Pure Singapore

Singapore is a tightly packed metropolis in the south east region of Asia. The location on the island means that any further expansion is not possible. The only thing that remains is to compact and raise the existing structures.

This general notion becomes clear to me upon arriving at Central 65 hotel. The real estate prices are horrendously high in Singapore (I mean the range of € 15000 per square meter for an apartment). So hostel owners in order so to be able to offer budget solutions have begun offering rooms filled with so-called one-person capsules. This is an interesting solution. I suppose it might have been inspired by the arrangement of the morgue boxes. In any case, it works perfectly. Everyone has their own capsule, big enough to straighten their legs, perhaps one elbow and to connect the phone for charging.

With no time to waste, we leave our bags inside the capsule and get on metro. Having experienced Abu Dhabi previously, I would say that getting around in Singapore is straightforward and you can do it even with your eyes closed. It is very easy. I just close my eyes and when I open them, I would see China Town station. So I just get off and grab some Chinese food.

Singapore is a very cosmopolitan and multicultural city. Singaporeans are representatives of three major ethnic groups: Chinese, Malaysian and Indian. The conclusion is that there is really no one like “Singaporean”. The four dominant religions are Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism and surprisingly these four can get along well despite the limited space. Within a short walk you can see four different temples.

The Buddhist temple “Buddha Tooth Relic Temple” is a four-storey building with a lift, a rooftop terrace and a museum for visitors. Sri Mariamman is a Hindu temple and Jamae Mosque is right next to it. In each of the temples the woman has a to be dressed differently so Ela takes on the role of assuming the right clothing in order to keep up with the changing fashion as proposed by each of the religions.

We stroll along Orchard Road, one of the main streets where there is an infinite number of shopping centers, restaurants, cafes, hotels, banks and other establishments. High-rise buildings dominate this part of the city and the very precious open space is rare.

The real power of capitalism has found its place around Marina Bay. Just in front of us there is the icon of contemporary architecture and the domination of human thought over the seemingly contradictory laws of physics. Singapore is one of the last world jurisdictions to respect the banking secrecy, so the huge amounts of money flowing into the city have found their embodiment. This is the third most expensive building in the world, the construction cost is estimated at USD 5.5 billion. It is Marina Bay Sands.

In the lower part of the building is a shopping center. From there it is possible to go to an open hotel lobby or take an elevator to the top. The terrace, looking like a giant surfboard, connects three towers of the hotel. On the terrace there are restaurants, bars, a casino and “infinity pool” – a swimming pool with a shore at the edge of the building. Another fact that works on the imagination is that the casino located on the terrace of this building has a higher turnover than all casinos in Las Vegas put together. High rollers have found their favorite spot.

The experience of having a beer with a view of the city skyline at sunset justifies the inflated price tag.

We come to Gardens by the Bay. It is a recreation zone occupying over 100 hectares. One hundred hectares of this almost priceless land!!!

After a while having immersed yourself into the green area, you might forget that there is a thriving metropolis beside. We walk along the Skyway track suspended in the air, from where there are spreading views of the gardens, canopy of illuminated fifty-meter super-trees and a powerful triple tower connected with a giant surf board in the background.

Punctually at 19:45, a concert at Gardens by the Bay begins. This is one of two everyday performances (the other one starts at 20:45). The entire show is about creating perfectly matched atmosphere by  combining amazing display of light fireworks in a futuristic world with music.

Strolling around the bay, the panorama of the city changes and looks different with the changing viewing angle. This evening we come across several other interesting forms of architecture. Museum of Art Science is a building in the form of an open hemisphere. The Floating Platform is a football pitch floating on water.

We’re stop by Maklarutra Gluttons Bay. It’s an evening street food market, a good place to stop and have one of Asian specialties for dinner.

Finishing our walking loop around the bay we reach the viewpoint at Merlion Park. Here is the Merlion statuette, the crossing of a mermaid with a lion, a symbol and one of the most visited tourist attractions in the city.

On the way back we pass the Fullerton Hotel, recognized as one of the most luxurious hotels in Singapore, and then we come back …. to our budget capsules in Central 65.

While in Singapore, it is also worth visiting the Botanic Gardens, botanical gardens included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The admission to the main part of the garden is free, and for a small extra fee you can get to one of the “premium sections”. We enter the National Orchid Garden, the world’s largest garden with orchids boasting a collection of over 1000 species and 2,000 hybrids with other species. The history of Botanic Gardens dates back to 1928, the time when Singapore did not exist as a autonomous state yet. Other sections are Healing Garden (with medicinal plants), Fragrance Garden (with fragrance plants), there is also a garden with poisonous plants and many others.

We set off from the gardens to the island of Sentosa. Did I just mention the topic of most expensive buildings in the world? Allegedly the construction cost of the Resorts World Sentosa is estimated at US$6 billion, which is more than Marina Bay Sands in this respect and makes the building number two in the world ranking of most expensive structures. I told you that local banking rules attract capital. Unfortunately, but the number one does not belong to the Singaporeans. The world’s most expensive building is the ultra-luxury Abraj Al Bait hotel complex in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Despite scoring second, Sentosa Island still makes a decent amusement park. There are hotels, tourist attractions and shopping centers. One could probably spend a few weeks here, but we have only one goal. We want to visit the second largest aquarium in the world called South East Asia Aquarium, or simply S.E.A Aquarium.

There is a total water volume of 45 million liters which host over 800 species and a total of 100,000 of marine wildlife in ten different simulated climatic zones. Marine Life Park boasts the largest observation panel measuring 36 x 8 meters, which has a 70cm thick glass and gives the visitor a feeling of being at the bottom of the ocean. Ah these records …

Singapore is a city-state, it contains sizeable business and financial districts, entertainment island, parks and green areas, and a lot of industry, shipyards and historically the world’s largest container terminal (until 2010 when Shanghai took over the lead).

We arrive at Little India with an autonomous unmanned subway. It’s time to eat something Indian for dinner before the long evening of getting to know whereabouts of Singapore and an even longer walk back to the hostel.

Tomorrow we have planned a departure to the island of Batam, which would become our starting point of the Indonesian adventure on Sumatra island. We are leaving Singapore, but we will certainly come back…!

A hot day in Abu Dhabi

It is the capital and the second  largest city of the United Arab Emirates (Dubai is the first). Our plane has landed in Abu Dhabi early in the morning, just at the crack of dawn.

Intuition tells me that, being located somewhere in the desert on the Arabian peninsula, this must be an unusual city. Often new places bring associations in which the imagination plays the main role. Will we see anything else besides camels, desert, skyscrapers, rich Arabs in white robes, as well as wage workers from all over the world looking for happiness here? What else is waiting for a traveler visiting Abu Dhabi?

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world, happens to be the first sight to visit. At the moment it is in the eighth place, but knowing the passion of other Muslim countries for breaking the records, this position may not be retained for too long. This the construction of the mosque took 11 years of work of  3500 builders to be finished. The cost is estimated at half a billion dollars. Do oil reserves and worship have anything in common?

How to get there? The bus line A1 is very easy to find and it is going directly from the airport to the mosque. It is however quite difficult to buy a ticket for the bus. For the first time traveler to the Arab world this means missing the next 2-3 buses that leave every 15 minutes. I am not going to reveal any details – treat it as a game called “Escape room from the airport”.

On the spot we walk around the mosque to find an entrance. This is level 2 of the escape room. Unfortunately, we cross into a forbidden zone and we are intercepted by guards, who take us to the entry point by a small electric car. We must wait with the visit until nine o’clock. It’s getting hot, but we relief in an air-conditioned cafeteria by the mosque.

When 9 o’clock strikes, Ela gets an elegant black suit, called here abaya and we are ready to visit.

The mosque has incredible capacity. Approximately 40,000 believers can pray at the same time. Each of the four minarets is 107 meters high and the courtyard is covered with the world’s largest mosaic – 17,000 square meters! In the inner part there is the largest carpet in the world. There are certainly a few more records! Could Catholics, perhaps, start making carpets?

We reach the Al Marina shopping center. I know, it sounds boring and not my style, but this time there are two missions to accomplish. First, find relief from the heat. Second, perform a small repair in my camera lens. In fact, the planned small task of unscrewing a few parts and replacing one of them becomes a very stressful and completely out of control. Not as initially planed. Thanks to befriended staff of a fancy watch store, I can use very precise screwdriver. Seeing these loose tiny parts falling on the floor does not sound any good. I lost hope. However, the additional determination comes up and with a bit of extra luck I manage to put everything together and what’s even more interesting – the lens work. We are ready to leave the shopping center. First impression: Has anyone switched on the oven for top-frying?

We stroll around watching the marina full of expensive with the panorama of the city in the background. In this part of the wharf, we will see a luxurious sailing club, stylish restaurants and Heritage Village, a traditional Arab village. We watch Bedouin tents from canvas, stone cottages with thatched roofs, camels and examples of handicraft. In this way, the Arabs want to show how they have lived here in the past. I do not mean the Middle Ages, but the times before the discovery of oil and the arrival of petrodollars, that is 30-50 years ago.

We take walking outside in the heat as a tourist attraction. Nowadays no one walks here. Maybe only the immigrants and tourists, but they are more likely to use air-conditioned buses.

We come to the Emirates Palace It is allegedly the most luxurious hotel in the world. Due to the level of luxury, he was given 7 stars informally, as it does not fit into a 5-star scale. It does not deserve the name ‘Hotel’, hence it was more properly called the ‘Palace’. The Emirates Palace has approximately 2000 staff. The reception, allegedly, is able to serves guests in 50 different languages.

The cost of building the hotel is a whooping 3 billion US dollars. I assume that with such a budget it is possible to prepare appropriate facilities to ensure that even the most demanding guests will find what they are looking for. The price range per night is from a few hundred to over ten thousand dollars. It is a pity that we do not have time to stay here….

Evening is coming. A walk towards the La Corniche promenade becomes quite pleasant. Here we enjoy our semi-legal beer. We meet the first cyclist, there are two longboarders and several runners. In the evening, people come out of hiding, and the ghost-promenade starts to fill with life.

After so many hours in long trousers, with a plus of 50 degrees and without the possibility of drinking cold beer, I admit that it has been a tough day. We stop for a pita with lamb at one of the local bistros and try to find our way back to the airport. We make it just in time on the plane.  Now that we are leaving Abu Dhabi, it is Singapore that appears in my mind. Apparently there is an even more expensive hotel…

Ironman Triathlon – tips for beginners

The term “Triathlon” takes on a slightly different meaning when accompanied by a catchy keyword “Ironman”. It certainly sounds interesting and mysterious. First time I came across the term was just a few years ago. Then I instantly got into it. I thought that since there are no impossible things, it might be quite an amazing thing to do, hopefully in not too distant future. For those who have no idea what is it all about: the Ironman triathlon is a multi-sport event completed at a distance of 3.86 km of swimming, followed by 180 km cycling and 42.2 km running.

Naturally I recommend that everyone reading this would first try completing a triathlon at a shorter distance. Since, I’m more into thinking that the path is the goal and just like setting goals in everyday life situations, also when it comes to triathlon, I choose to aim high. In other words, let’s go for full distance :-)

Finishing your dream triathlon is mainly a personal adventure that you need to create and go through. We start with the idea, go through the preparations and long training period up to reach the goal.

In this post I would like to share some tips and thought for beginner triathletes who, just like me, dream big of completing Ironman distance. I hope my suggestions will be helpful regardless of your planned distance. Let’s do it in an easy informal way, together with very flexible training plan that will give you freedom to choose your goals. Looking at this sport at slightly different angle will hopefully result in good experiences and overall positive approach.

The most important thing is that ….

… whenever there is an idea, it is time to act

Completing the full distance for some time was one of my deepest. A dream that was kind of dormant, waiting for trigger to be activated. My initial (day 0) contact with each of the triathlon sports is quite regular trail running, occasional cycling and very irregular swimming.

With triathlon as a combination of the three sports I had practically nothing to do except one-off informal event over a short distance completed a few years earlier. Nothing more.

One day I heard about the Castle Triathlon, a full distance event taking in Malbork, Poland. This is one of the very few Ironman distance triathlon competitions organized in Poland. For me it was just like a sign, so I did spontaneously sign up.

The first step, that is signing up, is relatively an easy one. Especially when there is still nearly a year to prepare. The date of the competition is fixed, so no matter how far on the horizon, it should become a motivation for training.

Swimming – the water leg

Swimming is probably the part of the triathlon that majority of people are most afraid of. I’m also part of group.

My suggestions & what I have learned:

  1. The first problem I’ve identified is that I lack swimming technique. I also get tired very easily. I’m not able to swim a few lengths without making a stop. Not to mention completely not being able using the butterfly stroke. I’m assuming that when it comes to the race, most of the distance can be, just in case, finished using the breaststroke. To address some of the issues, I decided to have a few lessons with a swimming instructor. It proved to be one of the best ideas to start with and great success.
  2. It is very important to focus on technique details of each of the strokes. It helps a lot in eliminating obvious mistakes – and even worse – bad habits.
  3. The ability to swim with four styles is only half of the success. The second half is regular training. By regular I mean at least once a week – and every week.
  4. For beginners the effects appear very quickly. Sure, swimming can be practiced endlessly till perfection, but for me it was satisfactory to achieve a long-distance pace of around 2:00-2:30 min/100m, using freestyle 100% of the time. It is important that this is the rate at which easy breathing is maintained.
  5. Swimming is the shortest leg of the Ironman. That means that no matter how hard you train, there is just a limited amount of upside benefit you can get. Probably many people (especially “triathlon nerds”) will not agree with me, but I think it’s enough to have this part under control and focus on the other two triathlon components: cycling and running.
  6. Another very important issue is training in conditions similar to those of the competition. If you don’t do it, you will be taken by surprise how it is in a ‘real life’.
  7. It is worth to buy an inflatable buoy that will provide extra level of safety during long open-water training alone.
  8. My dilemma, whether to buy a special triathlon wetsuit or keep my old, yet still running strong, surfing wetsuit, was solved after testing it. It is almost perfect for swimming!
  9. Whenever possible, try swimming in open water. Not only does it prepare muscles to the slightly different working rhythm, but it also allows you to train navigation and get familiar with the actual real-life conditions. Mastering navigation along the straight line will save you a lot of precious time. You also need to practice turning around the navigation buoys, dealing with cramps and getting familiar with other potential problems.

Cycling

Let’s go forward to the next part. I have to admit that over the last few years I have neglected bike. Apart from a few cycling trips (to Africa, Cuba and Israel) and occasional one-day projects, cycling has been put aside giving higher priority to trail running.


The first encountered problem: I have never had SPD boots on my feet.

Second problem: I do not have a road bicycle.

The third problem: I’ve never ridden a road bike.

Solution: I have to buy a road bike, put on SPD shoes and start riding.


My suggestions and thoughts:

  1. For beginners, a standard road bike is all what you need. Aluminum frame and Tiagra or similar equipment is good enough
  2. When buying the cheapest bike you risk losing the steering wheel or stretching the chain on the first uphill ride.
  3. Going to the other extreme, there is also no point in spending too much money on some crazy triathlon bike with aero gadgets and top-class equipment. At amateur level, a success is not in the amounts of money spent, but in the determination to achieve it.
  4. The main problem with training cycling is probably the lack of time. Even though I’m not kind of a person who would complain about the lack of time and I usually have enough time for all the important thins, but in the case of triathlon is a little different. Preparations can be very absorbing. In my case, the fact is that I do not own a TV helps a lot (this allows me to save at least 3 hours a day), but it would also help being unemployed – then you have enough time for some serious preparations ;-)
  5. While the effects of training for the swimming part are satisfactory to me, I have not spent enough time on the bike. I would say that training 2-3 times a week for about 2-3 hours each time by far not enough to see the results. It’s enough, however, if you do not plan to score the podium.
  6. After a general test – cycling around the Bay of Szczecin (a loop of 250 km) in a single day I’m assuming that there is a bit of hope that the achievement could be repeated at slightly shorter distance, but following the swimming and before the marathon.

Running and cross-training

Fortunately, at least one of the three sports I have partially under control.

The months preceding the triathlon I have been running on the average 4 times a week for about 10-15 km. The last few years I have focused mainly on mountain trail running, but running along the casual forest paths is just as much enjoyable. For this purpose, I’m assuming that for a frequent runner, completing a marathon should not cause any problems. Regardless of the location and time of day, as long as you feel like running


What’s the mystery is that whether the running stage will be just as simple even when it is to be completed after 3.86 km of swimming and 180 km of cycling. Will the legs not refuse to cooperate? Will there be any energy left? The key is to know your own body before it surprises you. Cross training is the best way to practice.

  1. At the early preparation stage, I recommend that you practice two different sports in one longer training session.
  2. Especially important is cycling followed by running.
  3. I do not wish anyone to experience the “rubber feet effect” during the race. It’s much better to know what it’s like while you are training. Get to know your body well so you can adjust the intensity of your cycling before switching to running.
  4. It is very important to perform several triathlon workouts. In the winter it means planning the logistics with swimming pool and bicycle. If you are fortunate enough to have a clean lake nearby, then it becomes much easier in the summer. Just make sure you have a handy spot to park your car, which will be a genuine simulation of T1 and T2 changing zones.
  5. After leaving the lake and before running, it is necessary to practice the entire changing procedure in T1 and T2 zones. Step by step. Every little detail and the correct sequence of moves is important. It seemed to me that, even though I am much less trained than professional triathletes, there is no big deal in changing shorts or putting on shoes. You can’t be more wrong! Everything needs to be practiced in close to real-life (race) conditions in order to act fast and to avoid unnecessary operations.
  6. Arbitrarily I assumed that one cross training per week is the minimum and two are the optimum. In addition, it is worth doing the entire triathlon 1 or 2 times per month. In addition to that, I tried to complete each of the sports alone at about 150% of the Ironman distance. When it comes to the three sports in a single run, for training purposes the longest distance I did was equivalent of 1/2 of Ironamn distance, that is 1900m / 90km / 21.1km.
  7. I’m not a big fan of strict training plans. The most fun and enthusiasm comes from the freedom that sport gives you and possibility to do everything they way you like it to be. Hence, I don’t stick to any rigid training standards beyond the ‘generally accepted’ and obvious foundations, such as reducing the intensity of training several weeks ahead of the race day or allowing enough time to recover after longer training.

Let’s do it!


We are on the way to Malbork, a historical Polish town that is home to world’s biggest brick castle. The triathlon will take place in the scenery of this Teutonic Castle. We arrive in the early afternoon one day ahead of the race. Just in time to join for a bike training session along official loop, then to attend a pasta party followed by an informational meeting. We have enough time to enjoy the place, have a hearty meal, check the equipment and prepare mentally. This element of preparation is also very important. Debuting at full distance is not only an demanding sport challenge, it is also a similar challenge to your mind.

Race day comes. I wake up few minutes before five in the morning. Just in time to do the final check of equipment, put on a wetsuit and show up at the bank of river Nogat beside the Teutonic castle.

At six in the morning, a powerful cannon shot marks an official start. We are about to complete 4 swimming loops of 950 meters each.

My first mistake is that I’m swimming too fast. All that rush and being inside crowd of swimmers is causing heart rate to raise above standard levels. It is getting even higher when navigating around the buoys or during accidental contact with other swimmers.


During the second loop, I have a strong and abrupt cramp on my calf. It is so powerful that I start to realize that I may have to withdraw from the race. I clenched my teeth, get some extra patience and I tell myself that this time it is not going to happen. I will not give up so easily. I manage to wait it through and continue, back on a decent pace. Having finished these 4 loops and being out of the water I realized that the worst was over for me. It was the swimming part that was the biggest unknown.

Six cycling loops of 30 km each is just something that you have to do. It is kind of work where you just have to do your part and not look for shortcuts. Just focus on completing the task. Fortunately there were no bigger surprises during cycling. A few thoughts to share:

  1. Trying to complete full Ironman distance while eating only energy gels and bars is a way to self-destruction. Be sure to check the menu of the food buffets before the race and stock up on a bit of variety. My usual strategy for trail running is, among other things, having a pack of dried sausages in a backpack. The other triathletes may have their aero costumes and fashionable helmets, but you have your snacks and it will make them all jealous.
  2. Your own friend support is just as important. Ela not only did add extra energy and motivation with every loop, but also supported me with hamburgers. Great nutrition on such a long race. These burgers also caused jealousy on many triathletes’ faces :)

A bit in the rain, through the puddles and slippery roads, but eventually I managed to maintain an average speed of slightly over 26 km/h for the entire 180km. Most of the participants have already finished, but that does not affect my enthusiasm.

I would say more: It feels great, because there only left a marathon to run. Peanuts, isn’t it?

The running part consists of 6 loops roughly 7 km each. Usually when I hear about running in a loop I don’t see the point of it, but this time it is a bit different. Each loop takes you along the fortification walls of the castle, then inside the courtyard, outside, across the river, around the race expo and back. At least there are things to look at and people cheering all the way.

The rain has intensified and it keeps raining constantly over the final few hours. By the beginning of second half of the marathon my legs already ask to call it a day, but with this scenery, the castle, the knights and the vibe of the competition somehow I manage to keep moving forward.

The run may be nice, but the pace is slowing down. Getting slower and at some point it is too slow to call it a run anymore. Eventually, the running leg of the competition becomes the slowest marathon in my life (around 4:44h). This totally slow ending has disappointed me, but it does not matter. My total time of 13:26h is certainly not a world record, but what matter for me is that….

… I’m getting to the finish line! :)

Trembling out of cold, having no strength left to do anything, an amazing feeling starts to build inside me. It is this fantastic feeling of happiness for which it is worth to go through all these training hardships. It is also great relieve to be done with it… till the next time :)

Now it is time to relax after triathlon….

PS. It did take me longer to write this summary than to take a part in another race. This time at a slightly shorter Olympic distance. It was a beautiful mountain scenery Frydman Triathlon. Yet, the time for another Ironman will come for sure! :)

Carpathian Ruthenia – the other side of Bieszczady Mountains

We are located on the border of Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. Nowadays Carpathian Ruthenia is a part of Ukraine. However, over the last centuries it has been under the control of neighboring states including Austria-Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. Hence the multiculturality and rich history of this place. From today’s perspective, it is also a picturesque, extremely wild and relatively inaccessible land on the southern slopes of the Eastern Beskids.

In some way the inaccessibility is due to the very small number of passable roads. Even those passable road are generally of poor quality. Now it feels strange to have any remarks on quality of Romanian infrastructure. In Ukraine things get different. Firstly, it is impossible to overlook a faulty part of the road, as it is quite difficult to ride more than a few hundred meters without riding into a hole. The driving that requires constant attention and making left or right turns all the time. Moving at speeds not more than 20km per hour has also good sides: you are not likely to miss anything interesting on the way.

Every now and then there are road construction teams but it’s not enough given the amount of work that is still to be done.

I would also like to point out that it’s not only the holes that are slowing us down…

At some point we supply ourselves with water. The water comes from the source allegedly having special healing properties. Apparently it contains a lot of iron. I have no doubt about that, because the next morning there is a layer of rust sediment deposited on the bottom of our plastic containers. I do not know if it’s really medicinal water, but we’ll see.


It is worth to come here to see the mountains. Apparently bears are also possible to be encountered on the trail, but they look so innocent and friendly – just like the one below living in a bear reserve.

We travel and discover beautiful areas that are in a way a mirror reflection of Bieszczady Mountains, across the border on the Ukrainian side. There is even a better version of the famous Morskie Oko in Tatra Mountains. (a lake, literally translated to “Sea Eye”). The one here is called “Senevyr” or Ukrainian Sea Eye.

It is located in Senevyr National Park. This is probably one of the most interesting areas of Zakarpattia region. The place has enormous tourist potential, but the lack of infrastructure and relatively difficult access make it rather rarely visited by travelers, except a handful of local tourists. Maybe that’s why Senevyr is so special.

In the current economic conditions, Ukraine is also very affordable. It is widely avoided by foreign tourists, seriously for no reason, as it is a very safe and interesting country. Since there is no mass tourism, we can expect a lot of individual experiences while traveling. Everything is worthwhile. I recommend embracing temporarily weak local currency and get hryvnia very cheap. Let our expenses go where they are most needed. Optimally, directly to the people.

A few hours later (and several dozen kilometers further) we reach Lumshory. We get to a little eco-resort run by a young married couple. They are just about to open it officially in the coming days, so we will be one of the first guests. They ave a spacious campsite, a restaurant and ‘czan’, a traditional Ukrainian hot-tub that is the main attraction.

This is an unusual experience. According to the oldest tales, it has been believed that the use of hot-tub guaranteed the eternal youth. The baths have been used for a variety of medical applications since the 17th century. It’s believed properties of sulfur-rich water from the stream in Lumshory. The iron tube is first filled up with water and then there is a mixture of herbs and twigs added to compliment the brew while it is heated up to about 40 degrees, sometimes even more. When it gets too hot, you just jump into the cold creek beside, take a sip of beer, jump into hot water and repeat the sequence again.

The staff adds uniqueness to this experience. As a matter of fact, there are five persons involved to make sure we have a good time. Is water hot enough? Would you like to have one more beer? What time would you like the dinner to be ready? Would you like me to put some extra wood under the tub?
This is how the evening goes and it is finished off by an excellent dinner of various grilled meat types.

It is very easy to wake up early after such a relaxing evening.

After a hearty breakfast we pay for all the services (about €30) and make ourselves ready to go.

This location is also a great place to work.

The regions is worthwhile not only for amazing nature or traditional hot-tubs. We come across interesting wooden architecture and well-preserved stone castles.

When leaving Carpathian Ruthenia, it is worth to visit Uzhhorod, the capital of the Carpathian Oblast. It is an interesting historical city with predominant stone architecture. The 16th century castle houses the Transcarpathian Museum of Regional Natural History with thousands exhibits from various epochs and aspects of life.


Having visited the museum I definitely recommend strolling along the picturesque coast of the Už River. Perhaps it is time to make a choice of restaurant to taste local cuisine.

Crossing the borders that are not the most typical sometimes arises excitement. Will there be a long waiting line or are we going to face a long list of formalities? This time it is not the case. It took us just fifteen minutes to entered Ukraine from Romania and we enter EU in Slovakia in just as little time.

Last thousand kilometers

We are about a thousand kilometers away from home. It is worth to split the distance and spend few more days to visit some interesting places in southern Poland.
In the Magura National Park we manage to hike a part of my sentimental trail running event Łemkowyna.

We stop by at the Błędów Desert and visit our friends to stay for a couple of days in the northern part of the Trail of the Eagles’ Nests.

This is how our next Eurotrip comes to an end, but no worries, more adventures are waiting on the horizon :)

Romania by Yellow Bus

The first hours in Romania are not easy. We are trying to pass through endless kilometers of road works. It’s not just swinging traffic and unexpectedly deep holes. It’s also about speeding kamikaze trucks and poorly marked dangerous sections of the road. Provided we can survive it, everything is gonna be fine.



I’m glad that in the end this industrialized landscape ends. A hilly terrain appears on the horizon and with it comes hope for more interesting experiences. We enter Apuseni Parcul Natural.

Apuseni Parcul Natural

First of all, there is a great choice homemade-style cuisine in local restaurants as we are passing by highland villages surrounded by green pastures. In this extremely fertile part of the country the shepherds and farmers have a much easier life. This is a dream-like place for all kinds of sheep, cows and horses to be and joyfully graze on fresh green grass. The surrounding of each village looks a bit different from the previous one, but their common feature is an idyllic vibe that is emanating naturally thus pacing their slow life.


Our yellow bus occasionally arouses the sensation and surprise of the people who at this time of year are busy with stacking hay.

We also visit two caves in the park. Firstly Peștera Poarta lui Ionele, a smaller and more easily accessible one. Then Peştera Scărişoara, a much deeper and more mysterious one. Thanks to the persistently low temperature throughout the year we can see the remains of the glacier in the interior of the cave. Both caves are natural habitat to bats and both have been labeled by local authorities as a national miracle of nature.

Transfăgărășan

We are moving into Romania towards Transalpina Road. In the meantime we are try to find a spot to spend the night and we end up in a random little town called Skaliste. That’s another place where life has slowed down. Children play on the street and run around, some babushkas (‘elderly ladies’) gossip and knit while men sit on the bench, talk and joke aloud sipping a bottle of Ciucaş, a local beer with a deer in the logo.
We arrive to Transfagarasan in the morning. This route is also known as ‘Ceaușescu’s Folly’ or simly DN7C. It is very characteristic and easily recognized as it is extremely winding and dotted with sharp turns. It is 90 km long and runs along numerous lakes through the passes at an altitude of nearly 2000 m. Back in the days of some substantial military importance, today it is not only a road linking Transylvania and Wallachia but also an interesting place and one of the main attractions in Romania.
Supposedly. At the time of our arrival there is zero visibility so we cannot se anything. Patience, apparently, is a key.

After some waiting, the fog starts to ease off. Increasingly more sharp curves emerge. The road looks so winding and extremely twisted that it is hard to believe that these types of structures actually do exist and that it was humans who came up with the idea of creating it.

In the roadside bar we stop for “Dracula’s two-course meal”. The food name speaks for itself. Soon to our table are served following specialties: slices of thick pork skin, some strange cheese, mamalga (national meal made of flour or corn groats), grilled meat, egg, onion and some other stuff. This is a high-calorie and energy efficient dish. For a dessert the waiter recommends donuts with jam and whipped cream. Finally a decent and complete dinner.

Craiului Piatra National Park


We add some distance and change the driving directions a bit to avoid driving on national roads again (after some previous experiences). In front of us there is Parcul National Piatra Craiului. We pay 2 lei (about €0.50) for entry. We also get acquainted with the warnings about how to behave in the presence of a bear.

Rule #1: Do not grill!

Rule #2: Keep silence.

We ride calmly and look around for the bears. Will we see them here in a moment? Time and excitement disappear when around the corner we find out that many Romanian families feast in the park and apparently don’t follow the key rules. They are grilling, dancing and turn up their own music loud enough to overcome their neighbour’s. We are driving a couple of kilometers deeper in the park. There is the same thing: big bonfires, tons of food, feasting and grilling. Where did the bears go?

Well, it turns out that the local songs and the sound of accordion are not exactly in the bear’s taste. We walk around and watch it all. At some point we are helpless so we decide to follow the crowd. Unfortunately we don’t have an accordion this time, but we start to heat up a grill :-)

Next to us are about five other camps. Everyone is competing in having the loudest music possible. Locals bring loose wood to their bonfires and when there is no more left, they just go into the forest with headlamps and axes to get some more from the protected area of national park. Some of the parties last well into the night and in the morning there are new families coming to take over and start again. That’s how things are going on here.

I’m impressed by their ability to unpack and pack the camp. The locals need just 5 minutes to move from the state of the car with their bundles on the roof to a state of bonfire, playing music and dancing. It’s faster than my T1 zone during triathlon.

We are following the Dracula

Bran Castle. The first two thoughts: Where is Dracula and where did all the tourists come from? To warn others, consider whether you really want to stand in line and push yourself through this rather not-exciting experience. Since we have already arrived to Bran we may try to endure it, although we are considering just going away. Finally, we visit the castle – maybe just out of the temptation to hear some of the legends that are linked to this notable historical site. After all it is still quite an interesting place. It is just that crowds of people play down a bit the overall impression. Therefore, after a little quiz let’s move on. Can you find a common element in all three pictures?


Yes of course, it’s red tiles.

We visit less crowded antique citadel in Rasnov.


Time to eat something. Looking for a restaurant in the main square we get a chance to see the festival of folk dances from Eastern Europe.


Do Romanians speak English? Some do, but you can’t be too optimistic about it. Even in the tourist town you may have a problem ordering a pizza. It’s hard to talk even the simplest way if you are a bit off the track, in the area where we usually stay. Russian does not work either, but luckily the language of gestures works everywhere and it’s quite reliable.

Romanian style

We reach the village of Viscri, which for some reason has become popular with tourists. Perhaps the magnets are both picturesque location and inhabitants living in the traditional way. There are several cyclists and a large French camper with satellite. It is a interesting view to combine it with a herd of cattle passing through.

We get caught by the rain in Sighisoara. The torture museum we had a plan to visit is unfortunately closed. In return we visit the historic part of the city and walk along the cobbled streets.

At this point I would like to definitely recommend visiting one of the local bakeries specialized in pretzel-shaped pastries with pudding filling served in different flavors.

On the way to Bistrita, we observe an interesting situation: Some locals are repacking a lot of stuff along the road.


This involves, among other things, moving mattresses from one car to another. There are also two refrigerators, a baby bouncing on the pile of loose objects and some construction objects with loose wires, all of them waiting for their final destination. We are making some similar repacking break and move on.

Bistrita is a well-maintained academic city. We enjoy it quite a lot as we walk along the historic pedestrianized promenade with restaurants, or as we stroll elegantly trimmed city park. All the streets are clean. Here and there you may spot some interesting sculptures.

Province of Maramures

We are heading off the main road towards Bogdan Voda. The province of Maramures begins. Houses are becoming a bit older, nearly of them wooden. There are more horse carts pulling hay and families sitting on the top. Every now and then there is a babushka sitting on bench next to a wooden fence so she can watch closely and attentively for every activity around her house. Some locals are resting while most of them are quite busy. They carry rhubarb on their back or dry grass for hay using some characteristic wooden structures.



In Barsana we visit a complex of wooden churches. Following the road we accidentally come across Romanian wedding. The ceremony takes place in village of Calinesti.
The guest list is very long. Most of them are traditionally dressed up which adds the wedding special uniqueness. Notably, most distinctive are colorfully dressed bridesmaids. All of them wearing very special outfit. There is orchestra playing life music and some drinks going around to make this vibrant event even more lively.




Right next to the wooden chapel there is an open-air antique building museum. There are inventions such as traditional river bath (looking like a jacuzzi), a mill, an alcohol distillery and few more interesting exhibits.

Merry Cemetery

At the end of our Romanian episode we arrive at Sapanta. A small town located just off the Ukrainian border. This is undoubtedly one of the top highlights in Maramures. First of all, the town has a very interesting wooden architecture. It is a home to the tallest wooden church in the world – notably towering 78 meters.
“Merry Cemetery” is yet one more reason to attract visitors. As we enter the peculiar cemetery a bell-ringer starts his ritual and rhythmically pulls and pushes three powerful bells belonging to the bell-tower. This makes my eardrums almost burst. Despite this slight inconvenience, we walk around the cemetery and observe individual inscriptions. The walk between the graves is like visiting a museum full of life-like stories with a sense of humor. Judging by the illustrations I assume the stories are funny and metaphorical. This is an artistic and poetic approach to summarize different scenes of one’s life in an informal illustrative way as opposed to traditional obituaries.


However weird may it sound, we fall asleep by the merry cemetery, then we wake up and move towards the Romanian-Ukrainian border.

Carpathian Ultramarathon 208km in 4 days

208km, 8954m of vertical gain and 4 days of excellent race adventure

KUM is a four-stage mountain race leading from Szczawnica to Wisła in southern Poland. It is easy to guess that new trail running events are often underrated and don’t get all the attention they deserve. It is especially true for the first edition of each event. The quest for such unheard-of races that have great potential is extremely interesting. It is the opportunity to try something special, off the beaten track and definitely not lying on the map of world’s most popular races.

The organizers have very meticulously planned the logistics and the formula of the run. Upon arrival to Wisła we leave my van and take the minibus provided by the organizer that will take us from the finish line to the very beginning of the race. Thanks to this trick, after four days of traversing the mountains we will reach Wisła again.

On the way to Szczawnica (the start line) a cheerful and talkative driver shows us some extra attractions along the way. Here is Adam Małysz house (Adam Małysz is quite popular and retired local ski jumper). Here is his museum and over there is the primary school that Adam Małysz went to. Behind that hill is his family home and the place where he grew up.

We pass through the vast openness of highland Podhale to admire a picturesque panorama of the Tatra Mountains. We also pass by Żywiec brewery (one of Poland’s biggest breweries). At some point the driver tells us a story about a curious chapel, which was built in the course of just one night to bypass the regulations on building permits at that day. Interesting. All these things we see in nearly 3 hours driving through the Carpathian wilderness. Even from the perspective of the car the distance scares me and I already know that it will not be easy to return to the Wisła. Especially keeping in mind that rather than following the same car route, we will have to go over the mountain ranges. There will be roughly 200 kilometers and close to 9000 meters of vertical gain to cover.

We stay the first night in Szczawnica in a basic accommodation facilities provided by organizer. Every day we would get up at 6 in the morning. Start the day with some exercises awakening body and mind, eat hearty and rich breakfast and get to know the stage of the day during the daily morning briefing. Then it is to pack the luggage for the day and send it from the start to the finish line of the day’s stage. We start running every day punctually at 8 AM.

Stage 1. Szczawnica – Rabka Zdrój

The first 7km is a strong ascent along a yellow trail that leads us from Szczawnica. There is a humid, cold air left after the chilly night. As we gain the altitude, the temperature drops further but we also warm up quickly. We run through Dzwonkówka and in Jaworzynka we change to the trail to a green one. In Tymanowa we stop at the first nutrition point and just after it we start another steep ascent to Lubań. In about 1/3 of the day’s distance we already have made more than a half of the vertical gain planned for today. One might assume that the harder part is already finished, especially considering the steep ascents and descent on stone paths that require full body concentration. On the green trail there is also a lot of harsh vegetation, scrubs, ferns and other green stuff – as the color of the trail would suggest, it is really green.

The second part of the day is a bit easier, but having fatigue in your legs it feels equally difficult to keep the pace as in the beginning of the day. We refill our supplies at the last buffet on Turbacz (at km 45) and then we are calmly approaching Stare Wichry i Maciejowa. Along the way there are is a lot of folklore and beautiful landscapes. There are shepherds looking after their sheep, goats and cows, as well as extensive fields being harvested. We are going to Rabka Zdrój, where dinner is waiting for us and we wash it down with delicious Czech beer in restaurant Retro. Stage one is finished. Result for the day: 63km / 2874m D+.

Stage 2. Rabka Zdrój – Zubrzyca Gorna

According to the daily routine we start at 8am. In Rabka the weather is on our side, so I decide to run light, just like most people. We assume that it will not rain and that it will not be too cold on the route. For warming up a leg-work of 600-700 vertical meters to Luboń Wielki comes handy. After a good start uphill, I start to lose some positions when the terrain flattens or even worse – it becomes downhill. Getting most out of my yesterday’s muscles is quite challenging. It is especially difficult to move along the stones on a steep path and control the speed without wasting too much energy on braking.

We run through Jordanów. Even though it is a small town, it gives the impression of being in some kind of metropolis. That’s the feeling once you get out of the forest to civilization. I just get used to forests very quickly. We arrive at the second feeding point in Bystra, where another strong ascent to Okrąglica via Hala Krupowa. And there comes a surprise! Someone probably must have taken down the marker tape and removed other signs pointing the right direction. Hasn’t it been for a GPS track and one key word “sharp turn” I remembered from the technical briefing in the morning, we would have been so completely lost! There is nearly no chance of spotting a sharp 180 degree turn at around 38th kilometer into the second stage.

Today’s stage starts to resemble an orienteering race. I’m getting lost somewhere again, the route is supposed to take you along the marked trail, but sometimes it’s too easy to overlook overgrown passages and you can by mistake, for example, end up on the road for forest vehicles. Fortunately, with the help of some local woodcutters we find a little narrow path taking us to Zubrzyca Górna, the end of the stage. At the end there are some muddy parts, but in the end we reach the finish line. Another day and 51km / 1828m D+ accomplished.

Stage 3. Zubrzyca Górna – Korbielów Zdrój

There was a storm at night. I’m glad it hurried and passed in the middle of the night. It was the storm everyone has been expecting during the day. There is still hope that we will be able to bypass some of the precipitation. We run out of Zubrzyca Górna and make a loop around the area belonging to an open-air museum with historic wooden houses and agricultural tools (de facto, the whole group got a bit lost here by following a leader, so it’s a unplanned sight-seeing tour on the way). Thereupon we run through forest and field paths to Krowiarki. From here we are about to experience the highlight of the day: to run Babia Góra uphill. I have never been to Babia, but I’ve hear a lot about this mysterious place. This is a very special moment for me. We break through the thick mist leading us to the top through the magical spruce forest. As we gain the altitude, the thick spruce forest gradually becomes area sparsely populated with shrubs. It takes exactly one hour to reach the peak of Babia Góra.

We experience strong, strikingly cold winds at the top. Mist and narrow stone paths with limited visibility add to the mystery to the course. The subsequent part of the route will take us along the Polish-Slovak border. Interesting is the fact the European watershed, or the drainage divide which separates the basins of the rivers that will ultimately empty on one of the sides of the mountain range. Depending on which side the rain falls, the water end up in the Baltic or the Black Sea. Of course, it’s true not only for the rain.

After the traversing the massive of Bagia Góra, we climb to the top of Mała Babia Góra and we reach Przełęcz Jałowiecka Południowa and Jałowcowy Garb. It starts to rain and it gets muddy. I take easy the remaining part of the stage to save some energy for the final fourth day of KUM. At Westka we turn towards Korbielów. At this part you have to stay vigilant, because it the yellow trail is has many turns and is not difficult to be lost. Today’s distance is theoretically only 36km and 1864m of vertical gain, however, it was not an easy day. The body starts to require some rest after three intense days.

Step 4. Korbielów – Wisła

Today’s big finale. We will start from Korbielów towards Wisła. The last chance – or even the necessity to use all the energy that is left. Having stayed at relatively low altitude, we have quite a intense uphill part to start with. It is roughly 500 vertical meters climbing to around 1300 m. The upgill part is usually a opportunity for me to get some good standing for a while before I start to lose my position on flat and downhill parts. I’m just made for running uphill, nor flat neither downhill. We just brifely touch he slope of Pilsko mountain (a popular one) and again run along the Polish-Slovak border. We often change the trail, but in general we move long the ridge. Gravel and rocky areas are predominant. It is a partially protected area. There are some small nature reserves. We run through Hala Miziowa, Palenica and Trzy Kopce. Then we continue west to Hala Rysianka. There’s a significant left turn that is easy to overlook. Then we go through the fields and gravel paths. The improvised part of the route begins. This is part where you can easily get lost! Obviously not the first time, but being lost now is a bit more special than usual. We are lost in Cisiec, a small village and for lack of the idea what to do next, we call KUM technical support. Rafal, one of the volunteers, quickly shows up and takes out of the trouble by showing us the right route. At this stage my left leg is already done for today and the swelling starts to look bad. If it had been just a casual run, I would rather withdraw. But it is the last 50 kilometers of KUM, the ultimate challenge. That’s why it is worth to go over the pain and make it to the end. We manage the wild part of the route by negotiating through the meadows to hit an elegant asphalt road among the woods. This takes us to the second food station.

Another uphill part begins and the ground becomes pebbles and gravel. A kaleidoscope of mountain landscapes emerges in front of our eyes. It’s a wilderness area, we go over a dozen or so kilometers in almost complete isolation. We are going through the Barania Góra National Reserve and enter Magurka. We take a number of small steps along the way and descend. In this episode you can fully contemplate nature and enjoy the race, even absent-minded as it is impossible the get lost here. There is only one road. We reach Przełęcz Salmopolska. From there it is merely a downhill run towards Wisła through 3 Kopce Wiślańskie. In spite of being completely tired, there are yet unknown energy reserves coming to my muscles. I accelerate running through the city of Wisła towards the finish line. It’s time to use the very last of my strength. Todays distance: 60km / 2398m D+. We made it!

Four days later at finish line


Satisfaction of finishing this four day race is even greater than I have imagined in times of crisis or alone in the endless mountainous terrain. The euphoria in the head and some instinctive thoughts arise: is it possible that it is the end? Can it all be already over? This is only the end of this edition. The fantastic memory of the whole KUM and thousands of snapshots from each stage of the course will definitely be with me as soon as I think about the magic of the Polish mountains. KUM is an adventure 100% worth recommending. Great greetings to the organizers and fellow participants for these unique 4 days full of impressions.

The total distance, including about 3-6 km extra of being lost is according to my GPS watch about 208km and 8954m of vertical gain.

And after the run… time for holiday!


We have planned the logistics perfectly. Together with my friend Światek, representing our running team Kongo Safiri, we have completed the mountain competition from Szczawnica to Wisła. At the end of the race there was Ela waiting for us with her friend Dominika. Ela was tempted to start in the mountain half-marathon, a accompanying running event for KUM. She managed to take the first place on the podium and win in her age category. She also asked me to mention that she’s been the only one in her category! :)

Our van is already packed and ready to start new adventure. This year’s holiday direction: southeast in general, with no details. We will see where the road takes us and what will happen. We leave Poland, then go through Slovakia and pass the nature reserve in Hungary. There are foxes, roe deer, hedgehogs and weasels on the way after dusk. Only wolves and bears are missing, but supposedly these are also possible to be found here. It is getting late so we go to sleep upon reaching Eger, the town I have never heard of which before. In the morning it turns out to be one of the most popular tourist destinations in Hungary.

My left leg is getting worse. Looks like the distance of 208km has not entirely gone smoothly or injure-free. Locals have some ideas. Believing in the unique renewable power of thermal waters we go to the healing pools. These pools are what makes Eger so famous. This is a bit like a combination of seaside resort and amusement park. Pools do not help, and my leg start to be more and more swollen. It’s already the third day after the competition and it is getting worse, so the only reasonable thing to do is to visit the hospital.

The x-ray discovers that the leg is not broken. The doctor simply said “too much running”. I mentioned that I’ve been running a bit more than usual but I have not mention anything about 200km. He just advised me to rest, use some ice-packs (or cold river) for cooling the leg down, take a daily dose of some medicine against swelling and.. to be patient. Unfortunately, for the next two weeks everything will be a little more difficult. Without running, jumping and other excesses.

We visit the city, the citadel, we also try Hungarian cuisine. Then we move on.

We spend the night at the fishing pier by the Poroszlo lake. Without thousands of mosquitoes it would have been quite a recommendable place – but there are thousands of them so it is high time to move on :)

Exploring levadas in Madeira

This time it’s a family trip. More precisely a surprise trip for my mother’s 60th birthday. She’s always been a fan of Portuguese culture and heritage, hence the idea to go to Madeira.

What do you associate Madeira with? For my mother and sister Luisa, this is the “island of everlasting spring” and the cradle of Portuguese colonial culture. For my dad, it’s not just Funchal airport, one of the most dangerous in the world, but also irrigation channels called levadas, which we will focus on a bit later.

My first thought linked with Madeira is that it is home of the legendary trail running event called MIUT (Madeira Island Ultra Trail). The longest distance is very tempting: You have to run 116km and climb a massive 6600 meters of accumulated positive vertical gain within the time limit of 26 hours. Unfortunately, it is not the right time of the year to participate, so this pleasure will need to wait until future, hopefully not too distant.

Going back to the airport topic. Madeira is dominated by mountainous terrain, therefore a large part of its main runway is supported by 180 powerful columns, each roughly 70 meters high. We are landing on that curious structure surrounded by mountains and the ocean.

There are at least three ideal ways to get to know the island on your own. Participation in MIUT and cycling are the two and …. rental car is the third one. The last option turns out to be the most convenient for everyone. Having packed our staff inside the car we head west and reach town of Prazeres, where we have booked an Airbnb apartment. Passing through the island, I am impressed by the green landscape and endless uphill or downhill parts of the road. Flat stretches occur only at sea level and in some tunnels. A typical village is characterized by white houses with red tiles dominating the roofline, which contrasts well with the ubiquitous greenery.

Portuguese explorers called the newly discovered land as Ilha Madeira, or “Wood Island.” This is what distinguishes Madeira against other islands in the East Atlantic region dominated by desert landscape.

What is levada?

Levada is a Madeira-specific irrigation channel, whose history dates back to the very beginnings of the colonial era on the island. With the help of a well-prepared network of more than 2100km of canals and streams it became possible to deliver water from the rainy north-western part of the island to much drier southeast. In the past it facilitated the possibility to grow sugar cane on the whole island and also provided water for domestic use, including housewives for washing clothes.

Today, levadas offer perfect network of hiking trails that take us to the most interesting parts of the island. We will find both short and easy ones as well as long, demanding and technical routes.

Our base in Prazeres is located on the south west of the island at the top of a 500 meter high cliff overhanging the ocean. I set off for an evening run along PR20, one of the levadas that goes from Prazeres towards Jardim to Mar. It’s a nice way to explore the area. On one side it is only 3km (6km round trip) but including 500 meters of vertical gain, you can already call it a sport exercise. PR20 takes you through quite diversified terrain on different sort of paths and from now on it will become my daily extra exercise after a busy day of sightseeing and hiking mountain trails.

Funchal

I would not call Funchal (capital of Madeira) the travel destination of the island, but since we are already there, theoretically it is worth to spend here one afternoon. Just like the rest of the island, the city is also located in a mountainous area. Right in the city center there is a large marina with sailing yachts and the harbour where massive Azura cruise ship is moored. We will reach several urban parks and reach the bay view point walking along the coastline. Nearby is the legendary Reid’s Palace. It is a historic hotel fabulously located on the cliff. It has a long tradition of being visited by most influential precursors of colour photography. The guests had the possibility to use the hotel’s darkroom since the early 20th century.



Crossing the steep and narrow alleys, you can easily find local restaurants serving great fish dishes, seafood and Madeiran beef. Everything tastes great outside in the fresh air, especially with the gentle breeze, peaceful ocean sounds and greenery neatly complemented by Portuguese colonial architecture. That’s for now about the cities.

Levada Das 25 Fontes

Next day we set off for Levada Das 25 Fontes, one of the flagship routes. We hike one of the levada trails marked PR6 (and PR 6.1 which is an extension to Levada to Risco). At the end of the trail we reach a large yet impressive waterfall.

Next day we set off for Levada Das 25 Fontes, one of the flagship routes. We hike one of the levada trails marked PR6 (and PR 6.1 which is an extension to Levada to Risco). At the end of the trail we reach a large yet impressive waterfall. A valuable advice – to avoid the crowds you should try to get up and be on the trail as early as possible. Alternatively choose other trail. It turns out that the route Levada Das 25 Fontes is most crowded. My theory is that probably everyone uses the same guidebook or it’s described as “go on that one trail and spend the rest of the time laying in the sun”. There is some logic behind it and it would explain the hordes of Germans we found on this route. Fortunately, all alternative levadas are far less popular.

Exploring the island

Over the next few days we plan to travel to various parts of the island to pick one levada as the main goal for the day combined with some extra side-attractions in that part of the island. In the northwest, for example, you should visit the natural pools of Porto Moniz and see the starting point of MIUT.

The more ambitious track we took the other day is the traverse of two peaks of Pico Areeiro 1818m and Pico Ruivo 1862m. On the route we will see how the terrain cuts the island into two separate climatic zones.

Interesting formations of fog and clouds try to make it from the damp north side to the sunny south but they quickly evaporate and disappear. The hike’s distance is about 13km and over 1000 meters of cumulative gain (round trip). PR1 is also one of the MIUT stages. The route leads through a varied terrain – from untouched rocks through man-made paths in a high exposure locations to colonial-era stairs or even tunnels.




Upon Coming back by car, we are still in good time to stop at Cabo Girao to enjoy the view off cliff towards Funchal bay.

The next day we set off for levada PR13, from Vereda to Fanal. This one is a bit easier than previous one, so make slightly extended version (you can leave some people at Paul do Serra, go to Fanal, leave the car there and run) – about 16km total with 600m vertical gain.

Since we are on the island the ocean also deserves some attention. We are going to the coastal town of Calheta. The beach and easy ocean access make it perfect opportunity to test wetsuit that I’m planning to use for full-distance triathlon in the end of summer. In fact, it’s a surfing wetsuit, but to my surprise it is very comfortable and suitable for swimming. It is a nice swimming training of about 1800 m in the open ocean. A completely different experience than swimming in a lake or indoor pool.

We also do some shopping, including tuna and several other fish. We also buy fresh shrimp, which I mistakenly freeze later on. Most importantly, the grilling worked out well and together we managed to develop a few new improvised dishes. Especially seafood salsa and grilled tuna steaks.

I mentioned that Madeira is a green island. Is it for sure? Not exactly. We embark on the eastern end of the island to get Cais to Sardinha. The trail PR 8 – Ponta de São Lourenço (Baía d’Ábra – Casa do Sardinha) will take us there. It is somewhat easier than the other trails. What makes it special is that it goes through an unprecedented desert landscape. The trail makes a total of 4 km one-way (8 km return) that is easily done in about 2.5 hours. Vertical gain about 500 m. Desert landscape is enhanced by powerful waves splashing against the cliffs. It is easy to see the eroding force of nature. Among emptiness, there are also some rare plant species found on barren ground. So much variety on one island.

The route PR21, from Encumeada to Ribeira Grande is also called Caminho do Norte. The location of the starting point at the top may seem to be unusual, although looking from the perspective of water flowing down the levada, it becomes quite natural. We descend nearly 700 meters down – most of the trails are along well-maintained wooden stairs to make moving on slippery surfaces easier. All the way down you feel the deep smell of the rainforest. At the bottom, after thinking the situation through we conclude that I will be the volunteer to run uphill back to the car and bring it down to Rosario where we shall meet. Thanks to that solution my parents and Luiza have saved some of their energy levels so we can still go all together down to the PR20, my favourite cliff trail. This also take the camera.

Does anyone here look like a colonizer?

Madeira is undoubtedly an interesting island, a paradise for nature lovers. It is all awaiting adventure seekers in its neatly packed colourful and lively Portuguese style. It’s one of those places where you just want to come back. Hopefully for the Madeira Island Ultra Trail!

Finally, I also attach some extra information for geeks.

Levada cheat-sheet

Interactive map: http://www.madeira-web.com/PagesUK/walking-uk.php

PR 1 – Areeiro (Pico Areeiro – Pico Ruivo)
PR 2 – Urzal (Curral das Freiras – Boaventura)
PR 3 – Burro (Pico do Areeiro – Ribeira das Cales)
PR 4 – Barreiro (Poço da Neve – Casa do Barreiro)
PR 5 – Funduras (Portela – Maroços)
PR 6 – 25 Fontes (Rabaçal – 25 Fontes)
PR 7 – Moinho (Ribeira da Cruz – Tornadouro)
PR 8 – Ponta de São Lourenço (Baía d’Ábra – Casa do Sardinha)
PR 9 – Caldeirão Verde (Queimadas – Caldeirão Verde-Caldeirão do Inferno)
PR 10 – Furado (Ribeiro Frio – Portela)
PR 11 – Balcões (Ribeiro Frio – Balcões)
PR 12 – Encumeada (Boca da Corrida – Encumeada)
PR 13 – Fanal (Paul da Serra – Fanal)
PR 14 – Cedros (Fanal – Curral Falso)
PR 15 – Ribeira da Janela (Curral Falso – Ribeira da Janela)
PR 16 – Fajã do Rodrigues (Fajã da Ama – Ribeira do Inferno)
PR 17 – Pináculo e Folhadal (Lombo do Mouro – Bica da Cana – Caramujo – Folhadal – Encumeada)
PR 18 – Rei (Quebradas – Ribeiro Bonito)
PR 19 – Paul do Mar (Prazeres – Paul do Mar)
PR 20 – Jardim do Mar (Prazeres – Jardim do Mar)
PR 21 – Caminho do Norte (Encumeada – Ribeira Grande)
PR 22 – Chão dos Louros
PR 23 – Azenha (Azenha – Caminho Velho do Castelo)

 

Snowboarding in Gudauri, Georgia

We arrived to the Caucasus in quest for fresh powder. Is not just another snowboarding trip, above all it is the opportunity to get to know a new country and an interesting way to spend two weeks with good friends.

I’ve already had the pleasure to experience snowboarding on the northern slopes of Caucasus (the Russian part of the mountain range). Elbrus, Cheget and the friendly folks of the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria made a great and memorable experience. Because of that I’m looking forward to another adventure with even greater excitement. It is time to discover the southern slopes of the Caucasus.

Things get slightly complicated even before our departure. At the airport it appears that the plane will be delayed by one day due to icy conditions at Kutaisi airport in Georgia. We are forced to spend 24 hours in the hotel together with a group of roughly 200 Georgians waiting to visit to their home country. This feels like acclimatization camp. I also explain it to myself that the plane is delayed due to the difficult weather conditions. It means nothing but even better snow conditions in the mountains. Finally our plane takes off and in turn due to the heavy snowfall it eventually makes an emergency landing at the airport in Tbilisi. That’s even better as our trip to Gudauri from Tbilisi is only 150km, about 200 km shorter comparing to a 350km trip from Kutaisi. We had hard time deciding where to go as there is a long list of alternative resorts to choose from: Mestia and Bakuriani. This time it is going to be Gudauri.

Georgia is a very friendly country for tourists. Firstly, all EU citizens do not need a visa. Secondly, all you need to enter the country is a national ID. If that wasn’t enough, each visitor will receive a bottle of fine Georgian wine on arrival. That’s how tourists should be treated worldwide!

Now we are just a several other means of transportation away from Gudauri. We take a couple of overcrowded marshrutkas, then a subway and a collective taxi to find ourselves in the middle of a mysterious village without any idea what to do next.

Our original plan was to arrange accommodation with help of local babushkas. It’s an old well-tested way and does not require any previous arrangements. In theory, all you need to do is just wait in a place where you have arrived and a babushka will find you. This time it is different. Beginning of January is not as we expected a low season. Due to the Orthodox Christmas we are now in the middle of high season. All of the apartments within a radius of twenty-five kilometers are booked-out.

Fortunately we are lucky. By sheer coincidence we find “a motel” – that is, a room in the post-Soviet style directly accessible from the outside. It has mountain view and hot running water, which from time to time is available. We have less than 10 minutes’ walk to the lift station and just nearby there are a few restaurants with excellent Georgian cuisine. That’s all what we need.

Home sweet home in our “motel”.


We use the first day to get familiar with the area, ski lifts and slopes.

There has been a lot of snow in the last days so the season is now at its best. The two bottom stations of the resort are located at an altitude of about 2,000 m and the upper station of the highest lift is at over 3000 m. In Gudauri there are 5 chairlifts, one gondola and one T-lift. There are further investments planned in the future. Infrastructure is quite at par comparing to Austrian resorts in terms of modernity. Ski passes are fabulously cheap, around €10 per day. The entire resort maintains approximately 50 km of groomed slopes, but the main reason we are here is off-piste. The freeriding possibilities are nearly countless and in the coming days we will try to explore as much as possible.



From the first evening we start daily tradition of having a nice restaurant dinner, grab some drinks and gradually unveil the secrets of Georgian cuisine.

My greatest applause goes to the local grilled meat and aubergine dishes, fresh breads, pomegranate snacks and an interesting combination of salty and sweet flavors.



Be sure to try khinkali, dumplings with minced pork and beef meat filling and herbs. These delicacies appear on our table in dozens.

Kharcho is a thick goulash, it is rich in meat and other nutritious extras. It is available in many variations.

You should also try Adjaruli Khachapuri, which is a hot boat-shaped bread that is filled with cheese and a raw egg yolk topped with butter.

When it comes to drinks, Georgia may be primarily associated with wine. Visitors can also enjoy a bottle of good beer, for example. Natakhtari, Argo or Kazbegi. It is not only that. At some point during the dinner a bottle of unknown content appears on our table. It’s a gift from the owner of the restaurant.

Looking at the volume and its colour, we classified it as white wine. With the first sip it was clear that it is something else. Something more powerful. That’s how we discovered chacha, the flagship of the Georgian distilling traditions.

Chacha is a home-produced alcohol from grapes (sometimes also other fruits are used). It tastes similar to Italian grappa and also has digestive properties. Homemade chacha is something that every host is proud of.

In the second week of our team expands in numbers so we are now looking for accommodation for 7 people. In our the “Motel” there is not enough space. There is no enough room in Szymon’s bus either. Check out Okowoko.org. Since we have a bit more time, we can reactivate operation “babushka”. After several hours of searching, we happen to meet one babushka in a local wine shop. She introduces us to one lady called Luba, who happens to know someone who has an apartment for rent.

We have a deal. There is even 5 liter wine bottle as welcome gift waiting in our new apartment. Now the ski lifts are even closer and we have a reliable hot water supply. It is worth to mention that in the meantime we came up with a card game that we named ‘Luba’ out of respect for that lady.

Buying a ski pass sometimes involves a small typo. The main thing is that there is plenty of fresh also in the second week.

It is also the first snowboarding days for Ela. As we know, the beginnings are not necessarily easy. It usually helps if you try to explain that everyone has to go through it, but you also need a great amount of resistance to ass pain. The experience a beginner snowboarder gains in a number of uncontrollable falls starts to pay off from early days. Soon snowboarding is getting easier and Ela is eventually going downhill without falling.

Thanks to the recent snowfall the highest lift going up to Mt. Sadzele (3279m) was opened. It’s amazing feeling to be one of the first snowboarders on the pristine untouched slopes of this mountain. Time for some real freeriding. The mountain offers diverse types of terrain and varied pitch. There are a few jumps and drops, so you can just jump, pick up the speed and sweep fresh powder to the left and right. Awesome!

The downside is there is still quite a lot of large stones hidden under the thick, yet relatively light layer of snow. Unfortunately January is the beginning of the season, the month during which the deep bottom layer of compact snow only begins to form. Snowboarding over loose powder you run a risk of hitting a piece of rock with the bottom of your board . But that’s just details. With this great snow conditions and nearly endless opportunities, we spare no moment to enjoy it.

We keep on snowboarding and enjoying our time. Georgia, Gudauri, mountains, snow, friendly people and excellent food, all of these aspects form an ideal composition. My brand new snowboard looks as if someone has been trying to make a sculpture out of it for the last two weeks. This is just a small cost to fix. Memories and experiences make whole trip to Georgia worthwhile.

As one saying goes, “certain things happen only once, unless something happens for the second time, in which case, there is no doubt that it will happen also for the third time”. Because of this, I know that a return to the Caucasus is going to happen and I’m looking forward to that!

Long way home

The way back from an enjoyable trip often becomes kind of a troublesome issue. There is usually some rush and stress involved. Do we have to already think about what is going to happen upon return. Are things such as cleaning up the house, our work or other duties really that important at the moment? Not necessarily. There will come the time to worry about these. Now it is time to enjoy the remaining part of holiday.
When planning a trip, especially a longer one, it is always worth to allow extra few days to finish it with an interesting style.
For example, the road from Slovenia to Polish can be reached in one day’s driving stopping only at petrol stations just to refuel, pee and eat a hot dog. You can also do it in a stress-free, yet more enjoyable way. When planning a route just stick to less frequent roads, find some places to see on the way and above all, make sure that the road itself is your target.

Towards the end of our Alpine project, we drive around the Triglav National Park in Slovenia. We stop in Kranjska Gora to get one more eyeshot of snow-covered Triglav (2864m, the highest mountain in Slovenia). This time we see it from the northern slopes the Julian Alps. Kranjska Gora is the largest ski resort in Slovenia, so it’s definitely worth coming back here in winter.



We enter Austrian part of the Alps from Carinthia’s side . There are numerous mountain towns to stop and take a look at. We drive through the Katschberg pass and enter Salzburgerland. We spend the night at Hallstatt lake. The lake is beautifully located between the mountains and this place is often referred to as one of the most scenic all over Austria.




In these part of the country they are used to say “Es muss ein Stiegl sein”. Which in free translation means that “You need to have one Stiegl”, a local Austrian beer. We respect the saying more than literally and stock up with a box of beers before saying good-bye to Austria.

I wonder if Czech Republic has a place like Prague, but in a miniaturized way. For people who, just like me, do not need the urban hustle, I have one recommendation. Go to so-called “Little Prague” or more simply, town named Cesky Krumlov. Until now I have never about that city, but as soon as I got there, I instantly knew that was exactly what I had been looking for.



In Austria there were situations when it was not possible to pay with a card in a restaurant. As the waiter politely explained it, “it’s too old restaurant.” In Czech Republic, in turn, sometimes we have been told that it was “too small restaurant.” So I found that easier that searching for a restaurant that is both “big” and “new”, it is simply to use an ATM.

I love Cesky Krumlov not only for one special campground that looks like a supermarket parking lot with some grass area on the side. It is also about the convenient location right on the river, which in summer turns into one massive meeting place for kayakers passing here through the city.
Cesky Krumlov has a very interesting architecture dominated by the thirteenth century castle. It is interesting just to stroll aimlessly along cobblestone streets and admire historic buildings in the Old Town. Nightlife scene is also quite interesting. We get to know it through the eyes of one Californian guy who looks like a Tarzan. In fact he came here on holiday and settled permanently. On that evening our pub-crawl team is growing very fast and at some point there is a considerable amount of Irish guys. The bars slowly begin to close, so we decide to check what’s is happening with our kayaking friends at the campsite and have one more of local specialty beer.


The way back from Cesky Krumlov is not the fastest either. The Czech Republic is a bigger country than one may think. Crossing from south to north is almost like an expedition. Perhaps this is due to using local roads, which are often touring around or are closed. After 12 hours we are still in the Czech Republic, somewhere between hops farm, the abandoned castles and forgotten cobbled “road shortcuts”. During the day the heat is so incredible that even with windows open I feel like my brain is boiling. It makes me think that maybe I should consider installing air-conditioning in the future.

We arrive to Germany. I completely forgot about the existence of something called ‘Autobahn’. Out of habit, we just continue driving using local roads only. One of the last pictures from the Eurotrip shows thousands of birds flying north at sunset.

PS. A few weeks later, it turned out that there is ‘one more’ photo to join the holiday memories gallery. It was sent to me by registered mail and requested payment of €30. For nearly two months I tried really hard not to get a single ticket and here comes the surprise at the very end. Just like a road pirate, speeding 46km per hour in “30” zone, that is, at a speed of 16km/h above the limit I had been tracked in one of the quiet German villages. Luckily it was not happening in Switzerland, where a similar offence would have cost at least 10 times more. Anyway, I hope that will not discourage anyone from using local paths across Europe. You just need to slow down and get off the beaten track!

Bungee jumping, climbing, canyoning and other attractions in Slovenia


Slovenia is located between the Alps and the Balkans. The visitors can enjoy rock climbing, bungee jumping, rafting, canyoning, ice cold rivers, green forest, mountain scenery and plenty of space. It is more than that. I call it the paradise for activity enthusiasts and the hidden pearl that should be permanently placed on European adventure routes.
We enter Slovenia from the Italian side. We are nearby the town of Nova Gorica in the western part of the country. This is not just a random location. We are looking for a climbing spot called Dolga Njiva, which should be located some kilometres further north. After all, I know that finding that spot won’t be easy. We only have written directions in Italian. However, in Italy we could not find anyone who could translate it into English. Here comes the first cultural shock of Slovenia. We get help from a young guy selling peaches next to the road. He fluently speaks Italian, English and Slovenian. He is a very friendly guy too, so as we chat he treats us with his peaches and tell about the country. That’s just the beginning. A waitress in a restaurant, a cyclist that we accidentally met and everyone else – they all speak English. We easily with the climbing spot and generally speaking, everything seems to be easy now.


It takes some efforts, but eventually we climb some routes with funny sounding names: Ajajaj, Ejejej and Neč do Neča. The easier ones are in the range of 4a-5a, but seasoned climbers will also find much more difficult ones. The spot is shaded and has little traffic. Within a few sessions we meet just two Italians and a bunch of Slovenians. If you are looking for this spot just park the car in a third parking place accessible by driving 2-3 kilometers north of the restaurant Dolga Njiva. By the way, this restaurant is also worth recommending. They serve excellent ćevapčići skewers with grilled vegetables and other sensational dishes from traditional charcoal grill. Here you can also easily camp for the night and be just in time for the next day’s climbing.

To bungee or not to bungee…


It is a rainy Saturday morning. At some point the rain turns into storm. Probably today’s bungee will be cancelled. That’s life.
It turns out that in Slovenia it’s no problem even when it’s raining heavily. I explain to myself that they just use different type of lines than those used in the more touristy places. In any case, a temporary jumping post that is screwed to the bridge and the whole team gain my trust. Especially after seeing a few bungee survivors.
We are about to experience 55 meter flight from Solkan bridge built over the Soca river. The price is a little bit of stress plus 50 euros. In return you receive a few seconds of great excitement, which costs less than 1 euro per meter of flight that is quite good value ratio.
Ela jumps first and she does that with an extraordinary grace and full control. Flying like a pro in a perfect downward vertical body position. Is she really doing it for the first time?




Despite internal doubt, now I know it is too late to turn back. It’s much better to be already done with it. 3 … 2 … 1 … bungee!

Here comes a bummer! For the fear of underrotating the jump, I exaggerated a bit while bouncing off the post and I rotated more than 270 degrees to be heading downwards straight on my back. Did it hurt? I have no idea.
In those few seconds the perceivable emotions each another level. The fear becomes your ally, the pain turns into adrenaline and shouting is only the expression of joy and satisfaction!

There is a pneumatic kayak waiting for us at the bottom. I can see it perfectly well hanging upside down several meters above. A guy in the kayak helps to get off the harness and carries each person over to the riverbank.

The actual emotions arrive once you stand on a solid ground. Shortly after recovering from the adrenaline, when the heart comes to its normal rhythm, we conclude that this is something to be repeated someday!
For those interested, I recommend: Top Extreme (www.TOP.si) or +38641620636.

We watch the bridge from different angles, looking at bungee jumping from the side, the top and the bottom. There is a kayaking competition going near the bridge and it turns out to be European Junior Kayaking Championships. There is one Polish guy Kuba Brzezicki with whom we talk for a while and in the end of the day he scores place. Feels like kayaking…

The Emerald Trail

In the afternoon, we’re going back to our climbing spot and finish off the day with a massive dinner at Dolga Njiva restaurant. Over the next days we will slowly move north following “The Emerald Trail of Soča River.” This is probably the most interesting part of Slovenia. It is literally filled with walking trails, viewpoints, activities and historic towns that hide a lot of secrets.
Krčnik is natural rock bridge carved by stream of water. In Kožbana we go to Trcinka, one of the “Cherry Blossom Trails”. The loop takes through small villages, across plantations of grapes (where I got stung be a wasp), forests and rocky paths. The trail is well marked, so it is rather difficult to get lost, yet it is still possible. All the villages have this special quiet and timeless atmosphere.
We’re going in the direction of Kanal, the historic town dominated by stone architecture. Kanal is famous for its annual competition of high diving into the water from an 18-meter-high bridge platform. That just one more reason to visit this town in August.



We stop for the night in Tolmin. This is a place where tributary Tolminka joins Soca river’s. That is also a gateway to Triglav National Park. Located here Tolmin Gorges are interesting rock formations, which lived to see the special names such Bear’s Head or Dante’s Cave. There is also Devil’s Bridge, one among several other bridges that make exploring the canyon easier.
One of the most spectacular waterfalls on our route is Kozjak near Kobarid.

Rafting

Sometimes on the road you have to do laundry and just get organized a bit. After a few weeks the time to take care of that has inevitably came. We arrive to Bovec, supposedly the local capital of extreme sports. We park at the campsite Polovnik and at this point it starts to rain. Clothes need exactly three days to dry, so we are looking for ways to entertain ourselves during the waiting time.
We start with rafting. Apparently, the river’s section around Zaga village has difficulty class I-III.
After a day’s rafting, we conclude that we should have chosen a bit more challenging section. I think it is a matter of replacing some parts of class I and II with class III. I reckon the optimal difficulty for beginners is rapids grade III+. It is worth to remember for the future as there are sections of any difficulty in the area.
We also try to include a bit of trail running each day. With the surrounding peaks it is easy to achieve. I definitely recommend Svinjak. The trail is interesting and varied, mostly through the forest, but in the end there are rocks and some technical difficulties. I liked it so I’ve been there twice.


Lake Bohinj

It stopped to rain, our clothes are dry and we are ready to head east. We spend the night next to Bellevue climbing spot near the village of Ribcev Laz on Lake Bohinj. In the morning there is a surprise. We are woken up by park ranger at 6:58am. He wants to give us a ticket for sleeping in the Triglav National Park. The park is “open indeed but only from 7 am”. After small negotiations we manage to relate the offense to another section (unauthorized parking) so from initial fine of €100 per person we get a ‘special price’ of €50 for both of us.
Since we got up, let’s make most of this day. Bellevue climbing spot offers plenty routes to choose from that are split in several independent zones. It is suitable for every skill level and usually doesn’t get not crowded.

We also spend some time exploring the surroundings of the lake. There are dense forests around and numerous mountain to climb and reach different viewpoints. There is even a trail from Ribcev Laz to Rjava Skala that takes you to a ski resort.
Looking at these four gentlemen feels like joining them to climb Triglav, Slovenia’s highest mountain at 2864m above the sea level.

We stop in the village of Srednja Vas and walk up the trail towards Uskovnica. On the way we also stop at the town of Radovljica where there is some kind of a knight festival going on.

Canyoning


Lake Bled attracts visitors with beautiful location. This place is surrounded by mountain peaks and green forests. In the middle of the lake there is a small island with medieval castle. Our entertainment options are definitely not limited to walking around the town. There is also a possibility to try canyoning.
I am not sure whether Ela agreed to the idea just hoping that canyoning will be cancelled due to the rain. It won’t be. If bungee jumping in the rain is no problem at all, why would there be any problem to follow rocky riverbed and jumping off steep waterfalls? The river which we are about to traverse is located several kilometers west of Bled.

Although being under the guide’s care and following his suggestions about how and where to jump so nobody would twist the ankle, about 4 out of 12 people have suffered some type of minor injury (that’s including me at the zip-line). Most importantly Ela was the first one to jump from most of the obstacles and eventually she finished with the biggest smile without any harm. This adventure is worth recommending. I must also admit that I have no complaints about regarding the difficulty level which as difficult more than enough (not like the case with rafting). It is also quite exciting to hear guide’s instructions such as: “Here is a shallow bottom, so you need to hold on to your knees as jump off that waterfall in order not to break anything. And you need to land exactly in that spot over there!”



We still have a little bit of time left for running in the mountains and enjoy the beauty of Triglav National Park. See you later Slovenia, we’ll definitely be back!

Interesting places in Liechtenstein and Switzerland

Following the Rhine, we arrive at the spectacular Rhine Falls in Neuhausen. It is the largest waterfall in Europe, as measured by the amount of flowing water. In winter the average flow is 250 cubic meters per second while in the summer it can go up to 600 m³ per second.

A bit further in Flurlingen I see people drifting down the river using a variety of inflatable tubes and other floating items. The courageous ones jump into water from a nearby bridge. This is the way to learn about new cultures – Swiss at the moment – so we also decide to jump off that bridge. Despite initial doubt about the height we manage to block out the fear and jump. Refreshingly cold river is exactly what we needed on a hot day.

Found on the way

The next random town we visit on our trail is not that crazy. We spend the night in a place called Stein. This village has roughly two hundred residents, probably doesn’t exist on tourist maps. All you can find here is several houses, cows grazing at pastures, a small convenience store and a Ferrari car shop. Only the most essential things a Swiss village like Stein may need.

The next stop on our improvised route is Appenzell. A historic town that became famous for not allowing women to vote until 1991. Strange, but that is true. The city is also known for its Alpenbitter, an alcohol produced using 42 different types of herbs. Currently it is touted as an aperitif and digestive, which by deduction means you can drink it on any occasion.

Liechtenstein

On my travels I try to avoid visiting a new country just for the sake of being there and ticking another country on my checklist. It is much better to use proper amount of time to explore it thoroughly. Otherwise, we would run out of new countries to explore too quickly! But… we are so close and Liechtenstein is so small that spending there only few hours shall be enough to visit a large part of it.

We begin our usual visit in this unusual “country”, if you can call it “a country”. Is this a part of Switzerland since they are using francs too? Or maybe not, since black number plates labelled with white FL letters tell us we are somewhere else? This is a secondary matter. It is important that our first thing to do is go for a trail run in the woods. We start in the village of Schellenberg, from where a well-marked trail takes us along the hills and historic villages. From time to time we encounter a situation map that tells us about our changing position. As it turns out, it is neither a map of the route nor the region. That is the map of entire country, which can be hiked across in a few hours.

We’ve already walked on foot a large part of Liechtenstein. What is missing is a visit to the palace of Lichtenstein’s Prince. Not that easy though. Unfortunately, the prince does not accept visitors and the gates are definitely closed. We meet a group of Chinese who hoped for their private reception at price’s too. They came here specially from Munich for just a couple of hours (speaking of ticking new countries…), where they had been exhibiting the latest DJI drone at trade fair. We learn that the majority of Chinese working full-time have only 7 days of holiday leave per year. In that case their hectic pace is justified.

We spend the evening in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein. Among the expensive restaurants, street monuments, extravagant shops with jewellery and overprized watches that even don’t have GPS, between financial institutions and the headquarters of international holding companies, we find a normal bench. It is a bench where you can sit on and observe this surreal reality. I’d be lying if I say that it is not a strange country at least.

 

Verzasca Dam

It’s time to go deeper into the Alps. We move south via Austria and Switzerland in the direction of Italy. On the way we make a stop at Verzasca Dam. Ela suggested to see that legendary agent’s 007 James Bond bungee jump (featured in Golden Eye). I’m not sure if this is the price tag of CHF 250 or perhaps a height of 250m or maybe just a ratio of 1 franc per meter of flight, but all of these factors make us put off bungee jumping aside until next opportunity.

[Ps. writing it did not know yet that “next opportunity” was going to happen a week later in Slovenia …]

How to fix a clutch in Freiburg?

Even though the clutch in my bus has broken right outside the city limits of Colmar, I still think it is a charming Alsatian town. Something simply went a bit wrong. I have no idea where to find a car mechanic not to mention the challenging task of describing the problem in French. It is way safer to go to Germany, the VW T4’s motherland, and ask for a place to fix “Kupplung” there. Yet we still have to drive about thirty kilometers without possibility to change gear. Having tried different gears, I must say that third one is the most universal one and suitable to cover all distance. I’m relieved to the fact that we are in the Schengen area. We are not that lucky – the border official stops us for a random check. German customs officer stops our car, looks at us and waves to continue driving. The engine refuses to start. We have a small problem. I ask him “Wo ist Mechaniker?” and he replies “Vielleicht weiter …”. The broken car entering Germany doesn’t bother him at all – he simply wants to get rid of the problem. Luckily after few attempts we were able to start the engine and get into motion using third gear.

We arrive to Freiburg and we start our search for car mechanics. The first one almost had a heart attack as he looked under the hood, the other one was not able to estimate the cost of repair, yet another said it was “possible” but it will take a week to fix. In the end, we found a real Volkswagen Transporter specialist. The workshop is located on Oltmannsstraße 30. The owner, Mr Eckart Weber has estimated the car to be fixed sometime in the beginning of the following week, which is in about four days. After short negotiations we are able to advance the car repair for tomorrow. It is interesting to mention that the car will be repaired by his employee, a black Muslim guy who devoted himself to work during Ramadan in 35 degree heat – he shall not eat nor drink during the day. Very challenging job and very praiseworthy of him.

Here we are stuck in Freiburg having our unplanned (and de facto compulsory) tour of the city. As we start strolling around we come across Schwimmbadstrasse, (literally. “Swimming pool street””) which got its name not for no reason. This is a perfect opportunity to swim at the municipal swimming pool on such a hot day and take a refreshing shower afterwards. Our next stop is a popular microbrewery Hausbrauerei Feierling to have a couple of local beers brewed here. It’s a stylish place with a restaurant, spacious mezzanine and a large patio in the shade of trees.
In the morning, we eat breakfast in a city park and climb Schlossberg hill overlooking the entire city.
Freiburg is interwoven by channels of running water that stretch along the streets. Among locals there is an interesting habit of sitting at the edge of the channel and putting their feet inside. They do it while eating pizza, reading a book, sipping a beer or just for no reason. We quickly adapt this new habit.


Going back to the mechanic, it’s probably the specialist that has gained international recognition in terms of fixing buses and hand-made motorhomes. The entire street outside workshop looks like a living museum of VW Transporters from T1 to T5, and many other buses. We have a lot of time, so we take a detailed look.


You can even find the car that fits your t-shirt!


In the end our car is ready, it the gears work like new. We find a quiet place for a night on the bike path around the lake Schluchsee and in the morning we drive to Switzerland. There is another random inspection at the border, but this time there is no problem to start and drive. Even from first gear. Off we go to Switzerland!

Alsace and the Upper Rhine trail

Rhine River originates on the hilly slopes of the Swiss Alps and it gradually grows in strength with every kilometer it passes. Its headwaters set boundaries for the three European countries: France, Switzerland and Germany. Being in the area it is worth to visit all of these.
I’m enchanted not by the Swiss scenery, but also country’s ability to keep a nice balance between traditional values, their concern for the environment and being open-minded, carefully following new trends imposed by the omnipresent globalization. All these factors shape the contemporary way of life in picturesque villages of Switzerland. It is also a multilingual and multicultural country. Moving between its parts you will see how individual charm is enhanced by influence of French, German, Austrian and Italian cultures.


I’m glad that Ela is joining me for the next stage of Eurotrip. I’m going to pick her up at Basel airport tomorrow. I decide to spend the last night in Lörrach, the town in the extreme southwest of Germany. In the evening I stroll through the narrow well-maintained streets and at some point when I stop to take a picture, a senior citizen starts chatting with me. He is one of the guests in the beer garden outside local pub. He invites invited me to join his table, then tells me the history of the city and we enjoy local beer Rothaus. The beer that has been brewed since 1791 in Grafenhausen in the southern Black Forest (Schwarzwald)

Where actually is Basel?

According to the plan this morning I’m going to pick up Ela in Basel. Already at the airport, I keep looking and waiting, but I cannot see Ela. Suddenly my phone rings.
– Are you at the airport?
– Yes, I am. What about you?
– Well, I’m at the airport in Basel, you too?
Even though it all sounds like we are at the same airport, it is not always the same country. At this point for the first time a key word was used: “In which country are you?” – “I’m in France, you?” – “Well, then I’m in Switzerland!”
Who would have thought that one airport can be located in two different countries? Subsequently we noticed that we are very close, but there is an impassable transparent wall between us. One of the border guards clearly knew what was going on. He just pointed to the elevator and showed three fingers with his hand. He meant that the border crossing is on the third floor and that is the only way to move from one country to another, though at the same airport. Ah, the modern-day bureaucracy. We managed to meet in the end!


We drive to France to shop for basic groceries. It turns out that in France there is a national holiday – Bastille Day. No problem, we’re simply drive back to Germany, where shops are open. We buy some, note bene among other things, French baguettes and return to France. Fixing certain problems is nowadays quite simple.

Glance at Alsace

First thing to see in this part of France is Alsace. This is a region that has been on my watch list already for some time.

Even though all roads lead to Mulhouse, we stay there only for a moment. It is a big city and I definitely recommend exploring the area around instead. There are plenty charming villages scattered all over the hilly vineyard-abundant countryside landscape.

The land of Alsace has historically been under strong influence of Germany and France. Despite currently belonging to France, Alsatians speak Alsatian, their local language, which can be classified as a German dialect with some loanwords from French.


Local people are engaged in grape cultivation and wine production, as well as the production of cheese and agricultural products. They also grow hops and have rich background in brewing.

One of the traditional dishes is Flammekuechle, in free translation it is “the cake from the fire”. It is commonly called an Alsatian pizza. In fact, it is something like a pizza with a very thin base and hard baked, almost burnt crusty edges. It appears in many versions, for example with fruit, mushrooms or different types of cheese.

We get to Katzenthal, one of the peaceful villages located between the plantations of wine. The landscape is idyllic and makes you just want to wander aimlessly. While it’s easy to find a place in Alsace where you almost do not find any tourists, Eguisheim and Colmar are the two mandatory points on your visit in the area despite their popularity.

The local architecture dominated by the Prussian wall. This characteristic façade consists of a wooden frame filled with brick walls. In the past a mixture of clay and straw was used – the raw materials that were easily available and cheap.

Eguisheim


Eguisheim is a town with a thousand years of history. Nowadays it is clearly stylized for tourists. Yet it’s still worth visiting, simply to stroll through the narrow cobbled streets, take a look at the production of manufacture, admire colorful houses, flowers and wooden elements of the facades, which are even more flattering than in other parts of this charming land. One could argue that Eguisheim lacks some sense of authenticity, but this can be found in Colmar.

Colmar


Colmar makes the best impression thanks to the well-preserved old town and the picturesque district Petitte Venice. “Little Venice” runs along the canals of the river Lauch studded with renovated colorful houses in Alsatian style. The view is enhanced by stylish stone streets, wooden shutters, flourishing flowers in pots and small eateries serving local products. We easily find a quiet place to comfortably sit down on grass and enjoy the atmosphere while tasting a bottle of local wine. No planning needed at the moment – the journey happens itself.

Traversée: 61km / 4100m of Swiss adventure

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Summer is the best time to pack your own hand-made recreational vehicle with all sorts of sports equipment and set off on an adventure journey through Europe. On one side I do love traveling with no specific plans nor itineraries, however, it is quite useful to have some sort of culmination point, an objective that while you are looking forward to it, it also makes it easier to use the time intensively on its way.alps-03

Keeping that in mind, I have been looking for interesting train running competitions in the Alps and I found the mountain running festival Trail Verbier St. Bernard. Traversée, a 61 kilometres and 4100 meters of vertical gain run is one of the events during TVSB. The other plans for summer trip are very simple: a lot of trail running in the mountains, sleeping and eating in my bus, open water swimming in Alpine lakes, taking a lot of pictures, climbing, trying out via ferratas and experiencing the nature as much as possible.

My way to Switzerland leads through Belgium, Luxembourg and France. To tell you the truth it is by far not the shortest one, but visiting some interesting places on a way, roughly after a week I reach for the southernmost portion of Switzerland. Being close to Lake Geneva I stop in the village of Saint Cergue. From there I easily find an interesting trail to the summit of La Dôle. On the route I experience delights of alpine landscapes – stone paths, diverse and highly technical trails, far-reaching views of the vast valley, as well as beautiful Alpine chamois crossing my path once in a while.

There are highland pastures where cows cheerfully nibble grass while completely not disturbed by ringing bells hung around their necks. Idyllic landscape and a perfect kick-off for trail running holiday.

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I decide that I really need to spend some days in Chamonix, France. Quickly I am convinced that there are lots of reasons this place is considered the world capital of mountain sports. Chamonix in the summer is just fantastic. The weather is nice and you can see the panorama of Mt. Blanc wherever you are in the town. The exploration opportunities are endless in every direction. In order not to stand in place and do not go crazy hesitating which ones to choose, I arbitrarily select two routes. The first one: Chamonix – Brevent (22km / 1550m D +), leading to the west via Bellachat pass and refugee bearing the same name. Second trail is Chamonix – Aiguille du Midi (18km / 1300m D +) leading southeast to the intermediate lift station from where it leads further up to the top. In the latter route I manage to make a loop without to having to returning the same way.



Before the race

This may sound funny, but Alpine landscapes are so unique that you shall not miss any views. Therefore I decide not to travel during the night time. I leave Chamonix and spend the night in Martigny, the first town across the border on the Swiss side. I still have two days before the competition and it is right amount of time to relax and be ready. I decide to travel around with my bus and try to visit some checkpoints of the run along the route, which appear to be accessible by car.

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What should I think of muscle strength and endurance needed for the run while my old good transporter T4 barely struggles with the ascent along serpentine roads towards St. Bernard pass? On one of such steep climbs, I feel that the car has had enough and it is probably too much for the engine for one day. I descend into one of the valleys. Lourtier village looks as if time has stopped here. There are old fashioned wooden houses, waterholes, barns and farms with animals, and just behind the village – terrifying view of the La Chaux summit, which will be the last major ascent of the entire 60 kilometre trail. I clearly see it will not be easy.

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Prior to the competition you can also do some side activities. In the area next to the Mauvoisin dam there is a newly opened Via Ferrata route. While the difficulty is just about moderate, the adrenaline levels are pumped up while traversing thin steel cords connecting the two shores of the canyon high above the botom. This is the only way to get to the other side. Further on the trail, some overhanging walls with mounted armrests will give you the feeling of being a spider-man. It is a nice day trip.

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Chasing Alpine antelopes

The excitement night before the start does not let me fall asleep for many hours. My thoughts travel around electrifying anxiety and uncertainty of what is going to happen. Just like before a long journey. At 7:15 the bus takes all participants of the run from Verbier to La Fouly. Once we are there, we still have some time for final preparations. I eat half a jar of Nutella and two bananas. From 9:45 it gets crowded at the start. Fifteen minutes left. In the air one can feel the atmosphere of a friendly competition. A roaring helicopter with a television crew passes by above our heads.  Countdown begins and the race starts. It is a very powerful start.

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Beginning. I know and I always try to remember yet every time I forget it: If you are going to succeed in the long-distance running, you must learn to run slow. Save your energy at the beginning and there still will be a lot of time to hurry, eventually use up your stamina and inevitably be tired. Emotions at start take over and nearly everybody starts at a street marathon pace. I can’t resist being one of them too….

The asphalt road ends quickly and the crowd enters the mountain trail. It is beautiful weather. The villagers gathered along the road to cheer the runners. Right before the trail turns uphill, there is a traditionally dressed Alphorn orchestra playing their instruments proudly aloud. You can hear these low and deep sounds from a distance. The unique welcoming atmosphere draws your attention out from the route profile, which gradually becomes more and more steep.

The first stage I run quite intensively, enjoying full energy levels I easily climb uphill towards the summit of the Col de Fenêtre (2698m). The next stage towards pass St. Bernard is mostly a narrow, sometimes winding, but technically easy path. We leave Switzerland to briefly visit Italy – Benvenuto Italia – and come back. At an altitude of 2600m in the middle of summer it can be cold, even on a hot day, especially in the windy conditions like today.

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There is still quite a lot of snow in some parts of the pass that are hidden from the sun. You need to be careful crossing that section. I’m right ahead of the highest point of the course – Col des Chevaux (2714m) which is followed by a very technical, difficult, steep and demanding descent along the trail covered with sharp rocks and loose stones. I wish I didn’t lose so much energy on that part – then I would have had more opportunities to make up for lost time and develop more speed on easier parts. I think I made this mistake because I unnecessarily tried to follow some girls running extremely fast on this rocky terrain just like antelopes run in the savannah.

The next stage is more enjoyable. Easy downhill path leads to the check point and main food station in Bourg St. Pierre (1620m). That station serves Swiss sausage, ham, salami, pasta, sweets and various energy drinks. Here I also need to patch some rubbings that I got from my overheated pair of salomon speedcross shoes.

I start approach towards the pass of Col de Mille. It begins easily. On the way up I get to know a Swiss guy who has a similar pace. He has completed several editions of Traversée in the past, but this year he is here only to cheer his friends along the way. Even though he seems to have much more energy than me, he suggests to stay together and offers me psychological support. Even the most ordinary conversation helps to distract the mind from the fatigued body.

En route there are some people who withdraw from the race. Cole de Mille at 2480m is an excellent viewpoint and also a popular launch site for paraglider. The organizers have prepared another nutrition station. I’m relieved by two facts: I have already finished more than half of the race and another ten or so kilometers is a downward path with 1400 meters of altitude loss.

In fact, it is not that easy, since it is tricky to adopt the right technique and strategy for the downhill part. The road is very variable, there are sharp rocks, some sections are flat , but here is also lots of gravel and slippery forest trails.

At some point I’m at the ridge of Servay and ahead of me there is a view that I’m certainly not going to forget. It is Verbier, slightly to the north, just in front of me. The helicopter making aerial shots for TVSB flies like a bird above our heads and covers that distance barely in a couple of few minutes. The reality is different.

The trail does not lead in a straight line. There is a sharp turn to the east followed by downhill switchback part towards Lourtier. This is another 1000m altitude to loose just to regain it right after.

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With my legs have already made around 3,000 meters of positive altitude gain. I start to be very concerned about the final ascent from Lourtier to Le Chaux. Keeping that in mind, I’m not even able to get more speed on downhill part as I know that I will need to save last bits of energy for this deadly ascent.

The locals and other race supporters in Lourtier cheer along the way and make you feel obliged not to disappoint anyone. My legs unwillingly accelerate and I start to sprint through the village to reach the second to last food station. At the entrance I lose power and uncontrollably fall down on my knees. It scared one of the paramedics, but luckily I’m able to quickly stand up and start stocking up with food and water.

Trail running requires not only physical preparation, but also a lot of psychology and strategy. One of my strategies is to reduce breaks to an absolute minimum. It is better to move slowly with a takeaway food rather than wasting valuable time as if you were dining out in a restaurant. At this station I needed just 5 minutes and I’m ready for the last challenge: Le Chaux.

At start it feels like a slave-like monotonous work. The idea that you have to go up is the only thing that keeps me before losing consciousness. I literally turn off the other functions of the body and my mind goes into a state close to hibernation. An approach of 1200 m vertical meters lasts forever. I feel like an ancient Egyptian struggling to carry heavy boulders to build the pyramids. Here, the speed drops to nearly zero. I achieve a unique state of consciousness and my perception of reality is altered. Time, distance, sounds, all feel abnormal. The relieving news is that all the other participants around me seem to have the same problem. We all share our misery.

The end of the run turns out to be even more misleading. You have to go down to a small valley and again walk up to the ski lift at the top of La Chaux. At this point, every hundred meters extra in height difference causes a lot of pain. I briefly stop at the last checkpoint at the top and begin final downhill towards Verbier.

My energy levels are already very low. It starts to be dark. Even though I had secretly hoped to finish the race in the daytime, I’m humbly reaching for the backpack to put on my headlight. The second plan assumes that finishing the race is also a big success.

I notice a few people in front of me on the way down to Verbier This is the last chance to give utmost effort.  I rush through the town as newly born with fresh loads of energy. The people sitting in bars and walkers-by are clapping and cheering aloud. I accelerate and overtake a couple more fellow runners. The energy is to be used till the very end right here. My final kilometer takes me well below five minutes. At the finish line my mind is filled euphoria and blood veins are pumped with unprecedented joy. All efforts are rewarded with enormous satisfaction of reaching the finish line.

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I just think that’s the feeling that makes all ultra-runners addicted to trail running events.

Needless to say, falling asleep after twelve hours of running in the heat is as easy as closing your eyes and waiting half a second.

The next days are a bit less intense, I spend time making my way slowly into Switzerland. I move from west to east which means I’m leaving the French part and get into the German-speaking region of the country. I find a place to stay in Interlaken between two lakes: Thun and Brienz. It is a charming area at the foothills of high Alpine peaks, notably Jungfrau and Eiger. It is already second morning following the race and I still feel that my legs would not let me go on a mountain trail yet. I make an exploration trip of the area on my longboard and become friends with caretaker of my campsite. He tells me about the view from top of nearby peak Harder Kulm. That ia a real temptation so I run the recommended route despite sore muscles and overall tiredness. In front of me there is magnificent Jungfrau among several other prominent peaks and two turquoise mountain lakes in the valley in the front.

I take a deep breath of alpine air and contemplating this awesome view, there is nothing else crossing my mind but plans for more mountain runs, adventures and dreams to fulfil.

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Few technical details about the event

  • Trail running festival TVSB (Trail Verbier St. Bernard)
  • My time & result: 12 hours 47 minutes, 153th place out of 387 finishers.
  • Location: Verbier, Switzerland (western French-speaking part)
  • Season: early July
  • Registration fee: CHF 86/106
  • Start: La Fouly (runners are transported by buses from Verbier)
  • Finish line: Verbier
  • Along the way there are 5 aid stations
  • As part of the festival there are also another runs:
  • Liddes-Verbier 29km / 2500m D+
  • Traversée 61 km / 4100m D + [2 UTMB points]
  • X-Alpine 111km / D 8400M + [4 UTMB points]
  • For more information and registration visit http://www.trailvsb.com/en/

Information about checkpoints and food stations:

traversee control points
Race profile
traversee profile

Once upon a time in Paris

Time for selfieq

If you are crossing France you do not need a map. The capital by some strange sort of coincidence will always be on your way.

I still have about two days before my friend’s wedding. The venue is in Beauvais near Paris, so I decide explore that area for the next couple of days. By the way, Beauvais is a nice town. One can find a large recreational park, several lakes, interesting trails for running and even tiny river for refreshing bath after evening run.

Being in the area I decide to go for a day trip to Paris. I leave my van in Persan, an hour’s drive to the north to avoid traffic jams and big city stress. I plan to return for the night, but as you know – anything can happen, so I cannot exclude alternative scenarios.

Subway in Paris

The train takes me to Gare du Nord station, from where it is easy to catch a metro towards the Eiffel Tower. Allegedly it is a famous tourist attraction, it is what I’ve heard at least…

Today, on the 3rd July 2015 as it will turn out later, the authorities will record the hottest day in Paris since 1947. Great news, isn’t it? A perfect day for sightseeing.

It is the hottest day in Paris since 1947

On my may I meet one Mexican lady who offers me a lift with her bicycle cab. She looks a bit fatigued so I spare her the trouble.

This lady offered me a ride towards the Eiffel Tower

At the base of the Eiffel Tower, to my disappointment, I find out that it is not possible to run the stairs up to the top. Visitors are only allowed to walk up to about a third of the height. Looks like I’m going to have to wait until Chamonix with some descent ascends. I’m not a big fan of using elevators either, therefore, especially keeping in mind that there is roughly one million another tourists in front of me waiting for their turn to take a lift, I decide to drop the idea of visiting Eiffel Tower.

Eiffel tower

Tourists at the Eiffel tower

I meet with Apolline, a good friend who lives in Paris. It turns out that she, being a native Parisian, has never been to the Eiffel Tower. Just like most of her friends. Looks like if you have something handy and readily available so you can see it every day, why would you need to actually visit it?

Apo at Canal de l’Ourcq

Apo invites me for a tour of Paris as seen through her eyes. We move to the north-eastern part of the city. As we walk along the Canal de l’Ourcq we find a perfect place for a lunch break and a beer. Every now and then there are boats cruising the canal. Each of them has to cross a series of locks and dams, a process that is an interesting spectacle.

Interesting bridge on the Canal de l’Ourcq

Barge crossing the channel

Canal de l’Ourcq

Canal de l’Ourcq joins the Seine through the Canal Saint-Martin, which passes the Place de la République underground. It’s a perfect square to sit back and watch the world go by as you drink a beer.

We continue our stroll and find one special place that from the outside looks like an ordinary house…

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…and it happens to look just like an ordinary house from the inside too!

In fact, it is an original interior design idea for a bar. In this way, you can arrange a meeting with friends and have a beer in bathroom or drink some rosé in interestingly arranged kitchen.

Bar Living room

Bar kitchen

Bar Bathroom

In the evening I visit Camille, a travel mate with whom I shared many adventures in Peru and Colombia. I love reunions with old friends – especially on different continents. I’m just in time for a really nice local cuisine diner prepared by Camille’s roommates. We enjoy it on a spacious patio. Camille’s housemates have also recently found one bottle of wine dated back to 1979. We drink it despite its sour taste pretending to be connoisseurs and sommeliers. We finish off the wine and a couple of beers and go biking through the city towards Seine.  We arrive to a stretch of riverside which is looks like a five kilometer long boulevard turned into a massive open air party.

Vintage wine for dinner

After that evening, there is still a crazy and exhausting bicycle ride in the middle of the night, to that end mostly uphill. As we’re arriving home, Camille grabs his guitar and we walk to the nearby Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, where we spread out on the grass and enjoy the rest of the night with other people in the park playing guitar until everybody is too tired not to fall asleep.

Po takiej nocy ciężko się zebrać na wesele, ale jak tylko docieram do Beauvais pojawiają się nowe siły. Wesele polsko-francuskie wypada znakomicie – chyba za sprawą ciekawego połączenia tradycji obu krajów.

Stone houses with wooden elements

Alsace-style buildings

French archtecture

Somewhere in the north of France...

Well in Troyes

Fountains in Troyes

The next day I drive south. I spend the night in Troyes long the way. Then, as soon as I wake up I feel the same drive that guides salmon to instinctively follow his ways. The voice inside tells me to go to the Alps.