Over 20 family-friendly travel movies with strong female role models

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There is nothing quite like a movie experience, it can bring out a plethora of emotions and leave you dreaming… of friendships, adventures, and delicious food!

We find ourselves in truly unprecedented times. The experience of our daily lives now looks a little different as we attempt to settle into our new normal. We need faith and wonder now more than ever before.

If you find yourself in lockdown/quarantine eagerly looking for a way not only to keep the kids entertained, but also to keep hope alive… then I have just the list of family-friendly movies for you! Added bonus, this list contains strong female role models! These movies will transport your family around the world, while powerful messages are tucked away in the marvel. They are great even if you don’t have kids to watch them with, so let the inner-kid enjoy hours of entertainment.

 If you would like to skip over the next section and look straight at the list, just scroll down to the table detailing the titles, genres, year of release, destinations, and lead actors.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

If courage is what we need, then let’s look no further than Nim’s Island. Filming took place on Hinchinbrook Island which is off the Northeast coast of Queensland, Australia. A story that forces a writer, battling a severe phobia, to face her fears head-on. On the other side of the world a brave little girl who will do whatever it takes to protect the unknown island she calls home.

Anna and Christy (daughter and mother) from Miracles from Heaven display the most tremendous courage in this beautiful movie. It is based on a true story centered on a ten year old girl who falls ill and the amazing journey to find peace and healing. Jennifer Garner’s performance is touching with great supporting roles from Eugenio Derbez and Queen Latifah. Filming took place between Atlanta and Senoia in Georgia and Boston in Massachusetts.

Another fearless little girl, Sophie, an orphan from The BFG (the adaptation of Roald Dahl’s story The Big Friendly Giant). I must admit, I thought some parts of this movie might scare my girls, but my eldest loves it. The scenery is spectacular with filming that took place in Scotland and England. Sophie ends up with a friendly giant, unlike any other. Not only is she brave, but she devises a plan that will change everything.

I have special memories of enjoying the animated series of Heidi, in Afrikaans, when I was a little girl. When the live-action movie Heidi was released in 2015 I got to enjoy it all over again. I watched it in Afrikaans, but I believe it is available in German and English. The splendour of the Swiss Alps is unmatched in this film, showing its beauty in all the seasons. Most of the filming took place in Grisons. This is a tale about a brave little girl who finds herself dumped in unfamiliar situations, but with her enthusiasm and innocence she is able to take things in her stride. She makes meaningful friendships and gives her grandfather a second chance at allowing love and light back into his life.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold brought Nickelodeon’s educational children’s series to life in a big way. Filming was done almost entirely in Australia, with only a few scenes shot in Peru. The adventure is magnificent. Dora, now a teenager, finds herself having to navigate the world of high school and making friends, while thrust into a rescue mission in the Peruvian jungle.

Monte Carlo is a sweet story of three young ladies, out of high school, going on holiday in Paris but ending up in Monte Carlo due to a case of mistaken identity. Its narrative is one of love, friendship, blended family, and a journey of self-discovery. It has exceptional European locations and makes you feel 18 again, taking you back to a time where the world was your oyster.

Another childhood favourite, The Sound of Music. Maria, hopeful to be a nun, finds herself a governess (i.e. nanny) to seven children; that makes her a heroine in my books! I watched it again last year on the plane back home from my trip to Europe, to be reminded of the splendour of Austria. This is a timeliness classic and the beauty of Salzburg, Austria is truly exemplified. The von Trapp family crawled their way into our hearts. This enchanting musical features songs like My favourite things and Do-Re-Mi, which will live on forever.

A movie that truly had me riveted was Hidden Figures, based on a true story. A few strong messages that I took away from the film included the fight against colour discrimination, gender discrimination, and automation versus manpower – however, portrayed in such a beautiful way that I found it to be family-friendly. Three incredible African-American women work at NASA in the 1960’s; not only are they unbelievably intelligent, but also resourceful and resilient. I found the movie to have such a positive message and I hoped that my daughters grasped its magnitude. Most of the filming took place in Atlanta, Georgia. Besides, what is more marvelous than NASA and space travel?

Moving on to take a little visit to France, Ballerina (known also as Leap) is a whimsical story about an orphan, Félicie, who wishes to escape the orphanage in rural France with her best friend, Victor, in order to realise her dreams in Paris. Félicie dreams of being a famous ballerina, while Victor wants to be an inventor. Her determination to make it in the world of ballet, and their extraordinary friendship, is put to the test in this story.

Lilo and Nani, from Lilo & Stitch, make it onto the list because of their strength after the loss of their parents. Lilo is a tenacious little girl that we couldn’t help but fall in love with. She finds herself lonely, without friends, until a fiery alien creature comes into her life. While Nani, much older, has the responsibility of looking after Lilo. It’s a sweet story about Ohana (which means family). The movie is set in the tropical Kauai, in Hawaii. The Hawaiian culture comes alive throughout the movie.

The Wild Thornberrys Movie boasts an extraordinary young girl, Eliza, with an ability to communicate with Animals and a heart of gold. The Thornberry family are in Africa and Eliza’s filmmaking parents want to record an elephant migration. However, Eliza is up against poachers! The setting is inspired by East Africa’s Kenya.

Yi, from Abominable, stole our hearts in her quest to get a Yeti back to where it belongs. Her friend and his cousin (Peng and Jin) join in on the unbelievable adventure. Yi is a teenage girl and after having lost her father, secretly plays the violin, and tends to shut people out. This vibrant movie features destinations from China that will take your breath away.

Tip (voice of Rihanna), from Home, is another young girl who captured our affections on her search to reunite with her mother (voice of Jennifer Lopez). After an alien invasion on earth, humans are relocated to Australia. Tip and her cat (named Pig) are left behind. She meets a peculiar alien, Oh (voice of Jim Parsons from the Big Bang Theory), who offers to help her, because he finds himself in trouble. You will notice recognisable landmarks from all around the world throughout the movie. The best part, their transport is a floating car!

The sisters, Anna and Elsa, from Frozen surely need no introduction! I thought nothing could ever top the first one and then Frozen II exceeded all expectations. Frozen II is the highest grossing animated film of all time. The breathtaking locations were inspired by Norway. Each sister has her own unique strengths, but also secret struggles. They have the best companions, and the humour that Josh Gad brings as Olaf is unrivaled. They will inspire and mesmerise the audience in both movies as they embark on their voyages.

A courageous young lady, Merida from Brave, will take you to the beauty of a fantastic historic Scotland. Not wanting to have life-changing decisions imposed on her, she fights for a world where she can make her own choices. The dynamics of a mother-daughter relationship are beautifully illustrated. I loved the Scottish accents as it kept the story true to its destination. It is a glimpse into the rich Scottish culture, which was at the heart of this story.

Moana, another spirited young girl, will take you to magnificent tropical locations. She needs to be brave to help her village, against her father’s instructions (because of his own hurt and past). Her eccentric grandmother believes in her and pushes her to unleash her full potential. The songs are very catchy and the Polynesian culture is intertwined into the story.

Let’s add Mulan to the list of heroic young ladies. The Disney version of the Chinese folklore has been criticized for its factual inaccuracies, it is a beautiful story nonetheless. The live-action adaptation is pending release until the pandemic settles down, so this refers to the animation. Having to take a massive risk as sacrifice to save her father, she takes us on an adventure as she learns to fight to protect her country. A beguiling trip to China where you see the Great Wall of China, Cherry Blossoms, and rice fields. I absolutely loved the songs and by now we know that Eddy Murphy makes a great side-kick!

Anastasia is based on a true story taking us to Imperial Russia. Disney’s version has a more optimistic twist and creative liberties were taken. Even so, it’s a beautiful story of a young woman who must discover who she truly is. The villain in this picture, Rasputin, is one of the scarier ‘bad guys’ from Disney in my opinion. While the first half of the movie is based in Russia, the second half is set in Paris.

Tiana from The Princess and the Frog is another noteworthy young lady, who teaches us that hard work and discipline is the way to reach your goals, values which her father instilled in her. I absolutely enjoyed Disney’s version of this classic tale which takes us to New Orleans in Louisiana (this is what put New Orleans straight on my bucket list). You will crave Beignets and the sounds of Jazz. The villain in this film, Dr. Facilier (also known as the Shadow Man) is also one of the more frightening ‘bad guys’.

Rapunzel from Tangled makes it onto the list of daring women. Granted the Kingdom of Corona is not a real destination, however, it was inspired by the island village and castle of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France. It makes it onto the list because Disney’s version of Rapunzel shows a young lady full of curiosity taking us through her journey of discovery and finding independence. Lastly, this movie sparked a lot of interest during this pandemic because of the Kingdom’s name as well as the fact that Rapunzel was in isolation, locked up in the tower (amongst other curiosities).

Princess Jasmine of Aladdin joins the list of strong women. The strong-willed and capable princess is not afraid to question decisions or stand-up for herself; I love that her character stands out in a movie titled after the male lead. Besides, she has a tiger as her pet! I recommend watching both the 1992 animation and the 2019 live-action remake, of the folk tale of Middle Eastern origin. The animation was a fundamental part of my childhood. The remake stars a gorgeous cast, mostly with Middle-Eastern/ South-Asian descent. Jasmine, played by the stunning Naomi Scott, introduces a powerful new song Speechless. While Robin Williams’s performance of Genie in the 1992 animation was phenomenal as he kept the audience constantly engaged, it goes without saying that there were massive shoes to fill. Will Smith brought his own charm and charisma to the character which left no gaps in the full-bodied role of Genie. The humorous dynamic between the artful Aladdin, played by Mena Massould, and Genie was priceless. The city of Agrabah, although not real, is a fusion of Middle-Eastern and South-Asian and in the remake some filming was done in Jordan.

I’m ending the list with one of my all-time favourite princesses, Belle from Beauty and the Beast. It’s a story we have heard in many different ways, but I absolutely love the Disney version! She refused to conform to what society expected of women, nor does she fall for the tricks of the good-looking guy in town that all the girls swoon over. A love so deep for her father that she takes his place as prisoner in the Beasts’ castle. Once again, I recommend both the 1991 animation and the live-action adaptation of 2017. The animation was one of my favourite movies as a child, I loved singing Bonjour with Belle and the locations were inspired by Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé (Alsace, France). The 2017 flick was mostly filmed on exquisite and elaborate sets, but some of it was shot at Winterfold Forest and Hurtwood (Surrey, England) and Ivinghoe Beacon (Buckinghamshire, England) while still having viewers believe the story is set in France. Emma Watson (from the Harry Potter series) did a great job as Belle and they even included details about what happened to her mother. I couldn’t have loved the actors playing the supporting roles anymore!

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Here is the list of family-friendly travel movies with strong female role models:

Title

Release Date

Genre

Destination

Main Actors

Nim’s Island

2008

Adventure/Family

Hinchinbrook Island

Abigail Breslin, Jodie Foster, and Gerard Butler

Miracles from Heaven

2016

Christian Drama

Georgia and Massachusetts, USA

Jennifer Garner and Kylie Rogers

The BFG

2016

Family/Fantasy

Scotland and England

Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, and Jemaine Clement

Heidi

2015

Family/Adventure

Switzerland

Anuk Steffen and Bruno Ganz

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

2019

Comedy/Action

Australia, some shots in Peru

Isabela Moner, Eva Longoria, and Eugenio Derbez

Monte Carlo

2011

Romance/Comedy

France and Monaco

Selena Gomez and Leighton Meester

The Sound of Music

1965

Musical/Family

Austria

Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer

Hidden Figures

2016

Drama/History

Georgia

Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe

Ballerina

2016

Animation/Family

Inspired by France

Voices by Elle Fanning and Dane DeHaan

Lilo & Stitch

2002

Family/Animation

Inspired by Hawaii

Voices by Daveigh Chase and Tia Carrere

The Wild Thornberrys Movie

2002

Animation/Family

Inspired by Africa

Voices by Lacey Chabert and Tim Curry

Abominable

2019

Family/Animation

Inspired China

Voices by Chloe Bennet, Tenzing Norgay Trainor, and Albert Tsai

Home

2015

Animation/Family

Inspired by several destinations around the world

Voices by Rihanna, Jim Parsons, and Jennifer Lopez

Frozen

2013

Family/Musical

Inspired by Norway

Voices by Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell

Frozen II

2019

Animation/Family

Inspired by Norway

Voices by Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell

Brave

2012

Animation/Family

Inspired by Scotland

Voices by Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, and Emma Thompson

Moana

2016

Animation/Family

Inspired by Islands of Polynesia

Voices by Auli’I Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson

Mulan

1998

Animation/Family

Inspired by China

Voices by Ming-Na Wen and Eddie Murphy

Anastasia

1997

Animation/Musical

Inspired by Russia and France

Voices by Meg Ryan, John Cusack, and Kelsey Grammer

The Princess and the Frog

2009

Animation/Musical

Inspired by New Orleans, USA

Voices by Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, and John Goodman

Tangled

2010

Animation/Family

Inspired by Normandy, France

Voices by Mandy Moore and Zachary Lev

Aladdin

2019

Family/Romance

Jordan

Naomi Scott, Will Smith, and Mena Massoud

Aladdin

1992

Animation/Musical

Arabian inspired

Voices by Robin Williams, Scott Weigner, and Linda Larkin

Beauty and the Beast

2017

Family

England

Emma Watson and Luke Evans

Beauty and the Beast

1991

Animation/Musical

Inspired by France

Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, and Angela Lansbury

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Now that we have had a good look at a few captivating female roles while travelling around the world – and can I just say that we have been given so many resilient women on screen – let’s look at some of the venturous male personas next, so look out for that!

Which of these is your family’s favourite movie? What other movies should be on this list? Let me know in the comments section.

If you liked this list and think that others will too, give it a share!

Stay safe

xxx

36 feel-good movies allowing you to travel without leaving your house

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If you want to be teleported to another place entirely, all the while at home, I have just the list of movies for you! Whether you choose to do so tucked away in your comfy bed, cuddling with a companion on the sofa, on a big television, or on a laptop – these flicks will have you glued to the screen.

I have seen each of these movies and majority a lot more than once. Most of the motion pictures I make reference to I watched with loved ones (my parents and sister when I was younger, my brothers once they were older, girlfriends, or with my husband). A few I watched while in the enjoyment of my own company. My husband gladly watched several with me, while others were given a hard pass (there is no in-between with him). You are assured hours of entertainment in the comfort (and safety) of your own home.

You will probably recognize a few of these movies, also popular on travel movie lists, but I guarantee that others are unique to my list and definitely worth a try. Be prepared for an eclectic mix of genres (I did, however, exclude heavy dramas and horrors/thrillers because… you know, the world is sad and scary enough right now).

A small number of these films were filmed somewhere entirely different to where they are portrayed to be, read on to find out which ones (but they definitely had me fooled).

I try to provide you with just enough information to decide whether you want to give the movie a try, without ruining the plot.

If you would like to skip over the next section and look straight at the list, just scroll down to the table detailing the titles, genre, year of release, age restriction, filming locations, and lead actors.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Italy is very much on our hearts during this time and so I thought it appropriate to start there. Arguably one of the most beautiful destinations. Under the Tuscan Sun has been an all-time favourite of mine for the longest of times; it is about a writer who goes through a life-changing event and has to find her strength. She gets to discover what she is capable of in the beauty of Tuscany. Let’s just say that by the end of the movie I want to throw on a sundress and buy a house in Tuscany. I remember watching Letters to Juliet in the cinema with my mother and sister; the story of an aspiring writer on an adventure in Italy where love and the concept of soul mates are at its centre.                                                 

Napa Valley resembles much of Italy’s wine yards and the movie with a young Keanu Reeves, A Walk in the Clouds, was one I watched with my parents and sister many, many years ago. It pulls at your heart strings and lets you follow the journey of love, family, and obligation while having a glimpse into the Mexican-American culture. Napa Valley is in California, United States.

If you are looking for tranquillity and beauty, look no further than Greece! Moving on to the Greek Islands, Mamma Mia (and Here We Go Again) will have you singing its praises (literally). I adored the first one, but the sequel had me enchanted!  Lily James was sensational and her wardrobe throughout the movie had me obsessed. Full disclosure, the men in my life were horrified at a dancing and singing James Bond; it is a  fond memory for me of when we watched the first one with my whole family many years ago. If you enjoyed My Big Fat Greek Wedding you will love My life in Ruins! It follows a tour guide and her tour group around Greece, with humour and charm.

Moving on to the elegance of France, I would highly recommend Julie & Julia (this is what sparked my interest in blogging). It will have you yearning for food and/or incredibly inspired to cook (and if you are like me you will be inspired to write too). It’s a story of two woman in different points in time overcoming their own personal battles and celebrating their achievements. Chocolat is another one of my all-time favourites. I can practically smell and taste the chocolate (you will crave the decadence of this confection). The dashing Johnny Depp plays a river-travelling gypsy while the story demonstrates the strength and poise a mother displays while facing many obstacles.

The next movie will take you right to one of my bucket list destinations, Ireland! Leap Year will have you falling in love with the landscapes of Ireland. This is a sweet story, and who doesn’t love an Irish accent?!

If you want to visit several breath taking destinations in a single cinematic experience, try Eat Pray Love and The Bucket List. Eat Pray Love has the gorgeous Julia Roberts reflecting on her life choices, past and present, as she takes you to Italy, India and Bali. The Bucket List has Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman playing two men who come to terms with the fact that they don’t have much time left and want to enjoy what is left of it, leading them to travel to famous landmarks across the world.

New York City is another one on my Bucket List and also currently in our prayers. There is no doubt that there a plethora of movies that can take you to New York, but my list includes Sex and the City (1 and 2), Bride Wars, and You’ve Got Mail. I understand that Sex and the City is raunchy and maybe not for everyone, but the fashion, friendship, and beauty of New York is unmatched! In addition both Sex and the City 1 and 2 make it to the list of movies where the destinations portrayed are in fact shot somewhere entirely different. In the first movie you believe them to be in Mexico when in fact it was filmed in Malibu. In the sequel you are enchanted by Abu Dhabi, when in fact it is Morocco. Bride Wars had two best friends, played by the stunning Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway, competing and conniving for the perfect wedding day while making you swoon over Vera Wang and the Plaza. You’ve Got Mail is a classic, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. It wrestles with concepts like finding love online versus meeting people organically as well as the struggle between massive establishments versus small businesses.

In addition to New York, another one on my bucket list is New Orleans (which was sparked by an animation). I have two feel-good movies to take us there, Chef and Girls Trip. They are polar opposites, but I enjoyed both. Chef is the story of a (you guessed it…) Chef, who is also a father and ex-husband. He goes on a journey of discovery to reignite his passion for food  and strengthen his bond with his son. Girls Trip is another raunchy movie (and won’t be for everyone), but it tells a raw story of friendship, relationships, and careers. The leading ladies Tiffany Haddish, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall, and Queen Latifah had me in stitches. My favourite part was the fact that it was based in New Orleans and the viewer is given a glimpse into the Mardi Gras experience.

If we take a visit to the East, a new favourite of mine is Crazy Rich Asians. Singapore comes alive in this film about wealth beyond comprehension played by a truly exquisite majority Asian cast. This movie evoked a lot of emotions and I admired the resilience of the lead character played by Constance Wu. Crazy Rich Asians also makes it to the list of movies shot in a different destination to where you believe it is, while significant, recognizable shots were taken in Singapore a lot of scenes were in fact taken in places like Malaysia. A visit to India would be incomplete without The Best Marigold Hotel and The Second Best Marigold Hotel. I love Dev Patel’s work and Judi Dench is amazing. Not only are the locations beautiful but Richard Gere also features in the sequel (who doesn’t love Richard Gere). It tells the story of a young man’s dream to set up accommodation for the elderly in India and the journey of realizing those dreams. It equally depicts the ability to make an impact on others and making choices for one’s happiness regardless of age.

I visited England (mostly London) at the end of 2009 and loved every second of it. A visit to England thus is a must and includes The Wedding Date, The Holiday, and Calendar Girls. The Wedding Date starring Debra Messing and the charming Dermot Mulroney is about a young woman who has to attend her sister’s wedding in England and desperately needs to find a date. Her sister is played by a blonde Amy Adams and a dark secret is uncovered. The Holiday has an incredible cast and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing a vulnerable Jude Law (as he often plays the bad guy) and the ever-funny Jack Black. After a house swap Cameron Diaz finds herself in a quaint little house in England while Kate Winslet finds herself in a luxury mansion in California. I loved everything about the charming little town Cameron Diaz’s character visits. Calendar Girls is a beautiful story of friendship and the incredible things women can accomplish regardless of struggles, and the scenery was spectacular.

While still in the United Kingdom let’s visit Scotland. Although Maid of Honour has a lot of its scenes based in the United States for the first half of the movie, Scotland does make an appearance in the second half of the movie and trust me it is glorious. A story line similar to My Best Friend’s Wedding and if you wonder whether this will have a different ending you will have to watch it to find out.

Let’s take a trip to a tropical island for a good laugh with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Couples Retreat, 50 first Dates, and Just go with it. You can’t go wrong with comedians like Jason Segel, Vince Vaughn, and Adam Sandler. While this kind of humour is not everyone’s cup of tea, I absolutely loved these movies. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a funny take on a break up where Jason Segel is faced with bumping into his ex and her new boyfriend, the one and only Russel Brand, on a tropical island (Oahu). Couples Retreat was filmed in Bora Bora and cast perfectly, each character feeding off of the other (I’m talking Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell, Ken Jeong, and a lot more). Four couples, each facing unique challenges in their relationships, come to an island where things are not as they expected. 50 first Dates and Just go with it are Adam Sandler movies with a beautiful story hidden in the hilarity. Both movies were shot in Hawaii (Oahu and Maui respectively) and did not disappoint. All four movies have epic cameos that will have you in stitches.

While still on the island vibes, let’s move onto Cuba – an island nation in the Caribbean Sea. Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights’s plot is much like the original Dirty Dancing but this time with Cuban flair. A surprise here is that Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights makes it onto the list of movies filmed in a different place to where the viewer is led to believe; filming took place in Puerto Rico and not in Cuba.

One my favourite destinations during my Europe trip of June/July 2019 was Budapest, and I watched the next movie on the plane back home to relive that experience. The grand Budapest hotel is an eccentric movie which I delighted in from start to finish. However, this movie was the biggest surprise of movies not shot where we thought they were. The grand Budapest hotel was filmed entirely in Germany and the truth is that you will see a lot more of Budapest in Gemini man. None the less it was a great piece of art and worth a watch.

I am South African with Afrikaans heritage and so I felt it most appropriate to end my list of movies with a few South African films. I have chosen the ones that showcase the beauty of our landscapes giving the viewer a beautiful depiction of the breath taking scenery and rich culture that South Africa has to offer. Although please bear in mind that we have eleven official languages and thus my choices are more representative of the Afrikaans side. Susters, Semi-soet, Pad na jou hart, and Leading lady make it on my list, and hopefully you will give them a chance. Susters tells the story of three adopted sisters, who over time drifted apart and live very different lives. They go on a road trip orchestrated by their mother. You will see the beauty of our country as they travel to their final location. Semi-soet showcases the splendour of Franschhoek (in the Western Cape) and the storyline reminded me a lot of The Wedding Date. Pad na jou hart truly tugs at your heartstrings and you discover things about the characters as they travel across the country. There is more than what lies on the surface and as the story unravels you find yourself deeply engrossed, coming to your own conclusions. Leading lady tells of an English actress who comes to South Africa in preparation for a role she has her heart set on. Vir Altyd stars the same leading actors from Pad na jou hart which shows off the beauty of the tropical paradise, Mauritius. The duo have a lot of chemistry on screen and I’m guessing it’s because they are married off screen. This is an absolute must see and the Mauritian setting is purely magnificent. A Hollywood movie that boasts South Africa’s famous Sun City was Adam Sandler’s Blended. I loved the dynamics of two families, with single parents, coming together for a vacation in Africa. Drew Barrymore is once against cast alongside Adam Sandler and by now we know that they work great together on screen.

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Here is the total list of feel-good recommended travel movies:

Movie

Genre

Release Date

Age Restriction

Filming Location

Lead Actor(s)

Under the Tuscan Sun

Drama/Romance

2003

PG 13

United States and Italy

Diane Lane

Letters to Juliet

Drama/Romance

2010

PG

United States and Italy

Amanda Seyfried

A Walk in the Clouds

Drama/Historical drama

1995

PG 13

Napa Valley

Keanu Reeves

Mamma Mia!

Romance Musical

2008

PG 13

Greece

Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Rom-com

2018

PG 13

Greece

Lily James

My life in Ruins

Romance/Comedy

2009

PG 13

Greece

Nia Vardalos

Julie &Julia

Drama/Comedy-drama

2009

PG 13

United States and France

Meryl Streep and Amy Adams

Chocolat

Drama/Romance

2000

PG 13

France

Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche

Leap Year

Rom-com

2010

PG

United States and Ireland

Amy Adams and Harry Elfont

Eat Pray Love

Drama/Comedy-drama

2010

PG 13

United States, Italy, India, and Indonesia

Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem

The Bucket List

Comedy-drama/ Drama

2007

PG 13

India, China, Tanzania, Egypt, and Nepal

Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson

Sex and the City

Drama/Comedy

2008

16

United States

Sarah Jessica Parker

Sex and the City 2

Drama/Romance

2010

16

United States and Morocco

Sarah Jessica Parker

Bride Wars

Romance/Comedy

2009

PG

United States

Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway

You’ve Got Mail

Drama/Romance

1998

PG

United States

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan

Chef

Drama/Adventure

2014

16

United States

Jon Favreau and Sofia Vergara

Girls Trip

Road/Comedy

2017

16

United States

Tiffany Haddish and Jada Pinkett Smith

Crazy Rich Asians

Drama/Comedy-drama

2018

PG 13

Singapore and Malaysia

Constance Wu and Henry Golding

The Best Marigold Hotel

Drama/Comedy-drama

2011

PG 13

India

Judy Dench and Dev Patel

The Second Best Marigold Hotel

Drama/Comedy-drama

2015

PG

India

Judy Dench and Dev Patel

The Wedding Date

Romance/Comedy

2004

PG 13

England

Debra Messing and Dermot Mulroney

The Holiday

Comedy-drama/Romance

2006

PG 13

United States and England

Jude Law and Cameron Diaz

Calendar Girls

Drama/Indie film

2003

PG 13

England

Helen Mirren and Julie Walters

Maid of Honour

Romance/Comedy

2008

PG 13

United States and Scotland

Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Drama/Comedy-drama

2008

16

Hawaii

Jason Segel and Kristen Bell

50 first Dates

Romance/Comedy

2004

PG 13

Hawaii

Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore

Just go with it

Romance/Comedy

2011

PG 13

Hawaii

Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler

Couples Retreat

Comedy/Rom-com

2009

PG 13

French Polynesia

Kristen Bell and Vince Vaughn

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights

Historical drama/Coming of age

2004

PG 13

Puerto Rico

Diego Luna and Romola Garai

The grand Budapest hotel

Drama/Crime

2014

16

Germany

Saoirse Ronan and Ralph Fiennes

Susters

Adventure

2018

PG 7 – 9

South Africa

Leah van Niekerk and Diaan Lawrens

Semi-soet

Rom-com

2012

PG

South Africa

Anel Alexander and Nico Panagiotopoulos

Pad na jou hart

Adventure/ Romance

2014

PG 7 – 9

South Africa

Marius Weyers and DoonaLee Roberts

Leading lady

Drama/Romance

2014

PG

England and South Africa

Katie McGrath and Bok van Blerk

Vir Altyd

Romance/ Adventure

2016

PG

South Africa and Mauritius

Ivan Botha and DonnaLee Roberts

Blended

Comedy/Rom-com

2014

PG

United States and South Africa

Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore

 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I am busy formulating a list of must-see movie series with captivating scenery (it’s a no-brainer that the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling  will feature). Please look out for that! I am also busy with a list of family-friendly movies that make you feel like you are travelling the world, while  appropriate for all ages. Stay tuned for that upcoming list if you have kids!

If you think I have missed a movie or if you agree on how spectacular these are, please let me know in the comments below. I would love to hear from you!

If you enjoyed this post and think that others would enjoy it too, please give it a share!

Stay safe

Xxx

The magic of Klagenfurt, Carinthia

Klagenfurt am Wörthersee

I read somewhere that Carinthia is probably Austria’s best kept secret, and after my experiences there I would have to agree.

The morning of the 28th of June we departed Vienna and a stop in Klagenfurt am Wörthersee was on the schedule for the day. Most of us slept en route to replenish our energy. Klagenfurt is the capital of Carinthia, the Southern Austrian province. We arrived feeling famished, thereby making lunch the first order of business. A few of us walked together and I asked my aunt if she wanted to join us for lunch, to which she replied in Afrikaans ‘eet is nie bo nie my skatebol’ which meant that eating was not high on her list of priorities. I have mentioned before that during free time she would grab a coffee and look for gifts.

We continued walking through the picturesque streets of Klagenfurt, looking out for a place to eat. We came across a charming restaurant serving authentic Austrian food, called Bierhaus zum Augustin, where we were seated outside on the courtyard. The language barrier came into play as the menus were printed in German. My mom assisted with placing our orders using the little German she knows. Our choices were based on her translation of the dishes and the prices thereof. The South African Rand at the time was almost 17 to 1 Euro, but at some point we got tired of doing the conversions. I immediately regretted my choice when my mom’s plate of food arrived, a juicy Austrian frankfurter with potato salad (I have mentioned previously that their potato salad is different to the South African version). The plate presented to me had slithers of ham and cheese with boiled egg. I ate it, appreciating the experience of tradition and culture.

Traditional Austrian meal

Meanwhile others from our tour group tracked down a Mac Donald’s, where apparently a special Austrian burger was on the menu (which actually sounded amazing).

Bear in mind that at this point we were away from home for 6 days already! That meant 6 days away from our children and our own beds (I also missed my husband). Thus, despite the fact that my sister and I are best friends (and I mean she is my day one, ride or die) tensions were bound to rise at some point, and this was that point! She picked potato salad from my mom’s plate, which irritated me because I would have preferred my mom’s plate of food, so I picked cucumbers from her plate (she is vegetarian-vegan and ordered a fresh salad). She snapped at me as I took another piece of cucumber from her plate and we exchanged words. We have already established that I did it out of vengeance. There was an awkward tension at the table, but not even 10 minutes later all was well again. We needed to get it out of our system. We settled our bill and I tipped way too much because I was still wrapping my head around working with Euros. My mom dashed off to a small antique shop and found a beautiful little hand-painted bowl to add to her collection back home.

At 12:45 we were headed back to the bus as our next stop was Minimundus, at Lake Wörthersee. It is a miniature world containing small replicas of famous structures from all around the globe. A quick 15 minutes away from where we stopped for lunch. We arrived around 13:00 and Milan asked if he could join us. He had not been before and up until that apoint he would wait for us in the bus during our activities; he joined the group as bus driver from the 26th of June when we left Budapest. The group was full of life in anticipation of ‘walking around the world’ and others were extremely excited to have Milan join.

Everyone scattered off in all directions as soon as we were inside. My method involved following an anti-clockwise course (thanks to my ocd) but there was way too much to see and it left my structured approach defeated. I snapped a shot of the Statue of Liberty, longing to see it in person one day (New York is on my bucket list). Next I admired the Taj Mahal, imagining how majestic it must be in real life. My sister walked over to the Great Wall of China and thereafter we visited the Sydney Opera house. Along the way we learnt so much as we came across buildings and fortresses that were new to us.

The Taj Mahal
The Great Wall of China
My sister and mom in front of the Sydney Opera house.

The park was not crowded, although there were other people, which allowed us to enjoy the attractions and take photos without being in each other’s way. I was undeniably elated every time I came across architecture that I have seen the real versions of in person; this included the Stephansdom, the Wiener Riesenrad, the London Tower Bridge, and the Big ben. The lists of my mom and sister are much longer.

The Stephansdom
The Wiener Riesenrad
My sister in front of the London Tower Bridge.

I appreciated the Eifel tower, the Louvre Museum, and the Arc de Triomphe all of which secured Paris’s place on my bucket list. My sister popped over to Hollywood, while my aunt tried to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The Eifel tower
The Louvre Museum
The Arc de Triomphe
The Leaning Tower of Pisa

The glorious colours of the St. Basil’s Cathedral drew me in. I walked over to it fondly thinking of, and missing, my dad back home. I was reminded of him because he had visited Russia many years back and brought back the best gifts for us when he returned. It was remarkable comparing each structure in height, considering that all the models are made on a scale of 1:25 in accurate detail. The one more magnificent than the next. I noticed that the CN Tower (of Toronto, Canada) stood as the tallest in the park. Time was running out and we had to hurry back to the bus.

The St. Basil’s Cathedral

We climbed back onto the bus for a quick drive to the departure point to board a ferry for a ride across Lake Wörthersee, Carinthia’s largest lake. In the horizon my eyes caught sight of beautiful flowers in all colours leading up to transparent turquoise waters, the remarkable view had me in awe.

Lake Wörthersee

As we stood on the pier waiting to climb aboard I was captivated by the beauty that surrounded me. This was one of my favourite moments of the tour. Earlier in the day we were all given our tickets for both the Minimundus and the ferry and asked to keep them safe. A member of our group lost his ticket resulting in negotiations to get him on the boat. Although stressful at the time (mostly for him) it is something to have a good laugh about now. All was well as by 14:00 we were all accounted for on-board.

We had a seat at a table on the boat and ordered iced drinks and ice creams to manage the heat. I indulged in a tiramisu ice cream, which was very gratifying. I headed to the upper deck and the views were unbelievable. In the distance I could see spectacular mountain ranges and the ferry was surrounded by the blue-green waters of the lake. All along the shoreline were people enjoying water activities, including pedal and rowing boats as well as stand-up paddle boarding. We crossed over to the other side docking at Reifnitz. The half an hour of pure happiness came to an end quicker than I wanted it to. The experience on the ferry was one that I will never forget.

Tiramisu ice cream

I stood for a while looking out at the water. I was completely mesmerized by the translucency of the lake. The rest of the group hurried over to a bush-like tree to gather around the little shade that it provided, the only shade in the vicinity. Milan had brought the bus to the other side to meet us and we were back on it by 14:40. The next adventure (an amazing one) was under 15 minutes away – stay tuned for a post highlighting that experience.

Docking at Reifnitz
Everyone huddled under the shade.
The water had me captivated.

In summary, Minimundus is perfect for the whole family as there is something of interest for everyone and it has a restaurant onsite. I would recommend spending enough time there to appreciate all the details of the structures on display and the fun extras, such as the water features and miniature moving train. I would highly recommend a visit to Lake Wörthersee! You will be enraptured by its beauty and I would even go as far as to suggest that you spend a few hours there to appreciate the water and take part in the water activities available.

Have you visited any of these places? Please tell me about it in the comments. If you enjoyed this post I would be very grateful if you helped spread it by sharing it.

12 days 5 countries 34 people and a European heatwave Third stop: Vienna Part 2

On the morning of the 27th of June 2019 I woke up in the ibis hotel in Vienna, Austria after an incredible night’s sleep. I was very much under the impression that the sunburn blisters on my face looked better and thus proceeded to send my mom a selfie via our WhatsApp group. It was not even a minute later and she was knocking on our door. Upon opening we found her tearful and apologetic for my sunburn situation. She went on to say that no one would blame me for staying in the hotel for the day. Trust a mom to be honest. In her defence, I knew it came from a place of love wanting to protect me from further sun damage. I need to provide some context (because I would never share any photos), it was not that bad, but it felt awful and awkward.

I must admit I considered it for a moment, staying in the hotel for the day, but I was determined to explore and experience the rest of Vienna regardless of what I may have looked or felt like. So I owned it. I got ready for the day and headed downstairs for breakfast, which was a feast fit for royalty. The buffet had everything including a waffle station, a variety of freshly baked bread, and an array of cheese and cold meats.

Each new destination presented me with the opportunity to learn new sayings to use when engaging locals. In Austria I was the most self-assured as I had been exposed to the German language during the years we lived in Windhoek, Namibia. One of the girls celebrated her 17th birthday so I went straight over to wish her. Everyone I came across at breakfast (those part of the tour and complete strangers) received an overcompensated and highly energetic ‘Guten Morgen’ (meaning Good Morning). We were fortunate to have someone in our group who was able to speak fluent German (although the German dialect differs slightly from place to place); he tried to teach us several words and phrases, and engaged comfortably with the locals.

A walking tour was on the itinerary for the morning where we were to discover why Vienna was voted the most liveable city in the world. The bus dropped us off near the city centre and we walked through the picturesque Maria-Theresien-Platz, a large public square. Soon thereafter we met our tour guide, Gabi, who would spend the morning taking us around the very heart of the city to appreciate the exteriors and surrounds of impressive structures. The first stop was the Hofburg Imperial Palace, which served as the winter residence for the imperial family, while Schönbrunn Palace was their summer residence. Today the president of Austria occupies these premises. We were just in time to witness the army doing their marching rounds while branded memorabilia was available to take at no cost promoting the military. Following, Gabi took us to see the Kaiserappartements, the imperial apartments, once occupied by Empress Elisabeth and Franz Joseph. During the imperial dynasty each member of the family had their own suite in one of the many palace wings.

Maria-Theresien-Platz
Hofburg Imperial Palace
Kaiserappartements

We walked along the Graben, one of the most well-known streets in Vienna’s first district. Vienna was bustling.

Vienna – Der Graben
Vienna – Der Graben

Around 11:30 our tour concluded and we were given free time. Some of us dashed over to an elegant coffee house, Sluka, where we indulged in traditional Austrian sweet treats and coffee beverages. We asked an elderly gentleman sitting with female companions to take a photo for us, which proved to be a difficult task for him. He struggled greatly with the cell phone and when we looked at the photos they were terrible. We enjoyed a good laugh.

Sluka
Sluka

Once the sweet tooth was satisfied we visited the Gustav Klimt exhibition where various copies of the Austrian born artists’ famous works were on display. We carefully selected beautiful magnets of our favourite works, one of which the well-known ‘The Kiss’.

Gustav Klimpt Exhibition

We went into a souvenir shop, World of Souvenirs, where I purchased more magnets and other items for my husband and daughters; it was my way of making them a part of this unforgettable experience. One of the funniest things I came across in the shop was a slogan which read ‘no kangaroos in Austria’. I chuckled at the fact that perhaps there are tourists who confuse Austria with Australia necessitating the need for the amusing catchphrase. The souvenir shop had a window on the second floor which they marked as the best view of the Stephansdom cathedral, I couldn’t resist snapping a shot.

Stephansdom view from the second floor of the shop

My mom insisted that we go inside the cathedral feeling that it would be a sin to miss out on such an experience when in Europe. I am so glad we listened to her (one should always listen to one’s mother). We made our way across to the Stephansdom as it’s known in German (the English name being St. Stephen’s Cathedral) where entrance was free. The exquisite architecture of this Roman Catholic Church is celestial. As I looked up my attention was captured by the intricate finishes on the high ceilings from which grand chandeliers hung. Rays of sunshine glistened through the spectacular colourful glass windows. The walls are works of art with decorative designs and sculptures bringing them to life. It was somewhat crowded inside (but not as jam-packed as outside the cathedral). It was definitely worth the visit.

Stephansdom
High ceilings with chandeliers
Colourful glass windows
Notice all the details
The details are exquisite
The designs and sculptures make the walls come alive

After meeting up with the rest of our party we made our way back to the bus. At this point we were fairly tired (due to the early wake up coupled with the morning’s walking tour, not to mention the heat). Each person looked out for the red backpack in front of them. We walked through the Burggarten garden and as we crossed traffic lights a small group of us suddenly realised that we were no longer with the rest of the company. The person in front had thought they were following the tour director when in fact it was not him and all the rest had just followed that one backpack in front of them. Although there was a moment that panic could take over I suggested we stop to regroup. After a few minutes we decided to walk back looking out for familiar sights. We walked through the Maria-Theresien-Platz and quickly found the rest of the group and hopped onto the bus, crises averted.

Burggarten (notice the red backpacks)
Maria-Theresien-Platz

It was after 14:00 and the excitement filled the bus as we were on our way to Wiener Prater, the oldest amusement park in the world. It is situated in Leopoldstadt, Vienna’s second district. Interestingly entrance is free while payment is due per ride, as the rides are privately owned. We arrived around 15:00 and the adrenalin junkies and thrill-seekers dashed off to experience the adventure of the scariest and highest rides in the park. A few of us made our first stop a restaurant for refreshments. I ordered Austrian Goulash served with a bread roll (it may seem absurd that I had a meal served warm on a hot summer’s day, but I wanted to soak up all the tradition). I enjoyed an ice cold G&T to accompany it.

Austrian Goulash

Going to the bathroom in the park was eventful as entry cost a Euro or two. We went in a group and everyone scratched around in purses to ensure we had enough. Two ladies in the group went to the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum; they were ecstatic. I almost joined them, but as I had been to the one in England in December of 2009 I decided instead to try a new experience. My mom, aunt, sister and I opted to go on Vienna’s Giant Ferris wheel, the Wiener Riesenrad, one of the oldest operating Ferris wheels in the world. The highest point being 64.75 meters above the ground. We paid the 12 Euros each and walked through a room to get to the ride. It was full of carts, resembling those of the Ferris wheel, each depicting a time in Vienna; the story of its history was fascinating. It is slow but once at the top the view is extraordinary. Although by no means an adrenaline ride, it was well worth it. It exited into a souvenir shop (my weakness) where many things were bought including branded golf balls, Mozart bouncy balls, a cap and bracelets. I lost many Euros to this shop!

Wiener Riesenrad – Wiener Prater
View from the cart as we were ascending
The view of the park

Stunning view

 

Beautiful view

As soon as everyone was done enjoying the excitement of the park we met at the front gate, around 17:41, and once again took a ‘boomerang’ with the Ferris wheel as the setting. We headed back to the hotel for leisure time and most of us returned to the Wien Hauptbahnhof (the railway station) for dinner and shopping. My sister and I headed into the famous Manner store as they were having a sale. An entire shop in all its peach-coloured glory just for Manner wafer cookies, amazing! There is a touching story behind this brand, in 1898 the creator wanted to ensure that all Austrians could afford to buy a sweet confection (as at the time most could not afford a chocolate). A delightful hazelnut cocoa cream is spread over a crispy waver, layer-by-layer it is the perfect spoil. These were a hit as souvenir gifts for my family. I gobbled several down myself before we even got back home to South Africa. After all the shopping we headed back to the hotel where everyone met in the foyer to celebrate the birthday girl with song and cake.

On the 28th of June we were up early to depart for our next destination. I was delayed and after gulping down breakfast my sister and I ran to the bus, where most were already waiting. My mother was nowhere to be seen. When she finally arrived she seemed some-what traumatised and out of breath. She explained that she had decided to take the stairs instead of the lift and after having gone all the way down to the reception floor could not gain access with her room key and so she had to go all the way back up the stairs only to find she also could not gain access to the breakfast floor. After being stuck for a while someone eventually came to her rescue.

We were ready to depart but encountered a minor bumper bash. A very rude taxi driver shouted at Milan (our Hungarian bus driver) who found himself somewhat flustered, as anyone would be under the circumstances. The tour director remained calm and assisted Milan. We were soon on our way, bidding Vienna farewell. It was an incredible visit to the most liveable city in the world.

12 days 5 countries 34 people and a European heatwave Third stop: Vienna Part 1

The bus rides between destinations were a welcomed break to rest, reflect, and reconnect. It was our air-conditioned haven and in immaculate condition. Many stories were shared, jokes told, and countless photos taken of the scenery. The trip from Slovakia to Austria was no exception. It was more or less around this time that everyone (almost simultaneously) seemed to notice that our bus driver was… unexpected. He seemed quite young (possibly late 20’s), a real gentleman (he always exited first in order to assist the ladies off the bus), and dressed professionally in suit-and-tie (almost like he walked straight out of a magazine). Milan, our Hungarian bus driver, would soon make his way into our hearts and become member 35 of our group.

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A photo I took from the bus as we passed through Kittsee.

We arrived at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria, around 15:30 on the 26th of June 2019. The bus doors opened and as we exited we were hit by the intensity of the heat. I borrowed a cap as any further sun exposure to my face was not even an option. There were busloads of tourists, so we knew the palace would be busy.

As I stood at the entrance gates my first impression was that the grounds looked very dry, perhaps accentuated by the temperature, while the structure itself was magnificent in its yellow, almost golden, grandeur. We entered around 16:00 and there was little relief from the heat. The bottled water was tremendously overpriced and worse, sold at room temperature. I was disappointed to learn that taking photos inside the palace is strictly prohibited; how I wish I could have captured some of the intricacies in the rooms we visited. Each of us were handed a headset and a handheld device to equip us for the audio tour, this allowed us to do the tour at our own pace. Each room had an allocated number and when selected on the handheld specific music and/or information played. It was as if I was transported back in time.

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The Schönbrunn palace was the summer residence for the imperial family and has 1441 rooms; its name means beautiful spring. I don’t think we even saw a fraction of the palace, but what we did see was glorious. Getting a glimpse into how the Habsburg dynasty lived in those times was enlightening. The narrative of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (also known as Sisi) and her husband, Franz Joseph I of Austria, is quite an intriguing one. Based on what I interpreted during the tour of Schönbrunn Palace, I sensed a deep hurt within her which she deflected through focusing on her outward appearance. The palace holds a room which was dedicated entirely just for her grooming, much of which was spent on her extremely long hair. I learnt that she would often miss family meals, partly due to fasting to maintain her figure. I also sensed a hollowing loneliness within her husband, Franz Joseph. I believe that their lives were destined for adversity with the interference of his mother and the young age of 16 at which he wed Elisabeth (not to mention that she was his cousin). Their full story is gripping and dramatic.

When we reached the great hall where the abundant banquets of their time were held the crowds of tourists became some-what suffocating. We fled to the gardens around 17:00. The juxtaposition of natural beauty against architectural beauty was captivating. Around us were tired tourists who found opportunities for naps in shady areas. After we explored the grounds we headed back to the bus, but not before we took photos and ‘boomerangs’ with the grand fortress as our backdrop. I became well known amongst the group for finding every opportunity to take ‘boomerangs’ and as such have an impressive collection of these fun mini videos at unforgettable attractions during our tour. Any and all photos I was in at this point were of the side of my face (as to hide the evidence of the sun burn aftermath).

Blog 5Blog 7Blog 6Blog 8Blog 9Blog 10Vienna 1 (50)Blog 14Blog 12Blog 15Once back on the bus we were headed to our hotel. We stayed at the ibis Hotel Wien Hauptbahnhof, a 3-star hotel. We were very impressed with the contemporary interior design (as with our ibis hotel in Budapest, it exceeded our expectations). We were welcomed by free Wi-Fi and air-conditioned rooms looking out at the urban landscape which surrounded us. Our hotel was across from the Wien Hauptbahnhof which is the main railway station in Vienna, located in the Favoriten district.

We decided to head to the station for dinner as they have several take-away eateries and a number of shops. I opted for a traditional Beer Shandy (known as a Radler), frankfurter and potato salad (not much like the South African potato salad). The Gen Z members of the group had a go-to throughout the trip. They found comfort and pleasure in Mac Donalds and Burger King. It was their preferred choice and conveniently for them the franchises were found practically everywhere. I had a good giggle at times (we were after all in Europe) but came to love that about them. It was a taste from home, they knew exactly what to expect. I remember on really hot days they would find solace in grabbing those large white cups with machine-filled cold drink for refreshment. The evening at the station was no different. We ceased the opportunity to pop into a few shops, several were having sales, and purchased a multitude of things ranging from clothes to snacks. Although we have malls back home, most of us could not let the chance to purchase discounted apparel go by and one particular shop drew us in like moths to a flame, The New Yorker.

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Enjoying a traditional meal.

At 21:00 it was still very light outside and my sister and I decided to make our way back to our hotel to unwind for the day, a few steps and we were there. We caught up with loved ones back home, freshened up, and snuggled in our incredibly comfortable beds. After looking in the mirror I realized that my blisters were fully developed. My mom came by our room to check up on me and I could see the look of concern on her face. She rubbed after-sun on the areas and suggested I take allergex (literally her go-to medicine for anything) and wished us goodnight.

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The ibis hotel at 21:05.

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The view from our hotel room at 22:44.

After 23:00 we were fast asleep, tired and enriched by the amazing experiences of the day; we had after all been in 3 countries in a single day (woke up in Budapest – Hungary, spent half the day in Bratislava – Slovakia, and subsequently arrived in Vienna – Austria).

12 days 5 countries 34 people and a European heatwave Second stop: Bratislava

We arrived at our destination, Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, around 11:00 am where a walking tour awaited us. It was scorching (and yes, I realise that I am going to run out of ways to describe how hot it was). We were introduced to our tour guide, Daniella. This quaint town sees many tourist groups; everywhere I looked were groups of tourists flocking around their guides. Tour guides carried flags (for easy identification in crowds) and used headset microphones (for vocal projection).

Bratislava lies about 60 km east of Vienna (our next stop) and 300 km north of Budapest. It is set along the Danube River by the border with Austria and Hungary and became rather special with it being in 3 of the countries we visited.

The first thing that I noticed was the UFO Bridge, which appeared very interesting in design. Daniella explained that it has won several awards and a restaurant is located at the very top. However, once she started delving into the history I realised that the bridge is not fondly regarded by locals. It came at a very high price; it resulted in the demolishment of meaningful historical establishments. One such building was a Synagogue, the only remains of this is an image on a wall – a memory of what was once a special place for the Jewish community.

As the walk progressed the sun pounded down on us and we fought for any and every little bit of shade we could find to take refuge. Daniella soon realised that her stops needed to be centered around any shade if she had any hope of our group truly listening to her. At the first sight of a water fountain we ran to fill our bottles. The cold water was so refreshing as we gulped it down as quickly as we filled our bottles. Some of us splashed water on ourselves for a cooling moment, although short lived.

During the tour we came across various hotels which Daniella pronounced as ‘hot-hells’ in her Slovakian accent. I stood at the back and used each and every opportunity to emphasize to those nearby that it truly was a hot hell! I found the irony most appropriate and hilarious.

While touring the market we were told that Slovakia is well known for its award-winning wines, and interestingly they do not export their locally produced wines but instead keep them for their own enjoyment. She told us how magical the market is at Christmas time and that one of their traditional beverages are served warm during that time. My aunt took the opportunity to purchase a local bottle of honey wine for a dear friend back home, but unfortunately that bottle never made it back to SA (a sad but funny story for another day). There are a lot of beautiful buildings and statues in Bratislava with fascinating stories.

A common trait throughout the European countries we visited during this tour is the superstitious legends around rubbing bronze statues for good luck. Bratislava was no exception with their ‘man at work’ figure; visitors rub his nose and head for good luck. The discolouration is visible on the photo. Daniella said that there is no historic explanation for the sculpture, just something quirky.

At the end of the tour we were given free time in which to do shopping and grab a bite to eat. Daniella gave us some tips on what to try and where to find it; ultimately, we really wanted to taste the local cuisine. She told us that some of their specialties include dumplings in sheep cheese, cabbage soup, and Goulash soup (apparently very different to the Hungarian Goulash). I asked Daniella to pronounce certain words for me so that I could use them in my engagements with the locals, which I prided myself in doing throughout the trip (my success can be debated). She explained that hello is Dobrý deň (pronounced Doh-bree-den) and thank you is Ďakujem (pronounced Jah-koo-yehm). In Hungary we were told that Hungarian is a very difficult language and again in Slovakia we were told about the difficulty of Slovak, it is a Slavic language much like Russian and Polish.

My aunt had a very specific agenda during her free time… shopping. It was very important to her to carefully select gifts for loved ones back home. She would often grab a coffee and skip lunch entirely in order to look for gifts; the visit to Bratsilava was no exception. We looked around and purchased some magnets and left her shopping so that we could look for a restaurant. Weapon of choice in Bratislava, the Euro. It was a big adjustment to go from the Hungarian Forint to the Euro.

We collapsed into the seats of the first restaurant we spotted. The wait felt long and when the gentleman finally came over with menus, he came across impatient and irritated. It made it that much more awkward when we realized that their specialty was not traditional Slovakian food which we had our hearts set on. We spotted an authentic Slovakian restaurant close by and quickly made our way to it. Unfortunately, we were not to taste the traditional cuisine as after waiting an eternity (probably more like 10 minutes) no one had even acknowledged our existence. We spotted a market stretched out under the trees in the centre of town and decided to leave; our time was running out and we knew that we needed to make decisions quickly (no decision more important than food).

We took a stroll through the market and were overjoyed to discover it was an Italian market selling every type of Italian specialty. Incredibly delicious aromas filled the air and we soon came across a stall selling cannolis, pizza, and arancini. The Italian gentlemen on the other side of the stall greeted us with warmth and kindness and proceeded to ask where we were from, once they heard our accents. We indicated South Africa and they were excited as they had been to Cape Town. They told us they were from Sicily. I walked away with a piece of heaven in the form of a slice of pizza, a coke, and a cannoli. We spotted an empty bench under the trees, a perfect spot to enjoy our treats. With each bite of my mouth-watering indulgence the crispy pastry of the cannoli crunched and the sweet, creamy filling oozed. We chuckled as we said “when in Bratislava Slovakia, eat Italian”. In fact, Italian was the go-to staple food throughout our trip.

We needed to use the bathroom to relieve our bladders and finding one proved to be very difficult. Unless an actual patron, restaurants did not want us to use their facilities. We eventually found one willing to let us use their ‘water closest’ as it is referred to. The deeper we went into the restaurant the more we felt like we were in a dungeon and the damp odor filled our lungs. It was almost unbearable but we were pressed, our bladders and for time!

Shortly thereafter we joined the group at our curfew to make our way back to the bus. We were 34 people and in order to ensure that no one in the group was ever left behind each of us were allocated a number (this was done on day one in Budapest already). We established that we were all accounted for and quickly hopped back onto our air-conditioned sanctuary; we were headed to Austria.

Although the visit to Bratislava was brief, it was a charming experience and worth the stop.

I must mention that at this point those sun blisters (from the sunburn during the bicycle tour) took on a life of their own. Tiny blisters covered my whole forehead while the ones on my cheek were few but much larger. Little did I know it was going to get worse, much worse. The bruises on my legs (again, from the bicycle tour) darkened in its shades of blue and purple. However, nothing was going to get in my way of enjoying every moment of this trip and they were all proof of my incredible experience.

12 days 5 countries 34 people and a European heatwave First stop: Budapest

We landed at the Budapest airport (two flights, thirteen hours, and five on-flight movies later) around 6:30 a.m. on the 24th of June; despite feeling tired we were extremely excited. We ceased the opportunity to freshen up as much as possible in the tiny airport bathroom. We were astounded to find a Super Spar on the other side of the world. Humoured by all the sleeping tourists and delighted that we could access the free WIFI, some of us rushed to upload stories about the flight on Instagram, others sent WhatsApp messages home to confirm safe arrivals, and the rest ran into the Super Spar to see what the European version had on offer. I decided to do a public face-time with my family, much to my sister’s amusement. We proceeded to google the pronunciation of ‘thank you’ in Hungarian, Köszönöm pronounced koe-ssoe-noem, and confidently pronounced by me as curse-e-nim during all my encounters with Hungarians (face palm). We were introduced to our tour guide, Kinga, who would spend the next 3 hours telling us all about the wonder of Budapest by coach before we headed to our hotel where we could finally freshen up. Her bright red hair, infectious smile, and sparkling personality won us over as she passionately told us about the city she loves.

Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is pronounced Budapesht by the locals, due to their ’s’ sound being more of a ’sh’ sound. Kinga taught us the Hungarian greeting, Szia, pronounced See-ya. We learnt that the name Budapest was in fact derived by the joining of two city names, Buda and Pest. It became a single city in 1873 with the union of Buda and Óbuda on the west bank of the river, and Pest on the east bank. The Danube River is international, flowing through ten countries (Hungary being one of them).

Our first stop was Heroes Square (Hősök tere). We were thrilled at the sight of this remarkable structure, a real glimpse that we were truly in Europe. The monument’s dedication “To the memory of the heroes who gave their lives for the freedom of our people and our national independence.” The back of the monument consists of two matched colonnades, each with seven sculptures representing remarkable figures of Hungarian history. The column is topped by a statue of the archangel Gabriel, said to be watching over them.

Our next stop was the Széchenyi thermal bath and swimming pool (Budapest’s largest thermal bath complex) for a look around. Kinga informed us it is the most beautiful of all their baths, but according to her not the most enjoyable due to overcrowding. The group would later be taken to her favourite spot to enjoy swimming. Kinga was extremely proud of the fact that Budapest is known for its thermal baths, which are naturally fed by 120 hot springs, known for its medicinal properties.

Up next was a walk around the City Park (Városliget). The first thing that caught my attention were incredible abstract-like mermaid sculptures (Mermaids fountain by Jenő Kerényi and István Szabó). As I took my shot, the light hit one of the mermaid’s so majestically.

What happened next was to define my very existence for the rest of the trip (I’m not exaggerating). We entered a novelty shop and there I discovered, and unleashed, my love for souvenirs. While others may see ridiculous tourist-targeted mementos, I see special keepsakes that truly capture the essence of the places I travelled to.

With a little bit of difficulty the younger members of the group taught me the formula for converting the Hungarian forint into South African Rand. Ultimately the method that stuck was to remove the last zero from the amount and divide the remaining number by half (example 2000 forint would be 100 rand). I walked out with a dope Budapest T-shirt for my husband, empowered with the knowledge to do conversions, and was on my way to explore further.

Kinga recommended that we head to Jubileumi-park for a magnificent view-point before we headed to our hotel. The view did not disappoint; it was truly spectacular. Kinga warned us of ‘con artists’ who attempt to trick tourists into gambling on a trick the equivalent of the shell game, which we did come across. I smirked noticing the attempt to persuade participation from near-by tourists.

We arrived at the Ibis Styles 3 star hotel around 12:44, hopeful that some rooms would be ready. We were in luck and quickly dashed off to our rooms to freshen up, unpack, and perhaps fit in a nap. It is a modern looking hotel themed around bicycles, and was amazing. At 15:00 the rest of the group were on their way to the local thermal baths when I threw somewhat of a tantrum, I believe I used the words “If I don’t get fed now I am not taking another step”. My mom, sister, and I decided to go for a walk and found a local place to grab a bite to eat. It was a quaint little restaurant and we soon realised that the language barrier would make ordering our pizza very interesting. The staff hardly spoke or understood English, but we thoroughly enjoyed eating somewhere not swarming with tourists. Right next door to the restaurant was a car/bike repair shop and the local men flocked to this spot; we even had one of them ‘peacock’ around shirtless until he finally sped off on a scooter. After lunch we came across an ice-cream shop and treated ourselves (which would become our special tradition throughout the trip) and walked around further before heading back to the hotel.

At 19:00 we left for a boat cruise on the Danube River. This was, and will forever remain, one of my favourite experiences. At around 20:20 we passed the Parliament building and the orange glow of the sun fell onto the building and river in such a mesmerizing way. The sun only set at 20:30 which was spectacular. Complete darkness only occurred around 22:00 (which felt strange coming from South African winter). We had classic music in the background and were treated to a three course Hungarian meal, which included Hungarian Goulash. On our way back we were spoilt with a fireworks display in the distance and the glistening lights of Budapest by night.

After our cruise we went back to Jubileumi-park for the night version of the view-point. It was once again worth the stop. At this point there were bus-loads of tourists and an Italian couple had been left behind by their tour bus. Kinga offered them a lift back to a central point in the city. One of them were celebrating their birthday and our group broke out in song singing happy birthday to her. The Italians and our group of South Africans barely understood each other but shared many laughs.

On our way back to the hotel we passed the Elisabeth Bridge and Kinga told us about Empress Sisi, who the bridge was named after. She explained that we would learn more about her in Austria and emphasised that Hungarians were extremely fond of her. Elisabeth of Bavaria was Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary by marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph I. She was known to have had hair up to her ankles, exquisite in beauty, and defiant to the rigid imperial rules.

At about 23:00 we bid Kinga farewell and thanked her for sharing the rich history of her beautiful city with us. It was an amazing first day and needless to say we dove into bed.

The next morning we woke up with much anticipation as a 3-hour bicycle tour awaited us. We got ready for the day and headed down for breakfast, a mouth-watering buffet with options ranging from waffles, freshly baked breads, to an array of cheeses and cold meats.

 

Little did I know that the amount of sun block I applied that morning would not be enough, not nearly enough!

Around 10:00 we met at the bicycle tour offices to grab our bikes, split into teams, and meet our tour guides. We had an absolutely amazing guide, Uri. It had been years since I was last on a bicycle but as the old saying goes ‘it’s like riding a bike’ so it came back to me quickly. We stopped at incredible sites along the way with Uri explaining the history and the meaning behind each place. We had the opportunity to get closer to the Parliament building, which we had seen in all its glory the night before.

We soon found that keeping up with the pack was key, which became increasingly difficult when the robots changed over. The down hills in the shade were heavenly, while the up hills in the blistering heat tested us at our very core. There was a point that I felt I might not make it, but kept pushing myself, determined to continue. At one point I looked back I saw my mother resorted to pushing her bike up the hill.

We cycled to Margaret Island, known to the locals as Margiysziget. In the Danube River, between Buda and Pest is this little gem of an island with a stunning musical water fountain and plenty more to keep the whole family entertained.

One thing about Uri that stood out as much as with Kinga was his passion for the place he calls home, Hungary. As 13:00 approached I could feel the scorching sun beating down on my face and asked my sister for her straw hat. I should have been wearing it from the start as I had packed the wrong cap on the trip. We kept hydrated throughout the tour as much as possible. The bicycle tour ended around 13:30 by which point we were exhausted and famished.We quickly found our way into an air-conditioned restaurant where I enjoyed a freshly squeezed fruit smoothie and a Panini, but not before we sank our teeth into their local chimney cakes with ice cream.After lunch we headed to the Great Market Hall, the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest. Despite being beat we were excited to be able to experience and purchase authentic Hungarian products. I bought some magnets, T-shirts, babushkas and pencils. We got onto the tram and headed back to our hotel. Just across the street from our hotel was a Spar and we took the opportunity to purchase some snacks and drinks to recuperate. By 17:30 we were back at our hotel and my legs were covered in bruises from the pedals smacking against them. Those that still had energy decided to get ready to explore Budapest for our last night and we were out of our hotel by 19:00.

Perched atop Castle Hill is Buda Castle and the view was absolutely worth the climb up. It was breath-taking. At around 20:15 the sun began to set over the Danube River. We made our way back down and by the time we reached the iconic Chain Bridge we could not believe that it was already 21:00 (yet it was still light out). Our tour coordinator from the travel agency said he would go out to look for a restaurant and somehow communication between the group and him went array and we walked for almost an hour until we found the little strip of restaurants where he had been waiting. We picked an Italian restaurant and by 22:00 I was presented with a prawn and mussel gnocchi dish. When we were done we got onto the tram and headed back to our hotel.

I crawled into bed, feeling quite sun burnt, and slept like a baby. When I woke up the next morning I had tiny sun blisters all over my forehead and some on my cheeks (the horror). I got ready for the day feeling both excited to explore the next two countries on the itinerary for the day and sad to leave Budapest. I headed down for breakfast after which we checked out and got on the bus.

Overall I found Budapest to be a captivating city with a lot to offer and great value for money.

I hope to visit again!