Transylvania Trek Day 3: Castle Bran and Piatra Craiului Mountains

This was the day. One of the hardest physical things I’ve ever done. I knew that this trip wouldn’t all be sunshine and laughter but I don’t think that I realised just how tough this would be.

The day started out fairly comfortably – a trip to Bran Castle – the home of Dracula. Luckily he wasn’t in when we arrive and we had the luxury of exploring the castle and the grounds without the risk of joining the undead. Once past the little market place, the walk up to the castle was extremely steep, making sure that we were warming up our legs ahead of the bigger walk planned for later in the day.

The castle was stunning – amazingly detailed and complete with hidden door and passage. Although beautiful, the inside of the building was cramped due to the number of people passing though and after a quiet couple of days in the mountains, it was hard to be around so many people!

As we left the castle, there were some frank discussions with the group. The leaders were advising us to search ourselves to ensure that we were ready for the trek ahead. Clouds were rolling in and we were advised that this would be a tough trek. Having been one of the slower walkers the day before, I experienced a major wobble, doubting my capabilities and fearing that I would hold the group back. After some amazing support from other members of the group, I strapped on my big girl pants and set off with the rest of the group.

The initial trek through the woods, whilst steep was manageable. We were sheltered from most of the rain and it was quite relaxing to hear the water dripping through the leaves above. Well, as relaxing as it can be when you are making your way up a very steep, muddy mountain!

By the time we broke above the tree-line, the weather had taken an almighty turn for the worse and it was lashing it down. Wind, rain, mist – it was a miserable cocktail. I’m from Manchester so I’m used to the rain but this was awful! We huddled under a group of trees, not wanting to stop long to refuel. Shovelling a quick lunch down our necks, everyone was up and ready to move in about 10 minutes. We were cold, tired and ready to get off the mountain. Knowing that there was still money to be raised for Mind, we paused to take a quick snap-shot at the top of the mountain to post on social media and fundraising pages. Everyone mustered up a smile but it was the quickest photo stop we had all week!

The edge of the mountain was shrouded in mist and it was impossible to see what lay over the edge. We set off making our way down the trail but the mud and rain had taken its toll. Being fairly shaky on descents anyway and knowing that I have untrustworthy, dodgy knees, I was taking it cautiously at the back of the group. The group leaders were having to brace our feet to prevent us sliding in the mud, edging down the mountain tiny step by wobbly, tiny step. I was absolutely terrified that I was second away from a slip, fall and quick trip over the edge.

Soon enough, we were all slipping and sliding down the mountain, including the group leaders (with the exception of one guy – but I’m sure he is part mountain goat). It was terrifying and my heart was in my mouth the entire time. I think I taught the group leaders some new cuss words, my muscles were sore from being so tense and I know that I cried a bit!

By the time we reached a flat ledge in the mountain, some of the group had progressed to the next section. Due to the extent of the weather, the path had begun to wash away and it had become impassible, with even our fearless leaders suggesting that it was too dangerous to attempt. This meant a swift about turn, back up the mountain to find another path down. With my head full of thoughts of mountain rescue, we headed down a grassy path on the opposite side. Whilst not as muddy, the grass was soaked, making for a sloppy walk. The final hill was more of a toboggan race to the bottom, with more than one of us unintentionally taking the trip on our bums rather than our legs. Imagine a giant slip and slide but with mud rather than water and rain rather than sunshine!

By the time we got to camp, we were all tired and cold. The welcome committee made it all worth it however and their cheers and hugs restored some of our energy. I don’t think they know just how much that welcome back meant to us.

I collapsed in my tent, completely exhausted, sore and sleepy. I was unsure how I was going to mange to get up the next morning and do it all again. This was probably the hardest point of the trip for me and whilst other trekkers left for a meal, I decided to skip tea and sleep. I was worried that I would be seen as antisocial, but in truth I was genuinely burned out and needed to rest. I knew that without getting to have a rest (and maybe a little cry), I wouldn’t be able to pick myself up and be ready for the next day. I was asleep within about 20 minutes of getting into the tent and looking back, I think I did the right thing. Having that time to rest and regroup, in addition to the amazing, positive people around me gave me the kick I needed to get up the next day and do it all again!

For the full trip posts, visit the links below:

Transylvania Trek 1: Moeciu to Cheile Gradistei

Transylvania Trek 2: Bucegi Massif

Transylvania Trek 3: Castle Bran and Piatra Craiului Mountains

Transylvania Trek 4: Postavarul Massif, Tampa Mountains and Braşov

Life Gets In the Way: Or How I Paused Travel Blogging To Travel!

So it’s been a few months since I last posted. I went from posting every week to not posting at all.

It wasn’t a conscious decision – in fact when I realised, I felt really guilty (there’s that perfectionist trait kicking in). It wasn’t that I’d made a choice not to post that week, it was simply that life got in the way.

In my last post, I talked about training for my Transylvania hike to raise money for Mind, the mental health charity. I knew that it would be a serious undertaking and that I was going to need to work really hard to keep up with the group on such a hard slog through the Carpathian Mountains.

I was really putting my all into it. Lie-ins were sacrificed and weekends were taken up with hiking bags, water packs, hills and lots and lots of distance. I was seeing lots of new places and pushing myself to get into shape physically – it just left very little time to write about it!

At first I was beating myself up: all these new places and I’m not even writing about them! However, after a bit of reflection, I’ve realised that it was because I was too busy living it. It’s ok that I didn’t post each week, I will still get to put it all down in the blog; it just might take me a little longer!

I’ve got my whole Transylvania trip to write about, including the learning and personal challenges that I faced throughout the experience – but I can do that in my own time. Without the weekly writing schedule, it means I can really reflect on my experiences and put more into the writing, rather than just meeting a (self imposed!) deadline.

For now, I’ll just say a huge thank you to everyone who donated. You helped me to raise an amazing £2150 and contributed to a team total of over £40k for an amazing charity. I’ll share my experiences over future posts – it was one hell of a ride!!

Snowdon, UK

So in the quest to keep up my training for the upcoming trek in Transylvania to raise money for Mind, my travel blogging has been suffering a little. I’m finding that most weekends I’m out walking which leaves little time for writing and organising photos. Hopefully all should be back to normal after the trip and I’m sure that I’ll have lots of new experiences to share!

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been out to explore Upper Derwent in the UK Peak District a number of times (blog post to follow) and eventfully, I also climbed Snowdon.

Snowdon is the highest mountain in England and Wales. It’s also a beast of a walk. I knew that I was in for a rough day when it took us longer than planned to get parked up. After a two hour drive, I was ready to get walking, but the busy parking situation meant that 45 minutes later we were still looking for somewhere to park. Once we’d left the car behind, we then had to battle the unhelpful and unfriendly shop workers to purchase a map of the routes up Snowdon. I get that tourists are a pain but if you sell maps, you have to expect that people are going to ask you for the maps, right?!

By the time that we hit the Llanberis path, I was not in the greatest of moods and that was about to get worse. The path itself isn’t too bad: clearly marked and fairly comfortable underfoot, however as the path started to level off, the weather took a turn for the worse and started to rain. Already fairly stroppy, I was highly unimpressed at getting soaked and took shelter in the cafe about half way up. Two ladies heading down in the opposite direction asked about the time to the bottom and their expressions reflected my feelings –  they had another hour and a half to descend and I had another two hours to climb up. None of us were happy!

Setting off again, my hood was pulled tight and I was cold and pretty soaked. To make it worse, as we crossed under the train bridge, a thick fog draped over the mountain and it was impossible to see more than a couple of feet ahead. Being quite honest, this completely panicked me. I am not great with heights or edges and the thought that there was a very steep and very narrow edge close by that I couldn’t see or locate was terrifying. I spent the rest of the assent in a state of panic, struggling to control my breathing and stopping every couple of minutes to try and calm myself down. Groups came and went and every time another group disappeared into the fog, I was convinced that we would either end up lost, wandering a mountain alone or falling off an unseen edge. Trying to gain some motivation, we asked a couple of people how far it was to the summit. A mixture of responses, including: “10 minutes“, “about 40 minutes” and “another hour, but it’s horrible up there” didn’t make me feel much better. At one point, we were seriously considering turning around and going back down. The thought of getting on the train to come back down the mountain was the only thing pushing me to the top. That and the thought of the pizza I was going to demolish when I arrived home.

Upon reaching the top, there was no celebration or taking of photos. For one, it was far too wet to risk taking out my phone to snap a shot or two and secondly, the photos would have showed fog and not much else. By that point, I just wanted to get somewhere warm and dry. I didn’t care that we had just scaled the highest mountain in England and Wales; I just wanted to go home. Heading to the visitor’s centre, hair plastered to the side of my face and dripping, I closely resembled a drowned rat.

Alas, the plan to return down the mountain via train was not to be. There were no spaces on the train (of course not; the weather was terrible, no one in their right mind would have chosen to walk over taking the train) and so, after spending far longer than necessary huddled over the hand dryer in the toilets, we set off on our descent.

As soon as we headed out in to the fog again, I could feel the panic trying to take hold. Then came my saviour. A guy in front of us, hiking with his two young children (who simultaneously made me feel ashamed for panicking and reassured that if they could do it, so could I) was talking about how many times he’d done Snowdon, his approach to the different routes and how to stay safe in the mountains. So we did what any logical people would do; we stuck close to him down the mountain, pretty much latching onto his group until we reached a lower point on the path. They didn’t know it, but that man and his children were my saviours that day!

In total, it took us about 5-6 hours to go up and down Snowdon, however we later worked out that it took us around 4 hours up and only an hour and a half to come back down: a sign of how desperate I was to get back to the car and the warm heaters!

Looking back, I’m glad I did it. Taking on the challenge in the bad weather has given me a chance to realise how quickly the weather can change in the mountains and how well prepared you need to be. It also gave me some practice with heights and edges, regardless of how much I wanted to be on lower ground. That being said, it wasn’t a walk that I enjoyed. So it’s one to add to the tick list, but I think that I’ll leave Snowdon to more enthusiastic walkers next time!


Travel Tips

A collection of travel tips to help boost your travelling adventures!

Check the Price!

This one might sound like we’re stating the obvious but stick with us! Sometimes, we’ve been looking at flight prices for a particular place and we’ve thought “great, that looks cheap, let’s go!”. However, once we’ve looked further into it, adding baggage or pre-booked seats ramps up the flight price. Alternatively, flight prices might be fine but accommodation prices are through the roof. Or the travel from the airport to the accommodation adds another £50 each. Sometimes, it’s cheap to get there and stay, but food and activities cost a bomb – it all mounts up and suddenly, what started as a cheap weekend trip costs the same as a few weeks away somewhere exotic! Do your research, check out what the costs are. You might find that those cheap flights are accompanied by an expensive place to stay. On the flip side, you might also find that more expensive flights are balanced out by really cheap accommodation, meaning you can travel further or stay longer than you first anticipated!

Get Prepping

We can’t stress enough how much research we do before a trip! It’s great to simply turn up to a place and go with the flow. There is nothing quite like the sense of adventure you get with a flexible route – however, when you are short on time, it can mean that you don’t get the most out of your trip. By researching properly, you can be informed about the best approach: to just go with the flow or to book things in advance so that you don’t miss out. A good example was when we visited Alcatraz: without booking, we’d have missed out on an amazing experience! Do your research – what is nearby? Can you add a stop over into your trip? What do you absolutely need to book? By working out a good plan in advance, you can maybe get to see a few extra places for very little cost. Make sure that your time and your budget work for you!

Think About When You Travel

Particularly for short breaks away, consider when you travel. Most people can get away over a weekend, however this obviously means that there are more demands on flights and accommodation at these times. For short breaks, we try to pick times of the year where most people are not looking to travel – in term time, through the week, avoiding national holidays at the destination we are travelling to. This means you can usually get cheaper fares with less crowds. Using Skyscanner’s ‘price alert’ email will let you know of the best times to travel to your chosen destination.

For big trips, we book our flights around 6 months in advance and pay them off bit by bit. It allows you to get a clear savings plan in place to afford those trips that are a little more expensive. For long-haul flights, we tend to use Trailfinders in the UK – usually putting down a small deposit and then paying off the flights month by month until around six weeks before the trip.

Ask The Locals

How often do we hear of people visiting our local area and think ‘I wouldn’t have gone there!!’ It’s exactly the same when we travel! Find a local, a waiter, bar staff or park worker and ask them where they would spend an hour or two if they weren’t working. You get lots of cool ideas and often, they aren’t the ones on the usual tourist lists. You are far more likely to get a personal experience of the place you are visiting and there is a chance that you’ll make a new friend!

Ask other Travellers

This sounds simple, and it really is! Similar to the previous tip, travellers have their own set of experiences and knowledge about places to visit, travelling on the cheap and sharing ways of making your adventure even more awesome! Part of travelling is meeting new people, so start a conversation! I’m terrible at speaking to new people so I’ve learnt to start small; ask for a recommendation on what food tastes great and build up to asking about good places to spend an hour or so. We’ve found some real gems through this method that we would have otherwise missed.

Consider How Long To Spend In a Location

When you are looking at planning a trip, write down all of the ‘must do’ activities you want to experience. Estimate how much time they will take, then add on an extra day to ensure that you have time to ‘go off plan’ or be side tracked by something shiny (it happens to me a lot!). This should give you a good idea of how long to stay in one place without missing out on the main things you want to do.

Do you have other tips to make your trip go smoothly or to get more from your money? We’d love to hear from you!!