Day 40-41: Three Slovenian Slaps*!

Heading south we were very relieved to find the roads were fortunately wider and far less steep than our first taste of Slovenian motoring – which meant the blood could return to my hands as I didn’t need to grip hold of the side of the passenger seat in panic! On our way to our next stop of Kobarid we stopped by the pretty town of Bovec, which looked like it had a lot to offer – especially if you’re into mountain sports.

Back on the road we stumbled across Slovenia’s highest waterfall – Boka – and decided to pull over and take the short (if steep) walk up to the viewpoint. As you can see it’s quite an impressive sight…

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On arriving at our campsite we headed into the centre of Kobarid to pick up some information and maps, ready to plan our next few days. The town was sleepier than Bovec, but still had a lovely feel to it – nicely untouristy, but very welcoming.

The next day we woke early to try to avoid the scorching temperatures and began our walk to Slap Kozjak – yet another Slovenian waterfall, but this time with some history thrown in as our route followed part of the Peace Path through WWI trenches. The trenches were fascinating, serving as a somber reminder of past events.

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As we walked further the sun began to break through the trees and we heard the sound of rushing water; scrambling down a bank we came across a small, but perfectly formed waterfall. With the beautiful light it was magical, easily as pretty as any we’d seen before, and we hadn’t even reached Slap Kozjak yet!

Clambering back out of our oasis we carried on up the path in anticipation of what we might see and after more scrambling (and some rather sketchy looking paths) we emerged to find the main event! The stunning, fast-flowing and super noisey waterfall that is Slap Kozjak!

Having snapped away we continued on the Historical Kobarid Trail, going steeply uphill to reach Tonocor Grad – where we interrupted a mountain goat quietly having its breakfast! We spent a while looking around this ancient settlement, finding it hard to believe that the walls we were walking around were thousands of years old.

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After admiring the views over the valley below it was time to go downhill finally, to our last stop of St Anton. An impressive monument to Italy’s 7,000 plus WWI victims, it stands proud on the hillside surrounding the existing 16th century church.

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Arriving back in the village Rob was on a mission to find out about climbing and mountain biking opportunities in the area. First stop was the Prana climbing shop, where the owner Nat gave us loads of advice and  offered to go bouldering with Rob if he could get out of work on time! Next we headed to Positive Sport – who specialise in mountain biking – to find out about hire and guiding. Again they were super helpful and friendly, even volunteering workshop space so Rob could try to fix his poorly bike! It was very clear that our short stay in the area would not be long enough to even scratch the surface of what is around here – if Rob ever goes AWOL you’ll likely find him somewhere in the Soca Valley 🙂

Knackered after our early morning adventures we headed back to the campsite for super-strong, super-cheap macciattos, ice-cream and our first BBQ of the trip!

* Rather unfortunately the Slovenian word for waterfall is ‘slap’! Still it could be worse, it could be the Croatian word for whipped cream…

Day 39: The long walk to…Trenta!

Waking up to perfect blue skies and the serenity of our campsite, we thought that it would be a good idea to take a little stroll in the countryside to see what Slovenia had to offer.

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We looked at some of the info we’d collected from reception and had spotted a trail that followed the Soca river upstream, via some points of interest, to a town called Trenta. Having spoken with the owner of the site – and being assured that it was an easy walk – we set off, map in hand and ready for a days walking.

Immediately we could see that we were in for some stunning scenery with the river showing off its amazing milky-turquoise colour as it rushed by. After following the trail for a short while, we started to think that maybe the local idea of an ‘easy’ trail was not like anywhere else as we clambered along a very narrow path which would not have been out of place in a Indiana Jones film! Some time later we emerged (sadly without the Lost Ark) from our jungle experience, only to find that the ‘real’ trail had been just above us, but out of site the whole time. Vowing not to make the same mistake again, we pressed on to our goal of Trenta. We won’t bore you with a full description of the whole walk (the photos should give you a good idea!), but it included stunning views, very bouncy bridges and another small detour!

After about 4 hours we arrived at Trenta expecting a large village, only to find a very small hamlet with a tiny tourist information office, a guest house, a restaurant and one shop! Sandwiches devoured, ice cream enjoyed and water topped up, we began the return journey, this time following the path properly!

To start with the way back felt much easier and faster, as we retraced our steps back down-stream. On the way up we had been past a farm that sold local speciality cheeses – we felt it would be very rude not to stop and least try some, so stop we did! All of the cheese was from sheep milk and very, very tasty so a small purchase of soft sheeps cheese preserved in olive oil was made, ready for dinner!

It was at this point that the distance covered started to make itself known in our legs, but knowing that we had done the hardest bit, we pressed on, admiring the differed views and briefly stopping at the prettiest small farmhouse that I think we have ever seen (the photos just don’t do it justice!).

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Finally after 7 hours and about 16 miles we made it back to base, hot and tired, but having had a great day and now being totally in love with the amazing Slovenian countryside.

The only way that it’s possible to recover after a full day out like this, is with the tried and tested method of beer and food, in this case large pizzas all round!

 

 

 

Day 36-38: 44 hours in no man’s land!!

After an amazing visit to the ice caves we started the slow decent down the mountain and onto the motorway towards Slovenia. We took the steep, hairpin road slowly as whilst the BFG looks tough she’s getting on a bit and is well loaded with everything from surfboards, bikes, food, wine, books, clothes and toiletries! We were both relieved to get to the bottom with only a few squeaks from the brakes, however once we’d got onto the motorway she let us know how hard that had been as she started playing up. With things not feeling right we decided to pull over at the next services; unsure of what the problem was and deciding another few hours drive to Slovenia was a bad idea we found the nearest IVECO garage and headed in that direction. As it was a Saturday afternoon the garage was closed, so we have no choice but to hang around until it opened again on Monday morning.

Cue 40 plus hours in a little campsite nearby, in the Austrian village of St Johann im Pongau. It was a nice little town, with plenty of shops, restaurants and walking route to follow but as it did not stop raining for the whole time we were there we spent a lot of time blogging and catching up on life in the special TV/internet room. To call it special was an understatement; this room was home to two stuffed beavers, wonky paintings, framed embroidery, weird christmasequse decorations and a musky smell as it was located in the basement. It will be forever known as the ‘beaver room’.

On Monday we woke early and headed to the garage, where luckily they spoke perfect english. The friendly mechanic checked over the brakes and wheel bearings, however he couldn’t find anything wrong and put it down to the steep decent from the ice caves. Feeling mainly relieved – and now even more cautious of mountain passes – we headed back to the campsite ready to head off and were soon whizzing along the motorway towards Slovenia.

Unlucky for us to final road into the Soca valley is via a very windy (and sometime steep) mountain pass, so we took it as slowly as we could and made it in one piece to an idyllic campsite where we were the only ones in our field and overlooking beautiful, snow-capped mountains. It was the perfect setting and made all the better as the sun started peeking out after several days of grey clouds and rain!

Day 36: Ice, ice baby!

Today was a short drive to Eisriesenwelt, the largest ice caves in the world. It began with a slow drive up a very big hill, with a gradient of up to 21%, forgetting about the park-and-ride bus service that could have done the hard work for us!

There are two options for getting up to the cave entrance; the easy way via a three minute cable car and the hard way being a 90 minute hike covering a 600m height gain. We originally planned on hiking up, however getting advice from the info desk and seeing photos of a particularly exposed trail with a (near) sheer drop on one side we decided to swallow our pride and join the ‘larger’ tourists in the cable car – I know we sound prejudiced, however one particular lady complained about being out of breath having only taken a dozen steps from the cable car down (!!) to the path!

Out of the cable car we were greeted with an amazing view of the valley below and snow-topped mountains above, but at this point we still couldn’t see the entrance to the cave. Ten minutes later up a gravel trail we arrived at the entrance and began layering up, having read the cave temperature is below freezing.

Our tour guide – a young, dread-locked Austrian who was clearly waiting for the snowboarding season to start again – handed out lanterns and told us to prepare to be amazed! Cynical as we are we didn’t know what to expect, as other ‘must see’ tourist attractions haven’t lived up to the hype, however on entering the cave we weren’t let down!

The caves are 42km long, fortunately we were only walking the first (and most icy) kilometre! To describe the caves themselves is quite hard, as you really need to experience them yourself, however from the moment we entered we were greeted by amazing ice columns, stalactites and formations that had a magical quality to them. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos in the caves to protect them (and prevent the selfie brigade slowing down the tours), however here are a few photos from their website.

This is one tourist attraction that we think is most definitely worth the visit!

Day 35: Salzberg, Austria

As we’re British we should mention the weather and sadly now common theme of biblical rain storms! Yet more fell overnight leaving the campsite a little lakey, however we did our best to block it out (and dodge puddles) as we grabbed the bus into town!

Our first stop was the fortress, standing proud on the edge of the old town. We wandered up, had a look around the outer perimeter and admired the views over the city before heading down to the Dom Cathedral and St Peter’s Catacombs. We paid a colossal €4 entry to the catacombs and walked up the steep narrow staircase, revealing a series of caves complete with alter, tombs and baroque murals. Unlike the ones we’d visited in Paris, for us anyway, these seemed unusual as they were carved out of the Mönchsberg rock rather than being underground.

After emerging into the sunshine we had a walk around the surrounding streets and squares, dodging tour guides, horse drawn carriages, pavement painters, souvenir stands and beggars before grabbing a bite to eat in a pretty garden behind the Colligiate church.

After food we popped into the church to find a wonderful, bright space with amazing light and beautiful sculptures. It was a refreshing change from other more traditional and darker churches that we have seen recently and really showed off the building’s structure.

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We had a quick detour via St Blaise’s church before heading over to Mirabell Gardens, but not before learning about the Austrian-Yugoslavian labour agreement which lead to thousands of migrates coming from Yugoslavia to help support the dwindling Austrian workforce. Quite topical considering this Thursday’s vote!!

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Day 33-34: Terrific Tirol!

We headed back up into the mountains today, this time to explore the Hall valley and its salt mining heritage. On the advice of the tourist board we decided to try the historical mining route, taking us up 800 vertical metres of steep mountain road. Initially the route was on well marked paths, with boards dotted along the way providing information on the history of salt mining in the area. It was good to be able to learn a little more and they also provided a little respite from the tough gradient!! About two-thirds of the way up the path veers left towards an old mining church and is also home to a lovely looking cafe! We ploughed on upwards, but vowed to return on the way back for coffee and cake!

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After another kilometre or so we reached the end of the trail, where we found the officer’s headquarters but no salt mine! We’d seen several closed mines along the way, however the gem of the walk was meant to be an illuminated open mine you could see 100m or so down. Sadly we couldn’t find it anywhere, but we did come across an honesty bar hidden away in one of the outbuilding in the officer’s headquarters!

Mine-less we decided to head a little higher to make the most of the views and on walking another half an hour or so we can across a beautiful valley full of wild flowers. Luckily the path back to St Magdalena took us though the meadow and allowed us to enjoy amazing alpine vistas.

After a slightly wet and slippy decent we reached the cafe – having seen two ibex in the woods on the way!! – and had a well earned break with coffee, apple strudel and baked cheese cake! Luckily it was all downhill on the way back and we managed to get back to the van just before the rain arrived to spend another night in sheltering from the downpour!

The next day we headed back into Hall to enjoy a cooking class with Petra’s Kitchen, that was organised by the lovely people at the tourist board. Here we learnt to make kärntner nudeln, a hybrid between italian ravioli and wheat dumplings. They were very tasty, with a rich dough and creamy cheese, leek and herb filling. Definitely something we could try to make in the van and rolling out the dough would be a good upperbody workout! Petra was a great teacher and it was lovely to spend time with a local who, like us, also has a keen interest in travel, photography and food!!

It was finally time to leave Hall and head east to Salzberg, having spent a wonderful few days here. We’d highly recommend it as an area to visit, as the town and surrounding areas have a lot to offer, and your first port of call should definitely be the tourist office!

Day 31-32: Hall-o Austria!!

Leaving our campsite on the German/Austrian border we headed east to Innsbruck, with the plan to explore the city in the afternoon. We decided on a campsite on the outskirts, however on arriving we discovered that Hall in Tirol was actually a lovely town in its own right and decided to spend the afternoon exploring here rather than heading into Innsbruck.

We wandered around the charming old town, with its sunny square and beautiful churches, stopping at the tourist office to get a little more information on the wider area. They were very helpful, offering advice of walking routes, transport into Innsbruck and letting us know about the free activities they ran as part of a wider Hall-Wattens programme. We immediately signed up yoga the next morning and set about planning our next few days (over a cheeky few beers in the town square!).

Up early the next day we headed down for our 8am yoga session only to find we were the only guests there and everyone else worked for the tourist board! It was a great start to the day, with an instructor who spoke perfect english and afterwards we were invited for coffee and cake! We had a good chat with one of the ladies from the tourist board who filled us in on the history of Hall and what else there was to do in the area, before we talked about the EU, migration and politics. From there we headed into Innsbruck, but not before booking ourselves into a cooking lesson with the tourist board later that week.

Getting off the train at Innsbruck we headed in the general direction of their tourist information, through pretty streets and squares, but as with parts of Norway and Germany we were soon engulfed by tourist masses so headed over the river and up to the botanical gardens. They weren’t on the same scale as the ones in Copenhagen, but very nice none-the-less.

After admiring the gardens we headed to the Foto Forum to see what it was about, however it was still closed so we grabbed a cheeky slice of pizza instead and found a sunny spot in a park to scoff it. Suitably stuffed we headed in the direction of the ski jump which felt a little like the walk to Grenen – it must be close because we can see it, even though it never seemed to get closer! After a rather steep hill we emerged at the ski jump and were in luck, the German national team were there to practice! It was awesome seeing them soaring through the air; from the bottom it looked impressive, but from the top it was even better – both amazing and terrifying!!

Having spent an hour or so at the jump – watching the team practice, learning more about the history of ski jumping, admiring the olympic rings and torch and taking in the views – we felt a change in the air and headed back in the direction of the station before the heavens opened. We nearly made it to the train, running the past five minutes or so in the heavy rain, before heading back to Hall for a very wet evening in the van!

Day 26-30: Germany, guten tag und auf wiedersehen

Our time in Germany was short but sweet, visiting a different town everyday! There were our highlights…

Schwerin
A large, pleasant market town where we spent a few hours strolling around, grabbing some essentials and stopping off to see the castle. Located on an island in the middle of a lake, the castle was rather impressive – ornate towers stood proud against the skyline, whilst behind it a walled garden surrounded by an orangery was divided from the lawns and river by a decorative stone walkway.

Our verdict? If you’re in the area it’s worth stopping by for a few hours…

Leipzig
We came to Leipzig for two reasons; firstly their 360 degree panorama and secondly their renowned zoo. But first a word of caution – if you’re in a campervan parking is very limited (and expensive) which we found out the hard way!

360 Panorama: In the words of the leaflet “the 360 degree panorama of the coral reef…portrays the unique underwater world…in all it’s fragile beauty and complexity on a 1:1 scale”. It was both breath-taking and mesmerising, transporting you to another world.

We started with a pre-panorama exhibition focusing on the amazing reef environment, including the coral, sealife and plants. It was fascinating to learn more about the reefs, however the star of the show and reason for our visit was unquestionably to panorama itself! On walking into the space we were blown away by the sheer scale; 30m high and 100m round of image depicting the great barrier reef in real life scale. The room was quite dimly lit meaning you have to get up close and personal to the image to appreciate the detail. In the centre of the room sat a five story tower which we began to walk up to experience the image from another angle; about halfway up the lighting changed and the whole panorama was bathed in light allowing us to see the image in all its glory. The detail and depth were amazing – so much better than our photos could ever show! – and the more you looked the more you saw; coral, fish, stingrays, turtles and divers all came to life. Once at the top of the tower we stood and soaked in the atmosphere created by the imagery, lighting and music. It really was a magical experience and one I would recommend to anyone, whether you’re a marine enthusiast or not.

Zoo: For a city zoo Leipzig is very impressive! Split into five zones it’s home to everything from elephants and rhinos to lions and cheetahs, gorillas and chimpanzees to crocodiles and turtles! We had a great few hours exploring the zoo both on foot and by boat; oh’ing at the tigers, laughing at the orangutans and enjoying a boat ride through gondwanaland!

Our verdict? Definitely check out the panorama, as it’s very impressive! And if you coming by camper, caravan or anything bigger park outside the city and get public transport in – to save you time, money and hassle!!

Bamberg
Parking once again thwarted us with a park-and-ride system that didn’t cater for campervans so we arrived into the city centre about an hour after we hoped feeling a little frazzled! What greeted us was yet again a very pretty, characterful town full of narrow roads, streets and alleyways taking you to ancient church after church. There was lots to see and do – if you don’t mind the tourist crowds – from cathedrals to museums, people watching at cafes to walks.

Our verdict? Being a UNESCO world heritage site we should have expected the tourist masses, however maybe not as many as we found! A good place to see but in our view best to go out of season, really out of season. January or February maybe?

Landsberg am Lech
Whilst on paper Landsberg is your typical charming, historical German town it seems to have avoided the tourist masses making it feel (to us anyway) much more welcoming. For once (and to our great relief!!) parking was easy, allowing us to begin exploring the pretty market square, castle and river side.

Our verdict? We only found out about Landsberg by chance – via a Twitter post – and were very glad we did! Definitely one to visit if you’re in southern Germany.

Neuschwanstein Castle
After a very scenic detour due to roadworks (it turns out Germany isn’t all autobahns and was actually a series of roadworks, temporary traffic lights and detours for us anyway!) the castle finally came into view. A stunning structure sat high up on the mountain side, overlooking a beautiful lake. From a distance it really is a fairytale castle, however growing up around many castle ruins back in the UK, up close it was a slightly different story. On reaching the castle we were surprise by how ‘new’ it looked, discovering it was only built in the late 1800s and as such was purely a show of wealth by King Ludwig II rather than for fortification.

Our verdict? A good place to take children due to the fairytaleness, however for everyone else best viewed from a distance. There are lots of ‘real’ castles both in southern Germany and just over the border in Austria that we think would be a better visit and pose less risk of being hit with a wayward selfie stick!!

Day 25: Goodbye scandie land!!

After an earlyish start we headed south with the aim to reach Germany by the end of the day. We decided to head to Mons Klint first, an area famed for it’s white chalk cliffs and after a pleasant drive through pretty villages (with many, many speed bumps!) we arrived. 450 steps later we reached the beach to find crisp white cliffs falling straight into bright, crystal blue waters.

Back on the road – and via a quick stop for hot dogs with all the trimmings – we arrived at Rodby port to board the ferry and within 45 minutes we arrived in Puttgarden, Germany ready to head to our campsite for the night.

Day 23-24: Copenhagen, Denmark (it’s a long one, so best grab yourself a cuppa!)

A Swedish classic was crossed off the list today, with a trip to IKEA on our way to our next stop of Copenhagen. Before we knew it we were cruising over the Oresund bridge that links Sweden to Denmark and after a quick check-in at our campsite, we caught the train into the city ready for an afternoon of exploring.

As we got off the train we had high hopes for what we were about to find in this historical city, known for its design and architectural prowess. We would like to say that we weren’t disappointed, however after 45 minutes we were starting to wonder where this lovely city was. We headed for the much lauded Tivoli Gardens, looking forward to walking around, snacking on some popcorn and soaking up the atmosphere, however when we got there we found that we had to pay to get in and then for any rides on top. A little deflated we walked on, passing a large square where there was a stage set up blasting out bad Turkish music at part of a poorly attended event, surrounded by tacky stalls selling even tackier souvenirs – so far so bad! Undeterred we turned into Strogert – Europe’s largest pedestrianised street – once again we were underwelmed! It was a bad mix of all the worst parts of Oxford Street and Covent Garden, with masses of tourists and nothing but more souvenir shops and chain stores. We made a right turn off the street from hell both wondering what had gone wrong and hoping that in the words of Professor Brian Cox (and D:Ream) things can only get better, and to our relief they did!

We hit the river front and wandered along to Nyhavn; the architecture got interesting, the water gave us a sense of space and the city began to grow on us. On turning the corner to Nyhavn our spirits lifted, a pretty harbour bathed in sunlight full of people sipping coffee, drinking beer or enjoying a bite to eat. We stopped to soak up the atmosphere and take a few photos before crossing the river in sear of the Church of our Savior.

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What a structure, a beautiful church tower complete with a gilded external staircase you can walk up! We climbed the tower stairs, scrabbled through the roof timbers and emerged onto the spiral staircase to expansive views of the sun-drenched city. It was great to be able to make sense of the city, taking in where we’d already been and where we planned on going.

Having oh’ed, ah’ed and snapped away we came back down and headed in the direction of Christiania – or hippy-ville as I’ve has been calling it.

Having read about Christiania we (well me more than Rob) were intrigued to visit it; started as a commune for alternative thinkers in 1971 it consists of 34-hectares of ‘free city’ which have morphed from hippies selling seasonal veg and raising their children in an organic kindergarten to a lawless society where hash is sold openly on the streets. Parts of it had a free spirited atmosphere that we loved; walking down the hotch-potch streets we emerged in a square where a band were playing on stage and people stood around drinking beer and eating food. It had the smells, sounds and general feel of a festival and didn’t feel like the drug-ridden place the guidebooks hinted at. Yes the smell of weed lingered in the air, but there were no pushy dealers or dodgy transactions. We carried on walking and stumbled upon the not so friendly ‘pusher street’ where true to what we’d read there were stall after stall setting hash, skunk, brownies or whatever else took your fancy from your ‘friendly’ balaclava wearing dealer. It certainly felt less ‘free love’ and more ‘lose your mind’ with a weird sense of commercialism and exploration for the original cause!!

From Christiania we headed back to the river and to a bar we’d walked past earlier to enjoy an evening in the sunshine eating pulled pork, moules et frites, drinking beer and chatting to locals. A semi-boozy train ride later and we arrived back in at the campsite and fell into bed 🙂

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Day two in Copenhagen started slowly (something to do with all that beer the night before) and we didn’t make it into the centre until late morning. On the recommendation of one of the locals we met last night we headed in the direction of the Black Diamond – Denmark’s central library – to check out their photography museum. On route we came across a series of playful bridges, that jutted over the water for no apparent reason other than to provide entertainment to kids big and small!

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The Black Diamond was a very interesting building, glass fronted to the waterfront with bridges over the road to connect it to the older part of the structure. We have a brief look at their current photography exhibition before heading across the road to Christian IV Brewhouse, home to nearly 400 sculptures and statues, however unfortunately it was closed on Mondays so we carried on in the direction of the Design museum not knowing a theme for the day was starting to appear.

Peering through an alleyway we spied a fantastic square (and fountain) which we think was part of the official parliamentary gardens. Once again we wandered, admired and snapped away. Just outside we came across a very interesting exhibition focusing on child pregnancy and spent some time reading about teenage mums from Africa, Asia and America.

We continued onwards to the Design museum only to find this was closed on a Monday too! After a brief stop in the grounds of the city’s old fort, now open as a park offering great views of the city, we realised we were very close to the Little Mermaid statue and despite our better judgement went to have a look. It was as we expected – tour buses, souvenir stands and a queue of people wanting to have their photo taken in front of it!

Making a swift exit we headed to Ostre Anlaeg park and the Fine Art museum, only to find it was three in a row for closed museums which we had to laugh at! We carried on to the botanical gardens – which were actually open!! – to find an amazing (if stiflingly humid) palm house you could walk in and up! In need of refreshments after all the heat we walked down to Torvehallerne – a covered food market – where we grabbed coffee (Rob) and ice cream (me) and sat to watch the basketball at a nearby square.

Despite the three closed museums we have a wonderful time in Copenhagen. We learnt not to judge a city on first impressions and head away from the masses as soon as possible to start exploring the real city. It’s definitely a place we’d recommend others visit and would come again – with enough cash to enjoy Tivoli Gardens!