On 13th February 2014, a violent volcanic explosion destroyed the lava dome of Mount Kelud in Java, Indonesia.
The Story of How an Illness Saved Our Lives
The Carnage of the Volcanic Eruption
My wife, Mona, and I watched the television coverage in horror – volcanic ash, stones and boulders were ejected up to 500 kilometres in diameter from the volcano.
If our plans had worked out, we would have been on Kelud at the time of the eruption. There was no way we would have survived.
A bead of sweat trickled down my face. Both of us had high temperature. It was a mysterious fever – as soon as we would start feeling better and become active, the fever would be back, much worse than before. The cycle had been repeating itself for a week. We decided to see a doctor the next day.
Earlier that month we had trekked to Mount Batur, an active volcano in Bali. We reached the 1,717-meter summit just in time to view a spectacular sunrise. It was an incredible experience.
The highlight for me however, was walking around the crater – falling to the left would result in being roasted in the volcano’s steam, falling to right would mean rolling all the way down to the bottom. My unreasonable fear of heights added to the sheer rush of adrenalin that I felt.
The 45 min walk around the crater was an amazing experience so we decided to hike up another volcano. Mount Kelud on the island of Java sounded like a great option.
We booked a guide (for such activities, you are required to go with a guide in Indonesia) to help us climb the volcano on Thursday, 13th February – the day of the eruption. Our travel plans were made and everything was set, but we had to cancel the trip because of the fever.
I became numb as the reporter’s voice faded in the background, “The explosion could be heard from over 200 kilometres away… triggered an evacuation of 100,000 people … lives lost …”
A Blessing in Disguise
The news changed everything. 15 minutes ago we had been cursing our luck at falling ill and missing out, and now we were thanking our lucky stars. The fever saved us. It was a blessing in disguise.
Suddenly, Mona announced, ‘Thank you God for our fever”! On hearing Mona, a French lady from the nearby table said, “excuse me – are you two not well?” We both gave her a surprised look and nodded. She continued, “I keep telling the hotel manger to tell his staff not to mix so much chlorine in the water, but he doesn’t care. You should talk to him.”
That was it - that was the answer! According to the lady the hotel staff was mixing over 10 times the required amount of chlorine and other chemicals in the swimming pool.
And because we were spending hours in the pool, we were feeling sick. When we would feel slightly better, we would go for a swim, and the fever would be back.
All’s Well That Ends Well
Although we felt extremely sorry for those who lost their lives, we were extremely grateful to be alive. As we prayed for the families of those that were near the volcano at the time of the explosion, we couldn’t help feel extremely fortunate and think - all’s well that ends well.
If you’re looking for a more unique travel experience, one unspoilt by commercial tourist traps and crowds of happy snappers then you need to ditch the top travel destinations and dig a bit deeper for somewhere lesser known.
Here are 10 under the radar places to travel to in 2019:
1. Herdade da Comporta, Portugal
Known as the new Croatia, but without the crowded beaches. Herdade da Comporta is made up of a few beach villages along the west coast of Portugal about an hour’s drive from Lisbon. The area comprises of seven hamlets: Pego, Carvalhal, Brejos, Torre, Possanco, Carrasqueira and Comporta. A usual spot for a small crowd flocking in from around Europe, there are now a few more hotels being built so get yourself over there before everyone else hears about it.
2. Anguilla, Caribbean
If you’re looking for a secluded spot to completely relax and unwind, then Anguilla might just be the spot for you. With no local flights from the US, and no port for cruise ships to pull into, this Caribbean island remains quiet and peaceful. The island is very low-key, with luxurious retreats set up along the beachfront offering you a secluded haven for a few days (or weeks) of quiet.
3. Lombok, Indonesia
Beautiful Bali but without the crowds. Lombok is perfect for surfing, snorkelling, or just relaxing on the beautiful beaches. Not to mention the amazing waterfalls and volcanos to check out. Lombok is a great place to get involved with the local Indonesian culture, the indigenous culture is quite rich in Lombok as the natural scenery and local way of life has remained unchanged for hundreds of years.
4. Rangiroa, French Polynesia
Commonly known as Rangi among locals, Rangiroa is one of the biggest atolls in the world, with a lagoon so big that it could fit the entire island of Tahiti inside it. Rangi is the ‘big city’ of the Tuamotus archipelago with paved roads, shops, resorts, internet and gourmet restaurants. Besides that it is one of the most renowned diving sites with rich marine life just off shore.
5. Lofoten Islands, Norway
The Lofoten Islands in Norway will take your breath away, with the truly majestic mountains surrounding you. Because of the areas diverse landscape you can get up to many activities such as hiking, skiing, fishing, ocean rafting, scuba diving as well as surfing. Lofoten also has a strong connection to the Viking Age, so you can experience the Viking Age as it really was at the Lofotr Viking Museum.
6. Ladakh, India
Although Ladakh is located in the disputed area of Kashmir (the border between China and India), it is one of the safest areas in the region and is absolutely spectacular. You will find the beautiful lake of Pangong Tso, lined with dramatic mountains. Don’t expect luxury and easy travel though, Ladakh is very low-key, with simple living. Beware that road access requires crossing tortuous high passes which close altogether from around October to May (or longer when snows are heavy).
7. Luzon, Philippines
Luzon is the largest of the Philippines islands, as well as one of the largest in the world. Lined with spectacular mountains, bubbling volcanoes and tropical rainforests – you will definitely get your nature fix here. The north of the island is known as being the more ethnic and religiously diverse part of the Philippines while the south is known for its breath taking scenery.
8. Oaxaca, Mexico
If you’re looking for a culturally rich hiking trip, then the Sierra Norte Mountains in the Oaxaca region in Mexico is for you. The Sierra Norte Mountains are a biodiversity hotspot and home to the indigenous Zapotec people, who are only too happy to take you into their village and show you their way of life. Apart from hiking, you can go rafting through the turquoise blue river, or take a boat from Oaxaca's coast to watch for sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales.
9. Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert, Namibia
When thinking of travelling into Africa many people think only of safaris or beach holidays, so why not go hopping around the desert dunes in Namibia to be a bit different. These sand dunes are often referred to as the largest in the world, and offer plenty of activities in the region.
10. Bilbao, Spain
Skip Madrid and rather go explore the port city of Bilboa, Spain’s capital of modern architecture, this year. Some highlights of the city include Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum as well as the new Isozaki Atea – two dramatic 23-story glass residential towers designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. While Bilboa is more modern than other areas of Spain, you will still get to enjoy the delicious traditional cuisine at one of the many restaurants.
Columbia has ample reasons to attract tourists towards it like never before.
It is quite affordable and has attractive features to attract Americans as it is the closest American gateway in the south.
It has been on the hit list of travelers in the past few years and let me compile the best ten reasons, why anybody should visit Colombia.
10 Reasons to Visit Colombia:
Medellin in Bogota has the near perfect climate and a cosmopolitan atmosphere with a vibrant night market.
The city has become quite accessible by travelers after the death of the drug lord in the year 1993. The flower festival here is quite famous as well.
This is the best preserved and presented colonial city in entire South America. The narrow cobbled streets of the old town have massive balconies that are covered with rich bougainvillea plantation gives a feeling of a fairy tale, flourishing Bogota tourism.
Food and Drink:
There is not much culinary reputation here, and most of the cuisines here, to my surprise were un-spiced and unseasoned.
They were prepared simple with not much garnishing. But still there are few mouth-watering recipes here and fresh fish and fruits along the coast. Coffee here is un-comparable.
The reputation of Columbia is well preserved till today and the military here is the best.
The dangerous areas in Columbia are now kept in the far eastern side, well off from tourists.
Adventure and Sports:
Bogotá tourist information should cover this point and San Gil is the sports capital here.
There are cheap thrills here such as white water rafting, caving, horse riding etc.
The picturesque town of Barichara has beautiful pueblos, cobblestone streets acquainted with cafes and churches making a wonderful trip, for those who refrain from adventures and thrills.
The fishing village of Taganga is the best bargain destination that offers four day water courses for a very comfortable price.
The Tayrona national park and the Perdia are easy to reach from here and what Bogotá travel guides would guide their crew on.
This is located on a small stretch of the Caribbean coastline and is 93 square mile park with abundant attractions for nature lovers and hikers.
Its white sand beaches are best in Colombia. The park is also the home for many endangered species and birds.
Bogotá has about 122 km of roads for an excellent road ride by car and for cyclists to enjoy. The Plaza de Bolivar is the Gold museum of world heritage and has the best artefacts prepared by eminent artists.
Wondering where to ski, snowboard, snow tube, or ice skate this winter? The winter sports season is here so it’s time for a roundup of the six top ski and snowboard resorts in North Carolina.
Ski season in North Carolina typically runs from mid- to late November through early April. Sugar Mountain is the largest ski area in the state and Beech Mountain is reported to be the highest ski area in the eastern US.
North Carolina is home to six full-service ski areas with 90 slopes for all abilities, from beginner to double black diamond, as well as freestyle terrain parks, ice skating, tubing and much more.
When you make your winter ski and snowboard plans, look no further than these six great North Carolina ski resorts:
Cataloochee Ski Area
Enjoy a ski holiday on the exciting Cataloochee slopes in Maggie Valley, North Carolina! The Ski Area features winding trails and a friendly, helpful atmosphere. Twilight and night skiing are available every day from December 17, except for Christmas Eve.
With a top elevation of 5,400 feet and a base of 4,660 feet, the 770 feet of vertical drop offers a slope for every skill level. Cataloochee has 100% snowmaking coverage of their slopes that include eighteen skiing and snowboarding slopes and trails that are 44% beginner, 39% intermediate, and 17% advanced to expert.
Ski and snowboard lessons are available for everyone from the novice to advanced and Cataloochee has a huge line of rental equipment that is updated every year.
Maggie Valley and nearby Waynesville are family-friendly destinations all year long. You’ll find plenty of restaurants open during the winter where you can enjoy genuine southern hospitality in a relaxed and quaint town atmosphere.
If you need lodging, The Ski Area provides listings for lodging in the Maggie Valley / Waynesville area. You’re sure to find something to fit everyone’s taste and budget from rustic cabins to comfortable hotel rooms.
As a Maggie Valley local, I can attest that this area of Western North Carolina is a real treat everywhere you look. Check out my article that details sixteen things to do in Maggie Valley and get ideas for exciting activities that are available in the area.
Beech Mountain Ski Resort
Beech Mountain Ski Resort is near Elk Valley, NC and features 95 acres of skiable terrain with 17 slopes and trails , three beginner, seven intermediate, four advanced, two freestyle terrain area, in addition to a 700-foot long tubing park. Peak elevation is 5,506 feet – higher than any slope in the East. Vertical drop is 830 feet.
Lifts include four doubles, a quad and a high-speed quad with a panoramic vista of the local area.
If ice skating is more your style, there’s a 7000 square foot outdoor rink located in the center of the Beech Tree Village. If you have young children, kids 4 and under skate free with paying adult.
Anyone with physical challenges will love Beech Mountain Adaptive Snowsports Center which caters to kids and adults with disabilities.
Beech Mountain Resort also offers a state-of-the-art tubing park adjacent to the Alpine Village at the base of the slopes. With chutes up to 700 feet in length, all ages can enjoy an exhilarating ride. The tubing area is serviced by a magic carpet conveyor, which transports riders quickly to the top!
After a day on the slopes, check out Beech Mountain Brewing Company. The brewery provides the perfect atmosphere to relax after a long day of mountain activity and features a bi-level facility with a large fireplace that is accessible for all visitors. No need to participate in resort activities to visit, the brewery is open to the general public.
Ski the Wolf! Conveniently located in Mars Hill, NC just 5 miles off I-26 and 30 minutes north of Asheville, Wolf Ridge Ski Resort is a great destination for year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.
The Wolf is a family-oriented resort with 15 trail offerings for the ski, snowboard and tubing enthusiast. Lighted slopes mean that winter sports fun can be found day or night.
The rustic lodge overlooks the slopes and features three stone fireplaces with a large viewing area. A cafeteria, gift shop, rental shop, and group sales department can also be found in the lodge.
With a top elevation of 4,700 feet and a base elevation of 4,000 feet, skiers and snowboarders enjoy 700 feet of vertical drop. The lift system has 4 lifts total: 1 Quad, 1 Double, and 2 Moving Carpet Surface Lifts.
If you need lodging, there are several options from cabins, to townhomes, to nearby hotels.
Whether you are a beginner or expert, long-time regular or first-time visitor, you are sure to find exactly what you’re looking for at Wolf Ridge.
Appalachian Ski Mountain
Appalachian Ski Mountain in Blowing Rock, NC has twelve slopes, including two terrain parks and is serviced by one double chairlift, two quad chairlifts, two conveyor lifts, and one handle-pull lift.
The base lodge covers 46,000 square feet, is smoke-free, and has complimentary Wi-Fi in the restaurant.
Appalachian Ski Mtn. features 27 acres of skiable terrain with 12 slopes and trails with three beginner, six intermediate, and three advanced. Peak elevation is 4,000 feet and vertical drop is 365 feet.
North Carolina’s only Zamboni maintained outdoor ice rink, Appalachian Ski Mtn. offers an outdoor ice-skating arena as a great complement to the slopes and is fully lighted for skating under the stars seven nights a week. Skaters and non-skaters alike can view the action and warm up by the rinkside bonfire. Skate rentals in traditional figure skates, as well as hockey skates are available.
Appalachian Ski Mtn. is the perfect getaway all year long with several lodging options for those wanting to stay overnight.
The on-site restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Enjoy the amazing view of the slopes from the dining room where visitors can sit, relax and warm themselves by the large stone fireplace.
Sapphire Valley Ski Area
Sapphire Valley Ski Resort offers affordable snow sport opportunities as part of a 5700-acre four-season resort. The resort features a moderate slope fit for intermediate skiers and is ideal for youth and beginners.
Sapphire Valley is nestled in one of the most scenic corners of the Blue Ridge mountains and is the closest resort to Atlanta, GA. The resort offers 8 acres of skiable terrain with two trails, one beginner, one intermediate, and a 500-foot tube park. Peak elevation is 3,780 feet with a vertical drop of 200 feet.
A four-season resort, Sugar Mountain Resort is the largest resort in North Carolina and shines in the winter as a sought-after destination for skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, tubing, and ice skating. As a bonus, child care is available for an additional fee.
Located just off NC Hwy 184 approximately 2 miles east of Banner Elk, NC, Sugar Mountain is considered one of the premier winter sports destinations in North Carolina.
Sugar Mountain Resort features 125 acres of skiable area with 21 slopes and trails (seven beginner, 11 intermediate, three advanced), a tubing park and ice-skating rink. Sugar Mountain recently revamped its experience with new groomers and snow-making machines, new rental equipment, and a larger sports shop.
With a peak elevation of 5,300 feet and a vertical drop of 1,200 feet, Sugar Mountain has the most vertical drop of all NC ski areas. The longest run is 1.5 miles. Lifts include four doubles and one triple.
Sugar Mountain also offers a 700-foot, multi-lane tube run; ice skating; guided snowshoe tour; and public racing program.
Lodging options are extensive, so if you want to stay overnight or even longer, there are quite a few options to choose from. There are plenty of dining options too, so everyone in your party should find something to their liking.
So, choose a season, any season, and enjoy the incredible views and amenities of Sugar Mountain, North Carolina.
Check out any or all six North Carolina options for skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports activities! Choose from:
I’m certainly not the only one who has been wondering what a Krampuslauf is all about and how on earth it’s relevant to the festive and happy Christmas holidays every time December rolls around.
Before visiting Graz, Austria, I had never heard of a Krampuslauf, but I’d definitely seen a few Facebook and YouTube videos float by over the last few years featuring wild demons dancing through the night and scaring the children around the streets of Austria. Initially, I was sure it was a prank, or perhaps a Halloween tradition celebrated a little too late in the season, until the film Krampus came out in 2015.
Krampus and the Krampuslauf are definitely a thing.
More specifically, it is a traditional Austrian procession that tells the story of a folklore tale about Krampus, an anthropomorphic creature (half-goat, half-demon) who punishes children who have misbehaved throughout the year.
Instead of Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus) leaving a lump of coal in your stocking when you’re naughty in North America, the children of Austria are whipped and punished by these horrific demons that roam the streets early in December.
Despite the fact that I feel like I’m about to write you a horror novel, the Krampuslauf was one of the coolest, wildest, most adrenaline pumping experiences of my life. So, before I go on to tell you a bit more about the stories that lie behind the Krampuslauf, I want to tell you that this is definitely something you need to add to your travel experience list when visiting Graz, Austria in the winter time.
And now it’s time to tell the story…
Who and what exactly is Krampus?
This horned half-goat, half-demon is a folklore figure often described to have obscenely large horns, a thick furry body, massive hooves and the devil’s eyes. He is often seen wearing and/or carrying baskets full of birch sticks, chains, horse hair and might just breathe fire when you’re least expecting it.
Fun Fact: The word Krampus derives from the old Germanic word “Krampen” which in English means ‘claw’
Krampus is said to be one of Saint Nicholas’ companions and is not just known in Graz, Austria, but around the entire country and in other neighbouring countries like Croatia, Southern Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic and Northern Italy.
While many international traditions are quite different, there are a number of European countries who celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. In countries like Austria and Germany, St. Nicholas comes on the night of December 6th shortly after the children have put their boots out on the doorstep and have fallen asleep, and stuffs the children’s boots full of chocolate, candy and money. However, for the children who have been bad, their boots will lay empty and they’ll have another surprise waiting for them in the shadows of the night.
The night before December 6th (St. Nicholas Day) is known as Krampus Night (Krampusnacht).
As the story goes, Krampus will come out, punish the naughty children and then bring them down into the underworld with him where they will never be seen again.
Are you scared yet? How would you like to experience a parade of more than 400 Krampuses running through the dark alleys of the town?
What is the Krampuslauf?
The Krampuslauf is a traditional parade known in English as the Krampus Run. I had the opportunity to experience the Krampuslauf at the “Advent Market” close to the City Hall in Graz, Austria this year and I couldn’t wait to tell you all about it.
During this festive Christmas procession (the Krampuslauf) in Graz, many of the Krampuses were played by young local men and women. They dressed up in goat and/or sheep skin suits, strapped animal horns to their heads and often wore hand carved masks. We also found a lot of modern outfits which consisted of latex masks, fake fur and hand crafted weapons. However, regardless of which costume they chose, one thing was for sure… the Krampuslauf was terrifying!
The event started at 4:00 PM and in the dead of winter, the sun started to set rather quickly. It was only after a few Krampuses had made their first entrance out onto the streets when the sky fell to dusk and the fire breathing Krampuses started lighting the path along the Herrengasse. The parade lasted 2 hours and despite the freezing cold temperatures, I was filled with excitement waiting to see what might be lurking around the next corner. There were more than 400 gruesome creatures dancing the streets that evening. Many of them were whipping the legs of children, stealing hats and often handing out Krampus schnapps (a fruit brandy) to the adults in the crowd.
However, there is one very important part that I’m missing here, and that is that during the Krampuslauf, there were more creatures in attendance. Saint Nikolaus, Perchten, angels and old women also made guest appearances throughout the night.
The Perchten and the angels made their appearances during the Krampuslauf in white or black feathers/wings and dresses. The Perchten are typically a group of women who roam the streets in brown wooden masks and sheepskin warding off the evil and saving the children from Krampus. They also often have their own day of celebration around the winter solstice and the 6th of January, but have been known to make an appearance at many Krampuslaufen around Austria in recent years.
Fun Fact: The word Perchten derives from the old Germanic word “Perchta” which in English means ‘bright or brilliant’
To be completely honest, I’m not really sure why Saint Nicholas plays a role in his counterparts (Krampus) big procession, but it definitely made for a thrilling performance!
Where did Krampus and the Krampuslauf originate?
As the legend goes, Krampus is a folklore figure that dates back to the pre-Christian traditions in the Alpine regions. However, the unique part about this mythical figure is that no one really seems to know exactly where and when he made his first appearance. Though it is to be said that Krampus may have derived from the form of the Horned God of the Witches.
What is the Horned God of the Witches you ask?
Well, the Horned God of the Witches is known as the creator or god that was found in Wicca traditions. Wicca is a pagan witchcraft that was developed in England throughout the beginning of the 20th century and had a heavy focus on ritual practices.
This Horned God represented the masculine part of the Wicca religion, while the feminine part was represented by the Mother Goddess or the Triple Goddess of the Moon. He represented the life cycle of the people in regards to nature, sexuality, hunting and wilderness.
Or, instead of the Horned God of the Witches, Krampus could have also derived from Hel, the goddess of the dead.
What is a Hel Goddess you ask?
Well, the Hel Goddess is the ruler of Hel (or as we in English, know it as “Hell”) or the ruler of the underworld where many of the dead are laid to rest.
Fun Fact: The word “Hel” derives from the Old Norse language, a Germanic language spoken only by the Vikings. Hel in English actually means “hidden”, get it? The ‘hidden’ underworld?
The Hel Goddess has been known for many generations as being cruel, greedy and nasty. She was often recognized as half-white and half-black with a particularly gruesome appearance (similar to Krampus).
Or, instead of the Hel Goddess, Krampus could have derived from a pagan supernatural similar to the Christian devil.
Of course, I could go on forever about all the different myths and stories about how and where Krampus originates from, but one thing is for sure, Krampus is half-goat and half-demon and comes from the underworld (which many of us know in English as ‘Hell’).
Of course, in addition to Krampus himself, many of the objects that Krampus carries with him on the night of the Krampuslauf have significant meanings too.
The metal chains: signify the Christian phrase of “binding the devil”
The wrapped birch twigs: were commonly used during witchcraft initiations
The Krampus schnapps: a strongly brewed batch of fruit brandy perhaps just um…. celebrates the occasion?
What makes the Graz Krampuslauf so special?
The old town of Graz offers a perfect magical Christmas fairytale setting, so much so that when the Krampuses come out for a run, it sends tingles down your spine, as if you weren’t expecting it.
You can spend the entire day sipping on mulled wine (Glühwein), eating Styrian favourites and singing Christmas carols, but when the sun sets, the entire feeling of the city changes. The windows vibrate with the sounds of growls, roars and clanking chains, suspenseful music blasts out of the speakers from chained cars and wagons, and fireballs light up the night sky. The experience of the Graz Krampuslauf is truly one of a kind and can only be described as bone chilling, exhilarating and a must see for all ages!
What’s even more unique for the region of Styria, is that the wrapped birch twigs (as mentioned above) have a very special role in family households. These wrapped twigs are called Ruten bundles and are often presented by Krampus to families around the region. These bundles are spray painted gold and to be put up on display in the family household for the entire year. Why? Because this gold bundle of birch twigs will remind all the children that Krampus is never far away and will always know when you’ve done something naughty.
Tips to Conquering the Krampuslauf in Graz
There’s no doubt that the Krampuslauf is a popular event for locals and visitors alike. People fly from all over the world to experience this one of a kind event. That means that you won’t be the only one in attendance, so you’re definitely going to have to plan a little bit in advance.
Make sure you arrive 30 - 45 minutes early
When we first arrived in Graz, we assumed being 20 minutes early to the Krampuslauf would leave us plenty of room to find the best spot along the route. Boy, were we wrong! The Krampuslauf runs along the Herrengasse to the City Hall and is absolutely packed with visitors. So, remember to head there at least 30 minutes prior to the start of the procession.
Find the best place to stand
Even if you’ve managed to snag a front row spot for the Krampuslauf, there’s definitely better locations and sub-par locations as to where you can be standing. If you’re not too eager to snap photos during the event, this tip might not be as important to you. However, if you’re hoping to take photos, make sure you’re standing in front of the barriers at a turning point. As soon as the Krampuslauf starts, the Krampuses make a turn along the Herrengasse, this is where I was, and I can highly recommend it!
Don’t forget that it’s the beginning of December which means the temperatures will drop and it can get pretty chilly once the sun goes down. You might be filled with adrenaline and excitement, but make sure you don’t forget to pack that warm jacket, mittens and a hat!
More tips for Graz, Austria
Have I sold you on visiting Graz during the winter season? Good!
Just don’t forget that there is a ton more to do in the city of Graz while you’re there. Actually, so much so, that I’ve also put together the Ultimate Winter Weekend Guide to Graz to help you create the perfect itinerary while you’re visiting.
Of course, no trip to Graz in the winter is complete without a few too many cups of Glühwein!
Looking for something a little different to do in Europe? A different mode of transport, perhaps?
If you’re anything like us, you’re probably always looking for a new adventure, something a little unusual.
So if you want to make a James Bond style entrance between countries then we’ve got just the adventure for you.
Glacier Express to Chamonix
This trip starts in the usual way with a train ride on the Glacier Express into Chamonix, but it’s no ordinary train. Think large glass windows to make the most of those stunning views through the European Alps. And if you’re lucky, the driver may just let you up in the cabin to see what’s ahead.
Picture Perfect Chamonix
Once you’ve arrived in Chamonix you’ll no doubt want to have a look around – the town is picture-book perfect and easy enough to get around on foot in a day. But don’t just stick to the town, there are dozens of walks you can do in the surrounding mountains, and if you’re not really a walker, cablecars will help you get to the top in no time to make the most of those views.
Where to Stay
We stayed just outside the town centre at Chalet Les Frenes in Les Bossons. The Bed and Breakfast/hostel is nestled at the foot of Mont Blanc and has amazing vistas up to the Alps. There is also an outdoor hot tub with views across the mountain range so make sure you take your bathers.
Hiking to Lac Blanc
We walked up the stunning La Flagere and took the four hour walk to Lac Blanc, up to 2352 metres – yep, it’s all up hill. But the views are worth it and if you’re lucky, you might even see some wildlife along the way. We saw two ibex, meandering around the lake.
The walk took us up into the snow line and provided stunning views across the French Alps. The views across to the Mont Blanc mountain range are awe-inspiring, even covered with cloud.
Crossing International Borders
But what does this have to do with James Bond? I hear you asking.
You’ll need to set aside a day or two for this adventure, and pack lightly! You really don’t want to be lugging around a whole lot of stuff, after all that’s very un-James Bond like behavior.
We can’t stress enough how much we loved this experience – traveling from France to Italy via cablecar. That’s right, you’re going to cross international borders from your own little pod swinging across the top of Europe.
The Cablecar Ride
You’ll be doing a bit of cablecar hopping here, so bear with us. First up, from the Chamonix city center head up to Aiguille Du Midi at 3842m. From here you’ll have amazing views over the mountain ranges, and into Chamonix below. The views are awe-inspiring, dramatic mountains all around.
But it’s the trip from Aiguille Du Midi across to Helbronner in Italy that will really take your breath away. The journey lasts about half an hour – including regular stops so that you can adequately photograph the surrounding mountains – oh and so passengers can get on and off.
From here, on a clear day, you’ll be able to see the Mer De Glace, Mont Blanc - the highest mountain in Europe - and the Swiss, French and Italian alps.
You’ll see brave souls wandering across the barren landscape, and the crevices and rock faces they’ll have to tackle.
The cable cars themselves travel in threes, with two people in each car, it’s an eerie feeling to be in such a quiet car suspended between the mountains swinging across the top of Europe.
Helbronner – officially on the border of France and Italy – sits at 3462 metres.
You could take a cable car back, but we’d recommend staying overnight in Italy and checking out the Italian Alps.
From Hellbronner you’ll need to take another cable car down through Rifugio Torino at 3335 metres, Pavillon Du Mont Frety, at 2173 m and into La Palud at 1370m.
Stay in either La Palud or the larger, nearby, Courmayeur. We stayed in La Palud, but ate in Courmayeur. Both are pretty, but there’s more choice of hotels and restaurants in Courmayeur.
We had the biggest pizza we’ve ever had in Courmayeur at the Pizzeria Ristorante Du Tunnel.
And you’ll probably want to have a martini with dinner… shaken not stirred!
To be honest, my tour through the heartland of OZ was the first ever real camping experience for me, but because of this I feel that I can share my findings with other likewise inexperienced travellers so as to prepare them for what is involved.
Here my tips for camping in Australia
In Australia, the swag is the way to go. Sure, on some tours and inbetween there will be hostel beds (whether soft and clean or not is a different matter altogether) as well as tin shed bungalows, but the real way to spend the night is in a sleeping bag. Now, it doesn’t have to be a swag every night, sometimes there are tent or safari huts, but a sleeping bag will be your essential Aussie experience. Just make sure to check the night temperatures before buying one. They need to fit the season.
Speaking of sleeping bags, the less is more clothingwise. I know it doesn’t seem to make sense, but if you want to be warm, wear less. The bags are designed to give back your body warmth, but it won’t work if you trap it in your clothes.
This deserves its own category since it should be your constant companion. The sun is not your friend and you will easily dehydrate. Drink about a litre every hour that you are walking. I really mean it, you will need water even if you are not thirsty yet. A hat can only protect you so much from a heat stroke but dehydration through constant sweating and hiking trips should not be a problem if you carry your 1.5 to 2 litre water bottle with you at all times. There are water stations at every toilet as well as signs reminding you to drink near the big attractions so you will have no excuse not to fill up.
Other items on your essential list should include sun lotion (seriously, put it on!), insect repellent as well as a torch. Out there in the wild you will need a light to find your way over leaves and branches, making sure not to step on a resting blackadder and over to the toilets at the other end of the camp. Sure, the lights from the moon and stars are insanely bright, but you might camp in a forest and should be prepared for darkness. Also, wallabies like to creep up and this way you can see their reflecting eyes coming towards you. Might be a bit scary, though.
Don’t bring the good clothes with you or even lightly coloured ones. The red sand will conquer them and the stains don’t wash out. I’ve tried and failed. In one of our camps they even sold dirt shirts. Maybe I should do that, too and throw some dirty socks in the mix? Would anyone be interested in buying that?
That said, even if you flash a torchlight at some creepy crawlers they might be utterly unimpressed and you still need to make the effort of moving around them. I saw spiders playing dead and wallabies trying to enter a staring contest with me. Speaking of Wallabies. Do not underestimate them. They might look cute and cuddly, but will raid or even eat through your bags to get to food. Put everything away safely and don’t be alarmed when they come running towards you and seeking through leaves next to your very ear. They actually can be scary but are harmless.
Other guests will include mozzies as the Aussies like to call mosquitos, a constant source of blowflies, lizards and grasshoppers. If you camp near a source of water in the Northern Territory there might also be crocodiles but they are too lazy and hopefully well fed to bother walking all the way up to where you sleep.
Another important thing to realize before deciding on camping is hygiene. It might be obvious, but there are no water pipes and soap dispensers in the bush. If there is a toilet at all, it will be a self composting one, which is basically a loo that goes to a hole in the ground with lots of bacteria turning its content into fertilizer. But that’s about it. Toilet paper and nothing more. Sometimes there is water, sometimes there isn’t. Carry a hand sanitizer with you is all I’m saying.
Sure you could also pour the water you’ve brought with you over your hands but that would be pretty wasteful since it is meant to be drunk and you certainly need it in the desert like countryside. The fill up tank in the tour guide’s van (or hopefully in your own if you drive yourself) should be used exclusively for drinking. Water is valuable out here. You could decide on carrying a container with untreated water with you if you really feel like you need it. Believe me, I can relate to your poking your nose. I used to be a germophobe. The outback toughens you up.
Dawn is your wakeup call and dusk your lullaby. Do it like in the old days before electricity became a commonplace thing: organise your day with the sun. You see much more getting up before the first bird song and being out and about. Trust me, I am a night owl and had trouble coping but at lunch time I had already been on my feet for 9 hours and had seen so many great things, it is well worth it. Plus, you can sleep on the car or bus, unless you’re driving, of course.
Another obvious one are price tags. Anything that needs to be brought up to the outback is more costly. Think double the price in supermarkets and liquor shops – especially the ones in small towns and – as always – at petrol stations and in roadhouses. Ice cream to go stays relatively cheap, which is handy since that is one kind of food you don’t want to be bringing with you in the heat. So, for instance, if you head out to Ayers Rock from Alice Springs, pack your groceries in a cooler bag. The resort over at the rock does have a supermarket and little stores but the prices are higher.
You are in the outback so do not expect lots of landscape changes. The longer you drive – and you will certainly drive long distances – the more the landscape does change but not radically. There might be less tress, more bushlands and ultimately just sand and a couple of grass patches but it can be a dreary ride. So make sure to stop every now and then to rest yourself if you get to weary. You might even spot a rare thorny devil or snake slithering away under a shady rock. Just don’t try to touch anything. You never know what it would do in Australia.
Even boring rides are part of the magic of an Australian road trip. In such a big country driving for hours on end without seeing more than just a handful of cars can be refreshing and should be embraced. If that makes you feel unsafe, you can always notify the authorities about your travel plans, but if you stay on the roads and keep your tank full, there is no problem.
If you demand luxury and comfort from a trip to the outback you are doing it wrong. Sure, you can choose to stay at a luxury resort at Ayers Rock with exquisite dining facilities and spa but at one point you have to put on your hiking boots and go out there, getting sand into your hair, sticky sunscreen on your skin and sweating like a pig in the baking sun. And do this for hours without a toilet. It goes without saying that you should drink enough, walk a lot and don’t complain.
Also, please be not one of those tourists that walk along Ayers Rock without glancing up, those who trample on its environment and do not appreciate the honour of being on such sacred Aboriginal grounds. Be considerate and be grateful.
Another big factor is common sense. Do not do anything stupid or reckless; the outback is relentless and can kill you in a second. For instance, do not take jumping pictures on a hanging cliff, do not climb beyond fences or walk without watching your step. It could be slithery rocks or slithering snakes, but ultimately, your eyes and brains should be fully functional and veered to where you are walking and what you are doing. It’s that simple.
I hope I haven’t scared you off. I was a bit reluctant and sceptical as to how a trip to the outback would be seeing that I always hated the idea of camping and adding to that the dangers that Australia has plenty of, it seemed like a task that might be too much. It wasn’t.
I loved it and would always do it again!
See if the outback doesn’t make you fall head over heels. I dare you!
Functional or stylish? We’ve all had to make that decision before regarding what type of daypack we should get for our next big trip.
While deep down we know we should go for functional, the strong desire to still look good while traipsing through the airport duty free section often over-rides. What ultimately happens is sore shoulders from bad straps and frustration when you can’t find anything in your bag and have to unpack everything just to find your passport!
Luckily, those days are over with a huge range of both functional and stylish daypacks on the market. These daypacks can be used for all sorts of activities, from carry-ons to bags used for your daily commute. You can now look stylish while perfectly carry everything that you need while on the go.
It can be tricky to find a decent daypack though, so we’ve done the hard work for you and asked around to find the top 10 functional & stylish daypacks currently on the market.
Top 10 Functional & Stylish Daypacks
Listed in order of price (from lowest to highest).
1. The North Face Vault
This one is for the slightly sportier folk. It is one of North Face’s slightly less rugged options. Featuring a FlexVent, suspension system with compression-moulded shoulder straps and a ventilated back pad. It also has a 15” laptop sleeve in the main compartment and comes in a variety of colours and patterns.
This daypack comes in a variety of colours and patterns, from floral designs to two-tone colours. It fits up to 15” laptops and has a spacious interior with various compartments. The padded straps make it comfortable to carry for long periods of time.
This daykpack can easily be used for both the office and exploring the great outdoors. It has a padded back and shoulders, making it really comfortable to wear for long periods of time. It has a drawstring close and buckle-strap for aesthetic purposes. The main compartment is roomy with a padded laptop sleeve and two side pockets. It comes in a variety of colours, including a few fun floral designs.
This daypack is made with 100% recycled polyester with a water repellent finish, making it durable and large enough to hold everything that you’d need while on the go. The main compartment is generous with an exterior zipped stash pocked and an interior padded laptop sleeve that protects most 15” laptops.
This stylish daypack has three external zip pockets and a spacious main compartment with large laptop fleece-lined padded sleeve. The main section has a drawstring and magnetic closure, and the back and shoulder straps are padded. What’s even more awesome about this daypack is that for every bag bought, a matching backpack will be filled with school supplies and donated to a child in need!
6. Herschel Supply Co. Little America Mid-Volume Backpack
This Herschel pack has a fleece lined laptop sleeve pocket, as well as ventilated mesh back padding, keeping you cool while on the go. The front magnetic buckles give it an old-fashioned rucksack feel, and this one also comes in various colours and designs (including the popular floral design). There aren’t as many compartments as some other bags, with only the main section and one outside pocket.
This Swedish daypack was designed to work well for both Nordic escapes and city galivanting – while still looking stylish. The interior laptop pocket will fit a 14” laptop and there is a big exterior pocket that will hold a decent amount of goodies to save you rummaging in the main compartment. It comes in petrol blue, blue, and black.
This backpack features a funky square look and comes in a range of bright colours – don’t worry, they also have the generic black and grey if that’s more your vibe. There is a laptop sleeve in the main compartment, along with a document sleeve. On the outside there’s a small external pocket where you can store your other goodies.
If you’re all about living the minimalist life then this daypack is for you. They come in either black, navy, or white. While it looks super basic from the outside, it’s not lacking any features. It is built from 500D Cordura and lined with water-resistant YKK zippers. Overall it can carry 18 litres, and can fit a 15” laptop in its internal sleeve.
This daypack features a military backpack design. MIS stands for ‘Make It Simple’, which is exactly what this daypack is about. The exterior is water-resistant and it has a self-repairing YKK zipper. The interior has a 15” laptop pouch and a small mesh pocket for easy access and organisation (the perfect place to keep your passport!). It can also carry up to 18 litres.
Mahabaleshwar is a charming hill station located in Satara district of Maharashtra. At an altitude of 1,353 m in the Western Ghats range, Mahabaleshwar is known for its fascinating beauty, ancient temples, gorgeous waterfalls, misty hills, and valleys.
This pristine hill station is the source of the Krishna River that flows across Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Mahabaleshwar is one of the top monsoon destinations in India and also one of the best weekend getaways from Mumbai and Pune.
There are several viewpoints that are strategically located to capture the panoramic views. Arthur’s Seat, Wilson Point, Kate’s Point & Elephant head Point, Connaught Peak and Bombay Point are popular viewpoints.
6 popular tourist places to visit in Mahabaleshwar
Elephant’s Head Point & Kate’s Point
Elephant's Head Point or Needle Point is one of the most popular vantage points in Mahabaleshwar. It is named after Kate, daughter of Sir John Malcom, founder of Mahabaleshwar. The overhanging cliffs of this point are similar to the head of an elephant and its trunk. Thus, the point named as Elephant's Head Point and is among the best tourist attractions in Mahabaleshwar. This vantage point is the extreme end of the mountain range and lies beyond the Lodwick Point.
Mahabaleshwar Temple is an ancient temple situated in Old Mahabaleshwar. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple is one of the most popular Mahabaleshwar tourist places. The temple was built in South Indian Hemadant style. The temple is enclosed by a 5 foot wall and is divided into two areas, the sanctum sanctorum and the central hall. The main sanctum has Shiva linga made of black stone, which is 500 years old swayambhu lingam. This self-originated lingam is in the shape of Rudraksha and is called Mahalingam. It is considered to be superior to the twelve Jyothir Lingams. The trishul of Lord Shiva along with his Damru, Rudraksha and one bed has been preserved in this temple and these are around 300 years old.
Popularly known as Queen of the Points, Arthur Seat Point is the most popular viewpoint in Mahabaleshwar and among the top places to experience Mahabaleshwar Tourism. This place is named after Arthur Mallet, the first man to build a house at this point. Situated at an altitude of 1340 m, Arthur Point is surrounded by the deep Savitri gorge on one side and a lush green plateau on the other side.
The gravitational force of the earth at this point is minimum and lighter objects thrown into the valley are said to fly up due to this reverse force. One can also see Tiger's spring, the source of Savitri River. Arthur's Seat is the largest of the three parts of the Arthur's Seat Volcano site of special scientific interest which is designated to protect its important geology grassland habitats and uncommon plant and animal species.
Pratapgad, also known as Pratapgarh, is a huge hill fort located in Satara district of Maharashtra. At an altitude of 1080 m, Maratha king Shivaji Maharaj had constructed the fort in 16th century to defend the banks of Nira River, Koyna River and Par pass. Pratapgarh Fort is among the best forts in Maharashtra and among the top place to visit in Mahabaleshwar and one of the best historical forts near Pune. Pratapgad consists of two parts. The upper fort houses several buildings, including a Mahadev Temple and the lower fort houses Bhavani Temple on the eastern side.
Krishnabai / Krishna Devi Temple
Krishnabai Temple is an old temple situated in Old Mahabaleshwar near Panch Ganga temple. The temple was built in 1888 by a ruler of Ratnagiri on a hilltop overlooking the Krishna valley. The Temple has a Shiva lingam and a statue of Lord Shiva. The temple is considered to be the source of Krishna River. A small stream of water from a cow-face (gomukh) flows into a water tank and further joins other water sources to form a full-fledged river. The temple is also known for its stone carvings and architecturally acclaimed ceiling. It also offers enchanting views of the Krishna valley and surrounding countryside.
Venna Lake & Dam
Venna Lake is a manmade lake constructed in 1842 by Sri Appa Saheb Maharaja. Venna Lake has an area of about 28 acres having periphery around 7-8 km and is fed by repeated springs. Surrounded by lush greenery, Venna Lake is a very popular spot among honeymooners as well as families and also one of the top places to visit in Mahabaleshwar town. Tourists can enjoy a boat ride in the lake or a horse ride next to the lake. Row and Pedal boats are available for the tourists.
Often referred to as the gay capital of Southern Europe, over the past twenty years Barcelona has become one of the world’s favourite LGBT destinations for tourists from every side of the globe…
The city is known for having an open and liberal lifestyle, something that is highly reflected in its vibrant LGBT scene of cool clubs, bars, and restaurants. So we thought it was only fitting that we wrote a...
Guide to some of our favourite LGBT hot spots in Barcelona:
The heart of Barcelona’s gay party scene lies within the Eixample district, aptly nicknamed Gayxample or Gaixample.
The streets around Carrer de Casanova and above the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes are full of fantastic gay hangouts, restaurants, boutiques, sex shops, nightclubs, and even gay saunas.
The area with the most gay bars and clubs is located near Carrer de la Diputació and Carrer d’ Aragó. Some of the most popular bars here include:
• Punto BCN Café
• Moeem Bar
However, undoubtedly the city’s most famous gay club is Arena Classic (also called Aire Club on Thursdays.) Arena Classic comes alive on the weekend with go-go and cage dancers, great music, affordable drinks, and makeshift dark rooms.
Another great option close to Arena is Metro Club, also a popular LGBT choice in the city with multiple dance floors, dark rooms, and extraordinary shows.
Known as being one of Barcelona’s trendiest neighbourhoods, it’s no surprise that Gracia is home to plenty of cool bars and LGBT hangouts.
Two of our favourites include The New Chaps Gay Bar on Avinguda Diagonal (a great spot to grab a beer with a chilled atmosphere) and Café Tenderete near Plaça del Sol, which offers craft cocktails and a delicious range of vegan tapas.
Few know that the city’s first lesbian bar (La Sal) was in fact found within the many winding streets of the Raval Quarter. Today, the Raval neighbourhood is growing in popularity amongst the LGBT community and is also home to plenty of our favourite LGBT hot spots!
We recommend La Casa de la Pradera that serve a free tapa with every drink, and Pervert Club, where you will usually find a younger crowd and a range of electronic music.
Going to the beach is always a good idea in Barcelona, but the city also has a selection of beaches favoured by the local gay community. Platja de Sant Sebastià, located at the end of Barceloneta by Hotel W, is a beach where clothing is optional. Platja de la Mar Bella is also popular amongst the gay and nudist communities.
Just 35km southwest of Barcelona is Sitges, Spain’s gay beach resort. This beautiful seaside town has long been a major destination for gay tourists because of its large number of gay clubs and bars. In February, the town’s LGBT community also takes a leading role in Sitges’ wild Carnaval celebrations, something that just can’t be missed...
Events and Festivals
Every summer since 2008, Barcelona has hosted one of the main gay pride celebrations in the whole of Europe: Pride Barcelona. For one full week, the city celebrates with both protest and festivity, cementing Barcelona’s part in the fight for complete LGBT rights and freedom.
Barcelona’s most famous summer clubbing event is Circuit Festival, an 11 day party with more than 15 parties, 40 DJS, and tens of thousands of people. Every year they host a waterpark day event where you can head to Illa Fantasia water park in Vilassar de Dalt, a village just north of Barcelona. For many, this trip is the highlight of the whole festival!
The International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
FICGLB, The International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival is held in October every year in Barcelona. Films from a range of genres (animation, feature films, short films, and documentaries) compete in a number of categories, while the festival promotes tolerance and respect for different sexualities and identities. For €4 a ticket, you’d be foolish to miss this.
Every year Barcelona sports club Panteres Grogues, hosts an international multi-sport tournament for the LGBT community. Attendees will be able to take advantage of the summer season playing sports such as football, padel, beach volleyball, squash, and yoga. There are also social events during the tournament like group dinners, brunches, and after parties.
Organised every Saturday night by the Matinée group, the Girlicious Party for women takes over Bloc club, while on Sunday evenings, monthly parties like La Ká at Sala Plataforma, and Churros con Chocolate at Sala Apolo take place.
It’s no surprise that Barcelona is one of Europe’s most popular LGBT cities, so what are you waiting for? Come and join the party.