Hiking around Mt Blanc with a newborn on your back

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It was never a question in our minds. As soon as our son was born, we were headed to the Alps. Perhaps it is the optimism of a new parent, but we didn’t consider whether we would have the energy, the practical knowhow, or even the willingness to carry a newborn baby to the top of mountain peaks. I remember looking up how much a baby would weigh at ten weeks, and being satisfied that it was only around 5 kilos, and that would be a breeze!

Our little River cub came along at a huge ten and a half pounds. It slightly threw the projected weight off, but C-section or not…we were headed to the Mount Blanc Massif. This time we chose the Italian side, hoping to learn a little more about how the Italians interact with the Alps. Our friends generously allowed us to stay in their apartment in La Thuille, a ski resort by winter, and perfectly situated for some hiking adventures at 1500m. Continue reading “Hiking around Mt Blanc with a newborn on your back”

The High Atlas – Trek day 5

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

The High Atlas – Trek day 3

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Dear Mum,

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

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

The High Atlas – Trek day 2

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Dear Susan,

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

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”

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”

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”

Budapest

Chain Bridge

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”