Lake Bled and the Church of the Assumption on Bled Island
Earlier in our European adventure, I blogged about one of the worst day tours we ever took and now we had one of the best day tours ever. It was the Emerald River Adventure tour run by 3glav adventuresin Bled, Slovenia. This tour had it all. History, beautiful scenery, hiking at the highest mountain pass in Slovenia, white water rafting on the Soca river, swimming at a secluded waterfall, visiting another waterfall (no swimming at this one but still very impressive), jumping from a ridiculously high bridge into emerald green water, a unique car train ride through a series of long tunnels, and all of this in one day long tour that costs less than 100 euros.
View of the Julian Alps in Bled, Slovenia
Packing all this stuff into one day wouldn’t work well if it wasn’t run by a good group of guys. You can tell they really care about their country and about showing tourists what it has to offer. Unlike many tour operators around the world, I didn’t feel like these guys were just in it for the money. They didn’t just want to get you in and out while emptying the most they can out of your wallet. This level of service has made them stand out. Just look at tripadvisor. They are rated the #1 thing to do in Bled and the reviews they have are as glowing as mine. Well done guys!!!
Jumping from a bridge into emerald green water. This guy had a very bad entry into the water... but first... ouch. I don't think he will be sitting down again for a while.
Slovenia doesn’t usually show up on the travelers radar as being an adventure capital. Switzerland usually holds that title but if you want the best service, the best bang for your buck, the best food, the best culture, look no further than Bled, Slovenia.
Girl fishing in Lake Bohinj
It’s also much, much cheaper than Switzerland. Just take a look at the price difference for a 3 hour cayoning tour. I know price isn’t everything but it makes a difference for travelers on the budget. Why pay twice as much in Switzerland for what is the same if not a better experience in Slovenia.
3 hour canyoning tour with 3glav in Slovenia – 55 euros
3 hour canyoning tour (they advertise it as a half day tour but its closer to a 2 hour tour with only 3 waterfalls to abseil down) with “Trekking Team” in Switzerland – 100 euros
Start of the Soca river. One of the many beautiful waterfalls in Slovenia.
Bled, Slovenia has a lot more to offer the adrenaline junkie. You can go hiking, mountain biking, sky diving, paragliding, rock climbing, and much more. You can also get very good 3-4 star accommodation for less than 75 euros per night (even in August).
Gearing up for whitewater rafting down the Soca River
Here is a short video of our whitewater rafting trip down the Soca River. It’s more of us jumping off of rocks, and floating down the river than actually rafting but still a great time just don’t expect class 5 Zambezi river like rapids.
One thing that helps immerse you in the local culture is to crash local events. In this case it was very easy. There were flyers up all over Cortina, Italy advertising a speed climbing competition at the dam. We’ve never seen speed climbing in person before so we figured we’d go check it out. We were definitely the only non Italians there but it was fun to see what the locals do with their time. Plus, watching the speed climbers was amazing. These guys climbed up the side of the damn faster than I can run on flat ground.
Remember the climbing we did on the via ferrata? I mentioned in that post that even local kids climb on the via ferrata routes. This proved it. These kids could barely walk and they were climbing with no fear!!
Local kids practicing how to climb the via ferrata
Kid zip lining down off the dam
Here is some video of these guys flying up the side of the damn.
Travel Tip: Look in local magazines, look out for posters, talk with the concierge, find a local event and just show up. Who cares if you can’t speak the language. The poster we found for this event were in Italian but it had a picture of a climber, a time and a date. That was enough to figure out what was happening.
This is one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in a long time. They mounted a 360 degree camera below a helicopter during a tour in Nimmo Bay, British Columbia. During the flight you can pan the camera while the video is playing and your moving through the air. It’s like you are actually there. We have all seen virtual 360 tours of homes, etc but these guys (North Studio 360) took it way beyond the next level. You really have to watch this. It’s amazing.
I’ve watched it a dozen times up on my 65 inch TV. I still can’t believe how much it draws you in. It’s like you are really there.
I have a feeling we will be seeing a lot more of these guys. It will be game changer in online advertising.
The VIA FERRATA!! This is what brought us to the Dolomites in northern Italy. I read about this in some travel book (can’t remember anymore which one) that this was one of the top adventures in the world. After doing it I can say it was a blast and an amazing adventure but one of the top adventures in the world??… maybe a little bit a stretch. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
Our route on the via ferrata
We hired Marcello via www.dolomitemountains.com to guide us up the mountain. We started off roped up to Marcello even though the whole point of the via ferrata is that you don’t have to use ropes. The via ferrata or iron road provides the necessary safety measures for you to get to the top. All you really need is a helmet, harness, and 2 carabiners attached to you harness. The 2 carabiners are there so you always have at least one clipped into the cable just in case.
Nathan bringing up the rear on the via ferrata
After a little bit of climbing Marcello decided we were ready to go on our own. He took the rope off of us. There would be nobody to blame but ourselves if we fell to our death. Our lives were in our own hands. Actually, it wasn’t that scary. The iron cable is firmly bolted into the mountain and you always have one clip into the cable. You would have to do something very stupid to get hurt. Even the local kids do this with their families. It’s like taking a walk in the park for them.
We did make it to the top and both of us wanted to do it again right away. It was great fun that was very safe. I would want to hire Marcello to do it a few more times but then we would be fine going out on our own. Most of these routes are well documented and well marked. During the peak seasons you can even get traffic jams on some of them because there are so many people.
Miki standing in front of our via ferrata climb
Travel Tip: If you want help with a complete travel package to the Dolomites contact www.dolomitemountains.com. They can help with hotels, transportation and hiring a guide. If all you need is a guide for a few days then contact Marcello directly. You’ll probably be able to work out a better deal.
Check out this video compilation of our climb up the via ferrata.
The previous post explained our lack of experience hiking in Europe so today we hired a guide. We hired Marcello Cominetti via www.dolomitemountains.com. Hiring a guide was a little complicated when I was going through the process. It seems like most foreign tourists do a package tour when coming to the area but we were only looking to hire a guide for 3 days. I took care of lodging, food, transportation, etc to save on cost. The main problem I had was the cost of about 400 euro per day for the guide. To me this seemed pretty steep but after more research and talking with Marcello this was about right.
The Mountain Guide Association, which Marcello is a member, regulates the cost guides can charge based on the climb you do. For example, a very hard sport climb might only take an expert only an hour to do but would cost 600 euros for a guide because of the difficulty. That same climb might take someone 6 hours but the cost would still be 600 euros. The climbing we did wasn’t hard or technical which is why the cost was less. I’m sure you could find someone who would take you out cheaper but do you really want to literarily put your life in the hands of an amateur. My recommendation, hire Marcello!!
Starting to Climb Cinque Torri
We also upped the adrenaline factor on our climb today. We met our guide at the base of a famous bit of rock near Cortina, Cinque Torri or 5 Towers in english. It didn’t look that daunting driving up the dusty single lane dirt road but it was a different story once we got to the base. The locals call this place “The Airport” because so many people come here to climb because there are many easy routes. We didn’t think it looked that easy but we got all geared up with climbing harnesses, ropes, helmets, etc and heading to the start of our climb.
After a brief safety talk our guide started straight up the rock. While we were waiting for him to get into place, I got one of those looks from Miki. You know, one of those “what the heck have you gotten me into now looks”.
The ""what the heck have you gotten me into now look"
There was no turning back now so we pressed on…
Miki Climbing the 5 Towers
Our guide leading a route on the 5 towers
I didn’t get my camera out for most of the climb because it was pretty challenging for us. Marcello just walked up the thing like he was talking a stroll in the park but we struggled from time to time. BUT… we made it and we felt very, very proud of ourselves.
Summit of Cinque Torri (5 Towers)
Being very proud of our accomplishment I wanted to try to portray the enormity of our accomplishment. We had climbing several hundred meters straight up. Once we reached the summit we abseiled down several abseil stations (one length of route can’t reach from top to bottom). This is hard to capture in a photo but I used a 12mm wide angle lens that gave an almost distorted perspective of the side we abseiled down. If you zoom in you can see a climber in a red jacket about 3/4 of the way up. Looks impressive huh…
Wide Angle of Cinque Torri
The next day we hiked up a mountain opposite the 5 Towers. This gave us a very different perspective on the mountain we conquered (also pictured at the top of the post). Doesn’t look that challenging from this perspective. In fact it looks down right easy. A little change in perspective can make a big difference.
Andorra is a tiny, landlocked country sandwiched between Spain and France. Tourism is pretty much all that Andorra has going for it. There really isn’t any other industry. Normally, when there is a tourist hot spot in the world there tends to be a lot of Japanese wandering around in single file lines. Not so with Andorra. I don’t have any official stats but we didn’t encounter a single one during our overnight visit. My theory why there aren’t any Japanese tourists is that it’s hard to get to. There isn’t an airport in the country so you have to drive or bus in.
We were only driving through Andorra so we didn’t have a lot of time to explore the country. It’s basically a big ski town. None of the ski runs look that challenging so it’s likely better for families that hard core skiers. Any ski town wouldn’t be a complete without a spa and Andorra has one of the biggest I’ve ever been to. It’s the Caldea Spa.
Caldea indoor lagoon
The spa is built around a large indoor lagoon but that isn’t all they have to offer. They have outdoor baths, outdoor jacuzzis, indo-roman baths, icelandic baths, Aquamassage, Sirocco Bath, Sauna, Hammam, and more. Admission is 35 euros per person which is pretty expensive for what it is but they run some good specials. We were able to get one night at a very nice 3 star hotel plus admission for 2 people for less than 100 euros. Basically, you get lodging a they throw in entrance to the Caldea Spa for free. All the specials are advertised on their website.
Miki’s favorite room was the Icelandic bath were you can cool down with snow and very cold water before hoping into the hot sauna.
Miki in the Icelandic bath
They also have a “show” at night which is… well… interesting. It’s a laser light show thing with an acrobat hanging from the ceiling all while some opera singer does he thing. Nothing to go out of your way to see but it was a nice surprise to end the day.
Caldea indoor light show
I would like to come back to Andorra in the winter to check out the various ski resorts but it’s worth a visit even in the summer… but only for a couple of day.
Bull fights can be a pretty controversial topic so I was reluctant to post any photos from the fight we went to in Pamplona, Spain. However, these bull fights are part of the Spanish cultural and an an integral part of the San Fermin festival. As a traveller I believe it’s important to understand the cultural you are visiting and a bull fight is of it. I’m not going to go into whether it’s right or wrong because I haven’t made up my mind on topic. I also don’t think it’s my place to say whether it’s right or wrong since I’m not Spanish. What I will say is that I was surprised by some of the things I saw. Some of my preconceptions about bull fights were slightly off.
I was surprised to see that when the Matador and the bull have a rhythm together it looks very elegant.
I was surprised that less than 1% of the spectators were foreigners. One of the main arguments against bull fights is that its only done for foreign tourists but what I witnessed was mainly Spanish spectators.
I knew the fight was going to be gory but seeing it in person is really shocking.
I was surprised by the ceremony surrounding the event. This wasn’t just about slaughtering a bull. There is a lot of history and ceremony surrounding the event.
I’m glad we went but once was enough. I will not likely be attending a bull fight anytime soon.
Here is a short video with clips and photos from the bull fight.
More pictures and an explanation of how a bull fight works after the break.
We’ve done some pretty amazing things in our travels around the world but this ranks as the stupidest… and definitely the most dangerous. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and we happened to be in Europe when the San Fermin festival was taking place in Pamplona. Before we knew it we were running down the street with some massive bulls hot on our tail.
Running with the bulls just after dead man's curve
It did take some planning to go running with the bulls but with the help of Mark from PamplonaBalconies.com we made it happen. Mark suggested that we watch the running of the bulls from a balcony before you actually go running. This was very good advice. If you don’t plan your run you can kicked off the street by the police or worse yet you can get very injured. My favorite quote from Mark was, “Running with the bulls is like playing russian roulette with a thousands chambers and one bullet”.
Here are some steps to make sure you have an enjoyable and safe run
Line up before the gate at the Plaza del Mercado. This is very important. Anyone lined up on the street after the gate will get cleared off the street by the police.
Plaza del Mercado
Police cleared the street for the running with the bulls
You have to wear proper San Fermin costume. You don’t have to crazy like these guys… unless you want.
San Fermin dress code
Don’t bring a camera. They don’t allow pictures to be taken on the street. They say its for safety but I also think its for the local shops to sell there own pictures. You can easily get around this by hiding a camera and only bring it out after they released the first bull (as I did with my gopro). The police are gone once the first bull is released.
Photographers getting kicked off the street for the running of the bulls
Watch out for other people more than the bulls. Most injuries occur from getting pushed, stepped on, punched, etc by the other runners NOT the bulls.
Guy pushed by his fellow runners. Hit his head on the curb. I supposed it's better than getting bored by a bull.
If it’s your first time running it’s best to line up after dead man’s corner. 2 reasons: 1) getting stuck in dead man’s corner is not good. 2) You want to get into the stadium for “play time” before they close the gate just after the last bull.
Lining up for the running of the bulls
Prepared with this advice we got up very early the next day to make sure we were all lined up and in the right spot. After an hour of nervously waiting around it was finally time. The bulls were let loose and rapidly approaching where we chose to line up. The bulls run the entire course in just over 2 minutes so it goes by very, very quickly.
Here come the bulls
Bulls rounding dead man's corner
Horn to close for comfort
Important rule: Try not to get stepped on
Running at a safe distance from the bulls
And before you know it… it was all over. I felt a little bit like a chicken because I was a good 4 arm lengths away from the bulls. I tried to get a little closer but there are a lot of people and by the time I pushed my way closer while running, the bulls had already passed by. We did get into the stadium for “play time”. This is when they let bulls out into the arena filled with people. I’m not really sure of the point but some people tried to slap the bull on the butt, put cups on the horns, basically see how close you can get without getting knocked unconscious. These bulls horns are capped so there isn’t a risk of getting gored. Several people did need to be carried off the field though so it’s not that safe either.
Check out the video from my gopro during the run. It didn’t turn out as I hoped but you can still get a blurry look at what its like. I wanted that clear shot of my running directly in front of bull but that didn’t happen. I guess I’ll just have to do it again sometime to get better first person footage.
I would definitely recommend you try this once. It’s not as dangerous as people make it out to be if you are smart about it. If you need help planning your trip give Mark at PamplonaBalconies.com a call. He can take care of lodging, balcony reservations, bull fights, recommendations for restaurants, he even throws a VIP party every night if your interested.
We got back from our epic 3 month European adventure a while back. It’s taken me a while to get through the thousands of photos and videos but I’m getting there. To get an idea of where we went check out the video animation above from tripline.net. Tripline is a new site that helps you share the places you plan to go or where you’ve been. It’s still in beta so there are a lot of features to be desired but still a cool travel site.
We travelled thousands of kilometers across 23 countries in Europe experiencing the best the continent has to offer. From the thermal pools of Iceland, the polar bears of Svalbard, running of the bulls in Spain, climbing the dolomites in Italy, experiencing the history of Budapest, hiking the glaciers of Switzerland, bobsledding in Austria, sipping wine in Burgundy and so, so much more. Stay tuned over the next few weeks for new blog posts of our adventures through Europe.