Small is sometimes better…

Town, France, Village

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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My Favorite Corners in the World – So Far

Balloon, beach, floating

I am now rather useless with my right hand being all packaged up. I can read, write, make a cold lunch and wonder around endlessly. Time does not go especially fast when you spend it like that. It rather lingers and pokes weird areas in you brain.  Today I was reading a book (Katja Kettu, Surujenkerääjä) side by the Scheldt that runs by Rupelmonde. Funny that river, you can see the time passing as the docs screech and whine with the tide pushing them up or down. There is also this a yellow buoy that bounces and turns with the currents. I don’t know, somehow it catches my eye every now and then. It has the ability to make my mind wonder, so I let it wonder, and let you suffer the consequences.

Today, I was thinking all the places I have seen so far, all the places that have left memories behind. So here you have it, the travel destinations I would not mind returning to, maybe they are part of your journey too, or will enter it somewhere in the future.

Finland, that sometimes cold and dark corner on the edge of the world came to my mind first. Probably for obvious reasons; my roots are there and a big part of my heart is there. I like the mentality of the Finns, I like the food, love the nature and miss the sauna. As well as the sense of peace and serenity. The “Lake district” is, to me, dear above all others.

One place I have feelings for (sorry Waffle) is the northern France. There is our favorite buggy beach. A third home for us, in some ways. There I have done quite some learning and had some of the happiest moments in a good while. There is of course more to northern France than Les Hemmes. I am very fond of the nature and the landscape of the area, it has a flow to it. It calms me down and the waving fields of grain makes me feel like home. The white cliffs are there and you can see England with a bit of luck, I like it. Normandy is great too! And as we are talking about France, there are the Vosges, containing the first ever mountain I climbed on the Christmas day, 2014. As well as plenty of wild blueberries in the late summer!

Mm, speaking of England, well, Great Britain. Which part of the island do I like best? That is a tough call. The first encounter of its wonders we had in the Lake District, with fairy tale valleys and soft hills, and views to the sea. Scotland, of course Scotland. It is just a magical place with the lochs and mountains. More touristic though. And the latest conquest, being a small part of Wales. The best thing about Wales is the fact that it is so compact, you know. Right next to mountains you have the seaside. Wild ponies were a definite bonus.

The place that left the strongest memories was probably Mt. Olympus in Greece. The hike up Olympus was probably the heaviest I have done so far. We were in a bit of a tight squeeze with time, so we hiked the whole mountain up (almost) and came down the half way. That process caused quite some pain, my heart was complaining and Waffles hair was full of icicles. The following morning brought us the most beautiful sunrise with clouds beneath our feet as well as the best breakfast ever, partially because we were hungry as wolves. The suffering and the amazing reward after it just got stuck to our heads, and it is now turning more and more golden!

Can’t leave without mentioning Montenegro. That country, with is mountains, gorges, people and culture just blew our minds. It really is a pearl, still a little bit hidden from mass tourism. And it just is magnificently beautiful. Go there.

I think that is enough? So maybe something about the future plans. The first thing we are going to do, is to travel to Romanian mountains in a few weeks. We found ridiculously cheap tickets with Ryanair, from Weeze to Timisoara, bit more than 12 euros for the two of us, there and back. I love living in Belgium. By the way, if you have already been there, we are very happy to hear your tips and suggestions on where to go and what to see!

 

Which places have left their mark on you? Where would you love to return, or the opposite, where would you not go to ever again?

How what and why – Montenegro?

Hiking, Durmitor, sign

As there already are 3 posts about our trip to Montenegro, I figured a fourth one wouldn’t hurt. Much. This is going to be a little guide for you who maybe want to visit this pearl of the Balkans, maybe even go and hike the wilderness of the mountains. So, why to go, what to know and how to make it happen?

What and Why? 

First of all, it is one of the last places in Europe where the mass tourism hasn’t yet taken a steady foothold. You get to see the real life of the real country, rather that be stuck in a tourist bus and visit souvenir shops.

It is perfectly beautiful. The mountains are so green you wont believe it, there is pure and wild nature square kilometer after the other. The people are wonderful. Honest and hard working, welcoming and helpful, you rarely see any signs of corruption. I have never felt safer on a holiday!

The country has many faces. Small though it is, every valley and river bend offers something new. It has bits of Greece, a good heap of the Alps, French canyons, Italian Dolomites and the good old Mediterranean coast. All with a Slavic twist. There is plenty of nature to go about, including some medieval forests and bears, wolves and lynxes roaming in them.

It is a young country, Montenegro. Getting its independence from the union with Serbia as recently as 2006. It is full of history and culture though, you see the recent marks of Soviet times everywhere, especially in cities and more ancient history too, in ruins and so forth. The country is somewhat famous for being a perfect melting pot for cultures. Christians and Muslims live side by side in harmony. It is also a mixture of old and new, with modern things like WiFi connections everywhere and people doing their farming by hand in every village.

It is definitely worth wile to get a car and drive through the country, rather than stay at the coast and do the tours your hotel might organize. The coast is just as it would be in Greece or Italy, nothing special about that. The inland is something more unique and worth experiencing.

How to? 

Well, more about how we did it. There sure will be plenty of other ways to spend your holiday too.

You can easily fly into Podgorica. We took Ryanair from Brussels south and traveled only with hand luggage. Yes, you heard it, ten days of hiking gear, food, tent, camp, everything in hand luggage. The key words are small packing tent and vacuum bags.

You can also rent a car right off form the airport. During the peak season of tourism, I recommend booking early enough, otherwise you might end up paying some sweet money for it. Try searching from the companies local sites. The ones that end with “.me”. The traffic is nothing to worry, roads are for the most part safe and locals are careful drivers.

For us it became apparent rather quickly that maps over the less popular areas were difficult to find, and once we managed to get one, it was not too accurate or reliable. They are also very thin and fragile, do not open while up in the mountain.

We had to come up with a solution. It was offered by a marvelous service called Wikiloc. It is a social service where users can upload routes from GPS trackers and then just anyone can download them to their own device. Which is fabulous, no maps needed. There is plenty on offer and after creating your own account you can start sharing too. After you have downloaded the route, you can ask navigation to the starting point with which ever map service you happen to use. Google and a Garmin device served us well.

As far as the cooking goes on the trail, I recommend you take a good look at wood gas stoves. They are very compact and extremely reliable. Make sure you have a good pot to go with it! with it you do not need to worry about finding the right gas ever again. We did see a couple of hikers who were desperately running up and down the stores looking for that precious fuel. Not the way you want to spend your holiday.

Our hikes were the following:

Zla Kolata  – Story here

Bobotov Kuk – More or less. In Durmitor maps work too, story here.

Maglic – There is no worry about the bad markings here anymore, story here.

There are quite some nice hikes on the coastal are too, but with our timing, it was just way too hot there to start climbing anything taller than a street curb.