We wrote this post a couple of days ago but have only just got into WIFI good enough to post it…
It’s been a while since we last wrote, our heads have been focused on a new project we will be returning home early to start! We can’t give you too many details just yet!
A brief catch up from where we left off, we’re eating and drinking far too much and we’ve come across some really exquisite places that we’re going to be returning to as soon as possible. Kitzbuhel, a haven of cream topped hot chocolate, apple strudel with vanilla sauce, beers on top of the Austrian alps, a colourful and picturesque main town and views so grand they are forever engraved into your mind.
We stayed on a small dairy farm in the alps, the cows lived in the house too which was exciting, in a barn smelling, authentic experience kind of way. We decided to walk to our accommodation from the train as it was only 1.4km away and I think it took us about 2 hours to reach the house because climbing a mountain in the pouring rain with backpacks and luggage is a special kind of painful. But of course we were both too stubborn to call a taxi.
We made ‘friends’ with an older couple because we walked past their car and noticed they had a really beautiful Bernese Mountain dog inside (I do realize it is creepy to make ‘friends’ with people because of their dog). They took us hiking in the Alps off the usual roads and into the forests which was an incredible experience. I managed to embarrass myself, as usual, by spectacularly falling down the wet grassy hill trying to run after their dog (and then a few times after that in the damp forest too- I stopped counting).
Our trip up to the top of the Horn mountain has been a memory we keep revisiting as the trip goes on, we enjoyed a panoramic view of towering mountains and a cold bottle of champagne to celebrate, nothing in particular, just being alive.
From Austria we went on to Hungary. Eating our way though Budapest and drinking our way through the world famous wines of the Tokaj region. It was from here we started our 2600km journey up to the Arctic Circle in Finland. Traveling through Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and then Finland we finally reached Giellajohka, a small guesthouse about 60km north of a town called Inari in Northern Finland. Throughout our travels we had come across some incredible places that we absolutely loved, but this one was special.
The Arctic is such a beautifully natural and wild area that it’s difficult to believe exactly where you are. We were there in Autumn. You would think that the Arctic Circle is just snow and ice and general ‘freezingness’ but it’s not. At this time of year everything is a bright red, yellow or pink. There are massive lakes and dams spotted between these colours with reindeer and moose walking along the road. You are constantly in awe of your surroundings.
We were lucky enough to meet and get to know a few of the locals who live such interesting lives. We explored the forests on horseback with a woman who lives with her horses and 90 huskies and went fishing for food on the lake and foraging for berries with the owners of the guesthouse. We thought it couldn’t get any better until we experienced the northern lights.
It is exceptionally difficult to describe what it’s like to watch bright green lights dancing on a backdrop of stars but its impossible to forget. Out of all the places we visited this one felt like it could be home, who knows maybe an Arctic guesthouse one day!?
We went on to explore Riga in Latvia. The food scene was one of the most surprising we have seen. It is buzzing with trendy bars and restaurants. We were lucky enough to try out a couple of fantastic places, the highlight being Restorans 3 which pulled out all the stops in terms of clever, tasty and theatrical cooking. Goats cheese made to look exactly like a beetroot with a garlic bread root, horseradish, apple and beetroot textures was a highlight! Mushrooms are like a religion in Latvia and we found ourselves in one of the worlds most famous markets buying bags full of different mushrooms, some that we had never seen or heard about before. Riga is definitely a real up and coming culinary hot-spot.
Finally the medieval Old Town of Tallinn is intriguing, different and exceptionally beautiful all at the same time. We were also surprised by the amount of trendy restaurants and bars. Last night, we found our absolute favourite bar of all time. The Sigmund Freud Bar served by far the most interesting and tasty drinks I’ve ever come across. Think vanilla vodka with passion fruit puree, passion fruit, sparkling wine and toasted marshmallow; or passion fruit rum, coconut milk, lemongrass, lime and burning Absinthe! We promised to go in and just have one cocktail and we ended up spending half our live savings, drinking 5 each and having a guess-the-song competition with the barman for free homemade lemoncello shots. In hindsight this was probably not the best decision to make when we had a 6am bus the next morning. In our defense on our way to the bus station the town was still buzzing with people- seems like the people of Tallinn really know how to have a good party, they would get on well with South Africans.
We’re currently sitting in a bus station in Saint Petersburg, Russia. At this stage we’re counting ourselves lucky that we made it here after 1. Last night’s classic Darren and Lisa overdo and 2. Almost being denied entrance at the Russian boarder this morning (this was through no fault of our own but nonetheless a heart palpitation moment with the two now delayed bus drivers waiting for us in passport control staring like we had killed their cat). From what we have experienced so far, Russia is completely different and we’re feeling a little out of our comfort zone. Every sign or information board is in Russian, which as far as I can see uses a whole different alphabet so there’s no point in even trying to make out what it says. Upon our arrival in Saint Petersburg we realized we had come a day early for our departing ticket to Moscow (oops…) and had to sort out that little issue which is much more difficult when the ticket lady doesn’t speak any English. I spent 15 minutes trying to find the toilet in a bus station that was small enough to be a restaurant and it took me about 3 times as long to try buy lunch from the grocery store.
We head through to Moscow tonight, where we will be visiting White Rabbit for dinner, my number 1 bucket list restaurant and one of the best restaurants in the world!