Florence, Italy (Our #1 spot in Europe)

Since returning, so many people have asked us which city was our favourite. Without hesitation Jenny and I have always answered; Florence. While we have previously brushed over some highlights of Florence in a previous post, this post will cover different highlights in more depth to help out our fellow travellers that have shared their own tips with us.

So what makes Florence our #1? Its a combination of the following:

  1. Oodles to see; it seems like half the world’s famous art pieces are here (plenty to keep you busy)
  2. Accessibility: the historic centre is small and pedestrian friendly (15-20min walk would get you to most places)
  3. Reasonably affordable; the prices are are a midway point between Western and Eastern Europe
  4. Great vibe; the city feels alive, full of life, beauty and history around every corner
  5. Fantastic local products; from their Florentina Beef right through to their famous bags and other Italian leather goods.

Highlights

The Duomo – This church is gorgeous, with plenty to explore from the bell tower, the huge dome itself, the church interior/exterior, crypt and stunning seperate baptistry with its neck straining but amazing golden mosaic ceiling that rivals the big dome. A whole day of adventures (just make sure you get the museum pass to skip the lines!)

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Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (The Duomo Museum) – Most of the church’s original pieces have now been swapped out and are stored in the Duomo’s museum. Here you’ll be able to see the gates of paradise, reconstructions of the construction process & a number of impressive art pieces including that of Michelangelo. A definite highlight that we recommend!

The Baptistry – Beautiful and striking. The baptistery should not be missed!

 

Michelangelo’s David – If this trip around Europe has taught me anything, its that Michelangelo is actually phenomenal. Michelangelo’s David is no exception -> while you could get away with being the replica in the town centre (outside Palazzo Vecchiowhich is pretty decent), there is just something extra special about this piece!

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Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella (Monastic Pharmacy) – A monastic pharmacy selling to the public since the 16th Century, this place acts as both shop and free museum. Witness the sights, smells & sounds for a full trip of the senses!

Central Market – Downstairs hosts some excellent spots to grab an affordable bite to eat & upstairs holds the restaurant version of a food court – perfect for late night catch ups with friends!

Leather Bags -Florence & leather bags are almost synonymous with one another, a great selection of excellent quality – don’t believe anyone who tries to prove validity with the ‘leather doesn’t burn to a flame’ test (it does), its all about finding the rough back of the leather!

Florentina Steak – Perfect for any meat lovers out there; a T-bone steak served thick and rare with a light seasoning, matched with a local wine. Absolutely delightful! We reccomend checking out Rubaconte Restaurant for a great food/deals! (We had a 1kg steak, with grilled veggies, wine, fresh bread and balsamic reduction for $36 for the both of us)

Uffizi Gallery – Vast & impressive; holding many of world’s top pieces from the likes of Leonardo Di Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo & Rembrandt. Give yourself plenty of time to see everything (& harness the power of the Museum Pass to skip those killer lines)

CLET’s studio – We’re big fans of street art, so having seen his work throughout Europe, we were very excited to visit his studio and meet the man himself! A creative talent whose work appeals far and wide & stretches even further.

Vivoli Gelateria – We’ve said it again, we’ll say it again, if you go Florence, definitely check out Vivoli  Gelato Store, the home of the best Gelato we’ve had in europe – be adventurous, try something you normally wouldn’t  😉

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Palazzo Vecchio – The Hall of the 500 is big and grand (with secret messages hidden in paintings), secret passages & impressive sights. This was mostly a highlight (but soon became obvious that the reception staff are not kept well informed of openings/closures – so go upstairs to the entry of the Hall of the 500 to enquire with them before parting with your pretty pennies). Also enquire at the reception about adding on a secret passages tour to your entrance fee, relatively its not much more and meant to be pretty cool!

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Lowlights

Academia  – While seeing Michelangelo’s David is pretty impressive, we hadn’t realised that 1) Academia is reasonably small & 2) that its all religious art (which I’m partial to, but large doses start to become repetitive) – Its only really worth it with the museum pass that will allow you to skip the monster line.

Boboli Gardens – It’s certainly huge, and there are a few things you can spot from Dan Brown’s Inferno, overall we found the garden to be less impressive than we’d expected.

Dante Museum – Dante was a notorious character of Florence’s past & played a central role in Dan Brown’s Inferno; we assumed the museum would be as interesting to match…but how wrong we were…

 

Santa Margherita de’ Cerchi – Right across from the Dante Museum you’ll find a small chapel dedicated to to Dante & his true love Beatrice. Which is famous for having a basket filled with notes pleading for help sorting out their love life next to Beatrice’s grave… overall, we found the church to be a little underwhelming and the size & quality of the basket to overstated.

Suggestions

Get the Museum Pass! Yes its expensive, but so is staying a couple of extra nights to get through everything you want to by lining up. The pass was super straightforward; saving us time and money and allowing us to visit bonus attractions we otherwise would have missed!

ForPureAdventure’s Top 10 European Dark Rides

Here at #ForPureAdventure we live and breath theme parks, from the little details that make up an immersive environment right through to the rides that leave our hearts pounding, we can’t help but talk about it!

Within the the theme park industry over the last few years we’ve seen a big push towards the inclusion of dark rides (indoor rides) in the world’s top parks. With that in mind, we’ll love to share with you our list of the best that Europe has to offer:

 

#10 Eurosat – Europa Park (Mack Rides)

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Imagine if Disneyland’s Space Mountain & Epcot’s Spaceship Earth had a baby that was into rave parties; what would you get? Europa Park’s Eurosat! A fun ride at non-disney prices!

#9 Crush’s Coaster – Walt Disney Studios (Maurer Sohne)

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A spinning dark coaster that takes you into the depths of the sea; hugely satisfying (if you can handle the infamous wait times).

#8 Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast – Disneyland Park (Sansei Yusoki/Arrow Development)

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An interactive shoot-em-up game that pits you against your co-driver. Featuring the cast of toy story, this ride is a must.

#7 The Twighlight Zone Tower of Terror – Walt Disney Studios (Otis Elevator Comany)

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A combination of some kick-ass theming and CGI  that plays on people’s deathly fears of  elevators. One heck of a memorable ride!

#6 Phantom Manor – Disneyland Park (Vekoma)

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One of the darkest of Disney’s haunted mansion series, phantom manor features all the major highlights while delving deeper than many would dare.

#5 Fata Morgana (1001 Arabian Nights) – The Efteling (Intamin)

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Like the Pirates of the Carebean jacked up on steriods, Fata Morgana is one impressively complex ride.

#4  De Vliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman) – The Efteling (Kumbak)

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Is it a water ride? Is it a dark ride? or is it a roller coaster? Could it be all three!? A clever ride with some killer effects!

#3 Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy – Walt Disney Studios

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A trackless dark ride that combines beloved IP,  3D screens, oversized sets & motion simulators. This ride is cutting edge!

#2 Arthur – The Ride – Europa Park (Mack Rides)

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Fabulously immersive, swooping inside, outside, from scene to scene this ride is quality from start to finish

#1 Droomvlucht (Dreamflight) – The Efteling

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Incredibly lush and immersive, Efteling’s ride makes you feel like you’ve awoken from an incredible dream & takes our top spot!

 

 

 

Honorable Mentions: Columbus Dingy’s (Europa Park), Pirates of the Caribbean (Disneyland Park), Duel (Alton Towers), Vogel Rok (The Efteling)

Disappointments: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith (Walt Disney Studios) – rough ride and Star Tours (Disneyland Park) – tired looking technology.

Inclusions: Our list is derrived from the following 7 european parks: Alton Towers (UK), Disneyland Park (France), The Efteling (The Netherlands),  Europa Park (Germany), Parc Asterix (France), PortAventura (Spain), Walt Disney Studios (France). While some of the included rides go both inside and outside, the majority of the time spent on the ride must be inside for it to be considered.

Exceptions: Space Mountain 2 (Out for maintenance)

*Alton Towers (UK), Disneyland Park (France), The Efteling (Netherlands), Europa Park (Germany),  Parc Asterix (France), PortAventura (Spain) & Walt Disney Studios (France)

A year of travelling; the statistics…

Since returning to New Zealand from a year abroad, we’ve had some fun compiling some statistics about our year abroad. We packed a lot into our time away and have come back with no regrets;

Statistics

  • Visited 30 countries (Singapore, UK, Ireland, France, Switzerland, Italy, Vatican City, Austria, Germany, Check Republic, Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, China)
  • 60,169 km by airplane
  • 10,846 km by long distance bus
  • 4,992 km by car rental
  • 2,498 km by long distance train
  • 1,903 km by BlaBlaCar (like a paid version of hitchhiking)
  • Spend 4 nights sleeping in airports
  • Spend 7 nights sleeping in buses
  • Spend 2 months Volunteering (In England, Scotland, Poland & Croatia)
  • Visited 42 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
  • Visited 8 Theme Parks (Universal Studios Singapore, The Efteling, Disneyland Park Paris, Walt Disney Studios Paris,  Parc Asterix Paris, PortAventura, Europa Park, Alton Towers)
  • Spent 4 Months working in the UK

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Bucket List items that we ticked off

 

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Stuff we didn’t plan but had fun doing anyway

 

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European Travel Bucket list things yet to be ticked off in the future!:

  • Iceland
  • Wales
  • Sweden
  • Finland
  • Denmark
  • Sailing the islands of Greece and Croatia
  • Albania
  • Monaco
  • Luxembourg

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Ljubljana, Slovenia

Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana

Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana

Lets get one thing straight, Slovenia & Slovakia are totally different countries. Slovenia is a country that’s way too cool in its own right to stand in the shadow of another!

Slovenia is the most western of the countries that formerly made up Yugoslavia and helped to pioneer the move towards independence. Despite it’s small population of around 2 Million, it has continued to lead the development of the Bulkan peninsular by being the first country to adopt the Euro. (Although the downside for travellers being the higher prices than the rest of the balkans – but at least this provides a bridging point to Italy)

Ljubljana is a picturesque city with a hip and youthful vibe. I suggest taking a stroll; starting at the three bridges, continuing up Stritarjeva Ulica towards the fountain/monument below.

So much to see and do, Ljubljana

So much to see and do, Ljubljana

Turn right,  through the town square &  continue down Stari Trg (where you will find a plethora of fantastic indy shops to tickle your fancy).

Continue till you hit the river at the end of the street where you can follow it to the right; progressing your way along some of Ljubljana’s finest cafe’s till you make it back to the start (make sure you stop to try some famous cream cake along the way)!

Other places of interest included:

The Cathedral:

With a beautifully refined interior and a jaw dropping front door, this really is a must see!

Butcher’s Bridge

Butcher's Bridge, Ljubljana

Butcher’s Bridge, Ljubljana

A beautifully modern bridge with fascinating art! Local’s either love it or hate it!

The Market

Some of the best produce I’ve seen around (pity about the prices)! Still, it’s a feast for the eyes (and a bit of a novelty to see a milk vending machine!)

Dragon Bridge

Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana

Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana

One of the most photographed spots in Ljubljana, and for good reason, they don’t call it the Dragon city for nothing!

And after all this walking, feel free to wave down a Valalir; these small shuttles give free rides to pedestrians anywhere around the central walking zones, give them a go!

Vavalir, Ljubljana

Vavalir shuttles give free rides to pedestrians around the central walking district

 

 

Museum of Broken Relationships (Zagreb, Croatia)

The Museum of Broken Relationships was a game-changer for us. Having made out way through the world-class museums of over 25 countries throughout Europe, it was this boutique museum that left one of the bigger impressions on us.

We had been visiting our friend Sanda, fellow blog writer & friend from Angloville, at the time and had very few expectations for Zagreb when we arrived.

After showing us around a few of Zagreb’s finest spots (which were gorgeous) Sanda introduced us to one of our favourite museums that we’ve ever visited; The Museum of Broken Relationships.

The Museum got its start initially as a small pop up exhibition whose popularity ended up forcing the pop up exhibition to find a full time permanent premises. The museum was inspired by the sting of a society that takes the time to celebrate a number of life’s big moments;  Birth, Birthdays, Bah Mitzvahs, Graduations, Deaths yet ignores one of life’s biggest moments of hurting and moulding…Broken Relationships.

This museum gives the opportunity for people who’ve been holding onto an item associated with that relationship, an item of significance, to let go by putting it on display. The items range from the beautiful, to hurtful to the hilarious. We found ourselves transfixed by the items and their descriptions.

The Toaster of Vindication

The Toaster of Vindication: “When I moved out, and across the country, I took the toaster. That’ll show you. How are you going to toast anything now?”

The museum moves beyond just your typical broken romantic relationships featuring many sections that distinguish between the likes of: Unreturned love, divorces, cheaters, mutual separation & loved ones who’ve passed away.

The museum has been so popular that in order to show off enough of their now vast collection they are consistently have to tour their goods internationally which has been met with significant interest.

The Divorce Day Mad Dwarf

“The Divorce Day Mad Dwarf: The divorce day garden dwarf. He arrived in a new car. Arrogant and heartless. The dwarf was closing the gate that he himself had destroyed some time ago. At that moment it flew over to the windscreen of the new car, rebounded and landed on the asphalt surface. It was a long loop, drawing an arc of time- and this long arc defined the end of love.”

Feeling inspired we came away wishing we could set up our own museum in their honour  back home in New Zealand. Without wanting to steal their idea the best we could come with was a Museum of Friendzone…But I don’t think this would quite do the concept justice!

So if you get the chance to visit either their museum or travelling exhibition, please do, you’ll be seeing a one-of-a-kind exhibition that will leave an impression on you!

 

 

For Pure Adventure’s Top 10 European Roller Coasters

We are HUGE theme park fans and over the course of 2015 we had the absolute pleasure of visiting a total of 8 theme parks; 7 of which were in Europe.

We rode every ride available to us, which was A LOT, often riding each ride more than once. As such, we have a number of highlights from the theme parks we visited that we would like to share with you.

Today we explore our Top 10 Favourite Roller Coasters In Europe:

10: Thi3teen (Alton Towers, UK) Intamin

THI3TEEN, Alton Towers, UK

THI3TEEN, Alton Towers, UK

Located in the Dark Forest, this creepy roller coaster features the worlds first vertical free fall drop section of track. A fun ride that keeps you guessing!

9: Wodan Timbur Coaster (Europa Park, Germany) Great Coasters International

Wodan Timbur Coaster, Europa Park, Germany

Named after Odin, this ride will put the fear of god back into you. A smooth & scary  ride that will leave you in a state of ecstasy. I screamed at a higher pitch than I knew was possible on this ride (a good sign)!

8: Baron 1898 (Efteling, The Netherlands) Bolliger & Mabillard

Baron 1898, The Efteling, The Netherlands

Baron 1898, The Efteling, The Netherlands

Jenny & I rode the Baron on its opening day, our wedding anniversary, and were not disappointed. The ride features a unique blend between the legendary thrills & smoothness of a B&M dive coaster + the high quality of theming that the Efteling is known for.

7: Joris en de Draak (Efteling, The Netherlands)  Great Coasters International

Joris en de Draak, The Efteling, The Netherlands

Joris en de Draak, The Efteling, The Netherlands

Also located in The Efteling Joris en de Draak (George and the Dragon in English) is another great example of wooden roller coasters done right. With two tracks and a random winner this dualing coaster is a hit with riders. Watch out for the fire breathing dragon!

6: Sonic Spinball / Spinball Whizzer (Alton Towers – UK)  Maurer

Sonic Spinball/Spinball Whizzer, Alton Towers, UK

Sonic Spinball/Spinball Whizzer, Alton Towers, UK

This ride probably takes the record for the number of times we rode a single coaster; in our case over 8 times. We couldn’t get enough, maybe it was sonic nostalgia, maybe it was the short lines, maybe it was the playful ride demeanour but this often overlooked ride gets our vote! (This ride has since been renamed the Spinball Whizzer)

5: Big Thunder Mountain (Disneyland Park, France) Vekoma

Big Thunder Mountain, Disneyland Park, France

Big Thunder Mountain, Disneyland Park, France

Big Thunder Mountain Rides are found in practically every Disney park but any real theme park fan will tell you that the Paris version is the best. With an added under water sequence & the tight turns this ride had us eager for more.

4: Blue Fire (Europa Park – Germany) Mack Rides 

Blue Fire, Europa Park, Germany

Blue Fire, Europa Park, Germany

This ride packs in the thrills: launch start, loops and dives (through caves) & tops it off with a unique heart rate monitor feature through the hand rails!

3: Air/Galactica (Alton Towers – UK) Bolliger & Mabillard

Air/Galactica, Alton Towers, UK

We rode this ride as Air. After renovations this year & the addition of virtual reality goggles  this ride is now going under the name Galactica, which I am very excited about! (because if this flying ride can earn a #3 spot pre renovations then post renovations would likely bump it up a spot or two further!!) This ride will give you experience to being Superman that you’ll ever find. #amazingride

2: Oziris (Parc Asterix – France) Bolliger & Mabillard

Oziris, Parc Asterix, France

Oziris, Parc Asterix, France

A B&M coaster that feels like ‘best of’ combination of high quality thrills combined with with some excellent Asterix Themeing! This ride was pure pleasure! (& was Jenny’s #1 Spot.)

1: Shambhala (PortAventura – Spain) – Bolliger & Mabillard

Shambhala, PortAventura, Spain

Shambhala, PortAventura, Spain

The fastest and tallest ride in Europe Shambhala still rides like a hot knife through butter! While OzIris was pure pleasure, Shambhala tops it by adding a little terror! (I’m enjoying it a lot more than my face is letting on in the video below)

 

Major Exclusions: Obviously as a list rating top roller coasters this does not include indoor dark rides which we will save for another list; some of the rides listed do have dark ride segments but rides are only counted in my list if the majority of the track is outside. Also as we visited Europa Park over the Christmas period we were unable to ride Silver Star which is highly rated by many. Additionally The Smiler at Alton Towers was closed down for the season after it’s incident earlier that year; we felt completely safe throughout our time at Alton Towers.