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Canalside homes in AmsterdamI haven’t been to Amsterdam for 20 years, when I was all eyes and ears as a young back packer. And here I am, still all eyes and ears, for a weekend with a great buddy. Amsterdam is an immensely strollable city – small enough to get lost in, gorgeous cafes and bars to pass the time, and a cacophony of sights and sounds for the senses. `And when your feet get sore or your nerves too jangled from avoiding the faster-than-a-speeding-bullet cyclists who own the city, you can just jump on a canal bus and see the city from water’s level. Even in the water it’s more than a slightly mad pace – hundreds of boats – pleasure cruisers, working barges, pedalos, private tubs, sleek little numbers carrying a couple of friends and more than a couple of drinks, even dinghies shaped like yellow clogs (I kid you not), and house boats lining every canal – all seem to mostly avoid collisions as they weave under the low bridges, and while there doesn’t seem much order to it all, it somehow works!

Organised chaos on the Princes Canal in Amsterdam

Organised chaos on the Princes Canal in Amsterdam

Tomorrow is Kings Day, so all the houseboats have put out buoyant floating barriers, to help prevent damage from the hundred of boats fuelled by fun and the colour orange, who will bump along the canals tomorrow as the town goes mad.  Can’t wait!

Best Walks of Geelong, the Bellarine and the Brisbane Ranges

Best Walks of Geelong, the Bellarine and the Brisbane Ranges

Hi everyone

Just a quick post to let you know that the 2nd print run of Best Walks of Geelong, the Bellarine and the Brisbane Ranges is now available and in stock at Woodslane Press, so your local bookseller should be able to order it. Yay!  Also, at the upcoming Melbourne Dog Lovers Show, on the first weekend in May, you’ll be able to pick up ‘Melbourne for Dogs’ at the show’s book shop, run by Avenue Bookstore. Amidst all that excitement, time for me to focus on the final write up of Best Walks of the Great Ocean Road, before my long-suffering co-author, Neil Fahey, over at Bushwalking Blog, falls asleep in disgust!  Should be out mid year.

Meantime, I am excited about my forthcoming birthday walk – 6 days on the Larapinta Trail – in central Australia. I love, love, LOVE deserts and one of my all time favourite travel moments was 4 days in the deserts of Wadi Rum in Jordan when I was doing that backpacker thang.

'Double Sunset' over St Kilda Beach, 8 Feb 2015 (c) JP Mundy

‘Double Sunset’ over St Kilda Beach, 8 Feb 2015 (c) JP Mundy

Sometimes the best walks are in your own back yard. Took my trusty co-author Indie down to St Kilda beach on sunset last night to cool off after a stinking hot day, and before long, that fantastic Melbourne phenomenon, “the cool change”, came blasting through with a vengeance: the temperature dropped 10 degree celsius in 10 minutes, and my legs were soon getting a good sand-blasting as the wind gusted from the west. Out of nowhere, rain started falling in curtains on the horizon and fierce storm clouds blew up, creating this bizarre and pretty wonderful ‘double’ sunset. Ain’t life grand?

IMG_5631PS: The ‘real’ sun is on the left!

 

 

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It’s amazing what I find in the “drafts” section of my blog – I think I owe you this second day of my walk in the Italian Alps from about a year ago!  Here’s the link to Day 1 if you want to do something daft and read it chronologically!

So, I think to myself, Day 2 of the Dorsale walk has to be about going down, since so much of yesterday was about going up.  Right? Perhaps I had forgotten that I had descended to 1100m to stay at the wonderful Alpetto di Torno last night.  So a descent would be wishful thinking. First off, I had to head up through all those dairy cows, which were clanking away through the meadows with their bells (who would have thought they would be so noisy?!) and follow some old goat tracks up the valley sides to regain the main Dorsale track.  Despite a few wrong turns, I got there eventually, and reached the high point of the walk, at 1560m, right beside the top of some old ski lifts and a wintering barn, at Alpe di Terra Biotta.  From here, there’s a one hour easy detour you can do to summit on Mont St Primo  for 360 degree views across the entire Dorsale (triangle wedge) region, as well as a good look at the descent ahead.

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After sucking up the view, finally, finally, you are rewarded by the down: flex those knees everyone! It’s a gorgeous, and in places, steep descent, past astonishing wildflowers, more of those clanking dairy cows, and even clinking (think cow bells, but higher pitched!) goat herds.  You even have to dodge a competitive mountain bike trail at one stage. As you drop from the mountains, and down into pasturelands, you start to wander past ruined stone farmhouses and cottage gardens, and to be honest, I just couldn’t resist the Solo Walkers Indulgence: lying on my back in the grass of a wildflower meadow, in the sun, reading my book for an hour.  Talk about a guilty pleasure! And OK, so it does mean I strolled down the old Mules Path and into gorgeous Bellagio rather late in the day, and a gelato never tasted so good, but the final insult was the flights of stone stairs UP through the village to reach my apartment. That was just someone’s joke, I am sure.

 

Ruined farmhouses along the Dorsale

Ruined farmhouses along the Dorsale

 

I couldn’t recommend this walk more as a way to get from A to B – while the lakeside villages were just teeming with people, as you might expect in June/July, I passed probably 8 or so people and about 5 mountain bikers for the full 2 days. It’s a great, and relaxed walk for families and small groups too – just make sure you book ahead for the Refugio, as they only open to bookings.

The final stroll beside Lake Como as you reach Bellagio

The final stroll beside Lake Como as you reach Bellagio

I spent another 5 days lake-hopping around the various tiny lake towns, and spent another 2 days walking along the ancient and overgrown Roman Road which hangs on the rockface above the west side of Lake Como, winding in and out of villages, and saw no-one other than an equally ancient old photographer. I just love how even in the most popular tourist destinations, a pair of walking boots can find you peace in just a few long strides.  Alternatively, if you get sick of all those hills, you can just grab one of these and cut direct across the lake on your bike!

Clearly this guy doesn't like taking the indirect route around the Lake via the roads!

Clearly this guy doesn’t like taking the indirect route around the Lake via the roads!

Stonehenge in mid-winter (c) JP Mundy 2015

Stonehenge in mid-winter (c) JP Mundy 2015

There is something incredibly – er – timeless and ancient about wandering around Stonehenge in mid-winter, frost on the ground, icy mist clinging to your skin and a weak wintery sun teasing from just beyond the clouds.  The kids and I dropped in late in the day on the way back from Devon to London in the new year, and if a band of druids had emerged from the mist instead of Chinese tourists, we would not have been surprised at all.

Stonehenge in the winter's sun (Well, the sun is trying at least, the clouds and mist just seem to get in the way!)

Stonehenge in the winter’s sun (Well, the sun is trying at least, the clouds and mist just seem to get in the way!)

The last time I visited, about a million and two years ago, you just parked in a layby beside the road and headed in for a look-see.  There are now plans to take the entire road underground so that the landscape is returned to what it would have been thousands of years ago when Stonehenge was first built. Now there is a most impressively and sensitively done visitors centre, 2km away, so it does not impose on the landscape.  You can choose to walk the grassed pathways across the fields, much as the locals might have done 3000 years ago, and approach Stonehenge across the plains. Alternatively, you can cop out and jump in a very efficient (and very warm!) little bus which drops you about 200 metres from the stone circle. Along with your admission price comes a free audio guide which will help answer all those questions you have: “Where are the stones from?” (Some of them are from Wales); “How did they get here?” (rolling wood carts and possibly boat); “What was it for?” (They still can’t say for sure, but possibilites are as a sun dial, place of worship and a proto-type MacDonalds drive-in – or not).  Still partly unsolved, and all the more awe-inspiring for it.

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It’s New Year’s Eve and am in the UK with the kids. Time for a lovely stroll with our extended English family today around the headland at Clevedon, near Bristol in the UK. After the cold, icy snow of the Christmas week while we were further north, the mild seaside weather (7C) today was practically tropical. Poets Walk starts from the seawall and takes you up, around and on top of the headland, with (murky – well, it is the middle of winter, after all!) views across the Bristol Channel and wider views across the mudflats and mouth of the River Yeo, which has the highest tidal fall in the UK. The walk back through the woodlands takes you under pretty arbours with cheeky little robins hopping about. It’s a great and interesting short walk to do with kids.

Poets Walk, Clevedon, UK

Poets Walk, Clevedon, UK

The bonus about almost any short walk in the UK, is that it invariably ends up at a cosy pub, and being New Year’s mulled cider was the order of the day. Not a bad way to see in the new year!

Eucla - it's a LONG way from anywhere (C) JP Mundy 2014

Eucla – it’s a long, LONG way from anywhere

Looking west across the 'bite' of the Great Australian Bight

Looking west across the ‘bite’ of the Great Australian Bight

Well, hello after a VERY long time – I feel I owe you about a year of posts, as I have been travelling like a loon with work this year and haven’t found the time to update you – this year has seen me in Mongolia, Viet Nam, Canada, Wales, Nepal and India – though regrettably, not out and about doing much walking, other than the gorgeous Ridgeway in England for my birthday in May. In the June holidays though, the kids and I decided it was road trip time and drove 4,500km across the Nullabor Desert to Perth. It was epic – in the genuine sense of the word. Where else can you drive dead straight for 90 miles (145km), and then they have to put a 6 degree bend in the road to account for the curvature of the earth???!!!! And along the way, the road doubles up as an airstrip for the Royal Flying Doctor Service?!

Across the Nullabor

Across the Nullabor – Yes.  It’s flat.

Anyway, we had a great trip, across our vast and beautiful land: the Great Australian Bight was full of humpback whales and their babes, lolling about just metres from the cliffs and the beauty and silence of the land was very healing for the busy, 21st Century soul.

Late afternoon looking west across the Bight

Late afternoon looking west across the Bight

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