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”

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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”

Bucharest

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Arrival in Bucharest was a bit bedraggled with Joel smack bang in the middle of a vomiting virus and me on the tail end of it. To be fair it felt no worse than the last four months of morning sickness, but poor Joel was suffering (oh he has no idea!). So it was with much relief that we were welcomed by our gracious hosts Stefan and Raluca in their historic house in the old Jewish quarter of Bucharest. As we were to find the remainder of the trip, the Romanian locals go out of their way to give you a good experience, and are truly proud of their country and it’s hidden subtle appeal. Continue reading “Bucharest”

Soča River II

Soca river Slovenia

Sad as we were to be leaving our wooden hut in Ukanc and Lake Bohinj, the mighty Soča River was calling – and when it calls, you respond.

Before we reached the call of the Soča river, we stumbled upon an incredible find. Scattered all around the Soča region are open war museums. I like to call them ‘boy-museums’ as they don’t have any laborious placards of information, yet instead you are allowed to roam a space and experience what it would have been like for a soldier during the War. It is littered with secret underground tunnels, trenches, ditches, rusted metal pieces and it has even been rumoured that if you search for long enough you might just find a ‘shell casing’ from one of the guns used during warfare. It really brought home the reality of war and how close the combat was up in the hills. The trenches were all connected and at times Lauren, Susan and I would lose each other and have to call out to locate one another.

Now, you will never guess what they were mainly fighting over in this region? Yep, the mighty Soča river. The Soča valley was the stage of major military operations including the twelve battles of the Isonzo on the Italian front in World War I between May 1915 and November 1917, in which over 300,000 Austro-Hungarian and Italian soldiers lost their lives. At the top of this mountain pass you can see over into Italy as you are literally a stone’s throw away from the border. Everyone marvelled at the history that we had just experienced and collectively we decided to make a bee-line for what these countries were all fighting over. Continue reading “Soča River II”

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”

Ljubljana II

Ljubljana view

As our train chugged into Ljubljana’s central station I was determined to show mum the best this fairytale city had to offer. Joel and I had spent a lovely two days last June lingering by the banks of the Ljubljanica, and it had well and truly cast its spell on us. We had but a day to soak in the lively cafe culture, jade-green river, imposing castle, vibrant townhouses, cobblestone streets and local markets.

Joel was due to join us that afternoon and we were both soaring high with anticipation. We checked in to our airbnb apartment and spent a fascinating hour speaking to the lovely owner – a young chap with a passion for his city. Mum duly interrogated him about the history of Slovenia and the socio-economic situation of the country as we sipped tea together. Of course in return we educated him about the little known island country of ‘Australia’. Continue reading “Ljubljana 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”

Budapest

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In April 2012 I was lucky enough to welcome mum to the freezing shores of our British Isle. We had a wonderful time showing mum how we have carved out a life here, visiting some much loved spots around London before we hit the road. It was a happy but sad occasion, as Dad and Joel should have been joining us. We had been anticipating it for such a long time but heartbreakingly Dad had an accident the week before Mum & Dad were due to leave, which revealed to us that his brain tumour was growing back. Therefore he could not make the trip for risk of further seizures. It was one of the most devastating moments of my life receiving that phone call – as it sank in that Dad would never be able to make the journey to our new found home. After emotions had calmed a little I was glad that mum decided to keep the travel plans, and we instead exchanged Dad’s ticket for a flight for me to visit Australia in May.

So…a girls trip it became, and I was grateful to spend some mother-daughter time together even though we both carried Dad with us in our hearts. He was close to us in all our adventures even though he was not there in person. My mum is an absolute riot when travelling… she has a child like wonder and appreciation for everything, and you are guaranteed to meet some interesting characters, as mum will literally talk to a.n.y.o.n.e!

Budapest was on the agenda as people tend to rave about how fabulous it is, and being fans of Eastern Europe we decided to give it a burl. It was 25 degrees the week before, but when we arrived it was hovering around zero. Welcome to Europe! Thankfully I was prepared with two coats which mum and I shared between us as we skilfully navigated the public bus and train to the city centre to find our gracious airbnb host – who profusely apologised for the fact that we had to travel without our men. We encountered this type of lovely hospitality our whole time in Hungary, particularly in the countryside, but that’s another story. Continue reading “Budapest”

Zakopané

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I love Google.

I bet you have never heard of Zakopane. Neither had I.

We have discovered so many off-the-beaten-track local treats a la Google. I often wonder at the ingenuity of the travellers in previous generations. No internet bookings, every flight locked in at an office, letters sent home across the seas, no idea what your friends and family were up to, and equally little idea of what remains hidden around the next corner of your global meandering. I suppose the benefit must have been that travelling was much more social. We rely so much on the internet these days, that you literally wouldn’t have to meet a single local or pop into any tourist office whatsoever. (Actually I wouldn’t mind avoiding the tourist centres. I always feel like such an outcast exiting with my head bowed low, eyes to the ground, studying my gigantic map, hoping the locals won’t notice my lack of direction and bulging pockets trying to conceal my camera). The shame!

Where was I? Oh yes, google. I love it, as it can land you smack bang amongst the locals if you allow it to do so. Zakopane was one of these times. Continue reading “Zakopané”