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.

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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”

Ceahlău Mountains of Romania – Trekking to Cabana Dochia

Not may people would be able to say that their bathroom wall causes them to do things that are out of the ordinary. The culprit is an unsuspecting piece of artwork that hangs from the comfort of our London bathroom wall. It says, ‘The Mountains are calling and I must go” – so go we did. We sort of ignored the part that I was five months pregnant.

Our destination was Cabana Dochia, which is tucked away at the top of the Ceahlău Mountain range some 2000m plus in elevation. Now, although we had thrown everything possible at gaining information about the winter adventure we were to embark upon, the only confirmation that they were actually ‘open’ was from a Romanian farmer “da, open!”. I don’t even know if he understood the question. That was enough for us, as the Mountains were calling our name and we had to go.

To reach Dochia you can start at a whole host of points. However for us, we chose Cabana Izvorul Muntelui where we were greeted by a National Park worker. Really, he was more so intrigued by the presence of a car in his town and he stepped out of his house to greet us. With a flimsy map in our back pocket, a few broken English tips stored away and snacks for the journey, we set off. Continue reading “Ceahlău Mountains of Romania – Trekking to Cabana Dochia”

Bucovina, a hidden Romanian gem

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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”

Trekking Compostella – The Arles Way pt 1 France

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Our foray in to the Pyrenees was long anticipated. I had held dreams of walking the GR10 (long-distance trail traversing the Pyrenees from coast to coast) or completing the pilgrimage along the Santiago de Compostella for some time. Alas dreams sometimes have to marry reality and therefore we settled on a plan to cross the Pyrenees from the French side and down into Spain. Continue reading “Trekking Compostella – The Arles Way pt 1 France”

Into the Sahara

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Today we were up even before the chorus of cocks had a chance to start their morning vocal warm-ups. A long drive was ahead and we had a desert double date booked in for 6pm and camels do not like to be left waiting.

Something to mention about the Moroccan way, is that although everyone is ‘ready’ at the time they say, they then stand around for a good 10 minutes chatting about secret Berber matters. Now picture a tranquil, quiet valley, moon out, stars shining, sun still asleep and, added to the mix, a bit of Salah (our driver).

Even at 5am, Salah arrives on the scene with a booming voice looking (and sounding) like he had just consumed 3 Red Bulls with a triple shot espresso chaser. There was certainly no danger of him falling asleep at the wheel. Lauren, Lahson, and I all took the opportunity for some extra shut-eye with Captain Crazy (amkhelaw = Berber for Crazy) driving us over the mountainous terrain.

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We passed through village after village and round corner after corner. We felt like two bruised apples rolling around at the bottom of a fruit bowl. The only way we could endure the rally driving was to pretend that we had just swiped in to a 3hr roller-coaster marathon at Disneyland. Salah was born to drive and drive fast!

About 4hours into our journey, there was a long discussion that ensued between Salah and Lahson and the only word that kept popping up was, ‘Total’. We both woke from our Disneyland dream and asked Lahson what Salah was all fired up about. It was all about petrol. Petrol? (we enquired) Salah could tell that the last petrol station had mixed the petrol with water. The word, ‘Total’, kept popping up as that is the only brand you can trust in Morocco.

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So, after a stop at a Total petrol garage (of course) the landscape started to change quite dramatically. We cashed in our figurative Disneyland tickets and swapped them for helmets as we now felt as though we were part of a land speed record attempt. As we flew across the tarmac, the mountains flattened into a thirsty and parched land. The houses looks like giant sandcastles, varying slightly depending on what type of bucket their maker used in the construction process.

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Although it was a ‘travel’ day, we still saw some sights that certainly aren’t on any tourist agendas. At one point, we came across a truck which had tipped onto its side due to an absolutely ridiculous packing job of heavy rubber piping. Well, Salah and Lahson were not going to miss out on this roadside action. They left the car running, shouted something in Berber and latched themselves onto the side of the truck like two leeches tugging with all their might.

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Finally, after 10 hours of driving we had arrived at the mighty Sahara. From afar, I mistook the sand dunes to be another mountain range. Yet, as we drew closer, they looked like giant egg whites that had been beaten into angry, orange peaks.

A quick turn around was needed, so we got adequately dressed to enter the Sahara and met our camel companions. Little did we know, that camels are notoriously known to be uncomfortable. I can substantiate that rumour, as I felt like I was sitting on a groaning, spitting, moving animal carcass.

However, the sun was setting, the wind was up and we journeyed into the Sahara.

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The High Atlas – Trek day 5

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This morning we woke up in yet another berber room with a berber rug snuggled up to our chins. We could hear the soft chirping of the birds on the terraces out our window, and the laughter of children accompanying their mothers to harvest hay. Ahmed was on form as usual “TEA! GOOD, YEAH!”. Poor Joel will likely never put his lips to a mint tea again after having been forced to down many a cup by Ahmed despite bowel protests. After a sad goodbye to our smiley faced berber friends, Ahmed and Harriet, we were on our way. Continue reading “The High Atlas – Trek day 5”

The High Atlas – Trek day 4

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Dear Susan,

You may have heard it said, ‘get back on your horse’. Well today, it was my day to do just that. One slight amendment to the saying however.. It was time for me to get back on my ‘Mule’. Fondly coined ‘Harriett’ now got another minor name change to become ‘Harriet the Chariot’. More about this later.

Again the sun decided to turn up and cover the surrounding mountains with its golden embrace, which simultaneously signals the hundreds of roosters to have a good old Cock-off! I tell you what, not even the most sophisticated of ear plugs would drown out the mighty to and fro of the Moroccan cocks. They are desperately trying to be noticed and one up each other with an even louder rendition of ‘get the hell up!’ So, thanks to the mighty cock crescendo we rose and had our breakfast on the upper terrace. We were surrounded by a Swiss couple, Spanish couple, Belgian couple and a unique Scottish lad of 20yrs young who grew up on the most remote of islands. All of them, including the wee Scottish lad, spoke in excess of three languages. There were foreign words flying all around that terrace like a pinball machine. Sadly, it was both Lauren and I that felt like the battered pinball as we sat there and conversed in our ‘safe’ English language. Continue reading “The High Atlas – Trek day 4”

The High Atlas – Trek day 3

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Dear Mum,

Well today started with the crowing of not one but many cocks. Joel remarked they were having a cock-off. Sadly the night had brought no respite for Joel and it was a downcast face that met me. I ate breakfast alone and we fast established that Joel was in no state to tackle a 6hr hike. Soberly we made plans to return to Imlil and the pharmacy. Lasson was sweet and empathetic and he and Ahmed did not hesitate to change the plans. Nothing is straightforward in Morocco, yet everything is simple. The simple fact that there is a bus that runs along the nearby (thankfully) road. Yet the not-so-straight forward part is that every bus/taxi is RAMMED…..like people hanging out the door type of rammed!

Joel bravely decided to attempt the walk to Imlil, however didn’t make if far until being placed by Ahmed high and lofty upon Harriet. Joel and his bowels bounced up and down, whilst I turned my eyes to the local life by the winding river. We have learnt from Lasson so much about how the Berbers live, and it really is beautiful. I watched women in colourful shawls bending over the reeds by the river, collecting feed for the animals. They gather it together into a parcel three times their size, and trudge back to their closest village. Not a man to be seen, except for when the ground needs to be ploughed – they come out of the woodwork for the manual labour. There is usually a smile, a wave and a ‘bonjour’ as you pass – unless of course you are trying to take a photo, then the guard comes up. We have become experts of discreet photography. Continue reading “The High Atlas – Trek day 3”

The High Atlas – Trek day 2

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Dear Susan,

Etched into my mind is the 4:50 call to prayer. The ‘etching’ is due to moments that shall not be contained in this book. Unfortunately, the vividness is trapped inside of my mind. Let’s just say that  I spent more time with the bathroom than with Lauren on this particular night. With that past, we awoke to our ever friendly guides who had prepared a lovely breakfast. With stomachs full (mine not so much) we ventured off on our day of trekking.
The landscape constantly changed throughout today; firstly, we were treated to a cliff-view of the lush valley below. The river is the main artery that connects all of the Berber villages; it is their life-source. Crops for humans and animals alike are all grown along the river. To the children it is their equivalent of a theme park – the best ride is a water fight followed by a weekly hair washing ritual in the icy snow melt. Continue reading “The High Atlas – Trek day 2”