6. Hiking the West Highland Way in Scotland
Every year, my father and I go on an small hiking holiday. We put on our backpacks, we bring a tent and we start walking through nature. We often go to Belgium, Luxemburg or France for two or three days but this time we wanted to give ourselves some more of a challenge. Hiking the Scottish West Highland Way had always been a dream of ours so we made it come true. On a morning we flew to Glasgow to start our 9 day hike through the Highlands of Scotland. The next morning, we took the train to Milngavie where the official starting point of the West Highland Way. The first part of the trail was nice but not spectacular but on the second day, the typical Scottish grassy mountain were starting to show up. The first actual challenge was climbing ‘Conic Hill’ but from the top we had a beautiful view over Loch Lomond, one of the biggest lakes in Scotland.
From the top we descended to the lake and we followed its shores for the next three days. The trail was rough with many ups and downs but the landscape was beautiful. The trail took us trough old oak forest where feral goats live on the rocks and many times we had wonderful lake views. In the evenings, we found warmth in the pubs where we ate steak pies and drank pints. At night we slept in our tent.
After we left the lake behind, the landscape became more desolate. The mountains were getting higher and snow peaks started to emerge. Occasionally we crossed a pine forest but the further we got, the more the famous moorlands were taking over. The villages became smaller and sometimes it was not more than a hotel. At the end of the day, all the fellow hikers were coming to the same pub so we always ended up together sharing stories and having laughs. The last couple of days, the landscape became even more desolate and much rougher. The only things we could see around us were moor, grass and mountains. Even the sheep did not live here. It was both eerie and beautiful.
Being surrounded by this untouched nature really made me feel close to earth. The toughest challenge was climbing the Devil’s Staircase which brought us to the highest point of the trail. It took a little effort but from the top we had magnificent views. So far we were lucky with the weather and only had little rain but the last day it rained the whole day. Despite our proper gear we arrived soaking wet in Fort Williams, the end of the trail. Luckily we were welcomed by a nice Scottish lady in her bed and breakfast so we could get warm again. Walking the West Highland Way has been an amazing experience for me. It is a wonderful and divers trail and it shows you the best of Scotland. It is a great opportunity to get close to nature and I am glad I could share this experience with my dad.
7. Relaxing on the lush and tropical island Don Det in Laos
‘Watch out for falling coconuts’ he said, while he was pointing at the sky. I followed the direction of his finger and I saw a couple of coconut trees full of coconuts right above me. For me it seemed like some exotic weird danger but for this guy, it was just a part of daily life. I was on Don Det, one of the 4000 Islands in the Mekong river on the southern edge of Laos. A small, extremely lush and green island and incredibly laid back. A place where every bungalow has a hammock and where life is good.
Because traveling can be quite exhausting I decided to stay on this island to rest a bit and I could not have picked a better place. When I was there, all the houses were still made of wood and they recently had some electricity. Water buffaloes were walking free on the islands, there were no cars and only a couple of dirt roads. A few restaurants and bars were spread around the island and an occasional small shop. The things I could to on the island were limited so I did not regret at all when I spent the day in a hammock or on some pillows in a restaurant overlooking the Mekong.
Usually, I walked around the island in the morning to enjoy its beautiful nature and to see the water buffaloes with only their heads coming out of the water. Sometimes I rented a bike to cycle to the other Island Don Khon which is connected by a bridge. You can watch big waterfalls from that island while you are zipping a coconut and there is also a small beach where you can swim and tan. When I really felt like exploring, I cycled to the other site of Don Khon where I tried to spot endangered river dolphins. I only spotted them during a canoe trip though but it was quite special. While exploring the islands I saw all kind of unusual things like spiders the size of my hand or creepy children holding a dead rat in front of my face but also a wonderful quiet temple and the interesting local life.
In the evening, after beautiful sunsets, we made campfires, played music and we drank beers along the river. Sometimes, secret parties were organized on other smaller islands where we had to go by boat through the dark. I remember walking out of the boat to an open space in nature while the place was lit by torches and people were playing on djembees. Quite a cool and magical party! I had an excellent time on Don Det and most of the time I was actually just relaxing, eating delicious pumpkin burgers and drinking way too sweet coffee. It was a perfect place to escape life for a while!
8. Walking the Cinque Terre trail in Italy
Along the north-west coast of Italy you find five happy little villages called Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. Together, they are also known as Cinque Terre. The houses of these towns are painted in bright colors like blue, yellow, pink and orange and are build directly at sea. Because of limited space, the streets and alleys are small and together with the colors, they give these little towns a cozy and idyllic character. There are no cars allowed in this area so the only way to get there is by train, boat or by foot. A beautiful trail along the coastline through the Cinque Terre National Park makes it possible to visit all 5 villages and to enjoy the magnificent coastal landscape at your own pace. Although it is very touristy, it is still a lovely Mediterranean experience.
Early in the morning on a sunny day we took the train from the nearby city La Spezia to Cinque Terre. When we got out in Riomaggiore, we smelled the salty air and from the train station we walked right into the small streets of the village. Everything in Riomaggiore made me happy. The bright colored houses, the small bakeries filled with all kinds of tasty foccasias, the small harbor with little boats dancing on the waves, the cozy trattorias and the picturesque alleys. It was a very promising start of the day.
The first part of the trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola is called Via dell’Amore which means the way of love. It is dedicated to love and it has every right to be. The trail is right along the coast so on one site you see the ocean and on the other site the coastal cliffs covered with agaves, cactee and pine trees. Many lovers symbolically sealed their love on La Via dell’Amore by hanging locks on fences so you see them everywhere. Manarola is very similar to Riomaggiore but just as nice. After Manarola, the trail goes a bit more up and down but therefore the views are also better. From the higher points we had beautiful views over the ocean, the cliffs and sometimes the next village in the distance. Traditionally, these villages lived of fishery and producing wine and you still see a lot of old vineyards against the steep cliffs.
In a small atmospheric restaurant in Coniglia, we tasted the delicious flavors of the area. Fresh pasta with a good local wine, finished by a strong espresso. All together, it could not have been more Italian. The next village Vernazza was my personal favorite. An old watchtower rises above a pleasant little harbor and there is a beautiful old church. While the sun was getting lower and the light warmer, we walked the last part to Monterosso al Mare. The coastal views, the vineyards, everything looked even more beautiful in this golden light. We arrived in Monterosso al Mare right when the last rays hit the old castle. At the beach we enjoyed a wine and completely satisfied we took the train back to La Spezia.
9. Exploring Bosnia’s capitol city Sarajevo
First, look at the picture and imagine you are there…I am going to take you on a walk. You are now standing in the center of Bosnia’s capitol city Sarajevo. To be specific, you are standing on the main square of Baščaršija, the oldest part of Sarajevo. It is the historical and cultural center of the city and has still a lot of authenticity and charm. It is a place where people gather to have a coffee or a bite together. Now when you look around you, the most obvious thing you will see is the fountain. Children are playing around it and feeding the pigeons while the parents are having a chat. The buildings around the square are small and low. The architecture looks old and romantic and is influenced by the Middle-East with a fairytale twist.
When you walk further on the square, you see shops filled with handmade copperware. Other shops are selling fresh vegetables and fruit or things like ice-cream and other sweets. It is busy on the square. People are sitting in front of small bars, drinking Bosnian coffee and others are just passing by or meeting up. On your way to the other site of the square you pass the Havadže Duraka’s Mosque, one of the oldest mosque in town. Pink roses are growing against the fence and after praying time you can watch traditional Muslims coming out of it. On the right site you see the domes of an old bazaar which is a museum nowadays.
We take a left now into a small street and this is actually my favorite street. The street is filled with small restaurants where you can eat delicious traditional Bosnian food. The air is filled with the smell of grilled meat and it is often a little smoky. Many people are sitting in front of these restaurants, eating dishes like Pita and Chevapchichi with a glass of yoghurt next to it. We walk further again and loose ourselves a bit in the small alleys. Suddenly, we are standing in a small courtyard. The air is sweet and there is a sound of bubbling water. We look around us and we see people relaxing and smoking the shisha. The atmosphere is calm. In a much smaller courtyard we find a small hole-in-the-wall bakery. It smells like fresh bread and we buy a few, they are still warm.
I have been in Sarajevo a couple of times now and it is definitely one of my favorite cities. It has a good mixture between old and new, the food is fantastic and the atmosphere great. It is surrounded by mountains which offer spectacular views. The people love to go outside to have a drink and a chat so it is always bustling. I love to walk around in this city and I am sure I will never get tired of it.
10. Feeling the atmosphere of Vietnam’s mountain retreat Sapa
I have to admit, after traveling almost a month in Vietnam I was a bit done with the country. Sure, I had seen nice places like Hoi An and Halong Bay but some places were disappointing as well and in general, the people are really only focused on your money. Because I heard good stories about it, I only wanted to visit one more place, high in the mountains. Sapa! It turned out I had really saved the best for last. From the moment I arrived there early in the morning I already felt reborn. The atmosphere in this mountain retreat was so calm and fresh. First I found myself a great hotel with a wonderful mountain view. I opened the window and let the fresh air come in. From my bed I watched the clouds drifting into the valley for a while.
After a nice long and warm shower I decided to have breakfast in the village with some people I met. The village felt really cozy. The air smelled like burned wood and there were lots of small bakeries selling fresh bread. After breakfast we decided to take a walking tour through the valley. A couple of colorful dressed hill tribe women accompanied us and together we walked through and enchanting landscape. There was something in the atmosphere that made everything so calm and I felt extremely happy. We crossed rice paddies, wooden houses and with the sun shining, the views were superb.
The area around Sapa houses many different hill tribes. All these tribes wear different kind of clothes that is characteristic for the tribe and it is really fun to watch this on the Sapa market. The women are selling their goods on this market and it is a very colorful event. Fansipan mountain is the highest mountain in Indochina and also called the roof of Vietnam. It is 3143 metres high and it takes two days to get there and back. I like a challenge so I did it. The trial is quite steep and tough sometimes but the views are breathtaking. After celebrating our victory with food and rice wine in our camp I experienced one old the coldest nights I have ever had. Luckily the sun came up again and we had a warm fire to cook breakfast. The rest of the day we walked down again with the sun in our face.
There is not even so much to do in Sapa but is was just the whole atmosphere that made me love it so much. I felt so incredibly good and happy when I was there. The weather was nice, people were friendly and calm, trees were starting to flower and everything was just perfect. That is why Sapa definitely deserves a place in this list.
How about you? Do you have a favorite travel experience?
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