Tag Archives: lake

48 Hours in… Grunau

Grunau, Austria; a tiny but incredibly picturesque village hidden away in the Austrian alps, surrounded by mountains, lakes, lakes and mountains. Now that might not be enough to make you want to visit, but perhaps we can persuade you…

IMG_20161028_152753.jpg

The Accommodation:

IMG_20161029_105423Probably one of the best reasons to visit is the wonderfully Austrian and uniquely Busabout Treehouse. Run by an ex-chef and his family this ramshackle traditional old house really feels like a home. There have many people to the comforts of the bedrooms, the glorious surroundings and the pure sincerity of the welcome they receive from Gerhard and Co.

The dogs run freely through the garden, down to the river and into the neighbouring fields without a worry, and you can too. Those that only stop for lunch (and we’ll come to the food next) often find themselves wandering a little far from house as they follow the river, or meander through the woods.

The Food:

IMG_20161029_112313As mentioned, Gerhard, the owner/manager/dad was a professional chef, so you can imagine the food he cooks up is a little special. But he doesn’t bother with fancy flourishes of parsley or drizzles of balsamic vinegar. He makes good hearty home cooked food, the kind of thing that’ll have you craving mums cooking, then scratch that itch with the first bite. His legendary lasagne is a must-try while everything else on the menu is just a delight. Forget the diet though, he doesn’t mess around when it comes to portions that’s for sure. You’ll end up sitting around the dinner table together, laughing and joking like you’ve all known each other for years.

The Countryside:

IMG_20161029_133730Yes, the mountains, lakes, lakes and mountains of course are a huge part of what makes Grunau so incredible. For your window every morning you’ll have to collect your jaw as you stare out and the awe inspiring Austrian Alps, still snow capped from winter. It’s these behemoths that channel the water down into rapid rivers that and just so instagrammable you’ll be flicking through your photo albums for days. Follow these along though and you’ll get to the epic lakes that are dotted along the valleys. A personal favourite is the Almsee, a nice bike ride along from the Treehouse (yes you can rent them there). This lake spreads out across the valley floor and offers amazing opportunities to spot wildlife, take in the amazing views reflected off the lakes surface, or if you’re the romantic type, woe that special someone in your life. You may fancy a dip, which is highly recommended, it’ll certainly leave you feeling fresh as the water is all glacier-melt (AKA ice!) and not much above freezing temperature. Just take a towel and sunbake yourself dry again. If that doesn’t warm you up, there are numerous hikes, easy and challenging up the sides of the valleys, and for the very adventurous, to the very peaks of some of the nearby mountains.

The Activities:

IMG_20161029_111705If all that wasn’t enough, there’s a few special activities offered by the guys at the Treehouse. After taking the bikes for a spin through the valleys, horse riding is the most popular choice. With treks designed for all abilities, from beginner up to fully competent riders, there’s something for all. Beginners will get a chance to enjoy the natural surroundings from horseback (no need to pedal) while more advanced riders can let loose and feel the wind in their hair as they follow the experienced guides through the various terrains. Finally, if all that isn’t enough to can take a try at archery, heading into a secluded section of the woods to ping some arrows into various targets and trees (please no animals though!)

There’s never been a passenger who stayed in Grunau that didn’t wish they could stay longer, and plenty more who wish they hadn’t skipped it. Don’t make the same mistake and make sure you add Grunau to your Busabout adventure.

Written for the Busabout Blog

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

 

Bled, Slovenia

IMG_20160525_135358522Why Bled?

A little pre-season time off gave me a chance to explore one of the new East Loop daystops, something I’m very glad to have done.

IMG_20160524_162824191_HDR

Staying with Jani and his family at Jazz Bled Hostel is an absolute pleasure, they are so welcoming and friendly it makes you feel right at home from the moment you arrive. The hostel is clean and tidy with an excellent kitchen and even a playstation if the weather turns sour. Luckily for me though, we had gorgeous sun for the whole of the trip.

IMG_20160524_120839125The first day we took a trip over to Vintgar Gorge, a beautiful canyon cut through the hills by centuries of water flowing from the Julian alps. It’s only 4EUR entry, and it’s easy to get a shuttle from the town, so well worth the trip. The path winds through the gorge on wooden walkways, which don’t spoil the view at all, in fact they provide some pretty cool photo opportunities, there’s chances to get down to water level as well, and taste the fresh mountain water. The river itself is a series of pools, waterfalls and rapids, each turn providing a fresh view, and another unmissable snap. On the way back you can head through the gorge again, or venture along some of the lesser tracked paths through the triglav national park. Navigation isn’t so simple, but all paths lead back home

Back in Bled the lake has plenty to explore, you can take a boat over to the church on the island for 14EUR per person. This is no motor boat, but one of the locals rowing the traditional boats across, which is quite a distance depending which end you jump on at. The church is an extra 6EUR to enter, but isn’t that special, however the bell tower is included in the price, and the views from the top are pretty spectacular. Don’t feel like you’re missing out if you don’t climb it though, the view from the island in every direction is awesome.

IMG_20160524_175213186_HDRLastly we chose to climb up to the castle, a good uphill walk of about 15-20mins depending on how fit you are. The views from inside are again great, but if you want avoid the 10EUR charge (the castle itself won’t blow your mind – but the view from the cafe might) head around to the right of the building. There’s an iron fence here that you can follow until you see a path on your left – climbing this will give you the best views that I found of the lake and the island. If you climb a little higher you’ll find the old secret entrance, although these days it’s locked tight – no sneaking in. You must be careful if you do decide to try this out though, once you leave the iron fence there’s no protection so watch your footing.

Day two we decided to explore the rest of the Triglav National Park – the 3glav Adventures tour wasn’t running, but we used their itinerary and built our own trip – although to add canyoning and rafting into our day would have really made it incredible.

IMG_20160525_111841305_HDRStarting the day we drove around to the north side of the park, entering from Kranjska Gora and starting the winding road up to the pass. Soon after was the first stop Jasna lake, not huge, but the calm water meant you could get an excellent photo with a reflection of the snow capped mountains in the distance.IMG_20160525_115412501From here the road winds alpine style up the pass, and with each corner another jaw dropping view. Stop 2 had a little more history, a wooden church built in a russian style – dedicated to the Russian prisoners of war who built the road, and died in the process. While it’s only small, it’s a poignant reminder of how the road came to be, and the life style of the people in the region before they were connected. On the way up there are plenty more places to stop and take a photo, or have some lunch, little restaurants are dotted about, or you can take a picnic. If you’re doing it with 3glav, then lunch is sorted for you.

IMG_20160525_142200704The top of the Vrsic pass offers even more views, down into the valley on both side of the saddle. and from there it’s back to the alpine road, hairpin corners and all. The next and possibly my favourite stop was nearing the bottom of the valley, the source of the Soca river. it’s a 15min rocky climb up to the waterfall which is pretty impressive by itself, but dare to climb the via ferata (be careful if you do), you will be rewarded with where the river simply appears from under a rock. A sheer rock face, with a glowing green pool at the bottom, which quickly flows down to the waterfall just below. The water here is sweet with minerals, and having a taste is a must, but really all you’ll want to do (once you’ve got your snaps) is just sit on the side and relax, marvelling at how awesome nature can be.

IMG_20160525_153847477_HDRFrom here the road chills out a bit, running along the bottom of the valley, next to the turquoise grey Soca river, there’s still plenty of chances for pics here especially at the Boka falls – another short rocky climb up the side of the valley, this time however it’s not possible to get close to the source as this waterfall is over 100m high, coming from an underground network and straight out of the side of a cliff. The viewing platform is enough however, providing a wonderful view of the intense waterfall.

IMG_20160525_170039578Our penultimate stop is another contender for my favourite, the Kozjak Waterfall is an easy and relatively flat walk, about 20mins from the carpark. There are sections of walkway that have been built to provide access to the final grotto, a dark and brooding place filled with the spray coming off the powerful falls. It is here I decided that going for a swim would be a good idea… after wading through the river to the pool my feet were already numb with cold and I was shivering, but after some ‘encouragement’ from my fellow travellers I had the quickest dip of my life. My breath was short, my muscles tense and every part of my brain was telling that this was a bad idea. Thankfully the warm slovenia sun soon dried me off and warmed me up. I’d recommend it only to the brave (or stupid).

IMG_20160525_164614955_HDRThe last stop of the day was another lake; Bohinj. Larger than Bled, and equally as pleasant to the eye, the town has plenty to do, but we stuck with dinner, enjoying some proper Slovenia schnitzel and chevapchichi before heading home to get a well earned rest.

Busabout

Well I’ve been rather busy lately.

IMG_20160405_183455776_HDR

I decided a while ago to apply for a few positions as a guide as I wasn’t overly satisfied with my work at Flight Centre. I wanted to get back to the source of the travel, to be truly involved in making peoples holidays, talking to the people having fun, not just booking their flights. Of all of the positions I applied for, it was Busabout that I wanted most (although a position in Africa was pretty tempting as well). The Hop-on Hop-off style is how I would want to travel Europe, with a guide to help out, but no restrictions time wise. With so many cities visited in so many countries, it allows you see the best of Europe, and gives you the tools to see the rest of it as well. Plus the coach gives people a chance to meet new friends, much more sociable than the trains.

I got through the interview process with a hastily written presentation on Barcelona FC, and wowed them with my one on one, which meant I got invited to join the 7 week training trip – visiting every city on their loops, through 14 countries in Europe. So I handed in my notice, packed up all my things and hit the road again.

IMG_20160424_125941492_HDR

It was a gruelling 7 weeks of coaches almost every day, rushing around cities to find out as much as we could, bike tours, pub crawls, cooking classes, boat trips and much much more. There were some late nights, some stressful situations but I felt it was all manageable, they tested me, but I never felt like I would fail. Once I got into a routine of having everything prepared a day before, I could hop up and give a talk on cities and countries I’d never even been to. It was a lot of fun in fact, meeting so many like minded people, learning huge amounts about European history and every city on our network. Now I’m sure all my friends will complain about the constant barrage of facts.

IMG_20160429_141209142_HDR

Then as the end was in sight, they told me I’d be flying off to Greece for an extra 10 days of training on the Greek Island Hopper adventure product. While I was craving some rest, I jumped at the chance to educate myself in Greek gods, mythology, and how to avoid sun burn when it’s 40+ everyday. As we experienced the product I learnt how much fun it would be, parties every other night and some beautiful islands to explore.

I am now happy to say that I am employed by Busabout as a European Guide, and have started with my first sector just two days ago – Munich to Paris with just 10 passengers. Tomorrow I will be hitting the road with many more, heading to Amsterdam. Time to brush up on my Dutch history.

IMG_20160427_185555264

I have to thank all of the trainers who helped me prepare for this, pushing me to my limits, making sure I’m ready for silly questions, difficult questions, and everything else they can throw at me. Here’s to a wonderful summer in Europe.

Cambodia Pt2: Siem Reap Pt:2

The first part of the Siem Reap article is here

DCIM101GOPRO

DCIM101GOPROThe Lady Temple (Banteay Srei) was the next stop off, a much less spectacular stop, but the gardens make it impressive in a very different way. Much more peaceful and relaxing than the other temples. It’s quite a long way from the others, so you have to invest a bit of time getting there, but worth it in the end, especially if you’re a fan of flowers and gardens.

DCIM101GOPROThe Landmine museum was a rather brutal reminder of the horrible things that have happened to Cambodia only a couple of decades ago. A collection of deactivated weapons, bombs and mines are on display, along with some odd manikins modelling military uniforms and holding guns. It’s an odd but interesting stop that only takes a few minutes to explore, and all the money for the tickets goes to helping victims of landmines, so it’s worth a trip even if you don’t really take a look around.

DCIM101GOPROWe stopped on the way back at rather dodgy looking military base/shooting range Batman told us about. However it was highly over-priced and with no bargaining at all, we left without even touching a gun, one of the things on the bucket-list for SE Asia. Back through a few smaller temples,and Angkor Thom to get some more pics as the sun went down, then into Siem Reap for food and a well earned rest.

The next day was spent relaxing a bit more and exploring the town of Siem Reap, which is a lot more pleasant away from the touristy centre. There’s some interesting events that go on, including the incredible circus ‘Phare‘ which features a group of boys from nearby Battambang, The show really is very impressive, with all sorts of flips and somersaults performed, along with some great tongue in cheek jokes. What was best was that you could see that the performers were really enjoying themselves, breaking out into a grin every time they got a round of applause or pulled off the trick just right. There was also the American Ex-Pat who performed solo on Cello to raise money for the local hospitals, he had arrived in the 1980’s to help as a doctor and stayed ever since, working as a doctor during the day and performing at night to raise money for vital equipment and facilities.

DCIM100GOPROWe took another day to travel out to Tonle Sap Lake to experience the floating villages and the way the people survive constantly surrounded by water. It was a long trip out, and when we arrived there wasn’t much floating going on as the lake level had dropped over the summer. Still the houses up on stilts looked rather strange several metres above ground level. Once you get to the river you switch to a boat which guides you through the town, along with waving kids and happy faces.DCIM100GOPROThere’s a little stop to switch onto a little paddle boat with a lovely local woman and take a trip through the skinny trees that live right next to the main lake. It’s rather magical bobbing between the plants, sunlight filtering through the leaves. As you move through quietly and serenely it’s nice to take stock and realise how luck we are to be able to travel the way we do. Back out of the trees we’re back onto the motorboat and out into the lake itself.DCIM100GOPRO It’s simple colossal, 2700 square km while we visited, although during the monsoon season it backs up to 16000 square km, 22 times larger than Singapore.

Back in Siem Reap we spent a day chilling by the pool at the hostel before hopping on the night bus over to Phnom Penh.

DCIM100GOPRO

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt1: Siem Reap

As always, the bus through from 4000 Islands in Laos down through half of Cambodia is pretty horrendous, definitely in the top ten of worst trips. We won’t bore you with the details, it’s always the same story. But arriving was a rather more pleasant experience. Continue reading Cambodia Pt1: Siem Reap

Vietnam Pt11 – Hanoi

So on to the biggest city in the north of Vietnam, Hanoi. The second largest in the country, and the capital while the country was divided during the war.

Church

There’s two little areas within the city that have a few hostels in each, the first is home to the Infamous Hanoi Backpackers, and Central Hanoi Backpackers while the other hosts the Hanoi Backpackers Downtown; a fancy new build with impressive bar, the starting point of the notorious bar crawl that sucks in pretty much all western tourists under 30. The two areas are a little way apart, but definitely within walking distance although getting from the last bar of the bar crawl back to the first area is a bit of trek.

LeninI stayed at the Central Backpackers, but if you’re a bit of a party animal I’d recommend either of the others mentioned above. Both are run by the same people, are very western friendly and good places to meet other people. They constant run games and have fun little events for theitr guests, they also run their own tours, the Buffalo Run, which takes those that don’t know the real cost of things via a few stops down to Hoi An over seven days, and the much discussed Ha Long Bay Castaway Tour. This tour was something I’d heard about since Thailand, and the reviews are unbelievably mixed, from pure love to spiteful hatred. It’s the perfect trip for those that love to get very drunk and enjoy drinking games along with a bit of daytime adventure activities. I’ve heard horror stories that include the drinking of vomit, 6am shotgun beers, and forced drinking on those that could not handle it. I also heard girls complain that they were constantly sexually harassed by staff members. However, I have also heard people say it was the best weekend of their lives, so it’s a very divisive tour as far as opinions go. I choose not to go with them for two reasons; drinking to excess doesn’t appeal at all (as I’m straight edge I wouldn’t be drinking at all but being on a boat with those people would not be pleasant) and it’s at least two times more expensive than most other options. I have written up my Ha Long Bay Tour here (coming soon).

EntranceWe had arrived in Hanoi with a little bit of extra time because I wanted to apply for my Chinese Visa while in the city, you can read my article on how not to get your visa here (coming soon).

While in Hanoi I had a very pleasant surprise; bumping into a friend of mine that I had lived with in Melbourne for some time. Simply walking past a restaurant around the corner from my hostel I heard a call, and was very happy to see Andy. This made our evenings out very entertaining, as we have one main thing in common, and that’s the meeting and chasing of girls.

Hanoi has a few little bits and pieces to visit, so over the course of a couple days we visited several of them. The first is the large lake between the two backpacker areas which is also used as a giant roundabout. On one side there is a bridge to an island on which there is a quaint little pagoda. While not spectacular it is a very popular stop and is worth a quick look. The city is also home to many churches as well as small temples, so a tour of this is possible if that’s what you’re into.Ho Chi MinhThe Tomb of Ho Chi Minh is probably one of the biggest tourist draws I’ve been to, although we arrived too late to visit his body (something completely against his wishing when he died) the monument is very impressive. It’s something I wish I had seen properly and visited his body as well, although I’ve heard it’s rather disappointing an experience.

War MemorialThere is of course the obligatory War Museum, although this is more of a tribute than a complete museum and features just a few of the larger pieces in the courtyard of a small citadel style fort. Across the road from this is a statue of Lenin, a man who didn’t do too much for Vietnam directly, but apparently their love of communism was enough to erect the dedication. Finally is the old prison, which famously hosted John McCain the US Presidential Candidate.Hanoi Hilton Hao Lo Prison, popularly nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton is a very peculiar place to visit, and shows the way the Vietnamese will try to change history by showing us a rather false view of the Prison. The first part shows the horrific condition that the Vietnamese were kept in by the French Colonists, while the second displays the lovely conditions that the Vietnamese wish to show that American prisoners were kept in. This includes a rather basic but pleasant dorm room and lots of photos of US soldiers sharing happy times including having Christmas dinner and playing basketball. The Museum claims that the nickname Hanoi Hilton was because the conditions were so good. It is general knowledge that this is all propaganda and in fact the conditions for the Americans were similar to those of the Vietnamese during the French rule. Accounts of torture, and terrible conditions are rife amongst ‘guests’.

One Pillar Pagoda

The city has plenty of great walking streets with market stalls and shopping littering the sidewalks, so shopping is easy and often tempting, and you can get pretty much anything you could want there. Overall it’s a pleasant city to spend a couple days in, although it gets a little dull if you’re there as long as we were.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel