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Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year

Posted: 2020-12-23 17:07:00, Categories: Travel, Finland, Austria, Italy, Cycling, Germany, Hiking, Vietnam, 1324 words (permalink)

Arto's and Sandra's outfit at the wedding.
Arto's and Sandra's outfit at the wedding.
Year 2020 has been unusual and affected the lives of everybody in many ways, including ours. Travelling is just one part of it but as it has been the main theme of this site for over 20 years it seems fitting to write about it also now. Some of our plans got cancelled but we still had several opportunities to get out and enjoy exploring new places as well as meeting family, friends and a few new people too. As the end of the year approaches and I haven't been active in writing during the year, what follows is a summary of the last 12 months packed in one article.

Wedding gifts, Vietnamese style.
Wedding gifts, Vietnamese style.
Quite exactly a year ago, in December 2019 we spent two weeks in northern Vietnam, mostly in and around Hai Phong. Normally we avoid trips that far for environmental reasons unless we have a minimum of 2-3 months to spend in the destination — which reduces the frequency of such trips quite naturally. This time we made an exception as an old school friend of mine got married and invited us to his wedding. As it later turned out, it was the last chance of travelling to distant lands for quite a long time.

The couple was Finnish-Vietnamese but the ceremonies mostly followed the local traditions. They were colourful, joyful, at times kitschy and thoroughly documented by a two-man video- and photographer team. We also took plenty of photos but due to the request of the couple won't publish any shots of them here. The host family took excellent care of us and other Finnish guests, including a day trip together to the nearby famous Halong Bay. Simultaneously it was a chance to meet and chat with old friends some of which I hadn't seen for the last 20 years. We all stayed in the same hotel and in addition to the wedding spent some time walking around in the city together.

A classic view of the Halong Bay, Vietnam
A classic view of the Halong Bay, Vietnam
We took our rental bike out to some pretty small roads.
We took our rental bike out to some pretty small roads.
During the second week Sandra and I headed out to the countryside, booked rooms in small guest houses and rented a small motorcycle for a few days. South-East Asia is for us an exotic but easygoing, tasty food and good mood destination. Vietnam was no exception to that and especially in the friendliness of the locals at the top end of the scale. What made the stay somewhat less enjoyable was the air pollution. Almost windstill days without rain made the otherwise postcard-like views constantly hazy and we both developed a light cough which healed again as soon as we left the country.

High-rise buildings at the Dubai Marina at night.
High-rise buildings at the Dubai Marina at night.
On the way back to Germany we stopped for three days in Dubai where we would have anyway needed to change the plane. There we sent a few CouchSurfing requests and got invited to stay with an Indian architect, a perfect match in a city filled with modern high-rise buildings and plenty more coming up. With its huge shopping malls and theme-park like attractions Dubai wasn't really our world, but interesting to explore for a couple of days. Our friendly and generous host gave us some local insight to the life there.

Group photo on the rainy DAV hiking guide course.
Group photo on the rainy DAV hiking guide course.
After that came winter and spring with cancellations and lockdowns, for us of course including plenty of day hikes on the nearby Alps. In June we were able to join our already over half a year in advance booked one week volunteer hiking guide training of the German Alpine Club DAV. It was the very first course of the summer which actually took place. Despite the rainy weather we had a good time and learned a lot in the motivated and welcoming small group lead by two excellent instructors.

Christine at the mountain farm with one of the cows.
Christine at the mountain farm with one of the cows.
Right after the hiking guide course we took advantage of the reopening of EU borders and drove to northern Italy to spend a long weekend at a mountain farm. A friend of ours from Munich takes care of the cows there every summer for a few weeks. That farm doesn't generally offer accommodation for tourists (unlike some others which do) but she is allowed to invite her friends there. Cottage life and excellent raw milk, of course.

A perfect camping spot on an uninhabitet island on Saimaa lake.
A perfect camping spot on an uninhabitet island on Saimaa lake.
Cottage life continued in July in Finland by the lake Saimaa, where we stayed this time mainly at my aunt Pirkko's cottage. My father Timo had decided to have his old cottage taken down and a new one built, which wasn't ready yet. Due to the construction works and a few other tasks which had to be taken care of our yearly family visit wasn't as relaxing as usual. Still, we had some nice moments the highlight being a three day island-hopping tour using my father's small fishing boat. Even though the islands on Saimaa are very similar to each other it's always interesting to land on new ones where you haven't set your foot ever before and choose a spot to wild camp before it gets dark.

Allgäu and particularly our region around Füssen lives largely from tourism. Normally it's quite an international mix including a large number of Asians and Americans, all of whom couldn't come this season. On the other hand many Germans who would usually travel further away decided to spend their holidays here. Therefore the summer season was for the local hotels, guest houses and restaurants eventually not too bad. Bus tours were all cancelled but guided city walks in Füssen were allowed in small groups. Sandra joined the team in autumn 2019 so since then we're both official guides of the town.

Colours of a September morning on the Stubai Alps with Sandra and Ieva.
Colours of a September morning on the Stubai Alps with Sandra and Ieva.
In September Ieva, a good friend of ours joined us for a two-week hike in the Austrian and Italian Alps. We were lucky to catch a period of bombastic weather and as the main holiday season was over managed to get sleeping places in the mountain huts along our planned route. Especially the Austrian huts were quite relaxed and enjoyable to stay in, despite the new policies. Huts on the German side of the border had to comply with much more complicated regulations - the Italian ones being somewhere in between.

Sulzenau glacier lake.
Sulzenau glacier lake.
The main part of the hike was in the Stubai Alps, starting from near Innsbruck, including a lengthy detour towards the west and descending in Sterzing/Vipiteno, followed by a couple of days in the Pfunderer Alps at the end. One main advantage of this route was staying almost constantly over 2000 meters of altitude without the need to descend deep in the valleys. That not only saved effort but also helped to mentally disconnect from the daily life "down there" during the hike.

Huge straw rolls next to the Elbe river cycling route.
Huge straw rolls next to the Elbe river cycling route.
Particularly spectacular spots included the peak of the Rinnenspitze (3000 m), the Sulzenau glacier lake and a day trip from Nürnberger hut to Ferner lakes and Roter Grat (3096 m). One trend we noticed particularly on this hike was that huts are increasingly focused on offering tasty food, in some cases fancy three or four course dinner menus as well as breakfasts in buffet style. That makes hiking trips a bit pricier as they used to be (although simpler inexpensive meals are usually available too) but the meals tend to be good value and are an enjoyable way to end the day.

Cool rock formations and autumn colors at the Elbe Sandstone Mountains.
Cool rock formations and autumn colors at the Elbe Sandstone Mountains.
Our travel season ended in October with a one and a half week cycling tour starting from Berlin. We headed first towards Wittenberg, then followed the Elbe river, stopped for two days in the historical city of Dresden and finally booked a small holiday house for three nights at the foot of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. This time we unfortunately weren't as lucky with the weather: cloudy and rainy days with partly heavy headwinds. The last leg from Dresden towards the Czech border and the Elbe Sandstone Mountains with their fascinating rock formations was the most interesting part of the route. Due to the weather and Sandra catching a cold during the last two days we couldn't explore that area as much as we would have liked but will probably return some time in the future.

1 comment

Comment from: Julian V [Visitor]  
hello Arto, Great to read from you. Amazing you’ve kept the blog going for 20 years now!! Always a pleasure to read yours news. Keep safe . Julian
2020-12-23 @ 23:58


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