Small is sometimes better…

As we travel and explore the world it is rather seldom, that we venture into, and get to see and feel the life in the small towns. Big cities and the tourist destinations we do go to,  they are easy to find, everybody is talking about them and of course, normally a city is just has more live into it. More things to see, do and experience.

But that is by no means a reason not to go to the small towns and villages. I might be a little bit biased in this matter. I have somewhat an allergy towards city trips. Cities do not usually end up into mine or Waffle’s travel “to do” lists. But there are just so many hidden jewels in those small, sleepy towns in every single country I have traveled to. Often in those places, in my opinion, you get to see the real culture and the real people, life is less global in these places. And in a way, the culture of the capital and cities, it stems from the villages and countryside.

Take Italy for example, at best, you find a remarkably different cuisine from one village to another. France is not left far behind. Do I need to even mention cheeses and wine? Not forgetting the ever changing architecture from coast to the mountains and back? Not forgetting Belgium, every single village here has a brewery to visit, sometimes even a good one. I am pretty sure the small towns in every country have something similar to surprise people with.

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We have traveled through dozens of cute little villages, some downright ugly ones too, but what would life be without good contrasts! Some of the nicest lingering memories from our travels we have collected for a village here or there. Like the unbeatable surveillance system of Romanian villages: grannies sitting by the road. Or the vines in the pergolas of almost every house in Montenegro. And the faint smell of smoke in winter lingering around the mountain villages of France, when people are keeping their toes warm. All in all, the atmosphere is different in towns compared to bigger communities. Everybody more or less knows each other and a traveler is always a stranger.

These things don’t end up in travel guides. Which is understandable, no bureau of travel has the time or resources to go through and discover an endless amount of small places people have chosen to live in. It can indeed be time consuming.

The way me and Waffle travel, almost always takes us to these places. Sometimes randomly, sometimes by planning.  I like these small strolls we have in towns. It gets me into the mood of being abroad.

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How do we manage to end up in the small places then? A car. A car is the answer. Unfortunately relying on public transport would be time consuming in this business. Most every time when we head abroad we leave the airport or harbor in a car. Then as we plan on crossing half a country in that said vehicle it is more or less inevitable to pass some villages. Bit of magic on the Google maps will often help us to get started and lessen the randomness factor. Sometimes we even manage to take a photo or two of them, before disappearing for days into the shrubbery.

I guess there needs to be a purpose of this rambling. Let it be an intro to the pictures we actually managed to capture of the villages we have passed during our travels. Maybe this will be an inspiration too, to some of you out there, to take a break of your city/beach/nature holiday and take a step towards a small town somewhere. Sometimes it is worth it to go explore these places in your home country, trust me!

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Montenegro – A Fairytale – Part 3

Part one is here!

Part two is here!

And all the pics here!

So far we had seen the mountains on the Albanian side, and we had just gone through beautiful walks in Durmitor. It was time to move towards the Bosnia and Herzegovina border. We would be skipping the famous Tara canyon, and be heading to the top of Maglic. The pictures of that mountain had really impressed the both of us.

The short climb we had done during the early afternoon left us enough time to relaxedly drive to Pluzine and push through the first kilometers on our trail towards the peak. The road taking us from Durmitor to Pluzine drove us through endless alpine meadows and gave us amazing views to gorges and valleys. Sometimes the sceneries reminded me of Lapland. Funnily enough.

We started our sharp descent from the Durmitor’s plateau along the narrow road. It is sometimes a little nerve wrecking to get down to the gorge of Pivsko lake. The corners are tight hairpins and tunnels are plentiful. Sometimes the hairpin turns around in the tunnel and they are pitch black!

After a short pit stop at Pluzine we headed alongside the Pivsko lake to north. Our hike would be starting from the village of Mratinje. The village is every bit soviet. You see the buildings of it and the surroundings, the colors they have chosen to paint their houses with. It is rather clean Yugoslavia there. The town people seem to be just like in every other village we passed. Happy and busy at work, turning hay to dry or preparing the fence where a silly cow escaped. That region is apparently mostly populated by Serbs and orthodox Christians.

Our poor little car was suffering as we pushed our way higher up towards the foot of the climb. We dumped the noble steed at the side of the road close to where our hike would be starting. We were first met by young girl and a grand mother herding cows towards the village. They were staring us a bit oddly, with a glimmer of smile on their eyes. I think it was because our bear bells; we sounded like cows while walking. After Mratinje there was still another small village, the name of which we didn’t get to know. The villagers were hard at work at the scorching heat of the late afternoon. Some of them stopped, asking us something in Montenegrin. I guess they wanted to know our destination. A granny bursted in laughter after realizing we had no clue what she was saying. Giving a thumbs up as we uttered out the word Maglic.

We had two hours to go until sunset, plenty of time to hike a few kilometers and find a camping spot for the night. Or so we thought. The heat was suffocating, as it was combined with quite some moist. It didn’t take long until all our clothing was completely soaked with sweat. It made us a little nervous, since we didn’t know if we were going to find any water on the mountain and there was only so much we were able to carry.

The dusk was upon us and we were desperately searching for a flat spot where our tent could fit. They seem to be thin in those mountains. It was getting really dim already once I finally spotted a clearing in the woods, stamped over it and approved it suitable for camping purposes. We were eaten alive by mosquitoes while putting up camp so we skipped the dinner. A strong breakfast would have to do for the next day.

We seemed to be a wonderful attraction for local squirrels. There were dozens of them running around us in trees, making quite some noise. As we crawled into the tent, they dared to come rather close, we were waiting that some of them would even peak into the porch.

The morning brought misery. Our sweaty clothing hadn’t managed to dry at all, poor Waffle hadn’t slept more than an hour and the mosquitoes were still there. We packed all the stuff quickly and marched on. Thinking happily, that at least we hadn’t turned into a meal for a bear.

We were planning on having the strong breakfast a little bit further, in a more open spot, so that the mosquitoes were less likely to keep us company. After a while we received a pleasant surprise. A spring! Yet another Shangri La, keeping us alive. We drank as much as we could and had a full blown sitting feast with double coffee! Oh, it was beautiful there. The trail was climbing up in between two peaks, giving a great view on both of them. There were some clouds drifting in and even a bit of wind offering a relieve from the heat.

We had been warned about the trail being poorly marked and difficult to find. That was partially true, the trail was literally nonexistent at many places but the route marking was done so well, that there was no fear of getting lost. GPS tracker was for the most part useless.

A bit higher we found our next camping spot and hid our stuff under a bush to make the climb go a little easier. From that spot we would have a splendid view over the valley we were climbing from with a small lake down below too.

Our hike continued in the midst of fields with flowers, all colors from the shades of blue, pink, purple, yellow and white were surrounding us, even with the mountain breeze you could smell the vanilla and sweetness of them. Also thousands of love hungry snails were keeping us company.

It was a long but very gentle climb. Once we reached the edge of a connecting bridge we were rewarded with quite a view over Trnovačko lake in the bottom of a steep valley, surrounded by medieval forests. The lake has the shape of a heart and is, as mountain lakes always are, bright blue in color. We hoped we would have had time to get down there, but unfortunately we didn’t, that will be left for when we return to that wonderland.

The rest of the way to the peak was plain old ridge walking. The weather was cooling down and we progressed fast. The last climb to the very peak was a bit of scrambling, but noting too difficult. We were greeted by a Finnish flag on top, that of course made me very happy. We looked over to Bosnia and Herzegovina, which seems to offer endless landscape of gorges and green mountains. The silence up there was amazing, the mountains swallowing all the sound of the world below us.

We left a quick note in the summit post and headed down, back the way we came from. That was the last mountain hike for the holiday. We were feeling a bit sentimental. The rest of the holiday we would be spending at the seaside, like a pair of decent tourists. The tiredness started to eat on Waffle rather strongly on the way down. Luckily we reached the camping spot quickly and got to relax for the night.

Morning came and down we went. Through forest and fields of strawberries. Once we reached the village we left from the people turned to us and waved us happily welcomed. At their own spring they were cooling down beers for the people who were hard at work in the fields. Beautiful spot to end a hike I would say. There were also tons and tons of wild strawberries at our route and I went wild picking them, they are such a luxury when you are out in the nature.

We crossed the Pivsko damn again on the way towards Niksic. You fully realize how massive the Pivsko lake is only when you see the gorge on the other side of the dam. The dam is one of the highest in Europe and the river emerging on the other side of it is left far below your feet when you look down.

We headed south towards the coast, booked a hotel for two nights in the city of Bari and arrived in the Kotorska bay. On the way we met some very lovely stray dogs and gave them water. I would have so much like to adopt them, but yeah, not right now. We drove from the Croatian border towards Albania, passing by a holiday destination after another, with brown people crawling to their hotels from the beach. I was not happy to find ourselves from a place like that, after such a wonderful time in the mountains.

The real shock came fully in the morning. The mercury climbed to 36 degrees and the moist air was suffocating. We sought shelter in the car, it had AC and did a small road trip. Up to the hillsides between lake Skadar and the coast. Some vigorous search on Google maps showed us a calm bay in the lake; a swim paradise! There we sat in the water, with small fish nibbling on our skin and sun setting slowly behind the hills. When the local people started to gather we left to drive through the P16 that follows the western coast of Skadar. The road is listed as a dangerous road, but with common sense and careful driving it is not really life threatening. The scenery it offers is filled with wonder. The road gos through a walnut forest and quite some hillsides full of greenery. Definitely worth driving!

The last day came, we collected ourselves up from the bed slowly, packed and headed towards Podgorica. On the way there we had found a beautiful looking swimming spot, that was said to be popular among the local people. It is a river, that runs from the mountains to Skadar. On the go, it has plenty of pools and waterfalls. You can find the spot by Googling restaurant Niagara in Podgorica. That was a nice end for this trip. WE tasted some very excelelnt local wine the restaurant is making and watched people enjoying the day.

Our flight was delayed, thanks to a thunderstorm that watered the whole group of passengers waiting outside. It looked so similar to the situation back at home when we actually left from Charleroi.

So, that was it, our story from Montenegro. It was certainly one of the best trips I have ever done. Loved it almost all the way and we’ll want to return in a few years time. For a tourist who loves peace and wants to see the original unspoiled culture and nature of Montenegro, go there. Go there now!

Hiking in Hotton

It was such a lovely Saturday yesterday. When you wake up in the morning with a sunshine like that, with, oh so springy feeling and too much espresso, you want to get out and hiking. Or at least so do Waffle and I.

We have been struggling with getting the activity levels up again, but yesterday it was rather difficult to find any excuses to stick to the sofa. So we searched for a nice hike, not so far away and headed towards Hotton, in Walloon. That would take us about 15 kilometers through Belgian countryside.

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Hotton is such a lovely, and very Wallonian village somewhere on the eastern edge of Ardennes. Our trail took off at the center of the village and quickly took us into the fields and forests. The area seems to be densely populated by badgers. So much so, that farmers diligently fence off their fields. The badger trails are constantly crossing streams and roads. We passed some dead badgers too. Such a sad sight.

Our 15 kilometers quickly grew longer, by accidental wrong turn. We had to trust in Google maps for a moment. Guiding your way through trails only relying on small piece of map and description can be difficult. I recommend descent maps (Note to self)! A small detour and map reading later we found back on the right course and found the next very cute village. So cute and small that people don’t seem to even lock their doors, since the most dangerous intruder is the badger or neighbor borrowing sugar. Or what ever french people borrow from each other.

We kept a hard eye on the guide book and managed to stay on the trail. Exiting the village brought us to a plain of fields high up on top of a hill. There we saw a black line of birds appearing in the horizon. There we cranes! Wedge after another of them, must have been over thousand birds in total, making their way up into north, towards Scandinavia and Russia. Maybe among them there was the couple that stays close by my childhood home. Oh the nostalgia.

We still had quite some kilometers to go, both of us getting a little it tired and the air cooling down as the sun was drooping lower and lower. We passed still another village, spotted some deer and oddly behaving bulls on a field and were thoroughly chilled and tired when we arrived back at the car. But they day had been very beautiful again, nature pampered us a little, and I find myself again to be very fond of the southern half of Belgium!

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Beautiful sunset!

Today we still crawled onto a trail. To the coastal side, near Knokke, here in Belgium. Our legs were already sore and the hike felt extremely long. We probably managed to pick the most boring trail there was! Nothing more to mention about that.

More of the pictures here!