Archive for June, 2012

Sonnenwendfeier Summer Solstice Celebration

It’s the time of year where we German Kiwis would like to ‘beam’ ourselves to Germany for a quick warm-up. And we are sure a lot of other people from Down Under wouldn’t mind enjoying summer rather than winter temperatures right now…

As New Zealanders just celebrated Matariki (Maori New Year) and possibly held a midwinter celebration, Germans enjoyed their annual midsummer festival called “Sonn(en)wendfeier” marking the summer solstice, or longest day of the year.

The marking of the summer solstice dates back to pre-Christian, pagan times across northern Europe. Stonehenge, for instance, was erected in England to mark the “Sonnenwende” (solstice), which occurs twice per year – the “Wintersonnenwende” (winter solstice) on December 21 or 22, and the “Sommersonnenwende” (summer solstice), marked from June 20 to 23 (or a later date, depending on the country in question).

The midsummer festival is sometimes also referred to as “Johannisfest” as it was dedicated to the birth of John (Johannes) the Baptist. It is celebrated in many locations with a dance around the “Johannisfeuer” (a big, blazing bonfire).

Villagers, for instance, might gather around such a fire on a field in the northern German states of Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony or Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. They will hang out together at the fire, which might become the center of a local “Volksfest” with sausages, beer and other items for sale. In the Alps near Munich the locals carry wood up to the summits of the highest peaks and light bonfires on them – a truly impressive spectacle!

Use your chance to escape winter and enjoy the European summer on a Sidetracks Tour to Germany :-).


Author: Barbara Panettieri




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New Zealand and Australian Government Tips on Visas, Passports and Insurance

There is a whole raft of information you can get on travelling to Europe and sometimes it’s hard to know where to start.  We’ve made things easier for you by sorting through it all to find the key things you should know when planning your European adventure.  Here’s the first installment!


New Zealand and Australian passport holders can spend up to three months in most European countries without a visa and up to six months in the UK.

The countries listed in the table below are party to the Schengen Convention and together form what is known as the “Schengen Area”.  Border controls have been eliminated between the countries in this Area, meaning that if you are planning to spend less than 90 days in total within a 180 day period in the Schengen Area, those countries do not require you to obtain a visa.

Austria Belgium Czech Republic
Denmark Estonia Finland
France Germany Greece
Hungary Iceland Italy
Latvia Lithuania Luxembourg
Malta The Netherlands Norway
Poland Portugal Slovakia
Slovenia Spain Sweden

When you travel with us, we’ll arrange for you to get your passport stamped when entering the Schengen Area.  Then you can sit back, relax and enjoy the border hopping!

Note that Ireland and the UK are not part of the Schengen Area.  This means that if you move between these countries or from one of them into the Schengen Area, you will need to go through the usual border controls.


Check the expiry date!  Many countries require a passport to be valid for at least six months beyond your intended departure from the country.  Check whether you need to renew your passport before you apply for any visas or leave the country.

Leave a copy of your passport, itinerary, tickets and insurance policy with your family or a friend and take a copy with you.  We recommend you also carry a duplicate of any prescriptions you have, including ones for glasses or contact lenses.  You may need this documentation in case you need to obtain a new prescription while you are away.

Handy hint: Back up important documents like pages from your passport and medical prescriptions by scanning and emailing these to yourself.


Rest assured that we will look after you in case of an accident or illness on one of our tours ― that’s when travelling with someone who speaks the local language really comes in handy ;-).

You should also ensure you have comprehensive medical insurance to cover medical costs overseas, as well as repatriation costs.  Make sure you are covered for pre-existing conditions and, if necessary, purchase specific cover for these.  Talk to your insurance provider about the details of your policy before you travel.

In the event that you suffer an injury while overseas, the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) may assist in covering the cost of any treatment for these injuries that is received in New Zealand.  Note that ACC will not, however, fund the cost of any treatment incurred while overseas – that’s where your travel insurance comes in.  If you need to submit a claim to ACC upon your return to New Zealand, you will need to provide a full written medical report from the doctor, dentist or hospital detailing the incident and any treatment received.  To speed up the process, it is easiest to request this documentation before you leave the country in which you received your treatment.  The ACC website provides more information on eligibility and how to claim.

In part 2 of our favourite travel tips you can find Long-haul Flight Tips. When booking your flight from Australia or New Zealand to Europe / Germany you might find these articles helpful: General Long-haul Flight Booking Considerations and Flight Booking Tips – Down Under to Europe.

Once you arrive in Europe, you can sit back and relax on a hassle-free Sidetracks Tour to Germany!


Author: Barbara Panettieri




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