River Aare

Craig
Switzerland
June 30, 2003

   So we drove back to Bern. In the convoy there were 9 of us: Mike & Sandra, Levi & Sarah, Pat & Jill, Thomas, Dom and last but not least me. First we saw the bear pits, which are just what they sound like. Two pits with big bears in them. Then we walked for quite a way, past the youth hostel and through the free swimming pool/park. We left our stuff in the sun in a crowded area and started walking upstream. There were literally hundreds of others doing the same. They covered all ages ranges, just so long as they were fit enough to swim in a very strong current. Mostly they seemed to be young fit Swiss nationals intent on throwing themselves into the River Aare and wafting down stream. We joined them in the march to the launch bay and soon we too were flowing back towards the pools at about 2-3 meters per second which is a vary strong current to swim against. I had real trouble staying afloat. Perhaps my legs were tired from all that walking, or perhaps I had too much for breakfast, either way I was sinking like a stone and using up a lot of energy just staying above the water line. I was the first to join the local show offs by jumping off the bridge. But on the second run (which I stayed out of because I really lacked the energy to do another straight away) everyone else made the leap.

   After that we sat in the glorious sunshine for a while, and I was able to have a look around. From this brief, and discrete, scouting of the crowd, I can certainly recommend the place to any would be travelers. Being only 300m from the hostel I can see it being the place to hang out in summer, just watching the veritable bikini-fest walk by. Peter (both of you) you simply have to come here.

   We had one more run, and one more jump off the bridge and when I finally managed to drag myself out of the water and stagger back to our spot, we all needed food. We ate, we talked, it was a really nice evening. Capped off by the five of us (M&S, L&S and I) having ice cream in the town square. I hope to have many more moments like this along the way, but doubt it will be as cool as a town square in Switzerland with friends both old and new. I see it is now just past midnight, and we have a day of sailing planned for tomorrow so I had better be signing off. talk to you later.







Friends getting swept along in the River Aare






The River Aare in the evening



best wishes from
   Craig
Wish you were here?     (3 replies so far)



  29 Jun
03
 

   Hello one and all. I am currently sitting in Mike and Sandra's apartment in Fribourg. They are friend's of Levi, who is here too. Some of you may have met Levi before, he came to Auckland in the first half of 2002. Anyway, they have been kind enough to let me stay for a week and I'll be doing various tourist things with them. I may take some time out to see my cousin who is in the area (you can follow her weblog if you like at euronutters.co.nz).

    So yesterday, after swearing I'd not move one than one step, I walked all the walk to Chamonix rather than wait the same amount of time for a bus (15 minutes). Such a tourist based town, it was a big change from being up in the hills and I didn't like it. So I started my Eurail pass and headed for Bern, the capital of Switzerland in case you didn't know. Once there I headed straight for the hostel and off loaded my much heavier-than-I-remembered bag. I wandered the streets for a while, before picking a kebab for dinner. Apparently I don't know enough German for 'not very spicy please'. The shops were all shut, or about to, so I walked along near the river. There is a big play area, with free swimming pools and plenty of space for frisbee and volleyball if your feet aren't making you limp like a three legged dog. Even though it was a Saturday night in Bern, I had to go to bed early because my left foot was (and still is) kinda swollen like a red balloon. I don't know what is going on there. perhaps I'll start another weblog called Craig's Feet and there can be daily updates on what is wrong with them at the time.

   Today all the shops were closed in Bern, it's Sunday and that's what they do. But after my walk beside the Aare River, I found a number of cafes putting their chairs out into the main square. They seem to have funny little underground shops, that look like they should be wine cellars or something. Unfortunately none of them were open so I have no idea just how far underground they go. I took a train to Fribourg and met Mike this morning, and the plan is that we'll head back into Bern to go swimming. Quite possibly right next to last night's hostel :-)


best wishes from
   Craig
Wish you were here?     (2 replies so far)



  27 Jun
03
 

   Wow, after 170km and 10 days I am back where I started, and thankfully in one piece.
   As Dad has told you in the replies to my last posting, I did indeed tackle the Fenetre D'Arpette. It was a tough one for sure, but I just had to do it. It did actually rain a bit, but got much better when I reached the really hard part. The descent on the other side was just as slow and hard, almost three hours of clambering over larger boulders and being very careful not to take the quick route down the middle. That night I stayed in a lovely barn in La Peuty. No one else was there so I got to be in the top bunk, and I mean the TOP bunk, right up in the rafters. Thanks to Matt's spare earplugs I was completely oblivious to the cows ringing their bells outside.
   After that it was the climb to Col de Balme, the French-Swiss border. From there I could see Chamonix and it was a welcome sight, despite being a bit obscured by the haze. Another harsh descent into the valley and that night was spent at Tre-le-champ. Inside the hostel seemed like lots of little buildings put together in a heap. All inter-winding rooms with windows between them and the hall. That night I loaded up on carbos, in the form of about 7 servings of pasta, and it did me well until breakfast the next day.
   Thursday started by waking me up to the sound of wind and rain, so things didn't look good for an early start. Eventually I got going, and with my new hiking buddy Matt, we cleared the ladders in sunshine. The mountain that morning was probably the steepest of the tour, but the path went along rather than straight at it so the elevation gain took plenty of time. After the ladders were lots of steps. Wooden logs nailed in place and when there was nothing to hold onto I felt very exposed. In the afternnon, Matt, (Dave who caught up with us at La Flegere) and I went up the chairlift and walked along to Lac Blanc. A very nice place when the wind stopped.
   And that brings me to today. The three of us set out at 8:30am under swirling clouds. By the time we reached Plan Praz there were a quite a few paragliders launching themselves off the slopes. We climbed on and had lunch at Le Brevent in glorious sunshine. From there on it was all down hill, and in the sun. There were so many people going up the other way. Perhaps starting the Tour de Mont Blanc in a clockwise direction, perhaps just a day walk. But whatever their reason, it was a tough day to be going up hill.
   So we reached the bottom together and I am back in my starting hostel. Heidi did come through and the bag of my cold weather gear was here waiting. Must go before time expires.

Col De Balme
Heading towards the Swiss/French border crossing at Col De Balme
The Ladders
Climbing the ladders on the way to la Flegere
Les Houches
Dave, Matt and I sitting at the train station after finishing the walk

best wishes from
   Craig
Wish you were here?     (3 replies so far)



  23 Jun
03
 

   Wow, what a roller coaster so far. I've walked about 130 km so far, over mountain ranges, along ridges, down steep slopes and through Swiss valleys. I'll try to give a day by day account.

   The first day was wet at first, and at the top of the first climb I very nearly decided the whole thing was a silly idea. I was actually giving off steam at one point, so I lost a layer of clothing and put my foot down, this would not stop me. Many hours later I staggered through les Contamines to Notre Dame de le Gorge where I stayed the night.

   The next day looked a lot better weather wise and started with some lovely pasture. The cows were tinkling their bells and the flowers were blooming. I came to Col du Bonhomme at about lunch time and could see an awfully long way from there, but there was more to come. I carried on up to Col du la Croix du Bonhomme and then decided to make the diversion to Col de Fours. At this point I had to do a fair bit of tramping in the snow, luckily I had splashed out on some new hiking poles when I passed through les Contamines so it was easy going. At the Col I met a group of five French people and asked them to take my photo. Their leader (called Heidi!) did so and then the six of us made the final accent to Nord Tete from where I could see the day's walk. It certainly looked impressive. They went back to their refuge, and I headed down the other side of the hill to Refuge Mottets. It was a long way down, and a lot of it was on snow. I really wanted to pull out my skis, and reach the bottom in about 5 minutes, but they must have been in my other bag ;-) At Mottets I met some good people, who have been with me on and off for the walk so far. Three of them are in this hostel right now.

   The next day (Friday) Heidi's group came by the refuge just as I was packing up, so I walked with them for as long as I could keep up, but had to drop back eventually. At about 11:30 I came to the border at Col de la Seigne. That was a great view. I took plenty of pictures (as I have for the whole trip) so you can see them all once I return to England and put them online. Down into Italy and it got hot. For a while I walked level but then climbed up to Mont Favre Spur before descending past a ski resort into Courmayeur. Walking the long dusty road from the resort was hard. Anyone who has ever driven up to one in a car knows how steep they can be. I was glad to be going down but it was very hard on my feet. At the bottom I passed through Dolomme which was an amazing little village with winding streets and over hanging buildings, a great welcome to Italy. That night I stayed in Pensionne Venezia, and much to my disappointment was placed on the 3rd floor, without a lift! The owner spoke no English, and I spoken no Italian, so we both muddled along in French. I managed to find all the shops I needed, and I didn't miss breakfast so I figure everything went well

   Saturday was a hard day. I waited a while in Courmayeur for Heidi to turn up at the bus stop. She took a bag with some of my stuff in it back to Chamonix because I was carrying too much weight with me. I gave her some of the kiwifruit jam I had been carrying for just such an occasion. After that things start to turn a little pear shaped. I took the route up to Rifugio Bertone but got a little lost. Well a lot lost actually. I spent 2 hours climbing up some scary slopes, scrambling over boulders and clinging to tree roots while desperately trying to get either foot onto something solid. Eventually I climbed out of a gully and found a grassy patch. I was very close to calling a rescue helicopter, but carried on up the hill to find the Rifugio. When I got there I texted mum and dad and almost broke down in tears. It was a very scary morning and when I think of how utterly stupid I was, and what could have happened, well I was very glad to be there in one piece. That afternoon lifted my spirits. A stunning walk along the ridge from Mont de la Saxe to Tete de la Tronche and then down into a beautiful hanging valley. I raced down the next valley to Rifugio Bonatti. Great meal and met up with some people from the previous days. None of them had trouble on the path where I got lost so it must just be my own fault.

   I'm up to Sunday right? From Bonatti I dropped down to Val Ferret (Dad, I didn't see any ferrets, but they are quick little animals and may have been hiding). At just about the same time as the sun really started doing its thing I started going up hill to Grand Col Ferret which had me crossing from Italy to Switzerland. That night I stayed at le Dolent. Normally the hostel hosts large groups but because it was Sunday they had all gone home. The owners were kind enough to let me have a room, even though they left at about 8pm. I found I was locked in, but could escape via the dinning room windows :-)

   And that brings me to today. An easy walk down hill to Issert. I bought some strawberries along the way and really enjoyed the little Swiss hamlet though which the Tour de Mont Blanc passes. Eventually I came to the hill climb, but it was only about 400m for the day which is the smallest so far. I am now at Pension En Plein Air in Champex. I've had a swim in the lake and spent about an hour on the computer. I would go out in the sun, but I am already a little toasted around the edges.

   Tomorrow is the hardest of the lot. Fenetre D'Arpette takes 3 hours (I'm guessing 4 hours for me, and is 1200m above where I am right now. I'll be starting early to avoid the main heat of the day and should be well past the summit before lunch.

   I am missing home of course, but thankfully I haven't much time to sit and think about just how far away form everyone I am. Text messaging is brilliant. I was glad to text Peter on Saturday night and get replies from other people. All spending the evening at the flat I assume :-) Bronwyn and Nina, I think I am going to need about a dozen packets of Winegums (the English ones only), can you bring them to Spain pleeease :-) Right I had better let someone else use this. Au revoir







Lupin House
A sweet little French house on the way to Bionnassay






Notre Dame de la Gorge
Walking uphill after Notre Dame de la Gorge







La Balme
The valley leading to La Balme from Notre Dame de la Gorge






Aiguilles des Glaciers
Looking up at Aiguilles des Glaciers from Refuge des Mottets







Col de la Seigne
The French/Italian border at Col de la Seigne






Mont de la Saxe
The walk along the ridge of Mont de la Saxe







Armina Valley
A small valley facing the Grandes Jorasses, on the way to Rifugio Bonatti






Col de Ferret
The Italian/Swiss border at Col de Ferret



best wishes from
   Craig
Wish you were here?     (14 replies so far)



  17 Jun
03
 

   Bonjour! I am in Chamonix, at the foot of the French Alps. I set off from Reading this morning, landed in Geneva and got driven all the way out here. Luckily the lady at the front desk speaks English. I have tried a little bit of French, mais c'est ne pas tres bon. I've stocked up on food and water and looked at the time table, early tomorrow morning I'll be gretting this hiking thing under way. Starting from the near by town of Les Houches, I'll be walking to Les Contamines which is about 16km. I don't know how common internet access is so I may be out of earshot for a while.
   Best foot forward.


best wishes from
   Craig
Wish you were here?     (10 replies so far)



Wedding Bells

Craig
England
June 15, 2003

   The initial reason for coming to England, was to attend the wedding of Marko and Emma in Ringmer village church. Marko is one of my oldest friends and yesterday was an incredible experience, to see the kid I met at Laughton primary school, now married and starting off on honeymoon, wow. The night before, four of us from Laughton gathered at The Walkabout and caught up on old times. James is a long distance lorry driver, dating Sarah for nearly a year. Russel is a brick layer/car dealer and engaged to Hannah, and Marko was about to get married.
   At the wedding I recognised our old neighbour-but-one, and at the reception a bloke came up to me and asked if I went to Ringmer College, which I did. It turns out that he and a bunch of others sitting outside were two years below me at college, and knew that I had left the country a long time ago. Mostly by virture of knowing my younger brother Peter. It's kinda cool to come all the way across the world and bump into people that know you.
   There were a few people at the reception that were incredibly familiar, but there was no chance I could have known them. Perhaps it was a trick of the mind to make me feel comfortable, perhaps there are only a certain number of faces/mannerisms and I have seen so many people that I was bound to find some duplicates. Everyone was really great, lots of people buying me drinks, and I was glad for it at the price the English bars get away with.


   The book I ordered from Amazon have arrived. I got the Cicerone Guide "Tour Of Mont Blanc" and it is very thorough, so I can now safely venture into the alps, with at least some sort of idea about what I am up against.. HostelBooking.com has helped me organise my first night, I'll be staying in Chamonix on Tuesday and then starting the hike from Les Houches in France.


   Before I go I should say hello to Gemma, a lovely girl I have know since before I can remember. We spent the afternoon in a park in Tunbridge Wells. Sitting in the sun, talking about old times. It was such a nice and relaxing afternoon, despite the best efforts of Harvey, her friend's rather energetic dog that came along.



best wishes from
   Craig
Wish you were here?     (4 replies so far)



  11 Jun
03
 

Thanks to the good people at Consume.net . I am now sitting in Powis Square, surfing the web for free. Someone in this neighbourhood has generously opened up their wireless network to the public allowing anyone to sit in this small park and get online. Very nice of them. The park itself is very pleasant, with hundreds of little daisies and buttercups in the shade of some old beech trees. Now if only there was a mains power supply in the center, I could keep writing more :-)


best wishes from
   Craig
Wish you were here?     (6 replies so far)



  11 Jun
03
 

   how odd it felt yesterday, to be standing on Brighton's stony beach gazing out to sea, just a day after being in New Zealand within reach of practically everyone I know. The scene felt very strange and stormy because when I looked out to sea, I saw nothing (except the piers but they are very close to shore). There was no volcano in the harbour, and no islands in the distance. As if a big rain storm was hiding them. But no rain came, the islands just aren't there, despite Brighton being very familiar to me, some things are very different.

   If I walked through the right, or rather the wrong, places in Auckland I could see gangs of people walking their territory, but Brighton is bigger, meaner and the streets are places to be wary of. Jo, Jed and I walked to the seafront last night, and it made me think twice about walking back from Marko's wedding reception on Saturday night. It's probably only 25 mins walk, but I'll be alone and dressed smart. I don't want to have to run the whole way. Now I must get shopping. It appears that none of the real book shops around here cover Norway very well, so I am going virtual.

   Oh, yesterday I recognised a girl on the street who was handing out flyers. She was busy talking to someone else, and I couldn't remember her name but I know she was in one of my classes at Ringmer Community College seven years ago. I could say hi and then tell her I didn't know her name, so I walked past, thinking how small the world seems to me now.


best wishes from
   Craig
Wish you were here?     (2 replies so far)



halfway there

Craig
Singapore
June 09, 2003

   I am sitting in the internet lounge of Singapore's Changi airport. Seeing as I brought my own computer it is free, which is handy because I don't know the exchange rate here.
   The flight was excellent and I highly recommend Singapore Airlines. The seats were big enough, and had a personal TV mounted in the headrest infront, from which I have been sending free text messages, pretty cool. After sunset I slept quite a bit because of last nights frantic packing and video editing session. Hopefully this will get me into the English time zone before I get there. The airport is great, with themed rest areas and even a mini game show session that i caught the end of. I've no idea of the exchange rate so I am not going to buy any of the plentiful electronic gadgets that I can see from here, even though I am very tempted.
   Well, I guess I should go board my next flight, as Mike pointed out, London's Calling



best wishes from
   Craig
Wish you were here?     (1 replies so far)



  9 Jun
03
 

   Well folks, this is it. My bags are packed and everything is ready. I've had a great fortnight of parties and goodbyes. My catch phrase has been "seen you in 8 to 9 months, or whenever I return", I must have said that about 50 times this week.
A big thank you to each and every one of my friends who have come to see me off and to those that i haven't been able to see. You're all very special to me and I'll miss you heaps. Just remember that this is only a holiday and I'll be back in....(see above).
   Goodbye to my family, I know I'll be ringing you when ever I get the chance. Keep me up to date with all the little, medium and big ones and those of you that can, should email me all the time.
To Bronwyn, Nina, Bex, Mike, Anna, Rory, Levi and Vasi, I'll see you all on the road. I look forward to some familiar faces amongst the crowd.

take it away John


best wishes from
   Craig
Wish you were here?     (2 replies so far)




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