Stepping back in time in Maramures, Romania

img_5486It is hard to imagine being any more beguiled by a country after the awe and wonder stirred up by Buchovina. Yet we were to learn that Romania doesn’t serve up a ‘one dish suits all’ mentality, and literally as you navigate the winding roads, you can feel as though you have entered another world with the simple crossing of a mountain pass. In addition, in Romania, we were discovering that the journey is not solely to reach a destination, but an attraction in and of itself.

img_5823

img_5804

Our next destination was Maramures, the north of Romania bordering the Ukraine. The area is known for its stunning steepled wooden churches and villagers’ homes fronted by ornately carved gates. It is the most traditional area left in Romania and it truly does feel as though you have entered a time warp and travelled back 100 years. Peasant culture still prevails, and there was no need to search for any authenticity – you were surrounded by it! Continue reading “Stepping back in time in Maramures, Romania”

Baby on Board in Bruges


The last time I was in Bruges I was supporting a 7-month-preggers friend as she huffed and puffed her way up the bellfry. I remember thinking that if pregnancy was such an inconvenience, a child would be the ultimate in derailing your travel experience…

Oh my, the times have changed!

This is me now. Pretending to share my coffee with our newborn son. I don’t even drink coffee…it belongs to Joel of course. If he was a single father I’d put my odds on him feeding River coffee rather than milk. Thankfully I am around to supervise!


But somehow, believe it or not, I’m having an equally good time. If you add in those moments where you catch your baby boy staring at things in wonder for the very first time…maybe Bruges round #two even trumps it. Continue reading “Baby on Board in Bruges”

Bucovina, a hidden Romanian gem

img_5361

Unless you are a carefree, two-year- old toddler who is only obsessed with their next treat, you will have heard someone say at sometime or other, ‘They just don’t make things like they used to in the good old days’. Never have I seen a greater display of this statement than by laying my eyes upon the painted monasteries of Bucovina. We had extensively searched Google images to get a sense of what to expect from these 15 th century feats of architecture. However, not even the swagger of beautifully presented Google images prepared us for the real deal. Painted from head to toe, inside and outside, in a vibrant richness that looks like it has come from yesterday’s paintbrush, these monasteries are a true marvel and simply must be seen.

We were lucky enough to visit three in total: Voronet, Sucevita and Moldovita. Each one had its own appeal, each one lured us deeper into the past and each one told a story without the presence of words. Continue reading “Bucovina, a hidden Romanian gem”

Rome – The Eternal City pt 1

IMG_4172

I have dreamt of visiting the Eternal City since we were forced to take Italian in primary school. Monuments like the Colosseum, Sistine chapel and the Trevi Fountain sort of hold your fascination for so long that you half fear the moment you finally lock eyes on them being a letdown. Well I’ll let you in on a secret… absolutely nothing in Rome is a let down.

Upon learning we would be expecting a little bundle in 9 months, my first rational thought once the excitement had subsided was – “babe we need to get to Rome first”. Travel obsessed much? Guilty as charged. So regardless of the outrageous October half-term prices, we booked 4 days of ‘when in Rome’.

We chose a little apartment on the top floor of a residential area close by Campo di Fiore, a bustling market square which holds a fresh food market every morning. Despite being in my 15th week of pregnancy the morning sickness aka all day sickness was not relenting, and as it so happens Campo di Fiore was the perfect spot smack bang in the middle of everything. This made it easy for mid-day breaks which of course never materialised as there is far too much to see and do in Rome to afford breaks! Upon arrival in the evening we promptly navigated our way to our first Gelateria!

IMG_4183

IMG_4191

IMG_4195

The first day we were up early to knock one of the big boys off the list – the mighty Colosseum. There it was, rising from the ground in all it’s splendour, an ancient monument come to life. I always need to touch the walls of these ancient Roman Ruins to immerse myself in the wonder of standing in a place where so many thousands milled around in times past. We had booked a tour weeks ahead to allow us to access the ground floor of the Colosseum and it was well worth being organised to book this as we were regaled with tales of Gladiators and Emperors, Lions and Shields. Our imaginations went wild and Joel may or may not have let a few quotes from Gladiator slip, or even have claimed to be Maximus Decimus Meridius (I love you babe). Staring upon where the floor would have been, we marvelled once again at the ingenuity of the Romans and the way they went about ordering their society.

IMG_4022

IMG_4074

IMG_4045

IMG_4087

The afternoon was spent as close as possible to how the locals go about their business. Joel and I love observing….and copying. We have learnt whilst travelling that a line should always be joined. So we picked a number in a packed little deli in the Jewish Quarter and hustled along with the Romans to acquire some Pizza Bianca. It doesn’t look like much as it is essentially pizza type focaccia with oil and salt. But omg wait until you put that baby in your mouth. Drool. My carb-hungry plain-food-searching baby seemed to leap in the womb. Joel was very pleased with himself for his performance in the deli even though he copped out at using the Italian numerals we had drummed in our brain at school.

IMG_4108

IMG_4110

IMG_4114

We were on a roll and next visit was to a nondescript unlabelled Pasticceria which sold 5 items (obviously successfully) and I acquired a ricotta cheesecake with cherry base. Even Joel who doesn’t jump at such things admitted genius. Then we were on to our staple – gelato. Ever tried rice flavoured gelato? You should.

Off we went on a merry stroll through the side alleys of Rome, soaking it all in, marvelling at the Europe we so love, and how tantalisingly different it is to the UK, and wondering how they live and adapt in the apparent chaos. It makes you realise how uptight we are in our day to day lives in England and Australia. Europeans seem to go with the flow, they seem to enjoy the every day, they are not in a rush, they do not look haggard and stressed (well, except for in Paris) and the folks in the cities seem be folded up in the culture of the place itself, like part of the furniture.

IMG_4132

IMG_4099

IMG_4156

We soaked in the ambiance of Campo Di Fiore’s bustling market place whilst I grinned good naturedly at the Italian men who seemed to feel compelled to make a comment as I walked past. In due course we found ourselves sunning our weary bodies in a corner of Piazza Navona underneath the last of the dying sun – shoes off and content as cats lapping up the last of their milk. As the sun made its final descent we meandered down Via dei Coronari, a lovely and quaint shopping street featuring many antique stores. Despite being waylaid by more gelato, we emerged at the Tevere (Rome’s river) and beheld the mighty Saint Paul’s Cathedral being illuminated by the final rays of light the day had to offer. It truly took our breath away, and I will remember that moment protectively in my mind, as no camera could have captured the radiant glow in all it’s spectacular fullness. The place could have ascended to heaven itself it was that beautiful.

IMG_4157

IMG_4144

IMG_4160

IMG_4190

Morning sickness tends to rear its head and laugh at me most viciously in the evenings which posed a challenge, particularly when in Rome and surrounded by the most spectacular food known to mankind. I could not carry myself far so we opted for fresh pasta at a little restaurant nearby which had a mama making fresh pasta at the window. For those of you who adore Al Dente pasta, you will adore Rome. They have so many traditional pasta dishes which I decided then and there I would track down, or to put it more aggressively, hunt down, over the next few days. Oh how could I forget, we washed it down with more gelato. This time at the oldest gelateria in Rome which we stumbled upon purely by accident by the name of Giolitti, a family run establishment with a line out the door. For a reason! We consumed gelato from no other place our entire stay. The seasonal pomegranate was a highlight.

I’ll leave this post on a high note (or dolce note)… Join us for the next instalment in part 2!

IMG_4213

IMG_4203

IMG_4215

IMG_4225

 

Herculaneum

img_4045

If you are in the region of Naples, you must visit Mt Vesuvius and learn about the infamous volcanic eruption. I must say that the towering outline of this still-active volcano does not fail to impress! It is apparently the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted in the last century. Not only this, but if it erupts again there are now 3 million people living in its vicinity, and it is known for violent and explosive eruptions! I’d be having my eye on that volcano!

We chose to visit Herculaneum rather than Pompeii, as it is better preserved, more compact and conveys a better sense of how people lived in 79AD. The Pompeii site you need to devote a lot of time to cover, whereas you can visit Herculaneum in a few hours. The excavations were truly remarkable. I take my hat off to the Italians for an 11 euro well spent. Continue reading “Herculaneum”

Amalfi Coast

img_3643

I have not yet become used to the fact that I can finish work in London, and fall asleep later than evening in Italy. On this occasion we landed in Rome and joyously sprouted out the little Italian we knew (courtesy Cromer Primary School) i.e. uno, due, tre and cosi cosi. It did the trick and we soon found ourselves cruising down the autostrade in our Fiat Panda. Our destination was the gorgeous Amalfi Coast which is a famous peninsula strutting out into the sea below Naples. The drive was breathtaking for two reasons 1. The exquisite views of villages perched and built into the cliffs 2. The fear of buses as we squeezed our Fiat around countless bends not made to accommodate two vehicles at once! Thankfully Joel was grinning ear to ear, probably imagining that he was a rally car driver, whilst I hyperventilated beside him.

In saying this, we drove the whole peninsula over the course of our visit, and by the end you have to admit that the roads are an attraction in and of themselves. The engineering is ingenious considering it wasn’t too long ago that the only way to reach the villages was by foot or sea. This poses a problem for parking and one downside of having a car is attributed to the impossibility of understanding the Italian parking system. It is a miracle of the Lord that we walked away without a single fine or scratch to our trusty Fiat. Continue reading “Amalfi Coast”

Desert camp in the Sahara

IMG_3169

At the Berber desert camp, the drums rhythmically rocked us to sleep. Our hair and clothes were full of sand after trekking 1.5 hours through the blood-orange Sahara to reach the camp. The mountains of sand stretched far and wide as we clutched our camels who faithfully followed their berber guide.

IMG_3051IMG_3299IMG_3095

IMG_3075

IMG_3250

Immediately we fell into a deep slumber, feeling the motions of our bodies rocking back and forth on the camels, watching the candlelight flicker against the bright colours of the tent canopy.

IMG_3219

It was an early morning for us in order to catch a sunrise ride, and by the sounds the camels were making, they were not happy campers! Even less so when my saddle detached and I found myself sliding down the camel’s neck, madly cling on before hitting the firm golden sand.

I limped up a knife-edged dune with Joel to behold the rising sun and the procession of camels illuminated orange in the morning light. We felt as though the desert was both barren but with a sense of majesty and peace about it.

IMG_3275

IMG_3264

IMG_3278

IMG_3268

This was starkly contrasted by the return to the vehicle and Salah’s death defying stunts. He decided to take us on a remote desert road where I wouldn’t have believed life could have existed. As usual, you find that humans have this supernatural ability to adapt to the most inhospitable terrain possible. Yet, as always, Lachen and Salah appeared to be on the social scene in each town, even acting as couriers of cash village to village! Here is an example of some of the varied terrain we travelled through:

IMG_3316

IMG_3291

IMG_3326

IMG_3339

IMG_3342

IMG_3370

IMG_3376

Joel and I did not tire of Salah’s outrageous driving, singing and Berber outbursts. Even funnier was Lachen’s embarrassment!!! Again we were struck by the Berbers own way of conducting affairs, as Lachen spotted a man on the side of the road and called for the car to be pulled over, He proceeded to pay this man 100 dirham, explaining that he borrowed it 10 months earlier. They must have memories like elephants and more than their fair share of integrity.

We passed through the towering Todra Gorge and onwards to Ait Benhaddou. We felt like tossed spaghetti by our arrival, and it was with shaky legs that we complied with Salah’s sudden request to climb upon the bonnet of his beloved car for a photograph!

IMG_3389

IMG_3364

IMG_3355

IMG_3367

Joel and I devoted our last burst of energy to exploring the Kasbah of Ait Benhaddou. It looked like the winner of the world championships of sandcastle building – an adorable town built higgilty pigglety on top of each other by the banks of a river. The town glowed golden in the afternoon light as we haggled with shopkeepers over rugs and berber goods. One of the shopkeepers even tried on Joel’s top for size – contemplating swapping some goods for it – a true nomad!

IMG_3379

IMG_3396

IMG_3397IMG_3408

IMG_3416

IMG_3430

IMG_3421

Rug-less we retreated for dinner, and an extremely humorous conversation around late into the evening with Lachen and Salah – mainly centering around Salah’s wife being displeased about his roaming of the river to find “Sahara women” all afternoon!!! We genuinely connected with both of them and our cheeks were all hurting as we fell victim to the early start and collapsed into bed still chuckling away. It was most certainly these moments of being fully immersed in their culture (prayer time and all) that made this a truly unforgettable trip.

IMG_3374

IMG_3350

Marrakech

img_2081

Our journey to Morocco is particularly special to us. Unlike other trips, were we tend to reflect after the event – this time we kept a daily journal and were able to reflect as events were unfolding. The reason for this was because my mum (Susan) was due to join us for the trip and at the last minute wasn’t able to travel due to dad’s declining health. It was our way of including her in our journey, with special focus on the moments she would have loved. Joel and I took in in turns writing at the end of each day on a scrappy old children’s workbook we found in one of the villages. Later on we added pictures and presented it to mum who laughed and cried her way through the pages.

(Writer: Joel) Dear Susan,

Here is the plight of our day in Marrakech. I will start the journey from arriving at our Riad. We were treated to a delectable breakfast, served on the roof terrace, which allowed for a 360 degree view of the stalks nesting upon neighbouring T.V antennas. The sun was waking up, and with it, came its heated venom. The sun also awoke the megaphone ‘yala’ singers and the first call to prayer blared out over the sleepy city. Our breakfast was fastidiously cleared using a 10point methodical plan by Julian and we set about tackling the minefield of Marrakech. Continue reading “Marrakech”