Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Goa

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

My reading on Goa suprised me a little when I realized that Goa is not actually a city, and not in the strict sense of the word a state either. I’m still not sure on what it’s called technically to be honest, but it amounts to a collection of towns and a capital city stretched along a coastline of about 100km or so (I believe)
We arrived at the airport, and booked a pre-paid taxi to Vagator where Kylie and myself had booked accomodation at ‘Asterix hostel’. The reading I’d done suggested that Vagator was a smallish town, with a somewhat laidback kind of crowd, and many Indian tourist families compared to the nearby town of Baga and Anjuna which were better known as party towns, with significantly more tourists clubs.
The taxi driver was great, named Smile (or something similar…) chatting about the various customers he gets. We were suprised to learn there are a large number of Russians who visit Goa – and that apparently they are the worst customers in the taxi unfortunately. We got Smile’s number just in case we needed a taxi later. Sadly, as awesome as he was, we didn’t feel it was worth calling him for a lift back to the airport later, as there were too many local taxis in Vagator willing to do it for a reasonable price as well.

We arrived at the hostel, and were taken to our 4 bed dorm, which we had to ourselves! It was in a separate wing to the main hostel, but we still had free wifi, which was a nice change from the exorbitant prices that we were charged in Pune. We endeavoured to book some tours which were run by the hostel, but unfortunately they required 4 people to happen, and we were never able to organise enough people at the hostel to actually make them happen.
The first day we spent lazily – getting some food from an American style restaurant, ironically called ‘Tin Tin’s’ (given Tin Tin has nothing to do with the US) then wandering down to the beach and back, browsing a few of the market stalls along the way. Then having dinner with a largeish group of people from the hostel.

The next day we commandeered a taxi to head in to Old Goa – what used to be a colonial PortugueseΒ  town, with many large churches in a very small area. After visiting Sa Cathedral, The Church of St. Francis of Assisi, The Basilica of Bom Jesus and a small museum, to the consternation of the taxi driver we found, we drove back to Vagator. 1 hour of driving each way for 1 hour of sightseeing. We still considered it worth it, despite the warnings we had received the previous night from a couple of girls at the hostel who considered it boring.
Dinner we had again with a bunch of people from the hostel, initially over candlelight with no power – which was out for nearly an hour. I was surprised to see police cars and helicopters start to make drive and flybys about 10 minutes after the power had gone out – I’m still curious as to why.

Morning came yet again, and we resolved to walk up to the nearby fort, which was on the map provided to us by the hostel, and was visible from the beach the first day. The hike was a short 10Β  minutes or so, to a low wall about 2-3 meters high ringing the hilltop, in a rather poor state of repair. Climbing over we wandered the central area, probably 4-5 acres of grass, taking photos of what was quite an amazing view, particularly to the north where a bay cut in to a river delta.
We then attempted to find our way down to the beach from the fort – given the map we had suggested there was such a path. Our first attempt proved fruitless, after 20 minutes of walking and ending at the top of a cliff we had to turn back, and found a different route. Although steep, particularly given we were both only wearing flip flops, we made it down eventually, to find ourselves at the beach next to the one we had visited on the first day. There were a few beach chairs arranged out the front of a cafe and we paused to grab a quick drink, before heading back to the hostel.

Our final full day in Vagator, we considered doing one of the tours again, even if just by ourselves with a taxi, but made in hindsight the right decision and opted for a relaxing day on the beach. I hadn’t even been in the water yet, which considering was a little rediculous. Despite being hesitant over the water temperature (the day was a little cooler than the previous ones) it turned out to be nice and warm, and short (and long) dips interspersed with sunbathing on deck chairs getting served drinks and food to your chair was, as hoped, nice and relaxing. Jess, one of the girls from the hostel joined us around midday and we were there until the sun started disappearing behind the haze, which existed even in Goa, and it started to get a little chillier.

Upon getting back it was about time to apply the nightly layer of mosquito repellant. Although Goa isn’t considered a super high risk of Malaira, I was still on anti-malarials. But despite this, repellant is still recommended. Quite besides the fact that the bites aren’t exactly pleasant. Interestingly they only really were a problem between about 6-8pm – around twilight. During that time you might get 20 bites in 5 minutes, but outside of those hours I wasn’t even wearing repellant most of the time and didn’t get bitten at all!

Given we were heading off to the airport the next day at 4am or so, we considered ringing Smile to book him in, but given all the local taxis as mentioned, we ended up asking the driver who had taken us to Old Goa earlier. For a slight premium due to the time of day (and fair enough too!) he agreed. Kylie and myself did end up having slightly too big of a night given the time of the flight in the morning, but when in Goa….
We still made it up in time to catch our epic sequence of flights to get to Amritsar, so it was all good.

Pune

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

So, I was writing blog posts, but when internet was available didn’t really have time to post them.
I’ll get them up slowly!


The trip to Pune was uneventful. While it’s close geographically, about 100km as the crow flies, it’s significantly higher up, and the road winds up through the hills for quite some time. The drive took nearly 3 hours total.

Our driver gave us a small tour of sorts on the way in, pointing out some sights and landmarks. Pune has a large military presence, and this shows in particular how clean the city is compared to Mumbai (although still some way to go compared to Australian cities)
We drove up to a hotel, and the porters started taking our bags… but the hotel name didn’t match what we’d been told by Vanessa. A quick phone call sorted it out – our actual hotel was just next door, so he didn’t miss by much.

St. Laurn was a much higher class of accomodation to Mumbai. To be expected given it was organised by the bride to be for a large number of visiting family and friends. I believe we had 3 floors of the hotel booked out entirely.
Being New Years Eve, there was a party planned at one of Sunny (the groom-to-be)’s families place, so I had a nap before some cars were organised to ferry us over.

The party was quite an experience. Bollywood music blasting, some amazing Indian nibbles and Kingfisher strong – a rather dangerous beer of 8% alcohol content.
Shortly before midnight hit, one of Vanessa’s friends, Sid, convinced us to have a shot of some cashew liquor called Fenne (although I’m not sure on the spelling). Bad mistake though, it tasted absolutely foul, and upon checking, we still have no idea how strong it actually was – the percentage was not labelled!
New Years hit, hugs all round, more Bollywood dancing and eventually time for sleep.

The next day we set out (a little bleary eyed) to hunt for some outfits for the next night – an evening of song dance and food as a pre-wedding celebration.
Sunny and Vanessa joined Kylie, Toby (another friend) and myself to a few stores.
We travelled by auto rickshaw, or ‘rick’, a mode of transport that Kylie and myself had not mustered the courage to try in Mumbai (helped by the fact that they are restricted to only certain areas of the city). The little three wheeled tuk tuk’s as they are also known are little two stroke three wheeled zippy things, with room for three on a back seat behind the driver. In Goa, unless you hire a private vehicle, there aren’t really any such thing as normal taxi’s so there’s little alternative. The experience was not as traumatic as one might have expected, the only issue being the lack of english most of the drivers possess. Luckily during our time in Pune, there was almost always someone on hand attending the wedding who knew enough Hindi to get us safely to the destination.

After being regailed of Toby’s exploits when picking his Shyrvani the previous day (apparently taking over an hour and going through almost every single one in the shop) I was slightly apprehensive… Kylie however picked the first dress, and after looking through about 10 or so Shyrvani’s myself, I picked the second one I tried on, a green and gold number, together with a gold scarf.
Alterations were included in the price and we left it there to get taken in somewhat to pick up the next day.

Next stop was some shoes, with sandals for everyone!

Later I had one of the more bizzare experiences so far. Some more friends of Sunny and Vanessa were catching lunch at ‘Phoenix mall’ so we grabbed a couple of ricks and headed over. After walking through a metal detector and a quick bag check, it seemed as though we had just left the country and arrived back in Australia. The mall was almost identical to any in Melbourne. You could be mistaken for thinking you’d just walked in to Chadstone. It did really hammer home the difference in wealth between the rich and the poor. I imagine the security on the door isn’t just to stop security threats but also to weed out those who don’t really have the money to be there.
Some lunch and shopping were had, before headin back to the hotel to get ready for a ‘night of celebration and dancing’.

Wearing my new shyrvani, scarf and sandals, the guys hung out on the roof of the hotel for a while as the girls had to arrive first apparently. We arrived at a rather standard wedding reception type hall, with some Hindi additions, such as a wedding seat positioned on the stage.
The night started with the bride, groom, and some friends done an interpretive dance of how Sunny and Vanessa met, in a Hindi style of course, together with an amusing commentary. Then the night was essentially one big Hindi dance party, with a buffet meal thrown in. By now I began to recognize a few of the current Hindi pop songs, even if I didn’t know the lyrics at all.

The next day Kylie and myself attended a Hindu blessing ceremony for the groom. Together with his mother and father, and a Hindu priest, many offerings of fruit, nuts and rice were given, although I was only able to hear occasional explanations as to what was going on – each of the major gods, Shiva, Vishnu and Brama were asked for their blessing, together with each of the star signs.
At the conclusion of this, apparently it is a tradition for the groom’s clothes to be ripped off by the females in the room… Sunny managed to save his jeans (although sacraficed a few belt loops) but his shirt was ripped beyond repair. The first of many different traditions we encountered as the week continued.

The next day was the wedding proper. With some time to kill in the morning, a few of us decided to catch a movie in the morning as the ceremony didn’t start until 4pm or so. We headed to the nearest cinema which was showing ‘The Hobbit’ at a reasonable time and paid the equivalent of about AU$1 for the showing!
The cinema was actually much the same as any Australian cinema, except for the 5 minute interruption near the start of the movie as the sound suddenly stopped working. Unfortunately, being the epic-ly long movie that it is, we were forced to leave before it finished, so I’m still going to have to cach it once I get back to Australia!
The wedding time arrived, and we arrived at the Catholic church it was being held at. Again, the church was much the same as any Australian one, although an above average one. The ceremony was a full mass, with communion, although it was interesting to note the small differences in how the mass proceded, such as the response to ‘The Lord be with you’ being ‘And in your heart’ as opposed to ‘And also with you’ I’m accustomed to.
The ceremony was lovely, although the two video cameras hired to film it had some rather giant lamps on them, leaving vision a little blurry after they faced at you for any period of time.

The reception afterwards was right next to the hotel we were staying at – extremely convenient! After the standard speeches, the night also turned into a Hindi dance party, together with the buffet from the other night, but with the addition of a now newly married couple rightly claiming the spotlight (literally, given the previously mentioned video cameras!)
The night concluded with us crashing Toby’s room for some drinks after the reception ended.

The next day we had a quiet lunch at Sunny’s aunts place again. Some people were rather late, somewhat understandable given the previous night. Getting up was a little bit of a struggle myself. The food was lovely again, although I was somewhat amused to see that even the nicest houses in India still have their amusing differences at times from western ones – the fans being used did not have plugs; rather the wires were put directly into the wall sockets! Completely safe :\

Early morning and we shared a taxi with another wedding guest to the airport, and we were off to Goa!

More Mumbai

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

So I’ve been stuck with very limited internet the past few days due to extremely expensive internet.
For some reason it seems that the more expensive the hotel, the more they charge for internet… go figure.

Mumbai! Our second day consisted of a trip to Elephantia island – a small island about an hour boat ride from Mumbai proper. It’s known for a few cave temples cut out of the rock a short walk from the pier. The trip out was rather interesting. Mumbai is swaithed in smog most of the time, and out on the boat you couldn’t see more than a couple of kilometers into the distance. There is a huge number of boats just sitting in the harbour, and they would appear out of the smog and fade into the distance…

The caves themselves where personally underwhelming. Perhaps due to comparing them to Egypt… also despite signage saying there was a free tour guide, we couldn’t find one, and we didn’t feel like taking one of the random touts up on their offer πŸ˜›
The lunch we had after the caves was awesome though. Just a random little restaurant, but awesome food.

On getting back we did a small walking tour from the Lonely planet book, just seeing some of the local architecture. Saw a few museums and galleries which we resolved to come back to the next day.
After arriving back at the hotel, we decided to go to Jura beach – reasonably nearby to our hotel, and found a random asian restaurant, just off the beach. Very westernized and comparatively expensive, but was still quite nice. The beach itself was absolutely packed.
It felt kind of awesome to be able to actually direct the taxi home afterwards.

The next day we headed in to check out the modern art gallery. It was showing an exhibition of the artist Ramkinkar Baij, apparently the father of Indian modern art – there was a wide variety of paintings and sculptures. Having the entire gallery showing all one artist was quite interesting to be able to follow the progression of his art.
We then crossed the road to the museum. The presenter of the audio guide at the museum had a very sly sense of humour. Hightlight was the hindu sculpture collection. There was also an ancient egypt visiting exhibition, but having been to egypt we skipped through it pretty quickly.

We then caught a quick taxi ride to Haji Ali mosque – a mosque built on a rock which is only accessible by a causeway at low tide. It was extremely crowded, almost entirely with locals. We didn’t enter the mosque itself, as most of it was under construction at the time anyway.

We then attempted to get a taxi to the Mumbai Hard Rock Cafe – as Kylie attempts to go to one in every country she visits. The driver, after saying he knew what we meant, then proceeded to drive around in circles for the next 20 minutes, before eventually asking someone who did know. It was rather empty, but the staff there were awesome. It seemed the staff outnumbered the patrons about 3-1.

The next morning, we grabbed breakfast at the little cafe pointed out to us on the first day, which was unfortunately shut. Was sad we only just found it open on the last day we had in Mumbai, because it was actually awesome! But our ride to Pune turned up (organized by Vanessa, Kylie’s friend about to get married) and off we went!

Arrival in Mumbai

Friday, December 28th, 2012

More travel adventures, so more blog post time!

Leaving Melbourne at the civilized hour of 1am Kylie and myself jetted off to Mumbai via Singapore.
First time I’ve been to Singapore airport, my only other ‘hub’ destination has been Doha in Qatar. It is massive…. but we didn’t have time for shopping as there was only two hours between our flights! Rather convienient really. I’d gone and purchased a bluetooth keyboard back in Melbourne knowing this – although it hurt me to know that I probably would have payed half the price in Singapore airport.

My lack of airplane sleeping skills proven yet again, we arrived in Mumbai at 10.30 am local time, with both of us rather tired and jet lagged. Luckily customs and passport control was easy, as was our airport transfer to Anjali Inn – spotted him, jumped in a mini bus, and there!
It wasn’t until later in the day when we wanted some food we found the disadvantages of the accomodation we’d chosen. Namely the distance from any tourist attractions – or decent (safe?) food.
A one hour taxi ride into the city (for a princely sum of 500 rupees – equivalent about AU$15 and we were in the middle of the ‘touristy’ area of Mumbai, found some food from Lonely planet guide, and had a bit of a wander – buying a pair of thongs each, as we’d both forgotten to bring any ourselves.
Then, no more than 3 hours later, another hour long taxi ride back to the hotel/inn/something with some food for later.

Kylie has crashed, and I’m typing this, wondering how we’ll go with Elephant Island tomorrow, with more hour long taxi rides to look forward to.
Remind me to book further in advance for Mumbai – there were two great locations in the centre of southern Mumbai, but unfortunately neither was available for the entire three days we are spending here. In hindsight should have just stayed for 2 nights at one and the 3rd night at the other. Worth the hassle for the MUCH reduced travel time. Hindsight is 20/20 though.

A park bench adventure among other things

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Salzburg was cute. Went on a biking tour around the ‘Sound of Music’ movie locations. This was after wandering for 2 hours in the rain to find a place to stay – with almost everywhere booked out.
Onward to Munich, and having to stay an extra night due to Dachau concentration camp actually being closed on Mondays. Involved a night each in two different hostels due to how busy they all were! The camp was sobering, but somehow disconnected from the atrocities that were once committed there – given how clean and touristic it is now.
Down to Fussen to visit Neuchwanstien and it’s sister castle – built by a crazy king in the 1800s who wanted a medieval castle, now the inspiration for the Disney fairytale castle. I turned up at 9pm and couldn’t find a bed after an hour… and receptions started closing. I slept on a bench outside the tourist information centre.

Amusingly that sleep was probably better than the night train to Venice (after a stop by Munich to pick up a laptop charger I’d left behind – and of course a visit to an Augustiner beer hall)

Venice while touristic is amazing. Also the most expensive place I’ve visited yet. Wandering lost through the streets was fun, finding markets churches and streets dead ending onto canals at every turn. It was even fun to wander in the rain.

Florence was nice – like a quieter and smaller version of Vienna. More friendly and of course full of gelati. Saw the orginal David, and a replica on a hill. Ran into Michelle from Melbourne who happened to also be going to Cinque Terra when I was.

Cinque Terra – simply beautiful. The coastline itself is quite spectacular, if not entirely unique, however no other coastline like this has 5 small historic and rustic towns built into them. The 7 hour hike between them was breathtaking and full of photo ops, gelati, stairs and amazing pasta and pesto.

I’m beginning to dispair of finding time to catch up with 3 weeks of blog posts! Hopefully my memory doesn’t fail too soon.

A quick update

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Been too busy to write full entries so a quick run down on the last couple of weeks.
After Switzerland I spent two nights with Robert – the guy I met in Egypt. Watched some football of course – being the finals weekend.

Then I headed over to Rothenberg o d Taube (lit. Rothenburg above the Taube (river)) a quaint medieval walled village full of tourists.

Then 3 days ferrying down the Rhein – staying in a castle, a hostel, and a cute little bed and breakfast run by a woman who knew next to no english. The Rhein (not Rhine as I keep misspelling while I type this) has castles galore – oftentimes you could see two at once, on various hills overlooking the river.
I visited Rheinfels (one of the largest castles in Germany – now a ruin) and Burg Eltz (one of the best preserved castles in Germany – still owned by the Eltz family) both were amazing.
Then onwards to Berlin, where I wish I had’ve spent longer than 2 nights, but I’d already booked Prague, where I ended up staying 4 nights. Both amazing cities for their history.
Now I’m chilling in Vienna. Or rather boiling, while fighting off oversized slow mosquitoes. The city itself is amazing architecturally. For me it’s the sheer volume of magnificent buildings – someone who knows what they are talking about might say there is no variety or something, but I don’t know any better!
Tomorrow I’m off to Salzburg, day after I may head back to Munich so I can drop by the Dachau concentration camp – which I missed on my first visit – as I need to visit at least one.
Then on to catch a few more castles in the south of Germany, and then in to Italy finally, where I hope to spend the majority of my remaining time in Europe. Venice first, and we’ll see from there.

So, yes I am still alive, and when I get the time I’ll write a bit more about the places I’ve already been =)

Switzerland

Monday, July 19th, 2010

With my tickets all reserved already the trip to Interlaken in Switzerland was relatively straight forward, if very long. Barcelona -> Montpellier (France) -> Geneva (Switzerland) -> Bern -> Interlaken. I think I left around 9am, and got in to Interlaken around 8.30pm (As the game was playing)
Armed with a list of a few hostels I again set about finding myself a place to stay without having booked anywhere. My experience in Paris was stressful, mainly because I didn’t have a good map. Interlaken was small enough and I’d made sure I had better maps πŸ˜› The first hostel I tried came with great reviews, and the bar was absolutely packed for the game. Unfortunately they were booked out, so I wandered off to the next one, which did πŸ™‚ Annoyingly Switzerland still uses their own Swiss Francs (which is fair enough – Switzerland has a great financial history of being independent – how many movies mention this? :P) so I took a stab at what I’d need for 3 nights, which worked out to within 2 francs!
I was planning on going up to Gimmelwald in the alps, but the last cable car (which you need to get up there!) goes at 6pm, so a night in Interlaken it had to be.
I watched the remainder of the game, had some McDonalds because everywhere else was shut, got some sleep, then got up early (9am) to head on to Gimmelwald. Walking to the station the scenery was already amazing, and paraglider after paraglider kept landing in the field I was walking past.
Getting some picnic-y stuff from the co-op I got the train, then the bus, then finally the cable car up a sheer cliff to Gimmelwald. The scenery kept getting better. Mountains back home have NOTHING on the swiss alps. Cliff faces over a kilometer high, rushing creeks everywhere to be seen from the snow capped mountains yet to melt after what was apparently quite a long winter.

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08-Jul-2010 13:23, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 8.0, 6.2mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 100

After a wander around the town, and a quick snack, I decided to try my luck at the local youth hostel. I had emailed them a couple of days ago but figured a walk in was worth a shot. My heart sank as I walked in – the receptionist was talking on the phone ‘Sorry we’re all booked out tonight…. Yes tomorrow too, sorry’. I asked anyway and she was like ‘no we have 6 beds actually – we get a lot of walk ins, and just had a cancellation of a group of 4’.
I found this quite amusing, but I have got the picture that a lot of hostels have a similar principle and always save a couple of unreserved seats for the single stragglers without a booking. OK sure the hostel was full of about 60 high school kids from the states,but I could put up with that.
Happy to have somewhere to sleep I appreciated the scenery all the more, and took a quick snap from the patio to upload to facebook πŸ˜›

From the porch

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From the porch

Gimmelwald has escaped development due to a supposedly bogus ‘avalanche zone’ classification – even though the nearby town of Murren has been significantly built up and is actually higher up the mountain. Lots of mountain huts, many hay barns, the occasional bed and breakfast ‘pension’ and a multitude of romantic little chalets. It’s hay making season at the moment, with glorified lawnmowers and hay trucks not much bigger than a car scooting around the place.

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08-Jul-2010 18:34, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 2.7, 6.2mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 100

To get some supplies for my planned hike up the Scilthorn the next day, I headed to Murren and stocked up on some ham cheese tomatoes and pears. Unfortunately they were out of bread (reasonably priced bread at least), so I had to make a trip via Murren the next day anyway. The walk from Gimmelwald to Murren is advertised as 50 minutes. The walk back is advertised as 30. In reality it’s about 20 each way, along a sealed track, dodging the occasional motorbike or hay truck. Down a few switchbacks and I was back at my hostel. Grabbed a pizza and a beer and sat outside to avoid the school children πŸ˜›

And so hiking time. The map the hostel had given me said it was about 5 hours. The first sign I saw said 7. By Murren that was down to 5. It took me maybe 4 and a half. It took me a while to realize it, but I was actually walking up a ski run! They had barriers and stuff up to stop the wayward skiers from barreling over the edge. As I got higher there was still snow around! I hadn’t expected to be going that high myself. Before long I actually had to walk through some, which my shoes weren’t exactly designed for, but it was still mid 20s so the small amounts that did get in them dried out pretty quickly.

More snow walking :(

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More snow walking πŸ™09-Jul-2010 14:32, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 8.0, 6.2mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100

It turns out that the peak I thought I was climbing was actually hiding the one behind it which I *was* climbing. Up and up, beyond the tree line so it was just grass rocks snow and water. The path was well marked and eventually I came to the final leg – a narrow spit with sheer drops each side for about 30 meters and then up to the restaurant on the peak of the mountain.
The restaurant had been built as the cable car to the top of the mountain was finished in the 1960s, and is (or was? it wasn’t clear) the highest revolving restaurant in the world, at just over 3000 metres.

The top in sight. And a paraglider!

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The top in sight. And a paraglider!09-Jul-2010 14:45, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 8.0, 6.2mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 100

If it looks vaguely familiar you may have seen the James Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” – where this restaurant was a major setting. The film was actually shot here before the restaurant opened to the public in 1969, and it was actually ‘destroyed’ in the movie. They have a room where at the press of a button you can watch sections from the movie which include the restaurant.
Having some more of my picnic I then started down, and followed a different sign, which actually had Gimmelwald on it, and a time of only 3 and a half hours! The path was much steeper, switchbacking across a grassy rocky hill, crossing a creek occasionally. This was obviously a less travelled track, narrower, and gown over with grass at times and flowers everywhere – not a ski run πŸ˜›

Flowers everywhere

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Flowers everywhere09-Jul-2010 13:10, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 8.0, 6.2mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 100

Getting near the bottom of the hill and I had two choices – Gimmelwald in 1 hour, or Gimmelwald in 1 hour and a half via ‘Spruce’ – which I vaguely remembered from conversation the previous night was a waterfall. Easy choice – and was rewarded by the track going behind and around an amazing waterfall hidden away in what is presumably a spruce forest πŸ˜›

Coming out of the forest and there was Gimmelwald spread below me.
Turns out I’d missed the quicker route in the morning because I’d taken the ‘shortcut’ towards Murren. Given I needed bread anyway, and it led to a nice circuit rather than retracing my steps it worked out OK. But only 3 and a half hours back vs. the 5 or so on the way up.

Back at the hostel, and Lasagne time! I had judged my money well and after the lasagne had just enough swiss franc to pay for the bus and train back to Interlaken – but not enough for the cable car. I’d already decided to hike down from Gimmelwald to the bus stop anyway, and didn’t find out just how close I was to this until I got to the bus stop at the bottom cable car station. It was a nice hour walk, past a whole lot of extremely high waterfalls – not as much water as Spruce, but falling 3 or more times the distance! When it joined up with the main creek the water was this strange bluish-white.

Amazingly clear and amazingly flat

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Amazingly clear and amazingly flat09-Jul-2010 17:24, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 8.0, 6.2mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 100

Not just from the rapids – I think the colour is also due to the fact it’s molten snow. It was a very strange colour for water.

The previous night I’d looked up various routes to get to Munich from Interlaken – there was no direct train, and it really depended what time I got to places as to what as quicker. Getting to Interlaken and using the terminals there it turned out I only needed one change though. Going via a town called Karlshrue onwards to Munich I headed!

Barcelona

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Each new city makes me realise how unfriendly Paris is for tourists. Barcelona, follow signs to metro, bang there’s a map you can grab, buy a T10 – ten tickets for the price of about 6, and headed off to the hostel I’d booked a couple of days ago. The reviews on this one were particularly good saying they ran sangria / tapas / barbecue nights – a great way to meet people no doubt.
True to their word, when I arrived there were signs up for a barbecue that night. So I got settled in (Hooray for free wifi again), wandered down to the supermarket to get some beers and hung outside on the patio chatting to people while we waited for our food πŸ˜› Ended up running into Dan – one of the Americans from Madrid! Although we didn’t end up talking much.
The barbecue was brilliant. Only 4 euros I was expecting to have to cook and stuff, but the staff did it all for us – didn’t even have to do dishes! Although I did stack some at least. In the process plans were made to head out to a club in the city called Apollo. However, being Spain, we couldn’t leave just yet and had a rather tame game of kings – with no cup – instead just a version of ‘I never’ with 5 fingers, so after you had done 5 of the things you lost and had to scull. The questions were not exactly revelatory though.
When we finally did head out, we just made it for the last metro train – at 12.30 – which was lucky because the hostel was a fair way out of town. Get into the city and spent probably an hour wandering the streets asking people for Apollo. Everyone kept saying it was too early for it, but we got there about 1.30 and queued for 20 minutes, paid 10 euros and headed inside. The music was apparently ‘alternative’ – but was worse than some of the clubs I’ve been to back home – sure they put on some OK songs which I guess could be called alternative, but they mixed them badly and there wasn’t really much of a dancing atmosphere. Someone who actually knew the place then dragged us down and around this strange path outside the building and back in to a more house music sort of place which was a bit better.
We ended up catching a taxi home around 6. Heading up the huge row of steps to the hostel we ran into two girls also from the hostel. Not feeling entirely up for bed yet we ended up joining them.

Random group on the stairs at 7am

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Random group on the stairs at 7am06-Jul-2010 07:23, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 2.7, 6.2mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 160

Mandarins, I had to have one.

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Mandarins, I had to have one.06-Jul-2010 07:16, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 5.6, 24.8mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 400

I got one

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I got one06-Jul-2010 07:18, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 2.7, 6.2mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 400

Their english wasn’t brilliant being from Germany, but we seemed to get along, and before I knew it another couple of hours had passed and plans were made to meet around lunchtime to go do some sightseeing – specifically La Sagrada Familia – the famous temple by Gaudi. Silly me, despite going to bed at 7.30 am couldn’t sleep that well and woke up at 10.30 and got up anyway. After some breakfast – cereal and milk left by previous people in the hostel and so in the ‘free’ basket – I caught up with some internets before Anja and Wiebke (the two German girls from the random morning on the stairs) turned up, and we headed into the city. Wiebke was Anja’s younger cousin – only 15 – and was having a short holiday with her during their summer break.
We attempted to catch the bus into the city – as the receptionist at the hostel had said it takes us right past La Sagrada Familia. However, it was extremely difficult to follow where the bus was going – as we didn’t have the route on a map. We eventually figured we’d gone too far and got off to find a metro station and get back on track. Sadly La Sagrada Familia was mostly covered in scaffolding, but it was still a very interesting piece of architecture.

Temple de La Sagrada Familia

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Temple de La Sagrada Familia06-Jul-2010 14:53, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 8.0, 6.2mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 100

Looks like fruit on a pole!

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Looks like fruit on a pole!06-Jul-2010 14:55, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 5.6, 24.8mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 100

The front

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The front06-Jul-2010 15:00, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 8.0, 6.2mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 100

Conversation was interesting at times when I said something they didn’t understand, and Anja occasionally having to translate for Wiebke, but it was fun and after La Sagrada Familia we continued through the city, visiting a few more Gaudi buildings, and going inside one – Casa Batilo. By myself I probably wouldn’t have – as it did cost 13 euro, however I was very glad they convinced me. The architecture was like nothing I had seen before – every single surface was an art piece and almost no straight lines in the entire building.

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06-Jul-2010 15:57, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 2.7, 6.2mm, 0.05 sec, ISO 640

Casa Batilo (another by Gaudi)

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Casa Batilo (another by Gaudi)06-Jul-2010 15:44, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 2.7, 6.2mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 100

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06-Jul-2010 16:00, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 2.7, 6.2mm, 0.013 sec, ISO 400

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06-Jul-2010 16:00, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 2.7, 6.2mm, 0.02 sec, ISO 160

Through the glass (audio guide told us to!)

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Through the glass (audio guide told us to!)06-Jul-2010 16:22, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 2.7, 6.2mm, 0.02 sec, ISO 100

The audio tour they had was brilliant- I got it in English and the two girls got it in German obviously. It was amusing to see that the english speaking often finished before the German – I guess that means english is more efficient? πŸ˜›

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06-Jul-2010 16:30, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 2.7, 6.2mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 160

The rooftop

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The rooftop06-Jul-2010 16:31, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 8.0, 6.2mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 100

I was there :P I like this one actually.

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I was there πŸ˜› I like this one actually.06-Jul-2010 16:34, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 8.0, 6.2mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 100

Arches

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Arches06-Jul-2010 16:40, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 2.7, 6.2mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 100

After the casa (literally ‘house’) the two girls wanted a break, and so McDonalds it was. Apparently almost every meal they had had so far in Spain was McDonalds, which was slightly sad – we fixed this up later in the day however.
We then took some advice from the hostel receptionist (who had actually marked off an entire walking route for me!) and wandered down La Rambla.

La Rambla

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La Rambla06-Jul-2010 20:15, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 2.7, 6.2mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 200

World famous, I could immediately see why. The streets were lined with static art performers — but not just the standard painted statues, but other weird and ridiculous things such as pirates, Indians, headless horsemen, conquistadors and Romans. My favourite was a table with a mannequin sitting next to it. The mannequin was missing it’s head, and painted all bloody, while the table had a persons head sicking out of it – as though it were the mannequins – obviously it was someone sitting underneath the table with their head out,but it was very cleverly done. A close second was a standing man with a fake arm holding a cane attached to his feet – as though he were leaning on it slightly. His actual arm was instead inside a fake head – which looked nearly identical to the actual persons. As such it looked like the man had two heads, one coming out of his torso.
I wasn’t game to take any photos as obviously they expected money if you did.

Ew...

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Ew…06-Jul-2010 18:00, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 2.7, 6.2mm, 0.02 sec, ISO 100

The girls got some postcards and we continued down, past portrait artists and buskers to the christopher columbus column at the end of the road.

Christopher Columbus

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Christopher Columbus06-Jul-2010 18:19, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 8.0, 6.2mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 100

Wandering out onto a boardwalk which goes to the mall, we sat on the edge,dangling or feet and wondering at the very strange buoys floating nearby – in the shape of a boy, with their hands on their groin and a red star painted there.

Odd buoy...  Or is it boy?

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Odd buoy… Or is it boy?06-Jul-2010 19:08, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 5.0, 20.18mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 100

The girls then wanted to find a garden maze which was in their tour book. Having nothing better to do I decided to follow, and we headed off on the metro yet again. It was a good thing I’d got my T10 after all. Wandering around near the station we figured fairly quickly that we had the wrong address – and the maze didn’t actually have an address associated with it- only a street name -not even a metro station nearby. We scoured the map, and nearly giving up I finally spotted the street name in the far top right corner of the sizeable map. It looked as though the garden itself was off it! Undeterred we headed to the nearest metro station and wandered up the road,eyes peeled,and did eventually find it – at 8pm when it shut at 9. We luckily still had time to complete the labyrinth and headed back into the city for a Chinese restaurant the girls had found on google maps.

The maze

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The maze06-Jul-2010 20:15, Apple iPhone 3G, 2.8

Me

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Me06-Jul-2010 20:17, Apple iPhone 3G, 2.8

The girls - Anja and Wiebke

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The girls – Anja and Wiebke06-Jul-2010 20:19, Apple iPhone 3G, 2.8

After determining said restaurant did not actually exist – at least not at the address they had, we settled on a pizza restaurant and had (surprise!) pizza, together with a nice bottle of Italian Pinot Grigo. Exhausted we headed back to the hostel, to exchange facebook and email details and then to bed.

Lagos to Barcelona

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

So after some breakfast I caught the train back to Lisbon. Strangely this time I had to pay a reservation, even though on the way down the conductor had just accepted my Eurail pass. 4 Euros is hardly a big deal though.
I arrived at the Lisbon hostel around 4, and the guy who does reception was actually there! I explained, he got me the thongs – which he wasn’t sure about and had just left on the floor in the room, and then said I was welcome to stay for the day until my train to Madrid came! Great! Free wifi while I wait! πŸ˜› I had considered going to do some more sightseeing but the tower I wanted to go to shuts at 5 so it wasn’t really worth it.
The hostel was empty except for the receptionist at the time… so I did some planning, and caught up on some blogging. I had hoped to meet some of the people who had been here before, and eventually, around 6.30, Serina (from UK) and Regina who had been to the castle with us turned up. Needless to say they were a little surprised, but happy luckily πŸ˜›
We chatted, ate some food, and Regina then had to leave to catch a bus to Madrid. The Australian girls then turned up as well, I cooked some more frozen pizza in a microwave, and ate some of Serina’s breakfast quota of bread beans cheese and ham toasted sandwiches (I wasn’t going to but she insisted! I say breakfast quota jokingly though πŸ˜› ) Then off to catch the sleeper train back to Madrid. Not after a facebook add here and there which hadn’t quite happened when there earlier.
At the station in Lisbon, and low and behold, I run into Andrew and Will again. However, after my horrendous experience on the way to Lisbon I’d booked a couchette this time, whereas they were sticking with the seats. Quick hellos, a phone number passed on for the hostel I was staying at as they hadn’t planned anything and we jumped on the train. The couchette was great. At 31,90 euros (they use a comma instead of a decimal point, weird) vs. the 7 for the seat, it was comparable to a hostel bed and MUCH more comfortable. Had a chat to the guys in the cabin, wrote some more blog stuff, and dropped right off! None of this waking up 10 times in the night with a stiff neck. I can’t imagine I’ll do it every time, but it was actually a better sleep than some hostels – consistent background noise which was relatively quiet. Lagos was unsurprisingly noisy at nights πŸ˜›
However the train was running nearly an hour late, and as such I missed my connection to Barcelona. 10 euros down the drain, and as the next two trains were booked out, a 3 hour wait to boot. Made it there eventually though, an uneventful train ride.

Lagos

Friday, July 9th, 2010

It turned out that Will, and a friend off his, Andrew, both from Christchurch, were also heading down there. They were cutting it fine with the train time though so I left before them to get to the station. At Tunes, where we had to change trains I did run into them again – turns out they had made it with about a minute to spare. Bit close for my liking. We arrived in Lagos and headed our separate ways however – they were going up to a festival out of town somewhat, I had booked a hostel in town. We were both heading for Barcelona on the same day as well, so it was possible we’d run into each other again.
It was clear immediately upon arrival this was a tourist town only. Walking from the station and there were booths everywhere promoting various water sports, or trips to the Grottoes. I found my hostel easily enough – it was a large affair, seemed to be condusive to group bookings, and as I discovered later that night – condusive to drunken parties.
For the day I headed back into town and found a nice little Indian restaurant and had an ‘Indian Kebab’ – basically curry on nahn bread – then found a bar to watch the football. I think it was the Holland game, but the one later that night – Uruguay v Ghana – stole the headlines.
Later in the afternoon I headed to the train station to book tickets to Barcelona. Amusingly I ran into Andrew and Will again, they were doing the same thing. We chatted and they left to go back to their festival, I found a supermarket for some frozen pizza.
With my cooked pizza I was lazy and watched the football at the hostel in the evening.
One BIG problem with the hostel was you had to pay for WiFi – this was new for me… I paid for a couple, but at 1 euro an hour it wasn’t something I wanted to keep doing indefinitely. At some other hostels, hanging out in the common area surfing the internet was an OK way to meet people amusingly enough.
I was debating going to bed early (meaning midnight), but the 3 guys in my room – friends from Sydney – invited me down to the courtyard, and I had a couple of drinks there before heading out to a bar. Bars in Lagos…. wow. Firstly it seemed as though there were 10 on every street. Secondly – no security. Thirdly – beer bongs in a bar?! As we were walking there one of the guys said – ‘we’re finding you a girl tonight! got any condoms?’ Gives you a bit of an idea… my reply ‘Sorry mate, girl back home – you can have two for me.’ For the three in my room (whose names I don’t remember and don’t really care) it seemed shots where the go. Three shots later and it was my round, yet somehow they had all disappeared. I found that a little strange – normally it’s the reverse. I made a token effort to find them but I think they may have realised I wasn’t quite down with Lagos’s night scene – at least the parts of it I’d seen so far.
I have no issue with going to a bar and having a couple of drinks etc. But it seemed as thought he sole purpose of it was to pick up chicks / guys (depending on your preference) – not just to have fun. Their reply would no doubt have been ‘but that IS fun’
Anyway, I headed back to the hostel, and never saw the guys while they were awake again.

I got up relatively early (omg 9am!) and grabbed some breakfast, then headed out for a walk. Lagos may not have a nightlife to my liking, but it certainly has a coastline! I wandered past countless beaches, and essentially climbed down cliffs to get to some more.

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03-Jul-2010 16:42, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 8.0, 6.2mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 100

The grottoes

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The grottoes03-Jul-2010 16:27, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 2.7, 6.2mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100

Annoyingly I had left my thongs back in Lisbon though… The best one I found involved the most cliff scrambling, getting to the bottom to discover it completely empty. Around to the left I found a few caves, and the tide was low enough, so I went in one and had a short nap… which turned into a longer nap for about an hour.

Caves

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Caves03-Jul-2010 15:24, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 8.0, 6.2mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 100

View from my cave

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View from my cave03-Jul-2010 15:31, Canon Canon PowerShot A3000 IS, 8.0, 6.2mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 100

In that time only two more people turned up – a young couple in their canoe, who upon reaching the beach promptly undressed. Definitely more nudists here than back home I think. I did skip one beach when I saw at least 12 or so…
Unfortunately the peace at this one was ruined eventually by a small cruise ship turning up, which proceeded to play loud music and have someone sing happy birthday and run drinking games via a loudspeaker. I moved on. I made it far enough that I was back at a big beach again, and so found a cafΓ© and grabbed some lunch. Of course the football was on there too, and I watched the first half of Germany v. Argentina. Silly me decided to keep walking at the end of the first half though, wish I had’ve stayed to watch the demolishing they gave them at the end. Ah well.
I took the inland shortcut back, intentionally getting somewhat lost, and in the process ran across what seems like a roller-blade time-trial. It was actually quite organised with a loudspeaker and everything. The track was a small obstacle course – and little Portuguese children were set up in pursuit fashion, racing around with parents cheering them on. It was somewhat unexpected – Lagos had seemed almost entirely made up of tourists until then.
Earlier in the day I had gone to pay for more wifi access and the receptionist let me in on a little ‘secret’ – that just down the road there is free wifi on the street. I wasn’t able to find it in the morning, but on the way back I spotted it – a ‘cultural centre’ with a courtyard, which was just open to the public with free wifi. There was a bar but it didn’t seem as though a purchase was needed to just hang out there. Not quite feeling the Lagos vibe, I spent the better part of the evening there, and did have a beer or two just to be polite πŸ™‚
For dinner I took a recommendation from the little tourist map – and found a 5 euro meal that was full size. Great stuff, and I did talk to a few people, but decided in the end I’d get another early night, head to Lisbon earlier in the day and try and get my thongs back, instead of spending more time in a town I hadn’t really enjoyed so far.