother’s own recipe was a delight), allowing me to sample dried fish and other local

delicacies and most importantly trying out a few shots of Akvavit! Yohnas is a credit to the pub and the owners should be very proud of the lengths he goes to to ensure customers are relaxed and happy! I was fortunate enough to witness the northern lights right from outside the pub which was a huge treat, gazing up into the sky, belly full of local food and beer! How perfect.

Click here to find out more about Anker Brygge accommodation and pub

Anker Brygge
Anker Brugge
Aurora Borealis

Green Fox Guiding – Northern Lights Tour

I am still stunned and overwhelmed 2 years after my Northern Lights tour with Jacek from Green Fox Guiding.

As luck would have it I had chosen a perfect night, the sky so clear and Lady Aurora was on fire!

Everywhere I turned she was giving us a big display, loads of movement, colour and light. All visible to the naked eye. Upon numerous recommendations from Aurora hunters in Australia, I am so happy to have chosen Green Fox Guiding for my Northern Lights tour in Tromso.

All throughout the booking process and right up to pick up from the Tourist Centre, Jacek kept up the lines of communication, even booking my friend Lauren on another tour the next night after she’d missed her connecting flight to Tromso and couldn’t make the tour I did.

Jacek is filled with loads of knowledge about the Aurora, helped setting up my dslr to get the best photos, drove us around for hours to different locations and….. his enthusiasm was incredible and infectious.

Highly recommend Green Fox Guiding to anyone considering doing a Northern Lights tour in Tromso, if I come back to the area, I would definitely book another tour. Click here to check out Green Fox Guiding’s website for all tour information.

The greatest night of my life!!!
Aurora Borealis
Northern Lights Tromso
Les Songes d’Helena - Honfleur

Les Songes d’Helena – Honfleur

This place is an absolute gem. The owners are really friendly and were very accommodating. The bed was huge, if not the largest bed that I have slept in whilst in Europe. The shower was delightfully modern with an overhead shower head rather than a hand hold which for this Aussie, was greatly appreciated. Within walking distance to the port and numerous restaurants, this hotel is perfect for your stay in Honfleur. Overall, a very clean and modern hotel. I would say this has been my favourite place to stay in France so far.

7 rue Saint Leonard, 14600, Honfleur, France

Auberge Flora - Paris

Auberge Flora – Paris

Auberge Flora

Really enjoyed my stay at the Auberge Flora. The staff were really attentive, creating a personalised experience. Always happy to help and welcome you back after a day of exploring Paris.

The bed was a highlight, super comfortable after 22 hours of flying. Rooms were immaculately clean and tidy and the food for both breakfast and dinner was superb. The hotel is situated in a really great location with easy access to all Parisian sights both on foot and on train.

44 Boulevard Richard Lenoir, 750011 Paris, France 0011 33 1 86 76 72 17

Outback Pioneer Hotel, Uluru

Outback Pioneer Hotel

Located within the Ayers Rock Resort complex at Yulara, the Outback Pioneer Hotel is a practical choice for the budget conscious without compromising on comfort and amenities. Staying anywhere within the Ayers Rock Resort is considerably expensive by Australian standards and for the cost per night of a room the Outback Pioneer Hotel is nothing overly flash, but, and there are a lot of buts, it does maintain the outback charm that one may expect from these parts of Australia. A sense of authenticity that is lost in those fancy places just up the road. And that is where I was won over.
That and the fact that the outback pioneer hotel has the only pub in town within the hotel itself (more on that later).
The complex hosts both hotel accommodation and hostel style rooms with up to 4 beds. I stayed in a hotel room that was roomy, well maintained and had everything I needed for my stay, including much needed air conditioning. The bed was super comfortable especially after being outdoors and hiking for a good part of the day. Bathroom was equip with local hair and body products that were really nice to use.
Check in was simple and the staff very friendly. They correspond with tour operators on your behalf and know well in advance what each guest will be doing. One of my tours was cancelled before I arrived and with the reception staff being pre-warned, they attempted to find be different alternatives without me even having to ask.
There is a restaurant where breakfast is buffet style and trust me there is plenty of food! Normally it’s quite expensive (approx $30) but reception will tell you upon check in to grab a voucher from them for any breakfasts at a cost of $15. Bargain! I did only have one dinner at the restaurant and it was both as pleasant as it was filling. Service was exceptional.
The hotel has a pool, gift shop, games centre and plenty of spaces to relax (including the pub). The free town bus is right out the front and departs every 20 minutes to take you the loop to the supermarket, gift shops, cafes, tourist centre and other hotels. If you’re booked on any tours you’re picked up right out the front. All of this runs without any hiccups it really is all too easy.
Now for the pub. It’s the heart of the Outback Pioneer. Right smack bang in the centre of the complex, this open air pub has plenty of outback character, hosts a café, pool tables and plenty of space to pull up a chair to sit back and relax. Of a night it seems unless you’re on a tour everyone converges on the pub for an unwind, to meet new friends and to listen to whomever is performing on the small stage that night. The only issue with the pub is the cost of drinks! $40 for a 6 pack of beer to takeaway is beyond what this beer loving chick would ever want to pay, but when it’s your only option one has to suck up the expense and just go with it. So for the sake of beer and holidays I did, of course.
For my money I would not have stayed anywhere else. When you break a holiday to Uluru area down, you spend most of your day and often night out exploring. It’s not the kind of banana lounge at the beach kind of holiday (beaches being 1000 kms away) so my advice is to keep it simple in Uluru and stay somewhere that is reasonably priced but is comfortable so that you can spend your hard earned dollars on tours and seeing the landscape. The Outback Pioneer Hotel captured a place in my heart, and will be where I stay the next time I’m there.

To book your stay at the Outback Pioneer Hotel click here.

Uluru Sunrise

Uluru – Desert Awakenings Tour

In my opinion, if you are a first timer seeing Uluru then the Desert Awakenings tour is definitely where you should start. Yes, if you have a car you can get there yourself but what you miss out on by doing that is the experienced tour guides who give you so much invaluable information, geological history of the area as well as and if not most importantly, the traditional Aboriginal Dream Time stories associated with Uluru.  That in itself is an experience that just should not be missed. Ever!
You’re picked up from your hotel in the wee hours of the morning, before the sun rises, and whisked away on a 4WD tour truck that requires a step ladder to enter. Yep, this beast was huge, but obviously well needed when you look at some of the roads and sand dunes it drives over.
First stop is a secluded sand dune to watch golden hour. The sky turning from black, to dark blue, to light blue, to a vivid red as the sun comes up over the horizon. And this my friends is where you capture your first glimpse of Uluru in the morning. Bathed in the sunlight, you witness the rock change colour from dark brown, to purple. It really is a spectacular sight at times I had a hard time deciding whether to look at the ever changing sky or the ever changing colours of the rock. And then there was Kata Tjuta behind me, so spoilt for choice! Some perfect photo opportunities in this moment for those with dslr cameras.
Breakfast is served on top of the sand dune and let me tell you, it’s a beautiful mix of coffee, bacon and egg rolls and traditional damper with indigenous herbs. Yum
From there it’s a climb back into the truck to the base of Uluru itself. An early start to hopefully beat the hordes of tourists and school groups that never seem to end. Firstly we are driven part way around the rock, to a base where the guide allows us time to ourselves to get up close and personal with Uluru. And this is where you can see those who chose to climb Uluru look like tiny little ants bent over at the hip moving ever so slowly. We are pre-warned about the deaths that have occurred both on the rock and after climbing the rock, but most importantly we are told of the sacred significance of Uluru to the local Indigenous community, what the area means to them and why people are encouraged not to climb the rock. The Australian government has banned climbing the rock as of October 2019 and together with the locals are encouraging people not to climb, yet amazingly people still do. I don’t get it really, and find it quite insulting to the locals.
After climbing back on the bus, we are driven around a side of the rock where we are asked not to take photos. Reason being that the rock itself has markings on the face of it that are significant to ‘man’ (as opposed to ‘woman’) history in the Dreamtime so if photos are shared online or anywhere else it spells trouble.
The drive around the rock is approximately 10 kms of gorgeousness. We stop in at the Mutitjulu Waterhole which is at the base of Uluru and whilst it’s a dry sunny day, you get a real understanding of how this area can flood in the heavy rains. Not too far from the Mutitjulu Waterhole is a small cave area which houses some rock art that dates back over 5000 years. Incredibly in the 1950’s some of this ancient art was hosed off by the white man, for what reason I don’t know but it still leaves me horrified and deeply saddened.
We have an hour to spare before heading back to our respective hotels and this is spent in the Uluru/Kata Tjuta cultural centre. There’s a historical display and movie to watch as well as a café, art shop and gift shop. The art shop is definitely worth a visit as on any given day an artist will be working away and this is mesmerising to watch.
As mentioned previously, if you’re new to the area I would highly advise doing this tour. The tour guides study bachelor degrees in aboriginal history in order to be able to take people out so it is well worth sitting in on listening To the stories of natural and cultural significance. It’s really easy to get caught up into listening to the Dreamtime stories and marvel in the geological nature of the area. One thing that really caught me off-guard was how deeply I would feel about Uluru and it’s people. I really don’t know if you would get that feeling without a great understanding of the significance of Uluru to this country and it’s people.
To book the Desert Awakenings tour click here.

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