The UNESCO cultural landscape Wachau Valley pronounced ‘Vah-how’ not ‘Watch-choo’ is the largest producer of local white wines in Austria. The area produces predominantly Rieslings which profiles apple, peach, and pear but is delightfully crisp and the younger features are slightly effervescent. Rieslings are an exception to my ‘no white wine’ rule. Pour me a glass of red – I’ll be your friend forever. The Wachau valley extends for approximately thirty kilometers framing the Danube River. There is a mix of historic properties and present construction that stick out fantastically from the terraced hillsides.
Okay. Picture this. A guided day of biking fourteen miles from winery to winery, schnitzel and immersing with the locals. Fellow wanderlusters, I’m sure I previewed heaven and I approve of what I saw.
Montanna and I were at it again. Our journey would take us from the Krems train station to the tiny village of Joching. Instead of horses we went with bikes and substituted deafening heights for flat, even ground. There is a running joke about how I try to kill my friends with extreme adventures… I don’t know what they are talking about 😉
Our first stop was in the historic town of Dürnstein which is the popular tourist spot of the Wachau Valley. Don’t let that scare you off. The town remains quiet and even in the height of the tourist season there were few and far between. Our wine came from a local family winery made in the heart of Dürnstein . What I adored about Dürnstein was the ruined castle at on the hill and the blue Augustinian abbey along the Danube both with historic tales.
The castle once jailed Richard the Lionheart of England during the third crusade. He was released upon request by the pope. The hike is fairly strenuous as you gain elevation quickly. The bright side is that you can make it up the hill in about ten to fifteen minutes. The top reveals an incredible, panoramic view of the Wachau Valley.
The next top spot of Dürnstein is the Augustinian Abbey constructed in the 15th century. Our guide told us that the church was painted blue in the 18th century simply because the Pope said “don’t paint the church blue”. The Austrian’s replied “we do what we want!” and painted it blue anyway. The guide also mentioned that this was a legend. Truth or not, take a moment to appreciate the rebel culture.
The last stop before heading back to Krems was in Joching which is a tiny village with more family owned wineries. What is amazing about villages like this are the community pubs that rotate according to their wine supply. The pub we sampled from was up in the hills and overlooked the Danube. It was a welcome reward after a tough cycling session.
The wine was fabulous. The towns were quaint. In the end, my legs (among other body parts) were terribly sore. Want to a perfect day trip out of Vienna? Make sure you visit the Wachau Valley. I only covered only half of the incredible region, but, the towns visited were truly a step back into time. You could take a guide or rent your own bikes. The valley is easy to navigate and almost impossible loose your way. I would have loved to take two or three days to immerse into the villages, but, time was of the essence.
Want to do a self tour? Rent a bike and hop on a train from Vienna Wien Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof to Krems an der Donau starting at 11 Euros.
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate
V-Bar-V Ranch south of Sedona, AZ hosts one of the largest, most prolific examples of Beaver Creek Rock Art. The site consists of over one thousand images spread over thirteen rock panels. Upon excavation, archaeologists unearthed even more petroglyphs. The guide explained that relics were discovered up to six feet under where we stood and were covered back up after excavation. For that reason, you aren’t permitted to walk up to the carvings. Around 1300 AD the Sinaguan residents of the Verde Valley used the site to leave important messages and stories. The glyphs mostly consist of zoomorphs (animal images) and anthropomorphs (geometric designs).
The site is hosted by the National Parks service which means it can only be accessed with a guide. A Red Rock Pass is required for parking and can be obtained online or at the ranger station a short walk from the parking lot.
More from Arizona ancient history? Check out Badass Arizona History: Unreal Dwellings in the Red Rock
North in Sedona are two fantastically preserved heritage sites that showcase some of the largest cliff dwellings in Red Rock Country along with pictographs. I had not heard of this site previously but saw the entrance in after hiking Fay’s Canyon. I’m glad I stopped! After driving several miles down an unpaved road – my Ford Fiesta thanked me – I began my adventure at the visitors center. There are two sites Palatki (meaning Red House) and Honanki (meaning Badger House) both inhabited first by the Sinagua tribes in 1200CE followed by a plethora of other groups like the Yavapai and Apache up until 1875. A Red Rock Pass is required for both sites, but not to worry, you can purchase them at the visitors center in a pinch for $5.
The Palatki site features a cliff dwelling to the east and one to the west of the visitors center. There is some uphill climbing involved but, not to worry it’s tame.
The last switchback approaching the site reveals the first glimpse of the sandstone structures. The long-standing dwellings are situated at the base of the sheer red rock cliff. A southern facing home offers protection from the brutal summer sun and warmth in the winter months. Above the first pueblo is a carving which archaeologists believe to more or less act as a sigil or a clan symbol.
On the other side of the site is a grotto that shows off incredible examples of pictographs and petroglyphs. Archaeologists suspect that some of the images tell stories and legends while others act as celestial calendars to keep track of planting seasons.
Sister site to Palaki and another several miles down the road is a larger complex but lesser pictographs. Be sure to show your Red Rock Pass!
Honanki complex is situated under a shallow cut out of a cliff. The monster complex in it’s hay day had over 70 rooms. After a fire destroyed most of the complex the site came under the care of the National Parks Service.
Allow for at least three to four hours if you really want to get to know the place. Two to three hours if you just want to check it out. I recommend this place if you are into history and have an affection for rocks. Personally, I find rock art fascinating so I had to be drug out by my hiking boots.
I have some more inspiration for you:
We’ve all been on awkward dates. My own terrible date memories include salad bits lodged in my teeth for the duration and another where my suitor and I took a stroll in a secluded trail. He meant no harm but, as serial over thinker I prepared to evoke warrior princess mode making for a jumpy and well – awkward self. My first trip into Budapest, Hungary was just as blundering as one could imagine.
I’ll take it from the top: I’d been flirting with Budapest since I started planning my Europe trip. When I found out that the mysterious, history soaked city was a train ride from Wein I jumped at the opportunity to swipe right. I skyped my mom to tell her the news. She likes to know where I visit with the proviso that she will embrace her inner Liam Neeson and reenact “Taken” on the poor fool who steals away her one and only daughter. “You should talk Montanna into going with you” she suggested. Montanna, my bestie, would visit Austria for a week during my stay in Wien. Great! It’s decided – I wouldn’t even have to talk Montanna into it. Here was the catch, time would only allow for a day trip as the cats I was looking after would be mighty hungry should I not return. Challenge accepted!
The efficient way (and for those in a time crunch) to visit Budapest from Wien is by train. Take Wien HBFon an ÖBB train to Budapest-Keleti. Exit the train into Budapest in about 2.5 hours as opposed to 3.5 hours or more. The trade off is that the ticket cost is set steeply at €29 and up for a one-way, direct advance ticket. The plan was to leave on the 8:40 AM train and be there by 11:20 AM which gives us until 7:40 PM which is the last train back to Wien for the evening. That gave Montanna and I a minimum six hour experience, taking into consideration time to situate in the city and also to walk back to Keleti. Budapest is essentially two cities stuck together so, traveling on foot would not be efficient. I researched a Hop-on & Hop-off tour that included free goulash for lunch and various free alcoholic beverage offers throughout the city for €25. Score. The pick up point was at the Grand Hungarian Hotel. Two minute walk from the train station! Perfect!
Anyone who has traveled under my watch understands that I’m passionate about two topics: having a plan A,B,&C so on and being early. Catching trains are no exception. Naturally, Montanna and I arrive at Wien HBF in time to purchase tickets, stop for coffee, some apple strudel, and people watch. 8:40 rolls around and the train is delayed five minutes. Not an issue. Then fifteen. Then thirty. At this moment in time I’m pacing between the timetable board and our spot on the platform. The thought of lateness makes my skin crawl. You can’t control time, I know, I know. Fifty minutes later the train finally arrives. Okay, one hour down. Five hours is still workable with the plan.
Our unreserved seats in second class left us sweaty and slightly bruised from the backpackers and ladies with large bags walking across the train. I refused to let that matter the trip was in motion. By the time the train pulled into Keleti and situated with bus tickets the time approached half past noon. You could speculate what happened next – the bus was late too. Montanna and I waited an additional thirty minutes for the bus to arrive. In the bus’s defense, traffic was horrendous. I had a sinking feeling there would be no time for goulash or shots. At this point we just wanted to witness what Budapest was offering.
Under any other circumstance I’m sure my plan would have been full-proof. Luck was just not on my side. My pictures are hurried and taken from a moving bus but, it’s all I have of my intriguing first date. I want to delve deeper into Budapest, maybe next time, lateness will not be an issue. It’s always an adventure.
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate
Horseback riding is an excellent way to get lost in nature while your travel. If you have ever imagined yourself galloping across a golden beach or climbing up a misty mountain searching for Mordor – this is your post. Guided tours are available all over the world. Most farms cater to visitors of all experience levels. One thing that seems to be missing in the travel blogging world are tips and tricks to turn your riding experience from night-mare (horse pun) to a rainbow unicorn. There are thousands of travelers who have never touched a horse but, sign up for treks. This is fantastic! Allow me to make your ride a little less stressful.
I grew up on the back of a horse and attribute most of my wanderlust-y ways to my experience with horses. Riding brings out this primal side and inspires me to press on for undiscovered adventure. I have trained in English and Western styles. My specialty is groundwork and saddle breaking young horses. Horses require a delicate balance of acting as an alpha and acting with kindness. They are herd animals and are prey in the wild. This causes their fight or flight instinct to be at the forefront of their decision-making process. You have to act as a team because there are two brains at work.
It’s my personal goal to ride in every country I visit. So far, I have taken treks in Ireland, Iceland, and Scotland. I could be doing better with my goal I must admit.
Take into consideration the length of time, the difficulty of the ride and the number of riders they accept for a typical ride. Check out the About page. Find out the experience levels of the guides. A respectable company will have complimentary reviews. Some key points to look for in reviews include: behavior of the horses, if the riders felt safe and quality of the guide. Corporate and private owners are normally required to carry some sort of liability insurance as horse riding is an inherent risk. Inquiring about insurance is reassuring but, usually not essential. Normally, the day of your ride you will be required to fill in a liability waiver. Be sure to answer the waiver truthfully.
For the love of the equine gods wear a damn helmet. I don’t care if it ruins your hair and I know it makes you look like a mushroom head. Take advice from the girl who was wearing a helmet and still had her brain scrambled in a freak accident. Ride enough, you will experience the premature dismount. Don’t let your trek in the Italian country side end in disaster. If the farm doesn’t offer you the use of a helmet you are under no obligation to ride. You may want to look for different accommodations. Wear a damn helmet!
As far as tops go it really doesn’t matter. Take into consideration temperature and weather. A loose-ish pair of jeans are typically the best for a ride. Shorts I would advise against unless you wish to experience the worst chafing of your entire life. Sport pants or yoga pants are okay, but they don’t offer much grip. It’s also important to pick the right shoes: sneakers will do, hiking boots are ideal, sandals are a no-no.
Take a minute to stretch out before you mount and after you dismount. You will thank me later. Cowboys walk all bow legged for a reason. Touch your toes, a quad stretch, maybe a runner’s lunge – anything to wake those legs up!
The secret to staying balanced and center: pretend there is a straight line from your shoulders, hips to ankles. Keeping this position will firm up your center of gravity. Inexperienced riders tend either sit too far back or too far forward which causes your legs to swing too far forward or back. Results: premature dismounting. Keep upright and centered with your shoulders square for best balancing.
The likelihood that the owner of operations would willingly pair you with a dangerous animal is slim but, you should always remember that any 1,500-pound animal is dangerous. Fear is healthy but, remember that the horse knows what it is doing. Freaking out or raising your voice is only going to make the situation worse. If you are having an issue alert the main rider in a low, calm voice. If you truly believe that your life is in danger, dismount.
Those leather pieces you hold in your hands? Those are attached to a metal bar inside your new friend’s mouth. Refrain from pretending to start a lawnmower to steer. Instead, if you wish to turn use short, slow pulls in the direction you want to go. Want to look like a pro? Press your opposite leg into your horse’s side. Viola! Steering. To stop, the normal cue is to pull back slowly on both reins at once and say Woah.
Risky behavior can include riding and taking pictures. It’s all too tempting to whip out your phone and snap some photos. Use your better judgment and disconnect from the world for an hour or two. Consider this too, it’s risky when you aren’t paying attention but, even more, risky for your phone if you drop it. Farms are not responsible for your technology if it gets ruined.
These creatures are gentle and don’t deserve to be treated badly. I swapped horror stories with owners about individuals on holiday (particularly stag parties) drinking while on a trek and hurting the animals. Be sure to listen and respect your guide – it’s their job, after all, to keep you safe! Regarding the mistreatment of any animal:
Horseback riding is my favorite thing to do when I travel. Remember to keep safe and have fun!
Travel food is tricky. Often a traveler must choose between cooking in unfamiliar accommodations or eating out which can add up. From a budget perspective food cost is the second largest money consuming part of travel, right behind transportation. Unless dumpster diving is your thing – to each their own – paying for food is unavoidable. Travel budgets shouldn’t preach all restrictions so, be sure to visit local eateries. My personal budget plans for eating out 2-3 times a week depending on options. Food is a vital part of the culture. If it’s time to splurge just refrain from eating at the Hard Rock Café in Prague. Find something authentic.
Markets seem to be the best option for finding delicious local produce and goods. The abundant selections of meat, cheeses, veggies and artisan goods (bread, pastries, jams) – to cover all food groups! Wandering around a farmer’s market is quickly becoming a favorite. Better yet, all proceeds fall directly back into the pockets of the locals. Markets are responsible tourism at its best. I will shop at a grocery store for fill-in items that I can’t find in a market – condiments, frozen fries and Red Bull.
How do I stay full throughout the day? I pretend I’m the mother of a toddler. To keep myself from getting a case of the hangries I always have a snack in my purse or backpack. A simple apple could be the difference between Kate-Hulk and Post-Snickers Kate. Bring enough food to keep you satisfied. With that said I wouldn’t stuff your bags with excessive ingredients. Remember kitchen sink will never fit in a purse. I’m looking at you Mary Poppins for unrealistic purse expectations.
Breakfast food is often the cheapest. Fry up some eggs rich with protein or my go-to Greek yogurt, granola, and fresh fruit combo. Eating a nutrient-rich breakfast will carry you throughout the day. I often forget to eat during the day as I’m getting distracted by bookshops or wandering around castles. I eat the largest portion of my calories in the morning. Scientifically speaking, this is the ideal way to consume food anyway but, I graduated with a degree in economics not nutrition so… A ginormous breakfast makes it easier to get be satisfied by a salad for lunch. Dinner is usually a free for all. Don’t have access to a kitchen? Sometimes hotels offer complimentary breakfasts. Be sure to take advantage of it!
Unless it’s pickled shark, before you contemplate trying it – DONT – run far, far away. Local cuisine can appear unappetizing and smell funny, remember the point of traveling is for an experience, not to be comfortable. Local watering holes are often cheaper than chain restaurants, stop into a tavern or even a food truck!
Whereas I haven’t come across a store yet that doesn’t have Doritos or Coca-Cola, certain foods are just impossible to find. However, because they are imported goods the price tag tends to be slightly steeper than the local brand. Take a deep breath, try something new. If there aren’t any Starbucks around, suck it up buttercup. Coffee is still coffee, yogurt is still yogurt, and carrots are still carrots even in France. Think of it as a gastronomic adventure.
It’s almost a reward to eat fruits and vegetables. Produce can always be found at a reasonable price. Fruits and veggies are filling so your stomach will be full throughout the day and full of fiber – so your stomach will always feel in tip-top shape.
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate
Day three of cramming as much of the Highlands as possible. I awoke with the birdies and dragged myself to the Kia. Six hours of driving and ten hours of adventuring sure makes for a weary traveler. Repeat steps from the last two days: fuel up and Redbull. Today the goal was to drive to John O’Groats the northernmost point of mainland United Kingdom. I didn’t have anything planned in John O’Groats. I was more interested in the road. The windy A9 would merge into the two-lane coastal A99. I found a map that showed some typical, historical spots and with some help from Atlas Obscura I was rearing to have a busy day. The day was warm and sunny. Thank goodness, the weather held for my entire trip!
As I approached Dunrobin Castle the plan was to breeze through one of many stops. I ended up spending about two hours completely entranced by Andy Hughes and his birds of prey. Falconry dates to 1700 BC in the Middle East. The hunting art involves a hunter using a trained bird of prey to kill and retrieve game such as rabbit, pheasant or other species of bird. Falconry didn’t reach Europe until about 900AD. I’m positive this guy has full-on conversations with his birds. Which inevitably happens the closer relationship to a pet. Been there. I appreciated the birds but, the connection between handler and animal was spectacular to witness. Coming from an equestrian background, I understand herd mentality and the vital balance between being the alpha and gentleness. It’s slightly different working with predators. Their relationship is built on equality and trust. Teamwork is key since the solitary hunter will do what is best for itself. The flock (I suppose?) consisted of about ten falcons and two owls. Zooming around the athletic birds demonstrated their trade by ‘killing’ lures. Dunrobin castle is an excellent stop. The inside of the castle was in pristine condition and had a French flair going. It is home to the Earl of Sutherland and Clan Sutherland.
This is my comrade Cedar – an Eagle Owl. It’s his job to hang out at Dunrobin Castle and hunt rabbits. Occasionally take some pictures with girls obsessed with owls. He works with the aviary and Falconry expert Andy Hughes to hunt as well as teach conservation to travelers who pass through. As a person who also works with animals, it’s heartwarming to see someone who has such an intense bond with the creatures they care for.
Less than a mile down the road is Carn Liath Broch.
A broch is an Iron Age drystone structure that is only found in Scotland.
A broch is typically round and was used as either housing or defensive purposes – archaeologists can’t agree. It’s a splendid example if you fancy ruins and historic archaeology. Travelers only need about ten minutes to check it out. I took the opportunity to have a snack and relax in the sun. The structure overlooks a pasture and the ocean. I had the place to myself so it was delightfully silent.
The Grey Cairns of Camster are some of the oldest structures in Scotland. Clocking in at 5,000 years longstanding the stone constructions show us modern folks perfect examples of round cairns and long cairns. Cairns are typically used as burial chambers. Upon excavation in the late 19th century the long cairn produced several human skeletons untouched, but, in the round cairn, archaeologists found human and animal bones which were all burned. The two human skeletons were incomplete both missing their legs. Archaeologists presume that the round cairn was used for ritual. Guess which cairn was open for exploration? Crawl on your hands and knees or squat walk through a ten-foot tunnel into the round cairn’s antechamber. The tunnel entrance was probably 3X2 and pitch black so, seriously not for the claustrophobic. The inner chamber filtered in light through a slight hole in the top of the structure.
The next ancient site was the Hill o’ Many Stanes. The site confounds archaeologists as there no proof that the plot of land home to approximately 200 stones, arranged in 22 rows is an authentic ancient site. The straight lines and arrangement suggest that the site was a lunar chart. The Hill o’ Many Stanes is not exactly exciting, but, the mauve heather carpet along the hill makes for a unique view in contrast to the blue coastline.
Much like the cairns at Camster, Cairn o’Get sports a narrow entrance leading to a roomy antechamber. Cairn o’ Get is dissimilar to the other cairns as the top has fallen in. This site offers a peek into the structure without having to crawl on hands and knees to reach the center. To find Cairn o’ Get park along the lake and take about a mile and a half walk through some cow pastures. Don’t worry follow the back and white markers. It’s a quiet place far off the main A99. Take in the sound of a burn flowing through the waist-high ferns. Be sure to stay on the paths beyond the pastures as the land is boggy and water saturated.
The Old Wick Castle lovingly called the “Old Man of Wick” sits on a gaunt, neck of land that juts into the sea. The bones of the castle date back to the 12th century and has some ties to early Norse visitors. There is not much left of the castle, but, it’s a great walk along the coast and a bit of an adrenaline kick peering over the cliff sides. The tower is surrounded by sheer drops on three sides.
The last castle I saw was from afar. Sad times. It was on private land!
Other honorable mentions that I missed, but wanted to see:
The Yarrow Trail
Sinclair & Girnigoe Castle
See? Three days is not enough time… If you have been following along the past three posts you will know that I had three AMAZING action-packed days. I didn’t even scratch the surface of the extensive hiking trails and historical castles and archaeology sites. I think I might spend a month in the north next time!
Missed the other posts? Here ya go:
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate