Ceahlău Mountains of Romania – Trekking to Cabana Dochia

Not may people would be able to say that their bathroom wall causes them to do things that are out of the ordinary. The culprit is an unsuspecting piece of artwork that hangs from the comfort of our London bathroom wall. It says, ‘The Mountains are calling and I must go” – so go we did. We sort of ignored the part that I was five months pregnant.

Our destination was Cabana Dochia, which is tucked away at the top of the Ceahlău Mountain range some 2000m plus in elevation. Now, although we had thrown everything possible at gaining information about the winter adventure we were to embark upon, the only confirmation that they were actually ‘open’ was from a Romanian farmer “da, open!”. I don’t even know if he understood the question. That was enough for us, as the Mountains were calling our name and we had to go.

To reach Dochia you can start at a whole host of points. However for us, we chose Cabana Izvorul Muntelui where we were greeted by a National Park worker. Really, he was more so intrigued by the presence of a car in his town and he stepped out of his house to greet us. With a flimsy map in our back pocket, a few broken English tips stored away and snacks for the journey, we set off. Continue reading “Ceahlău Mountains of Romania – Trekking to Cabana Dochia”

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Jungfrau & Lauterbrunnen

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Out of all the journeys we have undertaken, Switzerland is the only one which has racked up over 1,000 images on the memory stick. Whilst I love taking photos, sifting through them is not my favourite past time. I am anything but ruthless when it comes to discarding pictures.

Some people hoard belongings, I hoard images.

Switzerland is a delight to all senses, but most of all your eyes. Even I was shocked at the raw beauty when I finally sat down to select pictures for this post. I had to have my more-ruthless-other-half moderate when I couldn’t cull below 70! What am I trying to say? I suppose Switzerland is a story is better told in images. So I will try to accompany them with a few words. Continue reading “Jungfrau & Lauterbrunnen”

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”

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”

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”

Chamonix

Lunch stop on the slopes

It was a French white Christmas, well, in 2011 that was. Yeah, we’re definitely playing catch-ups on the blog. Catch-ups or not, Chamonix is worth writing about.

We left an elephant-grey London behind and started our pursuit of ‘powder’. Now, both Lauren and I were wishing for ‘fresh powder’, but really, we had no idea what this actually was! It was just the thing to say when going skiing. Little did we know that our hopes of a ‘powder pursuit’ would very much come true.

On arrival, we jumped on a transfer bus and after gawking at the mountains for an hour or so, we arrived at our home for the next week; Chamonix (to save anyone the embarrassment now, it is a silent ‘x’, so now you can at least say it correctly in your head). We quickly dumped our bags in the most amazing chalet (I will come back to that later) and went exploring in the town as the sun began to set. What a privilege it was to stay right in the midst of the action in a ski-town. It was buzzing with the click-clack sound of hundreds of ski-boots as people were coming down from the last runs of the day. There were more headbands that you could poke a stick at, fresh baguettes under most peoples arms and the excitement was definitely building for Lauren and I to hit the slopes the next day.

Day One at Brévent/Flégère was Continue reading “Chamonix”

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

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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”

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