A Travellerspoint blog

Croatian Island Life

İsland Hopping Croatia's Dalmatian Coast

sunny 28 °C
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Away from the central European greenery we head, and into the striking marble and turquiose colours of the Croatian coast. As the weather begins to chill in the north of the continent (yep, the fleeces come out in September in Central Europe), Anouk and İ flee the cold like migrating birds and head south, seeking the mediterranean mildness and a light roasting under a quickly fading summer sun. We arrive in Split, choosing to skip the northern half of Croatia and concentrate on the islands of the Dalmatian Coast. Off the coast of Croatia is a veritable stepping stone of islands leading all the way down the Adriatic finally arriving in Dubrovnik. Our island life began in lovely Hvar... ahh, if only we had a yacht. The islands are a yachty's paradise, and the accumulated value of the boats moored in Hvar harbour would exceed most African countries GDP.

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The croats really know how to mingle the simple stone village charms with sophisticated restaurants and waterside bars, and we began to understand that a sandy beach is actually an undesireable feature. When contrasted with the classy rockside cafe surrounded by people lounging on flat white rocks next to the piercing blue of a gently lapping water's edge, sand does seem like a inferior alternative.

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So, just when we have reconciled ourselves to this Adriatic norm, we find what we didn't expect - a decent sandy beach! (and, please forgive us here, we preferred the rocks!).

This is the beach on our second island - Korcula.

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What makes Croatia so photogenic is the mountainous topography, capped by light-coloured rock formations, contrasting with the blue, blue sea. This is Korcula Town harbour, a fortified stone village with a dramatic backdrop. Now, where did I park my yacht again?

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One of the more unusual places we spent our evenings was atop one of the defensive turrents of Korcula's Town walls, conveniently converted into a very chic cocktail bar. And the great thing is that sports sandals are suitable evening wear, even at this place!

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On the opposite side of Korcula Island, Anouk and I discovered a magical little bay that was made even more magical by the impressive high speed, steep descent into the bay, done over a dirt road on bicycles! If you look closely, you may be able to see Anouk's knuckles, still white!

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After Korcula Island came Mljet Island, and a tranquil national park that encompassed a peaceful old ex-monastery set on an island in the centre of an inland lake... yep, an island on an island!

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It's hard to capture, but remember those photogenic Croatian colours I was talking about, well, here's my best effort.

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At Dubrovnik, we finally return to the mainland. The dramatic seaside cliffs on which Dubrovnik is built gives you an idea about how threatened these people must have felt at times, for they felt the need to built huge walls on top of these cliffs.

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In those old days of pirates on the high seas, the guards must have had a tough job, standing out in all weather watching for threats. Fortunately, the wall designers were thoughtful enough to put up cute little turrents to shelter in, and hopefully a coffee machine and toaster!

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Strangely enough, our favourite place in Dubrovnik was actually outside of Dubrovnik! By stumbling across a small unmarked doorway through the massive walls of the old town, Anouk and I found ourselves in another of those classic Croatian cafes perched in the rocks above a magical blue sea that invited swimming and sunbathing all day (stuff the sight-seeing!).

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Goodbye Dubrovnik!

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Posted by Nate99 00:57 Archived in Croatia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The Czech Republic

Crowd-Surfing in Central Europe

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Everyone seems to arrive in Prague in August. European summer is chock-a-block tourists, and we just wanted to duck under the crowds, find a little nook to hang out and watch the frenzy fly overhead. Unfortunately, Prague is too captivating to avoid the sights and, hence, the crowds. Usually, by mid-morning, the tour groups have descended and we would end up blindly following a surge of people worshipping a pink umbrella or a yellow streamer on a stick. To circumvent this, I had planned on doing the big stuff, like Charles Bridge, during early morning. A good idea, IF you can get Anouk out of bed, through her morning routines, then out on the road before eight - I wasn't able to manage it either! So here's a shot of Prague during peak time!

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Another way to get away from the crush is to walk so far away from sights that everyone else wants to see, that no one else could be bothered, then get a nice perspective on the madness (and the beauty). This is a view of the bridges across the Vltava River from Letna Park.

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After the mayhem of Prague, we entered the relaxed atmosphere of Marianske Lazne, a Czech Spa town renown for the curative properties of its natural springs. The whole town is a study in renaissance architecture, with classical spa hotels on every street. This is the one we couldn't afford to stay at (we holed up in the ex-communist concrete bunker across the road!).

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In what I thought was a nice touch, the natural springs are made freely available to anyone with a cup and an interest in water - especially with bottled water being such an necessity for our sensitive stomachs. Not long after tasting one these miraculous curing springs, I realized that it wasn't such a generous touch. Some smelled and tasted like they were piped directly from the septic system of the nearest hotel.

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Following our week-long sojourn of spa treatments, health food, and funny smelling water, we headed off to another medieval town called Cesky Krumlov, where we embarked on sincere efforts to undo all the good work we had achieved.

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In what turned out to be one of our favourite Czech towns, Cesky Krumlov had all the wonderful attributes - chateau castles, cobblestone lanes, quaint restaurants, and a pretty painted tower!

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Sight-seeing gets a bit dull after a while, so to ramp up the adventure level, Anouk and I embarked on a canoe trip down the Vltava River. Seemed straight forward - jump in, paddle downstream for 35km, jump out!? The only trouble - the rushing canoe ramps that fling you down the next level of the river like a short but very exciting rapid. Anouk and I hit our first one two minutes after starting out, and made it through... soaked, with a foot of water in the canoe, and a camera and shirt floating among the wreckage - we had no idea!

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The thing I love about two person canoes...

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Although I have an eternal fascination with ancient stone buildings, and can spend hours marvelling over the sheer effort and ingenuity required to construct them, the wilderness also holds a strong pull. The area below Cesky Krumlov contains a forested National Park that was once the no-go zone between the communist eastern bloc and the capitalist west, hence the fact that it wasn't turned into a pulp factory. And, would you believe it, there's still actually trees in it.

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Hiking through the Sumava National Park involved a trek to the highest peak in this part of the Czech Republic. The interesting thing is, since this peak also forms the border with Austria, and due to my EU visa being expired, in the photo below my right leg is actually an illegal alien!

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Oh no, not another self-portrait! This is the part of the Sumava National Park that isn't exactly what we'd call 'pristine'... Still, nice farmland though!

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Enough of the Czech 'wilderness', there's more old stone buildings to marvel over. This is the Renaissance masterpiece of the main square of Telc, the place Anouk and I reacquainted ourselves with the extraordinary beauty of sunsets.

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Release the Hounds! Telc is not only sunsets, one evening we were lucky enough to stumble across the calender event of the year - Dog racing! But not like the greyhounds, in this event, the owner has to run or cycle attached to the dog by a special leash and do a lap of the town, sort of like dog-sledding. The crowds whip the dogs into such an excited frenzy, many owners were practically dragged across the cobblestones on the go signal. Unfortunately, Anouk's favourite dog had an owner who was significantly overweight, so came last!

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What can I write about this below!? Wow, an Auburn Beauty!

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To round out our Czech travels, we returned to fairytale Prague, and once again tried to capture the essence of this Gothic city... when you aren't being trampled by tour groups.

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Posted by Nate99 02:54 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Denmark's Wild, Wild West

A cycling adventure with Lachy and Jette.

semi-overcast 16 °C
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For their two week summer break in Denmark, not many people voluntarily opt for a cycling tour of the western coast of the island of Jutland. But being Australian, and not knowing any better, we thought it was a great idea - despite Jette's strong suggestions that we take a last minute deal to Turkey... or Croatia... or Crete... anywhere but Denmark! So with tour leader Lachy leading the way, we set off to discover a country that probably we will never be able to afford again.

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So far, so good. A lovely day, a lovely town. This is Ribe, Denmark's oldest town, and Anouk is admiring the fact that they didn't care about the use of spirit levels back in those days.

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And to polish it all off, a few of the local brews at the local cafe went down rather well, helping to quell the dull aches in our bums. Here, Jette and Anouk attempt to hold back the giggles that comes from one too many!

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Day two dawns a bit wet, but the friendly people in the Kro (traditional Danish inn) are happy to assist with our wet weather preparations by giving us a few garbage bags which we fortunately remembered to cut out holes for our heads and arms!

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The stretch of cycle paths up the west coast make for some fantastic cycling as they weave in through traditional thatched-roof summer houses hidden in amongst the grassy dunes behind the beach. Taking the photo whilst still riding only increases the thrill!

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Adding to the fun of cycling, a wicked coastal gale sends us barrelling down the paths at impressive speeds - the speedo hits 60km on one windy downhill. In the photo, it looks pleasant enough, but Lachlan and Jette actually have themselves propped against being physically blown over.

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Anouk and Nathan consider the difficulties of standing next to the bikes, let alone riding them in this breeze. The next section of the ride had one point where our bicycles accelarated uphill without pedalling.

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Even though the scenery is very refreshing, and occasionally there are some really interesting sights, I only managed to get a shot of this lighthouse, which may not interest anyone at all - after all, how unique are lighthouses to Denmark?! For some reason, I didn't take any decent shots of old war bunkers, or traditional Danish houses, or little Danish villages... something to do with a 30km/h tailwind perhaps?

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Food is never far from Anouk's mind (or mouth), and here she has discovered the delights of traditionally smoked salmon fillet, purchased from a roadside stall, and turned into a delicious takeaway meal by the addition of a cracker. The Danish don't mess about with those silly, vacuum-sealed slivers of salmon that just tease the tummy!

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The practice of riding everyday did have an unfortunate consequence however - aching bums. The saving grace came in the form of a fortuitous roadside find - Orange Carpet, complete with foam backing! You have no idea how much this helped!

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A man with a mission - get these limp-wristed soft-bums to ride over 100km in the day... and enjoy it! How could we not be inspired by such charismatic leadership!

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Our final day's ride, to complete the circuit, required a record-breaking effort. The distance for the day was 122km, making a total for the eight-day trip of 591km. Jette wanted to ride around the block a few more times, just to clock up the 600km! And this was from the woman who cried out in pain every morning as she sat down on her bike seat to start riding!

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Posted by Nate99 06:41 Archived in Denmark Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

French Pyrenees

Hiking the GR10

all seasons in one day 20 °C
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In June, after everyone had departed back to their normal lives in Australia, Anouk and I started on a long-distance hiking route through the French Pyrenees. The whole route traverses the Pyrenean mountain range from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and takes about 50 days of continuous walking. I love the concept of it, but to do it in one hit, as some people we met were doing, would be a challenging undertaking.

The whole route is called the GR10 (Grande Randonnee number 10), a French long-distance hiking route that basically tracks along the French side of the Pyrenean mountain chain from coast to coast. The route essentially involves hiking from village or refuge (mountain hut), over some high pass, and down into the adjacent valley to the next village or refuge, with each day averaging around 6-8 hours of walking.

Our first attempt at the hike involved entering the Pyrenees at a point approx one-third of the way into the long distance route. The day we entered Lescun was a beautiful day that highlighted the dramatic scenery of the surrounding mountains and dwarfed the picturesque village. This didn't last though, and after setting up the tent, the clouds fell upon us and the rain began.

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After completing day one of the GR10 through unrelenting rain, which turned to sleet, then snow, then back to rain as we traversed the mountain pass, we descended into Estaut with both of us feeling the effects of a day walking in challenging conditions. The biggest concern for us was the fact that we were snowed on over the 1600m pass, yet the next stage of the hike, should we choose to attempt it, involved a 2200m pass. The continuing predicted wet weather, with extreme conditions on the high passes, and us having sent our waterproof pants home, convinced us that we should relocate our hiking to a more pleasant climate - the Eastern Pyrenees.

So, having relocated ourselves to the Eastern Pyrenees, we once again pushed into the high mountains, this time attempting to complete the final one-quarter of the whole route, rather than the more ambitious one-half from the Central Pyrenees. Like a wet dog, the weather chased us for the first two days, and once again tested our seriousness. If it wasn't for the homely warmth and three-course meals of the mountain gites (hostals) at the end of those first few days, we might've chucked it in.

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The photo below is the look Anouk has when she sincerely wishes she went holidaying in the Maldives, rather with an eccentric who loves being in the mountains.

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But, as with most things in life, the rewards have to be earn't, and the magical Pyrenees finally offered up her treasures in the following two weeks.

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Our section of the route took us 15-days, starting in the high mountains of the Eastern end with snowy passes of approximately 2400m, down to the warm embrace of the Mediterranean coast.

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At such a wonderful end point to this hike, there is nothing more rewarding than taking it easy on the gravel pile... aah, I mean beach.

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Posted by Nate99 11:42 Archived in France Comments (0)

Spain

Sun, Sangria, Tapas, and Family

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In May, after crossing the straits of Gibraltar from Morocco to Spain, we spent time on the Gold Coast-like city of Malaga, wondering why so many English people flocked to a place with such crappy gravel beaches. It makes me sure that Queensland has some of the best beaches in the world, with an enviable climate that is hard to beat... why am I travelling here again?? Oh, 5 euros for a carton of beer, that's right! My parents, sister, and brother-in-law then joined us for a gastronomic romp through central Spain, as we drifted from quaint villages, to ancient palace, to tapas bar after tapas bar, gorging ourselves on gourmet food and drink, and vaguely noticing a few ancient chuches or castles every so often.

Below, the whole gang, looking like something out of the Adam's Family after a hefty day of sightseeing, hopes fervently that Adrian knows where he is going.

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After so much good food, wıne, and endless hours gazing at historic monuments, Anouk, on the verge of madness, breaks ınto a spontaneous rendition of the Spanısh Flamenco! We do hope she will recover.

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Posted by Nate99 11:37 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

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