Archive for the ‘Travel Tips’ Category

Early start in Saarbrücken

Congratulations: you’ve decided to join us on our cycle trip along the Saar and Moselle this May and have arrived a day or two early in Saarbrücken. What an excellent opportunity to discover what the locals do on their weekends. As Germany is now well on its way into summer, a lot of outdoor activities are happening around the city. Check out some of the samples we have collated for you for the weekend of the 21st and 22nd  of May 2016.

Markets and other entertainment

Wochenmarkt SaarbrueckenSaturday is THE day to go to a farmers market and within a 3km radius of the city centre you can find three that sell local produce and crafty stuff. But mainly food: fresh fruit and veges, breads and cakes and everything else your palate can imagine. As it would have been in the good old days, usually these market are situated around a local church and you will find one at the Ludwigskirche and Sankt Johann. While you will be going on a guided city tour on Sunday, you might think about going on a boat trip on Saturday: whether just a short trip around the city area or even on a trip to France, have a look at one of the local transport companies’ booklets to get an idea. In the evenings the city has a variety of entertainment on offer as well: the local clubs present an eclectic mix of Oldies to modern pop music, theatres have productions of the Elephant Man, The Little Mermaid and modern dance/ballet from Czechoslovakia.

Museums and open days

640px-BobbycarAn interesting item on this weekend is the open day at one of the local fire brigades and the 4th anniversary of the youth section there. Not only will you be able to have a look at a German fire station, but can watch a Bobby car race there. Kind of like the Jaffa race down Baldwin street in Dunedin but on a kids toy, the Bobby car. If you prefer your entertainment a bit quieter, the local museums can give you plentiful insights into the local history, arts and crafts. A look on the city’s web site could make it easy, except there’s so much to see and so little time. Pick wisely or book a couple of days more and enjoy the sights and events around Saarbrücken at your leisure.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens


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Bikes, not as you used to know them

And following from our last post a quick update on what’s around before we get into more travelling highlights. The serious cyclists amongst our readers will be well and truly informed about the latest advances in technology and how they get adapted to their beloved mode of transport. And one thing that we were surprised to discover during some recent research, is the leaps and bounds being made on the e-bike front.

E-bike – Pedelec – Moped

Electricbike1raleighAs we mentioned in earlier articles most European cities are extremely bike friendly and want to increase the amount of cycles used. While I grew up using a Moped to get around, this fossil-fuel powered and regulated mode of transport is not attractive to the modern urbanite. Instead a new breed of two-wheelers are catching their eyes: the pedal-assisted bike – only, on-demand and on-demand only versions – powered by a rechargeable battery!

Stylish in the city

675px-E-bike_charging_stationWhile the first models reminded one very much of a DIYer’s mad dream, today’s versions come in all sorts of designs. But not only the looks have improved, the advances in battery technology have made them an easy to use transport vehicle. Reduced battery weight and aluminium frames make them an excellent choice to get started in unlikely places like Wellington for example.

The future on wheels

640px-A_mountain_bike_styled_e-bike,_Cyclotricity_StealthWhile some people still doubt that bikes could ever become the sole mode of transport here in New Zealand, changes in city design and environmental awareness show them as economic and ethical alternatives to the fuel-guzzling square boxes we’re using at the moment. And future changes in regulations around their use in national parks means they can indeed be used like your usual mountain bike and take you to places you might not have considered before.

Cycling in Germany

If you have a look at our tours through Germany you will see that on top of having dedicated cycle tours available now, most will include shorter or longer trips around the cities or country side on pushbikes. If you’re interested to try these fascinating e-bikes, talk to us and we will see what would be best for you.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens


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Cruising through Germany on two wheels

As you might remember from some of our previous articles, discovering Germany with us will at some stage involve a bicycle. At Sidetracks we think a bike is an excellent way of covering a decent distance and still having the leisure to enjoy your surroundings, town and country alike. So for the next season in Germany we have put together three exciting bike tours that will take you through different parts of Germany and can be combined with our other tours. These tours will not only keep you fit cycling, but take you on a ride discovering Germany’s history, culture and traditions. Today I want to introduce the tours and the regions they cover in general and in the following weeks we will present to you some of the highlights of these tours.

Main River Bike Trail

"Roter Main (Bayreuth)" by Tafkas - Own work.

“Roter Main (Bayreuth)” by Tafkas – Own work.

This 5 star trail will take you through picturesque towns of the Main valley starting in the festival town of Bayreuth and finishing in Würzburg, a UNESCO world heritage city which dates as far back as the 4th century. Along the river you will get to see other stunning examples of architecture throughout the centuries and experience a variety of local cuisine, wines and beers as we move from traditional beer brewing country to wine growing region.

Saar Moselle Bike Trail

Saarschleife by Niesefrosch Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwikiFileSaarschleife.jpg#mediaFileSaarschleife.jpg

Saarschleife by Niesefrosch

This is a wine lovers’ kind-of trail: along two rivers famous for their wine growing and wine making history we will take you on a journey through time. From the UNESCO heritage site (Völklinger Hütte) to breath taking views from mountain tops (Saar Loop), a medieval castle (Burg Eltz) and to the Villas and Baths from Roman times (Porta Nigra, Villa Rustics and Imperial Baths). By the end of the trip you will have enjoyed more than your share of art, architecture and history on top of having a taste of the renowned wines of this region.

Weser River Bike Trail

599px-Minden_an_der_Weser-FachwerkhäuserAlmost smack-bang in the middle of Germany this tour takes you through a region rich in history and stories. Along the river Weser you will get to see buildings dating from the Romans (Porta Westfalica) through the Middle Ages to the Baroque Period, all set in small rural towns and all with different characters. From porcelain manufacturing to perfume making to the birthplaces of some truly unique characters of German folklore. One special feature of our ride will be discovering the huge range of half-timbered houses prevalent in this area. By the end of the tour you will have gained an interesting insight into middle German history and culture.

Last comment…

…for today that is: as electric bikes are becoming increasingly more popular, we will be offering the use of those on our tours as well. All the tours are quite easily manageable with ‘normal’ bikes, but if you would like to, you can experience the difference for an additional charge. Please get in contact with us if you’d like to know more about electric bikes or our tours.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens







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Marmite Deprivation

marmageddonSince the destruction of the Christchurch Sanitarium Marmite factory in the 2011 earthquake, New Zealanders have been meticulously storing adequate supplies to avoid future shortages in cases of emergencies. And the good news for future Germany and Europe visitors: you will be able to get your yeast-spread fix without having to carry dubious looking containers worrying they might open and spill in your luggage!

History of Marmite

120320042145-new-zealand-marmite-short-story-topWhile Marmite is a staple bread spread in many kiwi and aussie households, not everyone is aware of its origin in Europe. In the late 19th century the German scientist Justus Liebig discovered that brewer’s yeast – a by-product of beer brewing – could be concentrated, had a long shelf life and was reasonably edible. By 1907 it was successful enough in England to warrant the construction of a second factory and Sanitarium Health Food Company acquired the sole distribution rights for New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Islands. They set up a factory in Christchurch and created the kiwi version of the English Marmite: weaker, less tangy flavoured and made with sugar and caramel! By 1912 vitamins and their relevance for human health were discovered and many important ones were found to be in it. Therefore it became part of the soldiers’ rations in WWI. Since then other beneficial components have been discovered, folic acid for example, and it maintains its popularity amongst the savory and economical options for school sandwiches.

What to look for

0_bigIf you happen to encounter a major craving for the beloved Marmite while traveling through Germany and continental Europe, look for Vitam-R (Germany) and Cenovis (Switzerland) in health food shops or supermarkets. ZweimalCenovisThey might not necessarily taste exactly like Marmite, but they should do the trick. And while there browse their range for organic vege spreads: just a quick look around the Vitam-R web site had me yearning for a shopping basket full to take home. While we’re on the topic of bread spreads that might need getting used to – or as the American kids in this video who don’t recommend Vegemite – try out a Spanish or Italian version of anchovy paste (Sardellenpaste). When I was a kid in the 70’s it was a special party treat served on deviled eggs.pd_fc_sardellenpaste

Food History

Exploring Europe should not just focus on the architectural wonders and amazing landscapes, but also incorporate getting to know the local food history. As our tour guides take you to all the known and unknown sights, they will be more than happy to introduce you to regional German food and drink specialties. Bottoms up and enjoy!

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Paradise Homestead

paradise_snow_089Paradise burntFortunately not paradise itself, but the homestead whose road sign illustrated our love for the land! With sadness we heard about the news that the historical Paradise homestead near Glenorchy had burned down a few months ago. But, the silver lining of the cloud of smoke is that a lot of friends have rallied to save the business and rebuild the homestead. To support the enormous task a Facebook page and a web site have been set up where one can register and donate to the cause. Since “Paradise Charitable Trust exists to preserve and enhance the unique features of Paradise for the enjoyment and benefit of all visitors, with particular attention to the needs and expectations of families and children” it is important to cover the loss of income while it’s being rebuilt.

Pacific Paradise

A lot of people living in and visiting New Zealand will agree with us at Sidetracks that it truly is paradise. When Sidetracks decided to use the sign post as a logo we wanted to express and share our love for our adopted home country. And tempt others to experience the wonders first hand and awaken their passion for this wonderful country. Not just for overseas visitors who – once they caught the NZ bug- have to come back for more. Each time discovering new sights and meeting new people. And catching up with old friends too, as quite often our tour participants become good friends. But for New Zealanders as well, who are interested in taking a closer look at their home country from a passionate travellers’ point of view.


In this spirit, to old and new friends, let’s meet up in paradise!


Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Get to know us up close and personal

You’re planning a holiday in Europe and want to see all the highlights without following gazillions of other tourists? You’ve seen our offers but can’t make up your mind whether to go it all alone or join a tour? Going on your own you’re flexible; on a tour you’re ‘stuck’ with a set of people. Going alone you might not find the local attractions; on a tour you might find new friends! So, for starters why not get to know the tour company and see how they plan and execute tours?

Short and spectacular

We feel that the holidays are the time to make our dreams come true and re-charge our batteries. The ‘how’ and ‘where’ are limited only by your imagination. For those of you who love to get close to nature and experience breath taking landscapes we have got something new on offer: guided walks that take you for 3-4 days into the secluded wilderness of New Zealand without having to forego creature comforts.


As the name implies, we specialise in taking walks off the beaten tracks and enjoying moments of peace and spectacular experiences. Our groups are kept small to ensure everyone has the opportunity to enjoy each moment in their own time. With this philosophy in mind, we are pleased to add these short guided walks to our portfolio. They lead over privately owned farm land, the cabins are run and maintained by the owners themselves and they limit the daily visitor numbers to max. 12 walkers. The privacy of these walks is further enhanced by the care and attention given to the visitors: at the end of a day you will find your luggage at the cabin, beds made and a hot shower awaiting you, alongside some of the most stunning views New Zealand can offer. Carefree hiking with just a day pack!

Why with Sidetracks?

Even though these walks can be organised directly, we have been able to work out packages that make it even more easy to relax and enjoy a short break. With us you won’t have to worry about getting there, organising provisions and bedding and a lot of other things that can make or break a trip. Our tour guides are experienced, bi-lingual and walking encyclopaedias on the local fauna and flora.

Have a break, have a …. walk!

Whether you’re looking for a short and intense break from the daily grind or wanting to see what our company is like, come and join us on a wonderful walk around the South Island and see the beaches and mountains that make up its beauty. On the map you will see the locations of the four walks we’ve chosen and hopefully we will get to see you soon.Guided-Walks3

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens


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Tipping & Paying the Bill

If you have read through part 1 of this article – Do’s and Don’ts in German Restaurants and Cafés – you will already know what to expect when you go out for a meal in Germany.  But what happens when it’s time to settle the bill?


First of all, it is not typical to pay at the counter as you order, as you would in most cafés Down Under.  In Germany, you usually order at the table, enjoy your meal/drinks and then call the waiter/waitress to your table to pay (“Die Rechnung bitte” – “the bill please”). While credit cards are accepted in the majority of restaurants, it is much more common to pay with cash, so come prepared with your spending money.


GST is already included in the menu price in restaurants, bars, and cafés all over Germany. Still, it is typical to round up the bill and you would therefore only pay the exact original amount if you were unhappy with the service.  A rule of thumb is to add 5-10% as a tip, generally ending with a full Euro amount.  For example, if the waiter/waitress says “15.60”, you would hand him/her a €20 note and say “Siebzehn bitte” (“17 please”). S/he will then give you €3 in change.

Splitting the Bill

As we usually go out for some meals with our Sidetracks group, you might wonder if we can split the bill.  This is actually quite common.  Simply tell the waiter/waitress when paying what you are paying for and s/he will readily add up your amounts and present you with a personal total, which you should then round up, as explained above.  Unless eating alone, the waiter/waitress is likely to come up at the end of the meal and ask “Zusammen?” (“All together?”).

As always, your Sidetracks tour guide will help you out with any uncertainties that crop up at the time, leaving you free to enjoy your European culinary adventures.

“Guten Appetit” and “Prost” from the Sidetracks Team!


Author: Barbara Panettieri




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Do’s and Don’ts in German Restaurants and Cafés

One of the many pleasures while travelling is that you get to delve into a different culinary world.  No doubt you’ll want to try the various regional specialties, so we make sure you get plenty of opportunities to sample different foods on a Sidetracks Tour.  In the article below we have listed some differences to be aware of when it comes to food services etiquette between Down Under and Germany, so that you can just relax and enjoy the great German food.

On Arrival

Unless it is a fancy restaurant, you don’t usually have to wait to be seated once you arrive: just walk right in and pick the table of your choice. At bars, in cafés and in informal crowded restaurants, it’s also perfectly OK to sit down next to strangers, as long as you get an affirmative response to the question “Ist hier noch frei?” – “Is this seat vacant?”.  It’s also a great way to meet the locals! Many smaller restaurants, however, will have a table reserved for regular customers, such as those from a particular company or society.  These tables will usually be labelled with a sign stating “Stammtisch”.  Don’t sit at these tables without checking with a waiter/waitress first.

Bread and Water

Unlike Down Under, it’s not customary to serve or receive water upon arrival in any restaurant or café in Germany, so you won’t find jugs of water or a water fountain to help yourself to.  Instead, you’ll need to order and pay for water and are likely to be asked whether you would prefer sparkling or still mineral water (“mit oder ohne Kohlensäure”) when doing so.  Although it’s very uncommon to request tap water (“Leitungswasser”) as a drink, requesting a glass of tap water to be served with your coffee is becoming a more commonly accepted practice these days.  Also, if there is a basket of bread and/or pretzels (“Brezeln”) on the table, don’t be surprised if you are charged for what you eat.


When you are ready to order, close the menu or put it face down on the table, and if still no one comes to take your orders, just catch the eye of the waiter/waitress and say “Bestellen bitte!” in a friendly tone.


When eating or drinking together, people ususally say “Guten Appetit” before they start and you might come across people saying “Prost!” (“Cheers!”) or “Zum Wohl!” (“To your health!”) before they briefly clink glasses.  When you join in a toast with others, it’s polite to look the person you are clinking glasses with in the eye.

To Finish

As in Australia and New Zealand, if you cross your knife and fork on your plate, it means you are just pausing in your meal.  If you lay your knife and fork side by side, however, it means you are finished and the waiter/waitress may come and take your plate away.

Your Sidetracks tour guide is also never far away and is happy to help with any advice or translations that are needed.  So you can just relax and enjoy your culinary experiences in the heart of Europe.

And don’t forget to check out part 2 – Tipping & Paying the Bill.

“Guten Appetit” and “Prost” from the Sidetracks Team!



Author: Barbara Panettieri




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Flight Booking Tips – Down Under to Europe

As New Zealand and Australia are on the opposite side of the world from Europe, it doesn’t really matter if you choose a flight via Asia or America in terms of flight time/distance. However, it might take quite a bit longer to get through security checks in the USA.

So, if you do choose to travel via the USA it does pay to check the current security regulations on this website. You can find a comparison of different airline baggage allowances here, but it also pays to check the airline luggage requirements on your airlines’ websites (see links to the most relevant airlines below).

When booking an international flight, it’s best to start looking as early as possible for the best deals – three to six months in advance is a good idea. This is especially important if you want to use your frequent flyer miles, as airlines designate a very limited number of seats for these on each flight and they go quickly.

Start your search for flights by checking a few of the major online travel providers like TripAdvisor Flights, Kayak or Edreams. These sites will give you a preliminary idea of which airlines fly your particular itinerary, what the going rate is and any restrictions that apply.

Armed with this information, you can head directly to the appropriate airline website to see if the same flights are any cheaper. We recommend checking on the following airline websites for flights to Europe from New Zealand:

Air New Zealand



Singapore Airline

Emirates Airline.

And here the direct airline links for flights to Europe from Australia:

Air New Zealand



Singapore Airline

Emirates Airline.

If your trip includes more than one destination (e.g. if you want to fly to London and back from Frankfurt), select ‘Multi-city’ or ‘Multi-Stop’ on the flights page, then book one segment at a time. This is sometimes referred to as an ‘Open Jaw’ itinerary.

If you can be flexible, it pays to try shifting your itinerary a few days either way, as this can make a significant difference in fares. You’ll usually find the best deals on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, as this is when most airlines launch their fare sales.

Don’t forget to check out part 1 of our flight booking tips – general long-haul flight booking considerations. Feel like you want to get into ‘flight mode’ already? Check out the latest Air New Zealand in-flight safety video!

Wishing you a pleasant and uneventful flight ☺

Barbara Panettieri and the Sidetracks Team




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General Long-haul Flight Booking Considerations

Get a flight with the fewest and easiest connections possible, to cut down on your overall flight time. If you do have to kill some time at an airport during transit, here are some great suggestions by Lonely Planet – and have a look at the comments, too ;-).

Maybe consider breaking your journey half-way with a stop-over somewhere if you can spare the time. Otherwise, it is possible to book an airport hotel for a few hours in most major airports, allowing you to stretch out, rest and enjoy a refreshing shower.

Most airlines let you choose your seat when you book, so to avoid being squeezed in the middle of a row, pick a seat as early as possible. Consider an aisle or exit row seat for leg room, or a window if you want to sleep. Note that the last row of seats in the plane usually don’t recline.

Try to avoid seats near the toilets/lavatories, as other passengers will be accessing these regularly (sometimes forming queues) and may disturb your sleep with accidental bumps to your seat and noisy conversations. Noise and light from the toilet door opening may also be disturbing.

And last but not least, review your ticket carefully when you book it. By double-checking your dates, destinations, and exact spelling of your name, you can avoid a lot of potential stress later.

Once you start your Germany Tour with Sidetracks you can just relax and enjoy – we always endeavour to make your European adventure completely hassle-free for you! For  flight booking tips we have specifically put together for New Zealand and Australian travellers see our article on long-haul flights from Down Under to Europe – part 2.

Looking forward to showing you the heart of Europe, Barbara Panettieri and the Sidetracks Team






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