31 Jul
03
 

   Craig is writing a saga next to us but Nina and I got this to work, finally!!!! We met Craig & he has a goatee thingee and no, he did not score any of the birds on the road. We looked at the giant unfinished church (La Sagrada Familia) the art museum in an old palace, the olympic stadium, Guell Park and Gaudi's house. Barcelona is beautiful and we are having a great time.

   We were the last people to check in on the plane here, we did have to run for the it and we did get lost trying to find our hotel which had plumbing problems which meant that we had to be relocated. The poor Spanish man had to try and communiate this to us with his poor english and our non-existent Spanish. The current plan is to head to Madrid on Saturday.

   It´s a bit cooler today but the temperature has been about 35 degrees. Thank god for airconditioning! The tourist buses are great and you can sit on the top (getting sun burnt) and see the best bits of the city all explained in english!! They are really cheap too! So all we can say is isn´t this better than Craig's post!!!!!

photo added August 20th





The Sagrada Familia


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



New friends from the rails

Craig
Italy
July 31, 2003

   Just after my previous post Stacey and Brie (here after referred to as 'them', 'they', or 'the girls') and spent over an hour just trying to leave my bags at the train station. We were all glad for the air conditioning because outside it was stuffy and sweaty. Stacey guided us through the metro system (after Brie haggled with a street urchin for a ticket from the automatic machine) and we popped out right in front of the Colosseum. Although the caretakers between the Romans and modern day Italians really let the place fall apart it is a really impressive building. Naturally I took plenty of photos but they can't do the thing justice (though the night shot I have of it is pretty cool).

   Next on the list was the place where the chariot races were held. There is a funny photo in the works titled 'Something Racey'. The girls will email it to me once it has been developed :-). The Roman Forum was the heart of ancient Rome, and it is a very interesting place to walk around. So many integral parts of their society, and now it's just ruins. We threw coins at the ledge that other people have been doing for quite some time, none managed to stay on though, I don't know if that means we are going to be cursed or something, judging from the rest of the day we are pretty well blessed actully.

   From there we walked to the Pantheon and again were suitably amazed by the huge buildings that those clever Roman people could build. This particular one used to have copper roof tiles, but they were removed and melted down to make part of St Peter's church and 80 cannons! Keen to investigate this grand copper theft we continued our tour and came to none other than the center of the Catholic church, St Peter's. I had to put on the leg parts of my trousers/shorts and the girls covered their shoulders because thats the dress code in there. As Brie mentioned, nothing in America (or NZ for that matter) has had the attention devoted to it that was spent even on the floor of this place, let alone the acres of detailed wall paintings, marble sculptures and other incredible pieces of art. The Pope Crypt was kinda eerie but refreshingly cold.

   The Sistine Chapel was closed for the day, but I understand the girls will be back to see it another time, I will when Bronwyn, Nina and I roll through town some time later in the year. Stacey has been here before (hence the designation as tour guide) and she took us to Piazza Navona, a lovely city square with a fountain, street performers and restaurants. It was there that we watched as day turned into night and food and wine came and went. A very special evening there in Rome with my two new road friends. Everything on this trip has been brilliant and this is the sort of thing I hope to reminisce about for years and years to come.

   By now I had very little time to get my baggage and train but with a bit of a power walk and humming along to 'Eye of the Tiger' we made it with time to spare. I bid the girls good bye, hoping that it was just a 'see you later'. There is a chance that we will cross paths in Holland, and I am getting more determined to go back home via the states. The train ride that night was ok, but in the morning I woke to the news that there had been a landslide in the Monte Carlo tunnel (actually it happened on July 3rd and the guy in Rome neglected to mention it) and there was some complicated plan to get us all around it. I missed my planned connection but managed to rework it, and modify the ticket that the silly guy in Rome sold me. Despite showing him a piece of paper clearly printed with Barcelona, he only gave me a ticket to Cerebere which is in France. Either way, I got to Barcelona last night and finally connected with Bronwyn and Nina. Yay! They are supposed to be writing up today's events so I sign off now and let them take over.

photos added August 20th

Brie telling off a giant!
Inside St Peter's Church








Stacey, Brie and I after dinner






The Colosseum at night



best wishes from
   Craig
Wish you were here?     (5 replies so far)



  29 Jul
03
 

   I arrived in Rome last night, and from the moment I stepped off the train it has been swelteringly hot and sticky. I wanted to stay in Faulty Towers, a small hotel near the train station, but it was fully booked. They called the YHA across town. There were 10 spaces left and they wouldn't take bookings. With that in mind I raced across the metro system and then spent 30mins waiting for a bus. The bus stops directly opposite the hostel, but for some reason the Romans don't like to tell you it is a hostel from that side, so I asked some locals who sent me in completely the wrong direction. 20 mins later I was at reception booking a bed. I think the limit of 10 was for women coz there were 7 more beds in the room I went into. It stayed ridiculously hot all night and I was looking forward to my morning shower, until I got there. It smelled like a dirty toilet on bonfire night, half of them didn't have curtains and those that did only had half a curtain anyway. Tiles were missing from the floor and I'll be lucky if I didn't catch something in there.

    Right now I am sitting in the internet room of the Freedom Traveller Hostel, hoping that this is the one that Stacey and Brie are in and that I'll have some people to share Rome with. Tonight I am on the train to Barcelona and I will meet up with Bronwyn and Nina. I hope they don't need too much sleep coz I have lot to tell them about. See you both soon :-)

P.S. I updated the San Fermines entry to have a link to some bull running photos, it was made on July 10th, click the date on the right of your screen to go back to it.


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



Tunisia

Bronwyn
Tunisia
July 28, 2003

Today I rode a camel across the Sahara. Well not exactly, I did that on Friday. Today I am in Basingstoke but I am pretending I am in Tunisia for the purpose of this post. Tunisia is hot, really, really hot. We are talking upwards of 40 degrees celcius and all you do is drink. As noticed the Sahara is there as well as another couple of deserts. I learnt lots. An oasis is a bit different to how I imagined and an entire community is based of farming the heck out of it. I stopped being a tourist long enough to realise that a photo of a date tree was going to be something I regreted.

Dan and I got used to dealing with creepy men trying to sell us stuff and because he is blonde and I am a women not covered in scarves it was pretty obvoius we weren't from around there. In Tunisia they speak French and Arabic and I had to kiss the bartender goodbye when I left as I was the first New Zealander he had ever seen and I was suprisingly light in colour.

So in Tunisia we saw sets for The Gladiator and Star Wars and The Life of Brian. I did send post cards but the post office doesn't seem to reliable. I had to put my mail in a bird cage in stead of a post box! When I asked the man at reception about using the internet while I was there he said that there was none at this hotel (where there were approx 800 guests) but there were some places you drink coffee with computers somewhere in Sousse or Monastir. Since most of the coffee drinking was done by men and I couldn't ask the locals where I was going I decided to save this post for now. Tomorrow we head to Spain and should be together again.



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



Old Fribourg

Craig
Switzerland
July 28, 2003

   After leaving Oslo I stopped at Gothenburg (Sweden) for an hour, just enough time to nip into the shopping mall and do a little gift shopping. Then on to Copenhagen. Jørgen met me at the station and I spent the afternoon showing off my photos of Norway and comparing hiking stories with him.

   I really should have booked my train ticker earlier, when we got to the station the ticket booth had closed and advised me to get on the train and buy one then. I did, and the train pulled away from the station, but pretty soon I found out it was full, and the conductor expected me to get off asap. Luckily (for me, not so good for them) someone had missed the train and I got to claim their seat. That night was terrible, it was nigh impossible to sleep in the cramped cabins with six upright chairs facing each other and a bum on every seat. The most sleep I got was when I sat on the floor and put my head on the chair, and that was not comfortable at all. The next day (Friday 25th) I paused in Basel long enough to wander the streets, look at the interesting fountain and sit my the river eating my loaf of elfish whey bread.

   By early evening I was back in Fribourg to stay with Mike and Sandra, the lovely couple who put me up (and put up with me) when I came her a month ago to see Levi. I slept pretty well that night. The simple joy of a bed that isn't moving and having a room without a pile of smelly hiking clothes (besides my own) and snoring Norwegians was just heaven.

   Saturday was moving day for Mike's brother's girlfriend. So the three of us drove over to the old part of Fribourg and helped bring all her belongings down three narrow flights of stairs to the van. I just can't seem to escape exercise, every where I go there is another reason to do walking/lifting/swimming. As a reward we (and all the other helpers) were treated to a big lunch at Bernard's (Mike's brother's girlfriend's brother) house. mmmmm lunch. Back at the apartment we had raclette (the melted cheese dinner) and polished off a quite sizeable amount of cheese, washed down with a few shots of Kirsch (40%) and then Grappa (37.5%).

   Yesterday the weather was pretty grotty, and as we walked around the Schwarzsee (black lake) the hills above us echoed with thunder. On the way home we stopped to look over the old part of Fribourg. It is really easy to imagine that area back in it's time. The little cobbled streets, the guard towers on the hill and the really old houses have all been very well cared for since then. It deserves a bigger entry in the Lonely Planet Guide for sure.
Mike spent a while on the phone trying to organise a train from here to Barcelona but it appears that it's school holiday time right now, and Barcelona is the place to be seen this summer, so a train this week is impossible. I might go to Italy instead. Stacey and Brie are heading to Rome today and it would be most cool to meet up with them again. It would mean giving up on seeing Bronwyn and Nina in Spain, but it's just too hard to reach there. I'll catch up in France next week I think.



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



  23 Jul
03
 

   Well I've been through quite a bit since the last update, I have my books (my sole guide up there was Constance Roo's 'Walking in Norway', and a compass) beside me so I will hopefully get the place names correct the rest of my spelling will be up to my usual impeccable standard :-)

   I left Copenhagen on Friday and headed for Oslo, via Sweden. The train ride was nice and uneventful. Unfortunately I did not arrive in Oslo early enough to get a connection that day to the hiking area so I had to stay the night. I walked a little way to the YMCA sleep-in, only to find it was closed for a week. Given the prices of the other accommodation I made the decision not to sleep at all, thus saving a fair amount of money, but risking a fair amount of my stuff. I put everything I could do without into a locker at the bus station and went on a long walk around town scouting out places for the night. I walked right up to the palace grounds, and it looked no different to the rest of the park. For a while I considered leaping the fence and sleeping in there, until I walked around the other side and found a fully armed guard (in a fancy costume) patrolling the gate. Instead I slept in the bus station until it closed at 1am and then made my way to the park. I did manage to fall asleep there, only to wake up to find two tall dark, gun toting figures standing over me. I was on my feet pretty quickly. The palace guards asked if I was all right, which I was, and then I asked if I was allowed to sleep here. They seemed to think it was so I sat back down and watched as they went to the few other sleeping strangers and checked on each of them. I moved to a better spot hidden by a fallen branch, but when it started to drizzle I gave up on the park idea and found a bus stop to sit in until the station was open again. When I finally got on a bus it didn't take long for me to fall asleep.

   I got to Gjendesheim and the weather was great. Situated at the eastern end of the Gjende it has a great view across the lake and of my hike for the next day. Despite sleeping next to a human combine harvester I did get a good rest and set off the following morning in high spirts.





Looking east across the Gjende after sunset


   It was my birthday, it was perfectly sunny day and I was in the Norwegian mountains. The hike was pretty tough, and I was still carrying far more than anyone else, my packing skills leave much to be desired. The view from the top though made it all worth while.






Above Gjendesheim







The famous Besseggen Ridge



   I took lots of pictures from the Besseggen Ridge, and have complied this Quicktime VR movie (4.6mb) taken from between the lakes. I came to Norway based mostly on photos by Jørgen so I have a lot to thank him for besides his hospitality when I passed through Copenhagen. That evening I was quietly sitting in my bunk, writing my paper based journal (thanks Josephine), when Mertte, a Norwegian girl in the same room, asked my age.
'22, err no 23, today is my birthday' :-)
   Not much later I was upstairs in the common room eating a birthday muffin (they didn't have any cakes for sale) with her and Maria. We talked for a few hours before I had to call it quits and head for bed.
   The next day the weather was not so brilliant, and I had reports that the glaciers that were on my planned northerly route had lost their snow cover making them just ice. Without crampons I would have been crazy to take that path, so I took a boat along the Gjende to Gjendebu and then started my walk to Olavsbu, a small self-service hut in the middle of nowhere. No electricity, no running water and no beds for the last people to arrive. They had to sleep on the padded benches in the main room.




Looking back towards Gjendebu


   At first I was walking through sparse trees and muddy ground, but further up the valley the vegetation dropped off and it became a hike over rocks. Lots of rocks. If there was one other place on earth that Lord of the Rings could have been filmed, Norway would be it, and I was on the edge of Mordor (video 3.9mb). The rain came in and the wet weather gear came out. By 2pm I was at the hut and toasting my feet in front of the fire. Without much else to do, and no native English speakers to compare stories with I spent most of my time in bed, my feet needed it as much as my back.

   In the morning I started down the hill with sunshine behind me and surrounded by huge snow capped mountains. I passed a few lakes, and some beautiful patches of moss and grass with little snow melt streams running through them. The rain caught me once again and I spent the early afternoon trudging downhill in between little bushes, jumping over muddy patches and avoiding slippery rocks.




Part of the track towards Skogadalsboen


   I came to Skogadalsboen and decided to fork out for a full dinner because I was getting rather hungry after finishing my loaf of bread and last apple the day before. The man at the desk said I was the first Kiwi of the season which was kinda cool. It was here that I got reception for the first time since the Besseggen Ridge so I made a birthday call to Mark in the morning (a week late) and received texts from others wishing me well for my day.

   An early start and fast pace the next morning (Wednesday) so that I could get to Hjelle in time for the 3:45 bus to reach the next town for another bus so that I could get the night train to Oslo. Everything went well. The mountains were fantastic, the rain came and went and I got to see some cool things. Mountain huts with grass and lupins growing on the roof, Norway's highest waterfall and some beautiful little valleys, only visible to those willing to put in the time and effort to walk that high in the mountains.




A quiet little valley, away from civilisation


   Like the previous two days I spent a few hours without seeing anybody at all. But there where more towards the end, day hikers just doing a hour or two. The final few kilometers were on a dirt track from Vetti to Hjelle and I had time to record this video (5.5mb)The bus ride to Bergen was great, and I definitely want to see the fjords again. Sheer rock walls plunging straight into the water, with moody clouds hanging over them about to drench the place. They have some massive tunnels up there. The longest, at 25km, has some big caverns spaced out along it, with a spacey blue light scheme.

   The train ride to Oslo wasn't particularly comfortable but when I woke at about half three in the morning all was forgiven. We were whizzing past pine forests and perfectly still lakes with small clouds rising up between them. The sun was coming up and the sky turned a subtle purple colour.






Sunrise from a moving train







Watching Norway fly by



   It was definitely up there in the best views of my entire trip. I wanted to wake everyone up and tell them that they were missing out on an amazing experience, but I don't think it would have gone down well. We rolled into Oslo at about 6:30 and I waited for my next train, happy with my time in Norway, and pining for the fjiords.


best wishes from
   Craig
Wish you were here?     (8 replies so far)



  18 Jul
03
 

I am still in Basingstoke and tomorrow I am going to London to meet Nina. I haven't been doing much but I do seem to have picked up some weird bug thing which is keeping me sore and my throat hurts :( I blame Dan.

Dan and I are housesitting down the road and last night Dan lead a jolly bunch of gay fellows back with him one of whom opened my bedroom door at 2am looking for the bathroom. Not too good when you feel like death warmed up. Other than that I have been to the zoo, the pub, the super market and Southhampton and shopping for books for reading in Tunisia and that's about it.


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



  17 Jul
03
 

   So, I left Mike's Bike Tours in a relaxed state and headed for the Luxembourg Gardens via the metro system. On the way I met Tristan, and Australian here on some sort of cultural exchange between university terms. It wasn't until he left and I headed for the metro to get to the Gare du Nord train station, that I realised my battery charger and one camera battery were still plugged into the wall at Mike's. On the other side of Paris. with just one hour before my train was set to leave. And after closing time. Oh dear x 1000.

   As I had paid for a bed on the train I decided to get on it anyway and headed for Hamburg. It was so hot and humid, everyone was hanging out the windows until we were well out of the city and could see thunderstorms on the horizon. I called ahead to Jørgen and told him that we would have to meet a day later because the charger was pretty essential for my photography of Jotunheimen. I arrived in Hamburg the next morning, and two hours later was heading back the way I had just come. In Paris I probably impressed some people, amused others and scared the rest as I ran, fully loaded with my big back pack, through the trains station to the metro and changed tracks with incredible ease. I got to the tour centre with less than 10 mins until they closed, and without a chance for a shower in the last 24 hours I was surprised they let me in at all. But they did and they had my stuff sitting there ready for me.

   This time I triple checked everything, I even put my bag outside and did a quick scan of the floor one more time to make sure nothing had fallen out and been missed. Then once more to the train station, and once more on the night train to Copenhagen (via Hamburg). At first I thought I had the whole cabin to myself but then 5 others filed in and took up the other seats. After listening to them talk together I recognised the language as Norwegian, and sure enough 4 of the girls were from there, the fifth was Swedish. When I told them of my plans for hiking in the Jotunheimen park they were all very happy to tell me as much as they could about getting there and their own time in the mountains. It was an uncomfortable night, being woken 3 times by the conductor to check tickets and I was relieved to roll into Hamburg this morning. Another couple of hours in the station and I caught my ride to Copenhagen. To cross a particularly large stretch of water the train boarded a ferry, which was pretty cool. A smooth crossing and then back to regular land-based travel. At the Copenhagen main station I recognised Jørgen from his online photo very easily and after lunch in Tivoli he showed me around town. Mostly all I could say was 'wow' as I heard about the various harbours and castles and other assorted buildings rich in history.

   Tonight I am staying in Jørgen's house. Right on the border of the city and the country, this old thatched building is visited by a local deer and bird-life. My last two nights have been on trains, I am glad to be in real house for a change. There will not be any internet connection in the mountains and I'll probably be out of cellphone reception for a week so don't expect any more updates until I have completed the walk. Cheerio.


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



Bastille Day

Craig
France
July 15, 2003

   I stayed on the Eiffel Tower that night until well after sunset. The full moon was on one side and the fading light was on the other. A very magical time, no wonder all the couples headed for the top stood around holding each other close. It was just a little lonely being probably the only solo traveller at the top, but what a great view.

   Earlier that day I had walked right across town, probably coming to about 22km. My feet are still hurting a bit, but Norway is my goal so I must continue. On Sunday I moved across to another hostel, The Three Ducks. Which is a bit of a pit, but in a friendly way. Quite noisy and very busy. There I met another long distance hiker. Scott (Canada) is a serious long distance walker, he is about to start some mammoth trek across Europe totalling about 880 miles, well out of my league. He introduced me to five girls from the states and along with Barry and Alex we went to the Fireman's Ball. Every year on July 13th fire houses across Paris invite the public to have a big party in their halls (or in this case a courtyard). A great party except for the firemen who kept getting on the bar to take their shirts off. I bet that was their main motivation for the whole party idea in the first place.

   Without much sleep Barry and I set off for the parade in the morning. Due to closed subway stations and crowd control we were walking along a side street when the first fly over happened, between buildings we could see the coloured smoke trails and some big planes whizz past. The parade itself was mostly army stuff which didn't interest me, but we both tried to climb trees for a better view anyway. We even got on top of a tourist information booth :-), but we were told to come down pretty quickly :-(

   I walked back to my previous hostel to retrieve my NZ power adapter and by the time I got there was desperately dehydrated having misjudged the distance and heat

   That night I went to dinner with Kate, Emily, Jen, Connie, Nicole, Crisha and Klare, mmmm chinese food mmmm. A few joined and a few left by the time we got to the Eiffel Tower in time for the big fireworks display. It didn't start until well after 11 but when it did it was very cool. The crowd was unusually quiet, expect for when it got really pretty. I took a ton of photos that have just been burned to CD and have managed to upload one here. It's big, but nice.

   I am wasting my day away in Paris until my train leaves tonight for Copenhagen and then I am going on to Olso and then Jotunheimen Park.

   Oh, last night I met Holland, a fellow Pamplona survivor. He has been to Greece, and told me about Santorini. It seems as though it will be everything I imagined, I can't wait!


Now in full motion video watch as the Effiel Tower sparkles in the night. (3.7mb)



Me, Kate, Nicole, Emily, Chrisha, Jen, Klare and Connie


best wishes from
   Craig
Wish you were here?     (7 replies so far)



  15 Jul
03
 


Nina and I made it, although I now think that she is secretly a camel. She didn't drink or go to the loo on any of the flights (one of the flights was 11 hr and 15 min). I am gonna have a Berocca and be on my way but Basingstoke is not like Huntly (Zoe was a liar). It is 25 degrees here, nah nah na nah na.


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



  12 Jul
03
 

I am on the second floor of the tower right now, will stay for sun set. Expensive net up here, must go


best wishes from
   Craig
Wish you were here?     (5 replies so far)



  11 Jul
03
 

   I made it to Paris, despite the best efforts of the Spanish. I had to take a taxi from Irun(Spain) to Hendeya (France) in order to catch the 23:15 train to Paris. On the train I managed to have a decent conversation with a guy who spoke only French. I told him about running with the bulls and he told me about getting to Gare du Nord to head for Norway

   I arrived this morning, feeling like a victim of a cruel sleep deprivation experiment. I got my way to Gare du Nord and book a ticket on tonight's train to Copenhagen. Seeing as it doesn't leave until 9pm tonight I have time to waste and took a bus to the Eiffel Tower. On the way I saw the huge seating arrangements for Bastille Day (July 14th) and it has got me thinking about staying. I am going to contact my french penfriend and see if they want to meet up, then organise a place to stay, then cancel the train ticket. I can do Norway next week.


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



  10 Jul
03
 

   Today I ran with the bulls as part of the San Fermin festival. I have some pictures from on the course, a few with the huge beasts falling over and getting a little disoriented only a few meters from me. I chased them along the straight patch and then waited for the slow ones to come past. I tried to get into the crazy bull fight/teasing session but it took me so long to get past the crowd it was over. I am alive and well and very pleased to add that to my list of adventues


Now see the course(GoogleEarthLink) in GoogleEarth

   In other news I have spent the last 24 hours in the company of Stacey and Brie, two lovely girls from New Jersey. Last night we all slept in the park. Well, they slept, I shivered in the cold and then watched over as a very dodgy character hung around and made a move towards a sleeping couple. I think me suddenly standing up scared him away.

   I will write more when I find a proper computer.

   Added in France: So after staying up all night in the freezing cold I bought a t-shirt on the way to the run. I was tempted by the blood stained ones with the machine made hole, but I want to be able to wear it at other times, it would have made some fantastic photos though :-) I should have bought it earlier because I was much warmer with two layers on. Stacey, Brie and I walked the course one more time and I picked the corner of Calle Estafeta and Mercaderes. Soon enough the rockets were fired and the only thing stopping the big things reaching me, was the hundreds of rather soft and squishy human bodies in the way. The crowd surged and started running then the thunder began as dozens of hooves charged across the square and slid across the cobbles. The first bull slipped big time and got two feet under the railings, probably destroying the camera that had been there a moment ago. They are big, very big, and can move so fast, I had no idea how fast until that one got back up and then another shot in from the side almost taking out the first. heart really pounding at this point, mind thinking 'Should I really be doing this?' In this picture(from another year) I would be the guy backed up against the white door on the right, kinda stuck to the ground in fear. In a moment the fallen bulls where back on their feet and running up the hill, I gave chase but they were very fast and I just ran from the crowd, leaping over fallen bodies as I went. At the top of the hill I waited on the big corner leading down to the ring and eventually the slower, but bigger, bulls ran past. I wasn't particularly close, but there was nothing between them and me and it was still kinda scary. I've heard report since that some people got badly hurt, but I didn't see anything like that. After the race, and watching the amateur bull fighting (and trying to join in) we posed for a webcam for Dad and Mum in NZ and then went back to the station where I waited for 7 hours until the next train going my way left the station.

I sent that instant camera back to England and my sister and her boyfriend kindly developed scanned and email them to Dad, who has put some online here. Unfortunately the camera I bought was pretty bad, but it was better than risking my digital one.






Stacey and Brie


best wishes from
   Craig
Wish you were here?     (5 replies so far)



La Rochelle

Craig
France
July 08, 2003

   Monday morning the weather looked good, and following the instructions from the hostel I made my way in to town and then on to ile de Re, a 30km island just 3km offshore and surrounded by good sand beaches. As I walked along in the shallow water, wistfully staring out across the Atlantic, I was approached by one of the four girls from the bus, "Are you travelling alone?", "yes I am", "where are you from".....

   We walked along comparing New Zealand and Norway and talking about Jotunheimen which is the next major stop on my tour and where two of the girls go regularly. One of them even has a cabin up there, very cool. They left to find a shop and I walked along further for a swim. When it came to be my turn to find lunch I discovered I was a really long way from the shops so I took the beach route to the market and tried a cross-island route to get back to the water. Once again my internal compass was on the fritz and although I came out at exactly the right point on the beach that I wanted, it involved a much longer road walking section under baking hot sun than I had intended.

See La Rochelle(GoogleEarthLink)

   I joined the girls for a sun bathing session and watched as more and more people arrived as the tide went out. Soon there were nearly a hundred of them all digging in the muddy sand and under rocks looking for some sort of local seafood thing.

   In the evening I met a group of English lads from Devon, here on a two month train ride, they were heading for the beach with more than a few beers. When the girls finally got ready we also headed for the beach, but got some pizza on the way as it was now 9pm and none of us had eaten since the beach. Kirstin, Kiristina, Matrina, Julie and I met the four guys (Sam, Alan, Chris and Chris) and when all the beers had been drunk and only the pizza crust was left we went to a local bar for a few rounds of table football. My skills in fussball are sadly not existent, so I talked with whom ever I could and watching in awe and amusement as Alan managed to convince a local that we were drinking with Will Young (the winner of the Popstar TV show in England). Now that I have looked him up on the net I can see that one of the Chris' is a dead ringer for Mr Young.

   A bit of drama in the hostel last night. When returned to my room at about 3am I found a guy coma-ed out in the toilets. I found the night watchman and he decided to kick the guy out. By fluke he was sharing my room so for the next 15 mins I heard the two talking and then the drunken guest noisily packing his bag. Just as he left another person asked him something and the guy took off like a rocket. The asker followed pretty quickly and everyone woke up. It turned out that the guy who was being removed had another bag stashed behind the bed and in it were some clothes he had stolen from the others in the room. At this news I made a single leap from my top bunk to the cupboard that had my bag and everything important to me right now. I found everything in order but it gave me a big fright, so I spent the rest of the night holding my small back pack with all my valuables and waking at every slight noise.

   This morning I am off to San Sebastian in Spain. The girls are heading there too and I should be getting to the train station to make our reservations. Another train ride doesn't sound too exciting, but we will be travelling through Bordeaux, and I will have the chance to learn a few more Norwegian words before hiking over their mountains later this week.



best wishes from
   Craig
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  6 Jul
03
 

   Levi and Sarah left this morning. I'm sad to see them go as they are both cool people, as are all their Swiss friends. I will see them again but just when that will be I am not sure. I got back on the trains today, and very nearly missed my first connection. For some reason the train was changed from platform D to platform C and the announcement was only made in French. I tried to ask a guard if I should go to platform C but as soon as I mentioned speaking English he dismissed me with out even trying to help me in French.

   Seeing as I only had about 2 hours sleep last night, I snoozed my way across most of France, but did stay awake long enough to see fields of sunflowers whizzing past at about 300kph. After nearly 11 hours on trains and in stations I have arrived at La Rochelle. I thought I had been here on a family holiday, but nothing looks familiar. Tomorrow I'm going to go to L'ile du Re (assuming the weather is good) and soak up some rays beside the Atlantic Ocean, and then I'll work my way down the coast to Spain.


best wishes from
   Craig
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  6 Jul
03
 

The world famous Montreux Jazz Festival started yesterday, and it was the destination for Levi's last night (and early morning) in the continent. A whole bunch of the Swiss friends were there, and instead of writing their names, I recorded them. Hopefully this 3Mb video will work on your computer. The festival has two main indoor centres, for which tickets are sold and seats are limited. Instead of that we all walked around outside, on the crowded board walk jostling for space with various street performers and food stands. They have a rather greedy money system, for which you need to buy cards (confusingly called CASH cards which is a completely ridiculous thing to call something designed to rule out the use of cash). The cards are 60 sfr and come with 50 sfr loaded on them. You can easily use this card (but nothing else) to buy food and drink in the festival but nowhere else. Thus if you don't need 50 sfr worth of food you have lost even more money. I'd like to get hold of the person who came up with this silly idea and drop-kick some sense into them. Other than this crazy money system and one drunk guy harassing the ladies the festival was cool, lots of colourful displays and music playing everywhere.

   Tomorrow will be interesting. Levi and Sarah are leaving in the morning. I'll go the airport with them and then catch a train to somewhere in France. Not sure where, possibly somewhere on the west coast, or perhaps the Mediterranean. Where ever the trains will take me I guess.

A scene from the Montreux Jazz Festival

best wishes from
   Craig
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  5 Jul
03
 

   Yesterday was indulgence day, or according to my Angel Card for that night "Abundance" (yes Mum, exactly the same type of angel card that we had in England). After a lazy morning online and staying out of the rain we had a wonderful fondue. A pot of melted cheese, a few chopped onions and wine sat in the middle of the table, and Mike, Sandra, Levi, Sarah and I dipped pieces of bread and apple in. It was really delicious and though I felt full pretty quickly I kept going till it was all gone because it was just that good. I even had another shot of Kirsch, but I did that to show I could, not because I like the stuff.

   After lunch the five of us plus Jill and Magdelana drove to the Caillers chocolate factory and sat through a really terrible short film which basically showed that even the village idiot can get a girl if he uses chocolate as his bait. We saw just one room of the factory and then were led straight into the tasting room. Mmmmmm, chocolate, free chocolate, lots of free chocolate. I sure was glad I brought a bottle of water with me, otherwise I would never have been able to eat as much as I managed to that day. My favourite types were the white and plain milk, so I had extra of those. We staggered back to the car all feeling bloated but satisfied. The next stop was the Maison Blanche vineyard. More people joined us. Cab and Vallory, Pat, Luke and Savannah (sp?), Mark, Tom and Helana, possibly more I'll have to check the photo. I don't usually like wine, but seeing as we had come all this way, and everyone else was enjoying a sip or two, I joined in and found a few bottles that I quite liked. Everyone came back to Jill and Pat's place for a pot luck dinner and sparklers (July 4th). I learned a few new French sentences and had a good talk with various people. Mike and Sandra left and though I will see them again in just a few weeks to pick up some of my stuff from their place, Levi and Sarah won't see them again this year, so it was a sad farewell.

   Today Mark and Francene came with Jill, Levi, Sandra and me to France. we drove right to Chamonix, the start of my Tour de Mont Blanc. During the last stretch I was able to point out a few of the peaks and passes that I used walked past along the way, the wonderful sunshine really made everything look great. Unfortunately there were clouds on the top of the mountain and though we went up there and waited with the 'pilots' we were unable to do the planned tandem paraglides :-(

   After a while at the top, the guides said it just wasn't going to happen so we came down, took a few photos of the rest of the valley and headed home. We stopped along the way to play on some boulders beside the road and as Levi carefully traversed the side of a particularly large one, a young french boy came up and told him that it was much easier to climb up the other side. Levi kept going where he was, working sideways around the boulder, so the boy took the quick way up to show the silly foreigner how it should be done :-)

Near the launch point for our cancelled paraglide

best wishes from
   Craig
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Rock Climbing and Castles

Craig
Switzerland
July 04, 2003

I've done the touristy thing, and the not so touristy thing. Wednesday saw Sarah and I take to the road in Mike's car. As she is American and comfortable with driving on the right, I just did navigation. In Montreux (home of the famous jazz festival)we met Jill beside the statue of Freddie Mercury, who made the town his second home, which seemed to please the locals. A pleasant walk beside Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) and we were at Le Chateau de Chillon . Outside there were masses of American school/college kids. And one of the teachers even asked which bus we were on. After giving them a head start we followed the guide books walk through dungeons, crypts, banquet halls and bed rooms. It's a cool place, with a good feeling for what it would be like to live there. The castle itself was started in the 11th century and was improved upon at many times throughout its life. Right now they are repairing one wall. It would be kinda cool to be a work man there and tell your friends that you build castles for a living :-) Lunch at a Movenpick cafe beside the lake was very nice. Just one more moment when I wish I had a pic-phone to send photos of what I am doing as I am doing it.

   Once again we negotiated the Swiss road system and returned to the apartment. For dinner we visited the new Mexican place just walking distance from here. Nachos are strange when they come with Swiss cheese on them, the smell and taste are quite different to what I expect, but then a real Mexican would probably think the same of nachos in NZ.

   Thursday was an outdoors day for which Levi, Sarah, Marc, Franseen (sp?), Luke, Cab and I went rock climbing. It was my first real outdoor rock climbing in ten years, so naturally I chose to start on the highest one. Levi was the lead climber. Meaning he went up first and took the rope with him, hooking it in as he went. On my turn I had only gone 10 feet before having to let go and drop back a bit to start again, which kinda shook my confidence a bit. Slowly I crept my way to the top and could enjoy the view, before abseiling back down. For a while the others watched as Marc, Franseen and Luke climbed together to an amazing height. I'd love to be able to just know that I could take on a cliff like that and not have to worry about ropes. They did take ropes but never slipped so in theory they would have been fine without them, except for descending. I had a bit of a scramble up the side, a much easier route but without a rope and with my hiking boots on it was pretty scary. Then I slowly repelled down the main rock face, that was fun

   Dinner was at a nice pub in Lausanne where they serve beer in 3 and 5 litre tubes. The thing stands up on the table and as each glass is emptied it can be refilled from the tap. I don't like beer so I stuck to water, but it did look like a good way to spend the evening.

Chateau Chillon on the shore of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva)
Looking down from the top of the rock climb


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



  2 Jul
03
 

   On Monday Mike had the day off. He took Levi, Sarah, Dom and I out on his little boat to Lake Neuchatel , which is the largest lake contained wholly within Switzerland. Mike was wearing his Alinghi hat a lot of the time, and there were a few Team NZ jokes thrown around in jest. There was no wind out on the lake, so without anchoring we were happily jumping off the boat and swimming around. It was a really nice day to be spending in the water but eventually we had to head back in. Once we came back through the channel to the lake where he keeps the boat the wind had picked up, and we had a very exciting trip back across to the marina. Levi did most of the sail work, I handled the ropes and Mike was in charge of the whole operation. We were really getting throw about out there, but we arrived in one piece.

   That night we had dinner with Urg and Monica, the organisers of Levi, Mike, Sandra and Tom's sailing trip around the Caribbean. I saw the photos and it really looked like an idilic holiday. Again more Team NZ jokes, lucky that Alinghi was lead by two New Zealanders or I'd of had no come backs :-)

   Yesterday we went to Trümmelbach Fälle, which is a series of underground water falls. It was an awesome display of power, the carving of the rock and the thunder of the water was very impressive. In the afternoon we went to Gruyere and walked around the castle. In the middle of the medieval township there was a museum for HR Giger, the man who did the theme for Alien and Species. There was also a bar, the big boney chairs and the roof arches were like spines. One wall was covered in deformed skulls, all quite disturbing. That night most of Levi's Swiss friends gathered at Dom's house for a raclette. In this traditional local meal, small scoops with cheese on them are placed under a heating element and melted, then poured over potatoes or what ever is on your plate at the time. It was a great night, and I got to try Kirsch water for the first (and the last) time :-)

   This morning I have uploaded some photos, check out 'Day 6 already', and Tour de Mont Blanc completed' to see them. Today hasn't been decided yet, so I'll have look in the Lonely Planet Guide and see what I can come up with.


Leaping into Lake Neuchatel
One of the waterfalls at Trümmelbach Fälle
The people I have been hanging out with in Switzerland

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




Art work and site design by Craig Stanton. Entries written by Craig Stanton, Bronwyn Leak and Nina Lindsay. All rights reserved. © 2003