SlovinIt19: Lake Bohinj and Triglav National Park

IMG_20190621_194221Welcome to Bohinj!

The third day of our holiday began in typical Bled fashion, with a refreshing bout of hail and rain. Naturally, it only started to pour down while we were outside waiting for the bus to our next destination, Lake Bohinj. Always fun to travel with your hair and clothes dripping with rain water, but at least the trip took less than an hour. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t leave behind some suspiciously damp bus seats – so sorry for the unsuspecting travellers who caught the bus after us! It wasn’t what you probably thought it was.

Bohinj

Sobe_CuskicSobe Ćuskić, Ribčev Laz

In Bohinj, we spent a total of four nights at B&B Sobe Ćuskić, located in the village of Ribčev Laz. The lovely hostess didn’t speak much English, but everything went smoothly anyway. Our top floor room was clean and spacious with lots of natural light. We also had our own balcony with views to the mountains, as well as free access to a shared kitchen. The location was very convenient: right next to a bus stop, about a ten-minute walk from the head of Lake Bohinj with shops and restaurants. Our room for two cost 50€/night, which in my opinion was excellent value for money.

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While Bled is known by “everyone” and has the crowds to show for it, Bohinj remains a relatively unknown oasis. An American man we met at the Bled bus station was puzzled about why we would, after Bled, bother to go see “another lake”. Well, Bohinj isn’t just another lake, Sir. I’d even go as far as claim that Bohinj is just a bigger, calmer and more affordable version of Bled. Anyone looking for peace, quiet, mountainous scenery and endless hiking opportunities should feel right at home in Bohinj. Kayaking, parasailing and paragliding opportunities are also excellent there.

st_johnChurch of St. John the Baptist, Ribčev Laz

We started off by investing 27€ each on the Mini Bohinj Package, available at the tourist office, which included a boat tour on the lake, a return trip on the Vogel cable car, a drink at the Vogel restaurant and a visit to the Church of St. John the Baptist, which is probably the best-known historical monument in Ribčev Laz. There were many different packages to choose from, but the mini was best suited to our purposes.

IMG_20190621_202716 Midsummer dinner at restaurant Kramar

We arrived in Bohinj in the afternoon on Midsummer’s Eve. Unlike in Finland, where Midsummer is celebrated as “the nightless night” because the sun doesn’t set at all, in Slovenia it gets dark quite early even in summertime. So, the first day, we only had time to unpack and wander around in search of a meal. We found the perfect restaurant a short stroll away from the village centre, located right by the water’s edge. The food at Kramar was simple but tasty, however it was the views from the outdoor terrace that really won us over and got us in the right Midsummer mood.

IMG_20190621_195938Bohinj blue hour

Savica Waterfall

IMG_20190622_104858Gloomy morning view through the window

The next morning was rainy and foggy, so we didn’t feel bad at all about lounging in our room until late in the afternoon. When the sun suddenly appeared from behind the cloud cover, we decided to make a quick visit to the Savica waterfall, which is one of the most popular natural sights in the Bohinj area.

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The boat tour included in the Bohinj Package is very convenient in that you get two separate tickets, each good for a one-way trip from one end of the lake to the other, and they don’t need to be used on the same day. So we took one of our tickets and travelled by boat from Ribčev Laz to Ukanc. The boat stops by the docks next to Camp Zlatorog Bohinj, and from there you can either walk or hitchhike to the waterfall entrance. During high season in July–August, there is also a bus that goes all the way up to Savica, but we were there a bit too early in June. We picked the easy one-hour walk instead of hitching.

IMG_20190622_175536Savica

Our sporty choice kind of backfired once we made it to the ticket booth and found out there were still around 550 stairs to climb to even get within ogling distance of the waterfall. But none of that bothered us once we actually made it to the top, as it’s always pretty cool to see the most famous postcard views of your travel destination in person, rather than in the card rack of the nearest corner shop. The only bother was having to go back down to Ukanc the same way as we came, since the trail can get quite boring and there aren’t any sights along the way. At least the buses were still running, so we didn’t have to walk all the way to Ribčev Laz.

Vogel Hiking Trails

IMG_20190623_085605Orlove Glave chairlift

In the winter, the surroundings of Mt. Vogel operate as a skiing centre, and in the summer you can hop on the lifts and easily get to a height of 1537m to admire the spectacular mountain views without ever breaking a sweat. On the fifth day of our vacation, we spent our Bohinj Package cable car tickets to do a bit of hiking around Mt. Vogel. The same tickets were also good for the Orlove Glave chairlift, which took us even higher to the trails.

IMG_20190623_094405Snack break viewsIMG_20190623_104909Something that makes my soul sing
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A scared feller along the wayIMG_20190623_104236An excited feller at the top of a mountain (Šija 1880m)

The mountain weather forecast for the afternoon didn’t look too promising, so we decided to only do a short hike and summit one of the nearby peaks around the end station of the Orlove Glave chairlift. A very steep path took us to Šija in well under two hours, snack breaks included. In good weather, continuing further along the same trail would have led us to Vogel itself, but even this short route offered magnificent panoramas over the Julian Alps.

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After our brisk little walk, it was nice to kick back and enjoy a glass of wine at the cable car upper station terrace, with views all the way down to the lake. A tip to any drink ticket users: wine costs less than other refreshments there, so spend your Bohinj Package drink ticket on a Coke and pay cash for your 1,50 € glass of wine. I also recommend taking a moment to visit these furry friends living next to the upper station viewpoint!

Pigi_and_friendSpotted: a plump pig called Pigi

IMG_20190623_084218The Vogel cable car takes you straight to this picnic spot. Suits even the laziest of us!

Adventures and Adrenaline in Triglav National Park 

BohinjA happy mountain sloth in its element

On the sixth travel day, we finally got down to business, i.e. went on a proper day hike in the national park! In the morning, we caught a bus to the neighbouring village of Stara Fužina, where we started off on a steep forest trail leading to the Vogar viewpoint at the height of 1085 metres. That made for a nice warm-up ascent of about half a kilometre.

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Our original plan was to do the five-hour circle route of Vogar–Pršivec–Planina Viševnik–Planina Jezero–Vogar, but the route between Planina Jezero and Vogar was unfortunately closed due to fallen trees on the trail. Our plan B was the one-way route of Vogar–Pršivec–Planina Viševnik–Crno Jezero–Slap Savica, which meant ending the hike at the waterfall we had already visited the previous day. I had a lot riding on this choice, since it was Redds’s first “real” mountain hike and I didn’t want to disappoint her.

IMG_20190624_130157Pršivec (1761m)
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Decent nap spot

At this point, we felt good about the route choice, and Redds didn’t let her fear of heights stop her from tackling a few scary points where we had to do some light climbing. The highest point of our route, Pršivec, offered incredible 360-degree views on the surrounding mountain range and down to the valley. It was also a great place to have a snack and a bit of rest before heading back down.

IMG_20190624_135307 Bregarjevo zavetišče

On the way down, we stopped by the Bregarjevo zavetišče hut, where we were able to purchase some cold drinks. Hot meals prepared by the hostess were also available. A cold soda cost 3 € and a sausage plate would have cost 10 €, which is incredibly reasonable considering the location. Best make sure to bring some cash for this one!

IMG_20190624_144931Back into the forest

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Our last pit stop before Savica was the dazzlingly turquoise Čzrno jezero (literally “Black Lake”). I wonder why each and every one of these lakes with clear turquoise water is always called the Black Lake, no matter where in the world they are located, hmm? There was a similar-looking puddle of the same name on my last trip to Montenegro. Anyway, at this point we had been hiking for at least eight hours, so a little soak in the cold water did wonders to our weary feet before the last leg of our hike. Perfect weather, perfect scenery – Redds’s maiden voyage into the world of mountain fanatics had gone almost suspiciously well.

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And suspicious we should have been, since bad luck struck us mere 20 minutes before the Savica parking lot. The descend from Črno jezero to Savica is a super steep zig zag trail, and while we were making our way down, some poor bastard above us stumbled and set off a bunch of chunky pieces of rock and failed to yell out a warning. The falling rocks bounced off the cliffs and thumped Redds straight in the forehead. Suddenly, there was enough blood to shoot a damn slasher film, and for the first time ever, I got to practise my first aid skills in action.

I managed to stop the bleeding, but the rest of the descent was nearly impossible due to the uncontrollable shaking in my thighs from all the adrenaline (oddly enough, I was more shaken than Redds). At Savica, we asked the staff to call us a taxi to the nearest hospital, but there were no taxis anywhere in the vicinity. Thankfully, a friendly restaurant worker gave us a ride to the nearest ER, which was a 35-kilometre drive away in Bohinjska Bistrica. The nurse who patched Redds up said that another person had gotten hurt on the same dayin the same spot and for the same reason. So, if you’re planning to take this route from Savica to Črno jezero, bringing a helmet definitely wouldn’t be overkill.

Thanks to beginner’s luck, Redds only suffered a fright and some nicks and bruises – well, a bruise the size and shape of a golf ball on her forehead. Stylish! As an added bonus, at least we got to see how the Slovenian health care system works, and no complaints there. However, Redds wasn’t too excited about the idea of me publishing a picture of her monster bruise, so here’s a bunch of pictures of alpine flowers we spotted along the way, instead. Enjoy!

alp flowers

Prices (June 2019): Bohinj

  • Bus ticket Bled–Bohinj: 3.60€
  • Accommodation, B&B Sobe Ćuskić: 50€/night/room for two
  • Mini Bohinj Package: 27€
  • Entrance fee to Savica waterfall: 3€/adult, 2.50€/student
  • Bus travel between the villages in Bohinj: 1.30–1.80€
  • Dinner at restaurant Kramar by the lake (incl. main dish, drink and dessert): 17.50€

+Tip: See arriva.si for local bus schedules and ticket prices

To read all my posts on this trip in English, use the tag SlovinIt19EN.

SlovinIt19: Lake Bled and Vintgar Gorge

Lake Bled

Once again, the first half of this year has been a bit of a blur for me, but that’s just how it goes with the rat race, I suppose. At least I got to go on a few short holidays this summer! Ever since I first started (this admittedly intermittent) blogging, I’ve spent my midsummer alone in the mountains. This year, however, my friend Redds made a delightful special guest appearance. I planned us a little tour of Slovenia and northern Italy with the goal of maintaining a nice balance between the cities, the mountains and the sea – in other words, a bunch of mini vacations in one low-budget package.

Bled

The first stop of our grand SlovinIt tour was Lake Bled, best known for its clear, turquoise waters and its tiny church island. Bled is easy to reach from Ljubljana, as buses run regularly, and accommodation-wise there’s plenty to choose from, as long as you book early.

castle_hostelCastle Hostel: views from dorm and roof terrace

Mainly for budget reasons, we picked a hostel for the first two nights. Castle Hostel is located smack dab in the middle of Bled, a short stroll from the lake. The roof terrace features excellent views over the town, and they even arrange free morning yoga classes there. Our four-bed dorm shared the same view, which seemed great at first but turned out to be not-so-great after all. With no air-con it was really hot in the room at night, but it was also nearly impossible to keep the terrace-facing window open since the party people would smoke and make noise right in front of it until the wee hours. Decent accommodation for a couple of nights, just don’t forget to bring your earplugs and inhalator.

IMG_20190621_121229Lake view from the Bled Castle

Bled is one of the most popular tourist traps in Slovenia, and no wonder why: the astonishingly turquoise lake with its crystal-clear waters is surrounded by mountains and castles that could be straight out of a Disney film.  The lake keeps changing colours depending on the viewing angle and weather conditions. And those changing weather conditions seem to be able to pack all four seasons into a single day! Out of the two days we spent in Bled, both included sunshine, cloudy but dry weather, drizzle, thunderstorms and hailstones the size of a tennis ball. A storm can rise seemingly out of nowhere and soak you to the bone in a matter of minutes while the hailstones gently hammer your muscles, and the next minute the sun comes back out and there’s no trace of dark clouds anywhere. In this sense, Bled reminds me of Iceland – it is said in both places that if you don’t like the weather, wait for five minutes and check again. Unfortunately, that works both ways.

IMG_20190621_120527Better remember to bring an umbrella…

IMG_20190620_145935__01__01…or face the consequences! This only took five minutes.

My favourite thing about Bled is the trail circling the entire lake, with a plenty of nice wild swimming spots and opportunities to admire the lush vegetation and chubby duck families along the way. My least favourite thing must be the ceaseless echo of church bells from early morning until late evening  – the locals have found a way to squeeze a few extra bucks out of tourists by offering them a chance to ring the “famous wishing bells” of the island church and people positively flock to do it. Oh well, as long as business is booming, right?

 

When it comes to food, I can definitely recommend paying a visit (or two) to the reasonably-priced bakery Slaščičárna Zima, where you can easily sample the local delicacies. Make sure to taste the cream slice! And, even though it might seem silly to travel to Slovenia just to order a pizza, the popular Pizzeria Rustika is also worth queueing for – even going as far as making a table reservation might be wise with this one. These two joints won’t disappoint!

IMG_20190620_131024__01Cake break at Slaščičárna Zima. The hot chocolate was as thick as pudding, 5/5 from me!

The obligatory sights of course include Bled Castle. Built high up on a hill, you’ll get a nice, quick workout climbing there on foot. The castle overlooks the entire lake and the surrounding mountains, and the views from the courtyard are magnificent.

 

Vintgar Gorge

Bled is a great base for all kinds of tours and day trips, but if you’ve only got time for one activity (like we did), go for the Vintgar Gorge! It is one of the finest sites of natural beauty I’ve ever stumbled upon and my pictures don’t do it any justice. The start of the 1,6-kilometre walking tour is about 4 km from Bled, and can be easily reached by bike or on foot if you’re not fond of busy tour buses. By walking or biking, you’ll also be able to make an early start before the biggest  tourist hordes arrive.

IMG_20190620_090008Country scenery along the way from Bled to Vintgar

As I recall, Redds and I made it to the ticket window at around ten in the morning, and the number of visitors was still at a reasonable level then. The entrance fee includes a return trip from the starting point to the Šum waterfalls and back. As you’ll be walking in the gorge on narrow boardwalks and gravel paths, with people simultaneously going in both directions and stopping along the way for pictures, foot traffic gets easily stuck in various bottlenecks. Therefore, it’s best to go as early as possible in order to spare your nerves. By noon it’ll be too late, already.

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Another benefit to an early start is the chance to see the morning mist quietly hanging above the river, making the atmosphere a bit more eerie and mystical. As the day warms up, the mist slowly disappears and the crowds appear. So be early if you’d like to enjoy this sight in (relative) peace and quiet! Reserve at least two to three hours for the whole thing.

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Prices (June 2019): Bled and Vintgar Gorge

  • Bus from Ljubljana airport to city centre: 4,10€ pp
  • Return bus ticket Ljubljana–Bled_Ljubljana: 11,34€ pp
  • Castle Hostel: 19€/bed/night + tourist tax 3,13€/person/night
  • Vintgar Gorge entrance fee : 6€/student, 10€/adult
  • Bled Castle entrance fee: 7€/student, 11€/adult
  • Stentor BarFly, lunch by Lake Bled: 14,30€ (meal + drink)
  • Slaščičárna Zima: one piece of salty and sweet pastry each + hot chocolate: 9,55€
  • Rustika, pizza + drink: 14 €
  • Public Bar & Vegan Kitchen Bled, soup lunch + smoothie: 9,50 €

To read all my posts on this trip in English, use the tag SlovinIt19EN.

Island Hopping in the Finnish Archipelago: Nötö, Utö and Jurmo

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At the end of this summer, I suddenly realised that the Finnish archipelago remains a mystery to me, even though I’ve been living on the southwest coast of Finland since 2012. What a sad state of affairs. I immediately employed a “two birds with one stone” tactic and took my stressed-out fiancé Chef on a relaxing three-day birthday vacay to the Archipelago National Park. Chef was delighted about the mini-break while I got to educate myself. Win–win!

(Disclaimer: This post is longer than the Pan-American Highway. Might as well take the day off if you’re planning to read it all in one sitting. If you’d rather skip the travel babble, just scroll down to the bottom where you’ll find a condensed itinerary and a bunch of useful links to help you plan a similar trip of your own.)

Creating the Itinerary: Googling This Stuff Is a Bitch


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M/S Eivor

Before we could embark on our epic adventure, I first had to figure out where exactly we would go and how we would get there. Since the trip was meant to be a surprise birthday present for Chef, I naturally had to do all the planning by myself. I had naively assumed this would be a two-hour job, three hours max, but it turned into more than a week of pure pain and suffering. I mean, the information is out there, but it’s all scattered around the internet. I’m sure it would be even worse for any foreigners, because most of the info I found seemed to be offered in Finnish and Swedish only.

There are rental cottages, rooms and saunas on the inhabited islands of the Archipelago Sea, but most hosts don’t bother with any 21st-century online booking tools, supposedly because that would be just too darn convenient. No no, you must arrange your accommodation by phone, email or messenger pigeon, or simply show up and hope for the best. For example, I had originally wanted to take Chef to the island of Aspö, but the person in charge of the cottages never replied to my email query and didn’t have a phone number listed anywhere. Do you people not want my money?! Back to the drawing board. I must have clicked through hundreds of websites. Keep going, Sloth, find out where the legal camping spots are located. Check if there are any shops or restaurants around. If yes, how expensive are they and what are their opening hours? Stop tearing your hair out, Sloth.

My budget was limited and I had to work around the specific days I had been given off work. In addition, the plan needed to be executable by public transport. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the ferry between Pärnäs and Utö started to run on winter schedule already on the second week of August – smack dab in the middle of our hottest summer in living memory! As if that wasn’t enough, I also had to keep gently threatening Chef’s family and friends just so the SOBs wouldn’t even think of arranging any competing activities for the same weekend. After going through all this hassle, I, too, started to feel the need for repose, but at least I managed to perfect the plan. Or that’s what I thought, but there were some unexpected variables I didn’t even think to take into consideration. More on those later.

IMG_20180803_184530Charming fellow traveller aboard M/S Eivor

Excursions to the Archipelago National Park seem best-suited for the wealthiest 5% of the population, seeing as many of the islands and therefore camping areas can only be reached by one’s own boat or kayak. There are some taxi boat services available, but none of them have their prices posted. Now, we all know what that means: it means that the prices are exorbitant for the average joe. On the plus side, planning gets a whole lot easier when it’s no longer about where you want to go, but where you’re realistically able to go. Through this type of elimination process, I finally came to the conclusion that we should simply follow the free ferry route. So, for practical reasons alone, our final destinations were the three islands of Nötö, Utö and Jurmo.

Nötö: Home of the Ringing Rock

IMG_20180803_215106Day growing dimmer on Nötö

On Friday, our first vacation day, we were supposed to catch the archipelago bus from Turku to Pärnäs, but ended up getting a shared ride all the way to the ferry port with our friends who just happened to be heading in the same direction. At the port, we still had a nice little chunk of time left to visit the port restaurant for burgers and drinks. I wasn’t hungry yet, but when it comes to Chef, it is critically important to stuff his face with food at regular intervals. Take it from me, the secret to a successful couples holiday lies in hanger prevention.

It took the ferry around two hours to reach our first destination, Nötö. Time flew by while we were sipping on another round of drinks and making friends with every four-legged creature we met on the deck. Upon reaching Nötö, a friendly guy (whose name I forget) from the Backaro Guesthouse was there to meet us and lead us a couple hundred metres to the guesthouse, where I had booked us a double room for the first night. I also booked us the outdoor grill shed and put Chef to work. The result was a perfect barbecue dinner for two, made from the supplies I had brought along from the mainland. Chef wanted to end the evening with a quick dip in the freezing refreshing sea, and somehow managed to manipulate persuade me to join him.

IMG_20180804_115450Backaro guesthouse

IMG_20180804_115315The furious watchdog at Backaro. So fluffy!

The Backaro guesthouse has a warm ambience, but it could use some extra maintenance. For example, when you have to pay extra to use the grill shed, you might expect to find enough clean cups, plates and utensils instead of empty spice containers. There is something wrong with the grill igniter, too – probably an easy fix for a professional. It was also left unclear how and when guests would be able to contact the manager or staff, apart from randomly running into them in the yard. Everything else in the main building is clean and well-maintained, but the indoor toilet (which can only be used at night) and the adjacent shower really need a good scrubbing with the strongest detergent legally available. A crack in the tiling is covered with duct tape, and water from the shower pools in front of the toilet because an unnecessary doorsill makes it impossible for the puddle to drain properly. Eventually, you’re no longer sure if the dirty puddle is water or something yellower left by the other guests, which doesn’t exactly encourage you to tippy-tap around in your socks (shoes are not allowed indoors). There’s no lock on the bathroom door, instead you’re meant to hang up a little sign. The only problem is that nobody will be able to see the sign in the dark. All of these tiny annoyances could be easily fixed with a little money and effort, and it would greatly improve the value for money. Left in its current state, I might not stay at Backaro again, even though the experience as a whole was still ok. I’ve seen a lot worse.

IMG_20180804_095848In the eye of the storm?

On Saturday morning, we woke up to the included breakfast buffet. Then the sky suddenly went dark and we got our first taste of the notoriously fickle island weather. It was actually quite fun to watch the thunder and lightning from the shelter of the upstairs balcony. The storm only lasted for a little while, so we were still able to do some sightseeing before catching the ferry to our next destination, Utö.

The ringing rock of Nötö must be one of the island’s biggest tourist traps. In other words, I bet dozens of people flock there every year. It’s a big rock with differently sized dents on it. You beat the dents with smaller stones, and the result is music that sounds a bit like church bells. The demonstrative video above is not mine, I just randomly picked it off Youtube because I was too lazy to make my own.

IMG_20180804_133149 IMG_20180804_140520Nötö Cake, Café Skolan’s gift to the world

We also checked out the prehistoric graves (=piles of stones) found in the forest and met the island’s famous highland cattle out at pasture, before hanger started to creep up on us again. We ended our Nötö visit on a high note by having lunch at the much vaunted Café Skolan. Now there’s a summer café well worth all the praise it gets!

Utö: Where Finland Begins

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It’s difficult for a landlubber like myself to fully comprehend the distances in the archipelago. To reach Utö, Finland’s southernmost inhabited island, it takes about 4.5 hours on the ferry from Pärnäs. Add to that the extra 1.5 hours by car to travel between Pärnäs and Turku, and we’re at about six hours total for a journey that, on a map, doesn’t look much different from the route between Turku and Helsinki (which only takes around two hours by car). From Nötö, it still took us around three hours to get to Utö, but that was okay as we spent the whole time napping aboard Eivor.

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Nötö didn’t impress me that much, but there’s something about the tiny Utö that I really love. Those long and lazy summertime evenings in Finland always have a special air about them, and the maximum chill factor was even more pronounced on the island. However, a self-appointed village sheriff was eagerly working against it. We had barely set foot on the island when we already ran into the Sheriff, who at first only wanted to make sure we knew where we were allowed to put up our tent. Of course we knew, that was one of the most important details I had uncovered during my research week from hell. All in order, adios for now. We made it another couple hundred metres before we heard the Sheriff huffing and puffing behind us again. This time the tone was different, notably more cranky.

Hey, hey! Did you notice the “Keep the archipelago clean” outhouses over there? So, yeah, keep the archipelago clean is what it means. And as you’re probably aware, the forest fire warning is in effect. Even though it has been raining last night, it’s still forbidden to make any kind of open fire. That means no campfires, and no camping cookers either. All clear?

And the same in plain English:

Don’t you goddamn arsonists dare come here and shit all over our island! Making your own meals is forbidden, go spend your money at our restaurants or go home!

Now, someone might construe that ramble as nothing but a helpful and concerned local sharing useful tips with us, but the Sheriff’s tone and gestures told a different story. At least for me, it felt like we as campers were automatically seen as useless, unwanted idiots. I suppose campers don’t bring enough money to the island, as they don’t pay for accommodation or restaurant meals. Can’t think of any other reason to hate on us right off the bat. As I’ve already mentioned, there is only one spot on Utö where you’re allowed to put up a tent. We and a handful of other campers stayed neatly packed up on this tiny and remote piece of land, well out of the locals’ sight and way. And we didn’t leave a trace. I’d also like to point out that actually you are allowed to use a camping cooker even when the forest fire warning is in effect. However, arguing with the Sheriff seemed pointless, so we just kept smiling and nodding until we were left in peace. Then we set up camp and cooked our evening meal on our cooker as usual.

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Utö is so tiny that it’s possible to see pretty much the entire island on a short evening walk. As we were approaching the rocky seashore, we ran into a lady who was a tourist herself. She kept staring at my hiking sandals and deemed it necessary to comment on my choice of footwear.

Hey, hey you! Those shoes leave your feet quite exposed. Are you aware that there are snakes around here?

I was aware, but thanks for the concern. Quite amusing coming from someone prancing around in her ballerina flats, though. Oh well, when in Rome – at least you don’t need to spend any energy minding your own business, since there’s always someone else to do it for you over there.

IMG_20180804_202623IMG_20180804_194353Now, this fine specimen would make the best Airbnb ever!

The Finnish military used to have one of its bases on Utö, but they relocated a few years ago, leaving behind several now abandoned structures – and even cannons! Parts of the old military area are still restricted from civilians. So much potential lost right there! Just imagine how cool it would be to get some of the old bunkers and watch towers remade into camping shelters.

IMG_20180804_212219Sunset views from the lighthouseIMG_20180804_215439Not too shabby for a campsite

At night, the unpredictable island weather made a glorious comeback. All the beauty and tranquility surrounding the sunset was nothing but calm before the storm. We were out brushing our teeth when we started to hear a low rumble from the distance. Dark clouds rolled over us, and soon we saw the first lightning strike in the horizon. I have to admit that right then and there I might have been ever so slightly scared, especially when the violent rain started lashing against our tent and the thunder grew stronger. What if the storm was moving right in our direction? All we could do was crawl into our sleeping bags and hope to wake up alive the next morning. Luckily the thunder stayed out at sea, but the gusty wind and rain kept trying to pierce our tent throughout the night. We had brought our brand new Jack Wolfskin tent out on its maiden voyage, and its quality was really put to the test right away. I’m happy to announce it passed with flying colours – we stayed 100% dry and cozy despite the raging storm around us. Excellent value for money, thanks Jack!

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On Sunday morning, we ignored the Sheriff’s earlier advice again and cooked ourselves some tasty breakfast porridge before heading out for a little morning swim. There are no beaches, as the shoreline is very rocky all around the island, but we did find a nice little spot behind the lighthouse, right next to the fenced-off military area, where you can wade into the water along a flat piece of rock. The sea didn’t even feel too chilly anymore, it was actually quite a comfortable temperature for a hot summer’s day.

I had originally planned to take Chef for lunch at the Utö Hotel before leaving for our last destination, Jurmo, but my research had failed me: the hotel restaurant was closed on that Sunday. I thought weekends would be the best time for emptying tourists’ pockets, but I guess not, then. While we were at the little village shop filling up our water bottles, I quickly bought us some ice-cream before hanger got the best of Chef. In the afternoon, we boarded Eivor once more and went straight for a traditional nap at sea. I had started to feel a strange kind of nausea a bit earlier, but managed to get some sleep anyway.

Jurmo: Alpaca Kingdom

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If Utö is charming, then the rugged landscapes of Jurmo are positively fascinating, like something straight out of a fairytale. I cannot really even describe what it is that makes the island so special – apart from the free-roaming alpacas, of course. Jurmo is something that has to be experienced first-hand. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get to know the island as well as I had hoped. Those unexpected variables I mentioned earlier? This is where they came into full effect.

(Disclaimer: If you’re easily grossed out by gory details of bodily functions, I suggest you stop reading right about now.)

As soon as we arrived on Jurmo, the nausea got the best of me. I still managed to keep myself together long enough for us to set up camp again. The wide open Moringharu juts out of the island about a kilometre’s walk from the port of Jurmo, and it’s also the only area where you’re allowed to camp on the island. There are only a handful of lone trees out there, and three of them form a sheltered little nook, just big enough for a tent. So that’s where we set up camp, and then walked back to the port.

IMG_20180805_181008Moringharu camping area

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Right after my lunch plans for Utö fell through, I had already done a quick google search which informed me of a popular hamburger restaurant on Jurmo. Well, you always learn something new: for some incomprehensible reason, there are actually two islands in Finland that are both called Jurmo. One of them is located at the Archipelago Sea, where we were, and the other one near Åland. Naturally, I had been looking up information on the wrong island of the two. It never even occurred to me that I would have to double-check the exact coordinates. Sure, there is a restaurant on the “Alpaca Jurmo”, as well, but it isn’t one of those walk-in businesses. No, you have to order your meals in advance by phone or email. Oooff, so much for lunch, then. I sent Chef to the port café to get some coffee and pastry before we’d start bickering. Myself, I felt too nauseated to even think about eating. While Chef was enjoying his coffee, I was suddenly struck by a bout of explosive diarrhoea. Well, we’d been eating all kinds of crap as snacks, so it was probably just payback for that… right?

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I wasn’t going to let a little stomachache stop us from exploring the island, so Chef and I headed out for a little self-guided walking tour. I had to keep stopping every couple dozen metres, because the cramps were so intense they nearly brought me down to my knees. That’s when I finally started to wonder if maybe the pain derived from something more sinister than your average, run-of-the-mill faucet butt. But hey, at least we got to see some of the best of Jurmo: the 19th century chapel, the old windmill and the super chill alpaca gang.


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Jurmo chapel, built in 1846IMG_20180805_170113Cutiepies

When we got back to the port and took a quick glance at our camping spot, my blood ran cold. The storm from the previous night was about to come back with a vengeance. The sky darkened in the blink of an eye and the wind was picking up. How would you feel about enjoying a thunderstorm camped under the only trees on a flat piece of land, all the while suffering from debilitating stomach cramps with a 1 km hike to the nearest outhouses? Probably not the greatest idea, right?

IMG_20180805_182749Not what you want to see while camping on the flattest island ever

Thankfully, the friendly café owner also has several rental cottages on the other side of the island, and one of them was still available on Sunday. Chef even managed to negotiate the already reasonable price down and got us a nice little “thunder discount”, so there really was no question left about whether or not we should give up on camping for the night. We rushed to the tent to pack up our belongings and hurried back to the café. At that point, the wind was already so strong that it was difficult to move forward while lugging our backpacks with us, and the stomach cramps made it extra difficult for me to stay on my feet. Rain started pouring down right before we made it to shelter and it soaked us to the bone. Below is a short video that Chef shot while we were fighting our way back to the port.

We waited a bit for the heaviest downpour to subside, and then got a ride to the cottage. Our helpful host tried to make small talk during the short drive, but I had to focus all my energy on not throwing up all over the backseat. I probably seemed a bit rude. Sorry.

The cottage was very warm and cozy, and it had its own fireplace and sauna. However, neither one of us got to enjoy the amenities, because by then, Chef too had started to feel a bit weak. The situation soon escalated to the point where Chef was indoors throwing up in a bucket and I was doing the same outside by the bushes. Our bodies completely dried up and drained, we spent the night shaking on our bunk beds. It took me hours to muster up enough energy and willpower to crawl for two metres into the kitchen and pick up our water bottles. We still don’t know if the whole thing was caused by a violent stomach bug or food poisoning. Nevertheless, our romantic couples holiday sure got a memorable climax right there. So, yeah, I really don’t think this whole mess was something I could have reasonably anticipated or prepared for.

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On Monday morning, life was beginning to look worth living again. We even managed to eat some breakfast porridge and keep it down. There was still a couple hours left before we would have to leave, so we heated up the sauna and washed off the horrors of the past night. Unfortunately, the waves were too big for swimming, but I could have stared out to the sea forever. One of the bravest alpacas hanging out in the yard even let me pet itself! Jurmo is absolutely breathtaking, and I’m sure we will return there many times in the future – hopefully with a little more success when it comes to health and safety.

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Summarized Itinerary and Some Helpful Links

For those of you who don’t want to read 3,500 words on fake island sheriffs and diarrhoea, I’ve made this brief summary of our itinerary. I’ve also listed some of the prices (August 2018) and linked some of the most useful websites to help you plan a similar trip of your own. Perhaps it will save you from the week-long pain of googling that I had to endure.

  • Archipelago National Park: general information, maps, rules and instructions. Read this very carefully, especially to find out what is and isn’t allowed in the area.

Day 1 (Starting in Turku, Finland)

  • Turku–Pärnäs, Archipelago bus, buy tickets from the driver, à 13.70€, cash only. The bus runs year-round. To check the timetable, use the Matkahuolto connection search (From: Turku / To: Pärnäinen)
  • Hamburger meal and drinks, Pärnäs port restaurant, à 15.20€. Their Facebook page has no info in English.
  • Pärnäs–Nötö, M/S Eivor. The free ferry runs year-round and you don’t need to reserve a spot, just show up on time (at least 10 minutes before departure, preferably earlier). Cars must be left at the parking lot in Pärnäs and cannot be brought on board. The timetable has information in Finnish and Swedish only, but here are some of the most important things to take into account:
    • Each weekday has its own schedule. The timetable starts with Monday on the left and ends with Sunday on the right.
    • Yellow highlighting means there is a matching bus connection to take you to and from the Pärnäs port.
    • x means that the ferry will only stop at that port “if necessary”
    • y means that if you want to get on or off at that port, you must call Eivor 1.5–0.5 hours before departure. Their phone number is +358 44 5000 503. Don’t text them, they won’t read your messages.
    • Weather conditions may lead to changes and cancellations.
  • Beer and cider at the restaurant aboard Eivor, 12€ in total.
  • Accommodation on Nötö: Backaro Guesthouse, 80€/night/double room + 7€ fee to use the grill shed / 2 people. Only open in the summer season.
  • We brought our own barbecue supplies from the mainland, as the island shop is closed in the evening.

Day 2

  • Breakfast at Backaro Guesthouse, included in the price of accommodation.
  • Nötö sightseeing, e.g. the ringing rock and prehistoric graves. There are signs on the island which point you in the right direction.
  • Lunch on Nötö: Café Skolan. Fish, drinks and desserts for two, 59.50€ in total. Only open during the summer season.
  • Nötö–Utö, M/S Eivor
  • Camping on Utö: map of the only allowed campsite
  • Dinner from our own supplies (pack a gas cooker or something similar!)

Day 3

  • Breakfast from our own supplies. Utö handel village shop has limited opening hours year-round and you can replenish your snacks and water supply there.
  • Utö sightseeing
  • Utö–Jurmo, M/S Eivor
  • Accommodation and sightseeing on Jurmo: e.g. Ethels Bastu cottage with its own sauna, 85€/night, sleeps up to 4 people. Available year-round. The same website has a lot of useful info on the island, but unfortunately everything is in Finnish and Swedish only. Email jurmo(at)jurmo.com for cottage reservations.
  • Alternative accommodation on Jurmo: free camping in Moringharu. Look it up on Google Maps before arriving on the island, or ask someone at the port to point you in the right direction.
  • Dinner from own supplies (port café offers a selection of fresh food and vegetables etc.), or book a homemade meal in advance from Jurmo Inn.

Day 4

  • Morning sauna at Ethels Bastu cottage
  • Coffee and pastry at the port café, à 4€.
  • Jurmo–Pärnäs, M/S Eivor. Lunch and a juice box at the Eivor restaurant, à 11.50€.
  • Pärnäs–Turku, Archipelago bus, à 13.70€.

In total, I spent around 350€ on three nights for two people. Amazingly enough, that was also my original budget and I managed to stick to it despite the, uh, unforeseen circumstances. I suppose you could technically do it even cheaper, e.g. by camping every night instead of paying for accommodation. However, as in our case, things don’t always go according to plan and you can never fully predict the island weather. I strongly recommend leaving some slack in your budget to cover for any last minute surprises and catastrophes.

If you made it this far: however did you even manage to read everything?! Let me know in the comments. :)

Budget Holiday in Montenegro, Part III: Bobotov Kuk & the Black Lake

Day 5: Bobotov Kuk, Durmitor National Park

Bobotov Kuk (2523 m) is at least officially the highest peak of Montenegro, and therefore an especially tempting destination for an overly optimistic amateur mountaineer like me. On a good day, the roof of Montenegro offers views of the entire country and beyond, all the way to Serbia and Albania. I hadn’t originally planned to attempt to summit Bobo at all, but after the spectacular failure at Planinica I was keen to try my luck. Quick googling revealed that Bobo is usually only recommended for experienced hikers due to the difficult-ish climb near the peak. However, I also found a blog post by a girl who did the hike in regular sneakers. If Sneaker Girl could do it, why not Hiking Boot Sloth, too?

 IMG_20180620_063847Once again, I set off from the foggy Black Lake early in the morningIMG_20180620_065645Some kind of a Predator crab straight from my nightmares. Can’t tell its head from its arse.

Unbelievably, that morning I was up and hiking even earlier than the previous day. At six in the morning, the corrupt moustache man hadn’t yet made it to his post to raise my blood pressure, so that was a nice bonus. I spent the first couple of hours like I had done the previous day: climbing up a steep forest path, swatting off mosquitoes. Then, all of a sudden, the trees and the bugs just disappeared and majestic mountain tops came to view in the horizon. Even better, I could also spy bits of clear, blue sky! I was so happy about this sudden change of scenery I started to laugh – and immediately a kamikaze fly set its course straight toward my open mouth and dove deep into my windpipe. I carried on coughing and cackling as elegantly as I could.

IMG_20180620_080927Fly ambush spotIMG_20180620_082330Yes, the sign on the house says “beer”. Yes, you could buy beer in the middle of nowhere.IMG_20180620_082548 Now we’re talking! The trail toward Bobo twisting up on the right

The bleating of the sheep and the ringing of their bells together formed a beautiful symphony that echoed off the walls of the surrounding mountains. As I kept pushing forward and upward, I was briefly joined by a curious mountain goat. The goat gave me a pitying look and then airily bounced off into the horizon, as if to show me how it’s really done.

IMG_20180620_082729Buddy picture: me, myself and the mountainsIMG_20180620_083117Try not to stumble, it’s a long slide downIMG_20180620_085606No need to worry about how to stay warm while climbing theseIMG_20180620_092743Find the partly visible trail marks in the photo. Would be nice to have hawk’s eyes, but luckily it’s possible to cheat with contact lenses.

IMG_20180620_093910This is where my soul singsIMG_20180620_094028_01I mean, it’s pretty impressive, no?!IMG_20180620_094037Happiness awaits on a lonely mountain pathIMG_20180620_102353Oh my fogging shit, you’ve got to be kidding me! Not this, not now!

The scenery was absolutely breathtaking, and the warm feeling of happiness was tingling in my chest… Until the snow stopped me in my tracks. This gigantic snow field had swallowed up the entire trail. Bobotov Kuk was straight ahead, so near yet so far. The final ascend is already very steep, but now I was going to have to climb a smooth wall of snow? Of course without any proper equipment. I slipped my way forward, trying to follow the handful of trail marks peeking out from behind the snow. I did that as far as I could, but then there were no more markings. Feelings of desperation and surrender started to bubble up, and I seriously and thoroughly considered giving up and turning back. I thought attempting this ascend would have been way too dangerous – straight up stupid, in fact.

IMG_20180620_103236It doesn’t look nearly as steep as it really is.

I threw a little pity party for myself and started to look for an easier way back down. Then I noticed movement in the valley. Normally, the best hiking day for me is one where I don’t have to see any other people, but this time was a happy exception to the rule. Two ant-like creatures were swiftly nearing my location!

IMG_20180620_105231_2Can you spot the wayfarers?IMG_20180620_105231_circleHow about now?

The ant-like creatures turned out to be Nick and Ann, a lovely couple from Colorado. I thought they would soon reach my waiting spot, but instead they started scaling the wall straight toward the saddle. If these people are gonna be dumb enough to try this, so will I! ‘MURICA! I hastily traversed my way to them like a proper spiderwoman, before they would get too far out of sight. After quick introductions, we continued the journey together with Nick leading the way. I must admit the ascend was truly, madly, deeply scary: we had to scale a near-vertical-feeling wall of loose rocks. You really had to be careful where to put your hands and feet – a single slip-up could mean starting a small stonefall and sliding all the way down along with the stones. I guess it wouldn’t have been enough to kill us, but we surely would have taken more than enough damage, anyway. However, as someone who’s been climbing trees and walls all my life, I wasn’t smart enough to fear as much as I probably should have. Despite the loose rocks under me, I felt confident and steady on my feet. Perhaps it was just the adrenaline. There’s no way I would have braved this alone, though.

IMG_20180620_115517A fun tunnel part between the mountain and the snow

After a scary half-hour scramble, and another slightly less scary half-hour scramble, we finally reached the summit. Oh boy, does Bobo deliver! Even though the weather was partly cloudy, the views from up top were incredible, a complete opposite to the foggy misery of the previous day. This Bobotov Kuk hike in its entirety must be the most beautiful one in all of Montenegro. I’m so glad I didn’t give up.

IMG_20180620_122936Livin’ on the edge, you can’t help yourself from fallin’IMG_20180620_122859The trail we took up is partly visible thereIMG_20180620_123355Guestbook / proof it happenedIMG_20180620_123839Livin’ on the edge, you can’t help yourself at all

Nick and Ann headed back down almost immediately after signing the guestbook. People die in Colorado every year when they are caught in the mountains during thunderstorms, so these brief summit visits have become an understandable habit for them. Me, however, I wasn’t too worried about the scattered little clouds teaming up against me. I stayed behind to enjoy my lunch with a view.

There was not a snowball’s chance in hell I was going to take the same suicide route back down. Sure, on our way up we had toyed with the idea of using the raincovers of our backpacks as sledges, so we could just slide back down toward Žabljak. Wheee! Then I remembered my trusty Haglöfs pack doesn’t even have such a high tech accessory. Fortunately, there is another way. On the other side of Bobo, a shorter, faster but also steeper route takes you back down toward Sedlo. My strained knee was already cracking in excitement at the mere thought of it, but there was no better option. The important thing was that most of the snow had already melted on the Sedlo side. I knew this because we asked this from a couple of Germans we met at the summit. Nick, Ann and I turned out to be the only dumb-dumbs to reach Bobo from the Žabljak side on that fine day in June. Oh, well.

IMG_20180620_124057The cables bolted to the rocks help hikers ascend to and descend from the peak. This part wasn’t nearly as terrifying as it looks.

IMG_20180620_133838More cables, even when you no longer need them

IMG_20180620_135013Now this here swimming hole looks very tempting – until you remember its turquoise waters come from the melting snow all around the pond. Brrrrr!
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If I had to choose one thing to stare at for the rest of my life, this would be my choiceIMG_20180620_140844Oh my god, look at those curves!IMG_20180620_150346Sedlo viewpoint and mountain road right behind the corner

The bad thing about this return route is that Sedlo lies 17 kilometres from Žabljak, which obviously creates some logistical issues for any hiker without a car. I wasn’t too worried – you could always call a taxi if hitchhiking didn’t work out. There was no reason to worry: the two people clad in red you see in the photo above were a friendly Slovak couple who kindly gave me a ride back to the village. It was comfortable, fast and easy. I was happy to hitchhike; even if I’d had a car, I wouldn’t have dared to drive on these narrow serpentine roads. Just glad somebody else dared. This amazing day was a total success, and it’s all thanks to some international teamwork: thank you Montenegro for providing the views, thank you USA for providing the guidance, and thank you Slovakia for the safe return!

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Day 6: Crno jezero, Durmitor National Park

My time in Durmitor was coming to an end. On the last day, I decided to really give my knee some rest. I was only going to walk to the Black Lake and chill out there. So far, I had only seen the lake in its misty morning suit and rainy afternoon suit. However, it is truly at its best in sunny weather. I was unable to capture the true beauty of the bright turquoise water and the surrounding forests and mountains, but here is a small collection of my best attempts at it.

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I may have accidentally forgotten about the whole “give knee some rest” plan when I took off on the 1.5-hour circle route around the lake. It is not to be missed, if you ever find yourself in that corner of the world! Dozens of benches are scattered along the path, so you can take as many snack breaks as you want in amazing scenery.

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IMG_20180621_131707My llama bag fits just enough snacks for an afternoon excursionIMG_20180621_133858

My knee finally had to give up its last glimmer of hope when I decided to do another 1.5-hour walk to the Savin Kuk ski lift, which would (painlessly!) take me once more to the top of yet another mountain.  As soon as I got to the lower station of the lift, dark clouds appeared out of nowhere and gathered around the peak. Then the thunder started to rumble. Loud. I half walked, half ran back to the lake.

IMG_20180621_144818Total gains of the extra 3-hour walk: I saw a cow, the cow saw me.

From the lake, there was still a 45-minute walk to my guesthouse. Fortunately, I had had the common sense to pack a pocket-sized raincoat in my llama bag, because I really got to put it to good use when the skies opened up and torrential rain poured down on me. I hurried toward the village by the side of the road when I heard heavy footsteps behind me. That’s when I met a fellow soaked traveler, Ana-Marija, who had gotten lost in the woods on her way to the lake, and now had to follow the road back to her campsite. She had tried to get a ride from the tour buses, but their drivers are not allowed to pick up hitchhikers. Soon, though, a small car with three older Montenegrin gentlemen stopped next to us and told us to get in. The car was tiny and the backseat even tinier, but the men really saved our day. They dropped me off at the pizzeria of my choosing, and had even driven Ana-Marija all the way to the campsite located in the next village. Quite hospitable, if you ask me.

To read all my posts on this Montenegro trip in English, click here: Montenegro18EN

Budget Holiday in Montenegro, Part I: Podgorica and Lake Skadar

There are two simple factors that traditionally determine the destination for my summer vacation. First, there must be mountains. Secondly, the price level must not blow up my tiny budget. Montenegro, the trendiest destination of yesteryear, ticks both boxes so that’s where I headed this summer. I hopped on the bandwagon quite late, since all the hipsters have already abandoned the Black Mountain and are now travelling to its neighbouring state, Albania, instead. Luckily that doesn’t bother me at all.

My two-week holiday included hiking in the mountains, chilling on the beach and strolling around cities, but still the total cost came in well under a thousand euros. Strongly recommended for all cheapskates like me! I’ll revisit the detailed budget right after I’ve managed to churn out the whole travelogue.

Hostel Q Podgorica

I spent the first three nights of my holiday in the capital. The only downside to the otherwise wonderful Hostel Q was its location in the suburbs. The neighbourhood itself was very nice and peaceful, but the three-kilometre trek to the city centre was a bit of a pain. Sure, a taxi would take you back and forth for around five euros, but that’s already one third of the accommodation cost per night. You might as well stay in the city centre for less fuss and the same amount of money. It’s not the most social hostel, either: there are only a couple of dorms and a couple of private rooms, and people seemed to spend a lot of time in solitude. I would still warmly recommend this hostel to anyone that likes peace, quiet and hammocks.

IMG_20180616_091455The terrace outside the dorms with a mountain view
IMG_20180616_090948Breakfast is served in the common room – you can also grab a fig right off a tree in the hostel garden!IMG_20180616_091127Bingo tips for next year’s Eurovision
IMG_20180617_172827What’s better after a long day of hardcore touristing than a nap in a hammock?

Day 1: Day Trip to Lake Skadar and a Dip in the Adriatic Sea

The first whole day of my holiday, I visited the Lake Skadar National Park. Podgorica is a great base for a variety of day trips around Montenegro, all thanks to its excellent bus and train connections to every corner (ok, most corners) of the tiny country. Instead of an actual train network, however, there is basically just one train line between Bijelo Polje and Bar. I paid one euro for a train ticket to Virpazar, the closest entrance to the national park. However, before I could enjoy the nature, I still had to make my way from the train station to the centre of the village. I wish I could have adopted all the stray dogs hanging out at the station, especially the tiny pupper all the bigger dogs kept bullying. :(

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Montenegrins don’t seem to be big fans of pavements – I guess everyone just drives everywhere, even the shortest distances? I had to balance on a narrow piece of concrete separating the highway and the railroad tracks for over half a kilometre, just because I couldn’t come up with any better route to the village. There were signs warning people to drive slowly and watch out for otters crossing the road, but I doubt the drivers even saw the signs at those speeds, let alone noticing a lone balancing sloth on the side of the road.

As soon as I made it to the village, I was immediately ambushed by over-eager travel agents.

“Hey, lady! HEY! Want a boat ride? Kayaking? Hiking? Taxi? Hey, HELLO! Anything? I can take you anywhere! HEY! Just give me ten euros!

The only thing I gave them was an exasperated sideways glance. If you think about it, ten euros is a great price for a relaxing boat ride on the lake in the stunning scenery, but the aggressive approach of these guys was a huge turn-off for me.  If you’re not bringing a car, booking a tour would probably be the best way to make the most of your visit to the park. I wish I had had the common sense to do some advance research on these options. Now, all the surprise yelling and pushiness just made me want to run away and hide. I also wasn’t keen on ending up on a boat alone with any of these guys – the last time I was in that kind of a situation, the guy made me watch a video of mating tortoises on his phone instead of just letting me enjoy the scenery.

IMG_20180616_115932Apocalypse? Nah, not raining bugs, just chillin’ in their massive web

After losing the peddlers, I decided to do a couple-hour hike to the nearest town, Godinje. I walked along the narrow, winding road that circles the lake, and fortunately there was barely any traffic at all. It felt so good to breathe in peace without anyone trying to sell me anything. The views just kept getting better, too.
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roskat

In Godinje, I ran into this unofficial dumping ground and the EU-funded sign telling people to please dispose of their trash properly. It wasn’t the only heap of trash of its kind, either – similar dumping grounds (and signs) can be spotted through the train windows, too. Here’s hoping the signs do their job in the future. I think it’s the same global phenomenon you also see back home: people often just don’t fully appreciate all the amazing things around them.

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Trash aside, most of the scenery was total postcard material. A boat ride on the lake would have offered a different perspective on the surrounding mountains, but I was still quite happy with my snack break views as pictured above.

Hiking in the scorching sun had made me want to go for a swim, but the best beaches were too far to reach by foot and as far as I know, there are few if any buses connecting the small lakeside towns. The little ball of sweat I was, I didn’t even consider hitch-hiking. Instead, I returned to Virpazar by foot. Since the day was still young and public transport practically free, in a moment of fancy I hopped back on the train and rode it all the way to the Adriatic Sea. For one euro, again.

IMG_20180616_161320Rare pedestrians-only access to the beach – better have strong knees for this one
IMG_20180616_181028Rainbow!

I got off the train in Sutomore, just because on Google Maps it seemed to be the closest train station next to a beach. The town of Sutomore is basically just a single, long stretch of a narrow beach boulevard with a plenty of cheap food and knick-knacks for tourists to spend their money on. The beach is a foot-massaging pebble beach. Based on my short visit, I got the impression that this is the locals’ choice for a beach holiday destination. There is nothing that really sets it apart from any other similar coastal towns, but it suited my purposes perfectly: all I really wanted was to cool off in the crystal clear waters, and that’s exactly what I did.

On my two-euro train ride back to Podgorica, I had a plenty of time to admire the views for all my money’s worth. In Montenegro, train travel is always a great idea even if you’re not really going anywhere. Just go for the views.

IMG_20180616_183728 IMG_20180616_183550Yes, this photo too was taken through a train window

Day 2: Podgorica City Tour

On the second day, bad weather was forecast for the whole country. I had originally planned to catch the train in the other direction toward the Biogradska Gora National Park, because so many people have been saying it’s the single most beautiful train journey in all of Europe. Hiking in the mountainous national park in heavy rain and thunder would have been a spectacularly stupid idea, though, so I begrudgingly went for Plan B and spent the day touring the limited sights in the capital.

IMG_20180617_133647First impression: it’s really quiet in here?

IMG_20180617_134019Not the President’s castle, just your average municipal assembly buildingIMG_20180617_153020Hey there, Bob!
IMG_20180617_133043Keep it up, boys!
IMG_20180617_133059Hooligans
IMG_20180617_133128Is this some type of guerrilla marketing? Bachelor of Business Administration wants to know
IMG_20180617_151223I like the sly moustachioed one in the middleIMG_20180617_133259This explains the reckless driving!IMG_20180617_134433DRAMAIMG_20180617_134831Obligatory statue of Very Important Man on a Horse ™
IMG_20180617_160040Could we please have some of this jungle in the Finnish suburbs, too?IMG_20180617_140523My favourite fountain
IMG_20180617_142524Apparently, this humble bell tower is the main tourist attraction in the old townIMG_20180617_143306Another humble towerIMG_20180617_143824Anatomy of electrical wiring
IMG_20180617_150313AcrobaticsIMG_20180617_150724River Moraca, my favourite thing about Podgorica

Half a day was plenty enough to walk around the city and see the sights. For the rest of the day, I hid from the rain in a hammock under a tree. Podgorica wouldn’t be my first choice for a city break, but it works fine when your other plans have been cancelled.

To read all my posts on this Montenegro trip in English, click here: Montenegro18EN

May Day Camping in Nuuksio National Park

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This year I skipped the traditional May Day celebrations in the city and headed out into the woods, instead. We, our group of four ladies, decided to go camping in Nuuksio National Park. The timing was perhaps not ideal: it was the last rainy weekend before a month-long heatwave. I had also managed to fumble with my phone, messing up the camera settings, which I of course only noticed back home when uploading the pictures on my laptop. So, please enjoy these grainy, 90s style photos! At least the company was exactly what it was supposed to be.

This wasn’t our first camping trip together: we’ve already been to the exquisite Repovesi National Park in the past. In fact, I would love to see all of Finland’s national parks, but often my plans don’t come into fruition because many of the parks seem too hard to reach without your own car. That is one of the main reasons we picked Nuuksio as our destination: it is very easy to reach by public transport. Affordable bus connections run regularly back and forth. This could be a great day trip for anyone visiting Helsinki, as well! For more information, visit http://www.nationalparks.fi/nuuksionp

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For the first night, we put up tents by the Holma-Saarijärvi campfire site, where we got to enjoy our solitude until the dog walkers arrived the following morning. We had originally planned to spend the night by Lake Mustajärvi, but it was buzzing with people there – probably due to its proximity to the parking lot and bus stop. Sure, it was heart-warming to watch a bunch of excited tourists queue up in front of an exotic log shelter for their brief chance to wave an axe around while posing for the camera, but enough was enough. I’m glad we decided to walk a couple kilometres further into the woods. After our camp was all set by dusk, we still had to walk to Siikaniemi and back to pick up Emmi, our last arrival.

Never mind the rain, there aren’t many things better than an evening by the campfire.

The next morning was foggy, but soon enough the skies cleared up and we were treated to a fantastic teaser of the sunny month ahead of us. Our plan for the day consisted of a decent workout, i.e. walking around the park while lugging all our stuff in our backpacks. Even though Nuuksio is quite compact for a national park, it’s still very much possible to rack up thousands of steps there, at least if Redds’s smart watch can be trusted. If my memory serves me right, we easily hit the 40 km milestone within a couple of days. It’s also impressive how many different kinds of flora and fauna, landscapes and frog concerts can be found within such a limited area.

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We hiked to the other side of the park, Kattila, where it took us a while to find the giant’s kettle (or pothole, or “holy hole” as Redds likes to call them) that gave the area its name. According to my faint memories, I’ve only ever seen a pothole once before in my life, back on an elementary school field trip. But that was ages and ages ago. I don’t know what it is about these things that still fascinates me, decades later.

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Our next camping spot was off the marked trails in Iso-Holma, which seemed like a popular spot despite the lack of signposts. We were lucky to arrive early – we got an amazing camping spot with our own, sunny, private beach, when the late arrivals had to walk past us and further into the woods. All day of sweating inspired Redds and I to take a dip in the chilly pond. That was a new record for me, as I’ve never even considered wild swimming in Finland in April before!

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Photo: Emmi-Riika S.Photo: Emmi-Riika S.

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I would have loved to finish this blog post with the sunset picture above, but it would have painted too rosy a picture of the weekend as a whole. The final morning was, again, rainy and cold. If this camping trip had had its own theme song, it would have been just the sound of raindrops trying their best to pierce the tent fabric, maybe spiced with a massive bass drop.

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5/5, would recommend!

Kungsleden, Part 4: Alesjaure-Abiskojaure-Abisko

Day 6: Alesjaure – Abiskojaure – Almost Abisko

Chef really had the perfect timing to splurge on indoor accommodation. On the fifth night, the temperature dropped well below zero, and by the sixth morning, the nearby mountain tops were covered in a fresh layer of snow. Many campers complained they hadn’t slept much due to the freezing temperature. The only people who seemed happy and well-rested were the few who had been smart enough to pack a fleece liner for their sleeping bag. And of course us, the fat cats from the moneybags section indoors.
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After breakfast, we continued on the tried-and-tested splurge track and paid 350 SEK (~35 EUR) each for a boat ride across Lake Alisjávri, which shaved about 5 km off the next leg. The Alesjaure-Abiskojaure leg would have been 21 km of hiking in total – 16 km sounded much better, so we were more than happy to cheat this way. I think I’ve already mentioned how we rejected a similar boat ride offer on the first hiking day at Lake Láddjujávri because it “seemed like a rip-off”. Curiously, we began to appreciate comfort more and more the closer we got to the end of the hike… Of course, our official excuse for being lazy like that was protecting my hurt knee from any extra strain. The dashing Mister D. did not join us on our lazeathon and chose to walk the whole way, so we wished each other good luck and went our separate ways.
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At the wheel, there was a delightful reindeer herder who told us these boat rides usually form his main income in the summer season. No wonder business is booming: who wouldn’t enjoy the luxury of admiring the scenery from the comfort of a soft seat on a boat speeding across the turquoise lake? We passed by a small village only inhabited in the summer; in late August it was already deserted. We also caught a glimpse of a giant waterfall – I already forgot its name, but I remember the man telling us it’s possible to walk behind it! The waterfall would make a nice day trip destination from Alesjaure. Technically, it would be also possible to pass the waterfall on the way from Alesjaure to Abiskojaure by hiking the eastern side of Alisjávri (Kungsleden follows the western shore). However, that would require some seriously difficult wading where Alisjávri meets Rádujávri. Noobs need not apply, only recommended for experts.
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Although the frost had subsided, the weather was still super chilly before noon. Regardless of the cold, I couldn’t stop smiling like a crazy person, all thanks to the amazing hiking poles. My knees were beginning to feel normal, the trail was fairly easy to hike, and we were making fast progress (at least compared to the past few days). This Alesjaure – Abiskojaure leg was my favourite in terms of the scenery, as well.
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The closer we got to Abiskojaure the more the nature started resembling our own ‘hoods in Finland. The climate in the valley between Abiskojaure and Abisko is unusually warm considering the latitude – there are birch trees growing there! In the picture below, you can see Lake Ábeskojávri looming in the distance. The Abiskojaure huts are located right by the lake.
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The valley belongs to the protected Abisko Nature Reserve. Camping is only allowed at three marked locations: the first spot is at the Abiskojaure huts, the second spot by the trail approximately 5 km before Abisko, and the last at the Abisko camping site. The reserve begins approximately 1 km before the Abiskojaure huts. Our guide book recommended setting up camp by a large bridge a few kilometres before the Abiskojaure huts, and sure enough, there were several beautiful spots in a small forest by the river. Chef and I had originally planned to spend the night there, but we got there quite early and weren’t ready to call it a day yet. We decided to continue past the huts and on to the second camping spot, which meant an additional 10 km of hiking.
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But first, we had a proper lunch break at the huts. I would have very much liked to buy a can of coke to go with my sandwiches, but the tiny shop had already been conquered by a nightmarish group of indecisive Brits. The ladies sure took their sweet time shopping: Gore-Tex trousers rustling, they kept shuffling between the cash register and the shelves, switching out the products in their grubby hands, and calculating out loud whether the budget of eight people would allow for the purchase of both a chocolate bar and a can of pop, or only one of those. Or maybe neither, or possibly a double amount of each…?  Hrrrnnnnnggghhhh! All this kerfuffle over euro prices in the single digits. It became abundantly clear that I would not be advancing to the cash register until long after my spirit had already left my mummified body. My patience wearing as thin as my body from hunger, I left the queue and pretended water was as good a drink as any. We feasted on our lunch at the yard while mosquitoes feasted on us.

Upon leaving the huts, we ran into Mister D. again. Talk about perfect timing! He was just arriving and going to camp by the huts, but we just wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. So we bid farewell for the second time that day.
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Now, I have nothing against roaming birch forests, but after hiking for 24 kilometres we did begin to feel a wee bit tired. According to my calculations, we were nearing the next allowed camping spot – and then got ambushed by the sign pictured below. Huh, two more kilometres? And in the wrong direction? And also uphill?
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At this point, a smart hiker would have consulted the guide book and the map once more. However, I had memorised the fact that there were only three possible camping spots within the entire nature reserve, so obviously this had to be one of them. So we dragged ourselves in the direction the sign was pointing at. The path kept getting narrower and ran through a muddy forest in steep uphill, and the promised camping spots were nowhere to be seen. Our slight annoyance quickly turned into sheer rage, but we had already gone too far to turn back. So we kept trudging on while scaring off any living thing within a five-kilometre radius with our loud cussing.
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The “two kilometres” suggested by the sign was in reality at least three (hundred). We finally made it out of the cursed forest and into the scenery pictured above. This obviously wasn’t the original camping spot we had been looking for, but it was the camping spot we deserved. It was an old, abandoned campsite! We had accidentally hiked outside of the reserve.
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The mood lightened substantially after Chef had managed to feed us both. We realised that making this wrong turn had in fact been a real stroke of luck – the most majestic camping spot of our entire hike was right there, high up, surrounded by mountains, next to a waterfall, with magnificent views over the lake below. I’m so thankful we were too stubborn to give up as soon as we realised our mistake.
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Day 7: Almost Abisko – Abisko
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Last hiking day! I taped up both of my knees just in case the impending downhill would wreak havoc with them. Then we were off to follow in our own footsteps back to the actual Kungsleden. Back down on the right trail, one of the rivers had dried up but the forest was flooded. Pictured below are the outhouses close to our planned camping spot – camping higher up really hadn’t been a bad thing at all.
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The rest or the trail was wide and extremely easy to hike – so easy that it became boring. Could we just finish already! Now I understand why so many people recommend starting the hike in Abisko: this birch forest highway would make for a nice, soft landing to the gruesome hike ahead. Finishing in Abisko means the hike ends in a bit of an anticlimax, at least terrain-wise.
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There are several “meditation spots” along Dag Hammarskjöldsleden. These spots always feature some kind of an aphorism carved in stone. The last meditation spot is pictured above. Carved in stone or not, this one I have to disagree with: den längsta resan är faktiskt Kungsleden.
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Never mind my complaints about the anticlimactic finish line – we really felt on top of the world upon finally reaching the Abisko mountain station! It was simply exhilarating. 108 km of physical and mental challenges and we made it! We also scored high on the relationship-testing aspect of this all: we did not fight once during the entire week (which is unheard of).
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The enormous mountain station, located by Lake Torne, seemed almost like a hotel, but the decoration still made it feel cosy. Our arrival could have been timed better, though: at two in the afternoon, lunch had just ended and the restaurant would not be open again until six in the evening. We didn’t end up staying for long: only for the time it took us to prepare a quick snack and reply to all the accumulated messages from the past week. Then we were off again, this time aiming to hitch-hike to Tromsø, Norway.