Two flights and a ferry ride

I am getting ready for my journey to Lofoten. I have finally packed and got organised after quite an eventful day at work. I have helped to rescue a lost walker with 4 dogs and almost got lost on the way back. I usually worry a bit before my travels, and as there are strong winds, even gales around Lofoten, I checked if I should be OK with the ferry tomorrow. The answer was: “We have not had to tie down the tables, so it’s not a real storm”…

Bodø, Norway

Bodø, Norway

I am driving to Gatwick tonight and staying in a hotel. I can never understand why but somehow booking a hotel and car park is often cheaper than just finding a car park. I take my first flight to Oslo tomorrow morning, and next one from Oslo to Bodø. I will not have much time in Bodø as I need to catch a ferry to Moskenes on Lofoten. And then hopefully someone will pick me up as I will be too tired to worry about catching a bus or hitchhiking. I will be posting some photos on Instagram and Twitter so check them out.

Going to Lofoten islands again! Part 2

I’m getting more and more excited about my upcoming Lofoten trip. I mentioned before how special the islands became to me, and now looking at the photos, I somehow know why I want to go back… My trip starts on Monday, I travel to the hotel near Gatwick airport to stay the night and on Tuesday after two flights and one ferry ride I will be on Lofoten!

Fire place in Stamsund hostel

Fire place in Stamsund hostel

My first stop will be definitely Stamsund, especially that I have been promised a fishing trip! I think it is the best part of traveling, when you go back to far-away places and someone is happy to see you again. Quoting one of the ads, meeting people who make me feel better and hopeful again about the future of this world – priceless. There is a very small village near Stamsund called Steine, which I really love. It is a place you usually just drive through but as I was there on my first day on Lofoten, I like going there, looking at the fishing boats and remembering my first encounter with the islands.

Steine, Lofoten islands

Steine, Lofoten islands

Henningsvær, one of the Lofoten fishing villages, is called “Venice of the North” and although it is a bit exaggerated (especially if you visit the place in not such a great weather), it has a really nice feel to it. Nice enough to maybe think about getting a house… It is a place worth going to in any season, it has an artistic vibe and there is plenty of climbing, skiing or just bumming around opportunities.

Henningsvær, Venice of the North, Lofoten

Henningsvær, Venice of the North, Lofoten

Henningsvær, the only house I could afford...

Henningsvær, the only house I could afford…

One of the highlights of being on Lofoten are the beaches, beautiful, amazing and magical. The sand is so white, the water is so blue that you could almost forget that it is actually cold. Not for some surfer freaks though, who gather especially at Unstad to chase the waves. 2 years ago I looked at them with a mixture of surprise and pity, not getting why they would choose to immerse their bodies in cold water to spend seconds on top of the wave. And an idea of peeing into your wetsuit to get warm… But I understand that it is the passion which carries you through your life.

Ramberg beach, Lofoten

Ramberg beach, Lofoten

And then I became drawn to ice-climbing. Before I had tried it, I was adamant that it was obviously too stupid to be climbing in the cold weather surrounded by snow and ice. But I agreed to give it a go in the indoor gym in Glencoe just to show that I was open-minded. And I absolutely loved it, the idea of hitting and kicking the ice to climb up made me feel really good. All on top rope though, my skills (or lack of skills) don’t allow leading on ice. When we were on Lofoten in February, we found a good ice-climbing spot just at the tunnel wall on the road leading to the Unstad beach. On that day it would be surfers looking at me with pity in their eyes…

Having a go at ice climbing

Having a go at ice climbing

I just need to say a few words about the weather, it often rains and might be really windy (very strong wind when I can hardly stand upright is called in Norwegian “frisk bris” – “fresh breeze…). So if you are like me and your feet get cold almost all the time, make sure you bring the right clothing, windproof and waterproof. As we often do some hikes, I tend to choose lightweight stuff. One of these days I will write a post listing my favourite gear and brands. This time I will also take a medieval dress and nice shoes as we are going to the medieval music festival in Selb, Germany after Lofoten. It will all have to fit together with my sleeping bag, sleeping mat, hiking poles and toiletries miniatures into my favourite Osprey Talon 44 backpack. I will see how it goes, especially that I will be traveling only with my hand luggage and the weight can’t go over 10kg… Will I fit any chocolate?

Keeping warm

Keeping warm

For more information about Lofoten click here.

Brecon Jazz festival 2013

Brecon Cathedral

Brecon Cathedral

Last weekend was all about Brecon Jazz festival. I really love this event and have been going almost every year since I discovered it a few years ago. Brecon on its own is worth visiting, it is a very nice cathedral town on the edge of Brecon Beacons National Park. It is very charming with narrow streets and little houses. When you come to Brecon, do not necessarily follow the Brecon Jazz website directions giving the Theatr Brycheiniog post code to sat nav users as its car park is not very spacious and it is better to choose the bigger car parks near Morrison’s or the tourist information. Brecon is small enough to walk around without worrying about the distance so whatever your choice would be, you should not get lost.

Brecon, near Theatr Brycheiniog

Brecon, near Theatr Brycheiniog

Not everyone likes jazz but I guess those who don’t like it, might not actually know how versatile it can be. I really like the quality of the music and how the musicians are able to improvise and become one with their music. I am also fascinated by how jazz is influenced by different music styles and cultures. Each year I try to choose a musician/band who I know and like and then I choose someone new. My choice is based on who sounds good on website and when I listen to their music samples on youtube.

This year I went to see Courtney Pine and Zoe Rahman Quintet. I saw both musicians in Brecon two years ago and I really liked their shows. Zoe is a lovely person and a great pianist. I wish she had more time to talk to us like when I saw her last time. Zoe’s band is really good, the music is influenced by her Bengali and Irish roots and it is all such a pleasure to listen, it makes you feel good and want to explore the world. The venue she played in, Brecon cathedral is a gem on its own. High stone walls and wooden roof added an extra element making the show even more interesting. Don’t be surprised when you see the Dean in a red hat and shorts introducing the musicians.

Brecon cathedral, Zoe Rahman concert

Brecon cathedral, Zoe Rahman concert

Courtney Pine always gives a good show, his music is highly influenced by Caribbean rhythms (or as he says by rum). I could not understand on Friday why people would not just stand up and start dancing. How can one sit when listening to such music I have no idea. On the other hand after I danced with others last 2 or 3 pieces, I realised that had I done it for 2 hours of the show (yes, 2 full-on hours), I wouldn’t be able to walk to the car afterwards. My last choice was Balanca, the band with Brazilian influences. I was a bit disappointed as I expected something more lively, more samba and less bossa nova. But overall, not bad at all.

Courtney Pine in the Market Hall, Brecon Jazz 2013

Courtney Pine in the Market Hall, Brecon Jazz 2013

If you just want to come and immerse yourself in the jazz atmosphere, you can just enjoy free fringe concerts or market stands around Brecon. I would recommend to hang out around Theatr Brycheiniog and the Cathedral if you want to listen to some good stuff and enjoy your time with the family or friends. There are plenty of food stands when one can get a burger, but I liked the most the grill stand near the Cathedral which offered more variety, like grilled hallumi or North African Merquez sausages served with couscous, lentils and flatbread. The Pilgrims Tea Rooms and Restaurant also situated near the Cathedral, is a great place to eat if you happen to be in Brecon, their food is delicious, and their homemade cakes will make you forget about the diet. If all you want to do is to get drunk and find a partner though, Brecon town centre with its pubs is the place to be at night. But maybe I should not mention it, I would rather Brecon jazz attracted more people who are actually interested in music.

Brecon at dusk

Brecon at dusk

 

Going to Lofoten again! Part 1

Stamsund Hostel, Lofoten islands

Stamsund Hostel, Lofoten islands

We all have places we had visited once and since then they have made us want to come back often times. Lofoten islands seem to have this influence on me, always on my mind when thinking about my next trip destination (even if my always cold feet are begging me to go somewhere hot). I first heard about the islands or I should say saw them, on the photos taken by a photographer enchanted by Lofoten. Especially one of the photos made me fall in love with the islands and filled with the urge to go and see by myself. I have visited the islands twice since, once in Autumn and once in winter. And in two weeks I am going there for the third time and it makes me so excited that I need to share with you some of my thoughts.

My first visit in Autumn 2011 didn’t disappoint me at all, quite the opposite. I am not sure what it is I love the most about Lofoten, probably the combination of mountains, ocean, bright painted houses and the far-away location. As my work requires an intense contact with people, often displaying challenging behaviour, I am somehow drawn to places where it takes at least two flights or ferry rides to get to. It makes me feel that I am really far away from everything else, I leave all the troubles and pettiness of the world behind me when stepping on the beautiful islands.

Boat ride around Stamsund, Lofoten islands

Trying not to look seasick, near Stamsund Lofoten islands

A good weather on the first day of arrival contributed to my first impression of the islands. Early sun was lighting the mountains and ocean as we drove on the bus towards Stamsund and it felt blissful. Stamsund is a small town (to be honest even bigger places on Lofoten are small in comparison with mainland cities) but what makes it a great destination for a budget traveller, or someone who likes meeting interesting people, is the hostel. It’s run by Roar who is my favourite hostel owner (position previously held by a positively crazy Irish guy Kevin). The hostel consists of a big building with two kitchens/living rooms and dorms. There is also an extra building with private and family rooms and a few rorbus scattered around. There are always some “regulars” there, people who come and visit every year and it makes it a really great place to stay. One can meet a French chef who prepares delicious food using freshly caught fish… Or one can be offered a great boat ride and then try the hardest not to be seasick… The hostel is affordable (even for our standards as the prices in Norway are soooo high) and a must-stay place in my opinion. I remember my first day when tired after the journey I was lying on the wooden decking in the Sun with water gently moving underneath… The hostel is not open all year round so check before you come.

Fish dish cooked by a French chef in the hostel in Stamsund

Fish dish cooked by a French chef in the hostel in Stamsund

Reine is another one of my must-see places. The iconic view of the town from the bridge is excellent but if you are fit enough to hike Reinebringen, the views are even better. Hiking up presents with a bit of a challenge, especially when it is muddy and slippery (most of the time), there is a steep section with a rope one can (or in my case have to) use to make the ascent and descent easier. I went up there with two mountain goats (one American and one French) and my usually slow pace seemed even slower, especially on the way down when trying to avoid slipping and falling down into the trees below. Well, it was fun and the views and my sense of achievement when I got to the top were far greater than I could imagine.

Reine, February 2013

Reine, February 2013

Reinebringen, September 2011

Finally on top of Reinebringen, September 2011

Another lovely place to see is Å (the shortest village name I have ever heard). Very small and probably much busier in the summer season, but I love just walking around the cliffs and looking at the ocean when one photographer takes his time to shoot the scenery. It was even more interesting in winter when I visited islands for the second time in 2013, it was all covered in snow and mysteriously quiet except of the waves. But be aware, if you visit Å in winter you need to be able to walk on ice, and I don’t mean walking on the lake, Norwegians just don’t seem to be de-icing roads, pavements or walkways on Lofoten…

Walking around Å, Lofoten islands

Walking around Å, Lofoten islands

Å, Lofoten islands, February 2013

Icy “pavement”, Å, Lofoten islands, February 2013

I will write some more about Lofoten within next few days, but if you need detailed information about the islands or just want to see beautiful photos of Lofoten, click here.

Pembrokesire Coast Path

Pembrokeshire Coast Path from Dale to St. Anne's Head

From Dale to St. Anne’s Head

 

The sunny and hot weather is not a common occurrence in Wales so I decided to spend one of the July weekends in Pembrokeshire. As I am not much of a “lying-on-the-beach-and-doing-nothing” person I thought I could walk some of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path sections. I had already spent some time near Cardigan before and really liked it so to explore more I chose to check out the area around Marloes. I invited one of my friends and off we went, straight to Haverfordwest and then a few turns to Marloes. We wanted to grab some lunch in the Clock House (recommended everywhere). Well, planning and researching beforehand does not always help, the Clock House was closed. Hungry and angry I noticed a pub sign and I sighed with relief. Too soon, “sorry no food served” we’ve heard (we found out later that the chef was sick).

Beach near Dale, Pembrokehisre Coast Path

Beach near Dale

We went to Dale then where we finally had something nice to eat. Dale is a nice little place and a good start to walk towards St. Anne’s Head lighthouse. Lovely views, steep cliffs, green grass, blue ocean waters and a windy path ahead made my day. The path was not very demanding, just a few steeper sections often with a wooden steps to make walking even easier. I guess it could be more difficult, were the path muddy. But unusual for Wales a few weeks of sunshine made the trail a pleasure to walk. On the way back we stopped at a lovely small beach at the Mill Bay with the remnaints of the wreck. This was also the place where Henry VII landed in the 15th century, and as I have been watching “The White Queen” series on BBC, seeing the place added to my understanding what he and his troops had to fight against.

The remnants of HMS Barking on the beach at Mill Bay, Pembrokeshire Coast Path

The remnants of HMS Barking on the beach at Mill Bay

 

Not wanting to risk another disappointment in the pub in Marloes, we drove to Haverfordwest for dinner. We chose an Indian restaurant Taj Mahal and it was a very good decision. Lovely interiors, nice customer service but what was the most important, they served delicious food. I had a mouthwatering salmon dish, one of the best dishes I have ever tasted.

On the following day we chose to walk from Marloes Sands to Deer Park with its Iron Age fort. This is an extremely beautiful section of the Path, steep cliffs with the blue or even turquoise ocean background. Again not an overly demanding path. I enjoyed it the most though when it was just two of us walking without too many tourists around. The closer to the car park, the more likely we would encounter groups of people with big hiking boots, backpacks and maps. I could not understand why they were studying maps so intensely as there was actually no possibility of getting lost on the clearly marked path in such a good weather…

Gateholm - a tidal island, Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Gateholm – a tidal island

Deer Park waters, Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Deer Park waters

We then turned back to Marloes Sands to admire the famous Marloes Sands beach. It is an amazing sandy beach which gets bigger and bigger when the tide gets lower. Being in such a beautiful place I could not deny myself swimming again. The water was really cold but I didn’t mind (at least not after a few minutes of very slow going in and very fast coming out). My friend wasn’t as brave as me and just chose to be frying on a rock.

Marloes Sands beach, Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Marloes Sands beach

After a lazy relax on the beach we drove to Little Haven, a cute fishermen village. At low tide one can walk on the beach all the way to Broad Haven. It doesn’t seem very long but believe me it is quite a good workout. Be careful when walking in or close to the water as you might step on jellyfish.

Broad Haven to LIttle Haven beach walk, Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Broad Haven to LIttle Haven beach walk

To finish our day we drove to St David’s stopping on the way in Solva which was recommended to us by the lady we met in the hostel. The “high street” in Solva was worth to stop by so we wandered around a little bit. St. David’s is nice with a great cathedral and abbey ruins if you like a bit of history. I didn’t go inside the cathedral as there was a service there at the time when we arrived. I didn’t want to end up like my friend who went in and was then led to the bench and handed in a songbook… If you look for a place to eat in St. David’s I would recommend The Grove. I ordered chicken with lemon & courgette rosti, green beans and lemon thyme jus. All I can say is that never mind the chicken, but I would become a vegetarian if I could prepare veg like that.

Click here for Pembrokeshire Coast Path info

 

Coming soon…

I have been thinking about writing a blog for quite a while now. But the most difficult thing when you want to start something is to actually take the first step. So this is it: my first blog post just to get going. I hope it will get me started and new posts will be appearing here on a regular basis.

I will be sharing some stories from my travels but also some useful observations. Hope you will like it.

As I live in Wales my first blog has to have something to do with sheep (please ignore that it was actually taken in Scotland)…

Sheep enjoying rare sunshine in Scotland, Outer Hebrides

Sheep enjoying rare sunshine in Scotland, Outer Hebrides