Monthly Archives: May 2015

Two Years of Travel in Numbers: Stats Round Up

Everyone likes to know the numbers behind something (or is that just me?). Here’s the breakdown of our two year trip, starting with our route generated from the GPS tags in Andrew’s photos.

Two year trip route

Length of time on the road 774 days
2 years 1 month 14 days
Number of countries visited 25
Distance travelled 72,284 km
44,915 miles
Number of beds slept in 199
Number of blog posts written (before this one) 253
Total spend (for two people) £54,394.90
Average daily spend (for two people) £70.28

It’s a shame that our last month pushed us just over our target daily average of £70 per day. This was largely due to the cost of apartment rental in Amsterdam, we spent more on accommodation in April 2015 than any other month of the trip.

Total expense breakdown

Number of train journeys 120
Number of hours spent on trains 591.5 hours
Longest single train journey (Severobaikalsk to Irkutsk) 37.75 hours
Number of flights 12
Number of hours spent in the air 37 hours
Pairs of replacement shoes bought 4

As well as writing about our travels on this blog, we’ve taken a lot of photos to remind us of our two years of travelling, and our method for storing them worked very well.

Number of photos taken (total) 88,486
Average photos taken per day (total) 114
Number of photos taken (Julie) 42,485
Number of photos taken (Andrew) 46,001
GB of data in photos taken (total) 384.5 GB

We knew that we’d be visiting some more exotic locations and vaccinations before the trip started were necessary. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been pretty healthy while we’ve been away and on the few occasions that we’ve needed something from the pharmacy, either the pharmacist spoke English or some creative miming was sufficient to communicate what we needed!

Visits to doctor 0
Purchases from pharmacy 6
Eye tests 1
Fleas captured 1
Ticks removed 1
Mosquito bites Hundreds!

We were pleasantly surprised by how ubiquitous WiFi is around the world, though obviously internet connections aren’t possible or are so slow as to be unusable in the remoter areas of developing countries such as Mongolia, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan. That said, the nicer accommodation options in their capitals and larger cities were pretty good, if a little flaky at times. We used the Ookla Speedtest app to check internet speeds in the places we stayed.

Fastest internet connection (Tokyo, Japan) down arrow36.35 Mbps up arrow38.79 Mbps
Slowest internet connection (Nukus, Uzbekistan) down arrow0.02 Mbps up arrow0.03 Mbps

Brussels Round Up

From Amsterdam we decided to spend a few days in the heart of the European Union before we hopped on the Eurostar for the final train journey of our two year trip.

Brussels surprised us, maybe because as it was the last stop on our long journey and we were fighting the wind-down and possible post-travel blues, or perhaps we thought the whole city would be little more than a wrapper for the European Parliament – i.e. not much else to do or see.

Guild Halls, Grand Place, Brussels

We loved the detailed Guild Halls with their gold accents in the central Grand Place

Instead we found a vibrant, walkable city with a comic-book heritage and a cheeky, laid-back sense of humour. And because it’s Belgium the waffles, chips, chocolate and beer are superb – 4 days and we’d decided we could live here!

Comic Walls

Tintin comic wall, Brussels

Comic book wall #1 is Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin, obviously!

Neither of us were big comic readers or collectors as kids, but I do remember a fondness for Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin and I had quite a few of his large format comic books. Brussels is home to a number of famous European cartoonists, including Hergé (the pen name of Georges Remi) Maurice De Bevere, André Franquin and Maurice Tillieux. Not that we’d heard of any of these except Hergé mind you!

Cartoon wall collage, Brussels

Cartoon walls are typically just a few blocks apart, and the artwork styles are as different as the characters themselves. Left to right: “La Vache” by Johan de Moor; “The Scorpion” by Marini; “Blondin and Cirage” by Jijé; and “Olivier Rameau” by Dany

That didn’t hinder our enjoyment of the street art as we explored Brussels. There are about 80 public comic frescos throughout the city, and while the suggested routes are marked on the tourist maps available in the city, we often had to go an extra block to find the work, and one of them was inside a hostel which we’d never have found if it wasn’t for the Visit Brussels app, which has more accurate locations, offline maps (yay!) and a short informative paragraph that gave us a little context or history.

The comic book walls are varied and delightful, and were a great way to join up the other sights we wanted to see in Brussels.

European Parliament

European Parliament, Brussels

The European Parliament in Brussels. There’s another one in Strasbourg, and also representative offices in most of the member states too

As I may have mentioned before, I’m really intrigued by how things work, and that includes social structure and governance, so when in Brussels we took a free guided tour of the European Parliament.. we got the full European experience too as we joined the tour in French!

European Parliament, Brussels

It’s possible to visit when the parliament is in session, but it was empty on our visit. The morning of our visit I read that the EU were voting on the re-labelling of alcoholic drinks to include nutrition information such as calories, which we thought was a good idea and so did they because they passed it! It’ll take a few years to filter through into members’ law though

Julie understood a little more than I did, but we both got the gist of the introduction to how the European Parliament works and how it’s made up. I think we’d have gotten more out of it had the tour been in English or if they hadn’t run out of audio guides, but we’re definitely pleased we went.

Manneken Pis, Jeanneke Pis and Zinneke Pis

Manneken Pis, Brussels

The Manneken Pis is one of the most visited sights in Brussels and every time we walked past it there were crowds of admirers!

We didn’t know that the official mascot of Brussels is the almost 400 year old Manneken Pis – a small bronze statue of a little boy urinating! There are many legends for why the statue was built and put on display just around the corner from the main square in Brussels, but we found the stories of its various abductions over the years more interesting!

Pis statues, Brussels

The tinkling trilogy: Manneken Pis – the boy; Jeanneke Pis – the girl; and Zinneke Pis – the dog

The little boy is now one of a trilogy – his cheeky behaviour has been copied by Jeanneke Pis – a small girl locked away down a back alley in the restaurant district, and Zinneke Pis – a dog relieving himself against a bollard a few more blocks away! They’re all light-hearted and adorable, especially the original Manneken Pis because a few times a week he gets to dress up! And he has over 900 costumes!

Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur à Koekelberg

Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur à Koekelberg, Brussels

The impressive art-deco Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur à Koekelberg

The “Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur à Koekelberg” or National Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Koekelberg was just a few blocks from our lovely apartment in Brussels, and it’s both the largest Art Deco building and the 13th largest church in the world.

Stained glass, Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur à Koekelberg, Brussels

The stained glass in the Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur à Koekelberg

It’s so big that it holds celebrations in two languages, has an exhibition space, a restaurant, a theatre, a radio station and two museums! We though the exterior was more impressive than the understated sparse interior, with the exception of the wonderfully detailed stained glass panels.


Atomium, Brussels

The Atomium science museum still looks futuristic to us after 60 years!

Also just outside the city centre is the site of the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, which is home to another iconic sight on the Brussels skyline – the Atomium.

It’s a really striking building that plays with its own perspective. Somehow to us it looked bigger from further away, and when we were stood underneath it the spheres didn’t seem big enough to be exhibition spaces as it’s now a museum and viewpoint.

Atomium, Brussels

We didn’t get to the museum inside because we enjoyed taking photos of the outside too much!

We weren’t sure if the arrangement of the spheres were significant, but I looked it up and it’s a unit cell of iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. As we arrived the grey cloud dissipated a little and made a spectacular backdrop for the reflective steel of the structure. We took far too many photos. Again.

And on to the round up of our short city stop in Brussels..

What photo takes you right back to Brussels?

Us with the cheeky Manneken Pis, Brussels

Us with the cheeky Manneken Pis, the mascot of the city

Summarise Brussels in three words.

  • Diverse – as we wandered through the city we noticed a very rich mix of ethnicities and languages. It’s also the meeting point of the two native languages in Belgium, French and Flemish
  • Relaxed – there’s an easy-going, laid-back atmosphere which we really enjoyed. Lots of little cafes and bars with people spilling out into the streets
  • Comics – as well as the large comic book murals, there are several museums dedicated to the art

You really know you’re in Brussels when…

.. you’ve just had moules-frites (mussels and chips) for lunch, washed down with a Trappist ale or two!

What one item should you definitely pack when going to Brussels?

Your sweet tooth – the waffles are fantastic and with so many different and inventive toppings we had to try a few, though we’re glad we always shared one as they’re very sweet!

Amsterdam Round Up

What photo takes you right back to Amsterdam?

Keukenhof, Holland, Netherlands

The week that Dan, Clare, Scott and Emma visited was the highlight of our time in Amsterdam and our day at Keukenhof was a perfect start to their stay

Summarise Amsterdam in three words.

  • Canals – the canals and the architecture of the buildings along them are a distinctive feature of the city
  • Bicycles – they’re everywhere!
  • Tolerant – Amsterdam is a multicultural place and the locals seem to have a pretty relaxed attitude to most things, be it the customs of others, the waft of marijuana smoke from the coffeeshops, or legalised prostitution.

You really know you’re in Amsterdam when…

.. there are fresh flowers everywhere. The Netherlands is the world’s biggest exporter of cut flowers and the locals like to brighten up their lives too. Pretty much every cafe and bar has bud vases with tulips or gerberas on each table and it is common to see larger bouquets in museums or shops, not to mention poking out of the bags of ordinary shoppers (much like baguettes in France!).

What one item should you definitely pack when going to Amsterdam?

Something orange to wear if you’re planning to visit on King’s Day!

It ends!

On the 1st of May 2015 we arrived in London after 2 years, 1 month and 11 days of travelling through Europe, Asia and back through Europe.

Us setting off from Newcastle train station

Setting off from Newcastle train station over two years ago..

It doesn’t feel like we’ve been away for two years, until we start thinking about all of the wonderful countries we’ve visited and then it feels like it ought to have been much longer – how did we cram in 25 countries?!

Us in St. Pancras, London

Arriving in London from Brussels – we’re home!

The next month sees us catching up with our oft missed family and friends, and we’ve a few things left to write about that’ll round off our adventures.

Thank you once more for following our adventures, Andrew & Julie xx

Koningsdag (King’s Day) in Amsterdam

Our penultimate day in Amsterdam was the 27th of April, which is the Dutch National Holiday called Koningsdag or King’s Day and marks a day of public celebration for the King’s birthday. The centre of Amsterdam is closed to traffic and trams, and almost all of the locals swap their bicycles for orange clothes – it’s bright, fun, crowded and noisy – we loved it!

The Dutch know how to have a good time, and everywhere we went people were really enjoying the citywide festival spirit

The Dutch know how to have a good time, and everywhere we went people were really enjoying the citywide festival spirit

Why orange? Because King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and the Dutch Royal family is of the House of Orange-Nassau!

We started with the nearby Sarphatipark, which was full of entrepreneurial kids running all manner of car-boot-like jumble-sale stands, orange tarpaulins strewn with used toys and worn clothes, others with homemade cakes and some really inventive ones like a whack-an-orange, living statues and the Human Fruit Machine.. from what we discern the latter involved three kids with their heads in cardboard boxes, that each held up a piece of fruit after you paid them!

Sarphatipark, King's Day, Amsterdam

The busy Sarphatipark, full of locals with their kids enjoying the sunshine and the atmosphere. Selling their unwanted belongings was definitely secondary!

Sarphatipark collage, King's Day, Amsterdam

We loved the inventiveness and thought that had gone into some of the wackier stalls, not to mention the bright orange cupcakes! Clockwise from top-left: The first stall we saw in Sarphatipark – get kitted out if you aren’t already!; Those homemade bright orange cupcakes, yum!; Throw a wet sponge at other people’s kids – I imagine that’s easily their parents favourite game of the day!; Fantastic orange headgear like this furry-edged Stetson!

There are some restrictions on what people can sell, anything with meat in it must be from a licensed restaurant to avoid upset stomachs, and alcohol can only be sold from licensed premises though we never had to walk more than a few steps to find a beer!

EDM street stage, King's Day, Amsterdam

Loud music is everywhere from buskers, residents pointing their stereos into the street, and proper public stages with massive stacks of speakers – it must be easy to find work as a DJ in the Netherlands on King’s Day!

As we walked through the streets from square to square, and canal to canal, the soundtrack to the day was eclectic – electronic dance was the most common from the bars and large public music stages, but walking past people’s houses we heard jazz, 80’s pop, reggae, classical, funk, and even a Christmas tune!

Dam Square, King's Day, Amsterdam

Dam Square: the centre of the city was taken over by a compact fun-fair, including a ferris wheel, spinning chairs, a catapult pod and an array of the usual skill games like shooting ranges, dart boards and the claw

Boat drinks, King's Day, Amsterdam

King’s Day boat drinks. I used the ‘Spot Colour’ feature of my camera to pick out the orange and I really liked the results!

There’s also a one-way system in force on some of the canals because long-boat parties are the place to be seen on King’s Day in Amsterdam. Each one had a bar, a DJ, a shower-curtain hoop toilet and a lively complement who remembered to duck under all of the low bridges!

Celebrating with the locals and tourists alike was the perfect farewell to one of our favourite cities of the trip, Bedankt, Amsterdam!