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”

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”

Eger and the Hungarian countryside

Loving every moment together xx

This is a guest post by my lovely travel companion… none other than my very own mum! Enjoy…

Off to Eger…….(pron.  Egg-Air)

We decided on a two day adventure out of ‘Budi’ to the countryside to get a feel for Hungary and a more realistic take on local life. Eger was our base.

Car hired and on the road, the countryside to the northeast was a little unremarkable….fairly flat.

As we drove past townships along the freeway, we felt confounded by the strangest sight. A traditional, quaint town or small city was marred by ugly, grey, high-rise buildings. Why? What are they for? Factories? Housing? Are they deserted? Local knowledge revealed they were indeed used for housing and were called a “panel” for short. In Hungary, these buildings are long associated with the working class and the unemployed, thus bearing a social stigma. Up to 10 percent of the population lives in panel housing. We learned that these concrete structures resulted from two main factors: the post war housing shortage and the ideology of the Communist leadership….to foster a ‘collective nature’ to the people.  Despite the history lesson here, for us this posed issues with our photography!!! Quaintness clashes with concrete block!! Continue reading “Eger and the Hungarian countryside”

Zakopané

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I love Google.

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

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

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

Mallorca

"In the stillness you shall know that I am God"

Before we headed out on our adventure to this Spanish Isle, I made the unfortunate error of looking up the weather forecast for October. As uneducated Australians, our default setting is that the weather is always going to be wonderful no matter what month of the year. We hadn’t quite yet caught the gist of these things called ‘seasons’ that seem to govern Europe. So it was a slap in the face that the phrase “If you’re coming to Mallorca in October expecting sunny days lying on the beach and swimming, you will be extremely fortunate to fulfil such desires” dominated all weather forecasts. In fact, guides claimed it was a stormy and windy month to visit.

So with our expectations lowered we packed our suitcases with a fair share of summer and winter clothing with our fingers crossed for some sun. I am more than delighted to report that every single day we were blessed with the smiling sun, and we did indeed spend our time lying under the comforting rays and swimming in the crystal clear water. Take that, weather forecasters!! The knowledge that our relatives were on mainland Spain shivering their butts off made us feel even more fortunate (sorry Buncle & Dingle!)! That being said, we thanked our lucky stars and have since been very diligent in checking weather patterns before booking any future holidays!

One of the wonderful things about living in London, is that 1.5hrs on a plane and you can be pretty much anywhere in Europe. So we started the day cooking breakfast in our apartment…and we ended the day swimming under a blazing sunset on a mediterranean island. Absolutely mental. In that moment pinching myself wouldn’t have sufficed, I would have had to have knocked myself over the head with a cricket bat to have believed it! Oh and the sunset….divine, it was like heaven decided to show off. Continue reading “Mallorca”

Bath

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If you know either mum or I well, you would know that regardless of having just returned to the UK from a truly ‘epic’ European adventure, this would not dampen our urge to do it all over again! With mum still having a week before she flew home, we decided to nip off to the historic English town of Bath for a few nights. Joel was exhausted from our jaunts around Eastern Europe and slightly bewildered that we were ready to get back in the saddle, so he opted to stay in London (hence he does not appear in the photos!).

Mum and I packed up our overnight bags and set off to this ever-so-cute Roman town, nestled in the English countryside amongst rolling green hills. After checking into our little room with an over-enthusiastic host, we set about exploring the ancient cobblestoned streets, finding something delightful at every turn. Sweet little cafes hid down well worn lanes, boutique clothing shops beckoned us in with their temptations, and we already felt in the ‘roman’ spirit before we reached the famed Roman Baths. As you probably guessed, Bath isn’t called Bath for no reason, and we were about to discover why… Continue reading “Bath”

Brighton

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If we cast our minds back a few months to September 2011, to the days when the sun enjoyed staying out for longer, we remember a little town known as Brighton.

Lauren and I decided that our lungs needed a good shellacking of salty air once again and to get acquainted with what the UK had to offer down by its seashore. It also happened to coincide with the London riots that were fast approaching our place, so we chained up our bikes and shot off out of London for the weekend.

It is safe to say that Brighton can be split into two parts. The ‘seaside’ and the ‘alleys’. Depending on who you ask you will get a very mixed response of answers as to what they prefer. In fact, even many Londoners when quizzed would say that they didn’t even know Brighton had something more to offer that the famous Pier. In my books, those people need to dig a little deeper. They have missed out. Continue reading “Brighton”

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”

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!