As wedding photographers we naturally love to travel and every Aussie winter we look forward to a vacation to explore somewhere new. This year we were exceptionally excited for our six week European adventure. This long break, which had been months in the planning, would take us through eight cities in five countries and provide the perfect way to relax and recharge in warmer climates after a busy wedding season. But Amy and I also had our own individual reasons for looking forward to the trip. For me it would be my first time back to Europe and my home town of London since I moved to Australia over eight years ago, whilst for Amy it represented a bookmark in her career - the end of her day job and the start of exciting new challenges including running her own business and helping to develop mine.
Those reasons alone justified our trip but we returned in absolute disbelief at exactly how much happened in just six weeks. Each day was an adventure in itself and you might have already seen glimpses of them if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram or Amy on Instagram. On that note it's worth mentioning that taking photos during our trip was for fun rather than a priority. We intentionally didn't seek out any weddings to shoot around Europe (as awesome as that would have been!) and we left all our big, heavy gear at home. All we took were our iPhones and my new Fuji X-T1 which proved to be a fantastic travel camera. Its smaller size meant I didn't draw attention to myself (in fact it was incredibly liberating not to look like a pro!) and in turn this brought out my passion for street photography as I was able to discreetly capture moments that might not have been possible if I was wielding a huge lens.
Here are some of the highlights of our trip as recorded through social media and the Fuji. Enjoy.
Week 1: Paris
Before we even left Australia soil our journey was off to the best possible start with Virgin Australia upgrading us to business class!
We then spent an incredible week in Paris, wandering the beautiful boulevards and enjoying the gorgeous sunshine, food and architecture.
We've never had professional photos taken of us so we were thrilled that our friend and super talented photographer Dan O'Day was able to join us in Paris for a relaxed portrait session. This is one of our favourite images.
Then, on our last night, this happened.
Week 2: London & Rome
Still buzzing from the night before we caught the Eurostar to London, checked in at the very cool CitizenM Bankside hotel on the Southbank then headed straight into town to celebrate our engagement with two of our closest friends from Sydney who just happened to be in London.
Shopping, sightseeing (which included an amazing wedding dress exhibition at the V&A) and fine dining aside, London was all about people and it was wonderful to catch up with my parents, who I hadn't seen for a couple of years, and friends from all stages of my life - from primary school to the time I left for Australia.
I was unexpectedly moved and pleasantly surprised by the way London had evolved during my absence, but one thing that clearly hadn't improved was commuting!
Our travels through Italy started with a brief stint in Rome. Our 400 year old medieval Airbnb apartment was smack bang in the centre meaning we could walk and explore Rome and the eternal city to our heart's content.
Week 3: Siena & Tuscany
After three scorching days in Rome we bussed down to Siena for the event that the whole trip had been based around: The Palio! This historic horse race around the city's Piazza dei Campo has been run every year since 1656 and pits the skills and honour of the city's seventeen city wards (or contrade) against each other. We arrived on the first day of the four day build up to the race, just in time to watch the assignment of the horses to the ten competing jockeys. The next few days saw spectacular flag waving and singing parades by the competing contrade and their supporters through the streets, and attending the Onda contrada street party the night before the race was something we'll never forget. Eating and chatting with the locals and learning about their proud heritage and community was truly inspiring. The following day was all about the race itself and it was more amazing than we ever imagined. In between all the pageantry we enjoyed exploring the cobblestone streets, many of which were deserted and conveyed life in Siena outside of The Palio.
After four days of pageantry it all came down to this: the race!
After the excitement of The Palio it was time to relax and relax we did at another Airbnb gem: a gorgeous converted farmhouse set deep amongst the beautiful patchwork Tuscan countryside. We did a few day trips in our trusty left hand drive manual Brava but skipped Florence in favour of exploring some of the smaller medieval towns such as Pienza, San Gimignano, Monteriggioni and Volterra which all fueled my obsession with doorways and churches. And we also had a special guest drop by, our friend and now Lake Como based wedding photographer Lauren Michelle!
Week 4: Dubrovnik & Montenegro
Croatia was the only country that neither of us had visited previously so we arrived in the medieval harbour town of Kings Landing, sorry, Dubrovnik with wide eyed fascination. This major location for Game Of Thrones was absolutely gorgeous and we also enjoyed a day trip to the nearby Elaphiti Islands.
Just when I thought all the big news was over I heard that I had been elected NSW state president of the AIPP, the Australian Institute of Professional Photography! This is a tremendous honour as well as a wonderful opportunity to give back to the profession that has changed my life.
On our last night in Dubrovnik we enjoyed fine dining at Nautika, a restaurant on Conde Nast Traveller's gold list. The chef's degustation menu was exquisite, and for dessert the guy on the table next to us served up a proposal!
While we were in Dubrovnik we sneaked in a bonus country by taking a day trip to Montenegro. The country has a fascinating past. In addition to being part of what was formerly Yugoslavia, Montenegro has, over time, also been invaded and ruled by the Romans, Venetians, Austrians and Ottomans. The result is a landscape of hills littered with fortified locations and a variety of architectural styles.
These days Montenegro is still being invaded. Tourists aside, coastal locations such as Budva are the new places to be seen and prime property overlooking the emerald Adriatic Sea is being quickly snapped up by millionaires, particularly from Russia, Italy and Austria. Budva itself has been transformed from a humble fisherman's village to a town with around 500 millionaires in a population of 22,000 which is Europe's highest number of millionaires per capita.
Week 5: Berlin
This is the city the Amy had most wanted to visit, and by the time we arrived I was also pumped. Why? Because Germany had just crushed Brazil 7-1 to reach the world cup final and we would be watching them play Argentina in the final in Berlin the day after we arrived! We were determined to make the most of this historic sporting moment and were planning join hundreds of thousands of fans on the famous fan mile (or fanmeile) in front of the Brandenburg Gate. However, as we were about to set off the heavens opened, so rather than risk catching a cold for the rest of our trip we stayed dry in our hotel, the swank 25Hours Bikini Berlin, and watched the game in its trendy Monkey Bar on the 10th floor which also gave us a great view of the fireworks over the fan mile when Germany won!
The tense, nail biting final moments of the world Cup Final 2014! Would Germany win?!
Unfortunately we missed the German team's triumphant victory parade as we had already booked a visit to Sachsenhausen concentration camp which lies just outside Berlin. So as 400,000 fans made their way into Berlin we headed out to a drastically more conservative environment. I won't dwell on Sachsenhausen, save to say that it was a stark reminder to appreciate and treasure the freedom we have the privilege of enjoying.
The other fascinating aspect of Berlin is, of course, the infamous wall. It's hard to believe that literally overnight a city was divided into two completely different worlds. Thankfully that's now in the past but the now trendy, gritty, graffiti drenched streets of East Berlin felt distinctly different to our hotel's rather more glamorous West Berlin location. If you ever visit Berlin we highly recommend spending a couple of hours at the amazing DDR Museum where you can interactively experience what life was like in Communist East Berlin.
Week 6: Cologne & Frankfurt
Cologne, with its absolutely huge Gothic cathedral, was a final chance to relax en route to Frankfurt where we would be flying home from. We travelled to both cities on the impressive and super fast ICE trains.
We were here for just one night and for our final stay we chose another 25hours hotel. This one, designed in collaboration with Levi's, featured denim furnishings and each floor was themed on a decade of music. Our floor was the rock'n'roll 70s man.
That brought us to the end of our vacation, or so we thought. But there was another big surprise in store: Virgin Australia upgraded us to business class AGAIN!
To cap it all off, when the cabin was dark and everyone sleeping, I decided to stretch my legs and go for a stroll. As I passed one of the exit doors I peeked through the window and this is what I saw: The Maldives! Perhaps this was a hint for a honeymoon location?!
And that truly is the end of our rather splendid European adventure. We're now back in Sydney, relaxed, refreshed, inspired (and engaged) and excited for the 25 weddings we'll be documenting before the end of 2014!
And on that note, does anyone know a good wedding photographer?