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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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”

Amalfi Coast

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I have not yet become used to the fact that I can finish work in London, and fall asleep later than evening in Italy. On this occasion we landed in Rome and joyously sprouted out the little Italian we knew (courtesy Cromer Primary School) i.e. uno, due, tre and cosi cosi. It did the trick and we soon found ourselves cruising down the autostrade in our Fiat Panda. Our destination was the gorgeous Amalfi Coast which is a famous peninsula strutting out into the sea below Naples. The drive was breathtaking for two reasons 1. The exquisite views of villages perched and built into the cliffs 2. The fear of buses as we squeezed our Fiat around countless bends not made to accommodate two vehicles at once! Thankfully Joel was grinning ear to ear, probably imagining that he was a rally car driver, whilst I hyperventilated beside him.

In saying this, we drove the whole peninsula over the course of our visit, and by the end you have to admit that the roads are an attraction in and of themselves. The engineering is ingenious considering it wasn’t too long ago that the only way to reach the villages was by foot or sea. This poses a problem for parking and one downside of having a car is attributed to the impossibility of understanding the Italian parking system. It is a miracle of the Lord that we walked away without a single fine or scratch to our trusty Fiat. Continue reading “Amalfi Coast”

Into the Sahara

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Today we were up even before the chorus of cocks had a chance to start their morning vocal warm-ups. A long drive was ahead and we had a desert double date booked in for 6pm and camels do not like to be left waiting.

Something to mention about the Moroccan way, is that although everyone is ‘ready’ at the time they say, they then stand around for a good 10 minutes chatting about secret Berber matters. Now picture a tranquil, quiet valley, moon out, stars shining, sun still asleep and, added to the mix, a bit of Salah (our driver).

Even at 5am, Salah arrives on the scene with a booming voice looking (and sounding) like he had just consumed 3 Red Bulls with a triple shot espresso chaser. There was certainly no danger of him falling asleep at the wheel. Lauren, Lahson, and I all took the opportunity for some extra shut-eye with Captain Crazy (amkhelaw = Berber for Crazy) driving us over the mountainous terrain.

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We passed through village after village and round corner after corner. We felt like two bruised apples rolling around at the bottom of a fruit bowl. The only way we could endure the rally driving was to pretend that we had just swiped in to a 3hr roller-coaster marathon at Disneyland. Salah was born to drive and drive fast!

About 4hours into our journey, there was a long discussion that ensued between Salah and Lahson and the only word that kept popping up was, ‘Total’. We both woke from our Disneyland dream and asked Lahson what Salah was all fired up about. It was all about petrol. Petrol? (we enquired) Salah could tell that the last petrol station had mixed the petrol with water. The word, ‘Total’, kept popping up as that is the only brand you can trust in Morocco.

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So, after a stop at a Total petrol garage (of course) the landscape started to change quite dramatically. We cashed in our figurative Disneyland tickets and swapped them for helmets as we now felt as though we were part of a land speed record attempt. As we flew across the tarmac, the mountains flattened into a thirsty and parched land. The houses looks like giant sandcastles, varying slightly depending on what type of bucket their maker used in the construction process.

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Although it was a ‘travel’ day, we still saw some sights that certainly aren’t on any tourist agendas. At one point, we came across a truck which had tipped onto its side due to an absolutely ridiculous packing job of heavy rubber piping. Well, Salah and Lahson were not going to miss out on this roadside action. They left the car running, shouted something in Berber and latched themselves onto the side of the truck like two leeches tugging with all their might.

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Finally, after 10 hours of driving we had arrived at the mighty Sahara. From afar, I mistook the sand dunes to be another mountain range. Yet, as we drew closer, they looked like giant egg whites that had been beaten into angry, orange peaks.

A quick turn around was needed, so we got adequately dressed to enter the Sahara and met our camel companions. Little did we know, that camels are notoriously known to be uncomfortable. I can substantiate that rumour, as I felt like I was sitting on a groaning, spitting, moving animal carcass.

However, the sun was setting, the wind was up and we journeyed into the Sahara.

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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 4

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Dear Susan,

You may have heard it said, ‘get back on your horse’. Well today, it was my day to do just that. One slight amendment to the saying however.. It was time for me to get back on my ‘Mule’. Fondly coined ‘Harriett’ now got another minor name change to become ‘Harriet the Chariot’. More about this later.

Again the sun decided to turn up and cover the surrounding mountains with its golden embrace, which simultaneously signals the hundreds of roosters to have a good old Cock-off! I tell you what, not even the most sophisticated of ear plugs would drown out the mighty to and fro of the Moroccan cocks. They are desperately trying to be noticed and one up each other with an even louder rendition of ‘get the hell up!’ So, thanks to the mighty cock crescendo we rose and had our breakfast on the upper terrace. We were surrounded by a Swiss couple, Spanish couple, Belgian couple and a unique Scottish lad of 20yrs young who grew up on the most remote of islands. All of them, including the wee Scottish lad, spoke in excess of three languages. There were foreign words flying all around that terrace like a pinball machine. Sadly, it was both Lauren and I that felt like the battered pinball as we sat there and conversed in our ‘safe’ English language. Continue reading “The High Atlas – Trek day 4”

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”

Tasmania

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Tasmania? I know, right!

You are probably wondering what I was doing on a tiny island off the coast of Australia when I am supposed to be in Europe. Valid question – and here is the answer.

Dad was supposed to join us for our anticipated trip through Hungary, Austria & Slovenia In April 2012. However, as detailed in previous posts, he suffered a Grand Mal seizure on the lead up to the trip and unfortunately was no longer able to fly. I am so grateful to my selfless and loving mother who recognised the importance of me spending this time with dad and arranged for me to come out to Aus in May. We figured if Dad couldn’t come to me, I would come to him. And if Dad couldn’t have a holiday in Europe, he would get one in Australia. With that, a plan was born to travel with Dad to one of his Bucket List destinations: Tasmania.

There was no time for jetlag! After the excitement of seeing the family, my gorgeous niece and brand new nephew… travel plans were in full swing! Dad got packed up (and somehow snuck a teddy bear into his travel allowance!) and we were touching down in Tassie. I didn’t know where I was, or what I was doing as my multitalented and splendid mother had booked the whole trip for us. So the two of us fumbled our way to a rental car and Dad comforted me as I had a mini freak out at the wheel (I had not driven a car for well over a year). There aren’t many roads leading out of Launceston airport, so we picked one, and suddenly we were starting our great adventure together. Continue reading “Tasmania”