Adrspach Teplice Rocks: an amazing ‘Rock Town’ in the Czech Republic

In the Adrspach Rocks

In the Adrspach Rocks

One of the many narrow chasms at Teplice

One of the many narrow chasms at Teplice

The lake at Adrspach

The lake at Adrspach

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The Mayor and Mayoress - the most famous rock towers at Adrspach-Teplice

The Mayor and Mayoress – the most famous rock towers at Adrspach-Teplice

Off the tourist paths

Off the tourist paths

Looking at photos of the amazing ‘rock town’ of Adrspach-Teplice Rocks, it’s easy to assume that this is someplace in China, perhaps. Certainly before I went, I’d never have guessed such an arresting landscape could have been found in …the Czech Republic… but yep, it is – up near the Polish border, about 170 kilometers from Prague, and the largest and most spectacular of several geological curiosities found in this part of Europe, both in the Czech Republic and over the border in Germany, near Dresden. Continue reading

Slovensky Raj: spectacular (and easy) hiking in eastern Europe

Sucha Bela Gorge

Sucha Bela Gorge

Piecky Gorge

Piecky Gorge

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Summer is long gone, and my travels in eastern Europe seem like a distant memory by now, but before catching up with a few of the remarkable places in Taiwan we’ve been exploring the last couple of months, I had to make a brief blog about two amazing European day-hike spots, one each in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Continue reading

An English Lakeland Summer

Helvellyn from Striding Edge

Helvellyn from Striding Edge

 

On the way to Great Gable near the fell known as Brandreth

On the way to Great Gable near the fell known as Brandreth

 

Scrambling up the screes of Great Gable

Scrambling up the screes of Great Gable

 

The English Lake District has been well and truly on the tourist path for the last 150 years or so, yet although as a teenager I spent long expeditions collecting the area’s numerous waterfalls for a youthful (and finished but never-published) book documenting the complete waterfalls of England, last week was the first time I’ve ever climbed any of the peaks in the National Park. The extraordinary beauty of this area has been well documented since Tennyson’s time, of course, but in fine, sunny weather, and with the company of a few like-minded hikers, considering the tremendous rewards to reaped for relatively little effort, the Lake District’s peaks simply can’t be beat in my book. It’s simply fabulous up there! Continue reading

A Balkan Summer

Magnificent Kotor in Montenegro

Spectacular Kotor in Montenegro

The magnificent rebuilt bridge at Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The magnificent rebuilt bridge at Mostar in Bosnia and Hercegovina

Plitvice Lakes in Croatia

Plitvice Lakes in Croatia

I know: Europe’s Balkan peninsula is hardly a little-known area of the world these days, but it’s definitely one of the earth’s more beautiful corners, and exploring just a few of its countless attractions this year made for an unforgettable summer. Here are pics of few favourite places. Most of these places are written up in plenty of guide books, so I’m not gonna add any more here, but instead simply say that if you get the chance to go – GO! It’s a stunning, stunning region. Continue reading

The Strange Case of Transdniestr: a ‘Country’ recognized by no one

Chapel at the War Memorial in Tiraspol, 'capital' of the breakaway state of Transdniestr

Chapel at the War Memorial in Tiraspol, ‘capital’ of the breakaway state of Transdniestr

Taiwan has long bemoaned its lack of recognition by the rest of the world, but it’s a long, long way ahead of places such as Somaliland (a de facto sovereign state which has just one embassy, in neighbouring Ethiopia), or Kurdistan (an autonomous region of Iraq which welcomes tourists and, unlike the remainder of that sad country, is quite safe).

The Parliament building in Tiraspol

The Parliament building in Tiraspol

And then there’s Transdniestr, a ‘country’ which has its own president, government, its own currency, its own police force and army, and maintains border controls with neighbouring Ukraine and Moldova. Yet not one country in the world recognizes it as a separate state. In fact to the rest of the world it’s the easternmost part of Moldova, one of the most obscure ex Russian republics, and itself a country that I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of until I started researching this summer’s big trip, to Ukraine and the Balkan peninsula. Continue reading

Ukraine: an Undiscovered Gem

St Andrew's Church, Kiev

St Andrew’s Church, Kiev

I left Ukraine a few days ago for a country even less well-known among travellers, Moldova, but inexplicably overlookedUkraine was so fun that I’ve got to devote an entry and quite a few photos to the parts of this wonderful, fascinating, different country. It’s very well worth exploring if you get the chance!

KIEV

St Michael's Monastery

St Michael’s Monastery

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In the Lavra (Caves Monastery)

In the Lavra (Caves Monastery)

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Close-up of St Michael’s Monastery

Continue reading

Chornobyl

The notorious Reactor Four at Chornobyl

The infamous Reactor Four at Chornobyl

In a kindergarten near Chernobyl, abandoned after the accident

In a kindergarten near Chernobyl, abandoned after the accident

I still remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on September 11th 2001: laying on the bed in my old apartment in Beitou listening to a CD of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony on my Walkman (iPods weren’t around in those days). I was in the middle of the slow movement (which is probably one of the profoundest statements in Western music, by the way), when David rushed in and told me what had just happened. As we watched the news the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center and my last vain hope that this was some kind of catastrophic accident were dashed.

Fifteen years earlier, I can’t recall what I was doing when news first started leaking of the nuclear accident at Chronobyl on April 26th 1986, but the following days, as the cloud of radioactive debris began circling around Europe and the extent of the disaster became known, are  still pretty clear in my memory.

Like 911, the Chornobyl accident is a prominant landmark in recent world history, yet it’s surprising how little I actually knew about it until on my present trip to Ukraine (and the Balkans) this summer I had the perfect chance to learn much more about it. Chornobyl and the surrounding exclusion zone can now be visited (although it still scares most people off – only 14,000 visited in 2012!), and despite all the rumors that it’s a risky or dangerous excursion, it’s quite safe with a qualified guide, and is an absolutely, humblingly, enlighteningly fascinating experience. Continue reading