The High Atlas – Trek day 1

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Dear Mum,

The day has passed like a storybook of what you think hiking with the berber should look like. Wide-mouthed, tooth filled Moroccans greeted us in Imlil and immediately we knew we were in for a good time. They spread out the map and basically said where do you want to go?! No booking ahead here! They might not have even blinked if we didn’t show up! Mint Tea aplenty, we were already laughing and joking about whilst watching an array of colour parade itself ( in the form of brightly coloured rugs adorned on the mules) waltzing down the street. They also like a good bit of rubble here in Morocco, a chip off the Albanian Block.

We were introduced to our muleer Ahmed! What a character! The lines of sun were etched into his face and he exuded warmth (and cheekiness). With a route decided, our bags were hoisted onto our deer mule ( which we have named Harry much to Ahmed’s amusement) and Ahmed rode Harry right out of Imlil. The cherry blossoms bent to meet us as we hiked out of the valley to behold Toubkal and Imlil like a miniature village plonked into the side of a mountain. Of course, on the way we had to visit the family home (more mint tea). Continue reading “The High Atlas – Trek day 1”

Tasmania

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Tasmania? I know, right!

You are probably wondering what I was doing on a tiny island off the coast of Australia when I am supposed to be in Europe. Valid question – and here is the answer.

Dad was supposed to join us for our anticipated trip through Hungary, Austria & Slovenia In April 2012. However, as detailed in previous posts, he suffered a Grand Mal seizure on the lead up to the trip and unfortunately was no longer able to fly. I am so grateful to my selfless and loving mother who recognised the importance of me spending this time with dad and arranged for me to come out to Aus in May. We figured if Dad couldn’t come to me, I would come to him. And if Dad couldn’t have a holiday in Europe, he would get one in Australia. With that, a plan was born to travel with Dad to one of his Bucket List destinations: Tasmania.

There was no time for jetlag! After the excitement of seeing the family, my gorgeous niece and brand new nephew… travel plans were in full swing! Dad got packed up (and somehow snuck a teddy bear into his travel allowance!) and we were touching down in Tassie. I didn’t know where I was, or what I was doing as my multitalented and splendid mother had booked the whole trip for us. So the two of us fumbled our way to a rental car and Dad comforted me as I had a mini freak out at the wheel (I had not driven a car for well over a year). There aren’t many roads leading out of Launceston airport, so we picked one, and suddenly we were starting our great adventure together. Continue reading “Tasmania”

Bled & Bohinj II

Bled and Bohinj Slovenia With so many places to explore in Europe you would think it is crazy that within the space of a calendar year we were treading over the same ground. However, if you believe that, you have obviously never stepped foot in Slovenia. Lauren’s mum Susan was yet to encounter this little natural gem and we were both keen to revisit.

It is all about the lakes in this region – Bohinjsko Jezero and Bled. It would be fair to say that Susan was chomping at the bit to see this part of the world for her own eyes as it has been on her radar since the very first Instagram we posted around a year ago.

Bled is well known for its small island in the middle; an inviting medieval turret perched on a leafy mound and only accessible via row boat. As time was running out and our stop for the night (Bohinj) was calling our name, Susan opted for a rich verbal description of the island and we set off to walk a section of the lake on foot. Bled was just a stop off on the way to the main course – Bohinj. This is a special special part of the world. If Bled and Bohinj are lake cousins, then Bohinj is the better looking one. We couldn’t wait to get there. Continue reading “Bled & Bohinj II”

Eger and the Hungarian countryside

Loving every moment together xx

This is a guest post by my lovely travel companion… none other than my very own mum! Enjoy…

Off to Eger…….(pron.  Egg-Air)

We decided on a two day adventure out of ‘Budi’ to the countryside to get a feel for Hungary and a more realistic take on local life. Eger was our base.

Car hired and on the road, the countryside to the northeast was a little unremarkable….fairly flat.

As we drove past townships along the freeway, we felt confounded by the strangest sight. A traditional, quaint town or small city was marred by ugly, grey, high-rise buildings. Why? What are they for? Factories? Housing? Are they deserted? Local knowledge revealed they were indeed used for housing and were called a “panel” for short. In Hungary, these buildings are long associated with the working class and the unemployed, thus bearing a social stigma. Up to 10 percent of the population lives in panel housing. We learned that these concrete structures resulted from two main factors: the post war housing shortage and the ideology of the Communist leadership….to foster a ‘collective nature’ to the people.  Despite the history lesson here, for us this posed issues with our photography!!! Quaintness clashes with concrete block!! Continue reading “Eger and the Hungarian countryside”

Provence – Avignon, Mt Ventoux & Canyon du Verdon

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The problem with Provence is that it would take months to adequately take in the key sights. So you can imagine with only six days available to you, you are grinding your knuckles as casualties are sacrificed off your list. One such sacrifice we were not prepared to make was a daytrip to Avignon and the mighty Pont du Gard.

I did not realise that Avignon was a walled city and being a lover of walled cities, hence I was delighted as we navigated our car through one of the many city gates. The city was surprisingly compact and a treat for the senses with an abundance of leafy trees lining the sidewalks, cafes spilling out with people enjoying a midday wine and a soaring Cathedral reminiscent of something that should be perched in the mountains (maybe Hogwarts?!). We meandered around taking in the expansive squares, and gazed out at the remains of the Saint-Bénezet bridge, also known as Pont d’Avignon. It was only the heat that drove us to our next destination as I could easily pass the time in one of the many cafes hidden amongst the sprawling cobblestone streets. Continue reading “Provence – Avignon, Mt Ventoux & Canyon du Verdon”

Provence, the Lubéron

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When it comes to Provence, I am generally speechless. A google search of “how would you describe Provence?” yielded no results. Therefore I am left alone in this unchartered territory….

How do you describe string after string of hilltop villages forged from stone, perched in calm serenity, wrapped in rose bushes so delightful even the sunflowers dance in appreciation? How can you convey a quaintness of centuries past, battles fought and won, castles whispering you their secrets whilst vines climb amongst the ruins, reclaiming their ground? How can you explain the scents of fresh crispy bread from the village’s only bakery, the crisp acidity emerging from the fruit on display every morning in markets across the valley’s, the wafts of harvested lavender drifting across the fields? How can you forget the sound of little feet pittering and pattering barefoot across the cobblestone, the laughter of the local butcher, ‘oui, merci’, insects chirping in the warmth of the dusk, the falling of olive leaves in the slight breeze, or the trickling of an underwater spring giving life to the village?

This is the mystery and delightful pleasure that is Provence.

It is a place you simply have to see for yourself, however I will use the words available to me to give you a tour of this not-so-well-kept-secret. Continue reading “Provence, the Lubéron”

Bath

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If you know either mum or I well, you would know that regardless of having just returned to the UK from a truly ‘epic’ European adventure, this would not dampen our urge to do it all over again! With mum still having a week before she flew home, we decided to nip off to the historic English town of Bath for a few nights. Joel was exhausted from our jaunts around Eastern Europe and slightly bewildered that we were ready to get back in the saddle, so he opted to stay in London (hence he does not appear in the photos!).

Mum and I packed up our overnight bags and set off to this ever-so-cute Roman town, nestled in the English countryside amongst rolling green hills. After checking into our little room with an over-enthusiastic host, we set about exploring the ancient cobblestoned streets, finding something delightful at every turn. Sweet little cafes hid down well worn lanes, boutique clothing shops beckoned us in with their temptations, and we already felt in the ‘roman’ spirit before we reached the famed Roman Baths. As you probably guessed, Bath isn’t called Bath for no reason, and we were about to discover why… Continue reading “Bath”

Český Krumlov

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We hope you enjoy this guest blog from my mum Susan Ansell, our travel companion through the Czech Republic…. and for the record – it was ‘lunging’! (photo captions by Lauren)

The long awaited and much anticipated moment finally arrived – the reuniting with Lauren and Joel. A midnight arrival it was for me into Salzburg where I fair launched off the train and did a frenzied run in search of Lol. Needless to say it was a full standing double-plank with much jumping as one, then looking at each other again and then laughing and jumping for joy…ahh, nothing like family. We conquered Salzy, then Eagles Nest and this is where I begin the Cesky update.

We shuttled it over the forested pass between Austria and Czech. Goodbye pristine Austria, hello rustic Czech Republic, only fourty years ago under Communist rule. Firstly the border (stations deserted now of course) and the roads changed from silky smooth, to narrowed pot hole repaired roads. I was already thrilled to be here. A river to follow, tiny townships of Czech living and we arrived in the much drooled about Cesky Krumlov – pronounced ‘Chesky Croom-loov’. The emotion was overwhelming – to be sharing this quaintest and ‘oh so Czech’ of villages with Lauren and Joel was feeling beyond my most creative of dreams. Continue reading “Český Krumlov”

Salzburg & Berchtesgaden

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Salzburg…. a changing of the guards! Salzburg marked the place where Joel was due to take off for London overnight for a job interview (which he was successful at obtaining against all odds – go Joel!). It was also the marked meeting point of my mum joining us on our onward travels. So it was for me, both sad and happy…and I was left to my own devices for two days to explore this Austrian city in full!

Blessed as we were with the weather during our Austrian National Park adventures, I was not so lucky in Salzburg! I soon discovered that my canvas shoes were a sponge, and my accommodation wanted to charge me to borrow a falling apart umbrella! Despite this, I took on the challenge of solo-explorer with gusto! It was certainly a different experience travelling by myself as I had two full days to do as I pleased.

So after dropping Joel off at the airport in Salzburg, I had to find our accommodation ‘solo’. I think my hands were shaking at the wheel as I drove the highway and navigated the exit by myself. When I arrived I said an audible “thank God!” and checked in, wondering how to travel alone. When I accepted Joel was actually gone I hired a bike and berated the receptionist for information (who didn’t seem to know much about her city at all!). Inspired by Maria & the Von Trap family singers, I thought I would follow in their footsteps! Continue reading “Salzburg & Berchtesgaden”

Oberdrauburg & the Drau Cycle Path

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The next place that we stayed certainly can’t be rhymed with any English word that I am aware of; Oberdrauburg, Austria.

Yet again, it must be stated that our journey to this town was a highlight in itself. It is hard to count the amount of times that Lauren & I have been left speechless and crossing the border into Austria was no exception. The hills turned to mountains that then gave way to snow-capped giants that towered over the towns below. I could feel an Austrian mountain yodel rising up within me as I have longed to see the famous Dolomite mountain range in all its glory. Thousands of hectares of untouched, uninhabitable ranges that leave you in awe as to how they have spiked their way up through the earth trying to compete for the highest honours. Our eyes were treated to this magnificent beauty and it felt almost too much to absorb and take in at once.

Which such beautiful company at my right (Lauren) and left (mountains) it made the drive not only feel short but most enjoyable. Like many of the quaint towns that dotted our journey Oberdrauburg had its own church spire to make clear its town centre.  The Big O as we affectionately nicknamed it, is a town of very few residents and was chosen to act as our home-base to launch from for the next day’s cycling tour that would almost tip us over the border and into Italy! We had seen ads all about for the upcoming tour-de-france and thus we were feeling as though we could embrace the European cycling culture and knock over our 55km goal the next day on the Drau Cycle path.

We were staying at Gastof Post and they happened to have two brilliant bicycles that we borrowed for the day gratis. Thanks Gastof! We jumped on the train at Oberdrauburg (with a special cabin to transport bikes) and journeyed up to Sillian with the hundreds of others who would take up the challenge to travel back to their respective hostels to rest their weary bodies. Sillian is a small town that is only 5.5km from the Italian boarder, so we were a little tempted to skip the cycling back into the heart of Austria and go the other direction 20minutes into Italy for a lunch time pizza. That temptation was quickly put to bed when we saw the numerous others who were all out enjoying themselves and cycling their hearts out along the Drau cycle path. Were were passed along the path by big pelotons of serious cycling fanatics, European families who were obviously fitter than us and those who seemed to have one track mind to get to the end. We were a little more leisurely by taking in the views of the Dolomites that towered above us, watching locals pick fresh strawberries from their farms, frequent snack stops to enjoy a twix and also stopping at an unexpected car-show out the front of the Loacker chocolate factory. Although I would love to paint the picture of Lauren and I cycling 55km’s over enormous mountain ranges and finishing with complete six-packs from the fitness, this was not quite the case. The cycle was mostly flat with a few challenging hills and many adrenaline rushing moments flying downhill! So, with the many stops to gawk at the scenary factored in we still completed it in a respectable time of just over 6hours. As we arrived back to the Big O we felt very satisfied with our efforts and felt at one with the Austrian Alps. There was even a few moments where the yodel that I felt rise up in me the day before escaped and I expressed my satisfaction to the mountains for their beauty.

Something unique about traveling that you don’t usually get the opportunity to do in everyday life is change your plans at the last minute. We happened to be driving along (again on the way to Oberdrauburg) and we saw perched up on a mountain a formidable and impressive Castle. It simply needed to be checked out. We took a swift turn off the Auto-Bahn (which our TomTom did not agree with at all) and followed some signs to the Landskron Castle. What an impressive structure. We walked around it’s walls and learnt a little about the history of the castle that dated back to the 9th Century (I won’t bore you with those details here though). We enjoyed the view from the top of the castle and had our first Austrian culinary experience by ordering some soups which we weren’t entirely sure what it included. We are still not to sure, however all that needs to be said is that it was delicious! We said farewell to the falcons (yes, they have a massive caged area full of flesh-eating falcons) and the ancient walls and continued our journey to Oberdrauburg.

Many more highlights were had in our time around the Big O including a delicious dinner in Lienz (schnitzel of course) and seeing many Austrians at a local beer garden in their traditional clothing dancing and chinging big half-litre glasses of their finest Ale. It was so how you would expect the Austrians to act and for once the cliche was actually true. We were also entertained by the local Oberdrauburg orchestra that put on an open air performace in the square one night. The Austrians love a good tune and beer, that is for sure. Well done Oberdrauburg. Thank you for the memories, we must now move in to Kaprun, a small ski-village that is be our base for hikes through the Hohe Tauern National Park.

Castle views
Castle views
First Austian beer at the Castle
First Austian beer at the Castle
The mighty Landskron Castle
The mighty Landskron Castle
The beginning of the Drau cycle path
The beginning of the Drau cycle path
Local farms and their hay stacks
Local farms and their hay stacks
Car show out the front of the chocolate factory
Car show out the front of the chocolate factory
Mountain huts
Mountain huts
Riding along the Drau II
Riding along the Drau II
No hands. Very clever babe!
No hands. Very clever babe!
Passing through a small village
Passing through a small village
My beautiful wife!
My beautiful wife!
On of the many bridge crossings
On of the many bridge crossings
Riding through the streets of Lienz
Riding through the streets of Lienz
Riding along the Drau I
Riding along the Drau I
Taking a rest with the Dolomites behind
Taking a rest with the Dolomites behind
Sculpture celebrating the cycle path
Sculpture celebrating the cycle path
The might Gastof Post!
The might Gastof Post!
Open air orchestra performance
Open air orchestra performance
First Austrian Schnitzel. What a winner!
First Austrian Schnitzel. What a winner!