Saturday, 7 May 2016

To Hell and back

It was Mid-February and I had noticed that the Viking Event was going to turn to Mega status. I decided to just have a look and see if I could find any cheap flights and by luck I could.
For £60 I managed to get some return flights by Norwegian Air, from London Gatwick to Trondheim.

It was a bonus really as our favourite budget airline happens to be them, due to the free wifi on board, really.
I couldn't get really cheap hotels but fortunately the ones I stayed in were absolutely fantastic.

Friday 6th May 2016

I set off just after 9am as I wanted to grab 10 old caches on route to Gatwick.
Firstly I went to Buckinghamshire to get InterMissendens , a cache published in November 2001.
It was a lovely short walk to some woods situated on a hillside.

Next I went to Swinley forest to do the SP series (Star Post). There are 9 caches which were placed between January and February 2002.
I really enjoyed doing these in the sunshine and it was a nice 5 mile walk.
Car parking cost £2 for 4 hours which is plenty of time.

So with the caching done it was time to park my car at Gatwick South terminal and wait for my 8pm flight to Trondheim.
Taking the 1 hour time difference into account, I arrived at Trondheim at around 11.30pm and a 15 minute walk away was my hotel for the night.
Scandic Hell was a stunning hotel with a lovely reception area, nice rooms and one of the best free breakfasts. I got a great deal of £56 for a single room, which was upgraded to a double.

Saturday 7th May 2016

After grabbing breakfast I had to make sure I got back to the airport to board the first train of the day for a CITO event and to get to Steinkjer for the Mega event.
When I arrived at Steinkjer station I met up with 2 fellow UK cachers as they had very kindly offered to let me cache with them.
Firstly I met Janechick while her friend Disa urq was bagging a cache.

We grabbed a couple of multi's and then headed to the Vikingevent 2016 Mega, which was not far from the town.

The Mega was our 30th to date and first in Scandinavia. I was a bit disappointed to learn that the Lab caches didn't get finished on time and learned after that quite a few were disappointed too.

JC, DU and myself then hit the trails to bag a Letterbox cache and pick up a couple of Trads before returning to the Mega to grab some drinks and a hotdog.
We chatted to Jon Paul who is an organiser of the upcoming Estonia Mega and then I was introduced to a lovely couple who were #1 on finds in Norway, with over 30,000 finds.

After we were replenished we headed back to the car to pick up another Multi and a series of Unknown caches.
JC and DU had solved 3 of them but fortunately for us a group of 5 Norwegian ladies provided us with the final co-ords for the rest of the series.
It was a nice series done as drive bys but circling a lovely lake. Some of the views were spectacular.
The series was about different breeds of dogs and each cache had a picture of the type of dog the cache was name after.

Once the series was completed we grabbed an Earthcache  and a couple of other caches on the way to dropping me off at my hotel for the night.

Best Western Steinkjer cost me just under £90 for the night but was so worth it. Included in the price was Free Coffee and waffles from reception area, a free evening buffet and then a free breakfast in the morning. A lovely hotel all round and a place I would highly recommend.

I had a chilled evening stroll after the buffet and grabbed 3 caches before returning to the hotel for a couple of beers... This is where the budget goes out the window in Norway as they cost me £10 a pint!!

 

Sunday 8th May 2016

After a huge breakfast I got the train I had booked back to the airport. The train journeys are fab and not bad for around £15 each way.

I had around 3 hours before I needed go to departure lounge so I took a 5 mile walk into "Hell" to grab some more caches.

If Hell is as beautiful as the one in Norway then there is nothing to worry about if you have been naughty in life LOL.

I grabbed a few Trads and completed a Wherigo before saying goodbye to Norway until next time.

We have now been to 30 Mega events, oh and we have found our most Northernly cache.

Below is a quick video of a few snaps I took.


video

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Romania, Bulgaria & Bruges

At the end of January this year I was looking at cheap flights for the Easter Holidays. We wanted to go somewhere we hadn't been before and spotted Bucharest from Birmingham for just under £50 each.... A few minutes later and they were booked.
After a fair bit of planning we were all set to begin a new adventure.

Saturday 2nd April 2016

We flew out from Birmingham at 10am and landed in Bucharest at 3.20pm (Just over 3hr flight and 2 hours time difference).




On our way


On arrival we collected one checked in bag and headed to SixT car rental so we could pick up our car. It cost us £268 for a Skoda Citigo, the reason we paid so much is that we wanted to be all inclusive as some of the roads are in pretty bad condition.

So a quick loading of the car and we were off.


A church on the route


Tonight we would be staying in Bran which is roughly a 2hr30min drive but we did stop on the way to attempt a FTF on a cache. We found it straightaway but it had already been found, however all was not lost as the views from there were fab.


Some views

So back on our way to Bran and hardly any traffic making the journey seem quicker.


We saw quite a few horse and carts



Mountain backdrops


The drive became a lot more scenic once we approached Sinaia, with mountains and market stalls spread across the side of the roads.

We arrived in Bran around 7.30pm and checked into our accommodation for the night Muntele Rece.
Our room was fab and we had a balcony with mountain views. We paid 41 euros for the night which included free parking, wifi and breakfast.


Room with a view

We were keen to just drop our stuff off and explore the village so after a very swift shower we walked down to the village. There was an event celebrating 15 years of Geocaching in Romania so we decided to go and say hello especially as one of our friends' brother was there.

[15 ani Geo in Ro] Asociatia Geocaching Romania We were made very welcome and introduced ourselves to everyone and had a chat with our friends' brother and with the event owner, he even gave us 3 wooden geocoins made especially for the celebration.

We were in need of food so after the event we visited a Pizzeria in the town which had good reviews on Trip Advisor.  Trattoria Al Gallo
The pizza was very good and we all ate and had drinks for under £20.


A Romanian beer each

By the time we had finished we decided it would be good to get a reasonably early night as we have lots of travelling to come.

Sunday 3rd April 2016

After a good nights sleep we woke up to a sunny but windy day.
Whilst having breakfast we decided that we had enough time to visit Bran castle before checking out and so we left car at hotel and walked into the village again.


A view of the castle from village


Bran castle often referred to as Dracula's castle, as it fits Bram Stoker's description of Dracula's castle. Admission for the 3 of us was 77 Lei which is only about £15.
We had a good look round and thoroughly enjoyed what it had to offer.


Inside Bran castle

View from the castle

Loved this are above the courtyard

We spent around a hour inside and managed to see everything at our own pace.

Next up was Dracula's Castle, this time it was the geocache. It is the oldest active geocache in Romania and was place in April 2001.

The cache was located at top of hill next to the castle and was reached by climbing over a locked gate and then up a steep path to the top. It was hard work getting up the hill due to steepness and lots of leaves making it slippy but once at the top the cache was soon located.


Some views at the top

More views at the top

Yeah, found it

Ben checking out an open grave hehe

Kate needs a breather


It was a great geocache and the location was fantastic, allowing us to take in some stunning views.
After taking some photos we headed back down clearing up litter as we did for the CITO, we got a bonus icon for doing this.


View of castle on way down.


Back in the village we had a quick walk round the stalls and then headed back to hotel to check out and head back towards Bucharest. Bran is beautiful but we have to come back to the area as there are many other towns we have to visit.

The drive back was great with just a couple of hold ups due to traffic. We took in some lovely scenery and diverted to grab a few geocaches, one of them being a Letterbox.


Scenic drive

Lovely backdrop

We have to go back for longer.

We arrived at our next hotel Charter Airport Hotel Bucharest and just had a quick freshen up before attending an event that we hosted.
The hotel cost us £40 for the night, which included a basic breakfast and parking. I think this was our least favourite hotel of the trip but still good for a night.

After our event we got a taxi to the Arc de Triomphe so that we could grab a few different Geocache icons. We added a Puzzle, a Multi and an Earthcache to our tally.


At an Earthcache


Ben at Arc de Triomphe

By the time we had done these we were pretty tired and headed to the Hard Rock Café for a while before grabbing a taxi back to our hotel as we had the biggest drive of trip tomorrow.


Outside the Hard Rock café

A quick drink by the river while we waited for the taxi and a great day completed.


Cheers

Monday 4th April 2016

An early start today and in the car by 6.30am. We have a big drive today and did the first hour in the dark which I wouldn't really recommend as some of the roads were dreadful.

We had to get to Sofia today but were taking a big diversion to Buzludja, a peak in the Balkan mountains which also hosts the Buzludja monument.

We got to the Romanian / Bulgarian border at around 8am and after paying the toll to cross the bridge it was a short wait to allow cars coming the other way. The bridge road was in terrible condition and a very bumpy ride.

Approaching the border from Romania

We queued here for ten minutes or so

The Toll bridge into Bulgaria

Yay, we made it into Bulgaria


We grabbed a Puzzle cache within a couple of minutes of crossing the border and then carried on collecting a few Trads in different Regions. At the one cache Kate walked across a field to a cache and on the way back a farmer wanted a "Selfie" with her. She said he didn't speak a word of English so would've been fun to hear the communication.


Selfie with a Bulgarian farmer

Farmer's workhorse


The weather today was pretty hot so it was good to get back on the road to cool down and it wasn't long before we were hitting the mountains on our way to Buzludja.  We had a quick stop off to grab more drinks and a few snacks as we knew it would be a while before we would find any more shops.



Hitting the last town before Buzludja

Loving the views while driving

After around 6 hours of driving we finally arrived at Buzludja. The last few miles before it were stunning.  The Buzludja monument was a must visit for us as we love abandoned buildings and this was about the best one to date.


Buzludja


Completed in 1981, The Buzludja monument was a venue for Bulgaria's socialist party meetings and celebrations. The building is decorated with Communist and Soviet imagery and although it is left to rot since the political changes made in 1989.


Standing by the panel to enter the building

Hammer and Sickle centre piece


To get inside the building we had to squeeze through a panel at the front entrance as you are not supposed to go inside. Once up a couple of flights of stairs in opened out into the most amazing Auditorium.

We all agreed that this was one of the most awesome experiences we have had to date.
Here are a few more pics.


Had to do a selfie


Just like a UFO, I guess


First views of inside


More views


Inside the auditorium


Lots of damage but still great


Stairway to lower floor


The top floor


More artwork


A few of the many windows


At the back of auditorium


Awesome, eh?



View from window of top level

Looking down from the entrance

I reckon we were here at least 60 minutes and could have stayed longer but still had a fair distance left to travel. We grabbed a cache which was only 300ft away and then Kate did some driving while I took a rest.

The driving round these parts was easy as outside the town and cities there was not much on the roads, driving in the big cities however, was a little scary. It was nice to see horse and carts still used on the country roads and even in some of the towns.


Loved driving with the mountains in view


We passed through a few regions on route to Sofia and grabbed one cache in each of them.
Once we reached Sofia we were surprised at just how big it was.


We made it!


The first views of Sofia

Our hotel Hotel Akord was about a 30 minute walk from the Old Town and was great for a couple of nights stay. The free parking was behind a barrier which we were happy about as we were the only car with Romanian plates on.
The hotel cost us 80 euros and we got a free breakfast too.


Hotel Akord

We were keen to get out and see a little of Sofia even though we were all shattered from the long drive so after a beer and a shower we ordered a taxi to Mullighan's Irish bar as we knew we wouldn't be out long.




We had a nice burger meal and a couple of pints of Bulgarian beer in this lovely bar and then the lady at the bar ordered us a taxi back to our hotel and told them to take us back the direct way haha.

I can't remember what time we got to bed but it was no later than 10pm.
We have a lot to look forward to tomorrow as we have a full day in city.

Tuesday 5th April 2016

A bit of a lie in for us today and then had a great breakfast to set us up for the fun ahead.

We took the trolleybus into the city and then onto the Metro system and worked our way round by doing some caches that we had chosen before the trip.


Bus ticket


Metro ticket

Inside a Metro station


The travel system was pretty cheap and effective at 1 Lev a ride, although, as there was not many English speaking people we did not know exactly what to do with bus ticket and ended up being fined for not validating tickets. Kate and I both got fined 20 Lev each and still not sure why.
It seemed that you have to enter ticket into a slot when getting on bus but somehow we didn't see them.
The Metro was easy as you couldn't enter the platforms without entering ticket at the gates.



We started of with a Multi cache The Water Tower which was a simple offset cache. 


The Water Tower

Next of we went into the University grounds to complete The Alchemist puzzle, which we had solved at home. The grounds of the university were quite nice.

It was almost 30 degrees today so it was nice to get some sunshine and walk round in shorts. We headed off to do another couple of multi's which were both nice.


Ben enjoying the sunshine.

Start of a nice multi

It was now time to grab the Metro again and head off to do a Wherigo Tourist Guide round Sofia.
We enjoyed the tour and were very relieved to find the final after quite a long search.

As well as the usual sights it was nice to see the home of CSKA Sofia. From the outside it looked disused but very different inside.


Outside stadium

Inside

Looks different to outside

More outside shots

and another outside shot.


After around a 5 mile walk doing the wherigo we were very hot so decided to go and grab some lunch and a couple of drinks at a bar that just happened to have a Letterbox cache.

Giocase Hybrid & Hotel It was nice to be able to have some lunch and grab this very neat cache.
The food was great and the Stella washed it down nicely.


Giocase letterbox cache.

After a well earned rest it was back to it as we picked up more caches and importantly an Earthcache.
It was also nice to grab the first multi cache in Sofia while we took in more of the sights the city had to offer.

Impressive buildings

Old building

Old church

We loved this area

Not far from final of the multi

More fab buildings
Ben keeping out of the sun for a moment

We had a great time looking round and thought we should find another bar close to our event....We were all suffering a bit from walking in the 30 degree heat.

On our way to event.

Ben posing after changing of the guard.

Another beautiful church.

We sat in the Cathedral bar which was in a lovely location overlooking the magnificent cathedral and our event location.

The beautiful cathedral

Our event was small with just a newbie caching team joining us. We found a couple of caches and then called it a day and headed off for our dinner back at the Irish bar.
The heat today has zapped us so we had quite an early night as tomorrow we have a long drive again.

Wednesday 6th April

After another great breakfast we checked out and hit the road. We are of to Mamaia today which is a Black Sea resort in Romania. We planned a few caches as stops so we could pick up as many regions as possible.


Today's journey


The best cache Soul Plane took us to a fab location where there was a full size TU-134 Airliner.
We had a good look round it and then made a quick find on the cache nearby.


Soul Plane

We carried on with the drive with a couple more stops and then headed on to Silistra where we crossed back over the border into Romania.
There wasn't a Toll charge this time as it was a land border.


Back into Romania

All we had was a 10 minute wait and then our passports were handed back to us and we were allowed through.

The road was pretty bumpy for a good hour after we had crossed the border and during that time we were pulled over by the Police. I thought they were going to do me for speeding but luckily it was just a passport check.


On our way again


We had a couple more stops and then it wasn't long before we were on the outskirts of Constanta, which is a city not far from our destination.

Constanta roads were busy and we ended up driving through it after successfully being first to find on a cache. After witnessing some dodgy city driving we were out of the city and almost at Mamaia.


Getting closer


Hello Constanta

Mamaia is a thin strip of land with the Black sea running down the eastern edge. There was only one road through it and it was busy, we were glad to spot our apartment building out straight away.


Yay, we are here

I had booked our apartment Tomis Garden and managed to get it as a free night off hotels.com.  It was only £45 normally and we were stunned at how lush these apartments were inside.

We had a quick shower and then went out to explore the area. First stop was a short walk to the beach.


Black sea coast

It was a really lovely beach with great views both ways down the shore. Ben and I had a paddle in the sea and then we went looking for somewhere to eat.
Considering this is one of the main resorts here we were surprised that there was nowhere to eat and hardly any people around.... In the end we decided to get the car and have a drive into town.

The traffic was pretty heavy and to be honest I was shattered so we grabbed a McDonalds and took it back to our apartment and had a lazy evening in comfort.

Thursday 7th April

We had a bit of a lie in today and after enjoying a walk around Luna Park to grab a Letterbox cache we headed of to Casino Constanta.
This was one of the highlights of the trip for us and the reason why we stayed this way.
The casino was an Art Nouveau inspired building but has been left abandoned for a number of years.
All around the building was stunning.


Casino Constanta

Unfortunately nobody is allowed inside now but we knew that before the visit.

After spending a good while there it was time to go to our final location, 2 nights just outside Bucharest.


Here we go again

The drive there was mainly motorway except for a few diversions we took to grab some more Romanian counties. It was good to see more of the countryside too.


A stop off here

 Approaching Bucharest and the roads became much busier. Our satnav did it's job but almost took us through the city centre.
We finally arrived at our hotel after being in a big traffic jam.
Avis Hotel was another nice budget hotel, it cost us £83 for the 2 nights and we loved it here.


At hotel


After a chill out and a couple of beers in the hotel we decided that we would have an earlyish night so we didn't venture downtown. We decided to check out the Hard Rock cafe as it was located on a park with a lake nearby.

We got a taxi there and Kate and Ben laughed as I tried to explain where we wanted to go. In the end we managed to get to where we wanted and once there he understood where we mean't.
We did notice that the ID badge on display was not the same as the driver but we were getting out of the cab by then.

So we tried to get in the Hard Rock but it was full due to a live band being on. However there was a cache hidden inside the shop so we managed to complete that.


Hard Rock

The cache inside


By the side of the lake there was a small bar and some tables so we decided to have a couple of drinks there and then head back to the hotel and grab a takeout pizza.

We drank our drinks in a lovely setting and then set about getting a taxi.... what a nightmare that was.

Eventually we got back to our hotel and ordered a pizza to be delivered.

Friday 8th April

So our last full day so we have to hit Bucharest. We were up early and I noticed that if we walked so far then we could attempt another FTF. It was only about a mile to walk and we were chuffed to see that nobody else had found it.... After we had returned the cache ans started walking away we bumped into an American chap with his 2 little kids, he was a bit gutted that we got there first but we had a really nice chat and then moved on.

We walked to the nearest Metro station and took the train to the centre "Victoria Place". The metro was dirt cheap and reliable.


Aviatorilla station



Ben chilling


Geocaching wise all we did was a handful of trads and a Wherigo. The rest of the days was spent exploring the Old Town.

We started in the Parc Unirii area and worked our way through the Old Town, some of the buildings were spectacular.

The rest of today will be in pictures.


Parc Unirii

Loved how the crossed were placed

A lovely coutyard

Lots of bars

Xenofen Street

Yay, Wherigo found

Into the Old Town

Not driving, so we had a few beers

View down the street from bar

Basketcases :)

Lovely buildings

Arc de Triomphe


We had a couple more beers at the bar by the lake and an early evening. Bucharest was fantastic.

Road trip of 1108 miles.


Saturday 9th April

We had an early flight back to Birmingham so dropped of car and took shuttle back to the airport.
The flight went ok but Blue Air were not one of the greatest budget airlines to fly with.

Once back at Birmingham Airport it was straight to Bruges for a night and a Mega Event.

The Eurotunnel was at 4.20pm but we got there early and so took an earlier train, infact we had got to the Mega campsite pitch tent and were in Bruges by 6.30pm Belgian time :)


Back in this lovely city

Stunning square

We went to Delaneys for dinner and washed it down with a pint. We then headed off to one of our fave pubs in Bruges.... The Druid's Cellar. We had arranged to meet our friends from Essex.

We had a great couple of hours catching up with them and arranging to meet the next day.


Ben in Druid's Cellar

Party time with friends and a photobomber

It was drizzling when we left and cold but it didn't take much to nod off to sleep after a day of travelling.

Sunday 10th April

We awoke to lovely sunshine and ice on the tent, it must have been cold through the night. 
We were soon up with tent packed away ready for a fun Mega day.

Brugse Beer VI  This was our 4th time at this Mega and have to say it gets better and better year after year.

Ben's favourite lab cache

The Lab caches just get better and better and they are Ben's favourites.
We bumped into lots of people that we know from France, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany, it was great saying hi whilst enjoying a lovely sunny day.


Another great Lab cache

With our Belgian buddy Danny


After grabbing the Lab caches we went into Bruges with all our friends from Essex to do a Wherigo and a couple of travelling virtuals.
We had a really fantastic time in one of our favourite cities.


How can you tire of Bruges?

Mid afternoon and it was time to say goodbye as we hosted an event just over the border in France.


Our event

It was lovely to meet new friends and also say hi to our friend Des who attended too.
We all had a nice chat and it was time for us to head home and end our fantastic holiday.


Trip of 575 miles


Thanks for reading.