Icebreaker – Hand in your passport.

So I have just spent 6 months travelling through South East Asia and Eastern Europe.  I’m a proud kiwi and took a pretty decent supply of Icebreaker clothing with me.  In my 10kg backpack, I had the following merino items…

Icebreaker t shirt x3

Icebreaker dress

Icebreaker socks

Icebreaker outer layer (cardigan type top)

I also took a Macpac long sleeved sweatshirt  and a number of pairs of smart wool socks.

Icebreaker merino wool garments have some great properties… yes they do breathe (even in 48 degree heat in Vietnam) and  no they don’t smell after wearing them for a few days.  These are both admirable properties. They also can be hand washed (the lighter items anyway) and will easily dry over night ready to be worn the next day.  I also used some of the local laundry ladies, some of whom used machines for washing and drying.  None of the items shrunk in these conditions.

So… so far so good!

Unfortunately where they went wrong was durability and service.  Of the items listed above, 3 t-shirts, the dress and the sweatshirt cardigan all got holes in them.

Some holes were larger than others but nevertheless they were holes.  The garments had been worn either not at all or only a couple of times before I left.  I assumed that they would have a decent warranty on them… after all I had tracked my merino sheep back to the farm in the South Island that they had come from.  They seemed like good buggers!

On talking to the Icebreaker team in Canada (where I was next), they said I had to take them back to the store I bought them from (not useful when travelling).  On returning to New Zealand, they said that unless I could produce a receipt then there was no warranty and they would only look at a year old items anyway.  No use to me!  So I had hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of gear with holes  in them.

Sorry Icebreaker not cool!  Love the wicking performance, need the gear to last though.

As an aside if you are looking for the absolute best travel socks (I’ve tried them all), buy Smartwool.  Their socks are better than any other I have tried, dry quickly, are light, don’t perish and have all the good qualities of merino.  I won’t buy anything else now.

Mt Ruapehu, Tongariro National Park, New Zealand

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Mt Ruapehu is the skiing/snowboarding hub in the North Island of New Zealand.  It is great in the winter but should also not be discounted in the summer.  We went for a couple of days.  For those unfamiliar to the area, it is an active volcano that throws a tantrum every decade or so.

Where to stay:

The small town of Ohakune is a great base.  While it is a very small town, there is lots of accommodation, mostly in the form of backpackers and baches (privately owned holiday accommodation) that you rent through “book a Bach”.  Ohakune is closest to the Turoa side of the mountain.

You could also stay around the other side of the mountain in the National Park.  There is much less accomodation around this side and the township is limited to the chateau and very little else.  National park is on the Whakapapa side of the mountain.

What to do:

Waiuru is not too far from Ohakune and there is an excellent military museum located on the edge of the army base.  It is easy to spend a few hours wandering through here.  Save it for a wet day – you will probably get one!

Walking – there are nice walking tracks at the base of the mountain which take you though bush and to waterfalls.  Up the mountain you can get on a chairlift which will take you up to a cafe.  You can enjoy a coffee and something to eat or you can just admire the view.  From the cafe there are a number of walking tracks you can take to get some great views.  Tracks are signposted.  Wear boots!

For a real highlight you can walk the Tongariro Crossing.  We didn’t get to do this, this time but it’s on the list!

For burgers and craft beer, try out the new hipster burgeria, the Blind Finch.  While not cheap, they have delicious gourmet burgers that are worth a try.

Photo opportunities:  The big carrot!  Ohakune is famous for it’s delicious carrots.  You can take a photo by a giant carrot.

Ohakune town is a sleepy little town in the summer – which is quite nice as in the winter it is a really busy little town, particularly if the mountain is open for skiing and boarding.

Try the summer – you might like it!

 

 

Nuremberg

As our final stop off on the way back to Frankfurt, we stopped at Nuremberg for a night.  We really didn’t have much time here at all but what I saw I liked!  We managed to get a hotel in the Old Town (The Adina Apartment Hotel) which was particularly well located, had parking and was easy to find!  Win.

The Old Town is really worth a look and it is a short walk from the hotel to the castle and the Old Town walls.  The base of the castle has lots of little restaurants/cafes/bars.  Be aware on a Sunday (we were there then) there is next to nothing open.  You may be lucky to find a couple of bars.  For those that are shoppers (or just like looking), the Old Town has a number of high end brands and in the main square there is a market.  The market is a pretty cool one, selling everything from food, crockery, art and craft and even hairdressing scissors and dental equipment!  I enjoyed a bit of a nose around and picked up a couple of necklaces and a Venetian glass ring.

For those interested in history, specifically history around Hitler and the Nazi’s, there are many very historically signicant and very well put together museums and sites.  We visited the Nuremberg Documentation Centre and the Nazi Rally Grounds.  The Documentation is really well put together and although we have visited a number of Nazi sites over the years and even recently, there is still area specific information here and it is really worth a visit.  You can also walk around the lake (or drive) to the Rally Grounds, which are still there and you can go and stand in the grand stands.  It is quite a moving spot and you can really imagine the rallies in front of you.  Definitely worth the visit.

We were really short of time and this is all we managed but you could certainly spend a couple of days in Nuremburg and look at things properly.

Schladming – Where?

Schladming is a small ski/mountain biking town in Austria.  It was the perfect spot for us to stop for 3 nights on our way back to Frankfurt.  The whole area is very picturesque with lots of hiking and outdoorsy things to do.  As we had both come down with pretty heavy head colds, it was great to check into our Air BnB apartment and regroup.  We stayed in the small (er ) town of Oblarn and used it as a base to travel around.

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While I am not a mountain biker, at this time of the year the chairlifts are opened up for mountain bikers.  Surprisingly, there had been a decent snow dump when we arrived so apart from being pretty cold (out came the ski jacket!) the bike runs were only open from mid-station.  I have it on good authority that natural runs are really “natural” with loads of tree roots and the advanced runs are much steeper than elsewhere!

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The town of Schladming is worth a quick look around.  When we were there, a small farmers market was in action and there were other interesting things to look at. I found a couple of interesting jewellery shops.  (I can shop anywhere!)

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We also drove up to the Dachstein glacier which is well worth the trip.  The road up is steepish (nothing compared to Montenegro) and there is a 14 Euro toll to get on to it.  This is refunded if you go up the mountain and validate your ticket.  Once at the carpark, you get a ticket for the cable car up and can also get tickets for the ice palace and sky walk.  We got all three and were very glad that we did.  The cable car ride is breathtaking and on the way back, if you get in first, you can ride on the top of it!  Now that is a once in a lifetime experience!

Once at the top there are a couple of viewing platforms, a suspension bridge (not for the nervous) and some really cool ice caves with sculptures in them.  Be aware it is incredibly slippery so wear decent shoes.  I used my walking poles and still struggled!  There are cafe’s/restaurants to grab a hot drink while you are there.  This is one of the best views you might get in the area so don’t miss it.

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Also check out local events.  While we were in the area, we discovered a local cheese festival (Kase fest) and followed the signs to a rural area where others seemed to be parking.  From the precarious parking spots, we hiked up a hill to the top where there was a church with rock boundaries. Inside was a celebration of Austrian life.  Many of the people were in traditional dress, there were accordion players giving it heaps and a number of cheese stalls ( and a few others).  We didn’t stay that long but it was a really interesting insight into the local community.  We were the only English speakers there!

This whole area of Styria, Austria is a lovely place for a break.  I could have stayed longer and done some more walks.

Vienna – All class!

We didn’t quite know what to expect from Vienna.  Three months ago we were in Salzburg and while we enjoyed it, on reflection we expected something bigger, brighter and a little better. Vienna is a much bigger city and we found that three nights (two days) was really not enough to see what we wanted to see.  Yes you can scrape  the surface but it really deserves a bit more time.

As we were only there 48 hours we tried to get the best overview of the city that we could by getting on a Hop on Hop Off bus tour.  This is a good idea.  We usually don’t get off, rather just use it to orient ourselves to revisit places later if we want to.  Before we committed to this tour, we tried to do it ourselves as we had purchased two day transport passes.  It really was just easier to listen to a commentary.  We didn’t have to struggle trying to work out which building was which, why it was significant and whether or not we were indeed looking at the right building!

 

Again, like the previous 2 weeks, we were foiled by the weather but being in a big city doesn’t really matter that much. To get out of the rain, we took refuge in the Butterfly House (6.50 Euro to get in), which was not really worth it as most of the butterflies were high on the roof.  We really only saw about 4 or 5.

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We also had coffee and cake in Central Cafe and braved the queue to get in.  Coffee and cake was average (cakes look much better than they are) however it is a cafe of historical importance (Trotsky, Freud and a number of poets) and the environment is beautiful.

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Vienna is full of breathtaking buildings and we enjoyed walking around looking at them.  The architecture is really something else!

If you are an art lover, Belvedere is worth a visit.  This is where you can see the famous Austrian painting The Kiss.  The Kiss is the Austrians answer to Mona Lisa! You can buy any number of souvenirs with a print of this painting on it. Allow at least half a day for a visit.  Close by there is also the Museum of Modern Art is about a 10 minute walk from Belvedere so you could make an arty day of it.

 

We also took the underground (U Bahn) out to the Schonbrunn Palace to catch a show.  You must see a classical performance in Vienna right! It was a beautiful environment but the acoustics were poor.  I think the Opera House might have been a better choice.  The palace gardens are meant to be beautiful but when we got there they were closing the gates (despite everyone telling us it would be open).  Make sure you go before 4pm to ensure that it is open and that you have some time to walk around.

Vienna Tips

  • If you are driving in, you are looking for signs that say Wien not Vienna
  • There is very little parking in the city.  You might be lucky to pick up a short stay parking spot (less than 2 hours) however the locals use the parking garages (Park and Ride).  We paid 10.50 Euros for 2.5 days.
  • You can buy transport tickets for 1 or 2 days which give you access to underground trains and the trams which get you everywhere you need to go.
  • If you want to see a concert ask questions… what is the programme, how long, where is it,  how many musicians etc.  Shop around.
  • There are museums for everything… art, technology, Freud, national history, military history, Mozart…
  • Check out the Vienna Card.  It gives free transport and discounted admission to many places in the city.
  • Enjoy!  Vienna is a beautiful city.

 

Triglav National Park and the Soca River

From Lake Bled, we decided to explore the other side of Triglav National Park to do some walking.  Unfortunately the weather let us down again but we had some fun exploring!

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To get to our key walking spots and our accommodation, we had to drive over the Vrsic Pass which has 25 switchbacks up to the top and 25 more down the other side.  On the way up, the corners of the road are cobbled apparently to add grip (although the other side doesn’t have it).  The road is quite narrow but there are regular spots that you can pull over to look at some of the sights or let people pass.

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We used a really good guide book that we bought online (Google Play Store) by Rick Steeves which pointed out in great detail all the sites worthy of stopping for.  They included great look out spots, historical war sites, churches and other points of interest.  It is both a stunning and interesting drive.  The view from the top on a clear  day would be breathtaking.  We got a quick glimpse!

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We checked in to our next tourist farm  (Tourist Farm Jelincic) where we had booked half board (breakfast, dinner and accommodation) for 35 Euros per night.  Again it was alpine style accommodation (room with ensuite and balcony) and was good value.  Dinner was at least 2 courses and one night it was 3!  Very good value for money.

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One of the main things we wanted to do was do some walks around the Soca River.  We had allowed 2 days to do this, unfortunately it continued to pour with rain for the majority of the time that we were there.  Instead of walking, we decided to do a driving tour, which was not as good by any means but allowed us to look at the sights.  The river is stunning.  Even in its flooded state, it was a beautiful blue, green colour so I can only imagine how gorgeous it would be in sunlight.  There are loads of wire suspension bridges crossing the river so that you can get a great view and some great pictures.

 

There are also little towns scattered throughout, with museums and other points of interest.  You can even get cheese from a vending machine!  While travelling through this area It is not ideal in bad weather there is plenty to see for a couple of days.

Two Lakes: Bled and Bohinj

A disclaimer… this is a beautiful area.  We were fortunate to visit in the second week of September and unfortunate that the weather had turned cold and rainy!  As a consequence it was not crowded or overly busy and was therefore quite lovely.

Arriving from our great place in Podcetrtek, Natura Amon, we checked into another great place, a farm stay called Farm Holidays Povsin.  It is just a few minutes drive away from Lake Bled (albeit down some pretty narrow roads) and not too difficult to find…. although we did have to ask a neighbour!

Again the accommodation was Alpine Lodge type style and breakfast was included.  Breakfast included meats and cheese and a continental breakfast.  It worked out about 35 Euros a person so was quite reasonable.  We drove into town to get dinner.

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As we were foiled a bit by the weather being cold with on and off rain, we spent our time doing the following:

Boat trip to the island

We took a traditional Pletna boat trip to the island in the middle.  The boat is a traditional flat bottomed boat with a colourful awning over top.  It has a capacity of about 15 people and costs 14 Euro return.  There is no timetable and when the boat is full, the oarsman rows off.  Allow about 1.5 hours as you have time at the church, cafe and souvenir shop before you return.

You can also pay another 6 Euros to go into the church but if you are not going there for spiritual reasons you can see right in as you walk past the big plate glass windows. There are some interesting traditions for getting married at the Church.  The groom must carry his bride up all 99 steps to the top in order for the marriage to be a success.  I can attest to the steepness of the steps and would imagine even the fittest groom to require some significant training to carry his wife to be (including wedding dress puff potentially) to the top without expiring!

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Bled Castle

If you haven’t already seen loads of castles, this might be worth a look.  We didn’t spend long here but the view is nice.  There is a castle printery on site if you would like to get a souvenir.  Great views over the lake.

Look around the town

Bled is pretty small but you can look around the town – there are some interesting jewellers and artisans.  There is a really cool little shop making sunglasses and watches out of the native wood.  It is on the Main Street down from one of the large hotels.

Lake Bohinj

We drove over to Lake Bohinj in the pouring rain so really didn’t get a good view of what was on offer.  It is much larger than Bled and it seems that you can do lots of activities on and around the lake.  We saw rock climbing facilities, SUP and boat rental.  There are probably loads of other things that had packed up while it was raining.  There were some hardy souls hiking the roads while we were there and the tracks that we could see looked stunning.  Definitely worth a look for a day trip.

Vintgar Gorge

This is a must!  Preferably go when it is not raining but it is truly beautiful.  You walk alongside a river on cantilevered platforms.  The aim is to get to the large waterfall at the end of the track but the Gorge is quite stunning (even in not ideal conditions!). The track itself is not for the faint hearted but is worth going.  Wear good shoes!

We spent about a day and a half in the Lake Bled/ Bohinj areabut you could easily spend longer.  A lot of day trips go out of Bled to other areas so if you don’t have a car you could be based here.

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