Cycling the Wachau Valley

Biking up to Durnstein

When I think of these blissful three days in April 2012 I do not conjure up scenes of colourful villages, misty vineyards, and spring orchards… although they were all well and truly present. No, I see my mum’s beaming face, with a grin that could have touched the sun itself as she cycled alongside the Danube river. I picture her with her head thrown back, squealing with joy, exclaiming at all the “negative ions” in the misty air that were nourishing her very being. Now, my mum has many moments where she shines – but travelling she is in her absolute element. I think I must have inherited this contagious love of discovery and adventure. I truly couldn’t visit too many places, or have too many experiences to ever be fulfilled enough to call it a day on my wanderlust. We are the perfect travel companions through and through.

So in saying that, I think I may have to let the pictures do most of the talking.
For me, the shared joy, wonder, and the freedom of a bicycle characterised this beautiful time together. I will forever treasure it alongside the image of my mum so delighted and enthralled with life. Together we explored little villages, cycled through abandoned vineyards, climbed ancient castle ruins, listened to the gushing river, and discussed what is important in life. We browsed charming shops, met intrepid europeans who invited us for fresh fish by the river, swayed to clanging clock towers, explored sacred Abbeys, and admired the spring flowers. As we were ahead of the tourist season, we had this most scenic of paths to ourselves. Usually filled with hundreds of cyclists a day – we did not see a single soul and were free to roam the village streets with the locals. Continue reading “Cycling the Wachau Valley”

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London Olympics

London 2012 OlympicsI still remember the headline of the Metro the morning of Friday 27th July. My eyes filled with the first round of sentimental tears as a red bus rumbled by in the background (just to make the experience a little more authentic). It proclaimed, “Good Morning World, Welcome to Our City, and Your Olympics”. Maybe it was the first time I considered London “my” city. By the end of the Games it certainly was.

I think it is safe to say that every single Londoner, was, for a brief two weeks, caught up in the olympic spirit (before a swift return to the staple moaning and groaning). The papers were scathing about the Olympic Games, the Transport For London posters were menacing with their warnings, and it was safe to say that at least every second person considered vacating the city for the Games. Those who stayed (most people: empty threats), were given a treat. Weeks full of summer street parties, miles of bunting, hundreds of thousands of British flags, and a unified pride for Team GB characterised the city, and there were smiles on the face of every otherwise-miserable-sod! Continue reading “London Olympics”

Paris

paris macaroon

We figured that we’d better make the trip across the canal to the ‘City of Love’ at some point. After all, it is only two hours on the Eurostar and we didn’t want to be called ‘lackadaisical’… So after work one friday we found ourselves on the platform, being whisked away for the weekend to another of Europe’s treasures.

I had not taken the chance to brush up on the key french phrases, so I felt unarmed and vulnerable in a city which I had heard did not take kindly to ignorant tourists. My fall back plan was to just start sprouting ‘g’day’ if all else failed so the citizens of France would take pity on this poor flailing Aussie who was clearly out of her depth! However, I needn’t have worried as we had planned to meet the delightful Emma Froggatt the next day who was studying at the Sorbonne in Paris. She acted as tour guide and interpreter extraordinaire – move over Frommers, make way for Froggatts!

Night one in Paris was characterised by crepes, berets, a lovely Brasserie called ‘La Bullion Chartier’, a thousand and one cafes spilling on to the sidewalk, and grand sweeping boulevards. I enjoyed the sophistication of the French language and commiserated that I was such a bogan with no class or style. Paris is broken up in to 20 arrondissements (areas), of which I could find no rhyme or reason, and was later informed by Miss Froggatt that they spiral outwards like an escargot (see what I did there?!). Anyway, I had little idea where I was at any given time so this knowledge unfortunately went to waste.

Continue reading “Paris”

Copenhagen

Chilling out at our little Danish house

Joel likes to say that every time he thinks about Copenhagen, money slips out his back pocket. This is a good summary of our time in Denmark and perhaps our most lasting memory…however pulling out the photos I was reminded that this charming old town had more to offer than a credit card crisis!

We spent some time in the Danish capital in August 2011 (yes we are behind in the blog). It was a city that had always intrigued me, and with the rest of Europe headed for some sun, we thought it would be a good opportunity to check it out before Joel started his full time job in September. We stayed in a very cute little Danish cottage with an apple tree about a 15minute ride from the centre of town. Danish design is definitely unique and it was lovely to stay in a house that illustrated this so nicely, and really added to the experience. Sadly we were not able to purchase any Danish design for ourselves which was a little heartbreaking having wandered through many design stores coveting every second item! The Danes live by the rule of simplicity and I believe it is a good lesson for so much of our consumer culture.

Our first port of call was to ‘do what the Danish do’ and secure ourselves some bicycles. Joel and I were big fans of the custom made bike lanes on every road. When we got back to London we were disgusted to have to ride alongside the traffic once again! There are bikes everywhere in Copenhagen. Nobody is exempt. We saw business men in suits riding to work, as well as girls dressed up to the nines in high heels riding in the rain to the city for a night on the town. They sure do embrace the bike with everything! This was our transport and we only caught the metro once or twice. Continue reading “Copenhagen”

Oberdrauburg & the Drau Cycle Path

Drau cycle path

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!

Ljubljana

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Ljubljana would have to be our favourite city stop yet. It is the big-smoke of Slovenia, being the Capital, but it didn’t feel like a big city at all. In-fact when we arrived we thought there had been a bomb threat or something as it was hard to spot another person. We later discovered the reason behind such minimal morning human activity. This I will explain a little later.

We employed our trusty friend (google maps) and made our way to our apartment in a street just back from the river. Lauren and I were warmly greeted by a man named Jozef who gave us a full run down on Ljubljana; it’s sights, history and events which even included a very peculiar off the topic story of how his Uncle just disappeared during a trip to South America… With all this local information about Ljubljana at the forefront of our mind, and a slightly disturbing story, we set off to discover what the Capital of Slovenia had to offer.

Now it is a little embarrassing to mention but I must confess a quick story about driving into Ljubljana. When we were about 2kms out I saw a very “fancy” looking building upon a hill and I did think to myself, “I wish we could stay there. I wonder who owns that”. Needless to say I later found out that this is the absolute main attraction in Ljubljana, an epic 11th Century Castle. From that point it became fondly known in my own head as “Hotel Castle”. I guess it would be the equivalent to seeing the Opera House and saying to your self, “I wish I could stay there”. I guess it pays to read up on a city before arriving. Lesson Number 1 for Joel. Any way, back to the Capital and it’s sights.

We did venture up to the “Hotel Castle” and had a peek around. From the top of the castle walls you get the most amazing view over the whole of the city and beyond. We also quickly saw that the Ljubljan’s are a creative breed, so any chance to slip in a quick art gallery in an 11th Century castle gets taken. Pity about the art-work though. It was weird to say the very least. From here we went next door to the old Chapel for some cleansing from what we had just seen in the art-gallery and I took the opportunity to sing a quick song as I have never heard such amazing acoustics. You could be tone-deaf and sound like an angel if you sang in this chapel. Quite extraordinary! Within the castle walls there was much more to offer like little bars and cafes, more museums, no doubt more amazing art-galleries with crappy art, but we decided to venture down to the streets to see if more people were about. From the vantage point of the castle walls we planned out our next move of what to see and conquer like we were the original rulers – King and Queen of Ljubljana.

Next stop, the fresh fruit and veggie market. Ahhh, so good! We picked up here the best strawberries that we have ever tasted in our lives. It was quite a lot of fun walking through with all the vendors shouting out their specials in a language that we couldn’t understand. A lot of the time it worked in our favour as you didn’t have to feel bad about not stopping to listen to their run-down of specials. The only main thing that came through was simply their passion about Fruit and Veg! That is what we bought into. Cherries and peaches for Lauren, Strawberries and apples for me. These we did not regret.

As mentioned at the start, you would be glad to know that there was not a bomb threat on Ljubljana but simply the people in Slovenia don’t really get moving until around lunch-time or even just a little later, on a good week-day. On a Sunday, forget about any other human contact, we don’t know where everyone goes… However, as the dusk fell over the bridges and the river we started to understand why everyone “sleeps in”. The night-life is responsible. You lose count of the number of bars and places to eat along the river that cuts through the city. They come alive after about 10pm. We found ourselves enjoying some delicious Slovenian wine and beers and doing some people watching of the locals. People were flying around on their bicycles saying “ciao” and stopping to have drinks with people that they ran into, only to see them stop another 50m down the river to have some more drinks with friends that they “ran into”. Everyone knows everyone in Ljubljana. Oh and that is another thing that we so loved about the city… There are no cars aloud within the most central parts. Either hop on a bike or get walking. So, that is what we did. As we arose from our sleep we adopted the spirit of the locals our 2nd day. We rented some bikes and we were gone on an adventure that lasted the whole day.

As it has affectionately become know to us, Lubi was our sort of town. Unlike our stops in Croatia (although so so beautiful, they are stuck in the dark ages)  Lubi was a town for young adults. In fact, at one point on our bike adventure we had to escape from a MASSIVE down pouring of rain and a local (Alex) came to our rescue showing us a spot to take cover. He told us about the free events that go on in the city centre every night, the place to go for night-life and what a day in the life of a Slovenian Uni student looks like. Lubi is certainly the most cruisy capital city we have ever visited and it’s hard to find a flaw in this great city!

Both Lauren and I enjoyed this change of pace as it marked the start of our fourth week of travelling and living out of a suitcase. Bohinj was our next scheduled stop and that would be full of hiking and long walks. So with each sip of wine in Lubi we knew we would be burning it off in Bohinj.

Well, Ljubljana, I think it is safe to say that we may visit you again some time soon.

 

Korcula

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Korcula… what a lovely surprise! Firstly props must go to Dukes (my grandma) who heartily recommended that we include Korcula in our travels “for at least three nights”. So we planned it in and we were not disappointed. Firstly, as you can see in the photos, the ocean greeted us, sparkling blue and so clear that depth did not seem to matter. I was obviously, beside myself. Joel had to calm me down and confiscate the camera so that we could watch the sun set. And the sun set was gorgeous, reds and oranges and a burning yellow ball which took over half an hour to tuck itself to bed. We simply sat with wide eyes, pinching ourselves at how blessed we were!

Our accommodation was fantastic, a little apartment which we were grateful for, as it allowed us to cook our own meals which sounds funny on holidays, but we prefer this, as eating out becomes the norm and we like to see it as a special treat, otherwise it becomes taken for granted. Plus we were already tiring of the Croatian menu which goes like this: ‘pastas, hideously expensive meat dishes, hideously expensive fish dishes, seafood risotto, squid…. and always pizza and bruchetta?!’. Therefore we are hoping for more little kitchens in our travels! Our hosts were fabulous, meeting us as though they already knew us, I thought they were going to hug us they were so happy to have us there! The apartment was smack bang in the middle of Old Town (good finding mum) and made life a little luxurious, and always the waft of cooking fish floating past our door.

Korcula is a stunning town. They are known for the wine they produce and we now have the Croatian Wine Lists down pat. The town itself is like a mini and infinitely more charming version of Dubrovnik, minus the masses of tourists and large Asian tour groups with headsets and paddles. It is a walled city and sticks out into the ocean with its proud clock tower sticking above the rambling alleyways. We instantly loved it, the vibe is relaxed and the Old Town draws you in. Again we were woken in the morning by the bell tower which for some reason always sees fit to ring like it’s life depended on it at 5am in the morning (far more than 5 strokes mind you!). As the sun is rising at 4am it hardly seems to matter, however Croatians don’t get really into anything until 10am so it’s a puzzle to me.

We hired bikes and rode them 13km up the coast to a small town called Racisce. The whole coast was sleeply, with fishing boats, rock wharfs, and the sparkling blue Adriatic under a clear blue sky. It was made even more dramatic as the coast was flanked by steep mountains on the mainland which were awe inspiring and made you admire the diversity of the landscape in Croatia. It is ever changing. We found a little beach and swam and read and basked it all in. I enjoyed riding past little farming huts and the local crops. I could recognise the vineyards but other than that I haven’t the faintest idea what they were growing! You are always stumbling upon some kind of ruin in Europe. I love that!

Another day we hired a scooter and took it up to see the high land in the mountains of Korcula. These tiny towns certainly have a simple life. I wonder what they do all day. I suppose they are all farmers of some sort as there is barely a local market in the towns. We discovered some more stunning beaches, one of them sand which was proudly proclaimed by the Croats, as they are accustomed to pebble beaches and a bit of sand is a rare thing. As Aussies we find that sort of amusing and are enjoying not getting sand in our pants and through our bags and stuck in the frames of our sunnies.

It was all too soon to leave Korcula, it is definitely a special place to us. We are in half a mind to invest in some shabby sea hut for a vacation house 🙂 As for Joel and I, we are doing well. I am learning how to relax (a real art!) and Joel’s last comment was “it’s so exhausting doing nothing”!! So all in all, I think it is a much needed rest for us and we are enjoying hearing all the news from home even though we miss our friends and family and wish they could share this experience with us!

Love to all xxx

Cambridge

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Hi everyone, it’s Lauren here! I thought I would let you know a little bit about our trip up to Cambridge. We are so blessed as my amazing Auntie Donna & Uncle Iain (Bunkle Lemon) have let us use their car to get out and see some of the English Countryside. It has not rained a single day since we arrived, even the Brits are starting to say how dry it is. However, as Australians used to brown fields, we thought everything was amazingly lush and green!

Cambridge was amazing! Right up my alley… hundreds of students, gorgeous colleges and chapels, a river…. and thousands of bikes! Seriously I have never seen so many bikes in my life. I’m pretty sure I saw some professors riding their bikes down the cobbled paths, and saw more than one grey hair through a helmet. It’s a great culture, everyone is active and out and about. The college students were in exams, but we still spotted a few in the late afternoon punting down the river with a beer in hand.

The colleges themselves were beyond spectacular. We thought we would get an overview by punting down the river Cam. The river is like something out of a fairytale, with big willow trees leaning from the banks. The English dream. I half thought to enquire how much it would be to send our children to Cambridge for College so they could enjoy this fairytale oasis. Then I remembered we would both have to change our careers in order for that to happen! The College “backs” run down to the river Cam, so it is a good view of their sweeping lawns and breathtaking architecture. However, after renting a punt, we realised that we might not take much of this in, as all our efforts were focussed on trying to keep our boat straight! Joel put up a valiant effort, as did I. However the most positive thing that can be said about our punting, was that we did not fall in! It was actually quite hilarious! We did make it to the ‘Mathematical Bridge’ and the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ which was replicated from the same bridge in Venice. Quite awe inspiring to punt underneath this one!

We retired from our punting and gladly handed over our pole, and walked the streets of Cambridge. It is a beautiful place, if you ever get the chance to go I would recommend it. It’s what you always dreamed your college experience to be and you could get lost riding in and out of little alleyways, fresh markets and across the many bridges that span the river Cam. Our next point of call was to Kings Chapel, built to impress that’s for sure. It does not cease to amaze me that all these breathtaking structures were built in honour of God. Every intricate detail is inspiring. Have a look at the photos, (which still don’t do it justice). The ceiling and glass panes were enough to stare at all day. Joel and I sat and stared for about an hour, and Joel had a moment of pure bliss when the organs started resounding…. truly, I have to say it… ‘epic’.

Our day was rounded off with a delicious pub lunch at ‘The Anchor’ in the afternoon sun, watching life pass on on the river. The first point I think I actually relaxed and took our journey so far in. A glass of white and smiles all around.

Enjoy the pictures! (if you are on an iphone you can’t view them because it’s a slideshow so you will need to have a look on your computer) xx