Salzburg

Just a short drive from the Salzkammergut region, is the festival city of Salzburg, which appears to be surrounded by far too many castles to count. After a scenic 50km, we arrived at the Leopold Schloss hotel where we were meeting a friend of Matthias’ for lunch. It was good to catch up with Ian after a few years of not seeing each other and the lunch was very yummy too. We parted with a dinner date planned for the next evening so could catch up with his wife Inge too.

Our campsite by Leopold Schloss Hotel

We walked from the castle hotel towards the old town with just one obstacle in our way. Hohensalzburg is a castle perched on a hill high above the old town and with fantastic views across the entire valley. The walk up to the castle is a bit steep, but well worth it for the views. We opted to see the entire castle including audio guide and the two museums. Tickets also include a funicular railway ride down to the old town. The castle began as a small fort but was slowly expanded by subsequent prince archbishops to it’s current palatial size. We wandered through the bastion and courtyards before we reached the museum. The two museums are seen in tandem if you buy a full ticket or you can opt for the budget ticket and leave out the state rooms. The first museum is mainly about the castle and military conquests of the regiment who were based here. The state rooms were probably the most impressive part of the castle containing some beautifully painted and gilded wooden panels. Whatever you choose to do, the castle’s story over time is interesting especially in relation to the lives of the people of Salzburg. The audio guide tour is a little short and takes you through only a handful of rooms but it’s worth it to get the views from the tower and also visit the Salzburger Stier (Salzburg bull). The bull is actually a muscial instrument of sorts which was used to wake up the citizens and also tell them it was time for bed. Later it was used to play world reknowned composer’s music such as Mozart, who was actually born in Salzburg.


A view of Hohensalzburg from the Mirabelle Schloss

A small part of Hohensalzburg castle

The Salzburger Stier


Castle-d out for the day, we took the funicular down into the beautiful old town and wandered the streets with their souvenir shops, Mozart chocolates and beautiful architecture. Salzburg is definitely a relaxing city to walk about as all of the old town is traffic free; just watch out for the horse carriages. Across the river is the Mirabelle Schloss with it’s fantastic gardens. Here we came across a summer concert from Youth Brass 2000, who strangely enough come from the Midlands. Despite the hoards of tourists we still enjoyed finding our way through the alleys of the old town. Later we returned round the castle hill and along a canal to Trevor. Our free parking spot for the day was great and we even had a lakeside view for dinner before we moved to a slightly more secluded spot, although we hadn’t reckoned on the amount of traffic that moved through the Salzburg suburbs each morning and evening.

Austrian coloured flowers in the Mirabelle gardens

Early the next morning we drove to Hellbrunn Schloss south of Salzburg. Hellbrunn was a fun palace of the Archbishops of Salzburg and is surrounded by a large park and forest. Today the park is open to the public and is a great place to spend a sunny day. The castle itself is relatively small but what most people come here to see is the famous trick fountains. We bought our tickets and eagerly went on the next available tour. The tours are guided since all of the fountains are still controlled by hand. The tour begins at the feasting table complete with a central wine cooling basin. Our guide encouraged people to take a seat at the table and then told us a little about the archbishop who had the fountains constructed. She explained in both English and German that there were a few surprises in store for us and a few rules for those sitting at the table:

  • Two hands on the table
  • Stay seated
  • Keep smiling

And then, she switched on the first set of fountains. Needless to say, all but one person sitting at the table were now drenched, not onlu by the central hole in each seat, but also from a line of fountains behind the chairs. And for all those who were safe and dry, our guide back-tracked to turn the fountain back on.

The beginning of our tour

Aside from the table there were multiple grottos with booby trapped doorways or fountains in the ceiling. The most fun grotto had a central golden crown representing power which rose and fell with the water jet representing time. Even better were the jets of water in the floor and doorways on the way out. Our guide waited till we were all outside and ‘safe’ before switching on the outdoor fountains, where deer trophies showered everyone with water from their noses and antlers. Probably the most impressive part was the theatre with over 80 moving figures powered by water and of course with surprise water jets at the end. So much fun!

Ted staying dry but still enjoying the fountains

Deer fountains just when you think you are safe

The fantastic showpiece


After the fountains we visited the castle which is a little more like a museum then a true castle. A few of the rooms have original decoration with frescoes painted by an Italian artist but the rest contains a few important objects which the audio guide describes. They even have a unicorn in one of the rooms. We had a couple more hours to walk around the gardens and Salzburg town before we met for dinner. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t on our side and to avoid the heavy downpours we had to shelter in a cafe for most of the afternoon; at least one advantage of forgetting our rain jackets. By dinner time the rain had stopped and we met up with Ian and Inge. Somehow we stumbled upon a great Polish restuarant and satisfied out pierogi cravings. It was a lovely evening spent with friends.


The next morning the rain continued and although we had planned to drive slowly back to Germany, neither of us wanted to spend rainy days hanging about in Trevor. So we packed up and drove all the way back to Matthias’ home town of Renningen to surprise the his parents. 

Salzkammergut

Of course we didn’t a let a blocked road stop us from getting to our target and thankfully the diversion was only around 25 kilometer. On our map the Sölkpass is not recommended for caravans and we soon found out why. The tarmac is quite narrow in places and goes up some steep sections. This was the first time Trevor reached his limits. At first it was only the inside of tight hairpin bends where we had to change down into first gear but soon the road became too steep even on the straight sections. It was good that there was nobody behind us as we slowly made our way to the top at 20km/h. The surrounding mountains of the Schladminger Tauern were very impressive and tempted us to go hiking but with Zoë’s slightly injured knee we couldn’t do it without risking more serious problems. The view was best along the road up or down, the actual pass failed to impress and so our stop there was rather short. It had however a map of walks in the area and we spotted a rather flat and short walk from St. Nikolai to a waterfall.

Zoë and a suspicious Swiss brown

The village of St. Nikolai is small and quite nice, but has got only one small shop and a couple of restaurants. It is set beautifully at the bottom of two valleys which makes it a great basecamp for hiking the mountains around it. After parking our rolling hotel we walked up along the smaller of the two rivers which meet there into a lovely u-valley. This shape it typical for any valley created and shaped by a glacier and is common throughout the alps. An educational path about water has been set up along the river and the signs told us about local flora and fauna. Thanks to the vast amounts of rain we could not see any of the wildlife supposedly to be found in the water but it was still interesting.

Roughly 1 hour of casual hiking later we reached the waterfall at the end of the valley. Here was also the end of the broad and easy paths and the beginning of more serious hiking. We were impressed watching the water come down about 300m over countless cascades of different sizes. At this point the rainfall was advantageous even though it meant there were lots of small streams flooding the paths and trails. In the meadows was also a big herd of cows and 20 draught horses grazing around a hut which seemed to be used for forestry and hunting but only offered drinks, no cake or food so we had to make up for it by an impromtu lunch in Trevor upon our return.

The two and a half hour walk turned out to be as much as Zoes’ knee could cope with and so we had so sadly wave goodbye to the mountains but agreed that we would come back to this lovely area in the future.

Our drive out of the valley was uneventful but we met a few groups of workers clearing away the remnants of fallen trees and mudslides.

Our next stop was in the quaint town of Bad Aussee in the Salzkammergut region. It was pretty and had a colourful park but since we arrived on a Sunday afternoon only a couple of cafés were open. Sunday however, meant free parking everywhere. After an obligatory coffee and cake stop we ventured along the river and through the park. It was also surrounded by some big and rocky mountains and offered lakes and caves in the region. We were determined to wildcamp again in order to make the most of the scenery and to bring our budget back on track. The first area/lake we tried turned out to be privately owned. A sign at the carpark asked visitors to contact the owner for permission before arrvial (no, there was no sign along the 5km of road leading there). We found another sign informing us about a legal row between the council and the owner, who blocks the rightful access to the lake on foot and charges at least €25 entrance fee/fine and loose dogs which have attacked people in the past.

Coldest swimming spot yet in lake Altaus

Our next attempt was the Altausee. Since the village had a campsite (without a great view and not cheap) and lots of tourist accomodation, overnight parking/camping was not allowed. At least parking was free and so we decided to stay for dinner and go for a dip in the lake. There is a free public swimming spot with beach volleyball field and a playground next to the boat pier. The shore starts off very shallow and muddy with lots of reed but a pier provided an easy way around this. Since it was a mountain lake we expected it to be chilly but it turned out to be even worse; especially when you swim behind somebody who stirrs up the deeper water which was really cold. It was a free wash but we soon found ourselves trying to float as high as possible in the water in order to stay in the warmer water. According to some of the locals we managed to find the coldest lake in the area…

In the end we stayed back in Bad Aussee on a carpark next to the river. It wasn’t great or particularly pretty but free. Surprisingly none of the carparks had any signs about overnight parking/camping and what isn’t explicitly forbidden is allowed :).

Best sunset yet

The next stop the following day was Bad Ischl; a spa town and gateway to mountains and lakes of the region thanks to its convenient location. It is very pretty and there is even a royal villa of the Austrian emperors as well as parks and a massive spa and wellness resort. We didn’t need any spa treatments and decided to leave out the royal villa and go to the castle in Salzburg instead. On our way around the town center we found some nice crafty shops and a fancy pastry and cake shop. It wasn’t cheap and also very crowded thanks to the rainy weather so we opted for takeaway and spent the rest of the afternoon in Trevor planning the next few days. Bad Ischl also offers free camping between 7pm and 7am every night next to the villa. Fresh water and electricity have to be paid for but toilets are available for free at the swimming pool next door.

Ted the liontamer

After an early awakening we drove to Strobl at the famous lake Wolfgang. Strobl is a small but quiet village without any special facilities. Since we love cycling and we had not sat on any type of bike for three months we decided that the beautiful landscape was best explored at a slow pace and on two wheels. We hired two rather heavy trekking bikes for the day and, after picking up a free map from the tourist office, set off along the road and lake shore. To make the most of the days rental and see as much of the area as possible we opted for the four lake tour around the Wolfgang-, Fushl-, Mond- and Attersee . 

Ted ready for the big ride

The sign posting was fairly good most of the time and the paths pretty good but they kept disappearing and ending on roads without any warning. All lakes were deep turquois coloured and with very clear water. We were surprised by the number of campsites around lake Wolfgang; there must have been about 12 of them. Most of them had their own beach and lake access but they were fully booked, which is quite understandable considering the natural beauty. We carried a packed lunch with the plan of a lakeside picnic which turned out to be rather difficult to do. All of the 10km of shore along the Mondsee was either inaccessible or fenced in and private. Some plots blocked 50 meters of shore but were only 5m wide. In our opinion this is totally wrong: privatizing all of the lake access if you can’t privatize the lake. Disappointed we had no choice but to try our luck at the Attersee. At first things continued in the same way as on the other lake but eventually we found a road layby with benches and a great view waiting for us.

Attersee was chilly but came with a pretty view

Strengthened and refuelled we set off again. After another 8km we left the lake and turned our wheels homewards. The valley leading back to Bad Ischl was a long but thankfully only shallow climb through dense forest and along a river. A curvy and bendy descent and some flat kilometers later we arrived at our last nights campsite with sore bottoms thanks to the wide saddles and very upright riding position. Even though it felt like we were almost there we still had 15km to go which turned out to a lot hillier than the route profile showed. It didn’t help that we had no more shade or protection from the beating sun. By the time we arrived in Strobl again we were totally knackered from the heat, uncomfortable bikes and the hard exercise. After a recovery break we treated us to a big ice coffee in the local bakery before jumping into the lake. Or so we hoped… It turned out that the only section of shore free and open to the public was so shallow that even though we walked in about 100m the water still didn’t reach our waists. It was very refreshing though and we managed to get rid of all the sweat to cool down again.

Finally it’s time to cool down

After getting up early we favoured a relaxing day and this time we took the car to circumnavigate the Attersee and go swimming. Thanks to its very clear water with drinking water quality it is a hotspot for divers and we saw plenty of people unloading scuba gear by the side of the road. We would have done that too but Zoë wouldn’t have any of it until Matthias’ ear was fine and fully recovered from the last diving. Soon we encountered the same problem as the day before: a lot of the lakeside was private and most of the open spaces had tight parking restrictions or no parking at all. We still managed to find two places with free parking and swimming: one next to the road in the morning and a big field with playground, café and more in Unterach where we spent the afternoon. After an ice cream and dinner we headed back to our free car park again for the last time before leaving the area the next day.

A few days in Urlaubdorf

We crossed out of Slovenia and into Austria via the Loiblpass, a fairly low mountain pass which Trevor managed easily. The first place to stop was Klagenfurt, a lovely germanic town with very importantly a tourist information office. To be honest we had very little idea what we were going to do as we travelled through Austria or exactly which way we would go except for North and perhaps towards Salzburg. The tourist info confirmed our suspicions that Austria is basically a country full of mountains. This is great for walking, but makes it pretty hard to decide which range of mountains to spend some time in. Thankfully looking up campsites solved this dilema for us and we ended up in Mühlen.

Scary fairytales in the woods

Mühlen, known as the Urlaubdorf (holiday village) is a small village on the edge of the Zirbitz-grebenzen mountains. We pulled up at the campsite which was unfortunately full to the brim. Luckily the owner made space for us on a pitch/car park just outside the campsite. That sorted we spent the afternoon deciding where to walk the next day and swimming in the lake. We had been lured into eating in the restaurant on site that night since they were cooking roast pork with dumplings and cabbage for just €9 per person. We sat down to dinnner just as the thunderstorm descended and had to make a quick move inside to stay dry. Our meal was fantastic and definitely set us up for our walk the next morning. We planned to rise early to beat the heat and hopefully get up to the hut on the Zirbitz mountain and potentially even the summit.

King Ted on the panorama throne

The next morning we woke up to children playing only to discover that our alarm had not gone off and it was already 9am instead of the 6:30am we had planned to rise. As it turns out Matthias had somehow managed to set the alarm for weekends only. That said it was an miserable cloudy morning with the rain just stopping. We changed our plans a little and went on a circular walk of the local villages. The highlight of this was the motion sensors and childrens’ fairytales in the woods. The least enjoyable bit was a guard dog coming at us barking, snarling and jumping but thankfully we survived that and the heat. With a fairly short walk behind us we spent the afternoon relaxing and booking our trains for the transmongolian railway.

Collecting cats at the hut (the evil one isn’t keen on photos)

Next morning we woke at 6:30am (yes the alarm worked!) and set off up to the Zirbitz. The way up was a little boring as we were on tarmac for a couple of km but it improved when we wandered into the woods. We reached the hut at the half way point around 10am and it was already getting hot. The hut was beautiful and surrounded by holidays homes with great views of the valley. We had a well deserved coffee before deciding our goal for the day was going to be a panorama view point rather than the Zirbitz summit. Surprisingly we planned to be back at the hut some time after 11:30am when they started serving Germknödel (large dumplings filled with plum jam and served with custard). We had a lovely walk up to the viewpoint where we admired the view before returning to our treat at the hut.

What a beautiful view!

On the way back from the hut to the campsite the sun beat down on us and we pretty much melted, especially on the last stretch along the tarmac. Back at camp, we were relieved and very glad we hadn’t gone up to the summit. The lake was calling us and we quickly cooled off. Our long walk had worked up and appetite that Zoë in particular couldn’t ignore, so we went for pizza :-). Taking advantage of the fact we were still parked on the campsite, we had showers before driving on for the night. We planned to wild camp for a couple of nights and easily found a car park in the town of Neustadt. One thing we weren’t prepared for was the warning sirens to sound just as we were tucked up in bed. We had heard some strange things before like speakers all round town in Slovakia but loud sirens sounding was scary. We later learnt that the sirens were nationwide in Austria and are used as a warning system. Despite the rain and huge thunderstorm we stayed dry and warm in Trevor.

The incredible forces of nature…

The next morning we set off to get over some more of the alps. Unfortunately the storm from the night before had definitely made its mark. The first thing we saw was a field covered in silt and with wood and wooden planks heaped along the bottom of it. We could see just how high the water had risen but didn’t know quite why there was so much wood. Further up stream we passed a very empty timber yard and some areas where the road had been flooded. The fire service were everywhere surveying damage and helping people. They had also been forced to close our road so we turned around and took a diversion. With the radio on we soon heard that the area of Oberwölzbach had been declared a disaster zone and more than 200 people had been forced to evacuate their homes with still more marooned on an island by the flood. We felt we had had a lucky escape at the bottom of our valley. 




Bled and Bohinj

The alps were a major obstacle on our way back home and since we could not go around we had to go over them. Our first point of contact were the Julian Alps with the famous lakes Bled and Bohinj. Lake Bled and the village of the same name are located only just off the motorway less than one hour north of Lubjana. The village Bled is super touristy and seems to consist only of hotels, eateries and tour companies. Every visitor of the Julian Alps and Triglav National Park comes through this place. As you might expect this means that it has lost its charm. It has a nice promenade and park and a small but steep hill on one end from which Bled castle guards the village, lake and enjoys a grand frontrow seat for the alpine panorama. As soon as we arrived we hit the tourist info to increase our leaflet collection and try ‘Kremsnita’, the local cake speciality. We had this combination of pastry, cream and custard before in other coutries but it was supposedly invented in Bled.

Ted on the edge of lake Bled

We parked Trevor at a small carpark at the edge of town and went scouting. One of the tour companies offered really exciting underground kayaking in a cave but since the next available spaces were six days away we couldn’t do it. The promenade was lovely and we discovered we had come at a good time: the Bled Okarina festival was on with all sorts of music shows and a street food market along the lake. The views up to the castle and the surrounding mountains were awesome and picturesque with the greeny-turquoise lake in the foreground. We gave the castle a miss after looking at the brochure and seeing that half of it was converted into modern function rooms and they still asked for €10 entry. It was a really hot day and the water nice and cool but we didn’t really fancy paying for it in the public baths. Sun bathing and swimming in other places was threatened with a minimum 200€ fine which was just ridiculous. We discovered though that there was a stretch of shore outside the village was free to swim with no ‘no swimming’ signs. Happy with our find, we walked back to get our swimming gear. Back at our rolling home we were in for a shock: we had a parking ticket over 80€ for leaving Trevor in a no parking zone. This half of the car park was reserved for employees and parents of the adjacent kindergarten. Strangely enough they managed to give us the ticket in German, but only write the parking restrictions in Slovenian. We were absolutely furious about this and the fact there were no contact details of the traffic police office. It took us two hours to track them down and get in touch with the issuing person. Matthias had quite an argument with him and managed to get the fine reduced to a warning. During this time we managed one good deed by saving another tourist from parking fines. This lucky escape called for some celebrations so we went for a swim followed by a yummy stoneoven pizza in a lovely pizzaria next to the icehockey stadium. For the night we decided to be daring and make use of the free parking between 8pm and 8am.



Having slept like logs we got woken up by a car pulling up next to us and somebody knocking on the window. The traffic warden had come back to tell us that camping there was strictly forbidden and there was motorhome parking only a few hundred meters away. We knew about this but refused to pay 10€ for 24h with two portaloos as the only facilities. After some discussion we managed to escape another fine by pointing out that there were no signs to tell us about the ‘no camping’. At this point we were really frustrated and annoyed with Bled and ready to leave the country there and then.


Being woken up earlier than planned wasn’t all bad as we had planned walking about one hour to a gorge. We only made it half way before we started sweating buckets again thanks to the strong sun and high humidity. Once we arrived at the entrance of the gorge we were rewarded by a picturesque scene of a thick layer of fog hanging above the river. Finally we got a chance to cool down.

Early morning mist


The gorge was beautiful and impressive even though the river was a bit low due to the recent heat wave. In the last and wider part of the gorge was a strech where people and constructed hundred of ‘stoamandl’ (towers of rocks and stones). Children were playing around and working on new ones and the whole scene was shrouded in thin fog which gave it a pretty mystical appearance.


Stone stacks in the mist

 

The exit hut was built next to a bridge over Slovenias highest waterfall – a whole 16 meters! Facing at least an hour long walk back we didn’t hang around for long. Thankfully parts of it lead through a forest which made it bearable.

The waterfall


Matthias managed to convice Zoë to give lake Bohinj a chance. It was another glacial lake some 30km from Bled. It was supposedly less touristy and more for adventure seekers as well as active tourists. On the downside Zoë found stories about serious parking problems and dubious rules and fines. Therefore we went straight to the tourist info upon arrival and discovered that there was a big field with free parking just outside the village. Lake Bohinj is slightly bigger and much nicer than Bled. It is surrounded by high and impressive mountains. There are definitely lots of day visitors from Bled but we saw only one hotel and two restaurants. Swimming was free and no signs threatening us with fines. All activities were also cheaper then around lake Bled. After cooling down and drying on the beach we fancied some boating. Soon we found ourself in a canoe paddling up the crystal clear lake. Since swimming was free, every suitable spot of coast was taken; some people had even got there by boat. We were further impressed by children and teenagers jumping off what looked like a 10-15m high cliff. Without trying very hard we ended up at the other end of the lake in just under an hour. Since there was no shade we needed to cool down after all this rowing workout so we beached at a shady spot and went in. On our way back along the coast we also accidentaly discovered the FKK (nudist) bathing zone! Exactly two hours after we set off we were back at the boat rental shed.

Calm lake Bohinj and mountains

In order to beat the looming mass exodus of day visitors we wasted no time returning to Bled. That evening there was a concert in the park by a Japanese drumming group called Gocoo. 16 musicians used 40 drums, a digeridoo and other instruments to create an amazing and brilliant show. The group was on their 20th anniversery tour and their repetoir ranged from slow dances with a dragon to fast and furious rythyms that left no listener unaffected. Towards the end of the two hour show (without breaks!) everybody was either dancing or clapping along. After the second encore they were quite rightly rewarded with standing ovations.

One of the least blurry photos we managed to take of the fast action

The lead man playing his digeridoo

One of the monster costumes

Having exhausted the budget friendly activities (hiking wasn’t an option in up to 35 degrees), we decided to move on the following day. In order to avoid any more parking trouble and to complete our challenge of travelling through Slovenia without paying for accomodation, we drove half an hour back to Tržič to a free motorhome carpark next to the outdoor swimming pool.

The next morning we managed our first lie in in about a week before setting off on our escape away from the heat and across the alps.

Caves, castles and capitals 

Given the expense of our scuba diving course we were hoping that Slovenia was a little cheaper than the rest of Western Europe, but sadly it’s not. To save money we were determined to spend all our time in Slovenia wildcamping even though it’s not technically allowed. Our first stopover was on the edge of a small village near a visitor centre for some temporary lakes, which unsurprisingly had completely evaporated in July. It was however a spot with a lovely view and a place for us to barbeque our gilt head bream from Croatia.

The next morning we left early to get to Postojna cave before the crowds. At 8:30am the car parks were quickly filling up but luckily Trevor grabbed a shady spot. Off to the ticket office we trudged with half of Slovenias tourists behind us. Postojna is a huge tourist attraction due to the vast cave system containing the world’s largest cave dwelling amphibian called Proteus anguinus. With lots of ticket options we chose a combination ticket for the main cave, the proteus vivarium and another local attraction Predjama castle, costing a whopping €39.80 per person (more of a gold mine perhaps?) plus 5€ for all day parking. Even at 8:30am we only made it onto the second tour of the day at 10am so we had plenty of time to go in search of the baby dragons in the vivarium.

A model of the baby dragon since it is illegal to take photos of the real ones


The vivarium is an offshoot of the main cave which is almost like a tiny underground zoo. Inside there are vivariums containing all sorts of creatures that are found in the Slovenian karst caves including shrimps, fish, beetles, snails, woodlice and crickets. Some of these were pretty hard to find, mainly due to their size and lack of pigmentation but they were still really interesting to see. The most impressive part obviously were the baby dragons. Proteus anguinus are huge creamy white tadpole like animals with reddish external gills. Wierdly they lack eyes as adults and have only two toes on their hind limbs and three on their front limbs. We found them pretty fascinating to look at especially when we discovered they can survive without food for at least 10 years. Pretty amazing!

Some of the awesome stalagtites


Next up was the real Postojna cave which is viewed on fairly large tours split by language. First, we queued for our train which takes you 2km into the cave through man made tunnels and several large caverns. The cave has been open to the public since the first world war with a cart system that has been upgraded to a train in order to show more visitors the deeper reaches of the cave in a shorter time. Our english speaking guide was pretty good explaining about how the caves stalagtites, stalagmites and bacon curtains formed, but we felt a little rushed about in order to hear the commentary. Despite this the 1km stretch of cave which we walked through was incredible, coloured red, white and black with huge stalagmites on the floor and stalatites meeting them from the ceiling. The bacon curtains were beautiful especially when backlit so that you could see the stripes of red and white limestone. We also enjoyed the ‘spaghetti chamber’ which appeared as though someone had cooked a lot of spaghetti and done an awful lot of tests to see if it was cooked by throwing it  on to the ceiling. The final chamber was a concert chamber over 50m high where our guide sung us a classic Slovenian song before we got back on the train to the surface. Our short journey into Postojna cave was fascinating and well worth a visit.

The ceiling of spaghetti chamber

Fabulous bacon curtains of Postojna

Back on the surface we caught the free shuttle bus to Predjama castle. Predjama is Slovenian for ‘next to the cave’ and upon our first glimpse we could see why. Predjama is a fortress balanced midway up a rock face with a large overhang protecting it. We collected our audioguides and followed the tour for 45 minutes. Predjama is certainly a little different from other castles we have seen. In some places the external walls meet the rock or double walls are used to prevent the cold and damp from the cave seeping in. From the outside it appears like a castle stuck to the rock but once inside you can see water channels used to direct fresh water from the rock into the kitchen and the large cave castle with its passages to safety. One of the lords of the castle was once besiged for a year and was able to bring in new supplies via the cave passages. Unfortunatley he was later killed when a servant betrayed him by letting the enemy know that the lords toilet was thin walled and could be penetrated. He signalled to the enemy when the lord went to the toilet and the lord was killed by a big rock ball which collapsed the toilet tower. Not a very noble way to go.

Ted ready to conquer Predjama castle


Our busy day sightseeing left us weary and also pretty hot again. We left in search of an overnight parking place near Ljubljana. Luck was on our side and driving along a small road we found a layby next to a river about 7km west of the centre. We were really looking forward to cooling down but even the shade wasn’t cool so we changed into our swimming stuff and lay in the very refreshing river (yes we are really that crazy). Another very peaceful free night camping passed and we set off for Ljubljana in the morning.

Central Ljubljana

Arriving in Ljubljana on a Sunday morning worked out pretty well. We parked in a residential street for free and wandered along the river to the centre. On our way we admired the bird life international photography exhibition and took a peak at an antiques market full of tat. Once in the centre we wandered the pretty streets full of shops and cafes. The centre is quite compact with a large church and the famous triple bridge. One of our favourite parts of the city was the unique weather system on one side of the triple bridge. Here is is always raining and beautifully refreshing. We found Ljubljana to be a very green city with huge parks and tree lined streets. We missed out the castle due to a thunderstorm approaching while we were in a cafe but nonetheless it’s a beautiful small city.

Finally some rain in the middle of all this heat

Next stop the Julian alps in Northern Slovenia…

Some relaxing days at the coast

It was totally worth swapping the baking hot and dry interior of Croatia for the cooler coast. We chose the campsite in Moşčenika Draga, Istria based on its convenient location and relatively reasonable prices. When we turned up we were lucky to snatch the penultimate spot which happened to be next to a major roundabout. During our check in we were told about the fishermen’s evening with a famous Croatian male octet as this evenings main act. After setting up for the night and dinner we strolled down to the harbour to join the party. It was interesting to see teenagers as well as 60 year olds singing along to the same music. The atmosphere was very relaxed even when the fireworks started 5 minutes early and cut off the encore of the band. A shame after their two hour concert.

The promenade

The next day we ventured to the beach less than 500m away from our campsite for some swimming and scouting for activities. The hot weather and location of the village in a wide bay made boating and stand up paddleboarding (SUP) rather unexciting. Diving was a very tempting alternative especially because it involved actually being in the cool sea rather than on top of it. Of the two dive centers in the village we chose Marina Diving Centre located in the resort with the same name and 100m away from the beach. We went to their office before we actually went to the beach and after a chat with the super friendly staff signed up for a trial dive. It all happened so fast we ended up with less than two hours on the beach before our first dive together.

Our instructor Bojana gave us a quick introduction into our equipment and the exercises we would be doing under water. After a bit of a struggle with the neoprene suits we found ourselves walking down the beach through sunbathing people and little children in our full scuba gear; thankfully carrying our flippers.

Cute little fish

Zoë has been diving once before but for Matthias this was the first time he was able to breathe and stay underwater for more than about 40 seconds. It was easy getting used to the constant breathing but getting the buoyancy right was a bit trickier. There were so many valves on our vests to let air out and working out how much air to put in took us some time. Before the proper diving started we had some training exercises. The easy ones included re-capturing a lost regulator and clearing the mouthpiece both by blowing through it and using the cylinder air. After this it became slightly more difficult. We had to half fill our masks with water and then clear them again by breathing out through our nose. It works well but definitely requires some practice; especially in sea water. Saltwater in your nose isn’t very pleasant even if it’s only a little bit. There are a lot of things to get used to whilst diving, particularly breathing underwater, equalising your ears to adjust to the pressure and adjusting your boyancy. Despite all the new things to learn, we both really enjoyed our 2 hour diving experience (roughly 45min in the water). It was thrilling to feel like we were a part of the submarine life rather than looking down on it like you do when snorkelling. Even after it had ended we didn’t manage to leave the office and spent the rest of the afternoon chatting to the staff in the office.

Sky on fire after a thunderstorm

Now we were in a slight predicament. We had planned to do a diving course for quite some time but never had the time to do it in the UK. The local schools (in Glasgow) were expensive and had inconvenient times and we had been too busy with our wedding and travel preparations. Usually an open water diver course consists of 10 lessons: five in a pool and five in open water which are held over ten weeks. After our dive we were even more determined to get the open water diver (up to 18m deep) so we can go diving in other places during our travel. We had considered doing it all somewhere in Southeast Asia but the course costs are actually not much different from those in Europe. Marina Dive Center offered an express version of the course including only the minimum number of required dives (five) for a lower price than UK and Germany. Our trial dive counted as the first and we could complete the other four within two days.

Starfish

In the end we decided to sign up and finish the course we had already sort of started and get our open water diver licences in Croatia. We did this for a few reasons. The first was the time and being able to complete the whole course in two days. We knew this was pushing it and more dives during the course meant more experience and time under water. The other advantage was that having the license opened the door to spontaneous dives during our travel before we get to southeast Asia where we originally wanted to do the course. Once there, we also won’t have to bother about finding a good and trustworthy diving school but can go underwater almost anywhere. We had met almost all the staff during our first afternoon there and got a very good impression about them and their level of training and professionalism. It was also cheaper since our trial dive cost got deducted from the course price.

Since the school was part of SSI we could access the theory material online and through their app for free instead of having to buy a book (PADI). The only annoying thing about this was that it took one hour to download the version with videos. When we signed up the next day we met our two other fellow participants and teacher. Zoë was the only non-German speaker but was happy to do the course in German. It turned out that the dive centre owner Robbie, Susanne our instructor and Matthias all come from the same region of Germany: Schwabia (a lot of Schwäbisch Deutsch followed this discovery).

Leopard snail

After a more detailed introduction into the equipment, hand signals and more exercises we got suited and booted and went into the lovely adriatic. The worst exercises this time were completely filling and clearing the mask as well as removing it, swimming some distance before putting it back on. We also practised taking of parts of the equipment, such as buoyancy jackets and weights, and putting it back on both on the surface and under water. Each of us had a panic moment during this session but we still managed and completed them. After all this work we also did some fun diving to practice our more general diving skills. Apart from various fish we found a white and blue jellyfish and starfish. Susanne even found an octopus hiding under a stone. We quickly forgot about our panic moments and really enjoyed being part of the underwater world and we were sad when Susanna told us the lesson was over and we had to wait till the next day to play fish again. Back at the campsite we spent the entire evening learning about the theory of diving.

Jelly fish

Dives four and five the next day were completely different. Dive four was another training dive at the beach with some more exercises and we had our first underwater photoshoot with a seahorse!

For our fifth and final dive we loaded our gear onto a trolley and went to the harbour to explore the schools’ house reef. It showed us why we did the course and what to expect from a reef. Since we had completed and passed the practical part we were free to explore the reef and it’s inhabitants. Susanne showed us some very colourful snails, fish and plants. There was a hundred times more things to see and discover that the dive was over far too quickly.

Matthias’s new friend

Zoë and I were the only ones from our course to take the theory on the same day. This left us with four hours to finish the last chapters, repetition and question each other. The exam consisted of 50 multiple choice questions and had a high pass mark of 80%. Both of us got three questions wrong (different ones; we didn’t copy off each other!). Now we are certified divers and free to dive up (or down) to 18m using compressed air. We cannot wait to put this to good use and explore seas and lakes around the world. We celebrated our achievement by joining the staff in a lounge bar where the boat captain played the drums during a salsa night.

Overall we were very happy with our experience and totally recommend the Marine Diving Center. We paid 2600 Kuna each (£313) all in which is a good price.

Zoë’s new friend

The next day we checked out and drove back to Rijeka after picking up our tempory diving cards and certificates. After restocking our supplies we headed north and into new adventures in Slovenia. Again we have proven that we aren’t very good at keeping still and doing nothing for greater lengths of time but we had an awesome time in Moşčenika Draga. The only thing we regret is not staying an extra day to relax and just lie on the beach but who knows what else we would have picked up then…

All photos in this post were taken by our instructor Susanne Frank. Thank you

Birds and baking hot Croatia

Leaving Romania was a little sad but we still had more adventures planned. Next on the list was Croatia and it’s national parks but to get there we had to leave the E.U. and drive across Serbia. We had heard a few bad things about border crossings out of the E.U., in particular long waiting times and bribes. We arrived at one of the minor border points early in the morning and had our passports and car documents ready. The only disconcerting part was the man without a uniform who asked to see into Trevor and asked us if we had any drugs. Thankfully the border crossings and drive across Serbia were pretty straight forward and we made it to Croatia.

A historic monument of Vukovar

Our first town in Croatia was the town of Vukovar, which is where the Seige of Vukovar took place when Croats were fighting for their independance. As we drove into town it was obvious that heavy artillery had been used by the Serbs in fight for Vukovar. The most astonishing fact in this seige was that ordinary Croats held the Serbs at bay for 3 months before they were overcome and many of the them murdered. The town was almost entirely demolished but what was left standing is still spattered by bulllet holes including the towns huge water tower. We were particularly shocked by how recently the wars of independance in this area of Europe were, since we don’t learn the history of these nations in either the U.K. or Germany. There isn’t much more to do in the town except visiting memorials or a museum but it’s a reminder to everyone that events like these should not be repeated.

The boardwalk of Kopački rit

Moving on we finally reached our destination of Kopački rit, a national park on the Western border of Croatia. We visited the visitor centre and booked the 9am small boat tour for the next day for just 190 Kuna including 2 Coca-colas thanks to a promotion. The park consists of a large marshy area around the Danube which is home to birds, frogs, snakes, wild pigs, jackals and deer. The area floods when the Danube rises and creates a fantastic habitat for water birds and a great stopover for migratory species. Following a recommendation from the lovely people at the visitor centre we went to a local restuarant to try the local specialities. We ordered a fish platter which included pike, cat fish, carp and rather dubiously frogs legs, which we were assured by the waiter were the best part. Well the pike and cat fish were pretty tasty for fresh water fish, even Zoë liked them. The carp was decidely muddy in flavour and as for the frogs legs they are something we won’t be having again. A frog pelvis with two legs attached and deep fried isn’t anywhere as tasty as the waiter promised, but the restuarant cat loved them.

A lucky frog that avoided both the frying pan and the local snakes

At 9am the next morning, we went to catch our boat tour. We walked along the board walk which was defintely lacking water and started to worry that there wouldn’t be any water for the boat to float on. We left the boardwalk and climbed over the dyke flood barrier to find 4 boats floating on a large lake. Three of these boats were large tour boats and one was our small 5 seater complete with tour guide and two park wardens. Normally there are two accesible channels but with such low water levels only one was open for boats. Setting off on our tour was quite exciting, we were immediatley in a world full of cormorants, herons, little egrets and greater egrets. As we drove along the channel we came across river turtles, ducks and a huge number of white tailed eagles. We also saw kingfishers, night herons and a sadly deceased wild pig. It was great being on the water speeding along and racing herons and egrets. The only disappointment was the the noise of the boat engine scared off a lot of the birds. We definitely recommend the first private tour of the day since we saw so many fabulous birds, but if you do visit, call up before and check the water levels.

Some cormorants just chilling

A white tailed eagle taking flight

Fantastic greater egret in flight

A jackal from the Danube region

With temperatures in central Croatia hitting 40 degrees  celcius every day it was hard to do very much after about 10am, so we decided to visit a local swimming pool to cool off and relax for the rest of the day. We had hoped to spend longer in the national park, but without much water there isn’t much to do. Instead, the next day we drove onto Ljonske polje, a national park south of Zagreb which promised kayaking, cycling and many birds online. Already knowing we weren’t visting at the best time of year we expected to see fewer birds but still be able to enjoy the wooden villages and outdoor pursuits. We visited the national park office and were given hope that there were still birds at the hide and we could still go kayaking so we bought a 2-5 day ticket costing 60 Kuna each and set off in search of a campsite. We stopped at Plesmo where the least recommended campsite was and got a bargain stay for 10€ for a night but had to share the facilities with 15 very messy Belgian scouts.

A sunset and a stork


We got up early to visit the bird hide which promised a colony of herons and the only population of European Spoonbills that nest on an ox-bow lake. At the hide we climbed the stairs, opened the windows and found a beautiful purple heron preening right in front of us. The spoonbills were a little less forthcoming but made a few flights across the lake to their feeding sites although we are sure they were trying to hide amongst the large number of egrets too-ing and fro-ing. Unfortunatley a noisy Swiss family turned up and reduced our chances of spotting much more; still not sure why you would bring a very young child to a quiet place. After a late breakfast we drove on to check out the kayaking lake. Disappointingly it was a stagnant green ox-bow lake which would be full of mosquitoes but little else so we gave it a miss. At the next visitor centre we got a map of a 4km walk to see the landscape, dyke and local farm animals. We completed the walk but it was far to hot and pretty uninspiring walking between fields of maize.

A flying spoonbill

Surely another european spoonbill

A purple heron?

Our plans were pretty flexible from here so we decided to leave the centre of Croatia to bake on its own and drive to the coast. Since the last journey on a motorway cost over €16 we opted for the scenic and budget route to Istria. Four hours of driving later we got to our campsite in Moscenika Draga, a seaside town on the eastern side of Istria. We knew this area was going to be expensive for campsites but we felt we needed some time to cool down and relax for a few days. We are totally hopeless at doing nothing but we decided to try it anyway. Find out whether we were successful or not in our next post…

Three more Romanian cities

After visiting Sibiu we were well and truly on our way back and out of Romania and a sad feeling of going home and our holiday ending overcame us. Nonetheless we still had a few days left to stop and see places. Our first side trip was to the town of Alba Iulia. The main attraction there was the huge fortress protecting the town and its surroundings. It took us one and a half hours longer than planned due to a massive traffic jam all the way from the motorway. Once there we made our way up the ramparts and through the southern gate. Some fellow campers had recommended to be outside the palace by noon to watch the changing of the guards. Thanks to the traffic we didn’t make it and even if we had been there on time we might have missed it. The palace is just not outstanding enough to easily identify it and when we walked past there were no guards to be seen. The buildings inside the fortifications were all restored and pretty looking but there was a very distinct lack of information. The boards told us of Roman ruins but hardly anything about the buildings we were looking at. We went into two churches and were lucky to get into the hall of unification with the adjacent museum for free (saving 35 RON each). Overall we were slightly disappointed by our experience. We felt that there was no life in the fortress unlike Sibiu with its café culture and shops. It turned out that the guards we were supposed to watch were merely volunteers in historic uniforms and there’s nothing to guard.

The draw bridge into the fortress

Well reconstructed walkway

The beautiful orthodox church and monastery

Our second stop of the day was the small village of Geoagiu-Bâi. It has a strong history of thermal baths. Even the Romans had a big bathing complex here. The ruins looked a lot more impressive on photos during our trip planning and and was not worth driving there to see it especially the only other attraction was a big and crowded swimming pool.

The roman ruins of Geoagiu baths

After these rather disappointing experiences we moved on to Hunedoara. This town is home to Corvin’s castle and the remains of a huge iron and steel works. We spent the night in a lay-by of a small road along lake Ciniş 10km south of the town that came with great views both for dinner and breakfast.


View from our camp for the night

In the morning we went to the castle and were impressed by it the second we saw it. The castle sits high on top of a big rock surrounded by a river on two sides. Entrance is 30 RON for an adult plus 5Ron for photos/videos and 8Ron for the audio guide. Built up and almost constantly expanded over the centuries, it had a lot of stories of which we heard quite a few. These made the whole visit a lot more worth it and gave us more info than the multi-lingual boards. Parts of the castles are still being used for art exhibitions or theater plays.

Ted excited to visit Corvin castle

The courtyard of corvin castle

After the castle adventure we drove west again to Timişoara. We read enough nice things about it to put it on the list as a short stop. Sadly the campsite there was overpriced and under maintained so we abandoned that idea. Parking Trevor was an unexpected challenge and was hard on our nerves. The whole city runs on a pay by sms scheme which is strangely priced in euros. The real problem was that we were unable to pay as our UK SIM cards could not message a Romanian text only number. For the first time we had to park somewhat illegally and there was nothing we could do about it which worried us a little.

Timişoara basillica

Right next to where we parked was a big orthodox church which was very beautifully decorated inside. The sun was fiercely burning down and it was very humid so we went into the first nice café and ice cream place we found in the pedestrian zone to cool down after the parking stress. Afterwards we wandered around the pedestrian zone and some adjacent streets which turned out to be much smaller than expected. After less than an hour of walking we went back to the van to head towards the border.

After stocking up on food and spending all our remaining Lei we drove around some small country roads to find a place to spend our last night in the country. As we entered to fourth or fifth village we found an entire field and 200m of roadside full of cars and were very surprised to find a small thermal bath. Unfortunately they didn’t take cards and without cash we couldn’t go. We had gathered that we had half an hour before last entry (even though they didn’t close until 1am) so the race was on. By chance Zoë spotted a cash machine not marked on our map only three villages away. Matthias put in his best romanian-style driving and so we made it just before 7pm only to find out that the last entry time didn’t apply that day. Even at 25-28 degrees to colder of the two pools was lovely and wonderfully refreshing. The water was dark brown with a strong earthy smell to it but we still loved it. After a quiet night in the car park field we were more than happy and ready to drive to the border and wave Romania goodbye.

We had an awesome time in this friendly and still underrated country and we will definitely go back there.

Sibiu and it’s historic museum

Sad to leave our bear friends behind but still with Ted as a guide we left the mountains to resume our travels through Transylvania. Now we journeyed west towards Sibiu. After a bit of research we opted to visit the ethnographic of ASTRA just south of the city. We arrived into Sibiu on a Sunday and unfortunately the museum exhibits are closed on both Monday and Tuesday. ASTRA has a huge collection of buildings from all over Romania arranged by trade. These include pastoral, fishing, mills, textiles, coopers, hunting and a pub to name a few. Entrance is just 17 Ron, and for an extra 3 Ron you can also visit the zoo. We paid our entrance fees and were given a bonus 300 page book about the museum in German. After Skanzen in Hungary we were expecting a lot of houses that looked similar but ASTRA was so much more impressive. Although they had about 20 mills and even more presses all the buildings were furnished to suit the profession of the occupants. There was also a market of traditional food and crafts. The museum is huge and centred around a large lake complete with a small theatre. We really enjoyed our day out at the museum and it gave us a great insight into traditional and historic Romania. ASTRA is well worth a visit. After walking up an appetite we found a busy restaurant and had a lovely meal including the highlight, papanasi. Papanasi are doughnuts made with cheese and served with sour cream and jam or chocolate. Despite the slow service, we enjoyed the food and avoided the huge downpour that took place. We even managed to camp for free in the car park before going to see Sibiu the next day.

A collection of houses at ASTRA

A floating water mill

Ted checking out an oil press

A windmill with sails

Sibiu is a beautiful Romanian town even with the knowledge that most of it has been restored. We parked up outside the remainder of the city walls and walked through them to the pedestrian zone. Sibiu has a lovely relaxed atmosphere with pretty buildings and a strong café culture. One thing we did notice quickly was a number of Roma dressed traditionally and just generally loitering about. Romania has a fairly large Roma population and they are very different to the people we know as travellers in the UK. As described on one of our campsites ‘they are colourful people who make three to five times the salary of a hardworking Romanian just by begging and don’t pay taxes’. It seems they aren’t entirely different but we haven’t seen any convoys of caravans as here. They seem to be settled in villages or towns. We have no doubt that rightly or wrongly there is a stigma against the Roma but they seem to be tolerated. We saw one lady donate a huge bag of children’s clothing to a Roma family who were just wandering the street. The children were thrilled and immediately tried on their new outfits. The exchange definitely made for some interesting people watching while we had a coffee to wash down our Gogosi (fried dough filled with cheese/jam etc) breakfast.

Pretty Sibiu

Inside the huge church


Wandering the streets of Sibiu is a nice way to pass an hour or so. We also visited the bridge of lies and the church. The bridge of lies is wrapped in 3 different legends, the most believable of which is one about merchants being taken to the bridge and thrown off if they lied. There are a couple of museums to visit but nothing really grabbed our attention. Instead we opted to do some shopping at the local market where we bought lots of local produce for next to nothing. Food is still really cheap in Romania and lots of small producers bring their handfuls of onions, soft fruit and herbs to sell at the market. One thing we really enjoyed in Sibiu was the Gelato we found, so yummy.

The bridge of lies complete with bride and groom

Oops we did it again…

Upon leaving Libearty, we noticed a rather squidgy rear tyre so we decided to head back to a petrol station in Raşnov for some help. Luckily there was enough free space to park and replacing the punctured tyre with the spare wheel. A helpful attendent sent us down the road to a tyre repair place which turned out to be less then 500m away. Even though the machanic didn’t really speak English, he was super friendly and helpful. Within maybe 20 minutes he had not only repaired the tyre but also swapped the wheels again and mounted the spare tyre back in its place under Trevor. All for 35 RON!

With everything back in working condition we drove to Zarneşti once again but this time to stay. The woman in the tourist office was super helpful and gave us not only advice on where to camp and the area, but also a free high quality hiking map (which normally costs 20 Lei as we discovered the next day).

The rock face leading to the ridge


Piatra Crailui is a 25km long limestone ridge with countless outcrops, side peaks and rockfaces. Its bottom half is covered in forest while the upperhalf consists mainly of rock, scree and some grass. All of it ranges from pretty to very steep and is described as ‘every Romanian mountain hikers dream’. It is home to a lot of birds and even has two endemic plant species.

Piatra carnations

After lunch in a nice café next door and some shopping we drove on into a valley around the northern and western side of the national park as there was meant to be some camping.

The owner of the pensiune the woman in the info office had recommended didn’t speak any English and despite the camping sign on the drive way it seemed that we could not camp there. Our last hope in this valley was the cabana Plaiul Foii at the very end with a camping field but no facilities. The field was fine and once the day and dinner guests left also quiet. While we were cooking dinner thr police arrived and spoke to the Romanian campers who had made a small fire in an existing fire pit. After lots of arguing the policemen left and the campers started packing up. This was the first and only time we saw national psrk rules to be policed and enforced.

The best thing about our camping spot was its location right at the beginning of a hike we had contemplated of doing.

Our neighbours


Since the hike was roughly 18km long, we left just after 7 the next morning to beat the expected sun and heat. The first kilometer and a half were nice and easy along the bottom of a valley. There were even some farmers out milking cows in a field by hand. After that the gradient increased and we walked along a rocky river into the forest. Some of the ramps were fairly steep and we got hot despite the shady and chilly forest. After one and a half hours we reached a refuge shelter which marked the half way point of our way up the mountain. 15 minutes later we reached our first scree of the day and the fun began.

The chamois were also wondering what on earth we were doing clambering up rock faces


Our path from there was called ‘La Lanturi’ which means ‘The chain’ and it certainly derserves that name. After conquering the steep scree we faced almost vertical rockfaces with only a steel cable or chain to hold on (sometimes not even that). Our bouldeting experience from Glasgow certainly paid off over the next hour as we went from ‘Wow’ to ‘oh sh**’ within seconds (mostly after sticking out head over the end of a big rock. Finding our way was nonetheless easy due to the high number of painted way markers. We saw a few picturesque rock formations where the tooth of time has carved holes and caves into the mountainside. Luckily for us it was kind of worth it due to awesome views (as long as you didn’t look straight down). Photos can’t do this path any justice; it has to be experienced. For a better impression please google it or watch a Youtube video here: https://youtu.be/ovVasANRizU) Zoës vertigo was streched to its limits and even Matthias (who isn’t normally scared of heights) was afraid. We made it almost to the top before the clouds caught up with us. Thankfully the mountains remained dry. Otherwise the whole rock climbing affair would have been almost suicidal in places.

Spot the footpath

After an hour of slow yet steady scrambling we reached the top ridge. From there it was only a short walk over to the summit where we met some other hikers. From them we learned that ‘La Lanturi’ is regarded as the most difficult path in Rumania. Had we known about it or seen any photos of it; we would not have attempted it. Sitting in the sun on the summit we felt happy again and a great sense of relief and achievement but also weariness about what was yet to come.

Happily at the summit (post chocolate)

Ted at the summit in his carriage

Freshly watered and fed (even had some Gipfelschokolade) we marched on. After all we had only done one third of our distance and it was already noon. Our hope of making up time walking along the ridge soon disappeared. The creators of this path could not have made it go more along the ridge if they tried. Again scrambled over rocks more than we expected to. At least this time round it was up and down rather than just up. In the end the march along the top took us 3.5 hours for 6 kilometers. After about half the distance we could not wait to get off the ridge and back into the valley.

Lovely path over peaks on the ridge

It was roughly half 3 when we started our final descent and left the ridge. The first section lead us through bushes and gave us a strong deja-vu from our descent from Omul less than a week ago. Shortly after this we had a choice of two paths (left or right around some rocky peaks). One of the guys we met earlier had recommended the right one and it had been our preference too so we attempted this side. Very soon the path became very steep with loose gravel. To make things worse the mountain side was very steep and appeared like a sheer drop. Scared of sliding off a mountain we decided to follow the left path and turned around.

The view along the ridge once we got below the clouds

The best part of our path

Our decision turned out to be the right one. Even though the second path was difficult and even scary in a few places there was much less of a risk sliding of the mountain. The trail led us across and down a few very unpredictable scree slopes of varying consistency but thankfully there were enough stable rocks to hold on to. Strangely there was only one bit secured by a steel rope when we had to climb up one side of a big rock and back down the other side. Going around it would have been the safer option…  

Yay trees!

We were both very happy when we reached the first big trees and with them the end of scree and rocks. Despite the path still not being easy, it was now a lot safer and easier to walk and for the first time in hours we felt our adrenalin level go back towards normal. It felt great and refreshing walking amongst greenery again and we felt revigorated so it was not long until we reached refuge Diana. Considering the time (5pm) and the state of our stomachs and legs we opted for the short and direct way back to the capana and Trevor. The path through the bear valley (its actual name!) took us another hour and a half. Our newly found energy helped us chatting and talking rather loudly on our final descent both to keep our spirits up and the bears away. Finally and after 12 hours on our feet we arrived at our campsite hungry, tired and worn out. From the map there we worked out that we chose the only two paths marked as difficult in the entire range and combined them with a ‘challenging’ descent. We also should have learned from our last walk in terms of length of our hike. It was a good thing that there hadn’t been much sun so a bucket shower was sufficient before we headed to the restaurant and treated ourselves to a delicious two course meal.

Rain was forcasted for the next day and so (and to give our legs a chance to recover) we drove to the other side of Piatra to visit the gorge. It is not only one straight gorge but has a few branches on either side and is at least two kilometers long. After this the path leads through forest and pastures to a cabana and then either up the ridge or back down. We would have done this walk had we not ended up at the far end of the valley on the other side. The walls range from steep forest slopes to imposing vertical rock faces with lots of climbing routes of all difficulties. Our legs really enjoyed the rather flat walking. We hoped to see some interesting birds which the gorge is renowned for but all we saw were a couple of wagtails. All the way from Zarneşti to the end of the gorge there were unmistakable signs of recent flooding including the road having to be repaved and cleared. After this stroll we decided we had seen enough of Piatra Crailui for the time being and to drive on to see other places.

Zarnesti gorge