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”

Innsbruck

Riverside mansions

So inspired by the mountains and in pursuit of more we set out for a town called Innsbruck. We knew that this place was surrounded from every corner with mountains however once we arrived we were quite in awe with the size and magnitude of these colossal towers that held guard over the city. They certainly cast an early shadow over the town and its people as we found out later that day.

The car ride there was quite magical as we both couldn’t stop imagining all the mountains at winter time strewn with snow. We imagined the locals skiing down through the trees and at one point even becoming locals here. So beautiful you would want to stay. It was with these sights and our imagination full that we vowed to return to Austria during the winter. However it was summer this time.

Upon arriving at Innsbruck the first thing we noticed was that down each alley way you could always catch a glimpse of the mountains that surrounded the city. It gave you both a feeling of security and feeling lost in some recluse town. Our first port of call was ‘the golden roof’ which is quite famous and equally impressive. It is a roof that is made entirely of gold. It had some massive historical story behind it but um, can’t remember. Something about a family fighting against another and then a victory to someone.. Continue reading “Innsbruck”

Hohe Tauern National Park

moooooo!!

Our arrival at Hohe Tauern National Park signalled the ‘pinnacle’ of our European travels so far (for us!). We absolutely milked every second from this beautiful place on planet Earth, and hit the pillow with an almighty thud at night! It would definitely not top the list of most travellers headed up through Austria, but it caught our eye on the map and we duly afforded it some research. What ensued was an enthusiastic professed passion from Joel to extend the itinerary in this region. As Joel is not the most vocal of travel planners (if you could call him a travel planner) I knew it must be important and booked 4 days in the area staying in a little chalet in the village of Kaprun.

Kaprun was beautiful, a small winter ski village with a towering mountain which had enough snow on the glacier to ski year round! What was truly the icing on the cake, was the free access to the Zell am See/Kaprun spa complex, which was unlike anything we had ever seen before. We actually spent most of the first visit with our mouths agape, wrapped in our lavish robes, soaking in the salt infused outdoor heated pool staring up at the mountains. After long days hiking in the alps, this was a sacred haven, and probably the first time in our lives that we have ever felt rich and expensive! Continue reading “Hohe Tauern National Park”

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!

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