wandering the mountains

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Winding roads led us to the countryside of France, bordering the alps and Ecrins national park where the mountains met the cascading waterfalls. With bread and cheese in our packs we chose a path that navigated us though a forest-ridden path and over some mountains. Not a person in sight. Only the calming sound of water rushing in the valley – which only got louder as we reached the large waterfall at the end of the path, finishing just beneath a lone tree.

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Later, we came across a stunning curtain of water streaming down the cliff-side. Stumbling over and up the rocks which had fallen over the edge, we made it to the bottom of the cascade where the freezing mountain water pooled next to us. Nature at its finest.

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Gap was a quaint city, just outside the park border. We arrived on a Sunday, and if you combine Sunday in France with a small town you don’t end up with a lot to do. The streets were empty except from a group of elderly men playing bowls in the square by the cathedral. But the grass was green and the sky was blue and the water was fresh.

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cafes, canals & coffeeshops ~Amsterdam~

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Amsterdam was like a picturesque scene every turn of a corner. It was a blur of fresh mint tea in the light Friday afternoon sun and late night apple pie at Winkel’s after sitting outside a coffee shop around the corner. People sat along the riverside as the sun shone brightly, picnicking with friends or just admiring the passers-by.

We explored the area of Jordaan which we were staying in; each street was a row of Dutch houses, perfectly aligned but sometimes jagged as the ground has sunk over time – creating mini leaning towers. And the cafes of course, vegan food galore all over the city. We wandered in and out of galleries and shops in the nine shopping streets, all the while taking caution to avoid the bicycles streaming fast down the cobblestone streets.

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The tulips lining the streets of Amsterdam were nothing compared to the rows and rows of colour just an hour away from the city in the Keukenhof gardens. Flowers of every colour stretched for miles and miles, and everything from red tulips to cherry blossoms could be found. Fortunately, the classic Amsterdam cold and rainy weather was in hiding and the sun came out for us; the perfect opportunity to eat strawberries and cream in the grass surrounded by flowers and happy dogs and children.

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One of my favourite things about the city is that while each street looks similar at first, but deceptively is the opposite. Down each cosy alleyway is hidden coffee shops, cafes, boutiques, busy people and something new to explore – just mind the bikes tied up against the railings…

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Mallorcan sunsets

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Mallorca was a white-sand, blue doorway dreamland. As the sun rose we were flying into the island from Barcelona and the light touched the expanse below us, from the green fields to the blue beaches. Palm trees filled the city centre and every doorway was picturesque. Our airBnB was a little out of Palma in the tiny town of Esporles. Our Spanish host greeted us, along with her strange dog and a shy cat. We explored the medieval town by foot, getting lost in the streets only to turn a corner and realise we were back in the town centre only 5 minutes later. Orange trees surrounded the villas atop the hill and palm trees guarded the larger, white houses from trespassers.

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Our first Mallorcan meal was not particularly traditional, but it certainly brought back memories of being home in Australia eating brunch by the water’s edge.

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Across the island you’ll find Porto Cristo, a haven of white sand and crystal clear, blue water. It’s the perfect place to soak up the sun after descending into the depths of their famous staglite caves. The light reflects off the roof tops where millions of icickles dangle, it seems as though the slightest movement would end in shattered glass on the ground.

Once we explored the up-hill streets of the town and found a deserted look-out area to take in the views of the water beneath us, we headed back to Palma. The city was buzzing with people in the streets ; ducking in and out of boutiques or drinking aperos while people watching on the sidewalks.

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tapas and sangria

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The sunshine greeted us from the first moment in Barcelona, and after filling up on paella and sangria at the local restaurant the conversations flowed from life and love to travel and futures and everything in between. The next day we found ourselves winding through tiny streets of gothic town eyeing the washing dangling over the window sills in the tiny apartments. We ended up by the ocean, calmed by the eb and flow of the water as I watched people run along the shoreline and soaked up the sun rays.

Afternoons spent laying in the park as music played from all corners surrounding us and a street performer entertained the intrigued crowds. As the sky turned from blue to hues of orange as the sun went down, we made our way to an underground bar; an atmosphere enhanced by the dimly lit wall of liquors behind the bar and the looming Marilyn Monroe propped up in place of a window.

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After traipsing around the Gaudi’s intricately mosaicked Park Güell we stopped at a small Mexican tapas restaurant with colours jumping off the walls and the smell of fresh tortilla chips and chili filling the air. Our plates overflowed with bright avocado, beans, Mexican cheese and cooked cactus (which tasted surprisingly good).

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Finally, after wandering down tiny alleyways which opened into beautiful Plazas cornered off by cafes, we ended our final night in Barcelona in El National: a rather expensive-looking warehouse of bars and eateries. Perched at a bar with a Spanish waiter serving too many glasses of wine to us, we ate and drank and talked and watched the people pass by until the hours turned into the next morning.

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Norwegian Woods

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Norway was like a rush of emotion on the best kind of days. Colour, light and ecstasy floated in the air and everywhere we turned was beauty. Flying over the twilight-lit landscapes which evolved from abandoned frozen lakes to lush tree tops guarding small houses by the river was the best welcome we could have asked for.

After stepping off the plane into Oslo we slept for a night before taking the ‘most beautiful train ride in the world’ – which certainly did live up to its name as we watched about different Norwegian landscapes open up before us: rivers, green-moss covered fields, snow-capped mountains in the distance and thick, snow covered ski-fields. Eventually (after a little train mishap) we arrived in Bergen just as the rain was starting to fall.

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Norway’s beauty welcomed us again the next morning, as we ascended the mountain and got lost in the forest. Surprisingly, thick layers of snow were nowhere to be seen and instead we were immersed in the green of moss-covered rocks and fast-flowing streams. Each time we climbed higher over we were greeted with natures wonders on one side and Bergen’s quaint houses on the other. We were lost in the beauty of the forest for 4 hours or so before a cold front hit at the same time as hunger pangs…

Be fearless. Have the courage to take risks. Go where there are no guarantees. Get out of your comfort zone, even if it means being uncomfortable. The road less travelled is sometimes fraught with barricades, bumps, and uncharted terrain. But it is on that road where your character is truely tested – and your personal growth realised.
-Kate Couric

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About a 2hr drive from Bergen sits a tiny town, Jondal. Upon arrival you may feel as though you’ve stumbled to the edge of the world. Everything is quiet, but a different kind of peaceful from Bergen’s forest. Perhaps because we decided to visit a tiny coastal town in the middle of winter, or perhaps it holds some undiscovered mystery which we never worked out, but Jondal was ominous.

“What a strange place we’ve wandered into,” Michelle thought.

Strange, yes. But no less beautiful. The snow-capped mountains surrounded us and in the town on the other side of the river could be seen only as the ferry docked every two hours. We were two of ten people we saw that day, most of them found in the grocery store located by the wharf. After wandering all over the town for an hour or so, we retreated back to the airBnB for a home-cooked meal and reading in the candle light. I couldn’t help but think of all the fun to be had in the summer time there.

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Goodbyes are never for long; it’s the farewells you need to be wary of. And Norway, I’ve only said goodbye for now.

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A Christmas Adventure III: Prague

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Prague welcomed us with its beauty and intrigue from the moment we arrived. Our little airBnB was hidden down an alley way, not far from the city centre. The streets are covered in graffiti, contrasting the charm that lingers in the atmosphere. Many moments were spent in street cafes drinking fresh peppermint tea, hot chocolates and hiding from the icy cold air outside and the light snow drifting down.

A lone musician played in front of the John Lennon wall, greeting strangers who came to pose with the colours and words of freedom laced across the bricks. Not far away, on the Charles Bridge, the sunset greeted us across the water, drowning the city in golden hues as birds danced in the sky.  We kept wandering and found ourselves surrounded by smells of hot doughnuts, mulled wine and cinnamon with lights hung around the market stalls. The famous Prague Christmas tree towered over the people filling the city square as they ate the culinary delights in the golden hours.

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Christmas Day was a whirlwind of champagne breakfast, gingerbread snacks and late night walks in the lit up streets after too much wine and food. We ate and drank and celebrated in a home away from home with fellow Australian friends. Food filled the table, wine filled our glasses and laughter filled the air. The magic of European Christmas did not disappoint…

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A Christmas Adventure II: Austria

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Our first day in Salzburg started with the first snowfall of the season. White covered alleyways lit up with golden street lights as we browsed through the Christmas market stalls of white and red decorations with smells of fresh pastries in the air.

Snow filled our last day in Salzburg too, this time a top a mountain gazing across Austria and Germany in the not-too-far distance. Fog lay resting in the sky making it difficult to distinguish between snow and cloud. We hiked up to the highest point we could find, with a few trips and falls in the snow along the way due to the lack of a marked pathway. The sun warmed the air and our bodies, despite the freezing temperatures of the ground at our feet.

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Vienna welcomed us with white streets, white trees and below freezing temperatures. We found refuge in cafes, schnitzel restaurants and a surprising butterfly sanctuary which was drowned in golden sunlight. We wandered through the artworks of Klimt at the Belvedere Palace, gazing in wonder at The Kiss and numerous other pieces draped in gold. Later we payed a visit to Freud at Berggasse 19 after warming up with coffee and browsing in second hand book stores.

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