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.
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.
I did a lot of research to find a good deal on a rental car for our Europe trip. The challenge is there are a lot of options. I looked at combinations of train and rental cars. Only taking the train. Renting a car in one country and dropping if off in another. After days and days of research the best deal I found was Renault Eurodive.
The setup is simple. You pick up a car in one city in France and drop it off anywhere else in France. You can pick up or drop off in another country but that can cost around 300 euros more depending on the country. Here are some of the key benefits of using Renault Eurodrive vs a regular rental car company.
A brand new vehicle. Our vehicle had 12 km on it when we picked it up. We got a Megane which I really, really liked and it served us well through over 7000km of driving. It’s a sporty little car that is still very comfortable for long distance road trips.
Comprehensive insurance coverage. They cover everything and there is no deductible. Most credit cards claim they will cover what the car rental company doesn’t but do you really want to go through the headache of dealing with that.
You can visit ALL countries in Europe. Most rental car companies won’t allow you to drive in Bosnia, Romania, Serbia, and most other eastern european countries. With Eurodrive it’s no problem.
No extra fees for anything. Bring back the car with an empty tank of gas – no extra charge. Want to add an extra driver – no extra charge.
Cost. If you rent for over 21 days it is almost always cheaper than renting a car from a normal rental agency. The longer you rent past 21 days the cheaper the per day cost gets. Eurorail train passes are quite expensive. If you have two people and want to travel to more than 3 countries it’s cheaper to rent a car (plus you get the freedom to drive wherever you want).
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.
Scuba diving in the arctic, during the summer, in a snow storm.
Most people would think you are crazy to want to scuba dive in the arctic. Throw in a major snow storm and they will really think your really nuts to go diving. This doesn’t stop Dennis and his crew on the NatGeo Explorer from getting in the water to get some underwater video to show us. The only disappointing thing is they wouldn’t let me go with them
Instead, I was stuck on the deck taking pictures of the thousands of seabirds nesting on the sheer cliffs directly off the bow.
Taking pictures of the nesting seabirds on the cliffs of Alkefjellet
Alkefjellet cliffs from the deck of the NatGeo Explorer
As we were maneuvering away from the cliffs we disturbed the guillemots resting the water. It was quite a sight to see hundreds of these birds all “running” across the water to get out of the way of our ship.
Guillemot running away
These are the same birds nesting on the side of the cliffs so they must be able to fly. It’s curious why they choose to run across the water rather than fly away.
Guillemots running across the water
Our next step was Torelneset. After going on several of the hikes on the rather desolate gravel and tundra of Svalbad, the scenery was getting rather monotonous. I wasn’t real excited to go on another hike but we wanted to get off the ship and stretch our legs. Plus, you never know what you spot while out on a hike. Even though the wildlife is scarce out on the hikes there are still good pictures to be taken. You just need to be a little more creative to get something worth showing.
Torelneset had a walrus haul out which we spent an unfortunately small amount of time at. Lindblad does almost everything right but I was very disappointed in the amount of time (barely 15 minutes) we were allowed to spend taking photos of the walruses here. Given we went on an almost 2 hour hike around the desolate tundra I would have thought they could have given more time for the walruses. Oh well, you can’t win them all so you need to make the best of it and I think I was still able to get a few keepers. The light was very flat and grey so some significant amount of photoshop was needed.
Walrus haul out
In addition to not having much time with the walruses, we weren’t able to get very close. The staff drew a line in the sand not to cross. I suppose it was for our safety since getting impaled by once of those tusks would not be very fun. Luckily my 500mm with doubler was able to bring them in fairly close.
Miki in front of walrus haul out
After our short walrus sighting the weather started to clear and we heading to one of my favorite places of the trip. The Austfonna ice cap. It’s the largest ice cap by area and second largest by volume in Europe. The largest glacier by volume in Europe is the Vatnajökull Glacier in Iceland which we visited several weeks earlier. Glaciers are extremely photogenic. It’s hard to take a bad pictures of these amazing ice creations… especially when we had such fantastic light.
One of the top animals on our list to photograph has been the “Ice Bear” or Polar Bear. These elusive creatures are getting harder and harder to spot in the wild but we knew we could count on Lindblad Expedition’s National Geographic Explorer and their crew to find them for us. We travelled on the National Geographic Explorer to Antarctica last year and had an amazing time. The ship, crew, staff, Nat Geo photo instructors and Antarcitca itself was one of the most amazing places we’ve been to. Many of the passengers on the ship with us in the Antarctic raved about the trip to the Arctic. Since seeing Polar Bears was on our wish list we booked the trip immediately after returning home.
Polar Bear in field of arctic flowers
Lindblad calls the trip to the arctic the Land of the Ice Bears. They market the trip as an 11 day tour of the Svalbard archipelago. In actuality, you only have 5 days on the ship searching for the elusive Ice Bear. All of the other days are travel days or embarking/disembarking from the ship. The trip was still amazing even though it was shorter than we expected. An extra 2 days at sea exploring the archipelago would have been perfect. It would have allowed extra time to search for Polar Bears, Walruses, Whales and most importantly not feel rushed when trying to get that perfect shot. Overall, the photography experience in Antarctica was far superior and I came away from that trip with much better pictures than this one. Even though it was only a 5 day trip they packed as much into every moment as they could and I did end up with a few good photos.
Over the next week or so I’ll do a few posts that describes what we did and what we saw each day we were on the ship. Similar to what I did for our expedition to Antarctica.
The photo instructors onboard the ship put together a video slideshow of the passengers best photos from the trip. Miki and I submitted some of our favorites. We tried to submit pictures that other people wouldn’t have posted so we tried to get a little creative and kept the wildlife pictures to a minimum since everyone else had lots of them.
Some of my favorites.
- Polar Bears above.
The Ice of the Arctic
Waterfall flowing off the Austfonna ice cap. Largest ice cap by area in Europe.
Kayaking in the Arcitc. (Gopro camera attached to end of kayak paddle)