Friday, July 24, 2015

Spontaneous travel - Merano Hohenweg hiking path - Naturns, South Tyrol, Northern Italy

Have you ever traveled spontaneously not knowing where the next destination will be or are you a trip planner with a detailed itinerary pre-planned ahead of time? Both have its pros and cons.  When we take on world family travel, incorporating a bit of both is our style.  When we traveled to China in 2013, the first half of our trip was planned – locations picked and hostels booked with a basic yet flexible itinerary of what we wanted to see and do. We left the second half open for spontaneous travel to see where our adventures would lead us.  It worked then so we went with that travel style again for our 2015 Central Europe family travel adventure.

Sitting at the train station in Freilassing, a small municipality in the southeastern corner of Bavaria Germany, marked the tail end of our planned travel plans.  We were saying goodbye to family who we had travelled the past 10 days with, sending them off on their next planned travel adventures.  Our next destination was undetermined at this point. Joel and I had discussed going back to the Czech Republic, a place we had traveled to earlier in the trip. Possibly visit Cesky Krumlov, a small city in the South Bohemian region of Czech Republic.  But nothing had been decided yet so as far as I knew, Joel, standing at the Bahn ticket booth (German rail), was researching possible train routes to the Czech Republic.  Distracted with giving hugs and well wishes to family, I almost didn’t notice Joel who was suddenly standing beside me.  But the smug look on his face immediately told me something was up and the train tickets in hand confirmed my suspicions.  He quietly asks me, “Wanna go to Italy?”

We now had a destination - Naturns, a municipality in the province of South Tyrol in Northern Italy.  With a bit of research during our train ride from Bavaria we knew there were plenty of outdoor adventure possibilities in Naturns. Mountain Biking, rafting, and hiking topped our list. Narrowing the choice came down to affordability, being we were half way thru our trip.  Hiking was the obvious choice given no rentals or tour costs involved.  Reality of family travel is making sure you have a budget and stick to it.

The part I love most about unplanned travel is the freedom to slow down and just take in the travel moments as they happen. It was the first time all trip where we did not have to be somewhere at a specific time. For Joel and me, it was a relief. Time to relax and appreciate being in such a beautiful place.  Ben and Liv appreciated the morning swim in the indoor garden pool.  Another reality of family travel – allowing simple pleasures the kids enjoy.

Naturns lies in the valley between the Sonnenberg and Norderberg mountains, both slopes easily accessible by roads, trails, and cable cars.  It was no coincidence we found ourselves at the Unterstell cable car during our late morning stroll.  We had successfully convinced Ben and Liv that we were hiking up a mountain but they quickly figured out we were joking when they saw the cable car.  Ahhh, the joys of parenting – torturing your kids.

The cable car brought us up to 1300m on the alpine slopes of Sonnenberg and from here deciding a hiking path and what centuries old farmhouse hut we were going to stop at was considered our difficult task of the day.  I was amazed at the numerous choices we had and even more amazed with the beautiful views of the valley below.


We had the freedom to choose our own trail without any limitations.  Our feet took us along the beautiful Merano Hohenweg trekking path where we found ourselves at the back steps of the Galmein Hut. Each farmhouse hut along Sonnenberg has its own unique character.  The Galmein Hut, set in an alpine pasture, was a working family farmhouse complete with chickens, goats, cows, large gardens and pastures.

With the Naturns region being such a popular tourist location, farmhouses add to their livelihood by offering accommodation to multi day trekkers, serve authentic South Tyrolean cuisine, local beer and wine.  After perusing the menu, by that I mean trying to identify something familiar, we ordered our meals and drinks using a point and nod type method. Language barriers can be easily fixed thru simple gestures.

Our selections were fabulous and turned out to be one of the best meals we had during our entire trip. Hauswurst mit bratkartoffeln (homemade lamb sausage and fried potatoes) and spaghetti mit tomate. Keeping with the area we are traveling in, Joel selected an Italian premium pale lager brewed in nearby Merano, Forst Beir.  I enjoyed an Italian red wine from the Bolzano region and Ben and Liv sampled Spezi, a cola and orange soda mixture. If only all our hiking meals cold be this delightful.

Freedom had us back on the trekking path. All day Joel kept dropping hints about reaching a cross that we could just barely see atop a peak called Kirchbachspitze. We were hiking at an elevation of 1653m.  The peak in question was 3053m and the trail intersection ahead stated 4.5 hours to the top.

It was too late in the afternoon for us to be tackling that with Ben and Liv. Not to mention the glorious meal and glasses of wine consumed.  Did I mention there were a few Bolzano wines I tried back at the Galmein Hut? But the temptation was too great for Joel.  He decided to give it a go.  We sorted out our packs making sure he had what he needed and we parted ways.  For the rest of the afternoon, Ben, Liv and I sauntered back down the steep slopes of Sonnenberg. Even though the alpine was accessible by cable car, both up and down, I came here to hike even if just on principal. 

By 5pm, the kids and I were back at our penzion.  We took our time hiking down, stopping to investigate and watch every reptile (small lizard) we happened upon.  It was a perfect end to a perfect day of freedom.  Now, we wait for dad’s arrival and look forward to hearing all about his summit adventure. We waited, waited, and waited until finally around 8pm he returned and shared his story.
Joel never did make it to the peak of Kirchbachspitze but that does not mean it was without reward.  I am going to leave you with two photos Joel shared on Instagram of what he experienced in his own words.

[above photo] Shepard’s hut enroute to Kirchbachspitze (peak), Naturno, Italy.  It’s got a spectacular view of the South Tyrol mountains, 2 single beds with bedding (straw) and room for 10 sheep in the adjoining stable.  Best not forget the eggs or milk…up and down the 2700m of elevation to the nearest grocery store a grunt for sure.

[above photo] Kirchbachspitze, Naturno, Italy. Looking up from the trail below the summit was calling.  The signpost said 4.5 hrs to stand atop, 1400m elevation gain…it was 3pm so I needed to shave off 2-2.5 hrs off the expected time. Up and down Mt. Benson (Nanaimo, BC) two times I figured in comparison to something I know…that’s doable in two hours.  Wrong, wrong I was.  An unrelenting steepness and two weeks of beer, Weiner schnitzel and delicious bread left me glaring at another hour of climbing when my point of no return had been pushed further than I should have.  Not the first peak I’ve had to retreat from in defeat, definitely not the last. I headed back down the trail to the tinkling sounds of bells from goats grazing on nearby slopes…all of a sudden making it to the top seemed a tiny little problem.  Funny where you find moments of clarity, for me it’s rarely been in victory. 

In the end, we all found freedom along the Merano Hohenweg Hiking Path but... left the area with some unfinished business. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Adventure chat with kids - Travel Journals

Everytime we travel, I encourage Ben and Liv to write in a journal to capture their prespective of our travel experiences.  Liv, who is eight, faithfully writes in her journal every day and every night I look forward to reading her take on what we have done.

I asked Adventure Girl if I could share a section of her journal that I found humurous.  It offers a glimpse into our adventures, what we do, how we get places and details only an eight year old would notice. She agreed. I have typed out her journal exactly as she has written but have corrected her spelling.

"Jen Jones drove us to the airport and drove the car back home. We got a flight to Vancouver. In 15mins we got to the airport in Vancouver. And then Vancouver to London it took about 8 hours to get there. We also took the next plane to Brussels in 2 or 1 hours and then we ran through the airport where we thought that we would be late. But we were early. So we ran for nothing. From Brussels to Prague and then we stayed in a hostel for one night and I did not 100% like the bed because it creaked.

Then we took a train to Turnov in Czech Republic. It took 2 hours to get there. Then we got off and went to the grocery store to get some food. When we were done we got a taxi. The taxi only had 4 seats but there was 7 of us so we dog piled. I sat on my moms lap, Bella my cousin sat on her moms lap and Ben sat on my dads lap. And uncle Marc sat in the front. To the Hruba Skala Castle. We stayed there we went hiking. We got ice cream and stayed another night. This bell went off and woke up Ben then we went to a restaurant and ate. Then we went up to our rooms and went to sleep.

The next day we got up and went on a subway to pick up Ama, my grandma and then got a taxi. You remember the dog pile. If you do not know it is the 50th word. And then dads went to get Ama and we went to get food."

Her accuracy is spot on. She captured our 'dog pile' taxi ride perfectly and was indeed a memorable ride! Last but not least..she is aware of when we eat and buy food. I am amused and impressed with her noticing this enough to write about it....because if you know Liv...she is always hungry!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Turnov, Czech Republic - Bohemian Paradise Adventure

An hour and forty minutes by train, north of Prague, is the oldest protected landscape in Czech Republic. Near Turnov, Bohemian Paradise or Ceský ráj is a nature reserve and UNESCO Geopark. The landscape here is scattered with dramatic rock formations, valleys, lakes, rivers and castles.
Our travels brought us to this paradise for many reasons. The natural beauty, the travel experience, to stay in a castle, and to climb some rocks.

Our journey to Turnov was a typical European one. From Prague we jumped on a train with backpacks in tow. From Turnov we travelled another 8km by taxi to an area called Hrubá Skála. Perched high above the unique rock formations that make up the Bohemian Paradise is an original Gothic castle founded around 1300 by Hynek from Valdstejn. This is where we called home for a few days. Yes, hostel life is not so bad. The OTBP crew can do castles if they must. (castle pictured behind us)

As beautiful as the castles was it was time to get our adventure on. Climbing Paradise, a rock climbing guide company, is owned and ran by Vaclav. I had made arrangements with him prior to our trip to pick us up from our castle and take us to the Bezdecin area for a day of rock climbing. What a day it turned out to be!

The whole experience of rock climbing in Czech Republic is the best one we have had to date. Vaclav was a great guide. He was positive, encouraging, fun to be around and answered any and all questions we threw at him about life in Czech Republic. I know the power of local knowledge and how much better travel experiences can be if you veer off the ususal tourist attractions.
Vaclav gave us just that. After our climb and while we were helping pack up the gear he asks us, "Go for a swim, yes? I take you to a lake near the castle." I can't recall exactly but am pretty sure we all said yes instantly!

I will leave with you some candid shots of our adventure to Turnov. We are off to Prague for a few days and are looking forward to taking in the rich history and beautiful buildings.

Monday, June 1, 2015

High five to Trail Builders!

Over the years I have come to appreciate and value the endless array of trails on Vancouver Island. I have even taken note of people, groups, businesses, and organizations that help build and maintain them.  What would Cumberland, BC be without the River Rats? This group of misfit retired mtn biking enthusists not only build trails; they build jumps, berms, bridges, and even a teeter totter to ride on! Then there is the Vancouver Island Spine Trail Association who are working hard to build a 700km multi use trail that connects the southern and northern tips of the island. Countless others are doing the same just so people like me can get out and enjoy our wild spaces. That is exactly what the Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society has done with Maple Mountain on Vancouver Island.

Approx. 14km of hiking trails, built and maintained by the municipality of North Cowichan, have been around for many, many years. What the Cowichan Trail Stewarship Society has done is add value to the outdoor space by building sustainable trails for mountain biking and hiking. Now that I have had the pleasure of riding Maple Mountain, I can tell you these people mean business.

First off, they built a climbers trail for both hikers and bikers that has instantly become my favorite trail to climb. Sure beats the slog of riding a bike up a logging road. I really liked the fact that the trail winded thru a mixed variety of forests. Some second growth and some recent cut blocks which offered something new to look at while huffing and puffing your way 5km or so to the Maple Mainline Rd. From there its a mere 1.5km ride on the logging road to the top. Quality of trail pretty impressive as well. Love the smooth ride up with a few bridges and rock gardens to ride over. 

One can easily spend hours riding on Maple 
Mountain and the OTBP crew did! Roughly 4 hours to be exact. From the top, Ben and dad rode down Maple Syrup trail. Liv and I started down on this trail but it was a bit too steep and technical for adventure girl so her and I rode back down the climbers trail. It was a wise choice.  I am told that Maple Syrup is a technical xc, freeride, flowy, and downhill trail that requires endurance because not all of the trail is down! Well done, Ben. Sounds like he was able to ride most of it.  
(Check out a sweet video of Ben riding one of the bridges on Maple Syrup via facebook page, twitter & instagram)

So next time you are out hiking, trailrunning, or mtn biking be sure to high five a trailbuilder in spirit. They devote their hard work and time to trails so people like us can enjoy them. Can't wait to get out and explore more of Maple Mountain!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Outdoor Adventure Destination - Cumberland, BC

If Vancouver Island had a contest to declare the Outdoor Adventure capital of the island, my vote would be Cumberland, BC.  The setting alone screams adventure: along the foothills of the Beaufort Range and minutes from glacier fed Comox Lake. Cumberland is best known for its world class mountain bike trails and builders.  I bet every resident there has a mountain bike.

I used to think Cumberland was all about mtn biking but recent exploring and adventures have shown me there are plenty more ways to get your adventure on. Hiking, trail running, kayaking and canoeing to start. Downhill skiing, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing a short distance away.  Then I stumbled upon some information about rock climbing along the bluffs around Comox Lake.

I packed up all our gear, threw the family in the car, and headed north to Cumberland for a weekend of camping, rock climbing, and mountain biking of course! The best part about the whole deal was we could camp at Comox Lake and still be within minutes (walking) to the climbing area, bike to trails, and take full advantage of the local eateries and micro brewery Cumberland has. Yes, a new micro brewery has just opened up.  Another reason to check out Cumberland!

Majority of the climbing routes are about 5.10 with some bouldering sections as well.   We top rope climb and found some ancors at the Main Wall that suited our needs. Liv, adventure girl, is a huge fan of climbing.  Joel thought he found her a route that would challenge her but she managed to monkey her way up with ease. 

For me, climbing is not a high priority but I absolutely love watching both Ben and Liv push themselves to new heights.  I humor them by climbing as well, which they get a kick out of. Quite often the setting around the crag is stunning; lush coast forests, steep rocky bluffs, and if lucky great views surrounding the area. Cumberland has all of this.

What makes Cumberland a candadite to be Vancouver Island's Outdoor Adventure Capital is the fact there is something for everyone. Truly. Mountain bike trails for all levels, a great lake to play in, rivers to explore, mountains to hike, snow to play in and rocks to climb.

p.s. This post was written and published on my phone as a test post for some upcoming travel adventures.  
Plan to post as we go and share our outdoor travel experiences with you.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ever wonder what your kids find annoying on outdoor adventures? Adventure Chat with Kids - Parent Pet Peeves

As parents, we all have them.  A list of irritations caused by our children that we cannot control - aka Pet Peeves.  Being an outdoor enthusiastic adventurous parent, there is a separate list of pet peeves our children provide while adventuring as a family.  You may know them. My Feet are tried! I'm Hungry! Are we there yet! Even after numerous statements explaining where we are, how much further we need to get, why we can't eat (again) and solidifying the fact that feet do not get tired after 10 minutes of hiking, these irritations continue! But honestly, these are hardly irritations.  More comical now because it has become repetitive year after year, adventure after adventure.  More like a habit now.

Then I wondered, do Ben and Liv have pet peeves about Mom and Dad while adventuring together? What is it we do, as parents that may cause irritations they cannot control?  The whole conversation turned out to be a great learning experience.  I can see now where a few things that Ben and Liv find annoying can easily be remedied by Mom and Dad...and some that are just plain to fun to stop.

Mountain Biking

Ben - Can a pet peeve be that my bike is not full suspension?

Mom - You mention it so often, can that be my pet peeve? (wink wink) I am more curious about the things that Mom and Dad do that you find irritating.

Liv - My pet peeve is when you guys don't wait for me on the trail.

Ben - When I want to hit a jump or stunt you're all like, "NO! I don't want to see you get hurt!" I never get hurt, you know.

I trust his ability and will try to bite my tongue more often because he is right, he has never gotten hurt...yet.


Ben - I know a pet peeve you have of us while hiking. We are always hungry!

Mom - That one tops the list for sure!

Liv - Yeah, and when I say I'm hungry and Dad replies, "Nice to meet you Hungry, I'm Dad." I hate that!

Ben - Also when Mom stops every two minutes to take pictures which get us nowhere fast.

I am always saying, "But we won't see this again so I have to take a picture."

Rock Climbing

Ben - When you yell up to me to use my strength and then when Dad gets up there he says, "Wow, this is pretty tough dude."

Liv - I love rock climbing.

At Camp

Liv - Waiting for the food to cook when I'm hungry.

Mom - Nice to meet you Hungry, I'm Mom.

Liv - MOM! RRrrr!
Contrary to what they think, there is always plenty of food available during adventures.


Ben - Grandpa is always telling me to get on the board.

Mom - Well, at least that is not a pet peeve about Mom or Dad.


Liv - You splash water on me when you paddle.  I don't like that.

Mom - Not on purpose! I thought you figured out a way to solve that?

Ben - Now that I am older, you have me paddle by myself.

Liv making sure I don't 'splash' her while paddling because she does not have eyes on the back of her head.


Liv - Losing my ski while on the chair lift.

Mom - Yeah, that was not cool and even worse it happened three times!

Ben - Definitely a pet peeve that you don't take us skiing more often.


Ben - I don't like snowshoeing very much.

Liv - Me neither.

Mom - Let me guess...because I stop and take way too many photos of anything and everything?

Ben & Liv - YES!!!

But it was an awesome looking pumpkin tart I made while camping!