, , ,

Lofoten – my new home at last?

Moving countries is not as easy as it might seem. I don’t mean traveling, staying in one place for a month or two and then moving on. I mean committing to one place for a longer period of time. Going through all the paperwork, bureaucracy and ticking off countless boxes of the ‘to-do’ list.

But today I just want to celebrate finding my new home.

Hot summer day on Veienestind, Lofoten.

Hot summer day on Veienestind, Lofoten.

Originally from Poland, I lived in Wales for 10 years, in Germany for a year and recently I moved to the Lofoten Islands in Norway. Each country has left some traces in me, making me into some kind of a hybrid: an outsider and local at the same time. A simple question: ‘Where are you from?’, can result in a maze of answers. I’m not really sure how to identify myself anymore. Am I still a girl from an industrial Polish city? Or living in a small Welsh town made me into a countryside lover?

Lofoten Islands have been luring me for a few years. The seed was planted during my first visit and the love and longing to become a part of this magical place has been growing in me unconsciously ever since. It was probably my partner’s dedication to this place that made me want to explore it. Would I have visited and fallen in love with Lofoten if it wasn’t for him? Who knows, it doesn’t really matter now when I’m here.

Celebrating my birthday on Volandstind.

Celebrating my birthday on Volandstind.

Living above the arctic circle, magic of midnight sun, weather changing constantly like my moods and mountain peaks often rising straight from the sea. Polar night lasting a month which I have not experienced yet and feel both nervous and excited about.

No, I don’t know all the mountain names yet and still might get confused where the north and south is (especially after exiting an undersea tunnel)… I am a slow and cautious hiker and might never be super adventurous. But it doesn’t mean that I love the Islands less. It doesn’t mean that I don’t belong here… When writing these words I can just turn my head and look out of the window towards the fjord and the afternoon sun dancing on the mountains. And I smile to myself. I’m home.

All photos by Cody Duncan.

 

Summer light on Hornet.

Summer light on Hornet.

 

Flakstadtind summit.

Flakstadtind summit.

 

Winter hiking.

Winter hiking.

, , , ,

The best travel and photography guides to Lofoten

Midnight at Nonstind mountain peak, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. Ghost Whisperer jacket kept me warm.

Midnight at Nonstind mountain peak, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.

 

I’m often asked what’s my favourite place in the world that I’ve been to or would like to go. At first, it seems like a valid question, but somehow it’s almost impossible for me to answer. I am not the same every day, my moods and needs fluctuate, my memories of places are very subjective and dependent on personal experiences. I’m worried that if I name one place, it will automatically discredit all other amazing locations. I will say ‘A’ and then think “but I like ‘B’ as well”; and “what about ‘C’ where I had such a good time?” Not even mentioning that there’s so much ahead of me and so many places to visit.

 

How it all started

But I can definitely say that there’s one location holding a special place in my heart – Lofoten Islands in Norway. Named by National Geographic as one of the most beautiful archipelagos, I discovered the Islands only a few years ago thanks to my favourite photographer. Cody fell in love with Lofoten long time ago and his multiple visits inspired him to starting a website 68 North. It’s a wonderful resource greatly appreciated by visitors. Recently I have often felt on the Islands like traveling with a celebrity. Most people knew of Cody, wanted to shake his hand or take a photo with him. What I liked even more, some also invited us for a delicious pizza (Thanks Chris!).

 

Winter dawn on way to Ryten, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. Mountain Hardwear jacket.

Winter dawn on way to Ryten, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.

 

Winter on Lofoten

Due to my photographer’s interests I’ve been to Lofoten mostly in winter and autumn. Magnificent views and magical atmosphere make you come back every year. What’s really important for a person like me, not always coping well with low temperatures, is that the ocean has a positive influence on the climate, so it’s not too cold over there (well, most of the time). When I still lived in the UK I was always given strange looks when saying what my holiday plans were. Look at this video below to understand why I could enjoy Lofoten in winter even more than a tropical destination.

 

 

Summer/Autumn on the Islands

Summer and autumn months are a bit better for exploring the Islands off the beaten track. This year I was able to experience the midnight sun phenomenon in June and I absolutely loved it. Hiking in the middle of the night with the sun shining above my head has become my new hobby. Never mind that we’ve had snow storms as well as sunshine on the mountain tops. Unforgettable experience.

 

 

Travel and photography guides to Lofoten

But as stunning as the Islands are, you must be prepared for changeable weather and various conditions on the ground. Nowadays, there’s a trend to sugarcoat descriptions and images of tourist destinations, everything needs to have a “wow” effect. As a result, people arrive at an advertised place and are surprised that it’s actually raining or the mountain is less steep than on a photo.

This is why Cody (with my humble help) created two best photography and travel guides to the Lofoten Islands. I’m not afraid to call them the best, I’m really proud of our work. Together with Cody’s beautiful photos, you will find all the information necessary before embarking on a trip to the Islands. You will know when to expect northern lights but also that unfortunately they are not a guarantee as some people say. You will be advised when to go depending on your expectations, what gear to bring and which locations to choose.

 

Seasons On Lofoten: Winter

Seasons on Lofoten: Winter

 

Seasons On Lofoten: Summer

Seasons on Lofoten: Summer

 

These guides are also special to me, as I took my first steps into designing ebooks’ layout. Watch out for more to come…

 

Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. My favourite Norrona fleece.

Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.

 

, , ,

How to pack light for long-distance hikes and avoid being a donkey

Enjoying the sun on Kungsleden trail, Lapland, Sweden.

Enjoying the sun on Kungsleden trail, Lapland, Sweden.

 

One of the best things about my recent move to Germany and a change of lifestyle, is that I can travel the way I like. Being able to spend days, even weeks in one area makes me appreciate places more and allows me to learn a little bit more about them. Well, of course I also need to work but I’m trying to raise to a challenge and combine the two aspects together.

 

Kungsleden Autumn 2015 Dream Team

The Kungsleden is one of these longer-term projects which have been on my mind for quite a few years. I hiked a northern part of the Royal Trail in 2012, and I attempted to ski tour it in 2014, with no luck. And finally, in less than a month I’m going to walk the entire trail together with Cody – my favourite photographer, Theo – the filmmaker and his partner Bee – the writer. What a team!

 

Kickstarter campaign

This time we have an ambitious project in mind, to photograph and film the entire trail experience. We will start in the north in Abisko and finish (weather and other conditions allowing) in a month in Hemavan. Rare access to electricity means extra weight (all this camera gear and batteries we need to carry without being able to charge them as often as needed). Theo and Bee created a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds towards pre and post production costs. It has been doing really well.

 

 

Packing

Talking about weight, when hiking, especially long-distance, proper packing is a paramount. It is not easy to find a happy medium – to balance what you need with what you can actually carry on your back. In general I am a pretty slow hiker and adding extra weight slows me down even more, which is not good when planning 440km hike. Below is the list of things I’m going to take.

 

Packing list:

Disclosure: some of the links below are affiliate links. If you click on the link and buy an item, I earn a small commission with no extra cost for you.

 

Clothing and footwear:

– Grassbow Sport Mid GTX Merrell boots – very light and 100% vegan boots. (Although I’m not vegan, I know that some people are looking for this type of footwear – wait for my review after the hike). I typically prefer trail runners, but nobody knows what the weather brings and I want something mid height, lightweight and waterproof. I’m planning to do some hiking in the boots beforehand as it is not very good to start a hike with the new footwear (#blisters).
Merrell Grassbow Mid Sport Gore-Tex®, Women’s Trekking and Hiking Boots, J48334, Black, 8 UK

– Norrona Svalbard Flex1 soft shell trousers – (previous version). Very comfortable and flexible, enough pockets to keep necessary stuff easily accessible. And they fit me really well which is not easy to achieve with my “short and square” figure.
Norrona Women’s Svalbard Flex 1 Pant –

 

Enjoying Lofoten in Norrona trousers, Mountain Hardwearr jacket and Osprey backpack.

Enjoying Lofoten in Norrona trousers, Mountain Hardwearr jacket and Osprey backpack.

 

– Marmot minimalist shell trousers – very lightweight and waterproof, already tested on Kungsleden in 2012. When it’s raining and the temperature is low, I often wear long underwear as well to keep my legs separated from the cool feeling of a hard shell.
Marmot Women’s Minimalist Waterproof Shell Pants – Black, Medium

 

Wooden planks in Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden. Marmot minimalist pants kept me dry.

Wooden planks in Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden. Marmot minimalist pants kept me dry.

 

– Norrona Narvik fleece with hood – warm but lightweight (and love the red colour).
Norrona Women’s Narvik Warm2 Stretch Zip Hood –

 

Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. My favourite Norrona fleece.

Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. My favourite Norrona fleece.

 

– Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer jacket – extremely lightweight jacket (about 180g) which gives just enough insulation for cooler days.
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Ski Jacket Steam Womens Sz L

 

Midnight at Nonstind mountain peak, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. Ghost Whisperer jacket kept me warm.

Midnight at Nonstind mountain peak, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. Ghost Whisperer jacket kept me warm.

 

Mountain Hardwear Seraction shell jacket – lightweight waterproof jacket which should also give me wind protection.

Winter dawn on way to Ryten, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. Mountain Hardwear jacket.

Winter dawn on way to Ryten, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. Mountain Hardwear jacket.

– 3 x synthetic T-shirts – breathable and lightweight
– 2 x long underwear bottom and top – 1 set combination of merino wool and synthetic for cold days/nights. 1 set lighter synthetic for cooler temperatures and often used to sleep in when camping.
– 5 x underwear
– 5 x hiking socks
– beanie
– gloves
– knee and ankle brace – just in case

 

Gear:
– REI sleeping bag sub kilo -7°C – weighs around 1 kg and hopefully will give me enough warmth.

– Thermarest Neo Air sleeping pad – light and small when packed.
Thermarest NeoAir XLite Mattress – Regular

– MSR Hubba Hubba tent
MSR Hubba Hubba NX –

– MSR Wind Boiler Stove – boils water with the lightning speed.
MSR WindBurner Camping Stove System

– Osprey Talon 44 backpack – my favourite backpack ever. Doesn’t hurt my shoulders even with more heavy loads.
OSPREY Talon 44 Backpack, Black, M/L

 

Hiking over rocky terrain in Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden. Nothing beats my Osprey backpack!

Hiking over rocky terrain in Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden. Nothing beats my Osprey backpack!

 

– Black Diamond Ultra Distance hiking poles – love them, very lightweight and fold so easily.

– Toiletries: toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss, shampoo, hairbrush, camp soap, face cream sunblock. All if possible in mini/sample sizes.

– Lifeventure camp towel
Lifeventure Soft Fibre Medium Trek Towel – Blue

– Spork (knife, spoon and fork in one)
Light My Fire Spork, various colors (Colour: black) cutlery

Plus weekly amount of food for no-hut sections. Mostly:
– nuts, chocolate, BF bars, salami, instant asian noodles, cous cous, instant mash, instant soups.

 

Still thinking about:
– Rab Neutrino Endurance down jacket – for this extra insulation as winter is coming… But it also adds 590kg of extra weight (as I wouldn’t hike in it, it would be just for sitting at campsites, waiting through storms, etc.)
Rab Women’s Neutrino Endurance Jacket

 

Hiking north on Kungsleden trail with snow covered Keron + Giron (1543m) mountain peak in distance, Lappland, Sweden

Hiking north on Kungsleden trail with snow covered Keron + Giron (1543m) mountain peak in distance, Lappland, Sweden

Helpful info:
Cody Duncan Photography
STF – Info about the huts on the Kungsleden http://www.svenskaturistforeningen.se/en/
Save Kungsleden

 

All photos © Cody Duncan

, , , , ,

Enchanted by the King’s Trail – Kungsleden in Sweden

Hiking north on Kungsleden trail with snow covered Keron + Giron (1543m) mountain peak in distance, Lappland, Sweden

Hiking north on Kungsleden trail with snow covered Keron + Giron (1543m) mountain peak in distance, Lappland, Sweden

 

My first experience with Swedish Lapland was on the Kungsleden (King’s or Royal Trail) in 2012. Cody talked me into hiking the northern part of the trail, which is the most popular section consisting of 100+ kilometres of wilderness between Abisko and Nikkaluokta.

 

When to go

Although accessible from mid June to mid September, we chose to hike the Kungsleden in September, mostly to experience colourful autumn. And to avoid midges swarming around any living beings in the summer. Still, the trail has the most visitors in July and first half of August, as the weather is usually better (although you can never predict what’s going to happen in the Arctic) and obviously because it’s a holiday time.

 

Small river flows south into Tjäktjavagge, near Sälka mountain hut, Kungsleden trail, Sweden

Small river flows south into Tjäktjavagge, near Sälka mountain hut, Kungsleden trail, Sweden

 

Preparations

I decided to combine the hike with raising money for the charity I worked for, to give myself this extra motivation boost. Although for the most part the hike is suitable for different fitness levels, some kind of training beforehand is highly recommended. Unless you have plenty of time to spare and take breaks, you must be prepared for 7-10 daily walks of about 10-20km each. Saying that, we met a couple of Swedish guys who skipped every other hut and hiked for 4 days covering between 30 to 40km each day.

My training for the Kungsleden started really well, in July I climbed a few fourteeners in Colorado (14k feet – 4k+ meter mountains). In August I was regularly spotted in Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains hiking my socks off with a heavy backpack. Everything was going well and then, boom, came the Bank Holiday Monday, August 27…

 

Walking along wooden planks in Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Walking along wooden planks in Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

 

Sprained ankle

I was on the top of Hay Bluff, which is more of a hill than a mountain, striding ahead and suddenly I stepped on a grass mount causing my foot to bend awkwardly. Needless to say, I sprained my ankle. I still remember the pain which almost made me faint, and my hobbling down the mountain (luckily I always use hiking poles so had something to lean on). Painful driving away, doing shopping and building a pile of blankets to keep my foot up at home. It’s strange how certain situations become more ingrained in your memory, I remember that day like it happened yesterday.

To cut the long story short, barely 3 weeks after I was getting off the bus in Nikkaluokta to begin my journey to Abisko. Why did I choose to go ahead? There were many people who had told me that it was a bad idea and I should have just stayed at home and recovered. But the trail was so tempting to me and I just had to at least try. Especially that we were to attend a medieval music festival in Germany first. All the plane tickets were already paid for and non-refundable so we decided to go. I always had an option to turn around in case getting to the first stop – Kebnekaise mountain station – would be too painful.

 

Snow covered mountains and autumn colors in southern end of Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Snow covered mountains and autumn colors in southern end of Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

 

Hiking the Kungsleden

Armed with two hiking poles, an ankle brace and elastic bandage I was treading my way through the trail. Anything flat was fine, but I wasn’t too keen on all the stones and pebbles which were forcing my sprained foot to twist. Surprisingly though, walking was more comfortable than I thought it would be, so we just kept on moving. And once you make a commitment to hike the trail, venturing deeper into the wilderness, after 3-4 days you don’t have much choice but to carry on, as turning back would take you the same amount of time as getting to the end of the section.

I didn’t regret my choice (unless you count some occasional curses in my head). We walked through the amazing landscapes, from Moon-like flats, grassy and boggy sections, through green and fiercely orange slopes, snowy mountain passes to colourful autumn trees. We have encountered sun, rain, snow and wind. We got frozen, wet and caught a cold. We enjoyed the sun on our faces and blue skies with puffy clouds. Quite a few times I wished my boyfriend had not been a photographer and we could just go faster and without all this hassle of stopping and going, and smiling (which is not easy when you’re cold and tired)…

But it was one of the most beautiful trips of my life. Watching the video we made from the trip reminds me of how extraordinary our journey was.

 

The northern section (Nikkaluokta-Abisko / Abisko-Nikkaluokta)

You can hike the Kungsleden in both directions, the choice depends mostly on your personal preferences. The steepness of ascents and descents is comparable both ways. You might take into account the sun position, I would also advise to check the bus schedules and when the huts open/close (especially if you’re planning to do the trail at either beginning or end of the season).

The section between Nikkaluokta and Singi does not actually belong to the trail. It is a detour for those who don’t walk the whole trail or fancy climbing the highest mountain in Sweden – Kebnekaise. There is an option of taking a boat on the Nikkaluokta-Kebenekaise section which saves about 7km of walking (out of 19km). Affluent visitors and groups can take a helicopter taxi to/from Kebnekaise and avoid the whole stretch altogether.

 

Bridge in Ladtjovagge with Tolpagorni - Duolbagorni mountain in distance, Lappland, Sweden

Bridge in Ladtjovagge with Tolpagorni – Duolbagorni mountain in distance, Lappland, Sweden

 

Huts

The northern section of the trail allows you to plan your daily hikes from hut to hut without needing a tent which can in turn save some weight, one of the most important factors to consider before embarking on a long-distance hiking trip. Check out here how to pack light. We had a tent but we ended up camping only once. Most of the huts have shops where you can buy some basic camping food which again can lighten your backpack quite a bit. All the hut beds come with the bedding but I would suggest bringing either a sleeping bag or a sleeping sheet for better hygiene. More about packing here.

Most of the huts on the trail are run by STF. There is no electricity or phone signal for the most parts of the trail (except for the mountain stations, like Kebnekaise), no running water and basic bunk beds. You can pay with cash, prepay online or in the mountain stations. Don’t count on using the credit card on the trail, at least for now! You need to chop the wood for the fire, get the water from the nearby rivers and clean after yourself. But in return you get gas stoves for cooking, saunas in some of the huts (yes, saunas, it’s not autocorrect) and most importantly: the stunning views. And by the views, I don’t just mean naked guys jumping into the lakes or rivers after steamy sauna sessions…

The huts are in a need of repair to be prepared for future generations and STF is running a campaign to raise money to do all the necessary work in the huts and on the trail. Don’t forget that you are in the wilderness and someone needs to make it more accessible by building bridges, pathways in especially boggy sections and providing signposts so we don’t get lost. All this work also helps the conservation of the trail.

 

Candlelight illumintes room Singi mountain hut at night, Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Candlelight illumintes room Singi mountain hut at night, Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

 

Cuting firewood at mountain hut, Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Cuting firewood at mountain hut, Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

 

Singi hut, Kungsleden trail, Lapland, Sweden

Singi hut, Kungsleden trail, Lapland, Sweden

 

Helpful info

Cody Duncan Photography – More detailed info and guide about the northern section.
STF – Info about the huts on the Kungsleden
Save Kungsleden

 

All photos © Cody Duncan

, , , , ,

Reflections on Leaving Wales and Moving On

 

Pen y Fan sunrise in winter

Pen y Fan sunrise in winter

 

I published my last post almost a year ago! Many things have happened since and I needed some time off, especially that I haven’t really had a proper “base” to work from.

It’s the second time I am wrapping up my life for new beginnings. Hundreds of thoughts are racing through my mind, moving to another country is such a rare opportunity to rethink your actions, ideas, hopes and plans for the future. 11+ years ago I left Poland for Wales, to become a support worker in a small residential school for young people with learning disabilities. Little did I know where my life was going to take me, and that as of today I would officially be living in Bavaria, Germany.

 

 Carmarthen Fans - Bannau Sir Gaer with Picws Du in distance, Black Mountain, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales. April 2013

Carmarthen Fans – Bannau Sir Gaer with Picws Du in distance, Black Mountain, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales. Apr 2013

When a young girl, I always dreamt about visiting the UK, possibly spending there a few months to learn the language and experience the romantic vibes of the country. Like from Jane Austen’s or Charlotte Bronte’s novels: rainy moorlands, green hillsides and purple heather blown in the wind. (Not mentioning a handsome man with shaggy hair riding a horse in the background…)

Years later, after finishing my supply English teacher post in a primary school in Poland, I started looking for possible jobs in Great Britain. An advert of a support worker position at a school run by a charity seemed a perfect solution for me, combining my two passions: education and social care. I was even more happy when, after receiving a job offer, I could choose between two locations: either close to Oxford and London, or in a rural English/Welsh border countryside. You should know by now which one was my choice.

 

 Llangorse lake from Mynydd Llangorse, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales, April 2014

Llangorse lake from Mynydd Llangorse, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales. Apr 2014

 

I won’t lie, the beginnings were difficult. New place, new housemates, new job, new language (with what seemed like a hundred accent variations). Now I am able to look back with a smile at some situations which seemed scary and/or embarrassing at the time. Imagine a grown-up woman who feels (and probably behaves) like a schoolgirl trying to make new friends.

But most of all, I wasn’t fully aware that people with learning disability might choose to display aggressive behaviour as their means of communication. I had to learn how to safely deal with being punched, kicked, bitten, verbally abused and spat at. And in spite of that, there was a number of students I was fond of; witnessing their even smallest steps forward made me so happy and proud. I can’t even explain how it feels seeing a boy who kept hurting himself and us, turning into a young man who could fly on a plane to Lapland! With the promotions, my responsibilities changed. I still enjoyed what I was doing though, even with some staff members being the most challenging of people I had ever met!

Without going into too much detail, as I should not be talking about certain issues, the school I worked in got closed. For someone not knowing much about social care, you don’t know about all these crazy regulations that needs to be followed, even if it often means that paperwork is more important than people. Somehow the mountain was created out of the mole hill, and because of a few potential mistakes, many of great staff lost their jobs, and students lost a great place to learn and thrive.

I went through good and bad with so many great people. I learnt a lot about how to appreciate the uniqueness of others. I made friends for life, had my heart broken, fell in love with Scottish and Welsh landscapes, hiked my legs off and found my man (though not British and without a horse, but thanks to him photos of me were published even in Nat Geo!).

 

 Berneray, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. January 2013

Berneray, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Jan 2013

Summit of Glyder Fach with Tryfan in background, Snowdonia national park, Wales. June 2013

Summit of Glyder Fach with Tryfan in background, Snowdonia national park, Wales. Jun 2013

 

Closing off the school pushed me to make a decision: ‘should I stay or should I go’ – I could keep working for the company and just move within the UK. But I knew that it was time for me to leave, to explore new places. I really love travelling, but what I like the most is long-term experiences, the familiar and the foreign interwoven with each other.

It took me about a year to be where I am now, I have travelled through Europe to Norway and my beloved Lofoten, then went to USA, Poland, back to Lofoten and Wales, and finally here to German Bavaria. The most exciting part of my travels was to meet a great British couple who were travelling Europe in their van (check out their website VdubVanLife), and now we are planning together a really cool project!

 

Sitting around a campfire with Bee from VdubVanLife, northern lights above us, Storsandnes, Lofoten, Norway

Sitting around a campfire with Bee from VdubVanLife, northern lights above us, Storsandnes, Lofoten, Norway. Sept 2014

 

The big unknown ahead of me, thrilling and scary at the same time, not only due to starting in a new place and learning a new language, but also because of changing my area of work quite significantly and jumping into self-employment. (I even learnt to design eBooks, check them out).

I just wish that the school would still exist and I could sometimes check in to say hello…

 

Berneray, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. January 2013

Berneray, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Jan 2013

Sunset from the summit of Markan (602m), Lofoten, Norway. Sept 2014

Sunset from the summit of Markan (602m), Lofoten, Norway. Sept 2014

, ,

Weekend on Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Fishguard-08

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Fishguard-08

My time in Wales is coming to the end. My workplace is being closed, I will try to write a post about my UK and Welsh experience, but I am not quite ready yet. It’s a very emotional time but it is also a beginning of something unknown to me. I am going to travel for a few months, and maybe I will become a “proper” travel blogger one day. I will start with a road trip to Norway, my first time driving a British car on the right side of the road, so can be fun! After Norway I’m going to say goodbye to Scotland, I hope the weather will allow me to explore its beauty. My last planned destination – USA, haven’t been there for 2 years and I have really missed the big open landscapes of California and Colorado. I’m back in January and I will see what time brings, the most likely scenario is moving to the Alps next spring…

But it is Wales which has been my home for almost 10 years, and today I would like to write about one of my favourite Welsh places – Pembrokeshire. And to be precise – the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Last year I spent a few days on the western part of the coast (you can read about my trip here). This July I went with a friend to Fishguard. To be honest, Fishguard became our choice mostly because our trip to Pembrokeshire was quite a last minute decision, and it was where I found still available and affordable accommodation near the sea.

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, West of Fishguard

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, West of Fishguard

If you want to explore the Coast Path, you can pretty much start anywhere. Taking a car means that I usually walk for a few hours and then back the same way. If you would like to, there is an option of going further and catching a bus, but somehow I don’t trust the timetables. And what if I don’t get there on time?

On the first day we decided to walk West, passing the harbour and emerging into the wilderness. Beware of the horses, they really scared us on the way back blocking the path. Just stay calm and slowly make your way through… Below a nice horse ignoring us, I was too afraid to get the camera out when they became a bit less welcoming later on.

Horses on Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Horses on Pembrokeshire Coast Path

We were lucky again with the weather, the sun was shining and kept us full of energy almost to the end. My friend walked in flip-flops, but I would not recommend it, especially when the path is not dry, as the trail can be pretty steep and slippery. There are a few up-and-down sections which mean not a bad workout. I must admit that getting back to Fishguard was quite painful, I had cramps in my legs and had to hold the rail when using the stairs to the town centre. Never been so happy to get to the hostel and have tasty Indian food in the restaurant.

Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, West of Fishguard

Hamilton Backpackers Lodge – a great place to stay. The kitchen would need a bit of a tidy up, but overall it is really nice. It’s funny how I often meet social workers from around the world during my travels, this time a girl from Australia. Apparently social care jobs, although can be rewarding, can also be quite draining, and one needs to recharge their batteries…

Hamilton Backpackers Lodge, my friend trying to keep a serious face...

Hamilton Backpackers Lodge, my friend trying to keep a serious face…

The following day we walked East, the path is a bit easier. Being tired from the previous day, we walked just beyond the Fishguard Bay Caravan and Camping Park (with a much needed coffee, muffin and ice cream break). The day became hotter and we drove to the beach to enjoy the Sun. Unfortunately I can’t spend much time being fried on the sand, and off we went to New Quay for dinner. So if you fancy coming to Wales and you are not sure what to do, drive to Pembrokeshire and hike as much (or as little) as you would like…

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Fishguard

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, East of Fishguard

 

New Quay, Pembrokeshire

New Quay, Pembrokeshire

Fishguard, Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Fishguard

My friend walking on the beach

My friend walking on the beach

Hot sunny weather in Pembrokeshire

Hot sunny weather in Pembrokeshire

Friendly cow

Friendly cow

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Fishguard

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, East of Fishguard

 

    Pembrokeshire Coast Path, East of Fishguard

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, East of Fishguard

Lower Fishguard, end of walking...

Lower Fishguard, end of walking…

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Fishguard-08

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Fishguard-08

Hamilton Backpackers Lodge, my friend trying to keep a serious face...

Hamilton Backpackers Lodge, my friend trying to keep a serious face…

Beautiful views on Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Beautiful views on Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, West of Fishguard

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, West of Fishguard

Pembroke-Coast-Path-03

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Fishguard

 

 

 

 

, , ,

Motivated by food – hiking in Tatras

Hiking with friends in the Tatras

Hiking with friends in the Tatras. Guess whose backpack is bigger…

Someone told me once “Justyna, you eat like a horse!” The remark was supposed to be friendly and referred to my big plateful of lunch at work, so I took it with a smile. Well, however one can put it in words, food is extremely important to me; I’m not one of these people who can go on for hours without re-fuelling, especially when hiking “proper” mountains like Polish Tatras. It was a thought of “schabowy” (a Polish-style pork chop in breadcrumbs) with mashed potatoes, which kept me motivated to keep my legs moving with the great speed to get to the mountain hut after quite a difficult hike and scramble.

Tatra mountains (also called Tatras in English or Tatry in Polish) are the highest mountain range in Poland and Slovakia. They are beautiful, majestic and rugged. The easiest way to start exploring Tatras is to go to Zakopane, as there are many trailheads nearby (to read more about Zakopane click here). There is an option of taking a cable lift up the mountain, and continue to the trails if you want to save some time. But if you prefer more exercise (and don’t want to pay for quite an expensive lift), you can just start at the bottom. Unfortunately, due to the Tatra National Park regulations, camping in the mountains is not allowed, which can restrict some options to explore the trails. Saying that, there are 8 mountain huts you can stay in, if you want to spend a few days in the mountains. They are very well located near the trails, making it possible to plan multiple day routes. Years ago, there would always be a place for a hiker in a hut, even if you had to sleep “on the floor”, but the policy changed, and there is a requirement to book a bed ahead. I would really recommend booking accommodation, especially at busier times of the year.

Murowaniec mountain hut, Hala Gasienicowa (Gasienicowa Valley)

Murowaniec mountain hut, Hala Gasienicowa (Gasienicowa Valley)

My friends and I didn’t think too much about booking a hut, as it was a middle of May, and not a bank holiday weekend, but to our surprise, when phoning on the day, we found out that all beds were booked in two of the huts we considered. Luckily, there were still beds in the Murowaniec mountain hut, so in the end we could stay up the mountains! Two trails to the Murowaniec hut start in Kużnice near the Kasprowy Wierch cable lift entrance, to make it more interesting, we took the blue trail up and the yellow one down.

Hot and sunny weather made us almost forget that there’s still some snow and ice on the mountain tops. After getting to the Murowaniec hut and leaving the heaviest stuff in the room (although I always have to hike with quite a big backpack “for photos”), we had a short break and I enjoyed Polish fast food – huge “zapiekanka” (a hot halved baguette with mushrooms and melted cheese on top). And then our adventure began, heading towards Kościelec (2 155m) I could see its steep summit resembling a tripod and I kept thinking how I was going to get there. It’s not like I’m an absolute novice, I’ve climbed higher mountains (to be exact even twice as high Mt Elbert of the Rocky Mountains), but something was telling me it would be quite an effort.

Trail signs, Tatra mountains

Trail signs, Tatra mountains

Getting to the foot of the mountain was quite easy, even with some snowy and sometimes icy patches on the way. But the real climbing started when we got to the steep rocky section. Scrambling was not new to me, but having to climb through some snowy and icy steps made my heart jump a few times. My friend’s story about someone who fell off Kościelec during the climb and died, didn’t help my confidence at all. I felt really exposed trying to reach some slippery handholds and knowing that one mistake could cost so dearly.

Climbing the top of Koscielec, snow in May...

Climbing the top of Koscielec, snow in May…

Views from Koscielec summit

Views from Koscielec summit

Needless to say, I felt very accomplished when finally got to the summit of Kościelec. Taking in the views, and my sense of pride were affected a bit by the thought of climbing down. And then it became official (again) – I was the slowest hiker ever. Being tired and with my mind not working at its best, I was just automatically following my boyfriend’s instructions: “put your hands next to your feet and just lower your body”, you won’t reach this foothold with your feet, so you just have to trust it and slide down a bit”, “watch your feet, it’s slippery like sh..t”. Finally, getting through the last bad section, made me overflow with happiness. My friends suggested a shortcut to the hut, but having enough of steep downhills, I voted for splitting our team up and taking the route known to me. Hiking on an easy terrain felt so wonderful, and the only thought which kept me alive was the hot food in the hut. I had checked earlier the sign in the dining room (everyone has their priorities), which said it was closing at 9p.m. So we were moving as fast as possible to be there on time, “schabowy” on my mind (like Georgia for Ray Charles). Success, we were back in the hut at 8.50p.m.! I ordered my food and heard: “Sorry but at this time we can only offer some soup as the kitchen is closing”… Well, they could stick their soup up their bottoms, so I ordered 2 pints for dinner.

My friend near the summit of Koscielec

My friend near the summit of Koscielec

Climbing Koscielec

Climbing Koscielec, breathtaking views…

Having a rest before getting to the Murowaniec mountain hut

Having a rest before getting to the Murowaniec mountain hut

Getting through the snow...

Getting through the snow…

, , ,

Zakopane – Gateway to Tatras

View from Kasprowy Wierch, Tatra mountains

View from Kasprowy Wierch, Tatra mountains

I was probably 5 years old and a bit scared of that black devil with a pitchfork running around in a mountain lodge. It’s one of my earliest memories from Zakopane, where we went for a New Year break with my family. For the people who might not know – Zakopane is not a hell of any sorts, the Devil is one of the Polish traditional carnival characters alongside Angel, Death, etc. People would dress up as those characters and go to raise some money (similar to Christmas carol singers but with a bit more bite to it). Anyway, I remember the devil and lots of snow, we would go for night sledge rides and I was tucked in thick fur blankets like a Russian princess. I have been in Zakopane a few times since then, recently in May.

Krupowki, the main street in Zakopane

Krupowki, the main street in Zakopane

First, a few information bits about Zakopane. It lies in the South of Poland, and being a beautiful gateway to Tatra mountains (called Tatry in Polish), it has been a famous tourist destination for many years. It is one of the “must-see” places in Poland. Zakopane is very easy to get to even without a car. There is a train option (more expensive and longer) and plenty of buses to choose from (I would recommend private ones as they are the cheapest). If you are not sure, go to Cracow (most people go there anyway) and then take a bus. The bus station is under construction and the bus stands to Zakopane are situated outside, just follow the big yellow signs with letters written on them. There are also plenty of places to stay in Zakopane – you can choose between mountain huts, hostels, hotels, and private rooms. Almost every house in Zakopane offers rooms for rent, but it might be difficult to find rooms in the centre during the high season, so booking might be advisable.

Watra brewery, Zakopane

Watra brewery, Zakopane

There’s so much to do in Zakopane for everyone. If you’re a bit lazy and not so much into mountaineering, you can just put some outdoor clothing on and hang out on Krupowki. It is the main street in Zakopane, filled with outdoor shops, cafes, souvenirs, restaurants, and – most importantly – stalls with traditional goat cheese pieces (“oscypki”). Oscypki come in a traditional shape but in different sizes. They can be smoked (brown) or not (white), and you NEED to try them. I’ve just heard from a reliable source that it’s better to pay more for oscypki and not go for a cheaper option. Apparently even a not so fresh piece of better quality is much tastier than a cheaper alternative (especially if you heat it up in the oven). If you’re in a restaurant, try a grilled version with cranberry sauce as a starter, yummy…

Zajazd Furmanski, Zakopane

Zajazd Furmanski, Zakopane

Zajazd Furmanski, traditional design, Zakopane

Zajazd Furmanski, traditional design, Zakopane

We visited Zakopane in the middle of May, out of season, but it was still pretty crowded, especially in the evening. Choosing a place to eat is always a bit of a challenge for us, I like to try local dishes, my American boyfriend opts for a hamburger or pizza. So we were going from place to place to find a good compromise. As he really loves beer, I managed to tempt him to go to a local brewery called Watra. They offer not only delicious beer (honey beer being my favourite) but also a big variety of dishes – from traditional Polish to (beloved by some) pepperoni pizza. Another good place to eat is Zajazd Furmanski. Although not quite in the centre of Zakopane, the food is delicious. I enjoyed not only the food but also the traditional design of the building, huge wooden beams with the plaited straw insulation. If you travel with children and need a break, there was also an indoor children play area downstairs.

View from Kasprowy Wierch

View from Kasprowy Wierch

Good news if you’re lazy, but want to see a bit more than just a nice mountain town, there a few cable lifts which you can take to admire the mountain landscapes. We chose to go to Kasprowy Wierch (1,987m) to enjoy the afternoon before meeting up with our friends. To get to the lift from the centre, you need to take a minibus to Kuznice, it took me a while (a visit to the information centre to be precise) to figure it out. There was still some snow on top of the mountain and I was glad I had my insulated jacket with me to keep me warm. I’m not sure how some people managed to go to the top in trainers, I know it was not very far, but it would require some skill not to skid on a slippery surface. It’s worthwhile to go to the top, you will experience wonderful views of surrounding Tatras which can make up for 10 minutes of exercise…

And if you’re not so lazy and you would like to climb some mountains, Zakopane is also a great choice for you. More in my next post…

On top of the mountain, Tatras

On top of the mountain, Tatras

Climbing near Kasprowy Wierch

Climbing near Kasprowy Wierch

Taking photos near Kasprowy Wierch

Taking photos near Kasprowy Wierch

Scrambling near Kasprowy wierch

Scrambling near Kasprowy wierch

, ,

Kebnekaise in Winter

Continuing from Stuck in Swedish snow

Trying to plough through the deep snow. Skiing Kunsgleden trail in winter

Trying to plough through the deep snow. Skiing Kunsgleden trail in winter

Kebnekaise fjällstation, Swedish Lapland, February, Saturday morning. The weather was far from ideal for my first ski touring trip. Fresh, deep snow had just covered the area around us with the forecast of snow storm in two days. So the question for us was, if we still felt confident to start our ski touring trip to Abisko. After some time of weighing pros and cons, Cody and I stayed optimistic and decided to give it a go. In the worst case scenario we would turn around to the safety of the Kebenekaise hut. My adventure began.
First time for me on Nordic skis, and here I was, ski touring towards Abisko. I hiked the route from Nikkaluokta to Abisko in Autumn 2012 and was looking forward to stunning views, but with a more winterly look this time. The huts on the trail would welcome us with their fire places and I would start hating roasted vegetable flavoured cous cous again.
As we had taken a snowmobile to Kebenekaise, the route was a bit shorter than last time, with less than 100km of skiing ahead of us. While still in Wales, worried if I could make it (being an inexperienced skier), I was told by my boyfriend that the route was mostly flat and ideal for beginners like me. Then, when we met up in Kiruna, his prediction shifted somehow to 50% chance of finishing the route.

Kunsgleden trail in winter. Wish could ski better...

Kunsgleden trail in winter. Wish could ski better…

With good spirits, I was doing my best to keep Cody within sight as he broke trail through the deep snow. Over hills, down hills, around corners, I was moving my skis as fast as I could to keep up. Snowy mountain landscapes filled me with energy to keep going. Well, not fast enough (or should I be honest and say it was a snail pace?), as when after about an hour of what was a huge effort to me, I looked back just to see that we moved less than a kilometre from the hut. Cody was very kind, trying to hide his frustration as I was trying to push through the deep snow in a far from graceful way. Not seeing my skis under the deep snow didn’t help much either, despite having Cody’s tracks to follow. My skis seemed to have their own ideas where they wanted to go, which was often not in the same direction. Cody had fatter skis with skins on, and he was able to make a kind of a track for me, but it was still too deep and uneven for my skills. Hence a few moments of getting stuck or falling which made me aware how vulnerable a turtle can feel lying on its shell (see my last post for more detail). Then he asked me, trying to keep a casual “you’re-not-annoying-me” face, which was unsuccessful, if I could go a bit faster… There was no point in lying that I could, so we decided to turn around.

Deep snow, skiing Kunsgleden trail near Kebnekaise Fjällstation

Deep snow, skiing Kunsgleden trail near Kebnekaise Fjällstation

Going back felt like a failure and I was disappointed with myself, but I knew that it was the right decision. There was no chance of me skiing to the next hut, not even to mention finishing the trail in that snail speed. I really wanted to do it; being away from civilisation and exploring the wilds of Lapland, seeing the mountains and the Kungsleden trail all covered in snow would be so awesome. We played a bit with an idea of trying the following day if other people or snowmobiles would cut through to make better track. But thinking about trying again was definitely not an option when I woke up on Sunday morning with a sore throat and not feeling well. I was glad that I was not in the middle of a skiing trip as my physical fitness came close to zero. We decided to stay in the Kebnekaise fjällstation (more about this awesome hut in my next post).
I recently went to a talk by the British climber Andy Kirkpatrick. He talked a lot about failure, that it was often more important than success, as the failure leaves us with a desire to try again; the goal still seems attractive and motivating. And when we succeed, it might often be less exciting than what we had imagined before. While listening to his words, I was thinking that my ski touring dream would have to wait for another year or two, but it was not the end of it. And even more, I now have a challenge that I’m looking forward to facing.  Before I got on the airplane in February, the Kungsleden in winter just seemed like some exciting adventure. Now it is a goal, something I will need to train and prepare for, you can’t be so arrogant and try to ski the Kunglseden trail without having Nordic skis on before, and be less of a wuss. It might not be next year, or the year after that. But one day, I will definitely be back, with skis on my feet, heading into those wild mountains.

Snowy mountains near Kebnekaise Fjällstation

Snowy mountains near Kebnekaise Fjällstation

, , ,

Stuck in Swedish snow

Kunsgleden trail in winter. Wish could ski better...

Kunsgleden trail in winter. Wish could ski better…

I could hardly move in the thigh deep snow even though I was following the tracks made by my boyfriend (who still struggled to plough through but was at least moving ahead). There were no other tracks to follow because of the fresh snow and the season having just started; we were the first on the trail. Once, I got really stuck not able to move for a few minutes as one of my skis decided to check out what was hidden underneath all that snow. As my other ski tried to explore the opposite side, I was left in a “turtle on its shell” (a shell being a backpack in my case) position not even able to take one ski off. It took quite a few complicated but subtle movements of my legs for me to go back to an upright position. But it also left me with less motivation to carry on. So when I finally caught up with Cody, or, more accurately, him having skinned back up the mountain to see what had happened to me, we decided to turn around…

Skiing a part of the Kungsleden trail in Sweden was one of my ambitious goals for February. I hoped I would be able to push myself and experience cross-country skiing for the first time. Snow, long nights filled with northern lights when you hide away in a hut in front of the fire – it was all on my mind when I was planning this trip to northern Sweden. The Kunglseden trail is not very difficult in theory, mostly kind of flat, so it seemed like a good choice for someone with close to zero skiing experience.  Perhaps I was being a little optimistic!
Even when traveling from the UK (especially when adding the long drive to London from Wales, a country seemingly absent of proper motorways), it always seems like a long journey to northern Sweden. Adding in some mandatory plane delays in Stockholm, I finally arrived at the airport in Kiruna late on a Thursday afternoon. Taking the bus to the city centre it was apparent that I had arrived in winter as snow filled my vision for as far as I could see while the city sat in a cold, frozen silence.  After meeting up with Cody, we went to the outdoor shop to get some skis for me. The idea was that it would be cheaper to buy skis in Sweden, rather than it would have been to buy in the UK or rent them for the length of my travels. It seemed also apparent that I should have bigger choice and better advice in the country where it actually snows. I chose the nice looking Nordic skis with metal edges, lightweight but with extra support for turns. Then the boots, bindings, poles and googles. I was ready for a skiing trip! (So I thought…)

Ready for the ride! Nikkaluokta snow mobile, Kungsleden trail

Ready for the ride! Nikkaluokta snow mobile, Kungsleden trail

After spending a night at the hostel in Kiruna, filled to the brim with two bus loads of university Erasmus students on winter holiday, we took a morning bus to Nikkaluokta (first bus of the season). It was just us and two other people on the bus. Normally in Sweden, one pays while getting on the bus, but oddly the driver didn’t seem too concerned as we hopped on. After an hour or so we finally pulled into the tiny village of Nikkaluokta, deep in the Swedish mountains. Cody asked about payment in a broken combination of Swedish and Norwegian (having picked up a bit after nearly 20 trips to the Scandinavian arctic), but was informed that the driver had forgotten his change purse. So we perhaps received the only free bus ride in Sweden.

Nikkaluokta snow mobile. Kungsleden trail

Nikkaluokta snowmobile. Kungsleden trail

On arrival to Nikkaluokta we were presented with an option of taking a snowmobile rather than skiing to the Kebnekaise fjällstation. The snowmobile ride cost 300 SEK (about £30) but as we didn’t pay for the bus, we thought it would not be a bad idea to be lazy. Having hiked the section before in Autumn 2012, I also knew it was one of the least interesting parts of the trail and it could save us 19km of skiing… So the decision was made: snowmobile! I would really recommend it, it was so much fun to move quickly and swiftly on the snow and ice covered trail and lake!

Nikkaluokta snow mobile - excited! Kungsleden trail in winter

Nikkaluokta snowmobile – excited! Kungsleden trail in winter

Eager to try on my new skis, I quickly checked in at the Kebenekaise fjällstation and got ready to practise skiing a bit. It was my first time on Nordic skis and I could feel it… Having only had a few ski lessons before, being on a real snow was quite a challenge for me. I felt like I could fall down at any time, which I did quite a few times, especially attempting anything even slightly down hill on those long, skinny skis. The snow was still falling as the late afternoon sky grew dark when I finally returned to the warmth of the hut.

Kebnekaise Fjällstation covered in snow.

Kebnekaise Fjällstation covered in snow.