Abroad Blog of the Week: Folded Cranes

If you are looking for a good daily dose of worldly inspiration, I would highly recommend this Abroad Blog of the Week – Folded Cranes. I’ve now been following the posts of the blogging duo, CIA & PJD, for a little more than 6 weeks. The couple’s posts are interesting and diverse ranging from architecture, food, art, and music all infused into their international adventures. Now living in the heart of Europe, this couple who hails from Australia and New Zealand frequently finds themselves traveling and exploring cities far beyond the guidebook recommendations and folding cranes as they go. I was able to catch up with CIA & PJD for an interview about their blog and travels. Be sure to read their tips at the end!

1. Where are you now and where are you off to next?

We’re currently living in Leiden, The Netherlands. We’ve been here for almost two years now, and it’s a great little city to live in! One of the things we really love about living here is the rich depth of history in what surrounds us – daily we walk by buildings which date from the 1500s and 1600s, which just seems incredible to us having moved here from New Zealand, where such a sense of ancient history isn’t tangible. Here, windmills, canals, bicycles and stroopwaffels are daily parts of life! Leiden is also known as a museum city – because of the density of museums located here. This works really well for us because we love exploring museums, be they history or art museums, or on some other obscure focus! One of our favourites is the SieboldHuis Museum, which showcases Japan and Japanese culture, highlighting some links to the Netherlands. Recently we went to an exhibition there of origami work by the Grand Master of Origami – this was amazing for us! We also love to spend time in the Hortus Botanicus,  incredible botanic gardens in the heart of the old town, established in 1590. The range of unusual plants there is incredible, and there are lovely spaces to while away the afternoon in the sunshine or snow, depending on the season!Leiden is a great place to live as well because of it’s proximity to other cities in the Netherlands via the train links – 30 minutes and we’re in Amsterdam or Rotterdam, 10 minutes to the Hague, and 45 minutes to Utrecht. Oh an 15 minutes to the international airport if we are heading off to explore somewhere else in Europe! Our next travels are to Switzerland for a weekend in August to hang out at a music festival that we are super looking forward to, as a chance to hear some of our favourite bands play live is always something we both love.

2.  You said once that you had started a blog before. What’s different about Folded Cranes that works for you?

Yes! We used to have a tumblr, but we found that the interface didn’t quite work for us so well. We set up that blog after we moved to the Netherlands – mainly as a way to post a few photos and words about what we were up to for our family and friends back at home. But we found that after a while we didn’t post as much as we wanted to, and we also wanted to write about things wider than what we had originally begun the blog for. So it evolved, and we decided a refresh was in order, that’s what led to us starting foldedcranes.com. We resolved that we’d try to post every day or at least once every two days, that it would have a broader focus and would be a chance for us to collect things that inspire, intrigue and interest us, and that we’d put ourselves out there for a (potentially!) wider audience. It’s been great to hear so many encouraging comments from our readers, and to share and swap ideas.

3. Since you’re blogging together, how do you decide what to post?

Blogging together is a great way to run a blog for us, because we have so many interests in common, but also many areas where we have different interests. So the blog is a way that we can bring all these together, which hopefully leads to something interesting and that people will enjoy! It’s also a nice record for us – we are heading towards 100 posts on foldedcranes.com now and it’s going to be nice to look back at some of the things we have written about and discussed over the past few months, and to think about all the ideas and things we want to include in the coming weeks and months! We don’t have a strict timetable of who posts what – it’s more of an organic process, that when one of us has a post idea they go for it, and sometimes we toss around ideas together. Generally we try to keep it fairly balanced with posts from each of us day about, but if one of us is particularly busy with other commitments that means they can’t post that day, then the other is always more than willing to pick up the post for the day. Occasionally we write the odd post together – which is always a really nice process too, making sure that both of our voices and ideas come through in the content that’s eventually posted online!

4. What do you do with all those cranes?

Ah, that is a good question! Well, many of the cranes, we have collected in a couple of clear glass containers/vases in our house, they make a nice centrepiece and are just nice to have around as inspiration! When friends and family visit, they are always intrigued by them. Sometimes, a crane ends up keeping us company on our desks at work, and sometimes they are given away to friends. Earlier this year we folded a heap of cranes for a very special occasion: our wedding! Each guest got a crane folded by us, which most people seemed to find quite special. We’ll be sure to write about this lovely day on our blog one day soon so stay tuned if you’d like to see more…

5. What advice would give someone trying to decide where to go on their travels?

Ah, we could probably talk all day on this topic! But we can boil it down to a few main tips, ten to be exact:

1. Open your mind when you travel: be ready for new experiences, and try to embrace them – especially new cultures, sounds, sights, smells, tastes. Be willing to go with the flow and adapt to unexpected situations – they always happen when travelling!

2. Be respectful of cultures that might be different to yours, and recognise that its a privilege to be able to travel into places that are completely different to your home. Learning a little of the local language, even if just a few phrases, really does go a long way, and will stand you in good stead if you run into any trouble!

3. Try and get local tips – even for good places to eat, or sights that might be a bit more off the beaten track and less touristy. These can often be the hidden gems that really make your trip! We also really like a couple of online travel guides that give tips from a fairly local perspective: for example the website http://www.spottedbylocals.com for various European cities can have some good tips, as can http://unlike.net/ which goes wider than Europe (some Asian and American cities). We also like the travel tips  and stories on the Guardian’s travel section: http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel.
4. Tip 3 above notwithstanding, make sure you do see some of the major sights that might be more traditionally touristy – they are usually so popular for a reason! But if possible, try and check them out at non-peak times when they’re likely to be less crowded.

5.  Do your research before you travel – but don’t over-research, sometimes it’s nice to be spontaneous as well as being well-prepared! Also, it’s really handy to always check opening hours of that particular musuem or sight that you just can’t miss – before we started doing this we had a few well-remembered instances of getting somewhere only to find it had shut because of changes to seasonal opening hours or a particular day of the week when it was not open. Checking ahead can help avoid travel-disappointment! Some also will have free opening times that can be handy to take advantage of!
6. When the unexpected does happen, take a deep breath, keep calm, and recognise that it’s probably not the end of the world…

7. There’s a time and place for rushed travel, when you just have a few short days and you want to tick off some key places. But on the whole we prefer to take a slow-travel approach – spending a few days (or as many as possible!) in one city or place really does allow you to take time to walk around lots and to soak up the feel and atmosphere of the place.

8. For short or weekend breaks, e.g. in cities in Europe, many offer great deals on city passes which give access to public transport and museuums, art galleries and other sights. Sometimes these are really worth investing in and can save time and money. We’ve taken advantage of these in Paris, Stockholm and Berlin, and not been disappointed. In Paris especially, we loved that the pass allowed us to skip the (often long!) queues at places like the Louvre, and go straight on in!

9. Travelling alone can be exciting and a great way to explore the world. It can be a way to really grow as a person and we have both enjoyed this in the past. Now though, we love to travel together. Our advice here though would be to make sure that your travelling companion is someone on the same wavelength as you, and who you know you can rely on to have fun with!

10. As well as capturing it on film, make sure you take the time to enjoy the moment – soak it up as much as you can, as well as spending some time looking through the viewfinder on your camera! Oh and remember to try and post a few postcards home to family and friends – they’ll love to hear how you are and to share in your travels vicariously from a distance.

Thanks Folded Cranes!

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