Hyperadobe Building with Workaway

Ashleigh, Earth Building, Stalida, Greece

Out of all the wonders we’ve witnessed in our travels through Europe, our workaway experiences have been the most memorable. In Finland we lived with an alternative community, constructed a yurt and worked on a straw bale home. In Hungary we helped renovate a 200 year old adobe brick house. We walked dogs through the Balkan mountains, babysat 3 kids in Vienna, helped bring back a lost garden in Scotland, and made caramelized sugar schnapps in Poland. We built relationships with people across the continent through the opportunities provided by work exchange organizations. Workaway forced us to get off the beaten, tourist trail and experience what we would otherwise have ignored. Our 18th and final workaway experience, within our 22 month European journey, began on the island of Crete. It was in the seaside town of Stalida one evening where we met the hyperadobe earth building visionnaire, Michael.

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Treasures of the Vatican

The Vatican, Rome, Italy

You could say that the Roman Empire lives on though the Vatican. It was Emperor Constantine the Great who converted the whole of Europe to Christianity and built the original church on Vatican hill, over the grave of Saint Peter himself.  After the Western Roman Empire fell, the Catholic Church acted as the principal force of unity in the Western World. In the Middle Ages, the Pope was considered greater than all the kings and rulers of Europe. Even today, the Pope is the head of the Roman Catholic Church with more than 1.2 billion followers. Vatican City has become one of the most popular attractions in the world, drawing over 5 million tourists a year to its priceless works of art and opulent architecture. Despite one’s religious beliefs, one cannot deny the cultural and historical importance of the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican. Continue reading

All Roads Lead to Rome

Rome, Italy

Throughout our European travels we have found evidence of the greatness of the Roman Empire; from Hadrian’s Wall in the misty isles of Britain as far as Ephesus on the Aegean shores of Turkey. Every church, every castle, and every European city we visited was built upon the foundations of Roman temples, forts, and towns. Roman language, culture, and technologies spread all across the western world and are still used today. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when at last we had arrived at the centre of it all, the birthplace of western civilisation, to which all roads once led: Rome.

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Bologna, City of Many Names

Bologna La Rossa, Italy

Bologna is known by many names because it’s a city with a high reputation. It is called “La Grassa” (the fat one) for its famous rich and fatty cuisine. A view from one of its many towers will show you why “La Rossa” (the red one) perfectly describes the earthy hues of Bologna. The nickname “La Dotta” (the learned one) tips a cap to the University of Bologna, the oldest operating university in the world. With all of this acclaim and more, Bologna has a lot to be proud of.

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A Peek into Innsbruck

innsbruck-austria

Looking at a map, you can see the province of Tyrol, the leg of Austria (kicking Switzerland in the face) with the capital town of Innsbruck stuck to its shin. Nestled there in the Karwendel Alps, Innsbruck has become an internationally renowned mountaineering/skiing destination, the two-time host of the Winter Olympics, the Paralympics, and the first Winter Youth Olympic Games. It’s ideal location as a stop-over point for travellers crossing the Alps allowed Innsbruck to flourish into an important cultural and administrative centre of Austria. Although people often overlook the town and head for the ski hills, Innsbruck has its own elegant allure that shouldn’t be ignored. If you’re transversing the Alps between Germany and Italy, stop by and take a peak into Innsbruck before moving on to your next destination. Continue reading

Munich, Village of a Million

 

old-rathaus-munich-germany

It’s hard to know where to start with all that Munich has to offer. Bavaria’s capital and largest city holds the bar high as an economic powerhouse, popular tourist attraction, and a major centre of arts and culture. Despite being bombed into oblivion during World War II, Munich has rebuilt itself stronger and better than ever. In 2015, Munich was rated fourth city in the world with the highest quality of living. It’s a home to global corporations like BMW, Allianz and Siemens and has the lowest unemployment rate in Germany. Its historic architecture, rowdy beer halls and elegant parks make Munich a desirable place to live, play, and visit. Oktoberfest, the largest folk festival in the world, alone attracts 5 to 7 million tourists to Munich a year. All things considered, Munich seemed to be the perfect place to end our Bavarian adventure!

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Rothenburg ob der Tauber

rothenburg-ob-der-tauber-germany

If you’re craving the ambience of a quintessential medieval town, look no further. Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a vision straight from the pages of Grimm’s fairy tales. Enter through one of the six gateways and take a stroll along Rothenburg’s rough cobblestone streets. Pass under leaning wattle-and-daub homes with intricate timber frames and terracotta shingles. Climb any one of the stone towers and gaze over a forest of feudal keeps, chimney tops, and church spires. A mix of ancient history and olde tyme fairy tales lie within Rothenburg’s walls, just waiting to be remembered.

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Witches’ Night in Heidelberg

Witches' Night, Heidelberg

In an abandoned, Nazi amphitheatre at the summit of Heidelberg‘s Holy Mountain, bonfires burn bright on Witches’ Night. On April 30th, young students from the university town of Heidelberg make the long hike up woodland paths for a glorious night of fire-eating, twirling and juggling. Drunken revelry, drum circles and candle-lit picnic spreads makes for one hullabaloo of a party, though nobody’s really sure of what they’re celebrating. Lucky for us, our well-timed visit Heidelberg allowed us to witness this witch-repelling tradition first-hand.

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The Grand Canals of Venice

Venice, Italy

Ahhh Venice… a labyrinth of stunning architecture and alluring attractions, riddled with canals and trampled by 20 million tourists each year. Everybody wants to come to Venice and realize that romantic image of Italy we have in our heads: wandering the secret campis or grand piazzas, sipping espresso at canal-side cafés, and, of course, riding the gondolas as the drivers sing, “Thiiis is the night, what a beauuutiful night…” Although the dream of Venice has long been propagated through popular media, the reality comes pretty close to meeting expectations. Like Paris or Rome, Venice is a historical masterpiece, a wealth of architectural wonders that will continue to draw the masses for years to come.

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A Seaside Dream in Piran

Piran, Slovenia

Hugging Slovenia’s miniature coastline, wedged between the borders of Croatia and Italy, sun bathes the seaside town of Piran. Glittering at the tip of a green peninsula, this Venetian village is a gem on Slovenia’s 47 kilometre slice of shore. Piran offers incredible views from its old town wall, opulent architecture within the historic village, and a lively harbour front to sit and soak in the sights.

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Into the Heart of Istria

Motovun, Istria, Croatia

In the land of Istria: a broad peninsula jutting from Croatia’s northern coastline, one can wander through seaside fishing villages, clamber up to hilltop citadels, and rediscover leftovers from the might of the Roman Empire. Among the many medieval and Roman fortified towns dotting Istria there are four that stand out as wonders of Croatia: Porec, Rovinj, Pula, and Motovun. Though we had been lucky enough to explore most of Croatia’s southern coastline, the Istrian Peninsula promised unforgettable treasures that we couldn’t pass up when the opportunity came ringing. Continue reading

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Because we’re a bit silly, we decided to abandon Italy for the time being, go BACK into Croatia and visit a God’s honest paradise–Plitvice Lakes. Nestled in a valley between densely-forested mountains is a stairway of sixteen, turquoise lakes. Each pool is fed by many small streams and brooks that spill over in foaming cascades and roaring waterfalls. Over the millennia, the eroding waters of these lakes have dissolved the limestone rock and carved out the magnificent valley in which they now lie. Plitvicka Jezera National Park is one of the most stunning, natural wonders in Europe. Don’t believe me? You can go on their website and experience a virtual, panoramic tour or better yet, go to Croatia and witness this true paradise!

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The Healing Waters of Lake Bled

 

Lake Bled, Slovenia

A cliff-top castle, an island monastery and alpine surroundings add to the wonderment of Lake Bled. The enchanting scenery of this placid lake, under the colossal presence of the Julian Alps, looks stolen from fairy tale. Visitors from all over the world come to Bled for a day of hiking in its forests, boating to its island, and bathing in its thermal waters. The mineral springs at the north-eastern section of the lake are famous for their healing abilities and have attracted many wealthy tourists over the centuries. All in all, Lake Bled is one magical place.

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa (and more!)

Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa, Italy

The bell tower peeks out from behind Pisa Cathedral.

Italy’s infamous Leaning Tower of Pisa attracts over a million tourists a year, so we thought it was time to join the flock and see what all the fuss is about. Embarking with a caravan full of Ashleigh’s family we left the gorgeous shores of Tuscany and proceeded inland to the province of Pisa and its capital city. With Fred behind the wheel of our monstrous bus-van, Braeden navigating and the rest of us back-seat driving, we carefully piloted through Italy’s narrow streets, avoiding reckless Lamborghinis along the way. Continue reading

The Imperial City of Milan

Milan Cathedral, Italy

Fixed like a giant spider-web on the map, Milan stands out as one of Italy’s greatest, and most dazzling, metropolises. We had heard people say Milan’s a commercial capital without much else to do but shop for Gucci purses and dine in exclusive restaurants. Yet I was pleasantly surprised by the abundance of renaissance art and architecture, marvellous churches and green spaces Milan has to offer. You don’t have to be ‘rolling in the dough’ to spend a couple of enjoyable days strolling around the city (or using its cheap transportation system), revealing the cultural riches of Milan around every corner.

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Split City and the Emperor’s Palace

Split, Croatia

The city of Split is filled with time-worn wonders, but where most monuments have been left uninhabited, this 2400 year-old colony is still fully-functional and bursting with energy. The stronghold of Emperor Diocletian has been adapted into apartments and cafe-bars, while storekeepers have set up shop its cellars. Halfway up the coast of Croatia, this thriving, harbour town attracts visitors from all around with its well-preserved Roman relics, lush parks, and a sunny-side harbour front. Continue reading

Behind the Battlements of Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik, the “Pearl of the Adriatic”, has been the most impressive “old town” we’ve ever visited on our incredibly long journey. An extraordinary citadel set on the rocky shores of the Adriatic Sea, built up out of bleached stone and capped with red terracotta roofs, the splendour of Dubrovnik glistens in the rays of the Croatian sun. The three days we had in Dubrovnik were spent simply meandering through the old town’s maze of corridors, peeking into its limestone dwellings, and striding upon its battlements and bastions (we didn’t even have time for a swim!). It would be hard to find a city that can compare with Dubrovnik’s lavish, Venetian architecture, scale of fortifications and the excellent condition of its ancient monuments.

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Beyond the Bridge of Mostar

The Mostar Bridge, Bosnia

On its way to recovery from the Bosnian War, the beauty and mystery of Bosnia-Herzegovina has been revealed to the world. In the Herzegovina region the town of Mostar lives and breathes again as one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Balkans. With its fascinating blend of medieval European and Islamic architecture, cobblestone alleys and slate roof tiles, Mostar is a picturesque town settled peacefully on the crystal clear Neretva River. Continue reading

The Idyllic City of Brașov

Brasov Old Town, Transylvania, Romania

The city of Brașov, with its medieval towers and Saxon architecture, surrounded by gorgeous mountains and ski slopes, stands out in my memory as being a idyllic place to live in Romania.

We were very fortunate to have met Bogdan in Casa de Cultura Permanenta— our temporary home in Cluj-Napoca. Bogdan owned an apartment in Brașov and was gracious enough to give us a place to stay while we were exploring the city. For five nights we had a wonderful home in Brașov, as well as a room-mate named Eduardo who brought us to some of his favourite restaurants and pubs. Eduardo was a young man from Australia who had moved to Romania to start an online business. With Romania having one of the fastest internet speeds in the world, as well as cheap living expenses, settling in Brașov is certainly a tempting idea for anyone who can make their income online.

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The Medieval Charm of Sighișoara

Sighișoara, Transylvania, Romania

Just before leaving our home in Cluj-Napoca, in the spur of the moment, we were convinced to hitch a ride with a friend in the direction of Sighișoara: a brightly coloured citadel overrun with medieval architecture.

Like something out of a German fairy tale, the Transylvanian-Saxon village of Sighișoara rests on top of a steep plateau, wrapped in ancient fortifications, and furrowed with twisting, cobblestone passageways. This UNESCO-claimed heritage site, founded in the 13th century, is among the best preserved medieval towns in Europe.

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Witness the Glory of Kiev

Independence Square, Kiev, Ukraine

Independence Square in Kiev

After spending some time workaway-ing at a nearby farm, it was time for us to get back to the big city and enjoy the sights and charms that Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, had to offer. Life was simple back on the ol’ farmstead, and we enjoyed the daily chores of milking the goat, feeding the animals, fetching water from the well and scouring the property for eggs never laid in the same place twice. Evgeniya, our host, had bought this large property in the village of Bobryk and started a farm in order to independently sustain her family. Pretty much all the food we ate was grown from her land, including the delectable chicken eggs (when we could find them) and fresh goat’s milk. As much as we enjoyed having a break from being a tourist, a time to let our minds rest with a few chores to keep us busy, Ashleigh and I were eager to find out what was beyond the outskirts of this small village.

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Storms a Brewin’ at Castle Spiš

Spisske Podhradie, Slovakia

A cold wind was already blowing when we arrived in Levoča, a medieval, fortified town that became part of the UNESCO Heritage List in June, 2009. Spiš county was our final stop in far eastern Slovakia and we were eager to take a walk-about through Levoča’s historical sites before the day was through. A hideous, dark cloud was building in the distance and rolling out in our direction, so made haste like soldiers on a mission.

“Winter is coming…” I whispered to Ashleigh with a sidelong glance as another gust of cold air spewed icy needles into our faces.

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Banská Bystrica’s Fireworks Extravaganza

The Slovak National Uprising Square, Banská Bystrica, Slovakia

The day before New Years Eve we set off on a hop, skip and a jump through Slovakia, with only a week before our time to be exiled from the Schengen area, and kissed Austria goodbye. My mind was completely open to whatever this country of former Czechoslovakia had to offer and I was hoping to explore the best parts within our restricted time-schedule. Banská Bystrica was our first target in Slovakia (not counting Bratislava)– a small, university city on the south-western edge of the Low Tatra Mountains.

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Christmas Eve and Tales of Brno

Christmas, Freedom Square, Brno, Czech

Having a weekend off from babysitting duty in Vienna, we were trying to figure out the best place to spend our Christmas holidays– and it had to be somewhere cheap because Austria was killing us! A fine thing about being in central Europe is that you’re rarely more than a couple hours away from the nearest border, Austria itself being closed in at all sides by Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Germany and the Czech Republic (don’t forget Liechtenstein!). Surveying our choices, we decided it would be fun (and cheap) to take a couples’ vacation up to Brno, Czech, only a couple hours by bus from Vienna. Czech is a country we’ve visited before on our trip to Prague and Karlovy-Vary, and we were more than happy to return to its loving embrace.

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The Krampus Creeps through Salzburg

St. nicholas, Krampus, Salzburg

St. Nicholas consoling the children

When we arrived in Salzburg, Austria on Dec. 5th, Christmas had already come! The streets were lit up with brilliant lights and the smells of baked goods wafted deep into our senses. Around every corner Christmas carollers galore sang traditional tunes, accompanied by brass bands and accordion players. Mulled wine was being quaffed in sickening amounts and temporary stalls, set up in several of Salzburg’s squares, were selling a multitude of bees-wax candles, holiday decorations, and mountains of sugary sweets. Little did we know that all of these familiar festivities were leading up to something strange…. and possibly terrible.

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Dante’s Inferno in Slovenia

Tolmin Gorge Cave, Tolmin, Slovenia

“In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost.”
Dante Alighieri, The Inferno

From the top of Šentviška Gora Plateau, Ashleigh and I descended along a walking trail that had been altogether obscured by a passing storm. Felled trees littered the path like strewn match sticks and we had to scramble our way through like an obstacle course. We were staying with English expatriate Helpx hosts who lived in a terribly remote region of Slovenia, amidst the tiny settlement of Ponikve– a carpenter and a hairdresser who decided to make a new home in a strange country. Unable to get a ride, and with no other way to get off the mountain, we set off on our weekend adventure on foot in an attempt to get to the beautiful Tolmin Gorge, about 15 kilometres away.

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A Night Ride through Budapest

The Parliament Building in Budapest

        Our very first Couchsurfing experience began in Budapest and we were privileged with meeting such a wonderful host! Gabor met us at the train station and took us into his family home, a hundred-year old apartment building with a beautiful, enclosed courtyard, quite near to the Danube. His parents were extremely friendly, offering us tea, biscuits and breakfast, and Gabor himself was a wealth of knowledge about the history of his city.

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Tiszafüred Thermals and Eger Wine

…Meanwhile, in a remote village somewhere on the Hungarian plains…

Angry Ashleigh!

Angry Ashleigh!

Yes indeed, that was a straw bale dressed up to look like a pig from the video game Angry Birds, but wait, we’ve got the WHOLE collection!

Angry Bales, Tizafured, Hungary

The tiny village of Tiszaigar, population of 946, is a cheery, little community near Tisza Lake in the Great Plains of Hungary, a two-hour drive east of Budapest. The Tisza people take great pride in their hometown, keeping it clean, building a beautiful fountain garden, and taking care to decorate according to the holidays. This year there was no particular theme but they chose to create several straw bale Angry Birds characters (including the giant slingshot), a straw bale Mater the Tow Truck from the movie Cars, and a maze for the kids to wander around in and get lost for hours. What were we doing in a wacky place like this you may ask?

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Belgrade: City that Never Sleeps

Ashleigh and I stepped off the bus into Belgrade’s streets around five in the morning, expecting the city to be asleep. Instead, we were met with a heavy bass thumping from thriving nightclubs, scattered people swaggering with half-drunk bottles in their hands, and a completely smashed sailor who just wouldn’t leave us alone (in a friendly sort of way). Most of Belgrade was still awake from the night before and still rearing to party!

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The Mountain Fortress of Belogradchik

HALP!

      Ashleigh and I swung back and forth in unison as we wound up the snaking road to the top of Belogradchik, a small village resting on the side of a mountain. The town wasn’t too far from the train station but the taxi ride meandered wildly, taking near 180 degree turns every few minutes, and we struggled to keep our heads on straight as the g-force took its toll. Stepping out into the streets, we were met with a sense of peace and quiet in this sleepy village.

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Free Walking Tours in Sofia

  All roads in Bulgaria lead to Sofia, the capital city, so we were bound to cross paths eventually. As it turned out a friend of ours, whom we met in Makvarket, Denmark, was passing through Bulgaria on her travels and so we timed our visit to Sofia to meet up with her. Kat had just finished exploring Istanbul with her companion, Elena,  and we were excited to swap stories as well as discover a new place together.

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Balkan Trek: First steps through Bulgaria

Up high in the Balkan Mountains

         Two pairs of huge, gooey eyes stared up at me expectantly as I sat on the porch of Little Spring’s Guesthouse, tying up my bootlaces. Even though it was half an hour before their usual walking time, Mečka and Sausage took it upon themselves to wake us up during the early hours with a series of high and low barks accompanied by incessant whining. Wiping the sleep from my eyes and fending off the two energetic dogs, hopping around like giant rabbits, I stumbled down the walkway and opened the gate. Mečka and Sausage took off like a shot with the older (and wiser) black lab, Chester, trailing slowly behind.

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Walking the Streets of Troy

Brad Pitt’s Trojan Horse

          We leapt excitedly off the bus to find a familiar row of stalls and shops set up along the dusty road into the archaeological site of Troy.  Avoiding eye contact and all forms of acknowledgement we sped past the sellers waving cheap trinkets and prepared ourselves for an amazing journey through classical literature. Wow, I made that sound really boring.

The Illiad, one of the two epic poems attributed to Homer, is an ancient Greek story set during the Trojan War: the ten-year siege against the city of Troy. This is probably one of the greatest tales of all time, retold for centuries in the courts of kings and before the thrones of emperors, enjoyed by all and still a favourite of today. If you have seen the movie ‘Troy’, starring Brad Pitt, you should at least get the gist of the tale. Though Homer stirred many fantastical and outlandish deeds of mighty heroes and angry gods into this great legend, the Trojan War is believed to actually have occurred in the 12th century BC and the ruins of the ancient city of Troy still exist today. Continue reading

The Marble City of Ephesus

          Sometimes more powerful forces than your own direct you down paths you wouldn’t otherwise go, and our plans always seem to change. This time, the great forces of “cheap airline tickets” directed us to Izmir in Turkey. Apparently many Finlanders travel there during their summer holidays to get a bit closer to the sun and work on their non-existent tans, thus there were many different airlines offering thrifty flights to Turkey. Climbing on-board the Sun Express, we set off on our own holiday towards a whole new world under the blazing sun.

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Vilnius, a Dog has the Right to be a Dog

Vilnius

         Early in the morning we bid a sad farewell to Ola and John, our most gracious Workaway hosts in northern Poland, and prepared ourselves for the two week tour ahead that would swiftly sweep us into the unknown. The Baltic Nations, three post-USSR countries sandwiched between Russia and the Baltic Sea, were completely unfamiliar to us and we relished the chance to discover its mysteries first-hand. First on the list: Vilnius.

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Krakow and the Wawel Dragon

Lair of the Dragon

           Poland was a thrilling, financial break for us. After being traumatized by a $30 bowl of soup at a fish-market in Oslo, not to mention the ludicrously lavish living expenses in Copenhagen, Stockholm, and London—Poland was a pleasant dream that just kept getting better. Suddenly, a pint of beer at a bar cost $2.50 instead of $12. Milk Bars, a cheap and excellent source of perogies and sauerkraut, could be found around every corner and offered decent meals for as little as five dollars. In the end we likely spent more money than usual, surrounded by a sea of “good deals”, but we certainly felt better about it.

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A Crash Course in Castles PART II

Flint Castle, Wales, Britain

Map of our UK castle tour

Map of our UK castle tour

           Due to the large number of castles Ashleigh and I visited on our tour of the United Kingdom (16 in total!), and the vast amount of information attached to each, I have been forced to split my article into two parts. Welcome to PART 2! If you haven’t seen PART 1, please read it here.

The last outpost of Scotland awaited us next in the Shetland Isles! We visited a few English castles in Tamworth and Newcastle, the Scottish castle of Edinburgh, and others in the Midlothian region. Muness Castle on Unst Island, the most northern tip of land in Scotland, was to be our next stop, followed by Urquhart Castle on the waters of Loch Ness, Cuchulainn’s Castle in Ireland, and Beaumaris, Caernarfon, Conwy, Rhuddlan, and, finally, Flint Castle in Wales. Each one of these imposing strongholds had their own stories to tell, through their importance in history, the way they were designed, and the legends surrounding them.

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A Crash Course in Castles PART I

Edinburgh castle, Scotland

Map of our UK castle tour

         Before coming to Britain, even before embarking on our European journey, I would often sit and dream of treading through stone passageways, patrolling the length of rocky defences, and keeping watch from the tallest turrets on a windy night. Castles were raised by the ruling powers through the blood and sweat of their toiling subjects; impenetrable fortresses of carved stone blocks atop rocky crags, castles are truly an awesome sight to behold. They were, at many times, scenes of bloodshed: from sword clashing medieval battles to the assassination of nobles. They were once the seat of lords and kings, protecting, as well as dominating, the countryside. They have stood for hundreds of years and will hopefully continue to stand for centuries more (partially thanks to the National Trust).

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The Path of Cúchulainn

     

        A long time ago, sometime between about 600 and 150 BC, the Celtic people travelled across the sea from western Europe and invaded Ireland. The land was lush, green and beautiful, a much desired location for a new home, but another people had already settled in Ireland, and had been there for thousands of years. The Tuatha Dé Danann were recorded in Irish mythology as being a race with supernatural powers and god-like abilities. Whoever these people were they left their mark on the landscape, building enormous burial chambers and temples, erecting massive standing boulders, and leaving behind exquisite, scrolling carvings in stone, a style that is still duplicated today in Celtic art.

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‘Neath Ancient Rosslyn Waits…

‘Neath ancient Rosslyn waits secrets so secret nobody really knows what the secret is anymore. Some say the Knights of the Templar stored vast riches in the tombs of Rosslyn chapel and are perhaps even buried there themselves, dressed in full-plate armour. Some say the mummified head of Jesus Christ and perhaps even the sacred cup of Christ, the Holy Grail, is waiting in some secret chamber. Some say Rosslyn Chapel is the site of an alien landing pad, and perhaps the secret resting place of… Elvis?

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The London Tube

Big Ben

It was midnight on January 20th when we landed in London Gatwick airport. We were tired from our lengthy, cramped flight, sandwiched between airplane seats, and wanted more than anything to get through customs and be fast asleep in our London hostel.

Having filled out our landing cards we waited nervously in line toward the customs gate, preparing ourselves to face the intimidating officers. We were a bit anxious, not that we had anything to hide, but the mere presence of a customs agent tends to make one feel as if one does. We were both called up to one of the kiosks and were greeted by a wary face with eyes that peered deep into ours in an attempt to read our very souls. The Agent found us, a young Canadian couple, to be extremely suspicious and possibly a risk to the security of the country. He threatened to tear our bags apart in search of CV’s or other papers that would give evidence that we were seeking to work in the UK and trying to immigrate illegally. For at least 15 minutes we tried to soothe his suspicions and convince him that Canada is just fine for us and we have no desire to move to the UK. I brought up the fact that I have relatives in England (though I’m still not sure just how distant they are) and that I was interested in seeking them out, which for some reason seemed to calm the wrath of the customs agent. Perhaps he couldn’t think of any reason why someone would simply want to tour England.

“I’m going out on a limb trusting you blokes here….” said he, and after stamping our passports, we were at last allowed entry into his realm. What a relief!

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Green Building in Solbacka Village

     

      Deep within the Finnish wilderness, there is a secret valley. The valley is surrounded by a thriving, untouched wilderness and a magnificent forest of tall, dark trees. There is something special about this forest, something ancient that lives, and breathes, and watches. The people of the small, nearby village of Fagervik do not know about this secret valley nor do they dare go into the woods, for it is said that only those of pure heart are allowed entry.

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I’m on the Road to Uppsala

        Long ago, as early as the 3rd century AD, a great temple was built in the name of the ancient Norse gods on the site of what we now call Gamla Uppsala in Sweden. This temple was said to be adorned with gold, and inside the people worshipped the statues of three gods. On the left was Odin the All-father, decked in armour and with his spear Gungnir. In the centre was Thor the thunder-god, the mightiest of the three, clutching his great hammer Mjolnir. On the right side of Thor was Frey, god of fertility,  depicted with his immense, erect Penisnir.

Odin, Thor, and Frey

Odin, Thor, and Frey

Every nine years during the month of Goi (Feb. 15th-March 15th) a general festival for the provinces of Sweden would be held, and all the people would come to this centre of worship to sacrifice to the gods. Nine male animals of each species would be slaughtered and give blood to appease the gods. The feasts and sacrifices continued for a total of nine days, and during the course of each day a man was sacrificed along with two animals. In the nine days, a total of twenty-seven sacrifices would occur. Their bodies were hung in a grove which was adjacent to the temple. This grove was so sacred to the people that the individual trees in it were believed to be holy because of the death or putrefaction of the sacrificial victims.  In this grove, even dogs and horses would hang beside human beings.

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Makvärket, a Cultural and Environmental Collective

Mosaic, Denmark

Artwork by Kat Catowski.

              It was a beautiful afternoon when we stepped off the train from Copenhagen, arriving in the tiny village of Knabstrup. We asked several of the villagers for directions to the place we were looking to stay: ‘Makvärket‘, the mysterious, abandoned factory known to house an ardent group of artists, philosophers, and travellers. The Knabstrup villagers kept pointing us further up a winding road. “It’s not too far,” they said, “the factory is at the end of the road.” At last we could see the cylindrical, brick chimney rising up above the trees and towering over everything. A mysterious factory on top of a hill, overlooking the village below… Sounds like a Frankenstein movie.

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The Land of the Danes

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We crossed the bridge from Sweden to Copenhagen. In the water towered several wind turbines, blades spinning silently in the distance. The bridge snaked to the other side of the border and we saw Denmark stretching out, a flat plate of land the Danes call home. We were dropped off near the central station, and swinging are packs onto our backs we set out to figure out where we were going to go next.

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In the beginning… there was Bergen!

Hiking in Bergen

At long last the countdown is done and the time has finally come to disembark. Our plane left from Vancouver at 1:30 in the afternoon on October 23rd, through Seattle and then Iceland, arriving at last in Bergen, Norway around noon on the 24th. The night was short as we sped forward through time zones across North America and the Atlantic Ocean. Getting any sleep was difficult, even after popping Gravol pills that were supposed to make us drowsy; no matter what sleeping position I took I couldn’t get an hours rest in that cramped little seat.

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Packed for Europe

         

We’ve gotten our travel gear together and I think we’re finally ready to embark on our incredibly long journey. All I have left for possessions are carefully rolled up, folded, and stuffed into my hiking backpack. Everything else has been sold, given away, or left behind. No more Xbox. There goes my sword collection. I’m sure Ashleigh’s going to miss all her dresses and shoes. But what a pain it would be if we had to lug wheeled suitcases across, say, the Scottish Highlands; it’s just not sensible. So, trying to be as minimalist as possible, we’ve carefully selected practical articles of clothing and a few personal items. We also have our camping gear: our tent, sleeping bags, tarps, etc. as camping will be a major part of our trip, and even though it may weigh us down I think it will get a lot of use.

If anybody is interested in ever going on an extended backpacking/hiking trip, we’ve spread out all of our gear and written a list for you to look at to perhaps give you some ideas. Continue reading

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