A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: saresNcam

Warmth, chaos, noodles and motos...back to Asia!

Jan 12th - 20th

sunny 26 °C
View Big Trip 2009 on saresNcam's travel map.

January 12th : Stockholm -> Beijing (China)
Everyone had a surprisingly good sleep last night! We all got up and changed, Romain, David and Saskia headed out for the day. Cam and I had breakfast and tea with Emmy and sorted out our bags ready to fly this afternoon while she studied for a bit. While Emmy and I were hanging out in the lounge Cam went to get us all a coffee. Thanks to the icy paths, he stacked it just outside the front door of the apartments and dropped 2 of them :( When he went back to the shop t buy 2 more, the lady felt bad and gave them to him for free! Those charming Swedes, you gotta love them!
We got showered and ready and then left at about 1 to catch the train/bus to the airport. When we arrived we were disappointed to see that the flight was delayed.....until 1am!! We checked in early, got our boarding passes all the way through to Vietnam and then happily accepted the service check for 25euros, to go and get some nice food! We had pizza and wine, used the internet for a bit, walked around all the duty free shops, read books in the book store, watched the news in one of the passenger lounges, had a nap......all in an effort to kill 10hours waiting time. The time soon flew by, and we finally got on board. The first flight wasn't too bad, a little bit of turbulence but nothing major.......

January 13th : Beijing -> Saigon AKA: Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam)
We got into Beijing a bit after 4pm local time. Thanks to the delay from Stockholm, we now only 3 hours until the next flight, so we made our way through the transfer section and then to customs. We got shuffled between a number of officers because we were sort of international, sort of domestic, transfers (stopping in Nanning). There was a whole lot of forms and checks we had to do in order to get a short stay visa (despite the fact we will not be leaving the airports in China), and my day pack was completely emptied and searched by the 2nd lot of customs because one of my little liquids bottles had fallen out of the sandwich bag (danger!). When we went to check in for the second flight they told us we had to go back to collect our luggage so it could clear customs, despite the fact we told them we arranged in Stockholm to have it go all the way through to Vietnam. We walked back to luggage collection and pointlessly searched all of the luggage styles to no avail. We went back to check in again, telling her our bags were nowhere to be seen. She shrugged and said 'Well....they should get there, have a nice flight'. Feeling pretty exasperated by this stage, after 2.5hours of formalities in Beijing, we got to the gate in time. Geez.....the Chinese really know how to do red tape ;)
The next flight was then also delayed by ½ hour. All of us weary passengers happily hopped on the cold bus which took us out to the little 737 jet, and accepted the flight food with joy. A 3 hour flight took us to NanNing, where everyone had to disembark, walk through the airport to the transfer lounge and get exit stamps on our visas from Beijing. There was then a wait for another hour at the gate before hopping back onto a plane. The next journey was about 3 hours to Ho Chi Minh City....

January 14th : Saigon AKA: Ho Chi Minh City
Once there, we breezed through customs, picked up our bags and guitar and, feeling bleary eyed and already sufficiently jet lagged, stepped out into the arrivals hall. As it was 2:30am, it was quite quiet and we took the opportunity to change some money and check out the airport bus. Unfortunately this doesn't start until 8am, so we'd have to take a taxi. As we stepped outside we saw a miniature version of an old, frail man, wearing thick cloudy glasses, meekly holding up a sign with my name on it! It would seem that there was a bit of confusion with the guest house, and hopefully this means they have a room. We huddled in the corner for a bit and weighed up our options – whether we pay the overly inflated price for a hostel pick up, or just get a meter taxi....and decided upon going with the old man because, well, he was absolutely adorable and we wanted to lavish him with dollars. That, and we were so tired we were ready to drop.
During the 45min drive through Saigon we were both grinning with glee to be back in Asia, the little man at the wheel had his nose pointed in the air in an effort to stretch himself up high enough to see over the rickety steering wheel, and as the warm, sticky air rolled in through open windows we were confronted with the familiar cacophony of sounds, smells and sights this region has to offer. Motorbikes weaved between each other bearing all sorts of loads: bamboo, plants, other bikes, families, meat...... Roadworks threw dust up into the air as leathery old ladies carrying huge baskets of fruit clambered over the gravel to cross through the traffic. Ah, it is wonderful to be back!
The car stopped outside a dark alleyway and the tiny old man leapt out the door to the open boot, shakily grabbed our guitar and hobbled down into the shadows, kicking a barking mutt on the way. Following him with our bags, we got to the hostel, which was well and truly closed! We bashed on the door and called out, suddenly worried that perhaps there was no room but the driver had come anyway........eventually a dozy guy in his boxers let us in and mumbled to us that we could just stay 'til the morning then had to move to his cousin's place. We happily accepted the key and went up to our room, which was really, really nice! Worth the inflated price. By the time we got to the hostel it was 4am, making it about 40 hours between when we got to Stockholm Airport to drinking a nice cold Tiger here in Saigon....we were stuffed!
We had a celebratory 'welcome back to Asia' beer and then hit the sack for a few hours. Went downstairs for breakfast, suddenly hit with that awful, foggy jet-lagged feeling. After eating we had to sleep for another hour and then we collected our bags and wearily checked out of there and walked down a few streets and alleys to his cousin's place. Another beautiful room was offered to us, the $20 price tag put it way above what we normally pay for a bed, but we were way too exhausted to say no. We had showers and then resisted the urge to go back to sleep! With the idea that we could set our body clocks right by going outside, we stepped out into the chaotic streets of Saigon. We grabbed a roadside fruit juice and curry and chatted there for a while, before meandering around the little alleyways some more. The motorbikes here are really something else – there are 7 million people in this city and I have no idea how many bikes, but a bloody lot of them to say the least!! To cross the road you simply have to step out INTO the traffic, and let them all weave around in every direction while you maintain exactly the same pace and speed until you make it to the other side. Any sudden stopping or running completely destroys the flow of vehicles. It is challenging, but quite exhilarating!
We then went and visited a number of guesthouses to find somewhere cheaper to stay. Found a nice little family run place which had a decent room for $10 a night and arranged to come back there tomorrow for a few nights. We headed back to our room in the afternoon and had a very early night!

January 15th : Saigon AKA: Ho Chi Minh City
Hot weather means......destroying clothes! I 'adapted' some of my winter clothes. Yes, that does mean hacking parts off of them with paper scissors. Now prepared for the warmth outisde, we collected our bags and carried them to the small guesthouse we will now move to. We went to a little roadside coffee stand and got our first taste of Vietnamese coffee. Vietnam is the worlds 2nd largest exporter of coffee, they grow Robusta beans and serve it in a little metal filter drip which sits on top of your cup. You sit and watch the coffee drip until all the water has passed through, and then, voila! Yummy! They commonly serve it with condensed milk on ice, but I opted for hot and black (...the way I like my men?).
We watched the world (chaotically) pass by over our brew before walking through the big park full of people playing badminton and sports, to the famous Ben Thanh Markets. Our intention was to by some summer clothes, but we had no such luck. Instead, we simpy enojoyed taking in all the smells and colours, and bought some mango, dragon fruit and Vietnamese plums. We then went for a walk through the rest of District 1. We bought a Vietnamese SIM card and haggled a lady down for a cheap (photocopied) guidebook. Went to an internet cafe to check our emails, then went to a cool little Indian/Vietnamese place for dinner. After a spicy feast we went to a bustling sidewalk bar and had a couple of beers. As is often the case in places like this through SE Asia, we were visited by numerous buskers, beggars, street sellers, touts and hookers. The most shocking was a boy, about 8 years old, whose face was covered in weeping burns and scabs. He yelled out to the tables and then proceeded to do some fire breathing amongst the traffic in the street, his face cringing as the fuel dribbled down onto his raw, pink chin. After the flame show, he took a snake out of a jar and then showed his ability to put it in his mouth and out again. It was so dangerous, desperate and sad.
Side Note: A moral dilemma so often faced here (and all around the world) is whether or not to give money to those who ask for it on the street. In most instances, I believe that those people driven to beg on the streets are more in need of my petty cash than I am, but I am constantly nagged by the feeling that there must be a better way to help them. There are of course more practical ways to help, like donating to organisations etc, but when a dirty, amaciated woman and child sit before me, covered in filth and flies, I feel more than obliged to offer them what is the equivalent of a mere 50c, while I chomp down on my meal which has probably cost me more than they will see in a week. Still, so many questions hover around this decision, like; What will she spend it on? Will she put it to good use? Aren't I supporting her continued acts of begging?
I am yet to come to a decision as to whether it is fundamentally right or wrong to give a beggar money, and I try to make sure I only give to those individuals I think are worthy and in real immediate need of it, but f*ck knows I am in no position to make that judgement as I sit here under shelter, with a cold beer and a computer in my lap. Ah, World, you confuse me!
We finished our beer and wearily made our way to bed, feeling right proper tired!

January 16th : Saigon AKA: Ho Chi Minh City
Had a smidgey bit of a sleep in today........until 1pm!! Argh! Obviously, thanks to jet lag, our bodies needed it. We went to a vego place a few streets down for some coffee and lunch, and then set up camp at a cafe to try and sort out what on earth we are going to see and do in Asia, and what we can afford to spend doing it. Guide book, maps, calculator and note book at the ready, we got to work!
After getting a bit more organised, we headed back to the hostel to empty our bags of any winter things we want to send home and took our dirty clothes to a place to get washed. Went to another little vege place for dinner and talked to Mum and Dad on the phone for a little while. Back at the hostel we watched a movie on the TV and then crawled to bed.

January 17th : Saigon AKA: Ho Chi Minh City
Body clock;s till not 100% yet...up a little late again. Went back to thee coffee stall for a caffeinehit and then, winter bag in hand, went for a long walk to vvisit the Notre Dame cathedral which, not surprisingly, looks just like Notre Dame in dear ol' Paree! Although it has an eastern taste, with lush green hrounds and nice peach-coloured stones. Over the road from there is the Saigon Post Office, another lovely French era building with great tall door ways decorated with at nouveau faces and hair, before entering a tall ceilinged hall. We filled out all of the (many) customs forms to send off our jackets, hats, scarves, gloves etc home. After that was all paid and packaged up we made our way to the Reunification Palace. This was once the Independence Palace for South Vietnam but was stormed by the North Vietnamese in 1975, after which the South and North of Vietnam were unified. Out the front of the Palace, the 2 tanks which famously stormed the grounds through the front gates are still there.
We walked through the various rooms and ceremonial chambers, the area in the basement was a bit creepy. The president's 'War Room', with antiquated maps, mysterious corridors and heavy metal doors, was a bit eerie.
Getting late into the afternoon, we begun the walk back to the guesthouse. Starting to feel the heat now! Being out for long sunny days, we are beginning to get re-acclimatised. We stopped again at the Ben Thanh Markets for a brief look around, then went to us a bus ticket to Mui Ne tomorrow.
For dinner we had the Vietnamese national dish of Pho. It is a beautiful clear broth full of noodles, vegetables, tofu.....lots! It is delicious.
We were very ready for beddy byes after a long day in the sun.

January 18th : Saigon -> Mui Ne
We were up at 5:30am this morning. Packed and dressed, we set out to grab some Pho and fruit for breakfast. We then walked to the bus station where we were picked up at 7:30am for the journey to Mui Ne on the coast. The journey took us along Highway 1A, which is much less a highway than it is a very full, very chaotic car park. A stop-start drive along there for about 5 hours, we got into Mui Ne about 1pm. The town is spread along a road parallel to the beach and is dotted with those awful white, fancy beach resorts, as well as quaint little bungalows and guesthouses. We wandered along there in the sun for a while, checking out places along the way. We opted for a place on the 'wrong' side of the road (i.e; not the beach side) which was a nice little room behind a family home, set at the base of a huge sand dune. After dumping our bags we set out to explore the place. Got some mangoes and dragon fruits and meandered.
The beach was okay. We are plagued by being accustomed to the South Australian beaches! It makes us so uneasily impressed by beaches, we have such high standards :) One of the more popular activities here, thanks to the windy climate, is Kite Surfing. WE went to one of the schools on the beach to find out details, but were disappointed to learn that it is incredibly expensive. Scratched that off our list and went to check to something within our range: Cooking School! This was unfortunately full, so we headed to the next appealing place: the local music place. We found a cafe which supports local (and, surprisingly, international) music and had some coffee there. The rest of the day consisted of all it can in a beach town: chilling out in the sunshine, with good intentions to do physically demanding activities the following day!

January 19th : Mui Ne
Our plans to ride to the big sand dunes were foiled by the rains which began at about 1am this morning and never ended! Vietnam's skies opened and sent a huge downpour to the South, making it nearly impossible to do anything. The road in front of the house flooded and the population seemed to vanish.
We went for a soggy barefoot stroll to a shed on the beach which was full of Vietnamese having a party of some sort. A guy with good English invited us in and we had some noodles before heading back to the music cafe to have coffee and fruit and tunes.
The rest of the saturated afternoon involved playing songs in the room, typing the journal and generally bumming out of the rain.
In the evening we went to Joe's for dinner and some drinks. There was a local musician playing there and Cam got roped into playing a few songs with him :) He did a fantastic job as always and the crowd really enjoyed it! We hung out with Joe, the owner for a while. Learned a bit more about life living in Vietnam, and some awful stories about pet dogs being stolen in the night to be taken to restaurants.....as ingredients :S
We watched a movie on the big screen, hung out with some dude from the navy, played with a gorgeous stray kitten, drank lots of beer and then splashed home through the puddled streets in the wee hours.

January 20th : Mui Ne
The rain has not ceased. Thankfully we were slow rolling out of bed this morning, so it was no big deal. We once again waded down to Joe's, where we indulged in gigantic breakfasts'. Next stop was to get bus tickets out of here tomorrow. The weather has meant that Mui Ne has been purely a chill out place for us, but we have enjoyed it. Dripping wet again, we sploshed back to the bungalow where we pulled up pews out the front to look out through the frangipani trees to the sand dunes, write the journal and learn some songs.
For dinner we walked a long way down the beach road and scored a little local homestay which made the most amazing Morning Glory with Garlic.
Got a couple of big dragon fruits on the way home for desert. Dragon Fruits are grown in this region. Tasting like a mild kiwi fruit, only about 5 times the size with flourescent pink skin and white flesh flecked with black edible seeds, they are a delicious fruit. The plants look like something out of a sci-fi film, large and aloe vera looking with big pink spiky fruits at the tip, they dot the road sides here.

Posted by saresNcam 22:53 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Stockholm Syndrome

Jan 5th - 11th

snow -14 °C
View Big Trip 2009 on saresNcam's travel map.

January 5th : Nousiainen -> Stockholm (Sweden)
We had a post red wine lay in this morning (we've had a few of those here in Nousiainen....:)). We did the last little bits of packing and uploaded some photos onto Marise's computer, then showered and I cooked a dhall for M&K. We then drove to Mylly shops where we bought some thanks gifts, a birthday card for Colin and some Marimekko card prints. We picked up Kimmo from work and then headed back to Nousiainen for the 'last supper'.
We drove to the port and said very sad farewells to Marise and Kimmo, who had again given us an amazing and enjoyable experience of life here in Finland. We had to wait for a little while before we could board, but once on we made our way to the information counter to ask for our booking 'under the name of Captain Christopher' (ooh la la, hehe!). We got the key which opened the door to a lovely cabin, with 2 beds, a shower AND a window on the 6th deck. It was really nice! Soon the ship was off and we crushed through the chunks of ice on the ocean on our way through to Sweden.
We got changed and then headed out to see what the ferry had to offer. We briefly looked through the duty free shops (this, as always, predominantly involved spraying ourselves with perfumes and colognes we wouldn't purchase), and then made our way to the bars and restaurants. We had a drink in the pub-like bar, which had a guy strumming in the corner playing Pink Floyd covers. There was a sort of karaoke bar which had attracted a large group of Roma Gypsies, all looking amazing in their huge puffy skirts, long black hair, ribbons, frills, big bangles and hoop earrings. I couldn't take my eyes off them, they looked beautiful! Despite a slight dodgy air of criminality which hovered over the swarthy men of the group, I had to resist the urge to go and dance with them. This was made a bit easier by the appalling mutton-dressed-as-a-lamb-in-tight-leopard-skin performer who was wailing in what sounded like Russian to a tinny backing track. We made our leave and headed to the 'disco', but there was certainly no 'Friday Night Fever' happening. We had a brief cold kiss and cuddle on the snowy deck and it was soon near midnight. So, we headed back to our cabin (darrrling) where we had showers and got into bed, ready for an early morning, and new country, tomorrow!

January 6th : Stockholm
The 5:30am wake up call came far too soon after falling asleep! We wearily got changed, packed bits and pieces into our bag and ate the bean wraps Marise had made for us for breakfast. We watched the pretty lights of Stockholm as we came into dock and then shuffled out with the masses into the arrivals hall. The first 2 transfer buses into town were full and the 3rd one wouldn't take cash for tickets, or accept our Australian Visa card. We decided to head into the waiting area to let the crowds clear, have a coffee and work out the best way to get into town when it's a bit lighter. We were in no rush, as it was only about 7am it was still pitch black and -14c outside. After a while in there, we found a hostel in a leaflet which sounded okay, and then walked to catch the local bus to the train station where we got the underground to a stop which was a short walk from the hostel. It was very quiet on the streets of Stockholm, as today is 'Epiphany' it is a public holiday, most places are closed and everyone is inside (having epiphanies I suppose..). We checked into the 18 bed dorm at the hostel, Sweden (well, Scandanavia in general) is incredibly expensive and the cheapest room we could find was still 20euros each!! We chucked our bags in and then went on the internet to send a few more last minute Couch Surfing requests. We then went to a supermarket which was thankfully open and bought a bunch of stuff to make a nice picnic lunch. As all the sights are closed we didn't have much to do, so we went for a short walk around the hostel area to get some information from the tourist office on museums etc and then went back to the common room to decide where we wanted to visit, as well as to finish our Vietnamese Visa applications which we need to take to the embassy tomorrow.
Chatted to some nice folk in our dorm and then hit the sack, looking forward to being able to see places tomorrow!

January 7th : Stockholm
After breakfast this morning we checked our email and were very happy to find that we had a couch surfing reply from a nice sounding girl called Emmy. We arranged to meet at her place at about 5pm and then set out for the day. It was really snowing heavily! Squinting through the flakes we made our way to the Kulturhouse, a cool place which has galleries and art stores. Had a phone call from home which was nice, it is funny talking to Mum and Dad who had just left the beach and were sitting outside in the still-light of 8pm, while I was standing ankle deep in snow amidst a dull, grey day! Had a nice look around the Kulturhouse, and then hopped on the commuter train out to the 'burbs, where the Vietnamese embassy in peculiarly located.
We got to the station and had a bit of a walk to find the embassy. It is on a regular suburban street, there is all of a sudden a huge building in nice grounds bearing the Vietnamese flag! We submitted our application and paid the fee to the nice lady, who said it would be ready by Monday (we fly out on Tuesday). We then got the train back to Stockholm, by which time it was getting into the late afternoon, so we headed back to the hostel and made some late lunch and chatted to Dave, a violinist from Melbourne. We then grabbed our bags and caught the train to Emmy's place, stopping on the way to get a groceries and bottle of SA wine from the government run alcohol shop.
Side Note: In both Sweden and Finland (and probably other countries I don't know about too) the government have a monopoly on the selling of alcohol. There is one government run shop (in Finland, it is called Alko – haha!) which sells alcohol in limited amounts at limited times. In Sweden the shops here close at 6pm on weekdays, 3pm on Saturdays and do not open at all on Sundays. It's very different to our idea of a bottle-o at home! People were flabbergasted when we told them about Australian drive-thru bottle shops. I guess the idea is to curb binge drinking and alcoholism, but these countries still suffer huge numbers of deaths from diseases related to alcohol abuse, so who knows if it's really working.
Emmy met us at the station nearby her flat. A lovely girl, she is studying politics and international relations, planning to become an NGO. She is actively involved in gender equality groups and other human rights organisations, and we got off to a fantastic start chatting away. She is one of those people I felt instantly connected to, Cam and I both knew we'd have a great time staying with her. She has other CSers (CouchSurfers) coming on the weekend so we can only stay 2 nights, but that still makes for a nice sojourn away from the hostel. Emmy's little flat is very welcoming and cosy. It is a one room flat with the bed in the lounge area (one of those you can fold up to the wall to look like a wardrobe). We had a cup of tea and chatted for a while in the lounge, Emmy showed us some of her amazing artwork (comics!) before Cam and I made spinach curry for dinner. After eating we hung out, listened to some music, watched a movie and then settled down to sleep on the big comfy couch.

January 8th : Stockholm
Emmy was up and out to uni early this morning. We cleared up the lounge of bedding and then set out to get a coffee. All of the foot paths are covered in really thick, slippery, undulating ice! There was a very heavy snowfall which was not cleared off the paths, which then melted and re-froze, so walking around the place was a challenging affair indeed!
The area in which Emmy lives in nestled on one of the many islands Stockholm is built on. It has lots of cafes, op shops, students and arty student-type things. We went into a second hand shop where I found a cool purple dress-kinda-thing. It was originally made in Finland, then hand altered into something else (sort of a long vest?) in Sweden. So, a book and a 'hand made Scandanavian dress' – for $6 :) heehee.
From there we walked/ice skated onto the other islands of Stockholm. The old part of town is really lovely, bearing tiny cobblestoned alleyways with glowing yellow lamps hanging above heavy black doors. We ogled around there for a little while, then went up to the Royal Palace to have a walk around. Next stop was the Nobel Museum. Famously, Alfred Nobel left in his will that people would be awarded the 'Nobel Prize' in different categories each year (Peace, Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Medicine.....and others which have slipped my mind [I won't be getting one for memory!]). The museum was really interesting, and went through lots of the inventions, discoveries and work of past winners, as well as information about current prize holders. Gallileo's telescopes made up a big part of the exhibition, as well as videos on winners like Obama and Mandela. We were there for a really long time so decided to go and grab a hot chocolate on our way back to Emmy's.
As it's a Friday night, it's party night! Soon enough the flat was full of people, one of whom was a lovely lady called Mari who is a photographer. She is doing a project on Couchsurfing for her portfolio, and took lots of snaps of us hanging out with the group throughout the night. There were lots of interesting people, most of whom were studying global politics or working in that vein, so we had really enlightening conversations over wine, beer and curry. After a while the TV came on for the grand event, the Feminist Party Leader was competing in the Swedish version of 'Dancing With the Stars' and they wanted to show their support for her :) After that we all rugged up and headed out to a bar for a few more drinks. We chatted with Mika, Simon, Sara, Zofia and others who were all very welcoming and super interesting. It was a really good night! The bar closed a bit after 2am, so we started on the cold walk home. Emmy was going to sleep at a 'special friend's' place ;) so we headed back to the flat alone, did some cleaning up then happily curled up to sleep in her big bed!

January 9th : Stockholm
Woke up to a cheery 'Good Morning!' from Emmy coming in this morning. We had a cup of tea together and she asked us to stay for a few more nights! She has other CSers coming tonight but wanted us to stay on :D We were more than happy to say yes! Cam and I then got showered and headed out, first stop: Vegetarian Buffet in the old town. It was heinously expensive, but we figured that with Couchsurfing a few more nights we could spare the money, and it was really really amazing food. We had a slow degustation there and then made our way across to the museum island, where we had planned to go to the Modern Art museum. Unfortunately, everyone else on the planet had decided they would too, the huge line of people lead right outside the door. So, we made the executive decision to come back another day! We had a walk around that island, the views over the water to the rest of the town were really beautiful, with a big sailing-ship-turned-hostel taking centre space. It was getting dark and we were getting pretty frozen so we decided to start walking back to Emmy's. On the way we visited a few little glass art shops, got some biscuits and tea bags and then got back to the flat about 5pm. Emmy's gender equality meeting had just finished and the new Couchsurfers had arrived. Romain and David from France! They are really nice guys, and Cam enjoyed 'parlaying fransay' with them :) We all drank many cups of tea with biccies and chatted before putting a movie on. After watching a couple of films it was about time for bed, and we all somehow managed to squeeze in. I shared the bed with Emmy, Cam and David on the L shaped couch, Romain on the floor!

January 10th : Stockholm
All up a bit early today, we had some breakfast and then set out to the Modern Art Museum. There was a Salvador Dali exhibition, who we both really love. Having been to his studio in Montmatre, The Salvador Dali Museum, Dali Universe in London and various exhibitions in other galleries, we thought we had seen pretty much all of his stuff, but were pleasantly surprised by lots of new things in Stockholm. We spent a few hours looking around the Modern Art Museum, like most contemporary art places, there was about an equal amount of good looking art to utterly ridiculous shit, but was fun nonetheless.
After that we went to the Architectural Museum, which was predominantly focusing on Scandanavian architecture and how it has developed. That was quite interesting, they included lots of famous buildings in the city and it gave us a bit more of an insight into why they are made the way they are.
By this stage we were really hungry, so we took off from the museums and started the walk back to Emmy's in the snow. We got some corn chips and salsa on the way and shared that with everyone when we got home. The Frenchies were on cooking duty tonight, and we were very happy to receive a delicious French Omelet with potatoes and cheese – yummm!
Watched another movie and then hit the sack, worn out from another long day walking.

January 11th : Stockholm
A slow morning this morning! We checked our emails to find that the accommodation we had booked for our arrival in Vietnam was now unavailable(!) so we decided we'd just wait until we arrived to find somewhere ourselves. We got dressed and then went to a coffeeshop around the corner for a caffeine hit. We talked about what we want to do in Asia (hadn't decided yet, and we fly out tomorrow...) and then got on the commuter train back out to the embassy to pick up our passports complete with Visa. We had been given a 1 month visa from our date of arrival and happily made our way back to town with them in our hot little hands. We went for a walk through the main sort of shopping area and then to the Reichstag parliament building. We wandered around that area for a while, perused a few shops and galleries and then went to the airport bus station to get a ticket for tomorrow, before going back to Emmy's. She had forgotten that she had another CSer coming tonight! It had been arranged ages ago so she hadn't remembered when she said that we could all stay :) We all went for a nice walk along the docks and up to a cathedral which overlooks the city and then on the way back picked up Saskia from the train station, who was equally surprised to see all of us. Cam and I made a really nice pasta for dinner and we all chatted about life, the universe and everything before beating the rules of physics and all squeezing onto a some sort of soft horizontal surface to sleep.

Posted by saresNcam 22:51 Archived in Sweden Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Frosty Finnish Festivities and a Whole New Year

Dec 23rd - Jan 4th

snow -23 °C
View Big Trip 2009 on saresNcam's travel map.

December 23rd : Tallinn -> Helsinki –> Turku -> Nousiainen (Finland)
Had a bit of a time getting to the ferry terminal, it was a little farther away than the map led us to believe, and the path was covered in thick snow, but we got there eventually! Checked in and then boarded the big ship. I quite like travelling by sea. When I don't get sea sick, I find it a really soothing and exciting experience. There's a real sense of freedom being out in the middle of the ocean, and it feels much more secure than being in a plane hurtling kilometres above the earth at 800km/hr. Once we arrived in Helsinki port we waltzed through what looked like was supposed to be immigration and then walked to the bus stop. Caught the bus to the train station, where we missed the next train to Turku by 2minutes! We had to wait an hour for the next one, so we bought a sandwich and read for a while.
All aboard the train to Turku, we hopped on and settled in for the short journey, both excited to see Marise and Kimmo at the other end.
Once there, we saw a bouncing, excitable Kiwi and tall, calm Captain awaiting our arrival on the platforms. We shared hugs and hellos and made our way to the car. We drove back to Nousiainen (otherwise known to us as nausea island, thanks to the similar pronunciation) and had a very welcome sauna and shower, followed by a delicious dinner, wine and a relaxing evening talking on the couch. Kimmo had made some ice candles (like a frozen vase) which were dotted along the side of the driveway, so outside along the driveway they were twinkling away, creating a very romantic atmosphere. We both feel ready for a bit of a chill out here, where we don't have to rush and move on for another week or so.

December 24th : Nousiainen (*FINNISH CHRISTMAS*)
Today was the day for our first Finnish Christmas celebrations!
We had a slow rise this morning followed by showers and getting our bags sorted out. Had a quick call from home, and then hopped on Skype to see everyone at Mum and Dad's Christmas Eve party! It was so cool to see everyone back there, all looking so well. We chatted for a while, it was a laugh trying to sort out conversations with the delay, but it really made our day and made it feel more like a 'proper' Christmas seeing everyone.
After that, Marise served up a delicious feast for Christmas dinner, we indulged in lentil loaf, Finnish mashed potatoes and swedes.......lots of delicious food, food, food! Washed down with wine, wine, wine.....of course :D
We exchanged Christmas presents, Marise and Kimmo got us each really cool pairs of colourful woolen gloves. We gave Kimmo the traditional Finnish gift of woven woolen socks and Marise a cute Latvian ornament.
After gifts and dessert we played the 'after dinner mint game', which involves putting an 'After Eight' mint on you forehead, and then trying to get it into you mouth without using your hands. Relying purely on completely ridiculous facial convulsions, you must slide it down your nose, onto your cheek and then into your gob. It is incredibly entertaining, but surprisingly challenging! We all ending up with chocolate smeared smiley faces, and curled into our warm beds feeling full of food and festive spirit.

December 25th : Nousiainen
This morning was a slow start. The smell of fresh coffee was definitely a welcome one! After a Finnish version of Bubble n' Squeak for breakfast, we did a bit of a clean up and then dossed around. I called Nanny to say Merry Christmas to her and the family and we had a sauna.
We went for a short walk around the Nousiainen area with Kimmo. The fields look soft and fluffy under all the deep snow, the trees like those on a Christmas card (perfect timing)!
Marise and Kimmo went to pick up Kimmo's father and he came round for dinner and coffee later in the afternoon. We had a nice time chatting, eating and drinking, followed by a relaxed evening watching a movie.

December 26th : Nousiainen
Today was another chilled out one (keeping in the Christmas spirit!). We had a laid back day, pottered around a little bit, did some scrap booking and hung out with Marise and Kimmo.
Oliver, Kimmo's son, came to stay. It was really nice to see him, he has grown so much since last time and is now a English Extraordinaire! We spent some time together catching up, he showed us his new laptop he got for Xmas and then Kimmo's Mum and husband came round for dinner. We all had a nice night sharing food and learning more about the Finnish culture and customs. For example, when a Finn invites someone around for coffee, it is commonly expected that (above and beyond the coffee) there are 7 separate sweet foods on the table to go with it. Amazing!
We all watched a documentary on a recent history of Finnish Pop Music which was full of hilariously cheesy mullets, flared pants and vaseline-smeared-teethy-grins, all very entertaining, though our ideas of Finnish pop music will now forever be skewed.!

December 27th : Nousiainen
The main event of today was going for a nordic walk with Marise. A popular Scandanavian activity, walking with poles makes it a bit easier to march through the snow and gives you more of an all over body exercise as you're using you arms as much as your legs. Taking the same route as the other day, we went through the farming properties and then back round to their house. The area has lots of rocky outcrops between the trees and looks really gorgeous under the twinkling snow. Last time we were here was in autumn, when it was dark and wet. I didn't really get to appreciate the beauty of the landscape in that kind of climate, but being here now, the natural surrounds are really stunning.
Side Note: The life here is fantastic. Marise and Kimmo live in a semi-rural town and regularly pick fresh mushrooms, berries etc. There is a free mans law, which basically means anyone can pick from the land (so long as it isn't a farm!), so people have their own favourite (and kept secret!) spots in the forests for collecting chantarelles and other goodies. Most families also have a summer house, where they can go on summer holidays, or on weekends, and there many people grow vegetables and salads. Marise and Maisa (Kimmo's auntie) regularly preserve things like cucumbers and make fresh fruit concentrates, chutneys and jams. I really love the idea of living off the land, and think that Finland seems to have a good blend of very advanced, smooth functioning modern life, along with strong traditional customs involving the earth and it's produce.
Once home I made some vego curries for us to munch on at will. The rest of the day was another subdued affair, we spent time with Oliver and the family and continued to recharge. We are greatly appreciating the immense hospitality and relaxing surrounds here at the Lehto's, it is so nice to recharge after a bit of backpacking!

December 28th : Nousiainen
Up early this morning, we hopped in the car with Marise and Kimmo, catching a lift to Turku for a day out. We said farewell to them at Kimmo's office and walked along the river to the town square. It was still dark (was about 8:30) and it was raining, making the once-white snow slushy and awful, so we went to find a place for a coffee and defrost while the sun took his time to poke his head up and bless the day.
Once it was light we walked round the market square for a while and looked in a few shops, grabbed a map from a hotel lobby then went to the tourist office. The lady was sad to tell us that unfortunately as it is a Monday, all the museums and galleries etc are closed, so there was not too much to do. We are getting picked up at 4pm so decided that we should find something to do which involved being inside out of the slushy weather.
We went to the old market hall, a nice place full of a variety of stalls selling everything from traditional Finnish foods, to an Iranian fabric shop and an Elvis collectibles stand. After finding a 'Suomi' sticker to add to the guitar we went to the famous traditional Finnish 5 star restaurant: Hesburger!! Ha! The only country in the world with it's own fastfood restaurant which sells more than Maccie Dees, Finns are proud of their popular burger joint. We relished the chips, vege burgers, warmth and grease with smiles on our faces. This is the first time we've eaten at a place like this since.....we were here last! We don't go for this sort of food often (unless it's falafel...which doesn't count) but, it's a 'cultural experience' so it's okay. Plus, it tastes great. I nabbed a fries bag to add to my scrap book and thanked the English-speaking waitress before walking to our next Finnish cultural stop – the cinema! :S
We opted for Avatar 3D which, as well as being 3 hours long and keeping us warm for that time, was absolutely fantastic. The Finnish subtitles made the alien language of the film a challenge to understand, but didn't take away from the experience or story.
It finished just in time for us to walk/slip/slide/splosh back to Kimmo's office where they were waiting in the car for us with Oliver. We shared the tales of our relevant days on the drive back to Nousiainen. Once there we ate the curries I made yesterday, hung out with Oliver and had saunas and showers before beddy-byes.

December 29th : Nousiainen
Today we set out to Turku with Marise and Oliver to explore the Turku Castle! Oliver was a fantastic guide, walking us through all the different rooms representative of different periods (medieval, renaissance) he translated the Finnish texts for us and told us stories of the Castle's history. Having survived through bombs during the war and the great Turku fire, the Castle is an important landmark in Turku and a very beautiful one too. After a walk around the castle we stopped at the cafe for a coffee and then headed back to the car. I took a couple of photos of the boys in the snow and we then drove into town where we picked Kimmo up from work. We said our farewells and dropped Oliver back to his Mum's house, then headed back to Nousiainen.
After dinner Cameron decided that he wanted a shot of tequila, and so a spontaneous night of drinking ensued! Further attempts at the 'after dinner mint game' proved than none of us had improved greatly, but we all relished the practise to eat more of them :) The night rolled into the morning and we slowly slipped into bed a bit after 3am.

December 30th : Nousiainen
Not surprisingly we had a late rise this morning, Kimmo set off to work at 12pm and we rolled out of bed about that same time.
We did a bit of snow work and ploughed the snow from driveway and decking.
We have made the decision that from Scandanavia we will fly to Vietnam. We've been checking the flights, and the prices are climbing! We need to make an executive date decision soon. Before going back to Asia, we want to spend a week or so in Stockholm, Sweden.
In the afternoon we went to Mylly shops to get some ingredients for our NYE feast.
When we got home I prepared a veggie lasagne for NYE dinner tomorrow.
We then all ate dinner, relaxed in front of the TV and had an early night.
Had a nice surprise today, presents from Mum and Dad! As well as a hefty donation of funds in our account they sent me a necklace and bracelet and Cam a gadget for his headphones. We spoke to them on the phone to say thanks and Happy New Year.
Side Note:We are both so, SO lucky to have such generous parents, not only for both the Watsons' and Sandersons' generous financial contributions to our endeavours, but their support, enthusiasm and inspiration. There are not too many people who have a real friendship with their parents, and it is something we both really appreciate and cherish. Being away for such a long time helps you to learn what you really value, and who you really value in your life. I am learning now that our list of these is great, but our families are definitely sitting pretty at the top.

December 31st : Nousiainen -> Naantilli
Today we took a dive and actually bought our flights from Stockholm to Vietnam, before the prices go up anymore! We sent off all the required ID stuff and got that sorted before we packed the car ready to go to the summer house.
The drive to Naantili was absolutely beautiful. The pine trees stood tall and proud by the side of the road, bearing their heavy load of sparkling white snow. They looked as though the burden was too much to bear, all leaning and bowing under the weight. We drove over bridges of the archipelago, looking at the frozen, white sea beneath. It was really breathtaking.
Once we made it to the summer house we unpacked the car and set about snow ploughing paths to the cottage, little cottage, garage and outhouse, sweeping the deck, getting water from the well (deep below ground so it doesn't freeze), and getting wood for the sauna. Kimmo lit the sauna for it to warm up and then we all had some lunch.
A bit later on Cam and I went to sauna and decided to end 2009 by running naked from the sauna and diving head long into the powdery white -15c snow!
It was invigorating, to say the least! Post snow angel we galloped back into the sauna and did a few lölys (throwing water on the hot stones) then washed off with the water from the well and got changed. It is so cleansing and enlivening!
We had a nice dinner and some wine and then, a bit after 10 o'clock, walked to Maisa and Leksa's place (Kimmo's Auntie and Uncle). We had initially planned to walk across the ice of the frozen sea, but Kimmo wasn't positive that the ice would be thick enough for the entire journey across (there is a fairly strong current which prevents it from freezing). So, we walked along the road. The full moon was high in the sky and everything was illuminated in a silvery blue light thanks to the snow. When we got to Maisa and Leksa's they were down in a hut by the sea, with a roaring fire. Leksa had made a huge log 'candle' on the sea ice which looked absolutely stunning. We walked down there and had some champagne and then Kimmo and Leksa set off some rockets and fireworks.
We explained that usually this time we would be in the water, watching the fireworks in our bathers, not on the water wearing loads of layers in -17c, it was definitely a different New Years experience!
No one lost an eye thanks to the fireworks and before long it was the countdown to the New Year. We welcomed in 2010 huddled around the smokey fire in the wood hut, and Cam, Marise and I sung 'Auld Lang Syne'.
We drank some more champagne and wine and then gave in to the cold weather and our numb toes by going up into the house. We chatted and listened to some music then had a midnight feast of cheeses, bread and Maisa's preserves. Lovely! Chatted for a while about the world and then wandered back to the cottage in the still blue-light of the 4am moon.

January 1st **2010** : Naantilli
After the late night/early morning, we all slept til about 12pm! When we stirred awake, still astounded that it is now twenty ten, we went to have breakfast in the cottage and read for a bit. While we did this, Kimmo drilled/sawed a hole through 40cm of ice into the sea, for us to do 'Avante'.
'Avante' (or, ice swimming) is when one has a sauna for a little while, then walks naked (except for woolen socks) through the snow to the frozen sea then climbs down a ladder through a hole in the ice to plunge into the 3c water below. One then (heart skipping a beat) climbs back up the ladder and nimbly makes their way back to the sauna as fast as possible to defrost.
We did this in the afternoon when it was dark and it was an exceptionally refreshing way to bring in 2010!! Marise and Kimmo then followed and we all felt very much alive.
For dinner we had the vege lasagne I had made and then had a fairly early night.

January 2nd : Naantilli -> Nousiainen
This morning Marise woke us to say that Kimmo had to go to Estonia to salvage a ship which had run aground! She dropped him to go and get a ferry and we then packed up the summer house and made our way back to Nousiainen. On the way we stopped at Maisa and Leksa's to say goodbye and thank you. They gave us a huge jar of Maisa's pickled kurkku (cucumbers) which we have been devouring regularly.
Once home we packed stuff away, did dishes and got organised, then checked emails (flight all confirmed). I then worked on the journal which I seem to be constantly perpetually catching up and forever remaining weeks behind.....

January 3rd : Nousiainen
Last night was -23.2c! Coldest so far!
Kimmo came back from Estonia in the small hours as the salvaging contract in Estonia had gone to a Russian company. Once awake Cam and I set about cleaning the bathrooms and sauna as a small help to M&K. I really enjoyed doing it! It's funny, the things you miss when you're travelling are often the boring, routine chores and things which seem to weigh you down at home. A little bit of normality and routine can be really refreshing sometimes :)
After that I did some more catching up on the journal, checked out places to stay in Stockholm, sent some Couchsurfing requests and then did more journal typing.
Before heading to bed I gave Marise a neck and shoulder massage. I felt a bit out of touch, I can't wait to start my course when we get home later this year!
Side Note: I am so excited and inspired to study to become a qualified Remedial Masseuse. To touch someone in pain, be it physical or psychological, is a very primitive and effective healing instinct. Apart from the obvious and sometimes immediate physical benefits of massage, overcoming our conditioned inhibitions in order to give or receive touch has some profound psychological benefits too. I really would like to use it to aid people who are injured, rehabilitating or otherwise in pain, not just as a relaxation activity (although that's important too). I feel like it will be really rewarding and would like to bring something positive (even if it is just for the period of time the massage takes) to people who need it. Meeting so many different people on the road and sharing stories with them, hearing hundreds of individuals from very varied countries and walks of life talk about their take on life, has helped me to establish more of an idea of what I want out of mine. I feel invigorated and excited about the possibilities that lay ahead of me. I am beginning to see now, despite the cringe-worthy cliché, that really anything is possible if you put your mind to it. If you think that one person cannot make a difference in the big wide world, just think of the effect one tiny mosquito has in a big room.
Cam and I have plans to work together in doing more in the community, we're getting in contact through the net with independent organisations through whom we can do some volunteer work in Indonesia, Central Aus and at home in Adelaide and are feeling really inspired to be more proactive in our lives and really try to share more with others. Be it our time, knowledge, creativity or funds, we want to be more active in positively connecting with people around us. Without being at home it is difficult to get in and hands on, and I suppose it sounds very wishy washy at the moment. But this is something we have definitely taken from our experiences of nearly 10 months on the road, and something we really want to continue to live by. When applied usefully and practically, the old adage of 'spreading the love' is a pretty good one to live by :)

January 4th : Nousiainen
Marise and Kimmo back to work early today. We were up about 10, and decided against going into Turku on the bus as it's a Monday and all the museums etc are closed again. M&K very kindly got us our tickets for the ferry tomorrow night. Kimmo has organised, through the ship's captain, for us to have a nice sleeper cabin for the journey to Sweden :D
So, we did some snow work and then set about getting packed. I got some sauces prepared for dinner tonight and we generally organised ourselves. Went for a nice long walk, the sun was quite bright and made us feel perkier and alive! It looks really beautiful (though a bit painful on the eyes!) when the sun is shining down on the white, white snow.
In the evening Marise's friend Jade came around for dinner with her husband Jan and daughter Minea. I made another vegie lasagne to eat, which went down well. We had a really nice evening eating, drinking wine and chatting about life here in Finland. A lovely last night here!

Posted by saresNcam 22:47 Archived in Finland Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The Balmy Baltics

Dec 14th - 22nd

snow -17 °C
View Big Trip 2009 on saresNcam's travel map.

December 14th : Krakow -> Warsaw
This morning we packed and stowed our bags. I am not too keen on leaving Krakow because I really love it here and I have not heard a fond word of Warsaw from any of our fellow backpackers (I have preemptively named it; Bore-saw)...but we have Tomasz to visit so it should be good. While I attempted (again!) to upload some photos onto the internet, Cam went to the station to buy us a ticket for the 3:23pm train to Warsaw. After his return we went for a walk to have some 'Zapikankie' for lunch, which is basically glorified cheese-on-toast, Polish style. It was really nice. Wandered about the lovely old square one last time and then got our bags and went to the station. It is -5c today and we are definitely starting to feel the cold! We went to the chilly platform and waited. And waited. And waited. Alas, no train! When we asked the ticket lady she told that the train has changed and is no longer coming, they made a mistake. But, we could wait in the -5c weather for the next train in 3.5hrs. Oh, good!
We went to the warm shopping mall close by and sat there for a while, had a hot chocolate and lamented the fact that we had another wait for another form of transport in another country.
It is times like these when we really feel like we could be doing something more productive. We were both feeling a bit worn out by it all, Cam is feeling a bit sick with a cold and there was a strange juxtaposition of our grey emotions against the back drop of sparkling Christmas lights, a fat 'n' happy Polish Santa and carols singing “We will all be together, it's Christmas tiiiiiiime!”[i/].
I am an avid lover of Christmas, but at that moment it felt exceptionally nauseating.
Needless to say, the 3.5hours passed (involving us glaring at any person with bags full of Christmas presents looking even remotely happy) and we made our way back to the station and to the chilly platform. After a while waiting we learned that the train was delayed by another hour. It appears that although we paid significantly less zlotys getting the local public regional train rather than the high speed intercity one, we were paying significantly [i]more
in time and energy! Bloody Polish trains, everything you've heard about them is true! Ha!
Eventually the train came, we boarded and got comfortable. Once the wheels screeched and ground into motion, we were feeling in much better spirits.
We arrived at Warsaw just before 11pm and bumbled our way out of the train station to a bus stop. The bus we wanted took a while to arrive so we huddled with our feet in the snow amongst the other cold, tired looking people at the bus stop, feeling very Soviet.
When the bus arrived we were greeted by a very friendly man who, along with smelling suspiciously of recent faecal matter, appeared to speak every other language but English. Thankfully French was among that list and we (and by we, I mean, Cam) were able to work out where we should get off. He was lovely and made us feel all the better being here.
The bus drove through the quiet Warsaw streets, looking like a winter wonderland with snow covered paths and twinkling Christmas lights and we couldn't help but cheer up. The architecture here it quite interesting, much of it is relatively new. 80% of the city was bombed and destroyed during the war so there is a real mix of buildings, thanks to architects who tried their hands at something new and interesting.
We got off the bus, thanked the driver and found our way on foot to the hostel. We were greeted by a friendly Brazilian guy who showed us to our dorm.
Now, boys and girls, when travelling there is a certain rare specimen of traveller that one should, if possible, avoid at all times...
This particular dorm housed that very specimen: the snoring, coughing, hocking-up-phlegm-ing, farting, stopping-breathing-until-just-when-you-think-he-is-dead-he-suddenly-gasps-and-grunts-loudly, smelly, old man.Jolly good!
We dumped our bags, went to the common room, had a cup of tea, looked through the map and thought about where we would like to visit tomorrow before slinking to the den to sleep with the 'troll-man', ear plugs at the ready.

December 15th : Warsaw
This morning I was awoken by the troll-man performing some sort of ritual/prayer at the base of my bed. There have been some moments that are just so ridiculous you can't make them up, and opening my eyes to a wheezing old man at the end of my bed, staring at me wild-eyed whilst vigorously waving his hands in the air, was one of them.
Peculiar alarm incident over, we hopped out of bed. Poor Cam was feeling miserable with a cold. So we had a very slow start! We met a Jono from Brazil who had been staying at the same hostel as us in Krakow, and, surprise, surprise, he was full of cold too. The virus must have been lurking in the dorm there. I feel okay, perhaps my resistance is built up from the cold I had in the UK.
We had a slow breakfast and chatted about South America (we are planning to go to the Olympics in Rio in 2016.....although that's a while off yet, I am already excited, haha!).
Went to get a big bottle of water for Cam (the desk clerk shuddered at the thought of drinking tap water, so thought we'd play it safe) and then he had a lie down for a bit, while I did some writing.
After a while we decided to venture out into the unknown of Warsaw and went to a local cafe for some lunch. I got some lentil dumplings which tasted a little bit strange, but filled me up nonetheless. From there we went to the famous Mermaid statue. She is the protector of the city, since being rescued (from something?) by a sailor back in the day she vowed to guard Warsaw and now stands proud with sword, shield and particularly pronounced nipples, permanently defending the capital.
From there we headed to the old town, which is very picturesque. The Stare Miasto (old town square), which was completely rebuilt to replicate it's former glory after being completely destroyed in the war, had a little Christmas market inside from which I bought a pair of big red earrings. Cam was feeling pretty rough and fluey, so we headed back to the hostel. I was feeling a bit nauseous...perhaps those dumplings were a little off....
Back at the hostel we had a nap for a little while before we headed out to meet Tomek. We met Tomek way back in April in Ubud, Bali. We have tried to keep in contact with all the wonderful individuals we've met, and Tomek is another guy we got along with really well and are looking forward to seeing. He met us at a little bar after his tango class. We had a nice night drinking beer and talking. A couple of his Polish friends insisted on providing Cam with lots of Polish vodka, insisting it would make him feel better :) I tried a special vodka which has a blade of grass in it, from the fields on which bison graze......cool! It was not terrible, but the dodgy lentil dumplings weren't doing too much for my stomach so I was happy to call it a night and myself and the snuffly one said goodbye to Tomek, arranging to meet tomorrow if we're still around, and headed back to the hostel.

December 16th : Warsaw
Both feeling pretty flat today. Those dumplings came back with a vengeance, I am feeling very nauseous and ill, poor Cam still stuffed with a cold. We make a delightful pair to share a dorm with, that's for sure! Thankfully we are in Warsaw and no traveller with any sense comes here unless out of necessity, so the dorm is not surprisingly empty, bar our bubonic-plagued-selves.
Side-note:[/i}** I should mention, Warsaw isn't actually that bad at all, it is quite a pretty old town with a rich history and a number of sights. But, given the fact we are both feeling like death warmed up and I have already given it the title 'Bore-saw', I find it necessary to insult it at any given opportunity. Sometimes there just needs to be a scapegoat to perk up your day. Like Vegans! Ah, Vegans....my funny, fruity, even-lower-down-the-food-chain-than-me friends **.
We both spent the day mostly inside, laying around feeling soviet, I mean, sick.
Tomek came for a cup of tea and visit in the afternoon. We hung out with him and Jono from Brazil, talking about South America and the different 'sorts' of poverty that exist there and in the East. Tomek kindly bought me some bath products from his pharmaceutical job, after saying thanks I nipped out the room again to barf up more lentils. All class. I said sad and sorry farewells and crawled back into my den, straight back to sleep, Cam followed soon behind.

December 17th : Warsaw -> Vilnius (Lithuania)
I remember a dandy young couple saying but a mere 5 or 6 months ago: night buses are a BAD idea. They are good in theory (transport and accommodation in one) but it never works because no normal human-bean can sleep on a bus, and you end up sleeping most of the next day away anyway. “We will never take a night bus out of choice again!”, they had confidently told one another.
This thought was conveniently removed from our memory upon waking at 6am this morning, when we had to make the decision as to whether we would go and plough through the snow in the dark to the train station, Cam coughing and sniffles, me vomiting and nauseous. As you can probably guess (you look like the intelligent type), we opted to go back to sleep, see how we feel when we wake up and then take the night bus tonight. One day lost sightseeing in a city is not as important as our health....................
Feeling a little bit better later in the morning after some breakfast, we packed up our bags and set out to slip and slide through the ice and snow to the bus ticket office to buy seats on the night bus to Lithuania tonight. After that we grabbed a hot chocolate and then Cam was feeling pretty rough so we made our way back to the hostel where we stagnated in the common room, reading and drinking tea for a couple of hours until we needed to catch the local bus to the international bus station. This was a close call because, thanks to the heavy snow, all those people who usually walk are now catching the bus. This, plus the fact the roads are clogged thanks to too much snow and not enough ploughs, we managed to get to the station just in time. Hopped aboard the bus and got comfortable. Was quite a nice drive, sadly we saw a number of accidents coming out of Warsaw, people who got caught out on the frozen roads. But other than that, all was well. I found it fascinating to watch the snow whipping across the road, just like sand. I always think of snow as wet and slippery, but here it blows across the road like sparkly sand or sugar...

December 18th : Vilnius (Lithuania)
Due to the nasty weather, the bus was delayed a little. Once in Vilnius we waddled off the bus bleary eyed into the cold outside.
In Scotland there is a saying which references cold weather: “It's Baltic out!”, meaning: 'It is very cold outside'. Having now experienced the sort of weather winter in the Baltic States has to offer, I am fully aware of where this saying came from. Today was a balmy -16c. With the nice added touch of icy wind whipping your face. The sensation of having your nose run from cold and then freeze on you scarf is not so nice. Thankfully, Vilnius IS nice, so we pushed through it to walk from the station, through some parks to our hostel. A nice little place, we chucked our bags and had a quick nap for an hour or 2 (hadn't slept much on the night bus).
After waking up we headed out to visit some spots, ignoring the sensation which was slowly draining from our cold tootsies. We found a neat little underground vegetarian fusion Lithuanian/Indian place and had a tasty bite to eat and then headed onto the most important site in all of Eastern Europe:

  • The Frank Zappa Monument!* Yep, that's right! A devoted Lithuanian fan who heads the fan club had sent many letters to Frank himself and actually received personal replies. After Mr Zappa's unfortunate demise, the fan took it upon himself to raise funds and construct a monument for him. Frank's big brass head now stands a top a big marble pole in front of a wall graffittied with his face.....in a hospital carpark, of all places! We took a couple of happy snaps and then went to the town square, where we took in the Bell Tower, cathedral and Grand Duke Gediminas Monument. Vilnius actually has a pretty cool story of how it came to be: Once upon a time, many years ago, a young Mr Gediminas had a dream of a big wolf howling from the top of a hill over yonder. He told this to a dream reader who told him that it meant a town built at that sight would be prosperous and successful. So, there Vilnius was built.

Obviously....! The dream has proven to be relatively accurate and the pretty little place is still going strong today.
By this many hours we were completely frozen stiff so, having survived our coldest day out yet, we made our way back via the supermarket to the hostel for hot showers, tea and dinner.

December 19th : Vilnius
To be completely honest, I am not 100% sure what we did today. Typing this now, weeks after the fact, I can only go by my notes in my diary which word-for-word states:
“Today is -14c, BRR! Saw monuments, went to yum vego place, found underground student coffee house (totally smelt of anarchy) [very poorly drawn anarchist 'A' symbol here], hung out with nice guys at hostel, made loose plans for rest of the Baltics, bought bus ticket to Latvia”
So....there you have it. Obviously the monuments were none too interesting because I cannot for the life of me remember what they were....but I'm sure it was an overall good day!

December 20th : Vilnius -> Riga (Latvia)
Cam made a mistake when setting the alarm last night and set it for PM rather than AM. We slowly came to about 10:30, 1hr after the bus we'd bought tickets for had left town! It is an easy mistake to make, and unfortunately makes for a very poor excuse when trying to weasel another ticket out of the stern Lithuanian clerk at the station. Unfortunately we had no such luck, and had to fork out for 2 more tickets. Oh well, our first proper stuff up of the trip, it was bound to happen! We grabbed a coffee and some picnic ingredients from the shop and then hopped on board the bus. It was a nice journey, we had lunch on board and admired the snow-white scenery.
Side Note: We've decided that we won't do the Trans Siberian in the middle of winter. Just a couple of buses in this kind of weather has made us appreciate that, although the first hour or so of pure white plains are quite beautiful, from then on it gets a bit monotonous. The short dark days and lack of activities to do on the way (stopping in towns to do horse riding, kayaking, trekking etc), along with the breakdowns in the snow, have made us decide that we'll take it at another time in the summer, when we can spend longer exploring the countries, rather than just sitting on a train for a week. It's another thing to add to the future travel list!
We arrived into Riga in the dark (so, after 3:30pm) and fumbled our way with the map to a hostel. 'The Naughty Squirrel' in Riga is quite possibly the best hostel we have ever stayed in. We've stayed in quite a few now, and this one was just fantastic. It was a new place, small, homely, but still had lots of facilities; a tiny bar, kitchen, free movies on the TV, etc etc. It was really cool. We had a free welcome drink of Latvian Balzam (a dark herbal alcohol) which was, well, an acquired taste I would imagine.
We went for a little walk around the streets, got some Lats from an ATM and some dinner ingredients from the supermarket, then went back to the hostel where we had a beer, made dinner and watched a movie with everyone in the common room, there are some nice folk here. A good place to stay (be in a hostel, couch surfer, friends or family) can really make a big influence on your impression of a place.

December 21st : Riga (Latvia)
We got up early this morning. Made ourselves eggs for breakfast and then set out to join the free walking tour. Met up with Marc and Jason, but alas, no tour it would seem! We all want to get a coffee and then we headed out to see the place.
Riga is a beautiful city, the old town particularly. We wanted to head to the Art Nouveau district to see the famous architecture. The snow was coming down quite a lot by the time we made it out there, on the way to escape it we nipped into a gorgeous little craft shop 'Tejas Roze'. It was really kitschy and cool! There seems to be a lot of crafty shop places in the East and Baltics, maybe it is something to do with the weather? No one wants to step outside so they stay in and do pottery, beading and knitting. Sounds alright to me on days like this! We bought a couple of pottery ornaments for Finnish Xmas gifts and looked around everything else, I got lots of ideas for projects at home!
We then continued onward to look at the Nouveau buildings. They were quite beautiful, but had nothing on the buildings we saw in Antwerpen (Belgium). After looking around there for a while we went to the Freedom Monument and then to a big park with huge snowmen. There were also little bridges over streams, the railings of which are absolutely covered in padlocks. If you look closely the padlocks have names inscribed on them. It is a Latvian tradition to put a lock on a bridge over stream when you get married! I thought that was a pretty novel idea & the bridge looked really pretty all covered in snowflakes and ice.
From the park we wandered back through the old town, past the big Latvian Orthodox Church and into an Amber shop. The Baltic region yields 80% of the world's amber (regular orange amber as well as the more rare green, opaque and blue varieties). So for Christmas, Cam bought me a lovely green amber ring. We also found an art shop which had locally made recycled notebooks so he got me one of those too (he's the good sort :)). I can now start up my art/craft diary. I have been keeping bits and pieces as we have been travelling; from street press, leaflets, magazines, photos, bits of fabric (etc...) of design/art/textiles and things that I like, so I can scrap them into a book for inspiration for projects when we get home.
We were absolutely freezing (I quite like the fact that I can actually accurately say that now, thanks to the below zero temperatures) after a day traipsing about, so went back to the hostel to make dinner, and hang out with the peops in the common room. A couple of guys are heading in the same direction as us to Finland, we're going on the same bus tomorrow.

December 22nd : Riga -> Tallinn (Estonia)
Up early for our bus we walked to the station and met Marc and Jason there. We had a quick coffee and then hopped on board. It was a really nice bus, with a coffee machine and tables at the back. They are trying to encourage people to 'Go Baltic' (or so the bus slogan says) and have put on these really nice '1st class' buses. We clambered aboard and enjoyed the first part of the trip. Midway through we all reconvened to the table at the back of the bus to play a few games of cards until we eventually made it Tallinn.
We found a tram to take us to the old town and hopped on board. We found our way through the city walls to the hostel and chucked our bags inside. It was already getting dark, so we set out to see what we could of the pretty old town. We changed some money, perused the Christmas markets for some gifts to take to Finland and then went to an Estonian pancake house for dinner. It was amazing! Marc and Jason joined us. After dinner we went to the 'DM Bar', a bar which plays only Depeche Mode songs, and has drinks all named after their song titles. The place is covered, floor to ceiling, in pictures, posters, set lists and all sorts and whilst it seemed like a good idea at the time, was a bit lame after a short while. We drank our beers and then headed back through the town the long way, to take in some more of the narrow colourful streets. Back at the hostel we checked our emails, hung out with Marc and Jason, had showers then hit the sack ready for the ferry to Finland tomorrow!

Posted by saresNcam 22:44 Archived in Lithuania Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Surfing to the East and seeing the evils of war

Dec 8th - 13th

snow -8 °C
View Big Trip 2009 on saresNcam's travel map.

December 8th : Würzburg -> Berlin
This morning after crawling out of bed, Lisa came over and photographed and interviewed us for the local paper about our experiences in Würzburg and Germany. After that we had showers and then when Anja came home we went to Carolin's place where they kindly whipped us up a traditional Bavarian dessert.
Side-note: Since visiting European houses, I'm beginning to understand more what people mean when they talk about 'European Design'. Even students living in old share houses have a great sense of creativity; interesting art, furniture and textiles. I guess it is because it so much more accessible (and not as expensive!) here in Europe itself. It makes for really nice surroundings, not in a slick 'from the pages of a magazine' way, but in the way art and design is so much more a part of people's everyday lives, it's really cool and refreshing and has given us ideas for what we would like to surround ourselves with. Objects which tell stories and have an interesting creative history, generate energy by inspiring people to hold them, talk about them and enjoy looking at them. I like that idea. I am looking forward to making stuff!
Needless to say, Carolin's house was like that, full to the brim with colourful pictures, print outs, postcards, photos and all sorts, it was like being in a studio or something, with lots to look at and play with. We all huddled into the kitchen where Anja and Carolin kindly got to preparing the dessert, while we all drank Glühwein and giggled away. The dessert was absolutely delicious! A bready, cinnamony baked bun covered with a berry sauce and vanilla custard. I can't remember what it was called, but lordy mama, it was good!
We wolfed that down, said farewell to the wonderful Carolin and then went back to Anja's where we grabbed our bags and hopped on the tram to the train station.
There was a problem with the electricity so we were unable to buy our tickets there, we'd have to get them on board the train from the inspector.
We thanked Anja for her amazing hospitality, she had been a fantastic host, showering us with food and fun, we'd had a great time with her again.
Hopping on the first (of many) trains, we were both feeling positive and happy, having absorbed some inspiration from the enthused Würzburgian youth :D
Our card didn't work in the ticket inspectors' machine so we unwillingly used the Australian Visa, knowing we'd have to deal with the fee later on, but had a relatively easy journey, after 8 hours; 1 tram, 4 trains and 4 U-bahn trains, we got into Berlin, for only 39Euros!
Anja had very kindly recommended us to her friend Isabell who lives in Berlin, and she was there to meet us at the station. She walked us back to her apartment and we spent the night getting to know each other. Isabell was lovely, a marketing student who had lived in Berlin all her life and, not surprisingly, loved it (who doesn't!?). We stayed up for quite a while chatting until we all gave in to sleep...

December 9th : Berlin
Neither of us slept very well last night. Feeling sleepy we forced ourselves out the door and went downstairs to get a energy boosting breakfast: Falafel and coffee! After that we were feeling much more human, so we made our way to the train station.
I stopped at the ticket machine to get a couple, while Cam tried to convince me that it's not worth it, we were in Berlin for 10 days last time and not once had we purchased a ticket. I had heard stories of people getting big fines from ruthless inspectors who get a commission for each fare-skipper they catch, and insisted that we get at least a short trip ticket. So, tickets in pocket we got on the train.
What are the chances? I asked myself this question after we were ordered off the train by the casual-clothed ticket inspector who had just issued us with a 80euro fine for not validating our ticket. Of all the trains, and all the times, the first one we get on is full of disguised inspectors waiting to pounce?
Now, I don't want to 'mention the war' or unnecessarily draw uncanny similarities between soldier in a particular German regime and the ticket inspector, but he was a ruthless bastard. We had a ticket after all, we just had forgotten to validate it (thinking the machine would have done it when it printed it). Oh well, them's the breaks.
Feeling a bit grumpy and down, we went for a walk along the Friedriche Strasse and to the Brandenburg Gate to cheer us up. We ducked into the coffee shop and spent some time in there drinking coffee and talking about how much longer we want to keep gallavanting across the world, when we have exciting ideas for what we want to do back in Oz. We came to a few ideas, heading back to Asia sooner rather than later being the main one, the other being that the Trans Siberian in the depths of winter may not be such a great idea. We really want to take that trip, but will come and do it in a more accessible season when we can enjoy all the activities along the way (hiking, riding, kayaking, etc.)
Feeling a bit perkier we went for a nice walk through the Tier Gardens and to he Reichstag Building where we lined up to go inside. The Reichstag is the German parliamentary building and is really beautiful. Of particular interest is the 'Cupola', a huge conical glass structure on the top, designed by British architect Norman Foster (famous for 'The Gherkin' in London amongst other projects). After a long wait in the queue, we made our way up and spent a long time looking out over the (foggy) view of Berlin, and going over various photos of it's turbulent history. We then went for a nice walk through a big Christmas market, the same place we had roast chestnuts before going to see a cheap classical performance 3 years ago (ahhhhh...). From there we went to the supermarket to get some ingredients to cook dinner for Isabell, and then made it back to her apartment about 6 o'clock. I made a tasty dhal and we drank beer while talking about the different lives of students in different countries. It was a really nice evening! Isabell kindly helped us organise our transport to Krakow tomorrow and then we got into bed.
December 10th : Berlin -> Krakow (Poland)
Still feeling pretty zonked from not much sleep, we rolled off the mattress and got changed ready to leave. It is strange sticking to a schedule! Having made plans to be in Finland for Christmas, we are trying to see as much as we can in the next couple of weeks as we make our journey there. We said heartfelt thank you's and good bye's to Isabell and then walked to the Hauptbahnhof where we got tickets for the next train to Krakow. Grabbed a sandwich and coffee for breakfast and then sat on our bags at the platform in wait for the train, wondering exactly how many times we have done this very thing over the past many months....?
The train was spot on time and everyone scrambled on (it must leave spot on time too!) we found our seats and got comfortable for the 11hour journey.
It was a nice train ride, we made friends with the sweet old Polish lady across the aisle who entrusted us with her handbag each time she went to the toilet. The train rolled through lots of beautiful forests, villages, past lakes and looming soviet flat blocks. We got into Krakow a bit after 8pm and managed to find our way on foot to the hostel. It was a great little place capacity for just 30 people) and had a good atmosphere.
We chucked our bags in the room and went for a walk to the Town Square which was very beautiful (it was voted the World's Best Municipal Square a couple of years ago). We then went......to a restaurant!! For dinner! A restaurant! The Eastern European prices are a bit more conducive to eating out, so we enjoyed our first meal out in a very long time :)
It was a Georgian Restaurant and had great food.

December 11th : Krakow
Today we hit the beautiful town of Krakow! On foot we took in all the lovely cobble stoned streets. In the Market Square we briefly looked at the Christmas markets, did our best at avoiding the hundreds of pigeons everywhere (haven't they got somewhere warmer to go?) and went to the St Mary's Church. There were people praying inside, so we felt a little bit awkward barging in, so took a look around the outside and then moved into the centre of the square to the old Cloth Hall, now a market selling Polish crafts and touristy things. Then down one of the roads which leads to castle, we looked at some little shops and cafes. The Wawel Castle is famous for it's dragon story: the prince of the castle poisoned the dragon with sulphur and it then ran from the castle to drink from the river to stop the burning...and drank itself to death. I was thinking of more swords and flames.....but drinking oneself to death has a certain Eastern European charm to it I suppose.
From the big castle we went to the Jewish Quarter (or what's left of it) and looked at some of the remaining synagogues and squares. It is a lovely area near the river. We bought a coffee at a red themed place and then when for a long walk along the river. Krakow is a really nice town, is has a great feel about it. Not at all what I was expecting from Poland, to be honest! The people are friendly and handsome and the general feeling is positive. Perhaps it's a 'the only way is up' attitude, given their miserable history.
A long day walking, for dinner we went to vegetarian eatery which makes traditional Polish food, but vegetarian style! It was really nice.
From there it was back to the hostel for free 'Polish Vodka Night'. There's a nice small bunch of people there, so we all huddled around the dining table and chatted the night away, while the hostel guy made us 'Mad Dog' shots with vodka, tabasco and some red jam stuff. I dislike vodka immensely to say the least, but was convinced to drink it since it's local stuff, and it was surprisingly nice! All I could taste was the jam, but that was fine with me. We then went out to a pub with Dave, Jarrad, Kenny and another dude whose name slips my mind.....had a pint and were swept in with a crowd watching some extreme wrestling match and yelling in aggressive Polish at the tops of their lungs. Hmm......my first impression of the Poles' handsome demeanour decreased somewhat ;) After some good conversations Cam and I made our way back to the hostel (I have to be up early to speak to Chris' 21st Party contingent tomorrow) and left the other guys to it.

December 12th : Krakow
I was up early this morning, waiting by the phone to hear from Aus. I had a shower, breakfast and a coffee and then Cam woke up, but we still hadn't heard anything. We made our way out on our way to Schinder's Factory. I called a couple of times and then we got the call we were waiting for :D It was really lovely to talk to Chris on his party day, he enjoyed the scrap book and surprise speech video I had made for him and was having a great day, spoke with Courts as well and the folks, everyone having a good time. It is nice to feel part of the fun despite being so far away :( After a while nattering we said goodbye and we continued on our walk to the factory. It was in the industrial side of town and was pretty miserable on a snowy, grey -10c day. But we found the factory eventually.
The story of Oskar Schindler is interesting, made famous by the book and film 'Schindler's List'. Unfortunately, his museum was not. It was lots of heavy reading predominantly about the statistics about the destruction of Jewish business during the Nazi occupation, as well as some examples of the products. The museum was under renovation and will apparently be much more insightful when it is all open..
We still spent a while there, read a lot and learnt a bit more of the economic affects on the Jewish population, and then started on the long walk back to the hostel.
For dinner we went back to the amazing vegetarian restaurant and decided to go to Auschwitz tomorrow.

December 13th : Krakow -> Auschwitz Birkenau -> Krakow
We got up early this morning, ambivalent about our feelings for the day ahead. We are going to visit Auschwitz 1 + Auschwitz 2 (Birkenau), the Nazi death camps used between 1942 – 45 to perform mass industrial genocide. These Nazi-run camps facilitated the imprisonment and murder of an estimated 1.5million people, including 1.1 million European Jews, Roma Gypsies, POW's, Homosexuals, Intellectuals and many others whom Hitler wished to wipe from the face of the earth in his quest for Aryanisation of the German race.
Showered and breakfasted we walked to the local bus station and hopped on the next bus. When we arrived, the air was foggy and cold and the place was full of Israeli school kids all laughing and joking with one another, which gave it a peculiar atmosphere.
You can enter the camp for free and walk around yourself, but we decided to get a historical guide to give us more of an accurate account of what went on here. Well, we certainly got one. Szymon (Simon) was our guide, and was incredibly passionate about the subject, his own family members having been murdered in this very place.
Entering through the gates bearing the cruel slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” - “Work will set you free”, the atmosphere was immediately grim. The snowy -3c day felt particularly fitting as we weaved our way between the barracks whilst Simon spoke of the terrible acts of torture and murder which were committed here. I took only a couple of photos, something about taking snaps all over the place felt a bit strange.
He showed us models of the cattle carts where prisoners were stuffed in, barely able to move, to be transported to Auschwitz (they were usually under the false belief that they were going on holiday). Once there, they were then thrown off the train and subjected to 'selection', which involved standing in a line, where at the end of it, an SS officer assesses your physical appearance, determines whether or not you can work or not, and points you left or right.
One way means you walk straight to the gas chambers (under the guise of going to take a shower before starting work), the other way means you walk to the prison barracks where, after being robbed of all your possessions, stripped naked, hosed down with freezing cold water and dressed in striped prison pyjamas, you will be tortured and most likely worked to death, if you are not shot, starved or gassed before that stage.
Many trains arrived during the black of night, when it was not possible for the SS Officers to assess the prisoners, so they were either selected randomly, or all sent off to the gas chambers.
The photographic accounts of this were painful to see. An image of a frail old man, all dressed up for a holiday; hat on head, suitcase in hand; being pointed towards the gas chambers by a Nazi officer, was unbelievably profound.
Once the prisoners had gone through 'selection', all of their possessions were taken from them. There were massive piles of thousands of suitcases with the names and dates of birth of people who were tricked into believing they were going on holiday, followed by thousands upon thousands of intimate belongings: spectacles, shoes, prosthetic/wooden legs, combs, brushes and clothes belonging to adults, children and babies. It is just a fraction of the 'booty' stolen by the 3rd Reich before murdering these poor innocent people. They let absolutely nothing go to waste, the shoes were all sole-less, they pulled them apart to check for anything of value which may have been hidden in them, golden fillings and any jewellery were ripped from corpses after gassing.
I was left totally devastated and breathless by a room full of tonnes and tonnes of human hair. Shaved from the heads of murdered women after they had been gassed, this massive pile equated to approximately 50,000 women. The size of a whole town. And this was just a tiny percentage of the amount produced at this place.
The Nazis used this hair to make woven hair-fabric, which was then utilised as insulation in their uniforms, blankets, or to stiffen uniform collars.
We saw the various torture chambers; amongst them the standing cell and suffocation cell. The 'Wall of Death', where people were executed was adorned with flowers and memorials.
We saw the pathetic rations of food given to prisoners and images which detailed the results of starvation. The details of tests carried out on prisoners, mainly child twins, were awful.
We saw a model of the 'Death Factory' in Birkenhau, which was mostly destroyed by the Nazi's in an attempt to cover it up. Simon described that this was an experiment in industrial genocide: the Raw Material being the prisoners, and the Final Product (or, as it was termed: The Final Solution) being their ashes....:
The prisoners had their possessions taken from them, ordered into what looked like a big change room where they were to remove all of their clothes, and then ordered into big communal 'wash rooms'. Thousands at a time could be sent in to these chambers where, through holes in the roof, officers dropped down crystals of Zyklon-B covered with Cyanide, which would suffocate and kill everyone inside within about 20minutes. After this the bodies were removed of any fillings/jewellery and heads shaved of hair, before they were cremated, the ashes buried.
Nowadays, when entering the gas chamber at Auschwitz 1, a large marble block reminds you to remain silent to respect the lives of thousands of people who had been murdered within these walls. In the dark, grey room, looking up to the small chutes where the gas was dropped down, I felt helpless with grief. These poor people were completely defenseless. Innocent adults, children and elderly people died slow and painful deaths in this very room, their screams for help masked by the engines of trucks deliberately left running outside.
We walked all over Auschwitz 1, seeing the photos of prisoners, their prison uniforms, personal artifacts and stories. After 3 hours there we caught the shuttle bus to Birkenau, about 25 times the size of Auschwitz 1, and where most of the killings occured. We visited the sheds where bunk 'beds' of 3 levels kept 8 prisoners on each level. It looked exactly like a chicken koop, and was a place where many people froze to death during the night, surrounded by rats, bugs, urine and faecal matter. It was now getting dark and the temperature was about -5c, inside the wooden shed it was just as cold as outside.
There were many other areas of the camp that we visited, all of which were equally shocking. The conditions that these people were subjected to were absolutely appalling. Those who left the camp to work tortuously for 11 hours a day had to be returned, dead or alive, at the end of the day.
It is unbelievable that such an efficient and effective form of genocide went on for so long without being stopped. Simon the guide insisted that Churchill, Regan and the Allies were aware that the camps existed but did nothing to stop them. I know little of this, but found aerial images of the camps accidentally captured by American pilots in 1943 were quite surprising to see.
The Nazi's disguised the camps as labour camps, and when the Red Cross visited, showed them particular sections which had been mocked-up to appear as though the conditions were hospitable.
The most sickening and depressing part of all is that it was partly successful in its aims. The Jewish population in Europe was drastically reduced by the camps.
The whole experience was incredibly powerful. It generated a sort of sadness and disbelief I have not felt before.
We returned by bus to Auschwitz 1, where we had to wait for an hour for the next public bus back to Krakow. Standing shivering in the dark, feeling the snow falling on our hats while the freezing wind licked our face, we felt only too aware that we are so lucky to have the life we have, that we would be able to freely leave this awful to place to seek food and warmth.
Back in Krakow we went to the local veggie restaurant and had a big feast, discussing what we had seen during the day. The enormity and evil of it all is too much to comprehend.
A famous quote by a holocaust survivor and writer, Primo Levi, speaks of Anne Frank who died in a concentration camp and whose diaries are now famous world over: “One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did, but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way; if we were capable of taking in all the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live”.
Today spoke to me in a way I will not forget, and was an ultimate reminder of the evils committed by man which stem from intolerance, ignorance and hatred.

Posted by saresNcam 22:41 Archived in Poland Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Continental Drift....

Nov 29th - Dec 7th

overcast 7 °C
View Big Trip 2009 on saresNcam's travel map.

November 29th : Bruges - Ghent
We got a last minute reply on couchsurfing last night and weeerabl to get in contact with couple; Lisa and Tomas, who were willing to host us in Ghent. So, up early this morning we hopped on the train there. We then caught the tram to meet them on a street corner. They were a lovely young couple, studying graphic art. We walked to the flat (in an old office building – cool!), dumped our bags and then they took us for a walk around beautiful Ghent. We explored the little cobblestoned streets, the squares, the 'graffiti street' (which, as you could imagine, is completely covered in street art), the smallest house in Ghent, the river, the oldest part of the town, the castle, and the all-important traditional candy shop, where we tasted the local house speciality. We also visited the church to see a famous medieval Flemish primitive painting by Jan Van Eyck. It was really beautiful and Lisa told a bit about the importance of it in the history of art (e.g; the use of light refractions, different botanical subjects). After that Lisa and Tomas walked back home and we went on to the Design Museum, where we spent quite a while looking over all the furniture, textiles, jewellery, pottery and glassware. There was a special exhibition on the 'Artel Group' from Prague (around 1920 onwards) who made some amazing modern design glassware, toys and allsorts, we both really enjoyed looking through it. I, particularly, have found much more of an interest in design and textiles since travelling this year. Having seen so much of it (in various styles) I am gaining more of an idea of what I like and what I don't, and more of an appreciation of the work that goes into it. I'm certainly not rushing out to spend hundreds of dollars on a vase, but I'd certainly have a crack at making one!
After the museum we went to the supermarket to get some dinner ingredients. Back at the flat we cooked a curry and chatted with Lisa and Tomas about Belgian life and art. We had a nice dinner with some wine and then hung out in their room listening to some records (another good thing about travelling – discovering new music!). They then took us to the old socialist hall which has been turned into a 'social bar'. This basically means that you can go there to socialise, and you don't need to purchase a drink to do so. You can relax with an empty table and chat the night away. I think it's a great idea, and although most people in there were drinking anyway, you didn't feel obliged to do so. I'm sure the old Flemish Socialists would be pleased :) We met a friend of Lisa and Tomas and spent the night knattering before walking home for bed.

November 30th : Ghent –> Antwerp –> Amsterdam
We were up fairly early this morning. I was promptly attacked by the cat, who seems to have developed a severe disliking to my feet for some unknown reason. Not knowing how to tell him to go away in Flemish, I made some strange noises which only seemed to provoke him more. We got changed and made a phone call to book a cheap bus to Amsterdam from Antwerp, the next main city in Belgium. We said our thank you's and farewells to Lisa and Tomas and walked to the train station. I took a photo of the obscene number of bicycles parked out the front of the station (a thousand at least!) and we then got a falafel for breakfast. Yep. A falafel. For breakfast. We live a good life.
We hopped on the train. When we arrived in Antwerp we were greeted by the amazing sight of the central station, which is absolutely beautiful (they claim it's the most beautiful train station in the world, and at the moment, having seen a few, I would agree). We stowed our bags in a locker and then went for a walk about town. Having come from picturesque Ghent, Antwerp was a bit more like a plain big city. We did, however go for a very long walk to Cogels-Osylei. This is a beautiful area of streets full of Neo-Classical and Gothic style buildings. They were all going to be torn down in the 60's but were spared and are now renovated and absolutely beautiful. Lots of the places look like fairy castles, it's hard to believe people actually live in them! We then wandered around the Jewish quarter. Coming to large European cities you really realise how homogeneous Australia is. Although we have a degree of multiculturalism, it is nothing like Europe. This is obviously largely due to geography I suppose. Anyway, walking around Antwerp was amazing; we passed Sudanese boys speaking with Muslim women, Hasidic Jews peddling past girls in saris and swarthy Eastern European men smoking and laughing, it was great!
We wandered around for a while and looked through the zoo windows, then went to get some food to make a picnic for lunch. Back in the beautiful train station, we grabbed our bags, ate our food and then walked to the bus station to wait for the Amsterdam bus. We waited in the warm for a short while, until the lady kicked us out to wait on the street.
Thankfully it was a balmy 3degrees outside and we were accompanied by a drunk, chain smoking Frenchman who insisted on relaying the delights of the Antwerpen prostitutes while we waited for the delayed bus for 1.5 hours. Oh, joy of joys!
Finally the bus arrived. The driver then refused to take the guitar on board, insisting it was against company policy. We managed to convince him otherwise and after a lot of heated French conversation between he and Cam, we were sitting pretty in our seats ready for the journey.
We got to Amsterdam about 11pm, hopped on the underground and then walked to the hostel. Once there, we dropped our bags in the room and went out to the first place most people go in this fine city: a coffee shop!
We perused the menu: Purple Haze, Bubblegum, Silver Cloud, Head Swirler. All very peculiar types of coffee, let me tell you.
We then waddled back to the hostel to catch some Z's, ready for a big day tomorrow, December has joined us at last!

December 1st : Amsterdam
Today we were up, showered and happily wolfing down the free breakfast with glee before setting out to see the town. We set out to Dam Square to meet a free walking tour group and explored the city on foot. The guide was a bubbly, though decidedly annoying, American who insisted on asking everyone if they were feeling 'Super!', but it was a good day.
We explored the Old Church, New Church, Sea Dyke, Beautiful post office, Red Light District, Dam Square, Monuments, Canals.............LOTS!
I was impressed by Amsterdam's beauty, but I must say that it appears to have been talked up somewhat (at least in comparison to other European cities). Perhaps people saw some sort of amazing architectural wonders through a haze of green smoke... :)
An interesting thing to note about the buildings is that many of them lean forward slightly and have a large hook at the top hanging from the roof. Because these Dutch buildings are very thin and tall, the staircases are quite steep and it makes for a hard time carrying things up and down. The hooks are in place so that furniture, bags, boxes etc can be lifted to the correct level. The house leans forward slightly so that items will not damage the facade of the house. Great idea I thought!
It looks really cool when walking down narrow alleyways, seeing the houses leaning in, as though they are peering over and inspecting you as you wander down their road.
After the tour we went to the supermarket and got some ingredients to make a delicious late lunch/early dinner. 'Linner'! We had macaroni cheese followed by a pear salad and then retired to the smoking room where we hung out and chatted the afternoon and evening away whilst listening to some tunes....how Amsterdamian of us.

December 2nd : Amsterdam
Today was a bit of a slow start after a hazy late night listening to the new Mars Volta Album online and feeling particularly 'relaxed'.
We had showers and breakfast and then went for a walk to an 'Espresso Bar' (different to a coffee shop in that it actually sells purely coffee) and had a nice cappucino upstairs whilst looking out over the city. We chatted for a long while about our travel plans and what/where we will be heading in the future, and then went for a nice walk. I really like the interesting arty shops which are everywhere . It's incredibly liberal and cosmopolitan in Amsterdam, so you see many intriguing (to say the least) people on the street. It's great!
In the afternoon we caught the tram to meet Marije! We took great delight in relaying to people how we met Marije: “We met in the jungles of Sumatra”, which is entirely true! We took a trek from Bukittinggi to Lake Maninjau with Marije and her friend Iris way back in Indonesia earlier this year.
We took a bottle of SA wine for her and found her place. Once there we drank lots of tea and talked about what we had been up to before heading out for a tour of the Red Light District.
We wanted to learn about the history of it rather than just walking around sketchy streets at night time, avoiding the charlie boys and leering pimps. We met the (Kiwi) guide and started. Marije joined us because, despite living in Amsterdam, she doesn't often visit the Red Light (or so she says ;)). We walked around the multi-faceted area, the seedy alleyways of women in windows, the colourful streets of nice restaurants and theatres, roads of sex shows, strip clubs and brothels, old churches, famous architectural spots, smoky coffee shops and bookstores. It was a hustling, bustling and peculiar area, home to many different types of places and people. One dapper man walked passed us numerous times bellowing a Redemption Song into the faces of somewhat-embarassed men leaving street side booths. A man who appeared to be an old Hasidic Jew exited a sex theatre and told the group that we shouldn't be listening to the sinful words the tour guide was telling us.
Cam scored himself a drink at the end of the night by being the only man on the tour willing to go into the entrance of famous Gay Hardcore S&M club called 'Cock Ring' and ask how much it costs to enter. Thankfully, the door was locked, but he did try to go inside, so he got heralded as the only guy in the group comfortable with his own sexuality and won a free drink too!
At the end of the tour we went to a bar and continued the rest of the night drinking beer and hanging out with Marije and the tour guide. When that bar closed, we went to a kebab shop (of course), Marije got us a Dutch 'Cheese Souffle' which was really good, almost a good enough subsitute for a falafel! We then we walked to another bar for another round, inside which a man told me that I have “All the ingredients for a good Russian borscht soup” and that this was apparently a good thing(?) This marked the end of the night so we said farewells to Marije and walked home in the rain, thankful to crawl into our warm beds upon arrival.
December 3rd : Amsterdam
Ah the joyous morning-after-the-night-before!
At the pace of a snail (an old, disabled snail..), we got ourselves up and moving. We moved to another dorm as the big one is full tonight and then went downstairs to work on the boring, but necessary, element of travelling – organising transport, accom, insurance, emails and so on. After getting ourselves a bit more sorted we went out for a cappucino and then walked to Anne Frank's House. We spent a long time going through the house and museum, which was an incredibly moving experience. It was a very well arranged place and detailed the lives of the Frank family as well as the history of anti-semitism and the affect the war had on Jewish families. Anne's diaries meant a lot to me when I read them and I was really profoundly moved by the simple things like her bedroom, the walls plastered in newspaper cut outs and pictures, a normal young girl trying to live a normal life whilst hiding in secret from the outside world. I was alone in the room with her journal, looking at her scribbled handwriting in her battered red diary, and had a strong sense of her there. I felt a new appreciation for the time she had put into innocent daily musings on her developing life....all done without knowledge of the horrors which lay ahead for her.
We both felt a little bit morose after leaving and talked about the futility of anti-semitism and the unfortunate reality of it's devastating affects.
Back at the hostel we cooked up a big Mexican feast and then had a fairly early night. Well, we had intended on an early night, but the joy of sharing a room with a large number of other people (especially if they happen to be inebriated New Zealanders) can sometimes make that hard to do!

December 4th : Amsterdam -> Hamburg (Germany)
We were up early this morning, making as much noise as possible to stir the hungover blokes who kept us up all night :P We called to book tickets for the bus to Hamburg this afternoon and then set out to....take some photos! I had not taken any photos in the time we have been here. Whilst photos aren't the important part of being somewhere (unless of course you have a whizz-bang camera, this being the technical phrase), it is nice to at least have a couple of snaps to jog your memory I think. So, we had some coffee and re-walked the streets, taking some shots, before going back to the hostel for a quick lunch and then taking our bags to the bus station. The journey was okay. 7.5 hours with 2 very serious Germans who were like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, and wouldn't let anyone off the bus when we stopped for a break. This was at great expense to those nicotine-addicted passengers who leapt into arguments, wide eyed and frustrated they argued their 'human right' to have a smoke to no avail. Needless to say, the tension was palpable.
Side Note: The interesting characters who transport us from one place to another have definitely coloured my memories of this trip. Be they very good, very bad, very strange or a combination of the three, the men and women who have driven us from place to place have played a very important role in our journey. I am thankful to have made it (mostly) safely this far and owe that to them.
Once in Hamburg we were immediately greeted by the familiar German friendliness which we had remembered from our last time here. In the train station at midnight a guard got up with his cup of coffee and walked us to get our tickets, showed us a map and then walked us to the platform. We got off at our stop and friendly pedestrians pointed us in the right direction to the jugendherberger (youth hostel), where we were met by a smily receptionist who gave us a private room at a dorm price. Ah, Germans! Why does the greater world let memories of a poorly-moustached, angry little man taint our opinion their friendly character?
We stayed up and chatted about our plans for Germany and then got to bed.

December 5th : Hamburg
After breakfast this morning we walked to the train station to use the internet. Whilst we had not received any couch surfing replies, we had been invited to stay in the the Hamburg University Squat. We seriously considered the option until they mentioned the Police involvement being a little shady. Many of the universities around Europe have been occupied by student squatters demonstrating against the recent change to the Bachelor-Master system, which sees only a mere 25% of students selected to complete their Masters after their Bachelor degree. We thanked them and said we may visit, but held out hopes of another couch, unsure of where we would stay tonight (the hostel is a bit dear).
We decided to forget about it for a few hours and went to the local market in the town hall. This was occupied by a lot of stalls, holding items which all had an air of having recently fallen off the back of a fast moving truck. It was also quite cheap and I took advantage of that fact by buying a nice big puffy winter coat (my little cordoroy jacket is doing little to protect me from the cooling European winter). We then hopped on the train and into the city. Hamburg is a beautiful city, with a big pond/lake near the centre. We meandered around there at the big Christmas market, and then went over to the Rathaus Town Hall. This had an interesting photographic exhibition about the work of the German Red Cross laid out around a huge Christmas tree. From there we went to the Art and Design Museum.
The most interesting exhibition was the 'Ikea' one! It detailed the development of their designs, designers and general history. It was really interesting to see all of these familiar objects laid out like a gallery, all of which are important in terms of their functionality and design.
From there we went to the train station, saw an anti-fascist/anti-racist rally (for annti-nasty people, they looked pretty nasty, in all black, balaklava-d and blasting angry metal music....but they brought a crowd!). We caught the train back to the internet cafe, had no couchsurfing replies and nothing from the 'rideshare' site (we had sent some messages to people driving to Wurzburg tomorrow). So went back to the hostel to try and get a bed there. We tried a few more phone calls for a 'rideshare' to Wurzburg and got all 'No's' apart from one 'Maybe' who would let us know. 'Rideshare' is a good idea, kind of like a sophisticated form of hitch hiking. People advertise that they will be driving from point A to point B, and if people want to travel between those 2 places, they can cover their portion of petrol. The last person (the 'maybe') was not someone I was keen to travel with, since he made of point of the fact that he drove a new black Audi sports car, and I didn't relish the idea of being stuck in a fast car on the autobahn in wet weather. Cam insisted it would be fine and, against my better judgement, I gave in and we agreed to go with him if he sad yes.
We went to the supermarket and got some stuff to make dinner, took it back to the hostel kitchen and ate food whilst chatting to a Russian Judo Trainer who was staying there with his team (that would explain all the aggressive adolescents in the hallways...).

December 6th : Hamburg -> Würzburg
The mystery driver called at 7am this morning to say it was fine to ride with him down to Würzburg. I was very unsure about it and, attempting a last minute back-out, stayed in bed for as long as I could and moaned that I didn't want to go, but Cam said we'd already agreed so we had to. Putting on my best grumbly-girlfriend-act we walked to the station where he was meeting us and said hello to the driver (Mark) and another passenger (this passenger was smart and slept for the entire journey, thanks to some tablets whose origin was unknown, but whose effects became very inviting to me as the journey progressed).
We were a little bit late and as we walked to his shiny, mag wheeled Audi, he advised us that to make up for this, he would just have to drive faster. He said this with a deranged mid-20 year old male bravado tone which made me look at Cam with a victorious glare.
Hate to say I told you so.
That was about all the annoyance I could muster up for the rest of the journey. I spent the rest of it gripping to the passenger door handle with clammy hands, sweating and trying to remember happy times in my life where I did not feel I was on the verge of a bloody death.
The distance between Hamburg and Würzburg is about 600km. We estimated that we would be there in at least 6 hours.
4 hours later, having survived top speeds of 250km/hr weaving between cars through the rain on the Autobahn we got to Würzburg.
Of course, Anja hadn't been expecting us to arrive at the speed of light so we had to wait for a little while for her to come and meet us by the road. I was no longer annoyed about the rideshare experience, I was just thankful to be alive. We have been through some pretty hairy travel experiences throughout this trip, but I have to say that the speed of this particualr ride definately made it the worst. I have never travelled in a vehicle at a speed that fast before, and I do not want to repeat it. If I was with someone I trusted, who knew how to drive at high speeds (like Dad or Colin), I would have felt okay, but I spent most of the time wanting to slap this guy for being such a testosterone-fuelled fuckwit. In the end, it wasn't terribly cheap either. Since he drove pedal to the metal, the fuel use was quite high, so we paid just slightly less than the train (but, as Cam sheepishly pointed out, we got there in half the time....*insert wrath of a scorned female companion here*).
Soon enough Anja's gorgeous smiling face came bounding along the foot path and we gave hugs and hellos. We met Anja in Adelaide when she couchsurfed with us last year.
We relayed the car journey to her and then headed back to her place where we had some tea and caught up on all our our relevant travels and lives.
We went for a walk to the Christmas market where we all had some Glühwein and Anja got us some traditional German candied Xmas nuts to try. After that we headed round to her old flat, to have dinner with some friends.
We met Lisa, Patrick, Sima, Marvin and Ollie who were all amazingly nice, fun and interesting. We spent the night learning more about the German culture, student life, art, politics and music. Marvin is a 'proper' anarchist who was not able to drink having recently pissed on the German flag whilst naked in the town square. He had loads of interesting stories and we all really enjoyed each others' company.
As the night went on we drank beer, glüwein and Jagermeister and we all decided that it would be a good idea if Lisa cut Cam's hair. He has been talking about it for ages but has not yet done it, so off we went to the bathroom for his makeover. Lisa is a journalist, not a hairdresser, but she has done other friend's hair and assured us it would be fine.
And, it was! After a few big swigs of Jagermeister, Cam looked a bit more relaxed as handfuls of his curls came from his head. In the end it looked very good and everyone was impressed at Lisa's handiwork. At about 3am we stumbled home to catch some Z's, having arranged to come back and cook them dinner tomorrow to say thank you for their hospitality.

December 7th : Würzburg
Anja had to get up and go to uni this morning, while we stayed in bed and had an appreciated sleep-in. We checked some options for transport to Berlin and then after Anja returned we went to lunch with her and her lovely friend Carolin. They took us to the Uni cafeteria, which is a massive place and sells really nice food for prices which students can actually afford! After some nice pasta we had some coffee and cake and chatted and laughed for a while. We learnt all about the 'Wurzburg Zellerau Crew', a gangsta group based in these white-wine producing medieval streets (otherwise known as 'the hood') who are need of much mocking by us.
On our way out to go for a walk to the park we were stopped by some students raising money for an African children's charity. We gave them 1euro and then they said they were packing up the stall, would we like the rest of the glühwein? Why, yes, yes we would! We all had a few cups of hot glühwein, whilst trying to explain to the students what on earth 2 Adelaideans were doing in little ol' Würzburg!
We talked about the student occupations and said that we didn't get a chance to go and visit the squat in Hamburg, so we went to visit the Audimax here. It was really exciting to be there, to see all these young people rallying together in a bid to improve their chances of an education. They have been really proactive about it, each day having important members of the community giving speeches, workshops etc. The auditorium had an odour of students-who-have-been-hanging-out-here-for-a-while, and was full of posters giving inforrmation on the bachelor-master system and big painted sheets with 'Get Thinking!' and other slogans on it.
After a while in there, Anja and Carolin took us for a nice stroll through the gardens and a big residence park, which was very beautiful shrouded in a heavy fog.
We went to look at the different Uni campuses, saw the 3rd oldest University in Europe and lots of the nice medieval streets.
We then grabbed some beer and dinner ingredients and walked to the flat to see Patrick, Marvin, Sima and Simon, while Lisa, Anja and Ollie went to see a 'Uriah Heap' Concert a couple of towns away. We had a great night with them all again, Cam and I cooked up a big spinach curry, and Patrick helped us translate the Deutshbahn site into getting a cheap regional ticket to Berlin.
At home there is a system where most bottles get recycled for 5c each when you take them to a recycling place. Here, you get back about 10-15c per bottle when you take them back to the shop they were purchased from. So, the guys here drove back their (rather large) collection of empty bottles and returned with another really large collection of full ones, having got about 40euros back from returning them! Talk about giving people enthusiasm to recycle!!
Tonight we learnt all about the APPD Party, Sauerkraut Man and lots more of Marvin's entertaining stories. Patrick and Lisa shared their plans about going to China (they both speak fluent Mandarin) and Sima told us all about her family from Iran. They are great bunch of people and we really enjoyed our time there. When Anja, Lisa and Ollie returned from the concert they unfortunately had not got backstage, but had a good time anyway.
The night went on, it was cool to be hanging out with people in a sharehouse, gave us a real sense of home. Then it was homeward bound at about 3am, having said fond farewells and exchanged emails.

Posted by saresNcam 22:35 Archived in Netherlands Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Food, family, festivities and over to the Continent!

Nov 1st - 27th

semi-overcast 7 °C
View Big Trip 2009 on saresNcam's travel map.

November 2nd - 7th : Egham
This week was a relatively quiet one. I was sick with a cold and was semi-human. It was a big organisation week, the most important part being: Selling Vandal! It was sad to say goodbye to our home on wheels, but a relief to have that off our minds. We sold it for only 20pounds less than we paid for it and within 2 days of placing an ad. It didn't go to fellow travellers (not surprisingly, there are few people looking at living in a commercial van mid-winter in the UK), but to a nice Nigerian man who is selling electronics there. Questionable, but.....sold.
We spent a couple of days out and about, in Staines and around, getting Nanny a VCR and nipping to the farm shop; but most days were administrative ones; catching up on emails, sending cards, playing Scrabble with Nanny, checking out shipping to Aus, getting photos developed, relaxing, coughing and sniffling and generally getting ourselves set to head across to France in a couple of weeks.

November 8th - 15th : Egham
Sunday we went to Michael and Sheilagh's to help them out in the garden, clearing it of plants in preparation for a new fence. In return Sheilagh made an amazing lunch and we had a nice afternoon with them. We had planned to go into Sam's place that night, but I was still full of cold and coughing so unfortunately I had to give it a miss. Cam caught the train in and spent the night with him and I had a hot bath and spent the evening with Nanny.
Monday I was feeling pretty flat. Still had a cold and a barking cough and getting pretty tired of it. I spent the day starting work on a present for Christopher, and looking through old family videos and photos with Nanny. Watched some from when she was a little girl (put onto video from old reels) they were amazing! We also watched Mum and Dad's wedding, it was really strange to see them only a few years older than me, I could certainly see some resemblances! Cam came back from a day guitar shopping in London and in the evening I made Mexican for dinner.
Tuesday was calling shipping companies and then deciding on one to book and arrange collection. Then to the library for the internet to book our transport to Paris, and arranging to spend some time with Gracie and Norm.
Wednesday we had another day out in Ol' London Town. We wandered around the Tate Modern for quite a while (this was partly ruined by a phone call from the shipping company who had made a mistake with the quote as the address is outside the M25....grr...) But most of the exhibitions were good. I was particularly impressed by an installation by Miroslaw Balka, basically a massive(!) shipping container which is pitch black inside. You bump into people and each other and loose your sense of location. Eventually your eyes adjust and you can sit at the end and watch people clumsily doing the same thing. It was really good, he wanted to explore the irrational fear of what we cannot see and why we feel fearful of the dark. I like art which has a tangible sensory affect.
We then went to the Tower of London and spent some time there and at London Bridge before going to the National Theatre to see the 'Yazz Ahmed Trio' play some Jazz. After that we headed in the direction of a pub for a curry and a pint for dinner. We went to a nice liitle place called the Angel which is independent and cheap. Spent a while there chatting away before getting the tube to Sam's place, where we spent the night talking, drinking beer and playing music. We then all squeezed into bed for a squishy, though relatively comfortable sleep!
Thursday we said sad 'see you someday's' to Sam and hopped on the trains/bus to Staines. While there we got a few gifts and then got on the bus to Egham. Our boxes to be sent to Aus arrived not long after, and we spent the afternoon packing our stuff into them before climbing up into the loft and sorting through Dad's stuff (from the 50's onwards....!) to be sent too. We packed them up and had dinner before getting catch up sleep.
Friday Gracie and Norm came over for a big birthday feast a'la Sarah! I had made a special menu and we had a lovely afternoon eating, drinking wine and watching slideshows of some of our happy snaps from life on the road in Vandal. We said sad farewells (I hate all these goodbyes!). Our boxes were collected to be sent to the shipping company and our pile of goods are now looking as though they will fit into our bags!
Saturday we had another lovely foody day. We went to Mike and Sheilagh's and had a big feast! Gave them a couple of thank you presents, drank wine, chatted lots and then said sad farewells – until next time! We drove back to Egham feeling strange with the knowledge we're leaving (it's been 3 months in the UK!).
Sunday we started off by helping Nanny to clear the back garden of the mountains of leaves dropped by her next door neighbours' tree! We then packed our bags ready to leave tomorrow, did the last of our washing and bought some Indian for a thank you 'last supper' before we are off from Egham. We gave Nanny a photo montage to say thanks and then I spent a few more hours working on Chris' present.

November 16th : PARIS (France)
Today we were all up early (4am!) and getting ready to go to the station. Nanny kindly drove us to Hounslow and it was with a heavy heart that we said goodbye to get on the 5:40 train to Victoria Station. After arriving at the station we checked in, got some coffee and sandwiches and then boarded the bus. I slept for most of the (grey + rainy) drive to the Euro Star. It was a strange experience being on the bus, which drove into a train, which went into a tunnel, which goes under the sea. I was surprisingly not claustrophobic, and the whole thing was over in about 20mins. On the other side of the sea we were suddenly surrounded by cars on the wrong side of the road and the sounds of French! We got off the bus and hopped on the Metro to take us to the hostel. Once there we checked in and went straight out to by some obligatory brie and baguettes. We had a Kronenburg at the hostel bar and then hopped on the metro out of town to a theatre to see a band called 'The Gossip'. We strolled up, and Cam asked (in perfect Francaise, of course) for 2 tickets, but to our disappointment, it was sold out!! Disappointed, we hopped back on the metro and back to the hostel where we chatted with some Canadians before going to bed.

November 17th : Paris
We were eager to get out and about today. So, we had an early rise, hot showers and set off for a big walking day! We caught the metro to Jardin des plantes, where we walked around the Darwin Centre and grounds then poked our heads in the zoo. This zoo was famously raided for it's inhabitants during the great famine of 1871....the Parisians were desperate!! After that we made our way to the closest Bureau de Change to swap some of the cash we have from selling Vandal. Without passports on us, Cameron used his parlais skills to get us some moolah and then we were on our way to Ile-de-France to see Notre Dame. We spent quite a bit of time in here last time, so we wandered around outside, visited Fontane ST Michel and walked through the lovely lanes of the Latin Quarter, absorbing the sounds of buskers. We made our way on foot towards the hulking Pantheon where we sat for a while before awkwardly making our exit to save interrogation from a clipboard welding maniac in the square. Our next stop was the pretty Jardin du Luxembourg, where we walked for a while before realising that it was getting late and we were both starving! We stopped at a supermarket near the hostel and got a huge dinner of cheese, bread, wine, cous cous, fruits, nuts and yoghurt. Yum! After dinner we got chatting to a nice American maths student whose passion for numbers bordered on the insane. Not even he could convince me that algorithms were sexy.....or interesting in any way. We drank wine, solved the problems of the world, and translated a drunk fellow 'Orrstrayan, mate!' for him before we were invaded by the army of drunk Irishmen in town for the football qualifying finals. Thanks to them, we have nowhere to stay tomorrow. We have checked and sent some messages for Couchsurfing to no avail, we'll have to see what we can find tomorrow. Until then...the night rolled on. As the terrible DJ started playing crappy reggae we made our exit to bed.

November 18th : Paris
The €1.50 plastic 2L bottle of wine wasn't sitting too well in our tummies this morning, but we begrudgingly crawled out of bed and tried to find somewhere to sleep tonight. The football has meant all of the budget places are full, however we managed to find a place out of the city centre. It is a bit dearer, but it is all we can get, so we'll see. We stowed our gear in the luggage room and went to the cafe next door to get a coffee and try to decide what we are doing in Europe and where we should go. Yes, we waited until we got here to decide. We (not surprisingly) came to no conclusions, so instead caught the metro to the Centre George Pompidou and spent a few hours walking around there looking at contemporary art. Now that we have our EU passports, we get free entry into loads of museums/galleries/monuments, (thanks Mr Sarkozy!) and are making the most of it while we're here. After a long time there, we caught the metro to the Latin quarter where we had a delicious falafel meal and then ent back to the hostel to get our backpacks. We walked to the metro and got a few trains (full of football fans) to the new hostel. Being a French hostel, it was full of French tourists and locals in need of accomodation. It was a bit dingy, but had a great relaxed vibe to it, and we definitely felt more like we were in Frace than being in a big international hostel full of English speakers. Plus, we can see the Eiffel Tower from our window :)
We cooked dinner in the kitchen (another plus), chatted with some of the staff who had found work here (they're from the UK) and then opted for an early night. The streets outside were booming with noise from Algerian and Egyptian football fans as the match came to a close...and I drifted into a blissful sleep in sweet 'Paree'.

November 19th : Paris
Another positive about the hostel is the amazing big free breakfast. We had lots of hot chocolate, pureed apples, bread, cheese, cereal, juice, coffee and tea before having hot showers and feeling ready to conquer the world. We hopped on the metro to Les Invalides and then had a nice long walk along the Seine in the direction of St Michele. On the way we bought some cheap art deco prints from a friendly Parisian (they do exist!). We met a free walking tour at Fontane St Michele and spent 4.5 hours walking around the city with Chris, our bubbly Australian guide. We went to quite a few places we've already seen, but lots tha we haven't. We learnt lots of stories of the history of Paris and good places to visit. Mid way through the tour we grabbed a quiche and a coffee and then continued on. We gave her a tip as thanks and then made our way back slowly to the hostel to mke dinner. We hung out with Colin, the in-house Glaswegian, before getting a fairly early night.

November 20th : Paris
Up early this morning, we had a big breakfast and hot showers and then I decided to knuckle down for 5 hours and finish off Christopher's 21st birthday present. I have to get it sent so it gets there on time, so I spread my stuff out in the common room and went for it. Once finished, in the afternoon we went for a walk to get some ingredients to cook a mushroom risotto. We shared it and some wine with a nice girl from Malaysia (got to practise some of our Bahasa Malaysia, for the first time in a long time!). The evening we caugh the metro to Montmartre and spent a long time walking around there, through the pretty hilly streets full of restaurants and the spashy, colourful red light district. Got a late train home to bed.

November 21st : Paris
This morning we went to the post office to change the rest of our pounds before getting the metro to the Musee de Orsay. We spent a long time there, I particularly enjoyed the Art Nouveau special exhibition and got a few postcards. The psychadelifonts where great! After a while there we went to the supermarket for some picnic igredients and headed to the Touilleres Jardins by the Louvre for a park bench picnic, followed by a hot chocolate (the weather is starting to get chilly now!). We then took a nice stroll through the sparkley Christmas markets, shared a warming Gluhwein before making our way down to the Champs Elysees, where we window shopped (decided that the €37,500 ring was a bit pricey) and smirked at the fickle ridiculousness of it all. At the end of the Champs Elysees is of course the grand Arche de Triomphe and, with our EU passports, we happily took our free entry to climb to the top and see a magnificent panorama of the city at night. Surprisingly during that time, we did not see any accidents, though we definitely saw some near misses. We spent a while up there before climbing down and walking back down the other side of the Champs Elysees, hopping on the metro and making our way back to the hostel.

November 22nd : Paris
This morning we had breakfast after which I finished writing something for Christopher and Cam wrote some music. We then went for a short walk to the little cafe on the corner. IT was lovely in there, full of old swarthy Frenchmen, smoking and laughing. The friendly barman made us cafe crème while I played with the resident dog. We felt very French indeed. We pulled out our books and notes and decided on a bit of a route plan for Europe, and then commenced looking for jobs. This has proven to be a challenge. A combination of the season and the economic climate, the jobs going for backpackers are few and far between. Most people we've met had got their jobs through agencies before leaving home, so we may have a hard task. For now we will keep our ears and eyes open, but are not terribly desperate for a job. In the afternoon we caught the metro to the Eiffel Tower where we filmed a video (after numerous failed attempts in the rain!) and then got some wine and dinner ingreds.
Upon our return to the hostel we met Matthieu and Katya, 2 locals who are strapped for houses for whatever reasons, so are staying at the hostel. We had a great night with them, eating chocolate, learning how to do that with wine (the French way apparently) and generally running amok.

November 23rd : Paris
Feeling as though we had exactly the sort of night we had last night, we got to breakfast just in time and savoured the coffee with glee. We showered and packed our bags as we needed to move rooms today. We had originally planned to leave today and head North to Lille, but as we were distracted with shenanigans last night and didn't book anything, we are staying on here another night! This morning we got in touch with Nico and Po, who we met in Thailand, to let them know we are coming to Lille to see if they want to catch up. We ooked our train and checked accommodation. We then spent the afternoon with Katya, Matthieu and Barack. We had a feast of cheeses and bread, fruits and beer and listened to Edith Piaf, how very French! In the evening they set off and we did a load of washing before having an early night.

November 24th : Paris -> Lille
Up early this morn we got an email from Pauline to say that they'd be happy to host us in Lille so we scrapped the hostel search and happilly made our way to the train station. We got on board the Lille train, stowed our bags whilst trying not to knock out any posh looking business executives (ah, memories) and got comfy for our first Euro train ride. We arrived in Lille only an hour later, and headed to the ssupermarket for some picnic ingredients. We dumped ouur stuff in a park and had a nice picnic, despite the cold weather. We were also lucky enough to get a phone call from Jess and had a great time talking to him for a while. After that we went to get a coffee and then to meet Nico at their house. We got them some wine and chocolates on the way. We found their apartment and Nico made us some tea. It is a lovely little place in the heart of town. After a while catching up and tea drinking, he took us for a walk around Lille. It is a beautiful city, lovely Flemish architecture, with a feeling similar to Melbourne; with lots of little music venues and arty cafes, it's great. He showed us around the old part of town and all the main sites and buildings. We stopped in at his favourite Belgian beer shop and bought some recommended bottles and then headed back to the flat. Pauline soon came in from work followed by their friend Louise and we had a lovely evening chatting over wine and beer (and cheese, of course :)) before we whipped up a quick thank you curry. We chatted away until late and then we snuggled up on the futon. Lovely night!

November 25th : Lille -> Roubaix -> Lille
We woke fairly early today, changed and then headed out to catch the tram to Roubaix, the next big town. I wanted to see The Piscine, a art gallery in which the art is displayed around an old 1930's swimming pool. We got to Roubaix and walked around for a while. Went to the main square and got a coffee before going to the Piscine. The gallery was great, all the art was displayed in the old change rooms around the pool, it was really cool! Roubaix is a famous old textile town so the special exhibition was of Russian wallpapers, and they were really nice. After a couple of hours there we went to get some picnic ingredients and had a nice eat in the park. After that we caught the train back to Lille where we walked around for a while and took in more of the beautiful town. We went to the park, to the Palais de Beaux Arts and to the Art School. We grabbed some 'Biere de Noel' (Christmas Beer) and went back to the apartment to meet Nico and Po. After chatting for a bit and sharing our day's stories, we hopped in the car to go out to dinner.....in Belgium! Po drove us to the lovely city of Ypres, famous for the Flanders War Field. We walked around the town square taking in the glorious buildings, visited the big memorial arch (lots of Australian names) and the fortifications and canal around the town. After that we hopped back in the car and drove to a pub in a nearby town run by a friendly Frenchmen, where we had Croques, Frittes and beer. Lots of beer. 2 of their friends came and we had a nice night chatting away (Cam's French keeps getting better and better!). Po had to work early (5:30am!) so we set off back to France before it got too too late. Once back, we had a few more Biere de Noel, played some music and hung out until sleep overtook us.....

November 26th : Lille -> Bruges
Feeling a little worse for wear this morning, we woke up as Po came back from work (9:30am) with a bag full of breakfast goodies. We got our bags packed and then all sat down for a lovely big French breakfast of croissants, pain chocolat, baguettes, jam, nutella, tea, juice and coffee...glorious! Po had to go to her other job so we sad fond farewells and thanks for their tremendous generosity towards 2 smelly Australians. Nico took us to see the local market and we spent a little bit of time wandering through there, taking in all the smells and sounds, it was really nice. We then hopped on the metro, said our goodbyes and see you soons to Nico and made our way to the main station to find a way to Bruges. We took a train to Roubaix, a bus to Mouscrons, a train to somewhere else and then another train from there to Bruges. It was a little convoluted but in the end only cost us about €10 each, which is much cheaper than the intercity direct fast trains. When in Bruges, we made our way through the miserable rainy weather to a bus which took us to the hostel we were staying. 'The Art Hostel' is a lovely cheap place just outside the city centre. After we checked in and dumped our bags, we were starving, so we cooked some spaghetti we had in our bag and relaxed for a bit. We spent a long time in the dining room chatting with 3 Finnish students who were really nice. We got some tips on things to see in Finland and shared their apple cake. We were both quite knackered from last night, so after a while knattering we slid into bed, having not seen much of Bruges at all yet!

November 27th : Bruges
8 Months on the road!
We got out and walking early today, intending to see as much as Bruges as possible. It was not hard to do! Being a little place, it is easy to walk around. Although the rainy cold weather made this decidedly un-pleasurable some of the time! We walked through lots of the lovely cobbled streets next to murky canals and over bridges to little cafes and waffle shops. Whilst Bruges is lovely, it is incredibly touristy. Incredibly. Due to that it has lost lots of it's medieval charm, and has replaced it with lots of lacy, waffly, frittery kitsch..! We found a nice place with no English on the menu and went inside. Got cheap coffee, soup and bread and it was peaceful and warm inside. After that we explored the sights; the market square and brug square and the belfry tower before trundling to the only brewery left within the city walls for a tour. The guide took us through the brewery and the museum, right to the top of the building, were we had a nice view over the town. After that we had a complimentary beer and stayed there chatting by the roaring fire for a while, until our bellies had us on a path to the supermarket. We got some ingredients for an awesome dinner ad went home to prepare it, as well as make plans for leaving tomorrow.
Dinner was an easy task, leaving tomorrow, however, was not! We couldn't find any hostels in Ghent available, and we hadn't received any Couchsurfing availability responses! We had dinner, some local beer and chocolate, listened to music in the dining room and mulled over our options. We decided to wait to the morning to see if there had been any cancellations here (Bruges seems to be full too, so we can't stay, but don't know where to go to....). Warm and full of food, we made our way to bed.

November 28th : Bruges
Unfortunately this morning we found the hostel was totally full, the same situation in Ghent and no couch surfing replies. SO we began a furious search for beds and found the last 2 in the city!! We rushed to get to the hostel to secure the beds and were pleased to see it was a nice friendly place, and right in the centre of Bruges. Well, we were pleased, until we got to the centre and found it to be full of tourists. And I mean FULL!! Yesterday the place seemed quite touristy, today it seemed like a theme park or a movie set, which is designed purely for people to come in and look around, taking time to purchase souvenires. It was weird, crowded and frustrating. I don't think we've turned into travelling snobs, and I am aware that we are just tourists too, but this place really has been an eye opener. The film 'In Bruges' had the famous line: “If I grew up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges might impress me. But I didn't, so it doesn't”. It is a lovely looking place, complete with canals and cobblestones, but the tourist driving horse and carts and the kant lace shops just leave a nausea one can't quite describe.
Anyway, we made our way out of the bustling centre and walked through some parks before stopping to get some takeaway pasta and then heading back to put our stuff in the room. It was bucketing down outside and I wasn't too keen to get out into the ratrace so I opted on getting upto date with THIS! Which, despite taking hours, has now finally been done! So, tonight the schedule is to go and have a nice Belgian beer or 2, get some food and a waffle (when in Rome...) and maybe see some music...if we can plow through the other tourists, that is... :D

Posted by saresNcam 10:34 Archived in France Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

These wheels, they keep turning!

Oct 16th - Nov 1st

semi-overcast 11 °C
View Big Trip 2009 on saresNcam's travel map.

October 16th : Glasgow
Today we made the most of being back in a house, washed lots of clothes, tidied out Vandal, caught up on internet replies etc and relaxed in the warm....aahhhhhhh warrrrrmth

October 17th : Glasgow
Today we had a lovely day out in Glasgow with George and Irene. We visited the People's Palace which details the social history of Glasgow and was quite interesting. We had a nice lunch in the sunny gardens before heading into town to have a look around the markets. Had some coffee and cake then headed back home. We packed our bags ready for Edinburgh and then Craig came to pick us up. We went back to his place and met some of his friends, drank beer and ate pizza. We then caught a cab into Glasgow and went to a cool little bar for the night, indulging in beer and fun, before catching a cab back to his place., a good night had by all!

October 18th - 21st : Edinburgh
We caught a (cheap!) bus from Glasgow to Edinburgh on Sunday. Once there we found our hostel, a dingy little place full of art, long term workers, musos and artists. With a labyrinthine staircase it was quite cool and homely. Out and about in Edinburgh we wandered the Golden Mile up to the castle and poked about the little lanes and courtyards. Edinburgh is amazing. It is such a beautiful, picturesque city with a great artsy scene. Despite it being over saturated with tourists, it retains a genuine character and charm.
Whilst wandering we stumbled across a place called 'Forest' a community artspace which also acts as a: volunteer run vegetarian cafe, a 'freeshop' (look it up – great concept), an art studio and shop, and a 'sip and snip' hairdresser where you get a shot of vodka with your haircut! Cam tried to get a snip but the girl was out. It is a really great place, warm and colourful with mis matching furniture. The food is delicious and the people are lovely and interesting. It is one of those places where you feel like anything is possible, everyone is inspires and enthused, and you feel as though what you choose to do as an individual can really make a difference. I like spaces like that. I'd love to create one in Aus. It was kind of like the Jade Monkey, only bigger and actually with people in it.
In the afternoon we wandered around the new town of Edinburgh and then back to the hostel in the evening for the free communal dinner. It was quite nice! A spinach bake cooked by a Spanish artist who earns his keep doing street-side water colours of the castle. After dinner we reconvened to the TV/chill out room where we chatted with some people then watched 'Requiem For a Dream'. This was possibly the most depressing movie I have seen and not one I am in a rush to drag myself through again. In post-film mix of gloom and nausea, we crawled into bed for a late night.
Monday morning started early, we were raring to get back out into the town. We began the day by walking to The Forest for coffee before heading to The Golden Mile to meet up for a Free walking tour. This was run by Hamish, a nice English Geography student. He walked us around for 5 hours and we learned all about; the Geology of Edinburgh, King Charles and his attempts to woo the people with free wine, the 'spitting' heart on the ground at the old tollbooth, why the poorest people lived on the top floors (fires), the origins of the term shit-faced' (people throwing their refuse out the window at pub closing time, those too drunk to move out the way received a face full of shite), the sigining of the covenan which made many enemies, witch killing on the castle grounds, execution at the green market, Victoria lane, the story of the Burke murders, Greyfriar's cemetery, George MacKenzie's mausoleum (poltergeist), covenanters prison, Greyfriar's Bobby dog, story of Deacon Brodie and the story of the Stone of Destiny. It was a big day and we both really enjoyed it. We gave Hamish a 10quid tip and then hobbled to the cinema to see 'Up', which was gorgeous.
Tuesday following breakfast we walked to the National Museum of Scotland, where we spent quite a few hours looking around, it had loads of really good exhibits (photography, social history, textile and agriculture, art, medicine, sport..). Got a big cheap falafel for lunch then nipped into Forest to say hello to everyone and grab a coffee. We perused the art shop and found some beautiful prints made by a Swedish backpacker (who insists on going by an alias to remain anonymous) I bought one medium one and then we went to The Elephant House where we spent most of the arvo drinking copious amounts of tea and writing, just as J.K Rowling did when writing a little known series about a young Mr Potter.....
We walked to the other side of the city to 'The Stand', world famous comedy club, but found nothing to our liking (entertainment nor economy-wise) so walked right back to The Forest to see a band from Canada play. We sat and shared a bottle of wine by candle light and listened to their quirky tunes and stories about forest occupations in Belgium. It was great! Back at the hostel we stayed up to a ridiculous hour chatting with fellow travellers.
Wednesday found us up and checked out (somehow on time). We spent the morning on the Golden Mile (which, interestingly, is longer than 1 mile) and bought a book from Oxfam. Walked to The Forest for a last hang out, complete with coffee and nachos before hopping on the bus back to Glasgow. Once there we wandered around for a bit before getting the train to Clarkston, where we were greeted with a lovely dinner and evening with Geo and Irene.

October 22nd - 25th : Glasgow -> Welshpool (Wales) -> Hay-on-Wye -> Brecon on Beacons
Thursday we had planned to get back on the road in Vandal and head South. After having breakfast, doing a mountain of washing, catching up on emails and checking maps, it was getting into the afternoon, so we gave up on that idea and stayed in Clarkston for another night. We indulged in a spicy vegetarian haggis for dinner and the watched 'Question Time' on the BBC. A particularly important one, as it was interviewing Nick Griffiths, the leader of the BNP (a fascist / racist / backward / brain dead / generally-scum-of-the-earth type party). It was interesting and infruriating and challenging to watch without throwing things at the TV. We had a couple of beers with George before going to beddy-byes.
Friday we saw 3 countries in 1 day! We drove out of Scotland, in to the UK and then to Wales. We were up fairly early this morning and set off a bit after 10am. Driving and admiring the beautiful Autumnal colours, our first port of call was Dumfries for the Robert Burns Gardens. This proved to be impossible to park in and the traffic was making Cam a little one edge to say the least. We drove around the place 3 times but could not find anywhere, so we sadly gave up and made our way out of the crowds and continued on towards Wales. It was a nice, long leisurely drive, we stopped at a couple of little towns for snacks and ingredients for dinner. We eventually called it a night at the side of the road just outside of Hay-on-Wye.
Saturday we drove into Hay-on-Wye (taking photos at the Welcome to Wales/England signs as it's just on the border). It is a beautiful 'book town', the self procliamed 'king' lives in a castle (full of books) and runs the Honesty Bookshop, an open air shelving area where ou pick a book and put some money in a bucket if you decide to take it. The town is home to over 30 book shops and has the biggest second hand bookshop in the world. Not surprisingly, we spent the day......looking through books! We had lunch at The Granary and finished up the day with a couple of books at the Red Lion, where we chatted with the bartender for a while before making our way out of town in Vandal after nightfall, to freepark in Welshpool near the Brecon Beacons.
It's not every Sunday that your breakfast is followed by being questioned by a Welsh police officer to check that you haven't committed robberies. But, today was our lucky day! He was a lovely guy, any sense of intimidation he may have had over us was immediately quashed by his sing-song Welsh accent and his first statement of “I don't think you guys are criminals”. We told him our story and continued on our way with our crime check paperwork (and a van full of stolen goods – woohoo!) ;) After that we made our way to the town of Brecon, where we spent the day walking along the canal and perusing the town. We had a coffee and a nice long walk before heading back to Vandal and out of the town. We found a tiny winding little B road to park in. This turned out to be some sort of tractor racetrack or such-like, and a little noisy...

October 26th – 29th : Adlington (The Cotswalds) -> Egham
Monday we were back on our way to the beautiful home of Graeme, Candice and Daisy in the Cotswalds. We had a nice short drive of a couple of hours to their house where we had a nice welcome from the ladies of the house (and Louie dog). After much needed coffee, showers and catch ups, we went to Broadway were we climbed up to the Broadway tower. Louie resisted the sheep and Daisy found some lady bugs, it was a lovely view over the area from the top. We went home for some dinner and when Graeme arrived back from work we had a fun evening drinking wine and chatting.
Tuesday took us to the grand date of 7 months on the road! We started the day lazily and then went to Bourton-on-the-Water with Candice and Daisy. We had a nice cream tea, Daisy fed the ducks (she has no fear!) and then went on a tour through the laboratory and gardens of the sweet-smelling Cotswalds Perfumery. After that we drove to Swindon where Daisy, Cameron and I bought some boots for the coming winter. Home for another nice cosy evening of food and conversation, we have really enjoyed our times with these guys.
Wednesday we said our farewells and set on the road to Egham. Once there we shared our stories and some photos with Nanny, drank lots of tea and relaxed. We got some bits out of Vandal in preparation for a big clean out to sell her.
Thursday we spent the day with Mike and Sheilagh. They took us to the Fox and Hounds for a lovely lunch with cider and good conversation. After which we took a nice walk through Windsor park. This included Cam getting covered in fox poo, Sheilagh darting into the bushes and Bertie swimming in the lake (to remove above fox poo) was fun! :) Back home we caught up on our washing, hung out with Nanny and organised a weekend in London with Pablo and Sam.

October 30th – November 1st : Ol' London Town
Friday saw us at the library in the morning to use the internet, then in the evening catching the train into town. Caught the tube from Waterloo to meet up with Pablo, our Chilean friend whom we met back in Adelaide where he was learning French (confused?). He is now studying Urban Planning at LSE. We walked to a bar where Cam and I stayed for a little bit having a pint while Pablo finished a meeting. When he returned we chatted to a couple of nice philosophy grads and then jumped on a bus out to a party. The party was full of international uni students in a girls little apartment. By the time we got there everyone was ticking over nicely and we were cornered by a drunk BBC worker who kept repeatedly telling us a story of him interviewing Ike Turner, while attempting to remain upright. Another Texan kept insisting that Texas was just like Australia, while all around us people danced and debated in a small space. It was an interesting night. We caught the first morning bus (full of the sort of people you would imagine catching a 4am bus in London) back to Pablo's apartment to catch some Z's.
Saturday we had a late rise, a nice breakfast with Pablo before saying goodbye. We caught the tube back into town and walked along the Thames for a long time. We stopped into the Tate Modern for an amazing Moccha before getting in contact with Sam, a really nice guy that we had met in Bangkok. We caught the train to his place, stopping on the way for wine. He utilised his Indian travel experiences to cook us a fantastic vego curry and we had a really awesome night chatting, eating and drinking. After dinner we walked down to the area known as the Angel, which is full of pubs and restarants. As it was Halloween we shared the footpath with all sorts of characters in dress up, it was great. We stopped in at a little bar where we had some beer and hanging out before heading back to his place to play some music and sleep.
Sunday found me feeling old and knackered after 2 big nights – how sad! We had some of Sam's brownies for breakfast (he's a cookie baker) and then began the long journey home. Thanks to a combination of it being a Sunday, not connecting trains/buses and continuous line closures thanks to maintenance, it took us hours to get back to Egham. We stopped on the way to get some bits in Staines and then arrived home to tell Nanny all about our weekend, have dinner, watch a movie and get some much needed sleep!

Posted by saresNcam 10:28 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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