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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Missing the Mountains – Some Travel Plans

This year our summer holiday will be spent in Finland. We are going there for the first weeks of July, spending a total of 18 days on the go. The plan was first to have a shorter trip to Finland and divide our precious off days a little between different destinations. However I performed a meltdown of homesickness, which spooked Waffle so much, that he went and booked the tickets and created a loooong summer vacation in the north.

I am happy. Very, very happy. We have organized the trip so, that we fly from Brussels to Riga with Ryanair, rent a car from there, drive through Latvia and Estonia and take a boat to Helsinki from Tallinn. We will be driving through the whole Finland all the way up to Norway and Barents Sea. Meeting friends and family on the go and hike in every attractive looking ditch and bush and fell. Magnificent!

I am a bit sad too. I always say while we plan, that there are so many places, but so little time (and money). It is almost impossible to see all the beauty in this world, that I want to see. And now we are throwing away one complete summer of traveling and spending it in Finland. No mountains, no exotic new landscapes. Just Finland. But let’s keep the happy mood about getting to visit home.

The mountains then, the once we are going to miss this year?

We have been glancing to the eastern corners of Europe. Ryanair is offering cheap flights from Germany to Romania again, we might take the opportunity since it seems the Fagaras mountains still have a lot in store for us. I hope we manage to squeeze that in somewhere in the late summer. Or the next year.

Waffle has also been flirting with the idea of going to Georgia, the country, not the state. The Russian border is littered with magnificent mountain ranges, unspoiled wilderness and interesting history, recent conflicts and they marks on the country etc. If everything works out, we might create a small road trip tour to the Turkish mountains! Next year, I hope.

Corsica. That little island there in the Mediterranean, with the famous GR20 -trail crossing it and its mountains. It has been calling for us for a long time. I hope we start to be fit enough to do it soon. We would have gone there this year. But you know, homesickness-meltdown took us to Finland.

Sounds like there is not much traveling happening this year, huh?

On the contrary. Our home extension project is coming along nicely and soon we can start spending weekends where ever we want. The Alps have never been this close to us and UK, as well as Ireland, are destinations in our dreams also, for a short getaway road trip.

Not looking so bad after all, even though we can’t do too many trips to further locations. Good thing next year is right behind the corner!

The most beautiful mornings

If you have been following our travels, you might already guess, that this post is not going to be filled with hotel recommendations. Instead this is a list of the 5 most memorable mornings, in the most memorable places around Europe for this duo of travellers. They are listed chronologically, since it would be way too difficult to determine which is prettier than the other. They are all beautiful, for different reasons.

One: Étretat

This morning has a load of memories attached, which might be the reason why it stands in this list.

It was the first camping / hiking trip we did together. We had been sniffing out places to camp in Normandy from maps and google. The first stop was on the cliffs bit outside Étretat. We arrived in the dark, only the beam from the light house near by was sweeping the waves and the white cliffs. The air was chilly and moist, the sound of the sea and the seagulls carried us to sleep.

The atmosphere in the morning was magical. Before opening my eyes I was transported to the sea, with the sound of the waves rumbling the rocks on the beach, the echo sounding from the cliff beneath us and the seagulls screeching on top of everything.

I still remember the salty moist in the air as we opened the tent door and looked over the English Channel. A fresh coffee on a camping stove with no rush to go anywhere made the morning perfect.

Two: Duror Bothy

The bothies of Scotland, who would not love them. One night on our grand tour Scotland we spent in the Duror Bothy, an old house with a rich history. On the way there we had gotten a little lost in the forest. Waffle did not have his smokes and all the fire wood was wet and the rain kept pouring down from the sky.  We were less than happy as we slowly started to get the stove working and the smoke actually going up the chimney.

During the night our (or well, Waffle’s) peaceful sleep got interrupted by a culinaristic mouse, who was after our chocolate mousses and Parmesan cheese.

In the morning the surroundings had changed. The grey rain had passed. The shy warmth of the sun was pulling fog out of the soaking forest and the fresh smell filled the glen. The bothy was still warm and our gear had dried up and now had a faint scent of smoke embedded in them.

It felt such a luxury then, to wrap warm clothes on while the water for breakfast was boiling. A piece of nature, with morning sun and the first signs of coming spring. There was such harmony there!

Three: Mt. Olympos

There was no second thought over picking this one. The day before we climbed the whole bloody thing, that is Mt. Olympus in Greece and came half way back down too, to a manned refuge, Refuge A.  No need to say, we were a bit tired. The plan of getting out at night to watch the stars was ditched as we drooled in the dorm room beds at 8 pm.

Oh, the morning then. We were up before the sunrise, having our yogurts with honey and thick slices of brown bread. Outside there was going on just the kind a spectacle you would expect a sunrise to be, on the world’s most mythical mountain.

The horizon over the Aegean sea was flaming in the light of the rising sun, leaving the slopes beneath us completely black still. Slowly the light started to tickle the peak of the Olympus itself, turning the grey rocks into orange. We and all the other hikers were there, just staring at the emerging light as the new day began.

Four: The Welsh Moors

It was one of our extemporish trips, this one. There sometimes are cheap ferries to cross the English Channel, and we love nothing more than cheap tickets. So there we were, searching for our third spot to camp, going through the small roads printed on the map.

We found a spot next to the river Usk, close to the town of Llanddeusant and the Usk reservoir. There was a small stream there and a view to the Black Mountains of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

Already during the night we could hear our neighbours. There were a herd of Welsh mountain ponies grazing on the moor around us.  The morning brought fresh and wet palette of pastel colors. No spectacular sunrises, nor musical sea scenes this time. The serene quietness and peace of the ponies made the memory of this morning stick to my mind as one of the most beautiful we have had.

Five: Refuge in the Fagaras

The evening before we had a choice. A mountain rescue hut above 2000m of altitude in slightly freezing conditions, or a hotel.

Hut it was, of course, plus it looked cute on the pictures in google.

As we reached the hut a slight feeling of doubt was creeping into our minds. It was practically just a large tin can with wooden platforms to sleep on. Still we stayed, stuffed our faces with large hot portions of food and tried to sleep. Huddled together like piglets, shaken awake every time the cold went too deep into our muscles.

I have never been so happy to be woken up by sunrise, to be able to crawl out of bed! Or well “bed”. It took courage, to shove a toe out of the sleeping bag to the freezing air of the hut. We quickly changed another set of clothes on, had extra portions of coffee, hot chocolate and cookies.

Getting a move on, blood circulating the muscles was priority number one. After a bit of movement, the decision to stay was rewarded. A crisp layer of frost was coating the mountains and the clouds were floating around us, letting through an occasional sun ray.

The sheer happiness of surviving this night makes the memory of the morning so beautiful.

There would be plenty more….

But these ones really stand out.

Having these breathtakingly beautiful mornings is one of the biggest reasons why we carry our homes on our backs while we travel. You plant yourself where ever you feel like and enjoy the 5 star surroundings. With no irritating tourists around and zero costs. Usually that means, that we go through some amounts of pain and suffering before getting there. That, I think, functions as a clue, that sticks the memories to our minds forever.