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”

Marrakech

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Our journey to Morocco is particularly special to us. Unlike other trips, were we tend to reflect after the event – this time we kept a daily journal and were able to reflect as events were unfolding. The reason for this was because my mum (Susan) was due to join us for the trip and at the last minute wasn’t able to travel due to dad’s declining health. It was our way of including her in our journey, with special focus on the moments she would have loved. Joel and I took in in turns writing at the end of each day on a scrappy old children’s workbook we found in one of the villages. Later on we added pictures and presented it to mum who laughed and cried her way through the pages.

(Writer: Joel) Dear Susan,

Here is the plight of our day in Marrakech. I will start the journey from arriving at our Riad. We were treated to a delectable breakfast, served on the roof terrace, which allowed for a 360 degree view of the stalks nesting upon neighbouring T.V antennas. The sun was waking up, and with it, came its heated venom. The sun also awoke the megaphone ‘yala’ singers and the first call to prayer blared out over the sleepy city. Our breakfast was fastidiously cleared using a 10point methodical plan by Julian and we set about tackling the minefield of Marrakech. Continue reading “Marrakech”

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”

Soča River II

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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”

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”

Hohe Tauern National Park

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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”

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

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

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