Monday, 12 September 2016

Hygge On The Horizon

I was listening to the radio at the weekend, and came across the Danish concept of hygge (pronounced HUE-gah).

Hygge is one of those words for which there is no direct translation into another language, but one definition I found describes it as:

“the Danish ritual of enjoying life’s simple pleasures, friends, family, graciousness, contentment, good feelings, a warm glow. Certainly, hygge is intrinsic to the Danish lifestyle, but this feeling of well-being, so deeply satisfying and cosy, is something we all experience, each in our own way.

The hygge tradition includes sharing stories about ideas and history, culture and the things we create. Celebrating happiness is important to us. Our goal: more hospitality, more warmth, more respect for each other and the environments we share”

All this sounds fantastic, and definitely something I’d sign up for. Perhaps there is an inner Dane in me somewhere.

It’s thought that the long, cold Danish winters distilled these ideas of companionship, bonhomie and the good life into the concept of hygge, and with the nights beginning to draw in and autumn just around the corner, it reminded me that one of the great things to look forward to in the coming months is a bracing walk by day followed by good food and friendship by night.

Satisfaction guaranteed in my book, as the accompanying photos show.  

Sunday, 11 September 2016

A Dash To Dentdale

We have always enjoyed our trips to Dentdale, a beautiful part of the country we have been visiting regularly for over 25 years.

In recent years, our visits have become rather fewer and further between, but the August Bank Holiday weekend provided the perfect opportunity for a brief re-acquaintance and, although more succinct than we would have liked, it was just the tonic we needed after a busy few weeks.

We did a bit of pottering about on Saturday afternoon after the drive up in the morning, but during the next two days we managed a couple of decent outings. On Sunday, we walked from our digs along the Dales Way to Sedbergh and back. 

Rosehips ripening

The rivers were full after heavy overnight rain

Cloud just lifting from the top of Middleton Fell

Although August by date, there was clear evidence that Autumn was fast approaching. Rivers were swollen from recent rains, blackberries were already ripe in the hedgerows, we picked wild raspberries as we went. 

Looking towards the Lune Valley

From the hillside on the way into Millthrop, we could see the restored
Pepperpot building in the grounds of Sedbergh School

Returning through Dent village

Nuthatch on the bird feeder

Monday dawned rather brighter, and we chose a walk that gained height above the dale, affording great views to almost all points of the compass.

Denthead viaduct on a brighter morning

Picking up the Pennine Bridleway

It's a National Trail!

Looking back towards Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent

View from near the top of Arten Gill

Soaking up the far-reaching views on a perfect day for walking,
with the mountains of the Lake District in the far distance

Dentdale laid out below us in all its glory

Back in the dale, the rivers are quieter today

Sunlight catching the peat-stained waters of the River Dee

Monday, 5 September 2016

A Long Weekend In Poland - Part 4

Day 4 – Zakopane and back to Krakow

Monday dawned somewhat overcast, with a light mizzle in the air and low cloud and swirling mist obscuring the mountain views. Not to worry - being British and intrepid, we are used to a bit of rain!

After a hearty breakfast, we set out for a stroll down the main street and look around the market for souvenirs.

Read all about it! Sam visits Zakopane!

We decided to take the funicular railway up Gubałöwka, the low hill overlooking Zakopane. On a clear day you get great views of the main mountain range, but today it was not to be – Giewont, the “sleeping knight”, stayed resolutely beneath his cloudy bedclothes, having a duvet day. Naughty Giewont, the lazy so-and-so.

On Gubałöwka

We walked along the road as far as Butorowy Wierch and back, avoiding the traffic both horse-drawn and petrol-driven, looking in all the gift shops and resisting the food stalls (although Tom bought some berries picked from the nearby woods, which were delicious). 

But after a stop for drinks, it was time to descend the funicular and make our way to the bus station ready for the coach back to Krakow. At lower levels the sun was shining, and despite the fact the mountain tops were hidden in cloud it seemed a shame to leave. It's been over six years since my last visit, rather too long I think.

We'd only had a day or so in total in Zakopane, but hopefully it was long enough for Tom and Sam to get a flavour of the mountains and the walking available, and to see a different side of the country to cosmopolitan Krakow.

Kids performance of highlander dance in traditional dress, Krakow 

We all had a bit of a nap on the journey back to Krakow, testament to the busy days we had been enjoying. 

We arrived mid-afternoon, giving us time to do a bit of souvenir shopping in the Cloth Hall market and grab some lunch at the pierogi festival. 

The place was heaving. It would appear pierogi is a serious business, and the competition winners had just been announced. Queues were long and stocks increasingly short, but eventually we availed ourselves of a selection - some meat, some cheese and a few spinach - and a drink to wash them down with.

Souvenir shopping in the Cloth Hall

After a final coffee stop on the edge of the main square, our time in Poland was nearing an end. We boarded the train back to the airport and readied ourselves for the journey home. We’d packed a lot into just four days, which goes to show what you can do if you set your mind to it.

Where shall we go next?

All I can say is that if Tom and Sam enjoyed themselves half as much as we did, they’d have had a blast, and I’d like to thank them for being great company.

It's said that travel broadens the mind, and I think this is undoubtedly true. Experiencing other places, landscapes and cultures can be so rewarding, and I hope their first taste of foreign travel has left them keen for more. 

To get a glimpse of another way of life, to delve into a different culture, brush past an unfamiliar history and cross paths with a new geographgy helps to foster a greater understanding of the world when back at home, which can only be a good thing. 

After all, we live in a Global Village these days. 

A Long Weekend In Poland - Part 3

Day 3 – Zakopane

After another early breakfast, we set off for the bus station to catch the coach to Zakopane, the mountain resort at the foot of the High Tatras.

Coaches run frequently between Krakow and Zakopane, and prices are good value - about £3.50 per person one way. Heavy public holiday traffic delayed our arrival slightly, but everything went smoothly enough and we all enjoyed a bit of a snooze on the way.

On arrival at around midday, we headed straight to Kuźnice and the start of our planned walk to the Murowaniec hut at the Hala Gąsienicowa.

Like everywhere this weekend, Kuźnice was busy, with bars and cafes spilling out onto the pavement and lengthy queues for the cable car to Kasprowy Wierch. But, for the more active visitor, it is from here that paths lead willing walkers into the mountains, and on such a beautiful day it was hard to resist.

On the path out of Kuznice, searching for wild raspberries 

Now although they have done plenty of walking in the UK, this was Tom and Sam's first real mountain walk, and we had no real idea of whether it would be doable or not. 

The High Tatras are a compact rannge and may not rank amongst the highest peaks of Europe, but they are most definitely "proper" mountains, with jagged summits, knife-edge ridges, plunging valleys and mountain lakes to rival the best the continent has to offer.  

Walking through the Jaworzynka valley

So it was a tough proposition - with 500m of vertical ascent to contend with, we took our time and gradually rose through the Jaworzynka valley before making the steep, zig-zagging climb up to the pass and more level ground.

It was a long climb out of the valley, but the views would be worth it ....

.... Giewont, the "Sleeping Knight" from the south ....

.... and the view north over Zakopane towards distant hills

Given good weather and the number of people out and about on this holiday weekend, it was somewhat surprising that the route wasn’t busier. There were plenty of folks about, but we managed to get a brief sense of the "wilderness" these mountains represent - wild boar, lynx, wolf and bear inhabit theses wild, wooded slopes.

Approaching Murowaniec - the hut sits in a bowl surrounded by high
peaks and wooded slopes - a real mountain experience
(Image from hut website)

We reached Murowaniec around 3.00pm in time for a late lunch. The hut operates a slightly weird system of service. You queue up at one desk to order and pay, then get a paper slip to take to the serving hatch to queue again for your food. You show them your slip, and they go and fetch your order – one bit at a time! With several items on order (food and drink for 4 people) it can be a lengthy and confusing wait!

Outside Murowaniec
(Image from hut website)

Anyway, by the time we got it, we were ready for our Bigos, Fasolka (spicy bean soup) hot dog and chips. 

Once we were all suitably fed and watered, we set off back down again, taking a slightly different descent to Kuźnice where Tom bathed his aching feet in the ice-cold river. It doesn’t really easy the pain, just replaces it with another sort of discomfort. But it is refreshing, and I'm assured they did feel better afterwards! 

Soothing aching feet in an ice-cold mountain river, Kuznice

After checking in at our hotel, we set out again, wandering between the shops, snack bars and entertainments of the busy main street, ul Krupowki. We ate in a traditional restaurant, and Tom was most impressed with his Golonka – stewed pork knuckle – but Sam’s potato pancakes (placki ziemniaczane) were good, too. 

Happy holidaymakers, ready for dinner!

Finally, we walked down to the bottom of the street and all chose different flavours from the ice-cream shop before heading back through the busy streets to the hotel. 

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

A Long Weekend In Poland - Part 2

Day 2 – Auschwitz and The Salt Mines

Today, we had chosen to visit two of the main tourist destinations of the area around Krakow – the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, and the Salt Mines at Wieliczka.

After studying WWII in history class and reading Anne Frank’s Diary, Sam had decided she wanted to visit Auschwitz.

Commemoration to those countries, people and organisations who
contributed to and support the work of the Auschwitz-Birkenau
Memorial and Museum

In order to make best use of our limited time, we chose to book an organised trip taking in both destinations in one day with timed visits, something that worked out well as the weekend’s Assumption Day public holiday meant the crowds were out in force!

We entered the museum via the infamous
"Arbeit Macht Frei" gate ....

.... past blocks that once housed the detainees .... 

.... and which now contain the exhibitions

What can I say about Auschwitz? I’ll be honest with you: I have not, and never will have, the vocabulary to put into words how it makes me feel.

So many people ....

.... passed this way ....

.... no escape

The sheer numbers involved are mind-boggling, with upward of 1.3 million people believed to have been gassed, tortured, executed or starved to death between the camp’s establishment in June 1940 and its liberation in January 1945, and the human suffering evidenced here is indescribable.

The gateway to the Auschwitz II - Birkenau may be familiar to
those who have seen the film Schindler's list ....

.... where wagons like this transported up to 80 prisoners at a time
in suffocating conditions ....

.... to the camp, which at its peak comprised around
300 blocks across 140 hectares ,,,, 

.... and where unimaginable numbers were murdered in Crematoria
like this now-collapsed example

Suffice it to say, the museum and memorial should stand forever as a reminder of what man is capable of doing to man if given the opportunity, and why it should never be allowed to happen again.  

If you want to find out more, please see the official website:

After an interesting but solemn morning, the afternoon’s visit to Wieliczka was a more light-hearted experience. We started with a wander around the village, then took a guided trip of the Salt Mines.

At Wieliczka, we met the locals in the main square ....

.... relaxed a while in Tellytubby land ....

.... before descending into the bowels of the earth

In total, the mines occupy nine levels and reach a depth of around 327m. It is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which includes sites such as Stonehenge, the Ironbridge Gorge and the Derwent Valley in the UK.

Miners often spent their spare time carving statues from
the rock salt, and some beautiful images remain such as 
those of famous scientist Nicolaj Copernicus ....

.... and figures from Polish legend.

All in all, around 1.2 million people visit the salt mines every year, but the tour covers less than 1% of the total tunnel length of almost 300km!

The tour shows how miners through the ages ....

.... helped by horses that spent almost their entire life underground ....

.... and even gnomes, dug the precious salt from the ground

By the time we had reached the end of the tour, we had reached 136m below ground and descended over 800 steps.

The beautiful Chapel of St Kinga is a fully-operational church in
one of the excavated galleries, 100 metres underground ....

.... where the chandeliers ....

.... reproduced works of art ....

....  and even Popes are carved from the
raw rock salt ....

.... and we can sit like royalty amidst the titanic figures of this rocky Valhalla

That evening, we again headed to the main square for dinner, followed by a wander out towards the Barbican and Florian’s Gate. 

Evening at the pierogi festival

Tom in the frame with artist Jan Matejko