Posts Tagged With: Europe

Dolomites, Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm)


After a nutritious breakfast…

… we leave beautiful Villanders to drive further into the Dolomites, hoping to start a 5 day trek.

Here’s a photo of where about the Dolomites are (the lower white end in Northern Italy).

And our Camping spot with beautiful views over the Dolomites…

On our discovery route, we drive through Kastelruth (or Castelrotto) and get to enjoy fantastic views at the Alpe di Siusi (or Seiser Alm). Kastelruth is a lovely Tyrollean village with mural art on the buildings. During winter this is a snow resort town and during summer the gateway to an adventure land full of activities like mountain climbing, hiking, running or cycling.

  

Driving up to the Seiser Alm, an amazing plateau, we have to discover that there is no way we can possibly spend the night here. Cars are only allowed to a certain point and there is only one car park which is monitored by rangers regularly. We return to the village “Seis” at the bottom of the Seiser Alm and try to gather some information on possible hiking trails for the next days. Here we find out that the refuge huts are still closed and that there is still snow in the higher parts of the hiking trails. Our planned 5-Day walking track will not happen but we are still quite happy to go for a day-trek tomorrow.

For today we decide to just go for a walk from our campsite in Seis to a lake we found on the map.
It is a rather cool but sunny day (with clouds) and I’m struggling with a light headache caused by the cold winds, so I end up wearing a beanie.
We first walk through dense forest and just when I’m reminded of my childhood stories of witches and dwarfs, I discover a large rock in the middle of the woods with a sign telling a myth about a pastor who was once killed here by witches. Soon after, we come to an open alpine pasture with dozens of cows and bulls roaming freely. The cow bells are ringing everywhere and one cow curiously walks right up to me, smelling me and my hand. I think I have never been so close and vulnerable to a cow before but even though we were both slightly afraid of each other, I felt very close to this lovely creature. The soft nose touched my hand and the big eyes looked at me with curiosity. I think I really fell in love with cows and I’m glad that these ones here have such a wonderful live. They all were very active, running around, jumping and moo-ing loudly.

Not far and we arrive at a lake surrounded by forest. We walk around it once and then return to Seis via a different route.

  

     

  

This different route leads us past a restaurant and we can’t resist but follow our noses…

    

So after having filled our stomachs with Schnitzel and fries, Logan got stylish for his run.
Here, a photo of the 2012 sport’s outfit:

Logan actually ended up running all the way up to the Seiser Alm and back, he’s just that crazy guy from Down Under who can’t get enough!

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Tale of the leaning Tower of Pisa

Today we went to Pisa and Logan couldn’t help himself but have a taste of the marble walls of the tower of Pisa. He must have thought it would be similar to the marbled Italian ice cream.

  

Now look what happened!!! The tower of Pisa is leaning off to one side!!!

I’m trying my best to move it back into position…

 

 

And even Logan is trying to straighten it…

   

The people up the top are scared and start to panic…

 

Eventually we give up and quietly disappear from the scene, pretending we had nothing to do with it!

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All roads lead to Rome

This morning some police walked by and told us we have to move the van… something we expected, but at least we got away with it for one night. After a second search we strike gold, we can’t believe it! A spot on a smaller street right in the heart of Rome, virtually across the street from the Vittoriano (the Monument of Victor Emanuel) and just down the street from the Colosseum. Image

Now we need to work out what we want to see. We decide we first need to find an Internet café to print out some information about Rome, so we don’t walk about aimlessly. On the way we pass some interesting sites.

     

The Vittoriano is such an impressive building, made of white marble featuring Corinthian columns, fountains, an equestrian statue of Victor Emmanuel, two statues of the Goddess Victoria and an eternal flame. Built between 1885 and 1911 it was built to commemorate the achievements of Victor Emmanuel, the Italian king who was successful in the unification of Italy in 1870.

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The Trajan forum is across the street, which was completed around 113 AD and in its time was considered one of the architectural wonders of the world. Today it is a mere shadow of its former self, however still very impressive to witness such amazing architecture that still remains after almost 2000 years. Image

The Internet café is a long walk and it turns out to be cheaper to purchase a book on Rome, than to print out the pages we need. We also purchase the Rome Pass, which gives us entry into 3 different museums/monuments. Having finished lunch in our van, we decide to head down the main road towards the Colosseum. We can see a lot of other impressive monuments along the way, like the Forum of Caesar, but these can wait. We have our sites set on the mighty Colosseum. Even in today’s standards, it stands as an imposing structure. Completed in 80 AD, this huge amphitheater could house some 55,000 spectators. I can’t stop thinking of the ancient battles that took place here so long ago.

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I just read in our trusty tourist book that the games usually started with comical acts and displays of exotic animals, but what the crowds really came for were the Gladiator battles. Most Gladiators fought wild animals such as lions and tigers but would also fight each other, usually to the death. We were told that there are more tourists in Rome than Italians and today I think this is the case. However, we manage to dodge most of the line up due to our Rome Pass, allowing us to bypass the ticket cue. We spend about an hour walking around inside, taking photos, videoing and imagining what it would have been like all those years ago. While still largely intact, an earthquake in 847 AD caused a large section on the southern side to collapse, nevertheless well worth the visit.

  

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We head back towards the van and attempt to check out more of the Forum along the way but unfortunately we are too late; the gates are closed, so settle for a view from the nearby footpath.   Although the street we are parked on is narrow and appears not to be a main road, it seems to be the route of the many tourist buses that circle the city all day. Our van is the first vehicle after the corner, which is a possible target for a crazy Italian bus driver. The first chance I get I think I will move it forward to give them ample space.

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Arriving in Rome

Driving into Rome, we are absolutely astonished and blown away by the gigantic old roman buildings. We had no idea they would be right in the city centre and so close to each other. The actual centre of the city consists of ruins of the old roman Forum, the Colosseum and a smaller forum across the street.

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While these amazing sites are a major distraction, we continue on to our next challenge… can we find a spot to park our van? If we don’t find one, our other option is to park outside of the city and catch the train in each day. This would add to our costs and travel time, so after a few more wrong turns we have settled for a spot next to a park: Villa Borghese. We are pretty sure you are not allowed to park here but there are no signs saying so. We decide to risk it.

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Ancient European Forests and the Art of finding Petrol Stations in Italy

We just woke up to the sound of birds and the wind blowing through the trees… and a big bull (!) standing in front of our van.

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The forest is inviting us for a pleasant stroll, or in Logan’s terms: a power hike into the woods. I discover many unique ancient trees, beautiful flowers in yellow, purple and white and also red berries. I’m taking my time to film and gaze at everything while Logan is impatiently waiting 50 meters in front of me.

After an hours walk, we decide to backtrack where we came from, as we have no idea where the path will be leading us. Back on the road, we are heading south towards Bari and then Monopoli. Finding a petrol station in Italy is not easy! If you assume that petrol stations are on the highway: Not in Italy! Every so often you will find a sign saying: 350m petrol station. You ask yourself: 350m TO the petrol station or to the exit to the petrol station. The next exit, maybe 200m from the sign, hasn’t got any other sign. Can’t be this exit then, right? And then you see it from the distance. Well exit missed. Surely we can take the next exit and drive back? No, that’s not possible because you can get off the highway but not back on. Meanwhile you waste the last drops of your petrol. Half an hour later we finally find a petrol station and are being waved right back out of it. “Closed” even though the sign says: “open”. A few hundred meters later we finally find an open petrol station and fill up our thirsty Globetrotter. Just before Monopoli we find a nice spot with a cliff down to the sea and an inlet. After Logan went for a run, he jumped into the refreshing (freezing!) cold water. Unfortunately we have run out of water and also need to do our dishes in the sea. That made for a salty aftertaste. Oh well.

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Grotti di Frasassi, Europe’s biggest cave system

I open the blinds and squint through the window of our Globetrotter. Half asleep I say: “Caves!” Logan is confused: “What?” So I repeat it: “We gotta go to the caves today, it’s raining!” “Ah!” he replies and turns around for another 5 seconds. Then he jumps up and says: “Ok let’s get going then.”
We make our way to the “Grotti di Frasassi”, Europe’s biggest cave system. I have to admit; I found out about the cave by accident when reading the Lonely Planet guidebook. On the way, we stop at Tolentino to buy a few groceries and to find a shop with TIM sim cards. In a town where hardly anyone speaks English, it is quite a challenge to find the store. Even Google is of no help. Eventually I get a street name off a lady in a 3-Store, another telephone provider. Surprisingly we find the TIM store quickly, just that the service inside the store is anything else but quick. We wait around for what seems like over an hour and finally get served. Yippie, 20Euros and 250MB per week included for free. That’s pretty good and will save a lot of international roaming fees.

It is a rather long drive to Genga because of the mountainous terrain and we got lost quite a few times. The main issue being, that the caves are not in Genga, as Google suggests. No, they are actually 15min out of town. No drama then.
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We park the Globetrotter in a large outdoor car park with only a few cars in it. We are very much out of season, being here in April, which also has the disadvantage of only Italian tours being offered until June.

A bus takes us and about 15 other people to the cave entrance. I see a sign of a photo camera in a red circle, with a line through it. It dawns on me that there may also be no video cameras allowed but I’m still hoping they are only referring to flash cameras. While the woman, guiding us into the cave, runs through her spiel (in Italian!), we get the camera out and try to secretly film the cave. At some point she stops and talks into our direction. Oops! I’ve got no idea what she’s saying but I think she doesn’t want us to film. Soon after we get past a coin-operated photo machine. Great. So why don’t they just sell photo and film licenses then? And who “possesses” this cave anyway that they can forbid taking footage home with you? It almost makes me angry and I keep filming secretly from time to time. Most of the visitors do and we smile at each other with understanding. The caves were discovered 1971 and have been used to conduct experiments in chronobiology. I don’t particularly like to be guided around a place that is so fascinating, especially when not even understanding what is being said. I would rather like to take my own time and to get lost in this different world. I keep discovering holes and smaller caves in the walls high above us and below us and when there is a moment of silence, you can hear the stalactites dripping onto the stalagmites. A tour in English would have probably helped make it more interesting.
Halfway through the cave, Logan turns around at me and says: “I just talked to someone from Currumbin Waters!” I can hardly express what a co-incidence and surprise this is. How unlikely would you meet someone from the other side of the world, in a cave in Italy, way out of season? We haven’t seen any tourists so far and the first ones we run into, are almost our neighbours. Hi Nick and girlfriend (so sorry I forgot your name!). If you read this, say hello and we can catch up for coffee when we’re back. But we’ll surely run into each other sooner or later anyway.

We return to our ‘base camp’ Colmurano and are looking forward to the Monti Sibillini National Park tomorrow (if the weather will allow so).
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The Veneto, Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 6 (by Francy)

Oh hey, while people still work on the bathrooms we are at least allowed to use the toilets and showers today. What first stands out to me again, is the loosy goosy way labourers work in Italy. Cement is splashed all over the shower walls and it just doesn’t look done properly. The toilets are also built too closely to the door that you can only sit down with your body straight up and the flush is the coming out like a fountain! The water is splashing all over the toilet bowl and onto the floor. I find that somewhat disgusting and amusing at the same time. Welcome to Italy, or should I say Mediterranean countries, as similar things have happened to me before in France and Spain as well.

We empty our grey water again, fill up clean water and this time also empty the toilet box. “Eww!” You would think. That’s what we expected too but it’s not actually smelly or disgusting at all. All that comes out is blue “water” and you wouldn’t even see it, if I wasn’t so curious to bend down and look in the waste shute. It’s all blue from a chemical we put into the toilet that breaks down whatever goes into it; even toilet paper. While I get rid of all the rubbish Logan walks to reception to pay.

“14 Euros please!” “Excuse meee???” Yesterday he said 10 Euros! Now why is it 14? The guy at reception says: “I made a mistake yesterday, it’s not 10, it’s 14.” When Logan tells me that I’m furious. I guess it doesn’t help much to be angry now and I remind myself of the fact that we got away with washing a few clothes in the washing machine without paying.

We drive on towards Venice but don’t want to go there just yet. The weather isn’t quite perfect and we rather want a full day in Venice, so we just drive around to see if we can find a free parking spot for the night and have a look how we get into Venice.

After having lunch next to a small river, we drive on to Venice. A long bridge leads over to the islands. We find a car park on the island of Tronchetto: 21 Euros for 12 hours and an extra 16 Euros on top every 12 hours. We decide to drive back to that same spot at the river and come back in the morning to then have a max. of 12 hours in Venice.

The drive back was another interesting one with one Italian man suddenly swerving onto our lane, racing towards us and turning into his driveway only seconds before he would have hit us. Another person overtakes us where there is a double line indicating, “overtaking not allowed”. Road rules are just a suggestion in Italy!

The landscape has changed a lot since Slovenia. There are fields as far as the eye can see and big brick houses in the middle of them with a few bushes around. Long driveways lead to those houses that often look abandoned and in ruins.

We try and approach a few of these deserted houses however discovered that they were not abandoned but still in ruins with roofs, windows or walls missing.

We are trying the fishing thing again; and again without success. It must be the wrong bait, as so far we are only using little colourful rubber bait and they probably don’t help much in murky water. Once it gets dark we start to get a little worried that police might see us and give us a nice big fine. It’s Easter weekend so it’s more likely they check for illegal campers. We hear a group of people walking out of a nearby church, going in a circle and chanting before heading back in. We’re looking forward to see Venice tomorrow…

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Touring Europe

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After almost two months, including a 5-week visit to Australia, we are back to our mission. The motor home is waiting to get ready and ahead lie 6 months of travelling through Europe.

Day 1: (by Logan)

The plan was to leave tomorrow.. but I couldn’t wait another day. After spending most of the day packing all of our gear into the van and doing last minute vehicle checks we hit the road at around 3pm. Francy and her parents are a little different to me. They are very precise, cautious and seem to take their time getting ready. After I started packing away my clothes at about 7 in the morning, Francy, and then her mum, helped to get everything ready and decorated our van with flower stickers, pictures and other hippyish attire. Some of which Francy had painted herself with window colour, like the GloberiderTube hippie letters and a big green map of Europe on which we want to track our journey.

Where as I am somewhat the opposite. If it were up to me I would’ve left in the morning, grabbed what was necessary, before hitting the road with music full blast and only a direction in mind, only having to turn around after realising that I forgot something, or worse: would have been fined by the police because I didn’t have a first aid kit, a fire extinguisher or what else. I guess there is a lot to think of when you take off for a big adventure like this!

While I was a little frustrated at our slow progress I now appreciate our cool looking Wohnmobil and the fact that we are fully equipped. It definitely feels more homely and has a bit more character now. Sometimes patience is a virtue.

It’s only been a few hours into our trip and we’ve already hit a snag. A simple stop for Diesel has turned into an embarrassing 2hr waste of time. We can’t get the fuel cap off!!! We’ve been trying for about 10 minutes and even requested assistance from the fuel attendant who has just given up with a “sorry mate can’t help ya” look on his face.

Luckily Francy joined the ADAC (roadside assistance) who should be here in about an hour. After a brief ‘hello’ the mechanic just walks up to our van and with a quick turn to the left, it’s open! We can’t believe it; he did it with such ease and confidence. He must think we are idiots and what a waste of time it was for him. We’ve realised that when it was locked it was actually unlocked and just needed a good strong turn. We were sure it was locked, therefore didn’t apply too much force with fear we might snap it. Oh well, at least it isn’t broken.

To top it off we chose the expensive diesel by mistake, so decided to stop and fill the rest of the tank with the cheaper stuff. Which means Francy has to go and pay before we can start the second pump. We’ll be glad to leave this servo (this is Australian for “petrol station”).

It’s after 10pm and we’ve found a free camping area not too far away from Nuremberg. Its pretty cold outside at the moment and will only get colder during the night. We should be fine, Francy loves the cold……… NOT, but we have plenty of blankets.

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Austria – Kirchdorf, Tirol

The alarm rings but we ignore it. It’s just not a good start for a holiday, so we add another two hours of sleep before finally getting up. Our bags are full of winter clothes and the skiing gear is already waiting for us in the car.

Logan forgot his ski pants in Robert’s car when they climbed the Brocken over a week ago, so we have to go to his place to pick them up. Then we have about 6.5 hours drive ahead.
Behind Munich, the picturesque scene on the horizon is beautiful. When the big wall of mountains appears, the sun is just about to set behind them. It looks like you couldn’t get through the mountainous landscape, just when you find out that the highway is bending and leading right into the majestic Alps.
Upon arrival in Kirchberg we have to learn that our Chalet is in Kirchdorf. Panic sets in: Hopefully Kirchdorf is not too far away?! Lucky, 20 minutes later we are in Kirchdorf at the Mountain High Chalet right near a creek. The snow is over a meter high but unfortunately it is raining.
Slightly exhausted we sit down to have a three-course meal, which is part of our booking each night (apart from Tuesday) for this week. Vegetable soup, Wiener Schnitzel with fries and cake: my goodness that was delicious and filling.

The chalet owner tells us he is French and his wife a Kiwi. Then he tells us, the ski hut down the road is owned by an Australian woman. The Alpenrider in Kirchberg is also owned by an Australian. Seems there are a few around from Down Under. Logan smirks.

Beep beep, beep beep. Great, again the alarm waking us up! This time we actually have to get up because breakfast is only between 8-9:30am. While I almost want to complain, thoughts of white powdery snow are shooting through my head. We are going skiing today!
The look out of the window makes me want to jump right back into bed: it is still raining and the snow is wet!!

I convince myself that it’s all going to be ok and jump under the shower: next dilemma! I forgot my hairdryer at home.

After breakfast we are asking our host whether he thinks it’s worth trying to ski up the top of the mountains. He checks the weather forecast for us and recommends the Steinplatte (stone plateau), a mountain at around 1800m.

Logan and I walk across the street to get him fitted with a snowboard, boots and helmet. Not an easy task when you have shoe size 49 (14)! Bloody hell Logan, your index toe is a weird one! There is still a very big blister on top of that same toe from his Malerweg trekking adventure; only because it’s too long for every shoe and bends up in a funny way.

With a board as big as a raft and boots one size too small (it was the biggest size they had) we are now off to the Steinplatte, only a few km down the road.
From down the bottom we can visibly see the snowline. The trees suddenly go white from a certain altitude; that’s a great sign! The gondola takes us up past the snow line, and up… and up… and then even further up!!! You can only see about a quarter of the length of the gondola from the bottom, so we were quite surprised at how high we were taken. At the top of the Steinplatte there was so much snow, we couldn’t believe our eyes; and then we realised our eyes couldn’t make much sense of all the white anyway. Snow on the ground, white sky and falling snow resulted in one white image. It was incredibly hard to see how steep a hill was or whether there were any bumps on the track. My goggles helped to take the glare away but I still couldn’t quite see. Poor Logan didn’t have proper ski-goggles, only his sunnies that were a bit too dark and would fog up.

And off we went, howling down like the wind, as if we never did anything else. Ok, Logan fell over a few times and I did once, but let’s call it “tricks”. Yeah, we did some tricks!
Four hours went past like one and we only stopped because my muscles started to burn. What great fun, good we got a few more days to go!

Back at the “Mountain High” Chalet we checked out our footage and Logan even fell asleep for a few minutes. At 6pm we went down for our three-course meal: Soup, Goulash with Spätzle and Banana Split. Mmmmmmhhh! I’m about to explode and Logan isn’t moving either, right Logan? … Logan?? Oh, he’s asleep again!

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Malerweg Day 4

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Malerweg
Day 4

By Logan Foote

What a night!!! I knew I was in an exposed location but didn’t really have much of a choice yesterday. Every other spot that was sheltered was waterlogged or too steep.

The temperature dropped well below 0 and the wind was so strong. Perched up on the edge on a U-shaped plateau, the sound of the wind howling through the trees was intense. I could hear the massive wind gusts approaching from one end of the cliff top, heading in my direction like a freight train on steroids and then continuing on past me. . At times I had to hold my little tent together as I feared it would buckle under the stress.

I then started to hear the sound of either raindrops or ice being pelted against my tent. I tried to sleep but not much was to be had. At one stage I dosed off only to be awoken by the tent collapsing onto my head. I couldn’t understand this because the wind was not gusting at the particular time. Other thoughts of a branch, an animal or person ran through my mind in that split second as I awoke. I realised no one else in their right mind would be up here at this time and in this weather. I pushed back against the tent before grabbing my torch to inspect what was going on.

Upon opening the zipper I quickly released that it was not raining during the night but snowing. The snow had built up around my tent and due to the weight made it partially collapse.

I arose from my tent around sunrise to be confronted by a completely different landscape. The supposed mild winter had taken a turn and now a new set of challenges lay in front of me. The main one being: Could I still follow the track? It would be easy to take a wrong turn and be wondering around these rocky mountain cliffs and forests with almost no food left. After studying the map I weighed up my options. I could see another track that lead down to the river and a little village but was not sure exactly where it started in relation to my position.

After packing up my tent and dealing with the unpleasant business of a sudden bowl problem in the snow I was ready to go. The track was very hard to follow. At times I was guessing which direction to walk and with very steep cliffs all around me that were now covered in snow, now was not the time to be complaisant. I came across what looked like a small person’s footprint that seemed to be following the track. I knew that it had to be some kind of animal but no idea what. At times when I didn’t know which direction to walk, I followed these little footprints. I think if they were not there it would’ve been much harder to keep on the track and make it down safely to lower altitude.

I was very relieved when I managed to find the other track that lead to the river. So with that, I then decided that the wise thing to do would be to not continue along the Malerweg. The next two stages were through similar terrain with steep rocky cliffs, gorges and the unknown. My luck on the food front was not any better. The map only showed the odd little village along the way and a very low chance of a shop. I contemplated cutting across the river and linking up with another section of the trail but decided against it once I couldn’t find a bridge. I rang Francy when I had reception and filled her in. She offered to drive the 3 hr trip down to pick me up, which gave me time to walk the last 12km to the village “Bad Schandau”. I dragged myself into town searching for two things high on my list. Lip balm, as my lips were in bad shape and food. I was in luck. Once my lips were given relief I found a café and even though I hadn’t really eaten much over the past four days and was not really hungry I ordered a hot chocolate, salad roll and a donut. Awesome. I’m not sure what the locals thought of me or where I had come from but I didn’t care.

Francy eventually arrived, greeting me with a big smile and suggestion that I take a shower ASAP.

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