Our Airbnb Experience in Europe

A Parisian studio, a houseboat on a canal in Amsterdam, a house on a Tuscan hilltop and even a remodelled sauna in Munich. Yup – we rarely had a boring bed in Europe, and that was largely in thanks to a most glorious and wonderful little thing called Airbnb.

The view from our Tuscan hilltop Airbnb.

Airbnb had kind of been in my peripheral vision for a while. It was a concept that sounded really cool, but one I couldn’t quite process properly; without any travel planned it seemed irrelevant to me, at least temporarily. After booking flights for this year’s trip to Europe, however, that very quickly changed. Now that I had a tangible trip in the works, it was like falling deep, deep into the rabbit hole.

If you’re not familiar with Airbnb, it’s an online community based around the sharing of otherwise private accommodation space with travellers (for a fee). From spare rooms to entire apartments, villas to backyard yurts – the world of Airbnb is vast, fascinating and an incredibly exciting facet of the travel industry. I spent hours upon hours trawling the website, thrilled at the idea of exploring Europe through the homes of locals. This was the first time I’d planned a trip totally from scratch and the accommodation side in particular was very new to me. I mean – sure, we knew we wanted to visit Switzerland for a few days. But where in Switzerland? In this sense, Airbnb turned out to be an absolute godsend. I plugged in a search for a space within our price range, and somewhere we’d also have access to free parking as we travelled mostly by car. It also needed to be somewhere kind of on the way to Italy. That’s how we ended up staying with Sonja and Christophe in the gorgeous little town of Thun – a destination we’d never have discovered if not for Airbnb, and yet it honestly became one of the most incredible parts of our trip. 

We ended up booking roughly 75% of the trip through Airbnb; 11 different spaces in total. What I loved was not just the opportunity to stay in some really beautiful, unique spaces – but to experience a destination in a way that just felt more genuinely local. Take Amsterdam, where we closed out our trip by treating ourselves to three nights aboard Reinhart’s houseboat (docked in a canal). The houseboat itself was gorgeous, and staying aboard was obviously just a seriously cool thing to do. But it also meant that we got well away from the very touristy centre of Amsterdam, whilst still being extraordinarily close to everything we wanted to explore there. You see, to get to Reinhart’s houseboat we had to take a short ferry from the rear of Centraal Station. This ferry runs 24 hours a day – every five minutes during the day, and every ten minutes at night. And it’s totally free. The ferry pulls up, opens its gate to the dock and locals pile on – including cyclists, and even people driving little microcars! It takes but a minute to get over the river IJ, where another gate on the opposite side opens to the new dock in North Amsterdam, and everyone trundles off – right before those waiting on the North side swarm on. Reinhart’s houseboat was just another few minutes’ walk from there. It was such a fun little local ritual. Mat and I loved getting to experience that ferry passage a few times every day during our stay. And North Amsterdam was so lovely. No hostels in sight. No throngs of nineteen year old boys high on their own egos. It was a peaceful place where we we were rocked ever-so-slightly to sleep at night by soft waves.

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I made a point of trying to choose Airbnbs that had rave reviews not only centred around the space itself, but even more so the host and hospitality. Call me picky, but I wanted to choose Airbnb hosts who thrived on making visitors feel welcome in their little part of the world. These would be the first people we’d meet in each destination, and our lifeline to local living. I wanted to put my trust in people who took that kind of ambassadorship seriously. And that selectivity really, truly paid off. 

Cristina and Matteo’s spare studio apartment in Paris was an absolute dream in itself; having our own gorgeous little space overlooking the Parisian rooftops for a week was pure magic. Cristina and Matteo as hosts gave the experience a whole new level of awesome. They invited us into their own (amazing) apartment on the floor below, poured us wine and gave us their best food recommendations for the area. And for anyone who’s been to Paris, you’ll appreciate how incredibly valuable that kind of advice is! We pretty much lived on their food tips, and our tastebuds could not have been any happier for it. I’ve mentioned before how Cristina also worked tirelessly to get us a reservation at La Petite Rose des Sables. As our first Airbnb experience, Cristina and Matteo and their little studio in the Latin Quarter absolutely blew us away. 

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And then there was Sonja and Christophe in Thun, Switzerland. We stayed for three nights in the spare bedroom of their apartment, and were welcomed into their home with a truly touching warmth and generosity. Every night we sat up, lost in conversation with the pair, who were well-travelled adventurers themselves. They told us that – rather than doing it for the money (and believe me, their place is some of the most reasonably priced accommodation you’ll find in a very expensive country!) – they open their home up through Airbnb as a way of experiencing new people from all over the world. Sonja and Christophe gave us some fantastic suggestions to check out in the area – hugely appreciated, as poor weather conditions meant that much of the mountain frolicking we’d thought to do was suddenly a no-go. They even treated us to a delicious home-cooked meal on our final night. Their apartment has a huge, sprawling terrace, and during a brief half-hour of visibility on that final night, we finally got a glimpse of the mountains that loom above Thun. It’s absolutely stunning. Our time in Thun felt very special indeed. 

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Later, during our visit to Munich, we stayed with Matthias in an outer municipality called Vaterstetten. After reading fantastic reviews for Matthias’ spare room, I got in contact requesting a booking. Unfortunately I’d been pipped by someone else in the meantime, but Matthias courteously offered us his other space – a remodelled sauna he called the ‘Cosy Cuddle Box’. This does sound a little horror movie-esque, but you know what? I had a curiously good feeling about it. Plus – what a story, right? The Cosy Cuddle Box was really quite amazing – a loft-style bed had been installed inside the sauna, a bar-fridge and storage space tucked underneath and another wedge of private space curtained off just outside the door. It felt like a grown-up cubby house. And Matthias was the picture of a perfect Airbnb host. Every detail was attended to (including fresh chocolates on our pillows every day, which obviously won me over fairly quickly). He stopped to brew and share a pot of coffee with us most every time our paths crossed, and we enjoyed some great conversation together. He tipped us off to the wonder that is the schmalznudel, and we showed him videos of Aussie Rules Football on YouTube. Matthias was very intrigued indeed.

Airbnb just really opened us up to a world beyond the tourist trail. We discovered the trendy Nuremberg suburb of Gostenhof, or ‘GoHo’, after booking Eva’s ridiculously well-reviewed guest room. It actually felt like a totally separate apartment – a beautiful bedroom, bathroom and living space that split off from the entrance to Eva’s main apartment meant that we were swimming in space (especially after coming directly from the Cosy Cuddle Box!). Eva had painted a huge map of GoHo across one of the walls that detailed her favourite eateries and attractions. It was brilliant. From bakeries to beer gardens, cafés to tapas bars – we loved exploring GoHo even more than the famous Nuremberg old town. GoHo felt almost like the Franconian version of Melbourne’s Brunswick, or Fitzroy, and so – combined with Eva’s beautiful hospitality – we honestly felt so at home there. It was wonderful.

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I could go on and on. A brief night with Christine in Dijon, who didn’t speak English but makes one hell of an apricot jam. Snacking on homemade antipasto platters and sipping Chianti on Marjet’s terrace, with rolling Tuscan hills as far as the eye can see. Maya’s gorgeous spare apartment smack bang in the middle of Ljubljana, a pre-stamped postcard waiting on the table (one of the most thoughtful things you could gift a traveller!). Choosing Airbnb was one of the best decisions we made for the trip, and I can’t imagine ever travelling without it in future. Even downtime at ‘home’ still felt like we were experiencing something unique, rather than time wasted in a hotel or hostel room. It gave us the power to experience a destination in a way that felt more ‘us’ – relaxed and local, rather than breaking our backs rushing around trying to tick off the sights. 

Hutchy Kitchen: NeverEnding Slice

I’ve mentioned before how my grandma has quite a talent in preparing suitably for an oncoming Hutchy horde. Being a rather large lot, and one that delights particularly in the joy of eating, this mostly means one thing: food. A very, very large amount of food. We converge en masse upon my grandparents’ house a couple of times a year – and aside from calculating and cooking dinners like an absolute catering pro, Granny does a damn fine job of making sure we’re very well looked after in the so-called ‘look after yourself’ lunch (if you haven’t managed to snag any delicious, delicious dinner leftovers) and snack department. You’re likely to find the freezer chock-full with homemade soups, sausage rolls, spaghetti Bolognese, zucchini slice and cakes galore. There is usually also enough Zooper Doopers to feed an army.

There’s one thing, however, that especially embodies Granny’s seemingly ever-stocked kitchen. That thing is NeverEnding Slice.

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Granny has been making this slice for years. We didn’t always call it NeverEnding Slice, but I can’t quite remember what we called it before. And yet there is definitely a point I can recall – I think sometime, perhaps, in my early teens – when this slice was re-dubbed and it suddenly took on a kind of legendary status in our family. According to my own memory, I think myself as the one who coined the clever name. I loved (still love, obviously) the slice, and remember one day announcing to my grandma that it almost felt as though this baked good had magical replenishing powers. This was a time when the family home was relatively close to my grandparents’ house, and so we visited quite regularly. And that circular slice container atop the freezer always seemed to be full, no matter how much we ate. (A lot.)

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There’s definitely the possibility that my claim to the naming of NeverEnding Slice is a sham, but that’s how I remember it. I guess it was a family effort in the end: the name caught on because we all realised and agreed that this humble little slice was something special. I’ve tried to make NeverEnding Slice a few times in the past, but it never turned out quite like Granny’s. The texture was always off. This time, however, I’ve done my best (and nagged Granny with a lot of silly questions) to obtain her exact method. And I’m so happy to finally get it right! Now, I suppose a little bit of the magic is revealed: it’s dead easy. NeverEnding Slice has four ingredients, only needs to be hand-mixed and is in the oven in minutes. And then out again in just fifteen more. I think my early failures occurred in attempt to somehow complicate things – but honestly, the simplest way is the best way here. 

May the NeverEnding Slice add a little magic to your own kitchen! x

Little Wanderings - Hutchy Kitchen NeverEnding Slice 1

NeverEnding Slice
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
15 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
15 min
INGREDIENTS
Slice
  1. 125g butter, melted
  2. 1 cup self-raising flour
  3. 1/2 cup white sugar
  4. 1 tbsp cocoa powder
Icing
  1. 1 1/2 cups icing sugar
  2. 1 heaped tbsp cocoa powder
  3. 1 tbsp / 14g butter, melted
DIRECTIONS
Slice
  1. 1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a small baking pan. Grandma uses a metal baking pan; I don't have an appropriately sized metal pan, but find that my 6x9-inch ceramic baking dish does the trick!
  2. 2. Whisk together dry ingredients in a bowl.
  3. 3. Using a wooden spoon, stir in melted butter. Mix until incorporated.
  4. 4. Press the slice mix into your greased pan, forming an even layer.
  5. 5. Bake in oven for 15 minutes.
Icing
  1. 1. Prepare to ice while slice is still hot and in the pan.
  2. 2. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Gradually add and mix in dashes of boiling water until a smooth, spreadable consistency is achieved.
  3. 3. Spread icing evenly over slice. Top with sprinkles.
  4. 4. Allow slice to cool further in pan before cutting (also whilst still in pan). Store slice pieces in an airtight container. Enjoy!
Little Wanderings http://littlewanderings.com/

Bled Cream Cake

It probably goes without saying that food was pretty much the driving force behind most of our Europe adventures. When I think back on the trip, a kind of illustrated map of Europe pops into my head – Amsterdam is marked, of course, by a stroopwafel, and Munich by a schmalznudel. Paris is drawn up as a beautiful charcuterie platter, and Venice an assortment of local cicchetti. And up in the alps of Slovenia, the tiny town of Bled has got to be the not-so-humble (more on that later) Bled Cream Cake. 

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Bled is one of the most beautiful, picturesque places I have ever travelled. I know it sounds tired and clichéd, but it really does look like a postcard that’s been enchanted to life. Slovenia as a whole was just magical, but Bled in particular has a legitimate fairytale thing going on. The alpine town sits on Lake Bled, a glacial lake that’s surrounded by forest and overlooked by a cliff-top castle. In the middle of the lake is Bled Island, which is just big enough for a couple of small buildings and a church. We hired a little rowboat (I kicked back whilst Mat happily did all of the rowing) to make our way over and explore. There are 99 steps that lead up to the church; apparently it’s very good luck for a groom to carry his (totally silent) bride up the steps on their wedding day, and then ring the church bell. Visitors can also pay €6 to ring the bell for a little good luck themselves. We instead chose to sit down for ice-cream.

It was in fact this ice-cream on Bled Island that would be our first foray into the world of Bled Cream Cake. Prior to our little rowboat sojourn, we’d noticed the dessert just about everywhere in Bled. Appearing somewhat similar to a traditional Aussie vanilla slice, the Bled Cream Cake – or kremšnita, as it is known locally – is a layer of cream and a layer of vanilla custard sandwiched between puff pastry, and dusted with icing sugar. We’d seen individual packages of  it flying out the door at the local bakery, and giant, wobbling slabs being slid into place on display at our favourite cafe. It seemed outrageously popular with visitors and locals alike. The cake has even achieved the European Union’s Protection of Designation of Origin certification, meaning only that made in Bled using recognised techniques can be labelled ‘Bled Cream Cake’. And so, upon choosing my ice-cream flavour atop Bled Island, I could hardly go past Bled Cream Cake. 

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It would be the next afternoon that Mat and I set out to conquer the real deal. Whilst we’d intended to simply pick up a couple of slices at our adopted café, the dessert gods had other plans. A chance meeting with Jani – the owner of our accommodation, Jazz Hostel & Apartments, and also the happiest and most enthusiastic man I’ve ever met – on our way meant we were instead steered in the direction of Hotel Park, a large hotel on the shore of Lake Bled. Jani urged that it was here where we’d find the best Cream Cake in Bled; his wife is a sweet-tooth and she swears by it. We didn’t need to be told twice. You just don’t ignore insider knowledge like that.

It turns out that the Bled Cream Cake at Hotel Park is hardly a local secret. The hotel restaurant is famously recognised as the birthplace of the Bled Cream Cake, conjured to perfection by pâtissier Ištvan Kovačevič in 1953. It’s claimed that over 10 million Bled Cream Cakes have been baked at Hotel Park since. It’s just kind of a big deal, it seems. We sat down on a lovely, large terrace, ordered our cream cakes and watched a huge storm roll in over the lake. It was very cool. Up until the moment when the storm reached us, naturally. Then it was mostly wet and windy.

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And the Bled Cream Cake? It was delicious, of course. I love vanilla slice, and most any custard dessert – so this is an easy win for me. The pastry was beautifully crisp and golden, and the centre light and creamy. It’s not something I’ll be pining for, but that’s simply because Australia does a damn fine vanilla slice anyway. But if I ever find myself back in Bled (and I sincerely hope I do!), I will most certainly be making another trip back to Hotel Park. Bled Cream Cake heartily earns its spot as the face of Bled on my hypothetical gastronomical map of Europe, because it’s just kind of adorable how the whole town has embraced and totally owned this little cake. And who wouldn’t want a piece of that?

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A Blog Birthday: Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Chocolate Cinnamon Swirl

It seems that Little Wanderings has just turned one! After recently reading Cyra of Gastronomic Nomad‘s lovely post, 12 Things I’ve Learnt Thanks to 12 Months Blogging, I realised that my own blog birthday must soon be rolling around. Lo and behold, it had just passed the day before! So, whilst I did miss the actual day last week, I thought there was definitely still reason to celebrate. With cake. Obviously. 

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This Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Chocolate Cinnamon Swirl comes from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking (also known as the cookbook that beheld unto me the greatest brownie of all time). Note: it’s a coffee cake in the sense that it’s best served with a hot cuppa, rather than a cake that’s made with coffee. It is unbelievably good, and only adds to my desperate need to one day (like, soon) make pilgrimage to the Baked bakery in New York. From the moment I whipped up the crumb topping, I knew this was going to be something else. Seriously, that pecan and dark brown sugar combo is sensational. The sour cream gives a lovely balance to the cake, and makes for a beautifully light and moist crumb. And you can obviously never go wrong with a chocolate cinnamon swirl. 

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This recipe makes a nine-by-thirteen inch cake, which is admittedly quite a large cake. I like to look at this with the perspective that I can give away a lot of cake to friends and family (and through the awesome power of this cake’s deliciousness, earn their undying devotion), whilst also eating an incredible amount of cake myself. Win-win situation, folks. 

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I’m very proud to have reared this little blog a whole twelve months; it seems like it was only yesterday that Mat and I spent a whole afternoon just brainstorming ideas for the title! I do feel that, after a year of writing here, Little Wanderings is finally starting to take shape. I’m still not quite sure what that shape is, but I’m very excited to keep writing and find out.

And so, simply: happy birthday Little Wanderings! Thank you so much for reading and supporting the blog so far. Here’s to the year to come! x

Little Wanderings - Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Chocolate Cinnamon Swirl 1

Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Chocolate Cinnamon Swirl
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 30 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 30 min
INGREDIENTS
Crumb Topping
  1. 3/4 cup plain flour
  2. 3/4 cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar
  3. 1/2 tsp salt
  4. 3/4 cup pecans, toasted (toast on baking tray in 180°C oven for 6-7 mins)
  5. 85g unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1-inch cubes
Chocolate Cinnamon Swirl
  1. 1/2 cup white sugar
  2. 1 tsp dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  3. 1 tsp cinnamon
Sour Cream Cake
  1. 3 1/2 cups plain flour
  2. 1 tsp baking powder
  3. 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  4. 1/2 tsp salt
  5. 225g unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into 1-inch pieces
  6. 2 1/4 cups white sugar
  7. 4 large eggs
  8. 450g sour cream
  9. 1 1/12 tsp pure vanilla extract
DIRECTIONS
Crumb Topping
  1. 1. Pulse the flour, sugar and salt together in a food processor for a few seconds to mix.
  2. 2. Add pecans and pulse again until finely chopped and well incorporated.
  3. 3. Add butter and pulse until combined. The crumb should look like coarse sand. Don't worry if it's a bit clumpy, so long as all the ingredients are well combined.
  4. 4. Cover with cling wrap and set aside in the fridge!
Chocolate Cinnamon Swirl
  1. 1. Whisk together sugar, cocoa powder and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.
Sour Cream Cake
  1. 1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter and line a 9x13-inch baking pan. I used glass; the Baked boys note that a metal pan will give a crispier edge to the cake. Either way is good!
  2. 2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl and set aside.
  3. 3. Using a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream the butter until nice and smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl (in fact, make sure you do this between each step!).
  4. 4. Add the sugar, and beat until the mixture becomes smooth and fluffy.
  5. 5. Add the eggs one at a time. Make sure each egg is well incorporated before the next addition.
  6. 6. Continue to mix for another 30 seconds.
  7. 7. Add the sour cream and vanilla extract and beat until just incorporated.
  8. 8. Add the dry ingredients a third at a time, beating until just incorporated between each addition. Don't over-mix at this point!
  9. 9. Pour one third of the cake batter into your prepared pan. I got quite nervous at this point; I was afraid of over-measuring my first and second layers and not having enough for the top. Despite the fact that I got it right, next time I'd probably go full OCD and weigh my mixture so I know exactly how much to pour out at a time!
  10. 10. Use an offset spatula to spread the cake batter evenly across the bottom of the pan. I didn't have an offset spatula, but found that a butter knife did a pretty great job.
  11. 11. Sprinkle half the chocolate cinnamon swirl mixture over the batter. I poured my swirl mixture into two cups to ensure an even split. Cover the batter completely!
  12. 12. Pour the second third of cake batter over the swirl mixture. Try and pour a few blobs across the whole of the pan, rather than all in the middle. Spreading this layer can be a bit tricky, as the swirl layer will stick to the batter when you lift your spatula/knife. Try and push right out to the edge of the pan with each spreading motion to avoid mixing up too much of the swirl layer with your batter layer.
  13. 13. Sprinkle on the remaining swirl mixture, and then top with the remaining cake batter.
  14. 14. Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the top.
  15. 15. Bake in the centre of your oven for 1 hour (or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean), rotating the pan every 15 minutes. Allow to cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 mins. Enjoy!
Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, by Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito
Little Wanderings http://littlewanderings.com/
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