Kotor - Montenegro

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The drive from Dormitor National Park to the bay of Kotor in Montenegro was definitely the nicest scenery we saw on our road trip. Mainly because we crossed the entirety of Montenegro, and went through so many different landscapes. Also, the roads in Montenegro are a lot better than in Bosnia, which was a plus!
Ostrog Monastery
The first stop was the Ostrog Monastery. Established in the 17th century it is nestled within the cliffs near Niksic. Definitely worth a stop if you are in the area. Carrying on we quickly arrived towards the bay of Kotor, which is where the magic happened. I think Rachel would agree that this was the most beautiful area of our entire trip. The bay is a Fjord of sorts, despite looking like a lake, and spreads for 28km with about 100km of shore. If you are driving from the North you will arrive on the west side of the bay, which gives you a great view coming down into the bay.


You will have to drive all around the bay to finally reach the town of Kotor. Kotor is one of the best preserved medieval towns in the Adriatic and a UNESCO world heritage site... and for good reasons. The fortified town is absolutely breathtaking, especially amongst the dramatic mountains. 


Climbing up the fortified walls to the church of Our Lady Of Health.

Picture by Quinton

We stayed in a hostel right in the middle of the old town aptly named: Old Town Hostel. It was really good for the price and location. They offered tours, food and parties for people looking for entertainment. But I think what made Kotor stand out is the friends we met along the way (cheese!!), looking at you Q and Thom!

View from the Hostel
When in Kotor you absolutely need to climb up the fortified walls at sunset and see the bay under it's best light. Which is exactly what we did, with drinks, of course.

Our Lady Of Health from the fortified walls (aka the money shot)

More on Kotor and the end of our trip next time!

Sutjeska National Park - Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Ah.... the hiking day, and what a day that was. I had a chat recently with a friend who pointed out that the stories you tell from your travels are usually from parts you hadn't planned at all. Whether it be about people you couldn't have known you'd meet, places you didn't know existed, or that one time you got stranded on a mountain for 2 hours, 20km away from any form of human life. You know, casual.


Long story short: the mountains were unexpectedly covered in 45cm of snow completely out of season, the guy in charge of the refuge quit (maybe cause he has hella cold) meaning we couldn't stay in our accommodation since there was no heating or electricity, the snow made it impossible for us to climb Maglic, we hiked to the lake below it anyway, we got stranded 20km from any form of life for 2 hours, hiked an extra 8km after already hiking 13km, reached our car and then almost ran out of gas.... BUT it was awesome and I shall illustrate with pictures.

It all started with a rather dodgy 45 min ride in a Land Rover back from the dead:

Our driver dropped us at the beginning of the trail and sent us on our way. We hiked through forests, on cliff edges, on mountain slopes and through fog and snow. This made for a truly breathtaking scenery that doesn't quite translate on camera. Probably because our fingers were too cold to take non blurry pictures...

Hiking to Trnovacko Lake
After hiking a good 13km and feeling rather proud of ourselves (and cold) we were looking forward to getting back to the Land Rover where our lunch awaited us... except the car was nowhere to be seen. There had been a misunderstanding between us and the driver, neither of us speaking each other's language, who thought we'd be back within 3 hours when in fact it was a 4 hour hike. We didn't know this at the time, but after seeing us missing after three hours he decided to go fetch the ranger for help. This took him another 1h30 which is pretty much the length of time we were stranded at the meeting point, in sub zero conditions, thinking we were gonna die (ish). Anyways, we hiked towards the hotel, 20km into the forest, until he turned up and we found a warm car, our lunch, and all was well. 

Driving from Sutjeska to Dormitor National Park
Once we made it back to the hotel we got back in our car and began the drive to the other northern National park, which is across in Montenegro: The Dormitor National Park. This was an amazingly scenic drive as we crossed mountains, corniches and canyons. 
Tara River
The drive between the parks was only 40 km but crossing mountains is the operative phrase here... We expected the drive to take around 1h30 and not to use much gas, but how wrong we were! Since we were driving through hairpins constantly, the drive took a lot longer than expected and used up a lot more gas. Which is when we almost ran out, risking being stranded on a random mountain for the second time that day. Being my father's daughter however, and quite used to almost running out, we employed the "go downhill for 20km without pressing on the gas pedal" technique and got home safe after all. 

I must say that, in hindsight, this is one of my favorite memories of the trip... although we weren't so joyful at the time!

Tara River Canyon
Next time: Crossing Montenegro to reach the Bay of Kotor

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Why hello there, welcome back!

Back in October, I went on a little tour of Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro and Croatia with my cousin Rachel (who also writes an amazing blog: The Paper Napkin). The time has now come for me to share all the pictures, stories, tips and adventures with you guys... so enjoy!

First things first, the plan. I do love a good holiday plan, especially if it involves road trips because it allows you to add so may more things to your map! So here's the final version. We planned to travel around for 9 days starting from Sarajevo. The main destinations were: Sarajevo - Sutjeska National Park - Dormitor National Park - Kotor - Dubrovnik - Mostar - Sarajevo.

The big yellow stars are things not to miss in Bosnia and the red ones are things not to miss in Montenegro / Croatia.



I landed in Sarajevo late in the morning of our first day and met Rachel at the airport. We rented a rather dodgy car (more on that later) and made way to our hostel. The hostel was great by the way: The Doctor's House. It's perched on a hill though so might be a hassle if you are travelling using public transport! Since the weather at the end of October was also rather dodgy, we decided to maximise the good weather of the first day and go on a hike in the mountains behind Sarajevo. Yeah, mountains around Sarajevo, that's the first thing I learnt about Bosnia as soon as I flew in! Mountains, and lots of them...

Mountains behind Sarajevo in the fall
The destination was Skakavac Waterfall (waterfalls seem to be a bit of a theme on the blog these days, but I'm not one to complain). It is easily reachable if you have your own car, as is the case with 60% of the things we have seen and done. I think you could probably do our trip without a car and use public transport / tours, but then you would have to go to Bosnia in season which is in the summer. We went mid-October which isn't even shoulder season, it's like elbow season. But on the plus side, there was nobody there but us!

Hiking towards Skakavac
Skakavac Waterfall (can you spot it?)
Georgeous isn't it? It's roughly a 3 hour hike there and back, relatively easy with mild uphill parts but all on a dirt road. On the way back to our hostel our car broke (only 4hours after it apparently underwent full a technical check might I add) so we had to get it replaced. We swapped for  a much less dodgy one which was an added bonus.

View of Sarajevo from cemetery
The next day we quickly visited Sarajevo's old town, knowing we could do more sightseeing on our return at the end of the trip and made our way to the Sutjeska National Park.

I must admit I was a bit worried about the roads in Bosnia whilst researching itineraries and sights to see. A lot of travel companies will tell you that the roads aren't great and that a 4x4 is needed. But I think that's just to scare you into buying a packaged tour from them. To be honest, the roads were really good. Driving downtown Sarajevo is a bit crazy, but nothing compared to London unless you are planning on driving through the tiny roads near the cemetery, that's a big no no. And the roads in the countrysides have a couple pot holes, but again, not much worse than in Canada after a really cold winter. Oh and then there are landmines... But we only saw the warning ⚠️ landmines sign a couple of times and it was in random back roads between Bosnia and Croatia (shocker we got lost). 

Conditions of roads from Sarajevo to Sutjeska (see not bad!)
In any case, the scenery from Sarajevo to the Sutjeska National Park is really beautiful and well worth the road trip. We arrived at the entrance of the national park and were greeted by a majestic war monument, ready to take on the hike the next day!

War monument at entrance of Sutjeska National Park
Next up: Hiking at the foot of Maglic, in the Sutjeska National Park.



Iceland - Part 4

Friday, April 1, 2016

And now the adventure ends.... After having hiked the day before and seen a whirlwind of the Golden Circle we were eager to carry on our trip. There is so much to see in Iceland, you just never get bored!

Geysir

First up was the Geysir. Another must if you are visiting Iceland. It's a fun thing to go see but I wouldn't hype it up too much. It can be busy and the massive Geysir doesn't 'erupt' at the moment, so the one you see in the picture is a baby one. Definitely go check it out, but don't make a day of it.

I really wanted to see the tectonic plates in the Thingvellir National Park. If you have time and a licence definitely go scuba diving or snorkeling between them. It is said to be the clearest water in the world.


Silfra Tectonic Plates

I wish we had a polariser on this lens to really show you how deep the crevasse went... 
From the National Park it is a relatively short drive to another hot pool, so we thought we would finish our last day properly. I am so glad we did as this was the best one of them all! It's called Hrunalaug GPS:  N64.140339°, W20.259107°




Hrunalau
It was the perfect temperature and had a little house to change in, it has two different baths so more than one group of people could use it at once, and is only a 5 minute walk from where you can park your car.

Having relaxed we drove back to Reykjavik where we had our final meal and said our goodbyes u to this tiny and wonderful island that is Iceland.




Final tips and useful links:
  • Rent a car. Preferably a 4x4 if you are planning on doing more than route 1. Take the insurance that covers everything as there are lots of little rocks that could crack a windscreen etc...
  • If you are doing the whole island do it clockwise, saves the most packed area for last without spoiling your expectations for the begining
  • If you want to see the northern lights download an app or check a website which has KP indexes and an hourly cloud coverage report
  • Use this website for all hostels:  http://www.hostel.is/
  • You can find some kickass airbnbs too
  • If you want to do the blue lagoon, go to the one in the north rather than the touristy one near the airport
  • Go hike!
  • Check out all hot pools using: http://hotpoticeland.com/
  • Layer layer layer
  • If you want to eat cheap, gas stations serve really good hotdogs and fat free healthy yoghurt called Skyr. This with some granola should have your breakfasts and lunches sorted.
  • Download a very detailed map on your iphone / ipad for when you will be lost.

Good luck! xox 

Iceland - Part 3

Friday, April 1, 2016

Here comes the final part.... the Golden Circle. And it really deserves its name, the South-West part of Iceland is jammed packed with sights to see. Every 20 minutes there's something you wouldn't want to miss, and that doesn't count the beauty of the road itself! Have a look for yourself...

Route 1 - Jökulsárlón

Coming from the North we decided to 'skip' the east side of the island. *Gasp* I know I know skipping a whole quarter of a tiny island seems a bit harsh.... but to be honest there isn't that much to see! And we were really pushed for time. If you are there for around 10 days I would say to do it, but if not, just clock in 100km at night and wake up in the Golden Circle! The particularity of this part of Iceland is that it is a lot more mountainous and surrounded by a huge glacier. Which makes stumbling upon icebergs just making there way out to sea quite usual. Like what?!

Jökulsárlón

This picture, believe it or not, was basically taken out of the dashboard of the car. That's how close you can get to them from the road!



Oh yeah, that's me holding an Iceberg, kinda, no biggie. The icebergs are located in a lagoon called Jökulsárlón and depending on your luck, they will be close to the road (as in alsmot out to sea) or far up in the lagoon. If they are far up, you can take a tour boat which will bring you close to them. There is also luck needed for you to see turquoise ones. They will only be this color if they have just recently turned upside down and haven't been exposed to the elements for very long. In any case, its well worth a visit, and its just off route 1.

If you cary on past the glaciers you will quickly arrive in Vik. This is a biggish town, with a great hostel. It has black sand beaches, shops and a couple restaurants! Pretty much a metropolis for Iceland. However, it also comes with tour buses. Which can be less plesant.


Vik
We stayed the night in Vik and left ridiculously early in order to try and catch the northern lights. The KP index was good and we finally had some clear skies. We drove away from town and pulled over on the side of the roadto wait.


And it payed off! It only lasted a couple of minutes but it was unlike anything I have ever seen. I always thought the brightness of them were a photographer's ruse, and that you couldn't see them so clearly in real life. I was so very wrong. It is even brighter in person, and so beautiful. 

The moment quickly passed as clouds rolled back in, so we made our way to Skogafoss where we wanted to start our hike. 


Skógafoss
Skógafoss is a great waterfall. It is the most textbook waterfall I've seen in Iceland. It's grand and high and straight and noisy. And because it's Iceland, you'll occasionally get a rainbow thrown in there. We were in the parking so early that we were able to see it before anyone else got here, and we could start our hike before the busses rolled in. 

The hike is called "Fimmvörðuháls" and goes from Skogafoss to Thorsmork. On a good day it is said to be an easy hike, but because the weather in constantly changing it can be very challenging. The hike can be a three day affair, going behing Skogafoss, across the glacier, up to a volcano (the one that errupted a couple of years ago and grounded all the planes) and back down to the valley of Gods. We didn't have the time to do all three days, so settled for the 1st day itinerary, which brings you behind the waterfall. 

It is a beautiful route, you get to see a total of 23 waterfalls along a meandering cliff top path.



I can say that this hike has claimed the 1st place in all of my hiking experiences so far! 
A couple minutes after this photo was taken the weather changed for the worst. It started to snow. Legit snow. We decided not to go to the foot of the glacier and make our way back to the warm car instead.

Since it was only the beggining of the afternoon we continued on route 1 to see Seljalandsfoss, another majestic waterfall. This is one of the most famous Icelandic waterfalls and with reason.

Seljalandsfoss

You can walk behind (and be sprayed by) the waterfall which is a great experience. If you continue on the path that leads you to the waterfall on your left, you will find another secret waterfall. You have to walk through a little river on stepping stones, but your wet feet will be worth it.


A secret waterfall in a cave!

To finish off this day which has emotion filled, we went to a hot pool. Again, one of the famous hot baths if you have been looking up Iceland on Instagram. It was suprisingly empty, and is set in between grand mountains.

Seljavallalaug

Look at how small the people are in this picture... it will give you an idea of the scale!
Seljavallalaug

And that was it for the day! All pictures by Lukas Fieber :)

Here's a summary for those of you planning a trip:
Golden Circle musts:
  • Glacier lagoon
  • Godafoss
  • Hike behind Godafoss
  • Seljalandsfoss
  • Secret waterfall near Seljalandsfoss
  • Hot pool between Godafoss and Seljalandsfoss : Seljavallalaug

















Iceland - Part 2

Friday, December 18, 2015

The adventure continues! I left us at Akureyri in the last post as it marked the halfway point of our trip... And there is so much more coming!

Akureyri

We left early from Akureyri to make our way to the Myvatn lake.On the way we stumbled upon the most beautiful waterfall... accurately named the waterfall of Gods.

Godafoss
Which calls for a session of stop-drop-and-yoga!

Godafoss
A quick re-fuel for the car and coffee refill for us and we were on our way to Myvatn.

Myvatn


First stop - a casual hike! On the south side of Myvatn lake you will find an incredibly well maintained nature reserve where you can go for casual strolls. Making the most of the rare rays of sunshine, we took the opportunity to stretch our legs amongst old craters and lava rocks. September is a beautiful time to visit Iceland as the weather is not too cold, and you get to witness the leaves changing colors as you travel.

Next up - the secret Blue Lagoon.


Myvatn Baths
The Blue Lagoon, the real one that is, is located within the Golden Circle in South-West Iceland. It is extremely beautiful but overcrowded and overpriced. If you have the chance to travel all around Iceland, I cannot reccomend the Myvatn Baths enough. They are just as striking as the Blue Lagoon and alot more peaceful. At £10 per person compared to £35 for the Blue Lagoon its definitely worth a detour!

Feeling very relaxed, we continued on our adventure to see the widest waterfall in Europe! (Apparently.)
On the way, as seems to be the norm in Iceland, we stumbled upon another amazing sight... Sulphur mud pots. I know it doesn't sound great, and to be fair it really didn't smell fantastic, but it looked pretty kickass.


Hverir

A short drive off route 1 will bring you to Selfoss. If you are debating wheater or not to make the detour (30mins each way)... just do it! Like everything else in Iceland... you really can't go wrong. 


Selfoss
Selfoss is extremely impressive, as it trully is massive. I must say it's a bit frightening when you see first hand the power nature has over everything else. We stayed for a while listening to the roar of Selfoss until we made our way to the next and final stop: Víti.




It is a hot pool in a crater! You don't get much more Iceland than that I'd say...

And it is with that that we finished the most amazing day of the trip so far... I still can't quite believe it.

More to follow... bye for now!


 ps: what am I doing with my feet... huh?

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