Last Day In Lauterbrunnen.

We had left ourselves a free day in Lauterbrunnen to see things in the area that caught our eye. First up was a Swiss culture festival that was being held up a nearby mountain.

We caught the usual assortment of trains and cable cars and arrived at Männlichen on a bright and sunny morning.

It turns out that there’s nothing but a hotel, playground and viewing point at the top, plus a herd of cows with bells to make it all one hundred percent Swiss. You could hear everyone stepping out of the cable car station making ‘oooh’ noises because the scene was just so pretty.

Wildflowers everywhere, snow-capped mountains all around and Grindelwald visible down the valley in the distance. We took some photos and had a wander then made our way to the hotel, where all kind of Swiss things were happening on the deck.

Alpenhorn!

Whip cracking demonstration. I don’t know if it’s actually easy or he was just really good at it.

We watched for a while and took some photos but it was all pretty similar to the music we’d seen in the last two days so we headed to our next activity, a cog-wheel train to Schynnige Platt. Even though this train had been on the map as an activity, it had looked pretty short and so we expected it to go to a low plateau where the Alpine Botanical Garden was reputed to be.

It turned out to be probably the most scenic ride we took in our whole time there! The sides of the little train were open, which meant it was much better for taking photos and videos (no reflection) and it took about forty minutes to get to the top.

There was not a whole lot there but we had a quick look at the Alpine Garden and then sat and had some lunch at the hotel. It was a perfect day with amazing visibility and pleasantly cool at that altitude.

If you go up Schynige Platt go to the top level of the hotel restaurant.

We had thought about trying to make it to Trümmelbach Falls afterwards but ran out of time so Luke visited them the next morning before we left while I packed my bag.

View from the Schynige Platt railway

We were very sad to leave the Bernese Oberland. By far our favorite place that we’d visited so far and it had raised a very high (unfairly high, some would say) bar for Geneva to reach. I don’t often go to countries and think that I would happily move there but Switzerland makes the list. One day we’ll come back and see it in a different season and visit more of its cities. One day!

Postcard perfect Switzerland

View through the cable car station window.

Interlaken: Buses, Chocolate Making, Cable Cars and More.

Our Bernese Oberland Pass began today so we jumped out of bed at 6:30 to make the most of it. I’ll post more about the pass after we get to Geneva when we work out whether or not it was worth buying.

First activity for the day was catching a local bus to Beatenberg, a little village further up in the hills (I mean mountains… Switzerland’s mountains look like hills because there are even bigger mountains behind them). The bus ride took less than half an hour and we got out a few stops before the end of line and walked along the ridge that Beatenberg sits on, admiring the houses, the view, and enjoying the peace and quiet.

Everywhere around Interlaken are spring water fountains where you can fill up your water bottle with cold water. I think my favourite spring that I’ve seen so far was this one in Beatenberg.

So stylish!

If I could say that this part of Switzerland reminded me of another place I’ve been I would liken it to Japan. Equally clean, full of polite people, and the architecture, if you take away the geraniums, is very similar to wooden Japanese houses, only heavier and more ornate.

We bused back down to Interlaken in good time for our chocolate-making class at the Funky Chocolate Club. We were the only Aussies in a group of Americans but they were all very nice and we had a lot of fun.

First we heard a bit about the history of chocolate and where in the world it comes from. Then we tasted everything from 100% cocoa (revolting) and pure cocoa nibs (not bad) through dark, semi sweet, milk, and white. We then learned to temper chocolate to make three blocks of our own.

My favourite part was learning that correctly tempered chocolate twirls in a ribbon rather than dropping straight from the spoon. I got to use my lettering skills to write on our bars. It was harder than it looked!

You’ll probably find this hard to believe, but Luke and I did not gorge ourselves senseless on chocolate and only ate half a handful of bits during the class. Therefore we felt we deserved a hearty lunch at the bierhaus our walking tour leader had recommended the day before.

Specifically Alessandra had recommended the mac and cheese so we ordered one and a salad. It was, hands-down, the best mac and cheese I’ve had on our travels and I would’ve tried over a dozen in the US. This one was topped with fried onions, had plenty of cheese sauce and speck, plus it had a side of apple sauce. I don’t know if I’ll ever eat mac and cheese again without it – one of those unexpected pairings that turns out to be magical. Although we all know cheese and apples are good together… why did I not think of this already?

Next up was a bus ride along Lake Thun to reach a tourist attraction that I wasn’t at all keen on – the home of an ancient monk named Saint Beatus. He was possibly Irish and came to the area to convert the Helvetii and also claimed to have slain a dragon, which the Helvetii seemed to think was totally legit and so this monk lived in a cave and then had a take away shop named after him. This would’ve been pretty handy because the cave is miles from the nearest shops.

The site consisted of a long and steep ramp up to the little cave where the monk lived plus entry to an almost 1km stretch of tunnel that contained a river and stalagmites etc. Luke pestered me to give the caves a go and I said ok (I caved if you will. BOOM TISH) but we only got about 50 metres in before the roof got a bit low and I started quietly crying and had to leave. I was trying to convince myself it would be fine but the further I went underground the more a voice in my head kept saying ‘you are trapped!’ and I had to leave. Luke walked me back down to the gate and I sat outside and read my kindle. I felt totally fine when I got out and Luke went back to have a look but that’s it for me and caves. No more!

The outside was certainly attractive and worth a look. There’s a museum too but we didn’t bother.

We went back to the bus stop and caught the next bus to the base of the Neiderhorn funicular and cable car. The cost of this was included in our travel pass.

The view from the Neiderhorn was gob-smacking in every direction. The Neiderhorn is a long ridge so from the top you can see over the edge on one side and down towards Interlaken on the other.

On all the buses, the funicular, and cable car there’d been hardly a soul all day. That was to change, however, for our next activity. In the meantime we enjoyed looking at this Bernese Mountain dog being a bit lazy and catching the bus.

We don’t blame you, buddy. It’s 30 degrees out there.

Our last excursion of the day was another fantastic spot to see the sights.

Harder Kulm ( or, as we like to call it, Heidi Klum) is a restaurant and viewpoint that is accessible via a long hard walk or a funicular from close to the middle of Interlaken, therefore it is very popular.

We crammed aboard the funicular to make it up in time for sunset and a lovely meal of schnitzel and salad. Despite some bad reviews on TripAdvisor we found the staff very friendly and welcoming. Luck of the draw, perhaps.

The space at the top has a viewing platform that extends out over the valley a little and was filled with people getting their photos taken.

We decided not to linger as we knew the funicular would be crowded on the way down and so we lined up and ended up having a nice chat with a high school girl from the Netherlands who was travelling Europe solo in her school holidays. How wonderful to be a teenager in Europe. In country NSW we had a choice between Queensland and Sydney for our getaways. Yawn!

We walked back to our hostel via a sculpture in town that I wanted to take a photo with – a Bollywood director who had filmed many of his hits in Interlaken. Our walking tour guide had even been in one of the movies as an extra!

We were exhausted by the time we got back to the hostel but I’ve been a complete trooper and finished this entry straightaway. What a champion I am!

A photo of me with an empty bowl. How intriguing!

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

We booked a day trip with ‘Elegance Tours‘ (possibly the most basic-looking shop front you could imagine – all laminated photos and hand-drawn signs – nice people though) in Zadar (pronounced ZAHdar, not ZaDAH as we kept saying) for our first full day.

Our trip was basically just the bus there with a stop at a restaurant/minimart for supplies on the way in. We were told food was expensive at the park but we found it to be fairly similar to other places we’d been – more expensive than buying at a supermarket or bakery though.

The falls are a two hour drive from Zadar and involve travelling through quite a number of tunnels until you reach the other side of the mountains. The landscape on the coastal side is very rocky and dry but once you get through the mountains it is lush and there are fields of wildflowers. I panicked a bit as I’d stopped taking my hay fever meds but there isn’t much in the way of grass near the lakes – mostly trees and bushy plants.

Our driver was German and spoke almost no English. When he asked if anyone spoke German I indicated (rather foolishly) that I had the tiniest fraction. Luckily I understood his instruction that we’d stop for twenty minutes and then it was twenty minutes to the park. We had a little bit of confusion regarding whether we’d be at the park four hours or be picked up at four o’clock, but eventually cleared it up.

The bus company suggested a particular route around the park which took in the upper and lower lakes but used a train/bus to cut down one leg and a boat transfer (both included in the ticket cost) to speed it up. In the end we possibly could’ve walked the whole way as we took just over four hours to do the loop but it’s hard to estimate that sort of thing on your first go. We are moderately fast walkers and didn’t linger anywhere, however in a few points the crowd bottlenecked to the point where people stopped. I’d guess that we walked about 8 km in total.

The lakes and falls are all exceptionally beautiful. The intense colours come from a combination of limestone sediment, moss and algae. During most of our visit there were clouds and a cool breeze, which was good, but I imagine that sun would bring out the colours even more.

I was pleased to see many, many fish in the lakes and threw a few crumbs in, even though I probably shouldn’t have. The fish do hang around near the boardwalks so I think I’m not the only one.

Our biggest moment of excitement was when a fellow walking in front of us mis-stepped and fell into the water at a point where the boardwalk crossed a small fall, which meant he got stuck on some rocks but with the water flowing very fast around him. We leapt forward and Luke helped a couple of other people grab him and pull him up and I picked up a camera that another lady had put down in order to help as I could see it was going to get kicked in. Poor guy was ok but wearing jeans – he must’ve had a very unpleasant time walking around after that!

We made it back to the point where our driver was meeting us with nearly two hours to spare so we had a drink, took some photos by the largest waterfall viewpoint and relaxed. We saw people from our bus group congregate but they were a fairly standoffish lot who didn’t return our smiles so we left them alone.

The bus got back to Zadar at 6pm and we thanked our driver and walked back to our apartment to make some dinner and plan our next adventure!

Bus: 220 kuna/$55 AUD each

Park entrance: 250 kuna/$62.50 AUD each

Horses, Horticulture and History: A Day Out In London.

I was up early and decided to walk some of the way towards Kew Gardens from my Airbnb room in Lambeth.

I was walking along Grosvenor St beside the Thames when I heard a great clattering noise behind me.

About fifty horses out being exercised! It was both a magnificent sight and sound. All the more special because I was virtually alone on the street when they went past. I daresay this is a regular occurrence so if you want to see them try going to the spot at about 8:30 on a Sunday morning.

Alternatively, you could also hang out at Sloane Square, where I saw them again ten minutes later.

I caught the tube from Sloane Square to Kew Gardens and then had to wait a short while to get in. I was glad I’d bought my ticket online as I walked straight through when 10am rolled around and by then quite a queue had formed at the ticket window.

Kew Gardens are huge.

A whopping 326 acres in which there are a wide variety of themes gardens, artworks, wide avenues and, most famously, architecture.

The structure above is the Palm House, the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world. I imagine it would be a treat to step inside on a cold, winter’s day. On a stunning 24 degree English summer day it was far too hot and steamy. Still interesting though.

I wandered all over the gardens and admired it all. My favourite aspects would have to be the wide grassy avenues…

The walled gardens…

and the absolute highlight was the rose garden behind the Palm House.

Obviously it looked outstanding but the magic was the scent. So many roses so close together on a hot, windless day – the perfume just hung in the air like a heavenly cloud. I cannot, in words, express how delightful it was – you’ll just have to go see for yourself.

As I left the gardens (it took me 3.5 hours to see nearly everything) many more people were coming in. The parts of the gardens round the entrances and cafes were heaving with people but it was easy to get away from them by walking only a few hundred metres.

Next stop was the British Natural History Museum, a weird but wonderful hybrid of Victorian Gothic and fanciful Egyptian architecture. I don’t know who designed it but I can tell they had a great time.

I didn’t really have anything I wanted to see, I just thought I’d wander around. Apparently the other half of London (who weren’t at Kew) had thought the same thing.

Lucky it’s a huge building! I first had a look at a display of shells. It reminded me of a conversation I’d recently seen on Facebook about political correctness and insulting people effectively. If you want to be creative try one of these on for size:

I wouldn’t be pleased if someone called me a ‘three knobbled conch’! Baffle your enemies by letting them know they’re a…

‘Distaff spindle’! That’ll really leave them worried. Or how about a ‘distorted anus shell’?

Maybe not.

There’s a lot to be learnt about self defence from our underwater friends.

All this was getting a bit HP Lovecraft so I went to have a look at rocks.

Now I’m hungry.

Two kilos!

The pyramid of little sparkly stones shows all the colours diamonds come in. Not too impressive in a photo but very interesting in reality. Also many glow under uv light!

There was also an interesting display of taxidermied pheasants (interesting to me and no one else probably) and apart from that I just wandered about trying not to run into people or get frustrated at all the slow walkers.

Eventually I exited through the gift shop and walked home via a pub for dinner.

All in all a great day out! Here’s a few more photos of Kew to finish with.

Lovely in both the macro and the micro.

A Bit of Buttermere

I camped the night by the lake in Keswick and then caught the 77a bus to Buttermere via Honister Pass. Last time we were in the UK we risked death and drove Honister Pass ourselves in dark and misty weather. This time I wasn’t driving and it was broad sunshine. Far superior!

It is still one of the most dramatic roads I think I’ve ever been down (almost equal to Canada’s Icefields Parkway and certainly more hair-raising) – if you’re in the Lake District do yourself a favour and catch the bus and see for yourself.

Although I wasn’t driving I didn’t manage any decent photos through the bus windows so you’ll have to take my word for it and go.

The bus was packed and it was a relief to get off in Buttermere village, a tiny hamlet that sits between the two bodies of water that are Buttermere and Crummock Water. Naming towns and lakes the same thing is annoying and it happens a lot in Cumbria. There’s also about a dozen each of Angle Tarns, Castle Crags, Raven Crags and Blea Tarns, to mention but a few. Also you wouldn’t believe how many Grouse Butts I’ve found on the maps (tee hee).

The bus stops at the picturesque Fish Inn.

Buttermere has been recommended to me by many people and also features heavily on Lakeland Instagram communities but nothing really prepares you for the beauty of its steeps mountains and crystal waters.

First I walked up the side of the valley towards Bleaberry Tarn until the path became too steep (story of my life) then I did a lap around the lake.

The water was so inviting that I took off my shoes and socks and hobbled a little way along (some of the stones are a bit sharp) and was surprised at how warm the water was.

It was good 6km round and there was a man in a van selling ice creams halfway.

There were many people and many dogs all the way along, a great deal of whom seemed to want to speak in a shouting volume or walk in large groups across the path and at a glacial rate. Still, I was there, so I suppose I can’t really resent everyone else for wanting to be there as well. I just wish they’d all pipe down.

The bus back was even more packed than the bus there and we got to experience that classic moment when two large vehicles come around a bend and one has to reverse, with a stone wall on one side and cliff wall on the other.

I had complete faith in our driver as he reversed the bus about 20 metres back around a sharp corner so a truck could get by.

We all gave him a round of applause after, obviously. As the truck indicates, it was indeed pure Lake District;-)

Back in Keswick I felt in need of an early night but first had to take a few photos of the canada geese that had brought their goslings up the bank to ravage the grass.

On my Instagram and Facebook I’ve posted a video of the moment one of the geese took offence at my presence and I squealed and scurried away.

Into town for a bite of dinner and a couple of little bottles of gin and I was set to lie in my tent giggling away to PG Wodehouse’s ‘Joy in the Morning’, which is the best Wooster and Jeeves book I think I’ve read yet.

I’m not really achieving my reading goal for the year but it’s mainly because I’m so tired each evening – not a bad thing at all!

Northern Ireland

I have come to Belfast primarily to visit my old friend Danny, who I knew when I lived in the UK in the early 2000’s. We used to go to music events all over the country with other like-minded friends and, fortuitously, he had a spare ticket to a two day BBC festival this weekend so here I am.

Danny picked me up from the airport and we set straight to sightseeing, following directions that a friend of his had written for him.

First stop, Glenariff, also known as The Queen of the Nine Glens.

It was quite a dramatic valley and my photo does not do it justice.

After a bit of havering we found the walk down a valley to see some waterfalls.

This one has a name that means ‘grey mare’s tail’. The walk was lovely and at the bottom was a bar where we had a pint and Danny unsuccessfully tried to make me taste his Guinness.

The walk back up was slightly hampered by the pints but we made it eventually, admiring the swathes of bluebells along the way.

Next stop a little town called Cushendun. The whole town looked freshly painted and the main street was delightfully colourful.

There was also a large mural about hurling.

Next up were the Dark Hedges. Featured on one early episode of Game of Thrones, these beeches are very old and very dramatic. Unfortunately quite a few have been storm damaged and the large numbers of tourist buses are affecting the roots around the ones that still stand.

There were only a few people there and we managed to walk down the road and get some people-free photos.

By then it was getting on so we headed back to Belfast and had dinner and a couple of drinks, during which we were joined by a handful of random people. One of whom told me I ‘sounded like someone from Neighbours’. As I’ve said in previous posts, there’s nothing like travelling to make you aware of your national stereotypes. Could be worse I suppose?

Goodbye Windermere

So that’s chapter one of my trip over. How quickly it goes! I thought I should record a last few snippets before closing the book on Cumbria – for now, anyway.

Auschwitz to Ambleside

While I was walking in Windermere I noticed the library had an exhibition that chronicled the lives of a group of Jewish children who had escaped Nazi Germany but also lost their parents and so were brought to Windermere to be rehabilitated before being sent to live with other families. The photos and videos were poignant and well-done. If you feel like a bit of a cry in a public space I highly recommend going.

All the children who had featured in the display had gone on to do well, one even representing England at the Melbourne Olympics.

Walking St Ravens Crags

My last big day of walking was initially well-planned. I’d decided to catch the bus up to the Kirkstone Pass, thereby cutting out some of the uphill, then walking around via St Ravens crags to the head of the Troutbeck valley then along the ridge that includes High Street and Ill Bell.

There weren’t too many people about and the day was very fair with hardly any wind.

I managed fine up to the descent down towards the pass at the top of Troutbeck. The path pretty much disappeared and I had to put my sticks away to use my hands to help lower myself down the rocks for a short way. The hillside in the photo below is the one I scrambled down.

As I was clambering down (which was actually quite fun) I had a good look at the opposite side, which I was planning to go up. It was another of those steep paths strewn with loose slate. Along the side though, I could see a man coming down the grassy slope, which seemed to be faster and easier. It was perhaps 3-400m of steep climbing to the top. I gave it a go but after 50 metres of climbing and looking back and looking up, I decided to turn back. I don’t know if I’d have done better with someone else there, or whether I’d have given up sooner. I don’t know if I’d pushed myself to get to the top whether I would’ve felt a great sense of accomplishment or just felt sick from vertigo and the adrenaline. I watched other people come down, sliding on the scree so, for better or worse, I decided to climb down the valley.

I passed a big group of men huffing and puffing their way up the slope and cheerfully pointed out that they were doing it the hard way then stopped for a chat for a moment while they caught their breath.

After I left them I didn’t see another person in the valley until I hit the farm at the end. If nothing else, the walk along the valley confirmed that my early exit and climb over the ridge a couple of days earlier had been the right move. The upper end of the valley was even more boggy than the lower end.

I felt a bit disheartened at giving up and having shoes filled with water and so decided to hurry to Troutbeck to catch a bus back to Windermere. Since the buses only ran every two hours, I had five km to go, and wasn’t sure where the bus stop was, I had to hurry. I started walking in straight lines through the sodden ground rather than picking my way around the edges, which eventually led me to putting my foot almost knee deep into actual mud (bogs are annoying but at least the water is clear). I half laughed and cursed. Fortunately it was right next to the river so I waded in and shook my foot around so at least I would be clean. In doing so I leant forward and my phone slipped out of my pocket and into the river.

At this point I hailed Past Me a hero for upgrading to the water resistant iPhone7.

Moments later I looked up to see a huge military plane swoop low over the valley ridges and pass right over my head, almost in slow motion, which really raised my spirits. I picked up speed, determined to make the bus, and emerged into the village with a good 40 minutes up my sleeve. Enough time for a pint and a bowl of chips.

Bless the ubiquity of English pubs.

When I got back to the Rum Doodle (tee hee) I discovered hot spots on my feet from all the sideways slipping and awkward walking I’d been doing for hours. My first foot issues – and on the day when I walked almost the shortest distance yet. Boo. So I had a bath, read The Ascent Of Rum Doodle and decided to spend the following day, my last in Windermere, doing not much at all so my feet could have a break. And why not enjoy my cosy attic room and claw-footed bath tub while I could?

Next: Cambridge!

A few more bluebells to tide you over😁