Tag Archives: backpacking

Germany

We were running out of time on our Schengen visa once again and after a bit of a scare at the Greek border we weren’t going to take any chances. So we only had 12 days to do Germany the best we could. We’d decided on Berlin for four days, Munich for three and a night in Hamburg before flying to Spain but we hadn’t chosen our last location.

Leaving Ryan and Audrey was hard. We had already got used to being with friends, not having to cart our backpacks from one hostel to another and the thought of going back to that made us both uncomfortable. But hey, that’s what traveling is all about, being pushed out of your comfort zone.

So it was off to Berlin. Berlin was one of those cities that I had always wanted to visit and had relatively high expectations of. It definitely lived up to its name.

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The hostel we had chosen was right where we wanted to be, walking distance from all of the action.

We booked ourselves onto a Sandemans free walking tour straight away and had the best morning learning all about the history of Berlin.

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Absolutely crazy to imagine everything that went on in one city and not that long ago.

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While we were in Berlin we made sure to check out all of the typical tourist haunts, taking the obligatory photos and indulging in some currywurst and good German beer.

I had a sobering visit to Sachsenhausen without poor Adam who was sick on the day.

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The World Cup was also on, and Germany was going strong. So we made our way to Alexanderplatz Square where we watched the game with 60,000 people in the pouring rain.

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Our second stop in Germany was Munich. It wasn’t as cultural as Berlin but we joined a pub-crawl (Sandemans again) on our second day and had so much fun checking out the beer gardens with our German guide.

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He was very knowledgable and the group of people who were also on the tour made it a really fun experience.

Our third stop in Germany was a big surprise. Dresden was a last minute decision for us and we ended up staying there for three days and having a wonderful time. The city had so much history, culture and was very well set-up for tourism. We also found a cute little cafe serving ‘flat white’ coffees which made every day there all the more enjoyable.

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Exploring Greece

Exploring Greece

By the time we arrived at Corfu, Adam and I felt well and truly at home on the boat. We ate most of our meals on it, slept on it and spent our days sailing on it. The thoughts and feelings about one day doing this ourselves were not going away in fact they were becoming stronger.

When we got to Corfu we pulled into the most beautiful harbour I have ever seen.

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It was right under the fort of Corfu and the views were unreal. As we were parking up, Adam and I were putting ourselves to use dropping down the fenders and getting the ropes ready for Audrey to tie us off. I was at the back of the boat with a rope ready to throw to the harbour man waiting for us on the dock. As I threw it to him, the rope caught one of the straps of my camera case and I felt the clasp break and watched in slow motion as our camera slipped into the sea. I would have jumped in straight away but I was the one in charge of tying us to the jetty. I threw the rope to the man and jumped into the water fully clothed. But alas, our camera had drowned.

We didn’t dwell too much on the demise of our beautiful camera. We had insurance for a reason and told ourselves that we would get a new one in Germany with our pay-out. This meant any photos we took in Greece would be on our iPhones.

Corfu was fun! We had to walk through the fort in order to get to the town which was hilarious as all the other tourists had to pay a hefty entrance fee just to get into it.

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We decided on our first full day in Corfu that we would hire quad bikes. This was the best fun! We had them for a full 24 hours which meant we could spend as long as we wanted exploring the island.

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Audrey and I were the passengers so we enjoyed a few celebratory cocktails throughout the day while the boys had fun mucking around on the quads.

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The weather was superb and the views were spectacular.

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After two fun filled days in Corfu we started our journey back to where we started, Lefkas. We decided to stop in for another glorious day/night in Lakka on our way.

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Our time with Audrey and Ryan was wrapping up. So we made our last day in Lefkas count by hiring scooters and riding around the whole Island.

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Again, the scenery was spectacular and we had so much fun discovering hidden beaches and in some cases private jetties.

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Our farewell to Audrey and Ryan was so sad. We had such an amazing, relaxing and fun time with them that we were almost considering staying for a few more weeks. But our flights were booked and we had to move on to the land of pretzels and beer. Germany.

The Balkans – Part Three

Croatia & Bosnia/Herzegovina

Dubrovnik was expensive. Beautiful but expensive. As the old town emerged from behind a cliff as we were driving along the coast from Montenegro, it was easy to see why it is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The crystal clear ocean contrasting with the uniform terracotta coloured roofs and old stone walls were pretty spectacular.

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We opted not to stay in the centre of the old town. You know a place is expensive when dorm beds start at $46AU! What most people do is rent an apartment or room from one of the locals just outside the city. We did this (still quite pricey for our budget) and although it was a 15 minute walk to the centre it was just what we needed.

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One of the best things we did in Dubrovnik was to listen to other travellers’ advice about doing the city wall walk. They told us to get there as soon as the gates opened (at 8:00AM) to beat the cruise ship crowds that invade the city in their thousands. We did just this and had the wall almost to ourselves for the hour and a half it took to walk around them – stopping for numerous photos of course. We were so happy we did it. At $20AU each just to walk the walls we were a little worried about whether it would be worth it or not, but the views were fantastic.

The next day we walked around the whole coastline of the city. I estimated it to be about 20km or so. It was stunning and the weather was perfect. We stopped to sunbake or to have a beer in the little bays as we made our way around the peninsula.

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On our way through to the other side of Croatia we stopped into Mostar in Bosnia for two nights. We had been told that a visit to this town is ‘a must’ when you are in the Balkans and as soon as we arrived we could see what people were talking about.

Mostar was affected terribly during the war. There are still whole apartment blocks covered in pock-mark like bullet holes. Reminders of the war were everywhere you looked.

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We did the war tour with the brother of the guy who owned our hostel. It was sobering listening to the stories of his childhood, how his family and friends were affected and how the people still feel today. It is amazing to think that something so terrible happened so recently and how hard these people have worked to keep the peace, reeducate and rebuild their city.

The bridge and old town of Mostar was positively picturesque. We spent hours exploring the Turkish style markets, little shops and cafes. Sadly we didn’t see anyone jump off the famous bridge, but we saw the daily show the dive shop guys put on, taunting the tourists by pretending they are going to jump only to climb back over the rails shrugging.

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I didn’t realise how high the bridge was until I was actually standing on it and looking down to the racing clear water below. I can see why the ‘boys’ who jump have passed the town’s test in becoming a man.

Next we moved onto Split in Croatia. We had our hearts set on getting to the Island just off the coast for some relaxing days of sunshine so we only stayed one night. Turns out there was an arts festival going on with public performances all over the town. We had a lovely day watching street dancers on the esplanade, opera singers in an old ruin and other cool acts around the old town.

The next day we were on a boat to the Island of Hvar for a few days. As soon as we arrived we couldn’t wait to get down to the beaches. And we were not disappointed. The water was as clear as could be and the weather was hot. Two days soaking up the sun and wandering around the little beaches was exactly what the doctor ordered. The hostel we stayed in was lively and they put on a BBQ & Cocktails night the second day we were there which was so much fun.

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We made a decision whilst we were in Hvar to finish up our tour of the Balkans early and head straight to Venice in Italy. So we booked an overnight bus and spent up all of our Croatian Kunas ready to get back to the Euro in the land of pizza and pasta.

The Balkans – Part Two

Montenegro

Sick of moving so quickly all of the time, Adam and I made the decision to hire a car and travel around Montenegro for a whole week. This meant that we had the freedom to go wherever we wanted and much needed independence from public transport.

We picked the car up at Podgorica airport and drove straight down to Lake Skadar. What an impressive drive!

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We ended up on a little-known mountain road recommended to us by a local and found ourselves at a beautiful bridge high in the mountains. Stunning.

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That night we stayed at a little campsite on the south coast of the country near Ulcinj.

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It was wonderfully relaxing and despite the fact that it stormed all through the night, we woke up to nice weather and slowly drove up the coast to Kotor.

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Kotor was gorgeous! People describe it as being a small and less touristy Dubrovnik. We stayed in a cheap hostel right in the middle of the old town for two nights and spent the first day walking up to the fortress above the town to admire the view.

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The next day we got in the car and explored the rest of the bay of Kotor. It took us two hours as we stopped in gorgeous little towns along the road, drinking macchiatos or buying our sandwich ingredients to eat in a park.

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We finished the day in the old town drinking glorious Montenegrin red wine and admiring the sun set over the old cobblestone city.

Our next stop was the small town of Zabljak in the Northern part of the country. It sits on the outskirts of one of Montenegro’s most famous national parks, Durmitor National Park, home to Tara Canyon.

We watched the temperature gauge in the car drop as we climbed further and further North. As we rounded the bend, about to arrive in Zabljak, it began to snow.

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We couldn’t believe it. We hadn’t booked any accommodation in the town and were planning on camping – not anymore.

It didn’t take us long to find accommodation in the little town and we ended up in a quaint ski-lodge looking hostel run by a Montenegrin man and his Australian girlfriend. They were brilliant and helped us sort out our itinerary (taking the unprecedented snow into account) for the three days we planned on spending there.

It snowed, sleeted and rained on and off the whole time we were there but we had an amazing time exploring the national parks during the day. I’ll let the photos do the talking.

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Tara Canyon

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Durmitor National Park

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Biogradska National Park

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During the nights we would sit and talk with the other backpackers and the owners about Australian and Montenegrin politics (actually quite fascinating) and drinking fantastic Montenegrin wine and rakije (the local spirit). Three Aussie girls arrived in time for Adam’s birthday and the lovely owners of the hostel bought him a cake.

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Our last day in the country was a special one. We met one of Adam’s judo friend’s relatives in the capital, Podgorica. He showed us the sights of the city and we ended up going to his nephew’s birthday party with the whole family.

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The food was to die for and their hospitality was overwhelming. Montenegro was such an amazing country and we left feeling like our experiences there would be very hard to beat.

The Lycian Way – Part One

Day 1

Ovacik to (2km past) Faralya

After a good night sleep, we got up, ate a big hearty breakfast and prepared to leave for the start of the walk. This was when Adam’s bag broke…

Not to worry, we had a sewing kit handy and he stitched the tear in a matter of minutes. It was a bit worrying though, considering we were about to begin a long hike but we were minutes away from starting so we decided to ignore it.

From Fethiye to the beginning of the walk, we caught a minibus that took about 30 mins. It was reassuring to see that there were other hikers on the bus ready to begin their journey as well.

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The walk was both harder and easier than we expected. Physically we aren’t as fit as we were going into the Camino so we really felt the steep inclines and declines and the loose rocks made us very wary of where we were putting our feet. The Lycian way is a mountainous goat track that follows the coastline of Turkey from Fethiye to Antalya.

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The views were spectacular and certainly brought the crowds. There were quite a few serious hikers that we passed and who passed us but there were also a lot of hikers who only had day packs on and were either on a day hike or had sent their packs ahead with a tour company to the accommodation they would be staying in.

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We estimated our packs to be about 10-12kg each. This is quite heavy and we started rethinking the amount of water we needed to have on us as we hiked. Fresh water springs were marked on our map but some of them were dry and we didn’t want to get caught out so we decided to push through the pain, knowing that it would get better after a couple of days.

After walking five strenuous hours, we found the campsite that the couple who wrote the blog had marked on the GPS. It was perfect with a fire pit and nice flat cleared area to put our tent. We set up, boiled some tea and had a piece of cake whilst taking in the scenery. Quite a few hikers passed us on their way to the next town, Kabak but we were happy sitting and stoking our fire.

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After successfully cooking our tuna and noodles we were very early to bed, absolutely exhausted but content.

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Day 2

Faralya to (2km past) Gey

More beautiful than the day before, day two was long but rewarding. We walked through so many different terrains, dealt with some nasty looking dogs and had some spectacular views.

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The walk started with a steep and rocky decent to Kabak beach which was a gorgeous place for a short rest. The water was as clear as it appeared from above but a little too cold to swim in.

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Once we had rested our aching muscles and fed our growling bellies we set off up the mountain. It was a tough climb but the views were absolutely worth it.

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The views over the mediterranean were out of this world. We found it hard to determine where the sea ended and the sky began.

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We walked for hours and hours passing through a few small towns until we reached Gey. We stopped in at a shop to buy some more snacks and they offered us a good price for dinner, breakfast and to put up our tent but we had our hearts set on staying at the campsite that the couple had marked on the GPS route.

This ended up being a lot longer than we had anticipated. Campsites aren’t always easy to find on the walk. Often the area will be too steep, covered in rocks or too exposed.

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But the campsite we found there was out of this world. Perched high up on one of the cliffs overlooking a rocky valley and the ocean was a semi-circle of cleared ground. There was a small fire pit and flat rocks to sit on.

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It was the most beautiful campsite either of us had ever seen.

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As it was getting dark, Adam and I set up our tent quickly and he cooked dinner while I gathered some wood for a small fire. It was heaven. All we could hear was the breeze rustling the olive branches all around us and the soft tinkling of goat-bells.

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The sun set at 7:45PM and it was then that we realised that we had walked almost 10 hours with only a few small breaks. Not bad for our second day.

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Preparing to Walk the Lycian Way

We first heard about the Lycian Way in Australia through a friend whose parents were walking it at the time. We already knew we were going to do the Camino de Santiago and decided to add this walk to our loose plans.

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In preparing for the Lycian Way, Adam and I started to realise that it was no Camino de Santiago. This was a much more technical hike and we wouldn’t always be able to rely on refugios/albergues and supermarkets being readily available. A lot of people wild-camp on the Lycian Way. This concept of camping where you end up was a little foreign and scary -so of course we had to do it. But we were going to need some camping equipment if we were to attempt the walk in this way.

We bought a two man hiking tent in Spain. At 2.7kg it was a steal at 100Euros – why is hiking/camping gear so expensive in Australia? We also bought two ultra light self-inflating mattresses for a little bit of luxury.

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Getting Kate Clow’s guide book was tougher than we thought. We were Istanbul for about 8 days and not one of the bookstores had seen it for about 2 years. Some even claimed it was out of print. Luckily there was a man staying in our hostel who had just finished the walk and gave us some very valuable advice. He had got his hands on a copy of the book in Fethiye (the town just before the beginning of the walk) and recommended a hostel we could stay in where the owner could assist us in our preparation. This was so fortunate as Adam and I were starting to lose a bit of hope about how we were going to go about everything.

We had been doing a lots of research on the walk to make sure that we were fully prepared. One of the most detailed and useful trip-reports on the Lycian Way was one we found on http://www.backpackinglight.com. This couple had walked the Lycian Way in 17 days and had suggested we use the iPhone app Gaia GPS. They had recorded their walk and marked the places where they had camped throughout. Adam is the technical genius between us so he downloaded it onto both our phones ready for the walk. It can be used without wifi as long as you have downloaded the map previously (and turn airplane mode off).

We spent two days in Istanbul buying the last of the necessary items for our trek. This included: stainless steel mugs, a MSR cooker, gas canisters and a small hiking pot set. We were planning to camp the majority of the trail spending only one or two nights a week in pansiyons (guesthouses) or home-stay accommodation. This meant that we had to be self-sufficient from the very beginning.

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We made it to Yildirim Guest House in Fethiye, a little bit nervous but also very excited. Umar, the owner, was lovely and gave us advice about the first few days of the trek and we bought a detailed map off him as well. We went down to the Migros supermarket and stocked up on nuts, chocolate bars, cake, long life cheese, instant coffee sachets, instant noodles and of course, water. We were ready.

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Istanbul – Part Two

Taksim —> Prince’s Island

Taksim has a completely different atmosphere to Sultanahmet. It’s still very touristic, don’t get me wrong, but it has more of a ‘scene’ going on. The night life, the quirky little cafes down the side streets and the shopping is second to none – not that we did much of that at all.

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The hostel we stayed in there was above a Turkish hammam. The hammams here are very different to Moroccan ones and Adam and I are yet to try one. The hostel was equipped with a kitchen, common room/dining room and a large outdoor covered terrace area. We immediately felt at home and made friends with a lovely Japanese couple who had been travelling for two years and a crazy Italian, ‘Enzo’. We liked it so much there that we stayed another 5 days.

I think we would have walked at least 15km per day over our time in Istanbul. There is just so much to take in that you don’t want to get on public transport unless you have to.

We took a ferry out to Prince’s Islands on one of the days when the weather was nice. We hired bikes for $2.50AU an hour and rode the 20km circumference around the main Island. It was beautiful.

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The water here is unbelievably clear and a lovely turquoise colour. We read that the restaurants were expensive on the Island so we packed our lunch and had a picnic in one of the gorgeous parks.

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Overall it was a wonderful day. Just the ferry ride itself was worth the $1.50 we paid.

We were eating our breakfast and dinner at the hostel every night. It was so nice to feel like we had a home to go back to at the end of our long days sightseeing. Cooking up our own meals with fresh ingredients from the grocery store was fun and much cheaper than eating in a restaurant. The kebabs here are delicious and cheap but it gets a bit much having it for breakfast lunch and dinner. So during the day would be our time to try all of the amazing street food that Istanbul has to offer.

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One of the ‘must eats’ at Galata bridge area just south of Taksim is a ‘balik’ or fish sandwich. They are sold everywhere and it is about knowing what the locals know and picking the right vendor to buy from. Luckily the Japanese couple from our hotel knew a secret vendor that does the best balik on the river. They gave us the directions and we went down to find Emori-san and his exclusive fish wrap. It wasn’t hard to find him as the line for his stand was about 5 times larger than any other in the area.

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Our mouths watered as we watched him work. Fresh salad, barbecued fish that had been carefully boned, onion, tabouli and a variety of herbs all with a dash of chilli paste and a squeeze of lemon were laid carefully onto soft flat bread and then wrapped up and placed on the barbecue. With each turn he would sprinkle the wrap with lemon flavoured olive oil and a herb mix that smelt wonderful. When it was deemed ready he handed us our wraps with a stiff nod. Words cannot describe how delicious it was. It will be the first thing we eat when we go back to Istanbul in a months time.

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Another little delicacy we discovered is the ‘kunafeh’. It is a coal baked cheese pastry made with shredded wheat and soaked in a sugary syrup. Sounds weird I know, but the cheese and the syrup melt in your mouth and the pistachios on top added to the taste sensation.

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Baclava and apple tea was a ritual we started in Taksim. It was such a nice way to take in all of the action happening in Taksim square as we sipped our apple tea and ate the layered honey and walnut pastry.

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Turkish juice stands are all over the place. The fruit here is delicious and the flavour is way more intense than Australia. I tried the pomegranate juice for a couple of lira and got my vitamin C intake for the next few weeks.

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Finally as the weather turned, it was time to leave Istanbul and begin our trip down the coast. Adam and I are preparing to walk the Lycian Way which is a 500km walk from Fethiye to Antalya on the south coast of Turkey but we have a few stops before we start that crazy adventure. First up, Gallipoli.