After 7 months travelling in
Scooby our final week was spent Travelling from Germany to Belgium with just an
overnight stop in France before our Ferry back to the UK from Calais.
Our Route: Luxembourg, La Roche-en-Ardenne, Brussels, Ghent, Bruges
Luxembourg: We had one day exploring Luxembourg city. It’s a much
smaller city than we both thought and only took half a day to see all its sights.
The centre is based around posh shopping, not really our cuppa. There’s a small
nice old section with some great fortifications, a lovely river and a quiet old
residential area to walk around. The highlight of the day was having an 80% hot
chocolate with a chocolate, hazelnut and cranberry cake.
La Roche-en-Adenne – A little nature oasis in a week of cities. And a small
dry spell in what had been a week of rain. We had a lovely autumnal walk around
the hills and cliffs surrounding the meandering …….. river.
Brussles – Take home message – they love chocolate, waffles, chocolate,
a pissing boy and did I mention chocolate. As well as the chocolate, there are
also some beautiful shopping arcades, a stunning main square, some great street
art, and an interesting mix of architecture. We really enjoyed the city.
Ghent – What a beautiful place! It felt very Dutch – flat, with
lots of canals and bikes. The architecture was the real winner! As it was our
penultimate day we decided to treat ourselves with some mulled wine to warm up
with while wandered around. Followed by a late lunch of savoury waffles, freak
shake and sweet waffle. In the evening we also sampled several of the very tasty,
but equally very pricey, Belgium beers.
Bruges – It really is just as beautiful as everyone says it
is. As always, we parked out of the city and walked in, which means you get to
see the less explored side. We started in Kruisvest park which has several
windmills along the river and then walked slowly through a quiet residential area.
I say slowly because I was stopping to take photos of houses every 5 meters; it
was so quaint and picturesque. There are some real pinch points of tourism in the
centre and there were a couple of streets that were just souvenir tat shops. But
apart from that I have no complaints. It was a beautiful city, and though
fairly small, you could spend days slowly wandering and taking millions of
photos. It was such a great place to visit on our last day of the trip.
Now we have finished traveling
(for a bit) our next blog (which I have been wanting to write for ages) will be
all about the realities of vanlife and a summary blog of our trip around Europe.
We spent a week travelling along Southern Germany. It was not
the most direct route from Czech Republic to Belgium, but since leaving Austria
we had been craving some mountains again so decided to go and see the Bavarian
Alps. Unfortunately, the weather gods weren’t playing ball. It rained every day
and during our 3 days in the Alps we didn’t see a single mountain. Sometimes
you could barely see 30 meters in front of you, but still we got out and
Regensburg – Munich – Garmisch-Partenkirchen –
Neuschwanstein castle – Lindau on Lake Constance – Black Forest – Heidelberg – Mainz – Bonn – Cologne
Partnach Gorge – We visited on a pretty miserable day. But there were plenty of other mad people out in the rain and cold trying to make the most of it. With the mountains in thick cloud, hiding in the gorge seemed like the best option. Unfortunately to walk alongside the river you have to pay, so we walked along just up above it and had a lovely view looking down for free.
Lake Constance – Its huge. 63 km long in fact, and borders Austria to the east and Switzerland to the south. Felt like being at the seaside, the lake was so clear and endless (maybe on a sunny day it would seem less endless).
Black Forest – Another wet and cloudy day, which meant we couldn’t get a feel for the scale of the forests from driving through it as we could hardly see the road in front of us. Thankfully our walk started off ok with just some drizzle, which meant we had nice views out over rolling forests. We weren’t enthralled by our day exploring. Most of the paths were wide and open and lacked a feeling of being in the wild. We didn’t spot or hear much wildlife and there was clear evidence of logging and plantations.
We went because it is listed as the castle in Chitty Chitty Bang
Bang – one of my all time favourite films. Maybe my expectations were too high.
I was hoping for the tour to be very c.c.b.b. focused, but they didn’t mention
it once! Turns out it’s just the castle they flew over. None of the film was
actually shot there. Once I got over my initial disappointment I was able to
enjoy the castle for what it was.
Built over several years from 1868 for Ludwig 2nd,
who sounded like a right eccentric. Unfortunately, he only lived there for 172 days
before he died in 1886 and six weeks after his death it was turned into a
museum. This means the very impressive original interior is incredibly well preserved
with detailed paintings and dark woodwork. The castle even has a small room on
the top floor which is made to look like a cave (complete with stalactites and
stalagmites)! Told you he was an eccentric.
No photos of the inside were allowed. So instead, here’s two
cloudy photos of the castle and lack of view.
Germany know how to do a good historic town. We are always
impressed by the beautiful old architecture; and by how busy and lively a lot
of the towns are. The high street certainly doesn’t feel dead in Germany. So
many independent shops that all seem to be alive and well; plus some great
looking bakeries, cafes and always lively beer halls.
Regensburg – Lovely old town which apparently has one
of the best preserved medieval centres in Germany. Great cathedral with
stunning stained glass, old town hall, cute cobbled streets, very nice vibe,
and on the edge of the Danube.
Munich – Not one of our favourite city’s we have
visited. It lacked a main hub of old buildings to wander around for the budget
traveller. Don’t get me wrong it is a nice city and worth a day trip. There are
plenty of nice buildings but they are just dotted around. The main centre is
very shopping focused and full of high street shops. The town hall is
definitely the highlight.
Lindau – Its essentially a small island on Lake
Constance. We walked all the way around and wandered the cobbled streets in the
main town. Probably a nightmare in the height of summer but really lovely in
autumn. Its old harbour is guarded by a giant lion dating from 1856 and a
little lighthouse made it feel like it was beside the seaside.
Heidelberg – Essentially one long main shopping
street with a couple of squares and some nice side streets. There’s also a
castle with lovely views and a nice old bridge. Not a huge amount to see as a
tourist but a nice town to wander around for half a day.
Mainz – Wasn’t really worth the effort. Emission
zones, as wonderful as they are, do make visiting some places a bit trickier
with a big van – with finding somewhere to park out of the city and finding
transport in. The best thing about Mainz was the main square and the small
collection of old timber houses.
Bonn – We were lucky enough to have a tour guide in Bonn as we met up with one ofGraham’s Uni friends, Rachael. Such a busy lively place, already gearing up for Christmas. Negatives were that most of the nice buildings; cathedral, uni buildings and palace all had scaffolding up. Positives were the food and drink. We drank Kolsch a local beer made 30 minutes away in Cologne; Rachael made us a veganised German pasta dish called Spatzle for dinner and she brought this amazing bottle of Roter Sauser (a popular autumn drink in Germany made from fermented freshly pressed grapes; it has a slight fizz to it and is essentially a very light wine. The one we drank had a max alcohol content of 9%.)
The following day we had a lovely cycle along the river
Rhine, got the ferry across the river and walked up to Drachenburg castle.
Cologne – The old town had a slight Plymouth feel to
it. Mix of nice old buildings and some more functional, less aesthetically
pleasing buildings. The cathedral is the main reason to go to cologne. Other
than that, the next reason seems to be to shop! The city centre is essentially
just focused on shopping.
Hopefully the next we visit Germany it will be a little
Unfortunately just a short seven days but we managed to cram
in 3 towns, 2 castles and 3 days walking in nature on top of quite a bit of
Our Route: Brno – Olomouc – Bouzov – Krkonose National Park – Cesky raj – Bohemian Switzerland – Prague – Karlstejn castle – Pilsen
Krkonose – Translates to ‘Giant Mountains’. This (I
would say hilly) national park borders Poland, so much so we walked into Poland
without realising, as the border runs along the mountain ridge. We walked from Pecpod
Snezkou up to Sniezka which is Czechs highest peak at 1603 meters. The day
started with very low cloud and equally low energy levels but somehow we managed
to lug ourselves up the hill. Just before the top we stopped for lunch in very thick
cloud and strong wind, but over the course of eating our hummus wraps the wind blew
the clouds away and revealed the peak. Once we climbed the last 100 meters to
the top we were rewarded with a great view. On one side of the ridge we looked
down through clear skies onto Poland. On the other side Czech Republic was
hidden by a blanket of fluffy clouds. It was a totally awesome feeling to have
walked above the clouds.
Casky Raj – A very fun place to go walking. We spent
the day exploring the tall sandstone pillars which they call ‘rock cities’. The
hiking path started by scrambling over rocks, we then squeezed in between large
rock columns, and ducked underneath rock tunnels. The path travelled down
steeply to the base of a small “canyon”. After walking at the base of the
pillars we travelled back up the other side to look down onto the crazy rock
Bohemian Switzerland – ‘Bohemian’, because it is
situated in an area called Bohemia. ‘Switzerland’, because back in the 18th
century it reminded some Swiss artists of their homeland. There are two main
attractions here, Kamenice Gorge and Pravcicka Archway. We did a nice big loop
walk covering both. The gorge was really nice with a path running alongside for
the most part, with one section where you have to get a boat (which only cost €3
and was really fun). The archway was disappointing. One of those things that
looks so much more impressive in a photo from a drone. As a geographer I should have been more
inspired by this natural rock arch but really it wasn’t a patch on Durdle Door.
Brno, Olomouc & Pilsen – All three were nice
towns with some interesting old buildings, town squares and churches. Brno
& Olomouc are both university towns and had really nice vibes, lots of
quirky shops and cafes. Pilsen is the home of Pilsner, and it smelt like
brewing which isn’t everyone’s cuppa tea, but I like it as it reminds me of my
home town. The vibe in Pilsner when we went, was mainly lots and lots of
football fans and some riot police.
Prague – We had a great day in sunny Prague sampling
the food, well mainly drink on offer. We started our day on the quieter west
side of the river; fuelling the day ahead by seeking out a vegan chimney cake,
which was delicious! We wandered around the cathedral, palace and monastery
areas before stopping for our first beer in a craft beer place. We manged a
whole 20 meters before stopping again to enjoy an incredible view of Prague
while sipping a beer made at the monastery. We then hit the hoards of tourist
on the chain bridge. Wow a lot of people visit Prague! We slowly made it to the
very pretty town hall square and wandered around the old town. Once away from
the tourist pinch points it wasn’t too busy and you can easily be distracted from
the amount of people by the lovely architecture. Our legs needed a rest so we
stopped for a Pilsner before wandering around the new town. We had a dinner of
sides (Czech food isn’t very vegetable heavy) and sampled a beer tasting menu
in a great beer hall that had 10 different themed rooms. Our final stop of the
day was in a traditional beer hall. They served one type of dark beer and two short
drinks (a mead and a herby shot). No bars and no menus; waiters wander around
with trays of the 3 options and keep a running tab at the end of your table. It
was a great place full of atmosphere, lots of people, live music and tasty
Going to Prague in October might have been key to our
enjoyment; the sun was out, it wasn’t as busy as it could be, and we only
experienced 5 stag-dos.
Austria is beautiful! Everywhere
you look there are mountains or hills, dotted with picturesque towns, pastures,
lakes and churches. In autumn the colours are incredible. Starting with the dark blue lakes, and moving
along to the bright green pastures, up the hill to the orange/yellow/red/dark
green trees on the hillsides, up further past the bare rock to the fresh white
snow on top, and we were lucky that above the hilltops everyday was clear blue
skies and bright yellow sun.
We spent most of our time
enjoying this beautiful scenery, walking every day in the hills, with a brief
stop to experience some culture in Hallstatt and Salzburg. Our last three days
were spent in Vienna as we had friends visiting from the UK, and visited some
friends who now live in there.
The route: Villach – Gailtal Alps – Grossglockner High Alpine
Pass – Zell am See – Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves – Filzmoos – Hallstatt – Salzburg
– Mondsee – Melk – Vienna
Gailtal Apls – A wonderful first hike in Austria. Our walk was
meant to start from Dolomitenhutte, a mountain hut up at the top of a toll
road. After taking Scooby a little way up the very steep narrow ‘road’ at the
base of the hill, I decided enough was enough and we parked him before the toll
road began and hiked the rest. It meant we didn’t quite have time to reach our
final destination before dark but starting in the mountain pastures was really
nice. We worked our way up towards the shear rock tops where the bright yellow
of the trees clashed amazingly with the bare grey cliffs.
Grossglockner High Apline Pass – This day was equal parts terrifying and stunning. RAC described the mountain road as ‘a magnificent test of man and machine’. Well Scooby and our nerves were certainly tested. Before we even got to the toll where the road officially starts, Scooby had climbed 700 meters and had almost over heated, so we had to take a rest by the side of the road for a while. We debated whether this was a ridiculous idea, but Scooby cooled down while we chilled out and we decided to press on. Graham drove it all, I found it hard enough being a passenger. But once we stopped at the many rest places it was always worth it. Incredible views of freshly snow covered mountains all around. We managed a few short walks but snow cover had already closed some areas. Scooby reached the top at 2504 meters above sea level!!! He then failed to start again….. Not sure why but he just kept stalling. There was a slight incline on the parking area, maybe he was knackered, maybe the altitude?! We decided to try and reduce the load so Graham stood at the side with various heavy water carriers and finally Scooby managed to start, and we were off again… once Graham joined us up the hill carrying our water supply. The way down also had many stops to rest the brakes. At one stop we could see 6 glaciers! Once at the bottom we immediately parked for the night and drank some beer to settle our nerves.
Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves – A very ‘cool’ experience. To get to the cave you have to drive up a narrow pass. We decided after Grossglockner to leave Scooby at the bottom and get the shuttle bus. There is then a walk, an incredibly speedy cable car and a further walk to the top, all offering great views. The cave at the top is the biggest ice cave in the world. They don’t use any artificial electric lighting, so we were given small gas lights to guide the way. We walked on small and extremely steep wooden stairs through walls of ice which in areas were 25 meters thick.
Filzmoos – This was my favourite day. We walked from 11am – 7pm, covered around 13 miles and around 700meters of elevation. The walk started in a town along a stream, then gently climbed through woods, up into green hill pastures, past a very lively mountain hut, round a small but beautiful lake, and up until we were alone, walking along the bottoms of the steep cliffs at the top. The views in the distance were insane, rows and rows of snow topped mountains.
Here are some photos of the three lakes we went to. Zell am See a large lake at the base of a ski resort, nice scenery around but the lake didn’t have the wow factor I was expecting. Maybe because it was somewhere on the wish list for a while so my expectations were too high. Hallsatt See was beautiful, clear water and steep hills all around gave it a fjord-like feel. We had a lovely kayak in the sunshine and the following morning I braved the cold waters for a refreshing autumn swim. We had a brief stop at Mondsee on route to Vienna. A small town with a famous sound of music church which sits on one side of the lake and gentle hills around the rest.
Hallsatt – What a strange place! There is lots of hype around this little town. The town has 800 residents and gets around 1 million tourist a year! Its so popular with Chinese tourists that they have even built a replica in China. Yes, it is a pretty village and a very pretty lake. But if you travel around Austria you will see many houses of similar architecture and much nicer surrounding hills. We spent a peaceful day kayaking and decided to go to the town in the evening when we thought it might have quietened down. We were wrong, there were still coach loads of tourists. I wanted to enjoy the village but the main thing I took away from it was how incredibly self-obsessed people are. Unfortunately, we have seen this lots when travelling, but nowhere quite like Hallsatt. No one seems to be looking at the scenery everyone is just taking selfie after selfie, slightly rearranging their hair, slightly different pout, sunglasses on, sunglasses off and then repeat in a different area. If you don’t like crowds and you aren’t obsessed with Instagram I personally wouldn’t bother going.
Salzburg – beautiful city (more like large town) situated either side of the gorgeous blue Salzach river and surrounded by hills. The predominant architecture is baroque with large white and pastel coloured buildings giving the city a very clean and open feel. There are many impressive churches and wide open squares. If, like Graham, you’re a fan of Sound of Music then you can also have fun spotting the film backdrops.
Vienna – We had a lovely weekend in Vienna because two of my oldest friends Harriet and Georgi visited us. We spent our first morning in the natural history museum, a beautiful building with some very well-preserved exhibits but not quite enough interpretation or education. Lunch was at Naschmarkt, which seems predominantly owned by the same falafel chain. In the afternoon we covered all the sights in central Vienna (from the outside, unless free to go in) scession building, opera house, cathedral, the river, all the squares, Spanish riding school, the library, museum quarter and the town hall. Day two we met for a walk around Schonbrunner palace grounds, we also walked around Belvedere palace, went to see the funky Hundertwasserhaus, scootered around Jesuitenwiese park and over the other side of the river and strolled along new daunbe. We had some great suggestions from a friend on places to eat and drink so very much enjoyed that side of Vienna. The city reminded us of London but on a small scale (with a much cleaner and efficient transport system). In our opinion Vienna is missing the cute old town feel of a lot of other European capitals we visited. There’s no narrow cobbled streets to explore and get lost in and we didn’t find a quirky independent quarter to wander around. Most of its attractions are very expensive to go in, so the city doesn’t suit the budget traveller. We finished our trip with a visit to an old university friend and spent a lovely afternoon catching up with her, her husband, their dog and their very cute 6 month old baby girl. Thanks for the hospitality Fani! A lovely way to end our visit to Austria.
After Slovenia, we decided to head south to Croatia and Italy to try and cling on to summer before we begin our slow journey back up north. Time is starting to run out for our Europe trip and each country is getting less time than it deserves. We just dipped into Northern Croatia for 6 days and had 4 days exploring north eastern Italy om route to Austria.
Croatia Route: Risnjak National Park, Krk Island (Omišalj,
Vrbnik), Opatija, Učka Nature Park, Pula, Premantura peninsula, Rovinj, Limski
Italy Route: Trieste, Miramare castle, Sistiana, Parco Naturale Regionale delle Prealpi Giulie, Lago di Fusine, Julian Alps
Wildlife: Our first day in Croatia was spent inland exploring
Risnjak national park with its rolling hills, endless woodland and rocky
outcrops. While stopping for lunch we heard a very exciting noise. A bear
calling. My heart started beating so fast, it was such an incredible experience
to be sat in the woods, no one else around, just listening to the bear.
Thankfully it was a little distance away so we could eat our lunch without the
bear trying to steal any!
Exploring: The rest of our time in Croatia was spent
on the coast. Largely snorkelling, hiking, swimming and cycling. The water was
incredibly clear, not much in terms of seaweed but plenty of fish. We also had
a snorkel through a large bloom of comb jellies. Ucka nature park provided
great views out across the many islands in Northern Croatia. And cycling from
beach to beach in Premanture peninsula was great fun.
Towns: With the exception of Optija (which was
touristy with nothing to see and no atmosphere) we really liked the small towns
we visited in Croatia. Highlights were: Pula which had an Italian vibe with
roman architecture, squares, lots of locals enjoying the cafes & bars, a
lovely food market and some classic cars. Rovinji was also very cute with
houses right up to the edge of the water, some lovely independent shops and
galleries and tiny narrow streets.
Vanlife: Croatia is not an easy place to be in a campervan. Wild camping is illegal, campsites are very expensive and in the Autumn some are already closed for the year. We were very glad we went in Autumn though, the descriptions of campsites, towns and beaches we visited sounded overwhelmingly busy with tourists in the prime summer months.
Wildlife: We thought hearing the bear call in Croatia was cool, but Italy totally topped it with one of the most amazing wildlife experiences I’ve had to date. We didn’t see any bears unfortunately, but yet again heard them calling; one while having lunch and then a few of them while we were sat in the van in the evening. They were calling really loud and close-by, and they didn’t stop all night! I hardly slept I was so excited. I tried looking for them but it was far too dark. From the sound I definitely think there was one in the carpark with us. To be alone, just us, scooby, the mountains and the sound of wild bears was insane! An evening I will never forget! An evening that makes you feel so lucky to be exploring Europe and to be doing it vanlife style in amazing natural spots.
I have no photos of the bears so here is a blurry chamois and snake instead.
Exploring: We had one day on the coast swimming and
walking along the cliffs at Sistiana, and managed two days in the mountains.
The weather was cloudy on our second day so the endless views were not so good,
but the surrounding peaks incredible, autumn trees were beautiful and the cloudy
atmosphere was peaceful. We also squeezed in a walk around Lago de Fusine and I
braved a swim in the refreshing crystal clear lake.
Town: We visited Trieste, and within half an hour of
arriving had found ourselves some coffee ice cream. A good way to cram in two
of Italy’s top delicacies in a short space of time. Trieste is supposedly quite
an un-Italian city, but we couldn’t tell. It has a huge marina, grand old
buildings along the waterfront, big squares, nice churches and lots of people
out enjoying the café culture.
Vanlife: Van life in Italy was much easier. Our first
night was spent in the hills behind Trieste, our second night right by a marina.
ThenItaly provided two of our favourite wild camping spots of the trip.
Two nights of just scooby and the mountains, not one other van and hardly another
We will definitely be back to explore Italy via van again.
What a country! It’s now the second favourite country we’ve visited because of its nonstop rolling hills and beautiful landscapes; combined with the extremely friendly and welcoming people, and lovely towns (Norway can’t be shaken off that no 1 spot, but Slovenia has just pipped Slovakia to no 2). We also had our friend Jonny visiting for the most part, so that made it extra great. He hired a car (as we unfortunatly only have 2 road worthy seats) and kipped on the floor in scooby – it was fun fitting 3 of us in the van!
Our route: Ptuj – Raeče fishponds -Maribor – Pohorje – Ljubljana – Vintgar
gorge & Lake Bled – Vogel mountain & Lake Bohinj– Soca Valley –
Skocjanski Nature Resersve – Piran – Strunjan to Izola – Škocjan caves
Let’s start with the
Literally everyone we met (people
out walking, campsite owners, people at the bar, the market, ticket offices) was
incredibly friendly, helpful and happy.
Wild camping in Slovenia is illegal (which is the only downside to the country), but instead of paying for expensive campsites, sometimes you can find other businesses who have a little patch of land on their site and will let you stay for about a third of the price. On our first evening with Jonny we stayed at an agro-services business out in the countryside. When we arrived, the mother of the business-owner greeted us and was very friendly, offering us coffee and biscuits.
The following morning, we met the owner and his father who insisted giving us some local wine to try. At first, we thanked them but tried to make some excuses as it was 11am! But it’s hard to say no when someone is so friendly. So, we found ourselves in their kitchen with a large glass of very delicious white wine. The father couldn’t speak English, but his son was acting as translator for us and we had a lovely chat. Another son came along purely to say hello. We then ended up having a little piano recital in the owner’s bedroom, and found ourselves singing along to “Piano-Man” already a little fuzzy at 11.30am. He tried to persuade us to stay and try some local schnapps, but we did want to see Ljubljana that day so reluctantly declined. We all regretted this decision later as we had such a nice time with them. It was the best way to start a country.
Once in Ljubljana we walked around the market where all the vendors were really friendly. I brought a broccoli, which I was very excited about as they don’t sell them in supermarkets, and the lady gave me 3 free carrots. Simple gesture but I was beyond happy about her kindness.
The following day on our walk, everyone we passed said hello to us. One couple asked if we knew where Vintgar gorge was. I assumed they were lost and started to explain how to get there. Turned out they knew exactly where they were, but just wanted to be able to help us in case we didn’t know. The friendliness seems to be compulsive.
Another occasion that sticks out was when we stayed on some land owned by a small scale winey for free (it had great views overlooking the Adriatic Sea). The following morning the owner showed us the wine they were in the middle of processing and took us to see their wine cellar. We tried some homemade schnapps and obviously couldn’t resit buying some wine.
I’ll let the photos do most
of the talking here. Hopefully they will give you an idea of how stunning it
was. Just merely driving around was hard work because the scenery was so
First couple of days we
visited Race fishpond for some bird watching action and Pohrojre hills
right on the doorstep of Maribor town.
One of the most visited
nature spots in Slovenia, because of its proximity to Ljubljana, is Lake Bled.
And its easy to see why as it’s a beautifully clear lake. We visited it on a
grey but atmospheric day, went for a walk around the lake, took a rowing boat
across to the island and had a quick evening swim. Behind the lake is the
beautiful clear Vintgar Gorge. You have to pay €10 to walk right alongside it, which is beyond our
budget, so we took a walk up in the hills and looked down onto it.
On one of the days we got a cable car up towards the mountain of Vogel in the Julian Alps to save our legs for a day of walking along the mountain tops. There were incredible views down through the clouds to Lake Bohinji (an equally beautiful lake and a lot less developed and touristy than Bled), as well as across to more mountains and even out to sea. This was the first view of the sea we had for 7 weeks and to see it from a mountain was our version of heaven. The day ended with a refreshing swim in the lake.
We spent a day exploring the Soca
Valley, walking alongside the turquoise river, paddling (far too cold to
swim), stopping at the otherworldly Kozjak waterfall, the impressive Boka
waterfall where the water comes straight from source and drops 106 meters over
the cliff. Our final stop was at the stunning ‘Grand Canyon’ of Soca.
We visited Skocjanski
nature reserve at the wrong time of year for birds but both me and Jonny
(who is a reserve warden) felt at home amongst the grazing marsh and reedbeds.
And we both geeked out over the incredible hide. 4 Storeys! Including an
underwater level so you could watch the fish and frogs in the reedbeds!
Slovenia has a tiny strip of
coast, but man it was so good to be back at the sea! We wandered around the
coastal town of Piran for about 45 minutes before I couldn’t resist the
urge to go swimming (I never visit the coast without a bikini in my bag). The following
day we had a lush walk along the cliffs of Strunjan looking down onto
the turquoise waters. We walked through some olive trees and down to the
coastal town of Izola. We also went snorkelling over a seagrass bed dotted
with huge clams.
Our last day was in the Karst
region with rolling wooded hills and limestone outcrops. We visited the Skocjan
caves where we repeatedly said ‘wow’ and ‘this is insane’. The cave had everything you could want – all
the stalagmites and tites and huge underground chambers. The Reka river runs
through the cave and has created a massive cavern ~100 meters high and ~60
meters wide. During spring floods the river can fill the cavern to above the
bridge we walked on at about 60 meters high. We walked on a ledge about half
way up the cavern, crossing over small wooden bridges on dimly light paths. We
felt like we were in lord of the rings! It was such an insane space to be in.
Every city and town we visited was lovely. Clean, colourful, independent, and interesting. Ptju was like the Slovenian Totnes (Devon), one main street of independent and alternative art galleries and cafes along a river, and a small castle. Maribor was clean, quiet, pretty and famous for wine made with the world’s oldest productive vine (440 years old). Ljubljana was a capital I would be happy to live in, small and compact and filled with independent shops and cafés, and surrounded by hills and mountains. Piran and Izola were the perfect quaint old seaside towns.
Ptuj, Maribor, Piran:
My new future plan is to move to Slovenia and open an affordable campsite. Feel free to come visit.
We were originally planning on spending two weeks in Hungary
before travelling west into Slovenia. But our first week was spent exploring
western Hungary with a couple of friends and we thought travelling back east to
then travel back west was a bit silly. So we looked at a map and decided on a
small trip to Serbia and a dip into North Eastern Croatia before heading to
Slovenia to meet up with another friend.
Serbia was very much unknown. All of the countries (bar Germany)
have been fairly unknown as we had never visited them before. But Serbia we literally
knew nothing about, apart from its troubled past. It doesn’t usually appear in
travel programmes, friends haven’t explored there, don’t know about their football
teams…. So we were very excited to discover a tiny part of the country.
Subotica, Novi Sad, Sremski Karlovci, Fruska Gora NP, Belgrade
What we learned
People: The people are great! Everyone seemed so friendly,
very expressive, quite loud but in a chatty way, and they seem to know how to
have a great time. We were really impressed by the amount of people outdoors.
In the national park everyone, literally everyone was there having picnics, all
the family relaxing in the woods, with BBQs, fires, camping tables, tablecloths,
games and of course drinks. It was so nice to see. In the UK this happens on
the odd occasion when it’s super sunny and Brighton beach might be full or the
parks in London, but this was different. It wasn’t incredibly sunny, the atmosphere
was very friendly, there was no rubbish on the floor and largely people were
there as family unit. Also, in the city, families were out in force during the weekday
evenings, relaxing in the squares or playing in the parks creating such a nice friendly
Landscape: Northern Serbia is FLAT. Pancake flat, even flatter than Norfolk. And they seem to grow one crop. Field after field after field of sweetcorn. This makes the small hilly ridge of Fruska Gora National Park a very exciting change in scenery. Lovely woods, dotted with monasteries and in the foothills there were vineyards, orchards and bee hives. Apparently the South of Serbia holds much more exciting landscapes with mountains, so we hope we can go back and explore there one day.
City life: We visited 1 town and 3 cities including the capital Belgrade. All of them had some interesting architecture especially Subotica with Hungarian influences and many art nouveau buildings. Novi Sad had some lovely wide pedestrianised streets filled with cafes and bars and a big old river. Belgrade had everything, a big castle park with great views over the river, pedestrianised shopping streets, cobbled roads with quirky shops and bars, a standard modern area but with lovely bars, parks full of life and several grand churches including the most amazing, goose bump creating crypt.
Subotica and Novi Sad:
Food & drink: We weren’t there long enough to get a real flavour of food and drink. But we did go to a really nice vegetarian restaurant called Mandala, were amongst other things we ate some revolutionary chickpea fries. And I can confirm Serbian white wine and Serbian beer is very good. And although we didn’t sample any, bakeries seem very popular selling lots of flaky pastry and tiny sausage rolls.
A dip into Croatia
We were heading back to Croatia after meeting a friend in
Slovenia so our first visit was a quick two days on route from Serbia. We had
one day in the capital Zagreb and one day exploring the Medvednica hills behind
As capitals go Zagreb has a pretty small and compact centre.
One side has shopping streets, and a big U shaped park including a botanical
garden. On the other side, crossing over a busy road with trams, cars and bikes,
is the older part of the city. Here you will find the cathedral, lively cobbled
streets with lots of cafes and up on the hill the oldest part, a quiet area
with nice views and all the museums. Graham really liked Zagreb; I thought it
was nice for a day but not a huge amount to do and it didn’t have the atmosphere
of our previous capital Belgrade.
The Medvdenica hills are a great thing to have on the doorstep
of a capital. Lots of hiking trails through the woods leading to some open
views at the top due to a few ski runs.
Everyone should go its beautiful! All the mountains, nice
people, loads of rolling green views dotted with blue water. We didn’t want to
leave. Blog Post Done!
Ok I’ll go into some more detail….
Western, Low and High Tatra Mountains – Slovak Paradise – Levoca & Spis Castle – Kosice – Slovak Karst – Po’lana – Banska Stavinka – Bratislava
A beautiful mountain range with lots of great hiking – we
could have stayed there forever. We had gorgeous sunshine every day, but you had
to be off the mountain by early afternoon when the thunderstorms started on
most days. There aren’t many things that make me get out of bed early – first
ski lift when there’s fresh snow and now the Tatra mountains.
Getting into the centre of the mountain range is tricky, but many of the fringing peaks are accessible with well marked trails. We went to two ski towns where we cheated a bit and saved our legs on the ascent or descent by getting chair lifts and cable cars. This gave us more time and energy for walking around the top of the mountains.
We visited a couple of incredibly beautiful mountain tarns where unfortunately for humans, but fortunate for nature protection, swimming is forbidden.
The sheerness and density of the peaks in the Tatras was a sight we will never forget.
Slovak paradise is just south of the Tartra mountains,
it is mainly made up of wooded valleys and steep gorges, and the hiking involves
tiny ladders and skinny ledges on cliffs. Although I love mountains, I’m
actually quite scared of heights; so we did a tame version of Slovak paradise
with an easy walk to a view point, an ice cave and some paddle boarding and
swimming in Lake Dedinky.
Our visit to Slovak Karst was a little unplanned, but
it turned out that we camped on a great hiking route. We had a lovely loop up
and down a hill to some waterfalls, a castle and back up and down a hill again
– this kept up our average of 10 miles of walking a day while in Slovakia.
Our journey to Po’lana National Park was quite…. erm …… exciting?! We drove at night up a terrifyingly narrow road with lots of potholes to a camp spot we read about online. When we got to the top we checked how far up we were, to which Grahams said ‘What the f#*k is Scooby doing at 1250 meters above sea level!!’ Then we drank some beer to calm our nerves. The next day’s walk was pretty easy as it turned out we had basically accidentally driven to the top!
Our last nature-based activity was a relaxing walk around
the rolling hills and picturesque village of Banska Stavinka.
So, it turns out the Slovakians love a drink, no matter what
time, day of the week or location. Lots of people were already drinking pints
as we started some of our walks at 9am. We had a rather funny experience on one
of our walks, passing alongside a group who were doing shots at the top of the
mountain and then running down 100 meters to stop and take a breather while
doing another round of shots and then repeating this all the way down the
mountain. But, the best drinking sight had to be a nun in full ‘costume’ with a
As well as the drinking, Slovakians also seemed like very
friendly people. There were lots of people spending time outside with their
families, mostly walking or mushroom picking and giving us lots of friendly
hellos (or more specially Dobrydens /
ahoys / caios ) as we passed.
All the towns we visited (Levoca, Kosice, Banksa Stavincka) were really nice with some lovely architecture and quite a slow pace of life.
Bratislava was my kind of capital – small for a city never mind a capital, the lovely blue Danube flowing through it, nice old town and great food and drink (incredible vegan donuts).
The only one tiny negative about Slovakia is its not next to
the coast otherwise I would move there instantly.