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Dining Out With A View!

Dining Out With A View!

Is food and travel your thing? Check out these amazing restaurants around the world. Which you you pick to dine at? My personal choice would be Le Panoramic in Chamonix, France

Le Panoramic in Chamonix, France

Le Panoramic in Chamonix, France

Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge in Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania

Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge in Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania

 

Ithaa Undersea Restaurant at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island Hotel

Ithaa Undersea Restaurant at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island Hotel

Ristorante Grotta Palazzese in Puglia, Italy

Ristorante Grotta Palazzese in Puglia, Italy

Isla Contoy Restaurant  Overlooking the stunningly beautiful Cancun beach

Isla Contoy Restaurant
Overlooking the stunningly beautiful Cancun Beach

Caldera in Santorini, Greece

Caldera in Santorini, Greece

Dasheene in St. Lucia, West Indies

Dasheene in St. Lucia, West Indies

Le Grand Canyon du Verdon in Aiguines, France

Le Grand Canyon du Verdon in Aiguines, France

The Rock in Zanzibar, Tanzania

The Rock in Zanzibar, Tanzania

Ayers Rock Resort outback dining

Ayers Rock Resort outback dining

Cooking and Mindset

Cooking and Mindset

What on earth has cooking got to do with mindset??

To cut a very long story short a number of years ago, more then I like to think about, David came home and told me about a guy and his girlfriend who had a job in the Caribbean. My instant reaction was lets go, lets do it.

It took some convincing to get David to agree, almost a year! You can read more about our  ‘On Tour’ adventures if you are interested.

We sold our house, packed up our lives, put all out possessions into storage and spent in the vicinity of a whooping $7000 on airfares. We also contacted all the charter companies we could locate in British Virgin Islands and were told “don’t bother coming there are no jobs available”. We weren’t  deterred in the slightest.

At this point we decided to find out what our ‘dream job’ actually involved. So we contacted  David’s work colleague and organised a dinner about 3 weeks before we were due to fly out of Australia. The conversation eventually turned to catering, David’s observation at this point was that I turned ghostly white….

You see I have done many many ocean miles and love sailing and well, assumed that the type of food that I would need to prepare would be not much different to what I am used to eating in yacht races or ocean deliveries. You now – baked beans on toast, toasted sangas, roll mops straight from the jar, two minute noodles and BBQs being a more sophisticated meal.

WRONG!

It is worth pointing out that at that time in our lives not only did David do about 90% of the cooking he also did about 90% shopping (still a task at home that I am not overly fond of).

It turns out that the ‘dream job’ is as much about the food as the sailing. You know, cooked breakfast, cooked lunch, hors dourves, cocktails, gourmet dinners and beautiful desserts every day of the charter! I confess I cried for about three days straight and at this point decided we weren’t going, poor David….

David was at the supermarket shopping, as usual, and just happened to find a good old women’s weekly Short Order cookbook. He purchased it and promptly came home and assured me that not even I could fail at these meals. It honestly changed my mindset, I decided on that day that even I could succeed at cooking (seems simple really). I wholly embraced the new challenge and found myself not just enjoying it but loving it.

The entire experience of shopping in remote areas of the Caribbean at local markets, with new foods and tastes become an overwhelmingly wonderful experience. On charters with more difficult guests I could become a recluse in the galley and indulge in creating all sorts of wonderful dishes. I even proudly had a food shot published with an article in the magazine Caribbean Travel and Life.

Sometimes when challenges are thrown oat you all it takes is a simple shift in thinking to allow you to achieve your goals.

Abundance & Wealth

Mel

Featured top image and beautiful food shot were taken by Gary Bogdon

On Tour 29 – Greetings From Norway

On Tour 29 – Greetings From Norway

Greetings from Norway.

Yep we are currently at about 62 degrees North, somehow we got lost and mysteriously ended up in Norway, there is a lot to catch on so this may be a long one. To start back to one of our favorite countries – Switzerland.

Canyoning, we weren’t really 100% sure what was involved, but we new it had the potential to rank as an ‘extreme’ sport. We also knew that it was something not really available at home and what better place to take it on than the Swiss Alps. So we went into Interlakan at the base of the Jangfrau which stands over 4000m high and into one of the many outdoor adventure sports shops and said we wanted to partake in the best canyoning on offer.

During the summer this region of Switzerland becomes an international mecca for ‘mountain people’, amongst the tourists are the people who rock in at the beginning of every summer to spend the warmer months guiding and partaking in, bungy, river rafting, paragliding, hang gliding, hiking, ice walking and canyoning.

At Aquasport we were warned that Chli Schliere had jumps of around 30-40 feet and it wasn’t for the faint hearted and would involve, being at the shop at 7.45 am and expect it to be around a 7 hour day. The jumps didn’t concern us but the early start did! Twenty one people including the guides had lost there lives in this canyon in 1999 when a hunk of ice broke free in the mountains and caused a huge wave to wash down the river.We parted with our hard earned cash any way and headed of to one of the stunning lakes for a night of free camping, a tip from the staff at Aquasport.

We arrived at the ‘meeting spot’ early the next morning and organised to park the Van in one of the Aqua sport reserved parking places. We signed our lives away and met our guides for the day, Danny, Swiss born and Clay Kiwi born. Again we were warned about the canyon and now would be a good time to pull out if we weren’t comfortable with the concept of jumping 40 feet over a waterfall into a narrow puddle of water at the bottom.

Clay also warned us that if we hesitated expect to get a hard time and once in the canyon the only way out was down it. We then organised our gear, wetsuit boots and socks, a long John wetsuit a shorty with arms, a helmet, lifejacket and harness. The day was to be about listening and learning and taking instruction from Danny and Clay.

We jumped into the bus with the 6 other punters partaking, Danny and Clay and our Aussie born photographer for the day, Gemma. With hard rock pumping out of the speakers to set the ‘mood’, we drove the 55 mins to the top of Chli Schliere, through some very picturesque Swiss country side, arrived donned our gear and walked the 20 mins into the start of the canyon.

We gathered on a rock and were given instruction on various jumping and sliding techniques with the heavy warning that if we didn’t do what we were told, we could get a helicopter lift out or here for 10 000 Swiss Francs, like a guy two days ago that didn’t follow instructions, landed wrongly and broke his back. Great! When I ask how often serious injuries occur, I get the somber reply that ‘we don’t talk about things like that.’  Most injuries occur when people don’t listen or don’t look where they are walking and slip and damage an ankle or knee.

We start with a short slide into a pool of water before tackling the highest jump of the day, around 40 feet, no warm up, straight into it. There’s a lot of rah haaaring and ya hooing to really get the adrenalin going. You can’t see over the edge until you are standing on the edge with your toes balanced on a steel ring and a reassuring hand from Clay on your shoulder.

When he’s happy your ready it’s ONE, TWO, THREE CANYONING!  You jump as far out as you can over the edge of the waterfall into the rock pool below and let out an involuntary arrrrrrr…. It’s all over pretty quickly, you hit the water, avoid the rocks and surface going ‘maaan that was too cooool’, when do we go again, then there’s a lot more rah haaing!  Another slide, the corkscrew, this one is pretty long, fairly steep and narrow with overhead rocks.

Again we are given instruction on how to tackle this baby. Legs straight, lay back and arms crossed over your head to protect your face from the overhead rocks . It’s not uncommon for people who fail to follow instructions to lose a few teeth or gain a few stitches. When you hit the bottom of this slide you realise why it is called the ‘corkscrew’ as you get flung around 360 degrees just before your sinuses fill with water. Pretty cool really.

The next jump is only 25 – 30 feet, but the most technical and the ‘back breaker’. The jump is over a waterfall into another rock pool. The only place to jump from is the center of the waterfall, the issue is that right below the waterfall is a pointed rock lying just under the surface, requiring a leap into green water just to right of the waterfall. There’s also a massive rock face just to the right of the waterfall that you have to, against all better instincts jump straight at. There is another hitch, the water that you are aiming for is only at best chest deep, shallow on any standards.

To overcome this small issue the jump involves landing on your back to avoid going to deep and to take the impact of the fall if to save breaking your legs. We are given a chance to practice landing  on our backs in a shallow pool as it is normally very unnatural position to land. Again Clay is there with a reassuring hand and to go over the details of the jump and steady you on the edge of the waterfall, ONE, TWO, THREE as you jump this time Clay gives you a hefty shove in the right direction to avoid ‘that pointed rock’. You land on your back, miss the bottom get a cheer from the rest  of the group and say thanks that you are still in one piece. Danny is at the bottom to give you a reassuring nod.

There is a whole lot more rah raaing and adrenalin pumping as you move to the next challenge, another slide. It started wide and narrowed about 1/3 down to avoid get a total body beating at the start , it required hanging onto a rope and lowering yourself down to the start of the narrow section, while water the water is pushing down and pummeling you on the head and you can’t see a thing. Sounds like fun hah. We continued on absailing into caves, shooting down slides, more jumping and landing on the back, rappelling over narrow crevices, getting tossed into pools, going down short slides backwards, running matrix style along the side of rock walls.

One slide of about 25 feet required a sideways leap across a waterfall throwing the back onto the wall before a free fall at the end. By the end of the canyon we were doing flips on the smaller jumps.We spent about 3 hours in the canyon, the entire time Danny and Clay were there with a reassuring and confident hand. They were fantastic with an enormous amount of energy and instilled confidence in us every step of the way.

While on the trip we got to know our photographer, Gemma and found out she was heading to the Bahamas for an underwater photography job. Finding out we had come from that direction, she invited us to her going away party that night. We met an extraordinary group of ‘mountain people’ and found them to be open friendly, environmentally conscious and great company. We were the only people to arrive in a car, everyone else walked or cycled and many of them were vegetarians, we had a great night finished about around 12 and headed to our free camp spot be the lake.

We spent the next day driving around the Interlarken region taking in the breathtaking scenery, before heading back to Germany to catch up with Fred, (who flew to the Bahamas to catch up with us). We broke the trip by driving to the Black Forest which is the source of the Danube figuring that we had seen where it ends so it would be pretty neat to see where it starts. We discovered that despite what we thought Switzerland is not the capital of Cuckoo Clocks, but the Black Forest is, and they make some amazing ones.

We spent the night in a carpark on the side of the road before driving to a town called Strohn, which is located close Koblenz (close to Frankfurt), where the rivers Mosel and Rhine meet. We met Fed whose dad originates from this area and still  has many family members here.

Fred had organised a loan of a couple of bikes for us and also for a friend of his, Dieter, an iron man, to give us a tour of the local area. Fortunately Dieter took it easy on us. The area has a series of volcanic lakes at varying heights and is well set up for cyclists. We stopped at a local swimming hole for an ice cream, then Dieter sent us on our way and headed off to do some fair dinkum training.

We then headed to a member of Fred’s family for the night, for a shower, which I’m sure everyone was grateful for and our second show of German hospitality, the first being with Teena and Martin in Rohrdolf, Bavaria. There was as much beer as we could drink and  great food eat that our  welcoming hosts had prepared.

Fred joined us in the Trusty the following day for the drive up to Hamburg, hopefully a memorable experience. We had caught up with Fred as he had orgainised for us to participate in the annual inter airline regatta to be held this year in Hamburg hosted Lufthansa Airlines. Again we were to experience first class German hospitality.

We were looked after by Dieter and Uschi who were involved in the organization of the regatta. They had a full itinerary planned for us. The first night was a lovely cruise up the Elster river and a sneak preview of the area that we were to be sailing in, an ice cream in downtown Hamburg, meeting one of our other team members, ‘Weedo’  and his hosts Astrid and Uwe, a trip up the …… then dinner at a trendy riverside restaurant.

The following day was a practice day on the ‘Conga’ the 2 man boat we were to be competing on in the regatta, then a the welcoming night at the hosting Yacht club with a BBQ dinner. We also met the other QANTAS team members Tim, Jen and Nikhil. The third night was spent with a variety of people from around the globe at a noisy bavarian beer house complete with live traditional Bavarian beer drinking songs, eating swinehoxan – pigs feet. I passed.

The fourth night was the presentation night on the Rickmer Rickmers a historic tall ship permanently moored in Hamburg. Unfortunately Fastie had to head home, but we had a great night partying until around midnight, leaving Uschie and Dieter partying on till the wee hours of the morning.  I have included Fasties summary of the regatta, he did miss a few things though. – David and Weedo achieved a convincing second in the second race on the first day.

On the second day the Aussies were the only team out training and were told to dock the boats due to the thunderstorms that never happened, David and Weedo getting and escort to the dock for throwing in a few extra practice roll tacks and the fact that Fastie and I were disappointed not to get an opportunity to have another go at the gun-smoke. Fastie invited the winning team onto our boat to help us with the setup and sailing techniques, they offered us some great tips and we were confident we could achieve a good result for the team.

Lufthansa convincingly won the 2006 WASC. Only two races were held. Unfortunately the last two races were cancelled due to thunderstorms – just as it was our turn on some of the best boats in the fleet…..not an excuse though! We finished 6th overall, with just a few points separating 2nd from.

Denmark was lovely but flat, in Alby’s words ‘flat as a proverbial shit carters hat.’ We drove up the west coast and only spent one full night there in a nice town called Lemvig, booking ourselves onto a 1am ferry on the second night to Norway. We parked the Trusty on the beach with a group of other campers had a BBQ and set the alarm for 11.30pm. The ferry trip was miserable.

To start is was about an hour late leaving, around 2am, we also didn’t book a cabin, having done overnight trips before with no worries. Problem was not a single other soul had booked a cabin either, by the time we were aboard every couch, lounge, chair and reasonable bit of floor space was taken with bodies sprawled out trying to get some sleep. We found ourselves some quite corners in the depth of the boat, but were told to move on twice, eventually crashing exhausted in a nasty hallway by a main door. We arrived in Norway around 6.30am with short fuses from a lack of sleep.

We drove till about midday before I gave Alby a heavy warning that if he didn’t find some where to pull the Van in soon, I would most likely get very grumpy. We found a spot on a lake, I took the Van Alby took the beach for few hours catnap before pushing on further.

Norway is a a stunning country, even through our sleepy eyes we were awed by the beauty of the place. We arrived at a place called Larvik and drove to the lighthouse at Lindenes on the South West coast. It is also legal to freecamp on public ground in Norway, which makes us very happy. On the first day, every lake, fjord small fishing village seemed to be more picturesque than the last, it was definitely competing with Switzerland as one of our favourtie countries.

To top it of we were getting extraordinary good weather, 25+ degrees clear blue skies and not a drop of rain. Our second night we found ourselves a lovely beachside camp and couldn’t believe it when at 10pm the local campground owner banged on the side of the van telling us to move on or he would call the police. This was the first time this had ever happened and we were astounded, as free camping was legal in this country. Not wanting to cause trouble we packed up and moved on having the sneaking suspicion that we were being followed.

Eventually we found ourselves a spot for the night close to a place called Stavanger, a largish coastal town. From Stavanger we drove to Norway’s second largest town Bergen. We can’t believe how beautiful this country is it’s quite amazing every bend seems to produce another quaint town, beautiful waterway or stunning mountainous backdrop. Driving up the coast has also required multiple ferry trips as it is the only way to gat from one end to the other. This provides another opportunity to take in the amazing scenery and travel up some of the fjords.

We free camped in Bergen and spent the next morning wondering this lovely city. It is a coastal town with a lovely harbour surrounded by the fish markets, where much to our disgust you can buy everything from whale meat to white reindeer fur and a multitude of different seal furs. Unfortunately Norway still considers whaling as a part of their culture and refuse to cease the killing and selling of whale meat. We vowed to give more more to Greenpeace after seeing for ourselves whale for sale in the tourist markets and not for ‘survival’.

From Bergen we headed further North to some of the great fjords and the Jostedalsbreen National Park and Europe’s largest Glacier. Hard to believe but it seemed Norway was getting even more beautiful and spectacular. We headed towards and Nigardsbreen where we booked ourselves onto a day kayaking and hiking on a glacial lake and a 5 hour glacier hike including ice climbing.

The staff at  the Nigardsbreen Tourist Info gave us directions to one of the most amazing free camps we have stayed in, surrounded by waterfalls,  glaciers and mountains. We had a perfect view of  the sun setting over one of the prettiest glaciers.

More soon,

Melanie & David

On Tour 28 – Things Keep Getting Better

On Tour 28 – Things Keep Getting Better

Wish you were all here!

It was Sunday afternoon when we arrived in the heart of Vienna (Wein), Austria and easily found a park for the Trusty. Still fairly worn out, we decided to have wonder around town for an hour or so. Vienna was beautiful and we decided to come back the following day, after a good nights sleep, for another look.

We headed to the nearby campground to be told it would be 26 Euros for the night, so instead we had a drive around, saw some amazing lakeside properties and found ourselves a perfect free camp spot overlooking the Danube and the lights of Vienna

We drove back into town the following morning again easily found a carpark and spent several hours walking around this beautiful city, most of the time not knowing which way to walk as it seemed every where we looked was some amazing bit of architecture .

It was a pretty magical place. Much to our delight we even found a place serving VB beer, something we hadn’t had for close to 18 months. We indulged in a stubby each, but at 13.50 $Aus a shout, one was plenty.

From the heart of Vienna we headed to the gorgeous mountains tucked in behind this lovely city to partake in a Austrian tradition particular  to this region.  When taverns are serving the first white wine of the season they hang the branch of a evergreen over their front door. We found a town with a selection of taverns, located one to our liking and partook.

The taverns are stunning, you enter through a front door into a large courtyard, full of beautiful gardens that opens out onto the rolling hills behind which are adorned with grape vines. It was a pretty neat. From there we headed to a small town on the Danube called Melk, with a huge monastery, where we free camped over looking the river again.

The next morning we headed into the Czech Republic to Prague and managed a park not more than a few  hundred meters from the city square, this so far is our favorite city. It was  an amazing some. Prague was once the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. ‘Let’s Go Europe’  states the cities “… maze of alleys spawned legends of demons and occult forces giving this city this city of dreams the dark mystique that inspired Frank Kafka’s paranoid tales.” It also states “in summer tourists pack streets so tightly the crowd surfing seems a viable method of transportation.”

It was crowded, but rather than detract from the flair of the place it seemed to add to the bubbly lively atmosphere. It wasn’t to difficult to escape the crowds either, by walking to some of the out of the way streets which were just as rewarding as the city square. The city managed to survive through WWI and WWII without being bombed, consequently most of the original architecture and buildings are intact.

Prague was on the cheaper end as well, so shouted ourselves to a meal. Goulash and Dumplings each with a beer to wash it down for a total cost of less then ten euros. This city definitely is on our highly recommend list.

We hung around till about 8.30 and then headed out of town about 30kms to a campground for the night, before heading into Germany. Before crossing the border the sky started to darken and the rain started to tumble down, there was thunder bolts and lightening, mud started to wash across the road and we started to see fallen pine trees, oh o, not again.

Hail started to pelt the car and we had to pull over. Fortunately roads and towns were better designed then in previous countries and we had no problems, other than the German guy on the border crossing who wanted to search our Van for Hashish and smuggled cigarettes. After previous border crossings we were only too happy to give him the grand tour of the Van.

He didn’t spent to much time looking as he was so tall he spend the whole time uncomfortably hunched over. When we reached the hills on the German side there was so much hail on the sides of the roads it looked like it had been snowing, it was pretty cool.

Our first stop in Germany was Passau a town where the Danube and Inn Rivers meet. The Van had taken a hammering driving through Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania and was in desperate need of some TLC and a new CV joint. We found ourselves a friendly mechanic who agreed to work on the Van for us but it would require an overnight stay the following night.

Looking for somewhere to free camp that night we followed a German van to a great location in the hills overlooking Passau then they kindly shouted us a beer at the local pub. So far we were liking Germany. The next afternoon we dropped our Trusty of and headed to the local hostel overlooking the Danube. It was the weirdest looking place, from across the river it was designed to look like a sleeping man.

The room was not much bigger then the Van with bathrooms across the hall, but it was clean and comfortable and for one night and only 30 euros, not much more than a lot of campgrounds we had stayed in. We planned to catch up with a German friend of Mum and Dad’s, Hermann.

He picked us up from the hostel and drove us just over the border into Austria for a hearty meal and a variety of local beers at a busy Austrian Beer-garden, it was also in another set of hills overlooking passau and with an amazing view of the sunset. Hermann dropped us back at the hostel after having a great night, but not before informing us of a worrisome little critter that eats the electronics in cars, to the point that he has had to have an electronic security fence device fitted under his bonnet.

We had a fretful night sleep worrying about how our poor Trusty was coping without us, we realised we were probably becoming abnormally attached to our car. The following day we caught up on some sleep. Hermann kindly picked us up again and gave us a tour of passau and drove us to a fantastic lookout point where you could clearly see where the Danube and Inn rivers meet, he then dropped us back at the Reno, which wasn’t ready yet, so we had a few lazy hours wondering around Passua, before heading to another of Mum and Dad’s friends in a town called Rohrdolf, which is between Salzberg and Munich in the Bavarian region of Germany.

We chose the scenic route and were very taken by the beautiful country side,  every small town was like a postcard picture, with quaint little houses. Balconies were adorned with colourful flowers and it seemed every garden was perfect and large lush, green pastures surrounded every town.

We reached Teena and Martins in Rohrdolf to find it just as beautiful and quaint as most of the towns we had driven through.Teena is an Aussie girl who landed herself a lovely German bloke and they have two little girls 11 and 7. Alexandra the eldest kindly let us use her room and she shared with her younger sister Nadia. The weather was perfect so they put on a BBQ for us, we had a great night drinking beer and wine catching up on news from home.

The following morning we gave the van a desperately needed clean before heading up into the hills to Martins family hut. It was amazing!! We felt like we had stepped right into a postcard or a scene out of Heidi or The Sound of Music.  We drove most of the way up into the mountains and hiked the last half hour Martin carrying up lunch. The hut was perched on the side of a hill overlooking the Austrian Alps at around 1400m, with surrounding hills full of wildflowers and cows meandering around with their bells tinkling away.

The hut itself was in a fenced in yard and consisted of a cosy living room / kitchen a large in the middle a large walking pantry at one end and a small bedroom on the other end. In the roof was a loft with a huge mattress that could sleep about 10 people. Below the hut was the most important part, the musty, dark and dingy cellar full of local beers.

The ‘dunny’ was a good ole’ drop loo out the side. There was another small cabin, in the same building but  it was mostly made up of the cow shed out the back, which he cows would dutifully bring themselves in at the end of the day. The inside of the cabin was decorated with bits and pieces collected over the years and had an old wood fired stove, a healthy collection of beer steins, and remarkably we felt we were stepping right into the old log cabin from Metung.

We arrived and started preparing lunch while Teena poured the biggest beer / lemonade we had ever laid eyes on. Apparently a tradition at the hut. Lunch was a simple German feast called broadside, cold cuts of salamis, spicy sausages, cheeses, liverwurst, egg, salads and bread, set outside on a lovely old timber table and bench seats.

After lunch we lay on comfy cushions in the grass dozing of listening to the cows tinkling away. To walk the beer and food of later in the afternoon we climbed to the top of the mountain behind the hut which was at a height of 1514m, the view was amazing. Before walking back to the car at about 7pm we finished the afternoon of with a barely drinkable schnapps.

We continued the eating and drinking late into the night back at Teena and Martin’s and sadly fare-welled them the following morning, carrying the slightest hint of a hangover. We’d tested the local Rohrdolf schnapps late in the evening as well.

We headed to  campground in Salzberg, with plans of tackling the city the next day. Salzberg is another wonderful central European city surround by rolling hills and mountains and we enjoyed wondering around and taking in the sites.

The following day we headed to Untersberg not far from Salizberg and took the cable car to just below the peak and walked the 30 mins to the top some 1853m high to be rewarded with another amazing view. We easily spotted the only other Aussie on the mountain as he like us was the only other person wearing thongs. Probably not the most appropriate footwear for mountain climbing.

We then headed to an area not far away, Bergthesgaden to visit one of the local underground salt mines. It involved dressing up in protective clothing complete with a leather  bum padding for sliding down timber slides in the mine. We travelled deep underground on trains through tunnels which seemed barely big enough. It was a fascinating and interesting experience.

We then travelled further south to an area called Werfen to go ice caving. Not arriving in time, we chose to stay overnight and tackle the caves in the morning. The road to the ice caves were as steep as any we had driven and  the Renault barely made it up in first and second gear.

We arrived early and managed a park close to the first part of the experience about a 20 – 30 minute walk up the side of the mountain to the cable car, we then took a short cable car ride and then another 20-30 min walk further up the side of the mountain. The ice caves themselves were amazing, awe inspiring, breathtaking and all those other cliches, they were also freezing.

As part of a group we toured about 1km and 700 steps into the cave to be rewarded with some of the most beautiful ice formations. We were informed the the ice had been increasing over the last 85 years and was continuing to do so while constantly changing.

The ‘younger formations’ were like crystals hanging from the ceiling of the cave, it really was very beautiful. We spent about 1 1/2 hours in the cave and by the end the feeling had gone from our fingers and toes, even though we had on our snugs and polar fleece jumpers.

The temperature inside was around 0 degrees C. The entrance to the cave was about the size of a large door and is the place where all the cold air escapes into the open, consequently for the first two – 3 meters before entering the cave winds can get up to around 100kms an hour an extremely hot doors. It was a pretty funky experience walking into the cave being blastered by freezing cold air that you were barely able to walk through.

The cave isn’t lit either so about every third to forth person carries a small lamp which adds to the whole atmosphere. Walking back down the hill it took some time for the toes to start to feel normal again. It was around 11.30 and the day had heated up to about 30 degrees, people were struggling up the hill in a major way, some had a 20-30 minute walk in the heat before they even made it to where our Van was parked, we offered encouragement as much as possible, as it really was worth the hike to experience the caves.Half way down we stopped and rewarded ourselves with a cold beer.

The afternoon was spent driving back to Italy for our last stop in that country Venice. The Italians we met in Istanbul had told us about a freecamp opportunity on the point opposite Venice at Punta Del Sabiarno, which was a boat ride to San Marco Square. There was a squillion camp grounds charging up to 30 euros per site and 10 euros per person, which to us was like paying $Aus 100, to simply park the Van overnight, way to much.

The free camping although not perfect, it was free and that made us happy. We caught the ferry into Venice and it was pretty surreal, and also another opportunity to take up crowd surfing as a method of transport. To be fair, if you took the time to wander around some of the outer streets it was easy to become the only people around. We really enjoyed ourselves, wondering  around and marveling at how many of the buildings haven’t yet fallen into the extensive canal systems. We even lashed out on some famous Murano glass.

From Venice the next stop – Switzerland, what a beautiful, marvelous, awe-inspiring country, the mountains are nothing short of spectacular. It is a glorious place and although it has a reputation for being expensive we were enormously pleased to discover that petrol was cheaper here than Italy.

We free camped our first night at about 1700m with a amazing view of a mountain being enveloped be clouds. The following day we drove up a set of switchbacks to around 2160m to be blown away by a lake perched between the mountains. We continued onto Interlaken which overlooks the famous snowcapped mountain the Jungfrau which is over 4000m high, very awesome.

We had a drive around two of the valleys which head up towards the Jungfrau, the valley which heads towards a town called Grimwald has a massive glacier that is moving at around 80cm a day into the valley, pretty big news around here. We then went and booked ourselves in on the most extreme cannyoning trip we could find for the following morning.

To find out more tune in next time.

David & Mel

On Tour 27 – Blow outs, Floods, Rabid Dogs, Kiwis!

On Tour 27 – Blow outs, Floods, Rabid Dogs, Kiwis!

Greetings from beautiful Central Europe,

Would you believe it we had a blow out on a back tyre on the way to the border. David changed the wheel over without any drama, but we had no intention of traveling without a spare into Bulgaria or Romania.

It was Sunday and with only a few small towns between us and the border we weren’t liking our chances, but figured we’d try anyway. We found our way into a run down looking industrial estate in a small town and would you believe the only shop that was open was the toughest looking Turkish guy doing puncture repairs with a bunch of tires lying around his factory.

Desperate we figured we’d give it a go. He was friendly and engaging and without a word of English. After communicating our needs, we patiently waited our turn drinking the compulsory cup of tea. He was the hardest working Turkish guy we had ever seen with a constant flow of business. Although not the exact tyre, we were on the road again within about 2 hours a minimal delay. We were pretty happy.

We arrived at a town only about 25km from the border, to find they were pumping water out of the lower levels of there small apartments blocks. There was debris and mud all over the road, it was pretty clear they were mopping up from some pretty recent flooding.

The mountain range ahead was also looking ominous with dark clouds, blotting out the horizon, we pushed on any way. We only needed to travel about another 15km, before we were into the rain and it was bucketing down, On the way back down the valley, the roads started becoming awash with water, mud and debris, by now I was starting to get nervous, all the water had to be going somewhere. The creeks had well and truly broken their banks and local crops were being flattened by the water and the rain wasn’t letting up.

We crossed a bridge and came to a small town called Derekoy, it was underwater. One of the locals approached and let us know they were having a small problem to turn around and head back. I was thinking, mate thats no small problem you have to deal with. We gladly turned around to head to higher ground fearing landslides or that parts of the road might wash away.

After surveying the surrounding topography, we parked in a deserted service station on the highest ground we could find, the rain felt like it was getting heavier and we discovered the trusty Renault was not entirely water proof, but our problems were insignificant  compared to what they were having to deal with in Derekoy. While we were parked, at least 10 heavy earth moving machines went by and 4 army tanks, women and children were being bused out and men in. We went to sleep in our leaking van wondering what we would find the next morning.

We woke to sunny morning and the peaceful sound of the cows coming down from higher ground, had a cuppa and headed towards Derekoy and the border. What we saw was worse than we could have ever imagined. The town had almost been flattened, the bridge we drove over the day before had become completely awash with water.

Cars had been washed down the creek, homes simply no longer existed. Homes that survived were no full of mud and the sparse belongings ruined. People had lost there lives. We were told that the towns folk might receive 1-2 days help to clean up, beyond that it would be up to them, they weren’t expecting any financial help either. A fresh water truck was under military guard, homes where people had lost there lives were also under military guard.

Women were being bused or taxied back into town while we were there, the expressions of devastation on there face was clear. Some had already started the clean up. It was shocking, but beyond offering our symphonies there was little we could do but move on. Parts of the road beyond Derekoy had been washed away.

The border, it took us two hours to leave Turkey and get into Bulgaria. What we didn’t realise was that phone lines were out due to the rain, so when they took David’s passport and told us to wait, we started getting a little antsy. The problem was very simple, they just couldn’t check if we had any traffic fines or other issues, before letting us leave Turkey but they didn’t tell us.

Finally we were allowed out, before entering Bulgaria we had to pay to disinfect the car, we sat in the bay waiting for the disinfecting shower to start and waited and waited, nothing happened so we drove off, as we looked back the shower started! No one cared, they had our money. Despite all we had heard about people trying to rip you of at the borders, we found the Bulgarians friendly and helpful, giving us advice on which roads to take.

This area of Bulgaria had also coped the intense rain, the roads were bad to start, now they were partially covered by landslides or simply  caved in, makes for stressful travel.The small town on the Bulgarian border was also mopping up after the rain. The first task, in Bulgaria, was to get local currency  and fuel for the car. Not so easy.

Rural regions in Bulgaria where quite poor, with people living basic lives, herding there cattle, goats and horses on in the open fields and growing there own fruits and vegetables. Consequently they have little money and no need for banks and petrol stations would only take the local currency with no facilities for cards. Not desperate for either we pushed onto a bigger town and found a bank and filled up the car. Petrol is cheap in this country about 1.40 $Aus a liter.

We hadn’t planned to spend any time in Bulgaria due to all the stories we had heard, but after driving through Derokoy, a 2 hour border crossing, landslides and caved in roads and then having trouble getting money it was pretty late in the day and we weren’t up to a second border crossing in the same day we decided to camp for the night.

Much to our surprise, the Black Sea coast is rapidly developing huge resorts for cheap package holidays for Europeans. All of the resorts are gated with security and everything you need behind the gates including markets. Also to our surprise the beaches were the best we had seen since leaving the Bahamas, although not up to par with the Bahamas. With a great climate, the Black Sea over 20 degrees Celsius, combined with the fabulous beaches it was easy to see why it was getting popular.

We even saw a Gary Player signature golf course going in.-There had obviously been some pretty nasty weather systems through recently as David put it the Black Sea was ‘feral’. Logs and debris had also washed up against the guardrails on the sides of roads where water had been flowing over them. Away from the pockets of resorts was a lot of undeveloped coastline and large open rolling fields, with stunning yellow sunflowers in full bloom, wheat and corn crops and acres of vineyards, it really was very pretty.

We had read in our ‘Lets Go Europe’ that Bulgaria was pretty conservative and to dress accordingly, but to our astonishment billboard advertising was less than conservative. Forget girls in bikinis advertising drinks and cigarettes, try g-strings and in some cases nothing. It was easy to tell the tourists from the locals as well. Tourists were sunburnt and locals looked like they had stepped out of the eighties.

We drove to a resort town called Albenia and found a campground located behind the resort, it was average at best. The showers were common, with no cubicles and instead of the water draining through the drains it pooled on the floor and then cascaded out the door, it was also not very clean. We decided to go smelly. We were pretty tired, but to took a short walk to the local shop, it was cheap, we spent up all our local currency, went back to the Van cooked dinner and slept.

In total we spent less then 24 hours in Bulgaria, we stayed on the Black Sea Coast as we knew this was more touristed, mainly because we had heard so many stories. In hindsight we feel some one was looking over our shoulder when we had the tyre blow out, had this not occurred chances are we would have been caught up in the flooding.

Next country Romania.

It took less then 20 minutes to get through the border, including paying for another car disinfect, this time they didn’t even bother to turn on the overhead cleaners, but were content in the knowledge they had our money. We also had to pay an ecological tax, with either local currency, which we didn’t have and couldn’t get on the border or Euros.

Our only ten Euro note had a tear in it and they refused to take that as well. We managed to scrape together 4 US$ , originally they wanted more, but we refused and they accepted the 4$US. We also had another issue at the border, that was going to be a real bother the entire time in Romania. After being stuck in Alexandroupolis for 4 nights we researched insurance for Bulgaria and Romania and were meant to be able to buy it at the border in both countries.

Unfortunately they had no facilities to sell it to us at this border crossing, after some deliberation, they sent us on our way suggesting we could buy insurance at the next town or ‘be very careful’. We chose the insurance option, only problem the phones lines and internet were down in the next town and the next and the next town, so we were having trouble getting insurance. We pushed on looking in every town for the ‘Carte Verde’ sign to try for insurance, but with no luck.

We stopped in one town David got out and I stayed with the car,  he asked someone on the street for help and the next thing he knew he was down an  alley way with a guy and  a briefcase full of photocopied documents and a small crowd gathering,  he raced back to the car a took of like a bull at a gate, explaining the situation later. we had heard about these shammers but never expected to get caught up with one.

The driving in Romania is downright scary, leaving us both white knuckled and in fear of our lives, not helping was the knowledge playing in the back of our minds that we were traveling without insurance. Romanians in general own two types of cars, shitty little Dacias or stolen BMWs and Mercs and they drive with a death wish.

It was not uncommon to have to slam on the brakes on a blind corner to avoid a head on collision or drive of the road on straight stretches. Trucks drive with their wheels on the center line an cars behind them with half the car in the opposite lane looking for overtaking opportunities. Cars from behind were as scary as cars coming from ahead, overtaking us as we were overtaking trucks, turning two narrow lanes into three.

We figured that they would have no problem driving us of the road, I mean what’s two dead tourists in Romania? It was more awful than you could ever possibly imagine. The Romanian cities were angry places as well, we tried to limit the times we had to stop in them, but it was inevitable as bank machines simply don’t exist or don’t work in the rural regions we also needed petrol and food.

Supermarkets were fenced in with bared wire and had security gates. Handbags and bags had to be left at the supermarket entrance under security. I didn’t realise this and just wondered in to one, I was followed by undercover security, not realising what was going on until I absent mindedly ran my trolley into theirs.

Shopping itself was a task, trying to find foods that looked even vaguely familiar to foods we new we could prepare in the Van. Forget shopping bags as well, grocery shopping had never been so stressful.

Our first stop in Romania was the Danube Delta, a huge wetlands where the famous Danube River meats the Black Sea on the Romanian, Ukraine border. We arrived to find that there had been recent flooding in this region as well, towns were mopping up or simply inaccessible and the bird flu had wiped out much of the wildlife which the area was famous for.

We arrived late in the day at Crasnov a small, typical rural Romanian town. Cows were wondering down the road bringing themselves in for the day. People were heading home parking their wagons in the driveway and tethering their ponies on the front nature strip alongside the families of chicken and geese. Going to rural Romania was like stepping into a time warp, it was pretty amazing. Cars were oddly out of place and peoples lives were very simple, still heavily  relying on horses for transport and ploughing the fields.

We headed for the only campground around, not wanting to risk free camping. Things were looking up on the campground, front we had found a winner. That is, easily the winner of the worst campground in Europe. It was over grown, full of stray dogs (we had read and been warned about rabies), there was more rust than water coming out of the shower heads, the toilets didn’t flush and the entire place had a fairly unique smell.

The thing that clinched it as a winner though was the mosquitos, I honestly believed we were either going to be carried away or sucked dry. We went to bed wondering if we be chewed up by a rabid dogs, die off the bird flu or catch Ross River Fever or Dengy Fever from the mosquitos or simply die of a slow poisoning from the cocktails we’d made up to get rid of the mosquitos.

On the positive note on the way into the campground we ran into the only other two couples crazy enough to be traveling in this region. We set up a wagon style camp and tried every volatile concoction to try to drive away mosquitos and voted that it be better to continue being smelly than use the showers. We realised what luxury we were traveling in in the trusty Renault as we the only vehicle with a potty.

We also had the joy of watching an amazing sunset over the Danube, one of the best we had seen, the frogs were also crooking away in harmony. We are big fans of the ole’ frog,  I think if there are plenty around it means the water way is doing O.K. The older swiss couple had a well set up Nissan Patrol with a tent on the roof and the young Germans had a VW Transporter 2 years older than the Renault. It was great night swapping stories, but we went to bed as they headed of to locate a venue to try and watch the soccer world cup.

Choosing not to spend any longer in the region, as the Germans were telling us they almost tipped there VW over on the atrocious roads we headed off to Transylvania, but not before a very late start as we were enjoying the adventures and interesting company. The Swiss had warned us about how bad the roads we were going to be traveling on were and there was at least 20 km of road works.

What they failed to tell us that they had actually fully dug up the road and it was now not even a goat track. We managed to cover 350km in around 9 hours, slow, painful travel that was taking its toll on the trusty Renault and on us. Adding to our travel woes, was the lack of bridges over rivers. You would be driving along and the road would abruptly end. The only way to get across was rickety old car ferries.

We were accosted fairly heavily on the ferries by young men wanting to clean our windscreens when we refused they took to begging and then intimidation, not fun.

The last week had been pretty draining and we were both exhausted.  We didn’t make it to Trannsylvania, but instead stopped in at incredibly picturesque town in the mountains just outside of Bran. Again we arrived at dusk to the cows and horses bringing themselves down from the surrounding hills for the night. People were standing holding open there gates as their cows with cowbells tinkling away would peel off to there homes.

We pulled into a place that vaguely resembled a campground, to find it was accommodation for a bunch of young men from Moldavia working in the nearby timber mills. They welcomed us in and we parked in a corner out of the way. Moldavia is a small country between Ukraine and Romania that has guerilla warfare going on and is occupied by the first Russian army. Why the boys were in a small town in Romania we don’t know, but they were pretty rough looking and we felt better being on their side of the fence.

We were woken early the next morning to a banging on the window, we had to move on as the boys were headed to work and the complex would be locked up for the day. Exhausted we moved out a quickly as possible found a place by the picturesque river and had a cuppa before tackling the day.

Brasov a pretty town located in the mountains, we drove through got lost and ended  up at Mount Brasov, a lovely ski mountain. We pulled to the side of the road to try to figure out how to get to Draculas Castle, a cop pulled up and very sternly said  “you vill move da car”. We try to explain we were lost and had just pulled in to look at our maps, again “you vill move da car”, he sounded exactly like Arnold Schwarzeneger. We ask him where Bran Castle is, eventually he says “you vill take dat road and you vill move da car.” We figure now would be a good time to move da car, not wanting to mess with this tough guy cop and end up in some bribery scandal.

We eventually found the famous Bran (Draculas) Castle. It was small but fun. On our way around we met some friendly Americans, but realised they were keeping a safe distance from us, we hadn’t had a shower since istanbul. Our clothes hadn’t seen the inside off a washing machine since Delphi in Greece! We had been hand washing our undies and a few other bits and pieces every so often though.

At the Castle we started taking photos, as we were leaving we were followed by a mean looking security guard, who very abruptly asked us for our tickets, we produced them, but failed to produce the ticket you have to buy to take photos. When we entered we hadn’t noticed the fine print in Romanian indicating we needed a special ticket to take photos. The very, mean, angry security guard escorted us to the ticket office and forced us to buy the ‘photo ticket’ almost us much as the entry ticket, we would have rather deleted the photos than cop this nasty treatment, time to get out of Romania and head for the Hungarian border.

We made it to within about 100kms and decided to stop at the only campground we were aware of on the way to the border at dusk, not wanting to travel on the Romanian roads at night or go through a border crossing when we weren’t sharp, we had heard a few stories about being ripped of when leaving Romania by other travelers.

We entered the town of Ordea the next morning only about 5-10kms from the border and got completely lost for about an hour. There was not a single sign indicating the direction and road to the border, we couldn’t believe it, we couldn’t find our way out of the country. We arrived in Hungary with no problems at the border exhausted, wrung out, over stimulated and just plain weary. We had had more than our fair share of ‘rich travel experiences’ and it had worn us out.

Arriving in Hungary was like arriving back in civilisation gone were all the stray dogs we had be seeing since Italy. Romania was the worst strays we never got used to seeing dogs that had been hit by cars or tucks every few kms rotting on the side of the road, its the small things that gradually wear you down. Also gone were the prostitutes standing on the side of major roads, I feel very sorry for these girls and wonder what will happen to them.

We certainly appreciate the privileges of being born into countries like Australia, UK and America. All of a sudden the roads became drivable and the drivers civil and patient.

We headed for a campground just outside of Budapest parked the Trusty and jumped into the pool, where we met a hoard of Kiwis! Turns out to be a Kiwi family on a six month Europe program. Six of them traveling full time and other members flying in and out at various stages of the trip, they currently had seven along for the ride and the their van wasn’t huge.

They were the nicest people buying us dinner and beers and then taking us back to their van for chocolate, the first we’d had since leaving the Bahamas. My gosh it was soooo good. We had a Hungarian Goulash at the campground restaurant, it was superb. I’d been hanging out for goulash since the Swiss mentioned it at the Danube Delta and I wasn’t disappointed, we’d been existing on stale bread and pasta sauce for some time now and the change in diet was welcome.

We got up the next morning marginally rejuvenated, but still exhausted and caught the bus into Budapest. It was like going to Disney Land, it was clean, the gardens where beautiful, we weren’t hassled by a single shop vendor, there weren’t hordes of tourists, it was the prettiest town we had seen in a long time.

We spent the day wondering around the Castle Hill on the Buda side, listening to the buskers, on their violins and then wondered across the footbridge over the Danube to the Pest side. We lingered to have an ice cream and listen to a free open live jazz concert. We wondered around the shops stopped for a beer and watched the passing traffic, eventually making our way back to the campground for another goulash a swim and a sound nights sleep. We sadly fair welled the Kiwi family and warned them to be careful in Romania and headed in the direction of Vienna.

More good places to come,

David & Mel

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