Kraków & Auschwitz

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Our memories are growing increasing fuzzy as we cast our minds back upon our past sojourns. This instalment is from February 2012 when we visited the unique Polish city of Krakow (pronounced Kra-koff as we soon found out!). We were not alone on these ventures – at the time Tim & Shelley had just moved to London and were living with us so they jumped on board. We introduced them to the beauties (and terrors) of Ryanair, armed ourselves with Polish Zloty’s and took flight!

It still never ceases to amaze me how I can be working one day, and that evening be pulling my suitcase over the bumpy cobblestones down the back alley of some european city. That was our story again as we navigated our way from the bus station in the freezing cold to yet another airbnb win. God Bless google maps. Our apartment was in some old communist block with high ceilings and creaky doors. In what was my favourite local greeting (to date), a man who must have been about 70 ushered us inside, complete in a long coat and top hat. Of course he didn’t speak a word of english so he proceeded to show us the ‘features’ of the flat grunting and pointing with much enthusiasm. The next morning he brought us fresh pastries (in his top hat again)… what a legend! Continue reading “Kraków & Auschwitz”

Prague

Evening sunsets waiting for the lamposts to take over

The infamous Prague! I am now casting my mind back several months with blog delay becoming a bit of a disease in the hurried environment of London life. However, I will persist because each place is worth documenting, and indeed sharing with others! So I apologise for the time-lag…

Nevertheless! So we departed the much loved Cesky Krumlov with mum proclaiming that “The Cesk” would never be beaten, so in some ways we had low expectations arriving in Prague as we dragged our suitcases through a maze of cobblestone. At this point I have to add: cobblestones are my enemy and I was looking forward to brushing my hands of them at the conclusion of our trip. Whilst they may be pretty, they do not cooperate with suitcases that must be wheeled! We arrived at our accommodation and gave ourselves high fives as it was spacious, close to the centre, and cheap for a major city. It was then a 180 and back out the door for some Prague lovin’!

This is where it gets good: my fave memory of Prague…mum’s entrance to the city square. Her eager trot became a bit of a gallop as she raced around the square in ecstasy going wild with her camera, to the point where I thought it might be wise to confiscate it. When Joel and I managed to pin her down, the eruption came – “This is the BEST city in all of Europe!”… Followed by a frantic “Forget Paris. Forget Rome. Forget London. Prague is the most beautiful of them all!”. Amidst the laughter and the admission of this moment to my memory bank, I had to admit mum had a point. The square was stunning – vibrant colours, regal statues, sparkling cobblestones, horse-drawn carriages, cathedrals and a mill of people amidst the dying light of the sun which was bathing the square in a warm hue. Continue reading “Prague”

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”

Bled

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Bled, funny name for a place. Funny name or not, it was our next stop as we ventured through Slovenia. Bled was to be our last taste of Slovenia before we crossed its boundaries and ventured into Austria.

The two hour drive through the incredible countryside to get to Bled was filled with rare viewings of small towns that each had their own character and appeal. None of them were on any tourist route or have ever been reviewed by Lonely Planet, but provided us with the special moments that you are only likely to see on a MILK card or a coffee table book. We saw the locals harvesting their fields, hay stacks that would rival some small skyscrapers – and all done using traditional methods. The old tractors, the ancient rickety barns and the wild-flowers covering the rolling hills in a beautiful blanket of colour were all unique in their own way. We hoped that Bled itself would provide some equally beautiful moments as on the drive to get there. Scattered amongst this beautiful countryside were placards, banners and posters for one key thing that defined Bled; the cream cake. It was something that we later divulged in and it certainly lived up to its famous reputation. More about the cream cake later.

Like so many of the places we have stayed thus far, this was also within someone’s home and we certainly met our most hospitable host yet. Her name was Andrea and she was almost aggressive in her hospitality. We arrived and within moments we were seated around a table with a map of the city getting all the local hints and tricks. I do mean ALL. It was very thorough indeed. Thanks Andrea!

Loaded with more information than our Frommer’s guide, the rest of our first day in Bled was filled with exploring and getting a feel for what the locals are all into. We visited the local bakeries and saw the much advertised cream cakes, however at this point we restrained and thought we would wait for the next day as not to spoil our dinner. I must at this point make a shameful confession that although there were many local delicacies on offer, our bodies couldn’t take another ‘seafood dish’ and we opted for the local Chinese place!! Haha. I have to admit, although not Slovenian at all, it was a refreshing change. Chicken and cashew nuts! Ahhh, we miss the quasi Chinese-Australian cuisine. So much variety in Aus!

The next day we had our sights set on hiring a row boat and making our own way out to the Island with the famous church planted on the middle of it. There was however another option that could have been taken, which was to be taken out on a traditional boat with a guide – but we thought better of it as we felt up for the challenge of mastering the rowing technique ourselves. So, the row boat was sourced, hired and off we set. I must say that my rowing technique was a little shaky for the first minute but after that I feel like I could have represented Australia in the upcoming London Olympics. You have never seen such style. Lauren enjoyed being rowed out without having to lift a finger. The island was quite magical, however it was swamped by tourists, which we were included. Apparently, as local legend has it, it is suggested that if you ring the bell in the clock tower on the island it will guarantee you good luck for years. For us it was just a silly tourist attraction that it seemed Asian tourists couldn’t get enough of. We did not go and ring the bell tower. We just wished good luck upon ourselves and did a quick tour of the island. We did encounter a special moment whereby we saw a swan go up against a Labrador. Not much needs to be said except that the swan did a more than adequate job of defendeding itself against the dog. The swan was the absolute unanimous winner! We kept our distance from the swans from that point onwards.

So the time had come, once we were back on dry land to try the most advertised delight in the town; the cream cake. There were many a vendor trying to flog off their fake version of the cake but little did they know that our host, Andrea, had given us the hottest tip in town of where to buy the cream cake where they still used the traditional methods and recipe. It was delicious. After finishing it we were most tempted to return and go back for another. Now, so that all of you don’t go wild with your imagination I will give a short description of it for you, as it was regrettably not captured on camera. Picture a vanilla slice and double the thickness of the base crust and also add a thick layer of fresh cream above the vanilla goodness. Really it is a vanilla slice made with the greatest of care that is steeped in history. Great combination! Well done Bled!

Thanks to our hostess with the mostest, we also checked out Vintgar gorge. It was a series of wooden bridges that cris-crossed over the white-water falls which eventuated in a huge slap (waterfall) called Pod Slap at the end. It was a great little couple of hour hike through this untouched wilderness which at points rivaled moments of Plitvice Lakes (view previous blog if you haven’t read yet). Well, thank you Bled for your great moments and your delicious cream cakes. Our next move was to cross the Slovenian boarder and arrive for a big bike-ride in Oberdrauburg, Austria; the land of the schnitzel.

J&L

The Soča Valley

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Cut my heart open at present, and part of the Soča river would flow from it. It was an all-too-short love affair, but the Soča Valley and it’s mighty river is top of the list along with Vancouver as my favourite place in the world. This gem is tucked away between the alps dividing Italy and Slovenia (literally, ski over a mountain in Slovenia and you are in an Italian ski resort). The Soča River snakes its way in a brilliant aqua blue path over pristine white rocks as it makes a trail through the valley. Dotted along the way are small farming towns, and jovial locals who are pleased to welcome you to the banks of the Soča. They look like they have something to be proud of, and after three short days, I wholeheartedly agree with them.

Our departure from Bohinj was via the car train, which is a railway through the depths of the alps, emerging in the valley. As it was torrential weather, we opted for this safer option, as driving a mountain pass in blinding rain was not considered an idea that was good for our marriage. I am a bit of a skittish passenger in the best of conditions. At the end of the railway, I knew it had been a hit, as Joel had dubbed himself ‘Indiana Jones’ and couldn’t wipe the grin off his face. Sometimes I wonder if boys ever truly grow into men…

We took refuge in a small cafe in Tolmin and watched church and called the family. We always treasure these moments. Normality is a great gift you jump at when on the road. The Soča River was spilling at the sides and clearly not in the mood for some rafting action. Instead we took the opportunity to become cultured travelers and to educate ourselves on a sampling of history from the area. The Soča valley was one of the pivitol regions of both WW1 and WW2, home of the Isonzo Font between the Italians and the Austro-Hungarians. Many of the battle sites and trenches still exist today and have become open air museums. We visited the indoor war museum in Kobarid and it was an astonishing collection of artifacts and photographs. We were the youngest patrons by about 50 years, but found it to be a worthwhile experience. Joel spent the majority of the time at the gun cabinets whilst I tried to understand the finer details. Whilst driving through the Soča Valley, you cannot help but become besieged by history, as most everything had something to do with the war. You can see walking paths and switchbacks on the mountains that the soldiers used in battle, and you marvel at how anyone survived fighting in such extreme conditions.

We spent the night in the picturesque town of Bovec and pondered how to buy our ‘next’ holiday home in the vicinity. The following day we hiked to an open air museum and it was very sobering to tread the ground that had claimed so many lives. There were spectacular views over Bovec and I thought to myself that if any land was worth fighting over, this would be it. The whole area is just stunningly beautiful. Then we were off to Camp Adrenaline to get our teeth sunk into some action sports! The camp ground is nestled in between two mountain ranges that stand as sentries over it’s precious river. The guys that ran the campsite were Slovenian but spoke excellent English, and they were so cruisy that we instantly felt like the world had stopped in time. The river runs through the camp, and is the local refrigerator (at 8 degrees, “perfect for chilling a beer in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette”).

We hit the river running with our guide ‘Ali’ (his name is more complex than that in Slovenian, but we had to exercise our Aussie skills at nicknames, so Ali he had become). Ali was nuts. He has been kayaking all his life and you could tell. White water rafting with him had a permanent pleased smile plastered across Joel’s face, which had me in stitches the whole 10km. Within five minutes Ali had pushed us out of the raft into the river, and I got instant hypothermia (not really, but I did get a brain freeze!). Never have I been more fond of a wetsuit. I’m undecided if I enjoyed the scenery or the rapids more, to me they were both equally appealing. I felt like I was having an outer-body experience because I was unsure how anything was permitted to be so beautiful, it was quite overwhelming. I was deeply thankful, and grateful to be able to feel the full force of appreciation that was stirring around on the inside of me. I am not sure if that makes sense, but I don’t care, it was a sacred moment.

Back to camp life it was, and we cherished every second as we both adore camping and would have spent a great deal of our trip doing so if only we had the gear. The highlight was the arrival of ‘the Germans’ and ‘the Texans’ (love how Texas is just a state, but it’s also a definition!). A night by the campfire, a combination of cultures, and a delicious moussaka cooked by Sebastian were all a welcome melody to our travel experience. The news that our German friends Till & Suzanna decided to join us for our morning canyoning trip was the perfect end to the night. It was agreed that we would leave at ‘a quarter past’ the next morning. Purposely ‘quarter past’ was not allocated a number, in true camp adrenaline chilled out style! “Quarter past what?” was the question that alluded an answer.

Canyoning. Oh my! Those two hours were probably two of the most enjoyable hours of our whole trip. It was a riot! Slipping and sliding down waterfalls, hurling ourselves down rock slides and jumping into freezing pools was a bag of laughs a minute, and Till & Suzanna were amazing company. In our 5mm wetsuits we were completely insulated, and personally I felt like an invincible walking gumby. I jumped over a jutting ledge down 10m which was as far as the nerves would take me. We all opted out of the 12m vertical rock slide at the end after being given a lengthy lecture from Sebastian about people who have broken bones and damaged backs and necks etc on that slide!! No thanks!

We whiled away the afternoons lazing by the crystal blue river, Joel playing guitar, and myself…well…staring in awe at the Soča the majority of the time. That, or imagining I was Susan from Narnia-Prince Caspian (which was filmed by the Soča river to give it that magical colour in the film). I was a mighty warrior, a skilled archer of the river! I still stand by this!

When it was time for us to depart we were all disappointed. We could easily have stayed a few more nights but we had accommodation booked in Bled. The perils of planning ahead! The guys from camp decided to jump off their van roof from the bridge into the river, and with those frivolities over, we were off. We drove up the mountain pass silent, we had both really connected with this place and had enjoyed the company. The enchanting scenery had cast a spell on us and we vowed to bring anyone who cared to make the voyage to Europe to this hidden oasis!

All our love….

J&L xxx

Lake Bohinj

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I am now having to cast my mind back to this beautiful place in Slovenia, as time is tricky and gets away from you. We are now in Austria and have been keeping so busy that there has scarcely been time to update the blog. However I don’t object to reminiscing over Lake Bohinj, as it was truly a special place in the world, and one that we immediately identified with – as we love the great outdoors, and Bohinj had plenty to offer in that regard.

Before I spin our tales about Lake Bohinj, I would like to remind any readers out there, that our words and photos offer the ‘best of’ package. You don’t see photos of my face when I am about to kill the room key as it won’t open (plenty of those moments), or our frustration with the supermarkets shutting at 6, and just missing out on dinner supplies. Nor do you see the constant packing up of the suitcases, the legs that are so tired they refuse to walk anymore, the missing of skype dates due to bad internet connection, toll roads that pick at your pocket-book, hours planning transitions, and the fight to keep the butter and milk cold as we go fridge to fridge. There are also no photos of moments where we miss home or when we don’t feel well. That being said, God has been overly generous in His provision for us, we have been in awe of His covering over our lives. We cannot thank friends and family who keep us in their prayers enough! I merely state the above, to encapsulate that whilst we are having a fantastic time, the day-to-day life is just as rewarding and full of fun and surprises, and we look forward to getting back into that mode in due course. But for the moment, we love having you on this journey with us!

So, Lake Bohinj…. Is the largest lake in Slovenia situated in the gorgeous Triglav National Park. Whilst there is a bit of tourist activity, it is largely dominated by the local farming life, and that is what we enjoyed the most. I think we learnt by osmosis how to make hay by the end of our time there! Joel and I as most of you would know, love a good old hike and the sight of the Alps and all the walking trails had us buzzing the moment we arrived. We are ashamed to say that the Europeans hands down made us look like novices up in the hills. Each hiker is armed with two poles, sturdy boots, specialist pants and packs, and all the other goodies that make you look like Bear Grylls. In a tiny mountain village, a local who could barely string two English words together, pointed and clearly mocked our shoes. Yes she did have boots on that looked like they could kick the living daylights out of steele. Yes we were embarrassed. Yes I did make feeble attempts at defending our footwear. And yes I did ruminate over it the rest of the hike.

Where was I? So after watching the sun go down in a blaze of glory our first night, we mapped out our route for the inaugural full day of hiking. Mount Prsivec at 1,781m. It was a lofty goal for our first day of hiking since it included 10km of uphill (and I mean straight up-a-hill) terrain. However, it was all or nothing so we went for it. To cut a long 12 hour story short, it was a blaze of glory. We made it to the summit after encountering breathtakingly beautiful Slovenian countryside unlike anything we had seen before. This consisted of wooden huts in mountain pastures I didn’t know people would even think to farm and/or colonise, unfurling wildflowers, cowbells that rang like a symphony in the afternoon breeze, green alpine lakes, hospitable Slovens, and awe-inspiring mountain peaks. We really had to pinch ourselves to think that two little Aussies were standing at the top of a mountain in Slovenia that our own legs had carried us to, looking out over a vast expanse of Alps. Our exhaustion turned to infectious joy and I’m pretty sure we did a dance and other stupid things at the summit. I remember calling myself ‘Heidi’ amongst other things. I can additionally confirm that Joel did Yodel. All I can say is that it was lucky the sun doesn’t set until 9:30pm, because it had taken us 9 hours straight to reach the top. We walked back 3 hours and had another 2 left to walk, when I was struck down with a migraine. Anyone who is familiar with the type of migraines I get, knows this is a disaster! I was literally blind so was holding onto Joel stumbling down the rocks. By some miracle (thank you Jesus!) we came across an alpine road and lo-and-behold a German couple (literally the only other couple we had seen out hiking that day) drove past. Joel flagged them down and used his hands to explain we needed help, and they drove us back to the village. Close call…. Thank you random Germans!

Therefore the next day I was not in an adventurous mode… complete with a migraine hangover. Yet somehow we ended up hiking 16km around the lake to a waterfall. Even in my dull state I could still appreciate the natural beauty of this part of the world. The steps to the waterfall were not my friend, each one was a hammer to the head. The waterfall was called ‘Slap Savica’. Joel remarked that I had been ‘slapped by Savica’ and this has become a running joke of me being slapped by all sorts of things when my body grows weary!

Just to solidify the strong message to the thighs and butt, our final day in Bohinj was spent climbing yet another mountain, this time with the help of a cable car (phew!). It took us up to Vogal ski station and we climbed up the snow-less ski runs, past the abandoned chair lifts and empty lodges, to one of the peaks where we had an expansive view of the Julian Alps. There is just something special about standing on the top of a mountain isn’t there?! We had a great view of Mount Triglav, which is the highest Peak in Slovenia (2864m), and Joel spent a good deal of time dreaming about climbing it. I spent the time thinking about who else I could send with him so I could avoid 5 days of thigh-burning…. Meanwhile we almost got blown off the mountain – I have never seen clouds move so fast in my life as I have whilst standing in one! So back down the cable car we went, where we spent the rest of the afternoon lazing by the lake and convincing ourselves that the water was quite a pleasant temperature and completely swimmable. The locals would have given us a scolding.

We waved a see-you-later to Bohinj (a goodbye would be too hard for this place), and took off on the car train to the Soca Valley the next morning – which shall be the next installment!

Lots of love, keep the emails and comments coming, we love hearing from you!!

J&L xx

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.

 

Piran

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Not an awful lot can be said for Piran in the wake of Rovinj, but we will try and dedicate a blog to its good points. I recently received an email from my tech-savvy grandma (Dukes) who warned against the dangers of becoming complacent in moving to the next place in your travels and it not meeting your expectations. This was one of those moments. Having stated such blasphemy whilst being in such a beautiful part in the world… I shall move on.

Piran is a tiny town jutting out into the Mediterranean. My history is sketchy but I am pretty sure the town changed hands a plethora of times before finally being claimed by the Slovens. It has not escaped Italian influence and as far as I’m concerned, Italy might as well just claim it back, because everyone speaks Italian, everything looks Italian, but it is in the “l love Slovenia” brochure. We have since comprehended the Slovens intense claim to this area of coast, having the rest of the nation inland. They have protected 2/3rds of their 60km of coastline and are fiercely green and protective of their ‘coastal gem’. Regardless, I’ll spare you more local sentiment (however this is the thing I enjoy about taking your time traveling through countries as opposed to a ‘fly by’, as you really discover what it is like to be a part of the culture).

The town of Piran is gorgeous, as the photos show. The sunsets were spectacular and feature heavily in our shots over the three days. Our cravings for a domestic life were revealed soon after we arrived. Upon being shown to our apartment (which was a great little loft right in the middle of the locals) our attention was drawn straight to one thing: the oven. We have not seen an oven since leaving London, with all accommodation offering a tiny stove at the most. Joel and I looked at each other, and without speaking our eyes swum with “roast”. One slight problem – Europe shuts down at midday on Saturdays. I claim that they are the only people who took the Sabbath seriously, plus some extra liberty. In english this means that all shops shut at 12:00pm on Saturday and re-open on Monday morning. Most frustrating when you have a roast swimming before your eyes. We were rescued by our main man – the local grocer in the town square who refuses to pack up and go home. How he stands there from 7am-7pm in the open air heat baffles me, but we were happy to see him. Everything is 50cents. “You want a string of tomatos, a garlic, leeks and some rocket?”…. “hmmm 50cents”. We were loving life.

Our roast progressed into the evening, and was a cause for celebration, well into the next day for leftovers, and the day after that. Highlight. So for those of you at home, appreciate your domestic lives! It’s something you miss on the road. We are looking forward to getting back to London in a few weeks and being able to enjoy such simple things. We are however dreading the lack of ocean in London. Our last day in Piran it hit me that this was it – no more ocean, no more open spaces. I don’t know what was wrong with me, but I actually cried. It was hard to let go of something that has been a part of you since your earliest memories.

There were two other things that deserve mentioning in Piran. One such thing was the bell tower which you can see in our photos. It was quite a mighty bell tower as Joel would say, and we had a ball climbing to the top via some quite dodgy wooden rickety stairs (which looked like they were built with the original tower). The views were spectacular, and I almost fell over the rail with fright when the clock chimed 2 o’clock at the top of it’s clock-lungs as I was busy posing for a photo and not prepared for such an occurrence!!

Lastly, and definitely worthy of a fond recall – Skocjan Caves. We took a bus ride and a hike out to these UNESCO heritage listed beauties, and it was worth the effort and expense because it was jaw dropping. If I remember correctly, these caves are the largest underground space, with ceilings measuring 200m at points. There was also a river rushing through the chasms, sounding like thunder and striking the fear of God in us all! I suppose words can only say so much, and photos perhaps even less, as it’s something you need to see to truly appreciate.

With all sorrow about leaving the coastline aside, we were both excited to move to the next stage of our adventures – inland Slovenia and the alps fast approaching on our itinerary. This is such a great blessing to have this experience with one another. I cannot believe we haven’t run out of things to talk about, it illustrates the strong friendship and bond we have with each other. At times it isn’t even about words, it’s about holding the hand of the one you love, and letting the moment speak for itself.

Until next time…

J&L xxx

Rovinj

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So we thought we had seen and experienced all the beauty that could fit into our small minds, until we arrived in Rovinj. We  had both just endured the heavens opening up and dumping the whole Mediterranean on the highway between Plitvice Lakes and the coast, with the added bonus of an unwanted stop in Rijeka and the rest of our sightseeing plans washed into the gutter with the grey angry clouds. We additionally experienced the longest train crossing in history of the world – i.e. a good 15min wait before the train arrived, coupled with another good 15min wait after the train had passed. However, the odd blessing of this route was seeing an old man missing a bunch of teeth who had tied his belongings to a stick over his shoulder and was hiking up the road, along with the opportunity to experience rural Croatia. Which is just that – rural. I think perhaps the ratio of inhabitable houses, half built/stalled houses and ruined houses would be 1-1-1. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of ruined things there are in Europe – broken walls, foundations of old stone houses, even windows hewn into rock faces. Any of these things would be roped off in Australia and listed as natural heritage. But in Europe, usually it is something to do with the war, and they just get on with it. Fascinating.

Therefore when we arrived we were expecting nothing good from Rovinj. The city was charming from the outside, but we had our suitcases and a car rental return to contend with, so we brushed it aside. As evening fell the town won us over without even trying. The polished cobblestone alleys and beautifully presented homely restaurants with half Croatian/Italian facades which glowed with reds, oranges and yellows in the dying sun, stole our affections. It is said that Rovinj is one of the most romantic cities in the world and we wholeheartedly agreed! We spent many hours strolling hand in hand through the Old Town where we were staying, just soaking in the ambiance. Everywhere you look in Rovinj there is colour, character and charm. You look up and you see women pegging out their washing between the alleyways, colourful shutters, worn wood windowstills, overflowing potplants and a radiant blue sky as the backdrop. You look down and see smooth stone of all different levels and shapes, gathered together like a jigsaw puzzle to form some kind of pavement (not for high heels or rolling suitcases!). You look from side to side and see locals sitting in courtyards having a smoke, tiny worn doorways, colourful window displays and vibrant shades upon the walls which are very much reminiscent of the Italian influence upon the city.

The thing that Joel and I most enjoyed about Rovinj was the culture. The city has traditionally been inhabited by artists, who flock there to open tiny galleries in the walls of the Old Town, and the diversity and character of these working artists was quite special and a privilege to witness. We only wished we owned a house to warrant some serious art shopping as more than one artwork captured our imagination and attention. Peering into these galleries late at night and seeing an old gentleman painting an oil landscape, or a young girl printing etching screens on tshirts, thrilled us both to no end. In fact it was one such gallery that made our experience in Rovinj something to remember! One night we poked our heads into a gallery at about 11pm as there was an artwork there that had arrested my interest, to find 3 men in their late 20’s/early 30’s sipping away on a local Croatian brandy. They promptly offered us a shot and so ensued a hilarious night where we were introduced to Croatian beer and we educated the Croats on the art of planking (which they were only too keen to take part in). We met a lot of their friends later that night who were all lovely and we learnt a great deal about Croatian culture, quirks, and daily life (with a bit of history thrown in there). It was enjoyable not only to spend time with people our own age, but to experience local Croatian life in such an organic way. If only we had of been able to stay longer we would have been able to take them up on a local fishing trip and an infamous home cooked Tuna Stew (hmmm! At least it wasn’t salmon!). I should have asked them why every city had birds swooping from tower to post, but forgot. The bird phenomena will remain a mystery until next time.

Our days were whiled away with swimming in the Med from a vantage point outside the walls of the city, walks through pine forests, coveting artworks, a trip up the hill to the city’s church and learning about the history there, ice cream, photography exhibitions and more attempts to avoid the Croat menu. The latter was not successful, although I did find some minestrone soup which broke the monotony. We are seriously craving some rustic bread from Woolworths and some fresh juice which is next to impossible to find here. The markets (shops) are so small that Joel and I are in constant bewilderment as to what Croats cook with such a limited choice of ingredients. Aussies – appreciate your fine cuisines!

So with that we were off to Piran via bus, reluctantly might I add. Until the lady at the bus station ran at me aggressively demanding 5 Kuna for using the toilet. Then I was happy to depart. But we left a little piece of us in Rovinj – definitely a place to return to in the future…If you ever get the opportunity to visit, we promise you won’t be disappointed.

All our love,

Loz & Joel xx

Plitvice Lakes

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Joel here.

The following words are very special. Not because of how they are to be written but purely about the subject matter that is being written about. I feel so very privileged to write about this special place in the World.

May I introduce to you Plitvice Lakes.

Over the past few days after our visit Lauren and I have been constantly recalling the many wonders that this place has to offer. This is how we saw it…

We jumped in our rented car from Split and I must say I sat in the driver’s seat for a good minute as I tried to orient myself with how to drive on the other side of the road. After a couple of “interesting moments” we found our way onto the highway and we were bound for this place that captured our attention over a year ago via a website displaying the ‘Top 10 most beautiful places in the World’. It didn’t disappoint.

We arrived at Plitvice Lakes just after lunch and decided it was time to get a ticket and explore. Without trying to make all those that are reading this too jealous, well, it was like nothing else we had ever seen. We jumped onto the wooden board-walk (which must go for 10km’s plus through the whole park) and turned the first corner and caught our breath. We were met with two words “Valiki Slap”. Now my Croatian isn’t wonderful and far from fluent, however I was able to decipher that ‘Slap’ means waterfall. I am not to sure what the word Valiki means but it must mean something like ‘epic’ or ‘amazing’ or ‘get-a-load-of-this’. I can remember that some of my first words uttered weren’t even recognisable as I was left speechless at this natural beauty and then I think I turned to Lauren and asked her if she thought that the water had the ability to give ‘everlasting life’. We had arrived at the eternal springs.

The blue water doesn’t register on any known colour wheel, there is cascade after cascade of waterfalls, there are caves and chasms everywhere you look, the board-walks take you directly over the raging rivers below, the fish are so clear you think they are floating and for us it was pretty much deserted for the first day. In the morning it had apparently stormed quite ferociously, which sent all the buses of asian tourists packing and left a clear sun-filled board walk for the afternoon. We felt very lucky. Lauren even said, and I quote, “when you grow up, you realise that all those fantasy lands don’t exist, you know all those ones that you read about as a kid. Peter Pan, Lord of the Rings, Middle Earth… Well this one does”. This is due to 3 of Lauren’s most favourite things being, 1. Clear water, 2. Open spaces and 3. The smell of pine trees. At times the excitement of these 3 worlds aligning was all too much for Lauren to contain and she ran, jumped, skipped, hopped, leaped and hooted along the boardwalk. It added to the beauty.

Anyway, enough of my ranting. I think that you get the picture that we both highly recommend a visit to this place. As far as what there is to see, the lakes consist of two separate parts, the lower lakes and the upper lakes. We chose to tackle the lower lakes first. As the pictures display we just soaked up all that the lakes had to offer. We stayed until the closing minute and we prayed with might that the next day would also be just as sunny. It was. We felt very blessed.

What the pictures don’t portray is that there were many many snake sightings. There are native water snakes that live all around the banks of the river. I must say that there was one particular moment on the 1st day that I thoroughly enjoyed. We saw a water-snake try and attack a fish in the water and then swim around and poke it’s head out for a while as though to say to us “now is the time to take a photo” however I was too smart and caught it all of a video which includes commentary in a Steve Irwin style manner. It looks like it is all in HD however that can only be attributed to the clearest of blue water that the event took place in.

Where we stayed deserves an equal mention as it was as much a fairytale as where we visited. Let me just summarise. Upon arrival at our Villa we were greeted by a lovely lady who laughed after every sentence as though unsure if her english had been delivered in the right way. Now, I would include her name, however it is not only impossible to spell but also impossible to pronounce. For the purpose of this blog we will all assume her name is “Mareta”.
After our first meetings with Mareta the following events that occurred, in both cronological order and order of greatness, put a smile on our faces. 1. We got an upgrade to a bigger room which had a very comfy King bed. 2. We were invited upstairs to sample some of Mareta’s home made plum-brandy. 3. This was followed by an array of home-baked cakes 4. We were able to cook one of our first home-cooked meals in weeks in Mareta’s own kitchen 5. We were given a very healthy sample of some cheese from a HUGE wheel of delicious cheddar fresh from the farm… and finally the sealer 6. Mareta, God bless her, offered to do our washing from the past two weeks. Now, not only did she do our washing from the last two weeks but it was all ironed and folded when we arrived back from our day at the lakes. It can safely be said that the accommodation mirrored the fairytale place we were visiting and were very sad to say goodbye to this part of the world and our terrific host.

Next stop, Rovinj.

Big Love

J&L