Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Alright.  Where were we?  Oh, right.  The part where we actually started using the Eurail passes.  Pretty awesome.  So.  From Basel, we went to Hamburg.  Not bad.  It would appear that being on the train overnight is better than being on the bus overnight.  Though I can’t say I got a ton of sleep, it was still probably better than bus-sleep.  Anyways.  Got into Hamburg on Wednesday morning, August 11, for anyone who’s trying to keep track of those sorts of things.  Right away, we went up to the international ticket office.  We waited a bit in line, and then got to the front of the queue (queue… awesome word.  Really) where we talked to the ticket agent.  Who, it turns out, didn’t really like the game we’re playing.  Mostly because she didn’t understand the rules, or at the very least, couldn’t get her head around the fact that we actually didn’t care where we went, so long as it was overnight.  So… we looked at our map, and then we looked at the departures board, and decided to go to Copenhagen.  The train was leaving in 5 minutes.  We made it, JUST.  And then we spent the next five hours sitting on the floor or the train, in what we’ve dubbed “third class”.

First and second class are easy.  Third is on the floor.  Fourth is in the luggage rack.  I don’t think there’s a fifth.

Well, five hours, except for the part where they took the train on the ferry.  And yes, I am absolutely serious.  There are rails built into the deck on the ferry, and they just roll the whole train on, passengers included.  SO COOL.  We were wondering, before it happened, how it was going to work; were they gonna make us get off and go through the foot passenger entry, or what?  And then…  well yeah.  I still can’t really get over the fact that the whole train went on the ferry.  Which, other than the train part, was reminiscent of the Super C’s… go figure :p

This is a train, on a ferry.  Photo Credit to R. McCoy, since my camera doesn't do low-light very well, even with the flash on.

Anyways.  We got to Copenhagen at about 1400.  We went to the international ticket office at the station, and the guy understood ENTIRELY what we were after.  He booked us on the overnight to Stockholm.  We then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Copenhagen, where it was overcast, and threatening to rain for a large part of the time (and then it actually rained.  We found shelter under some kind of ornamental tower-arch-thing) but that didn’t make it any less pretty.  There was a canal, and some funky-looking row-houses/shops along it.  Well, kinda funky, because of the colours.  Not really that exciting in any other way, except for one.  Because, incidentally, it turns out that all of the Eurolines publishing (the train schedule, the Eurail pass info, everything they gave us) has a picture on the cover that was taken in Copenhagen.  So, of course, we had to take the same photo.  Really.  I mean, wouldn’t you?  It’s not actually that impressive, but it is kinda pretty.

The Canal in Copenhagen.  Pretty.  I'll put in a compare shot of the Eurolines stuff at some point...

Other than the photo adventures, we also walked through the palace, the outside parts (the courtyard in the middle is open to through-traffic and pedestrians) and watched the palace guards saunter around.  And I do mean saunter.  They all just looked bored and had this sort of rolling step that was like a slow-motion version of the catwalk hip-swing thing.  They also had areas pretty much like a goalie’s crease, painted on the ground in yellow.  Got tetchy when people crossed the line and got too close.  Kinda wish I’d had the camera out more; apparently I don't have a picture of the Danish palace guards.

There was also the harbour, which was absolutely full-to-bursting with naval vessels.  National and international.  Apparently it was the Navy’s birthday, so there was a party going on.  It did explain the HUGE humber of sailors we’d seen walking around all afternoon.  My favourite part about exploring the harbour, though, was the mooring system.  There were two methods.  One of them involved two rings, and the other, a ring and a stick.  Both involved pushing an eye-spliced end of rope through a ring, and looping it around something else, either another ring (attached to the ground) or the aformentioned stick.  They had navy boats, moored with this super-simple method.  Excellent. 


After all our wandering, it was kind of close to dinner time.  And we knew that at some point, we would have to get back to the train station.  So we headed in that direction.  Shortly thereafter, the rain which had been threatening all day decided it was time to make an appearance.  We made a quick run towards shelter, and skulked along under awnings and overhangs for a bit, until we found an archway/tower with benches inside.  Made a good place to take a photo of our entire lives sitting in a pile…


And of course, after the rain, evidence of Copenhagen as a very bike-friendly city was found.  There's some kind of sensor in the side of the display, that counts people as they go past in the bike lane.  It was pretty nifty.


The sensor was right next to a statue of Hans Christian Andersen, and... I am so sick of tourists who come in hordes and need to take thirty different photos of themselves and each other with statues.  I had to wait for what seemed like ages for there to be no other people in my way.


Eventually, we did get back to the station, and took the train to Malmo, where we would catch the train to Stockholm overnight.  I’m pretty sure that’s the only border I’ve ever crossed on a bridge…  Tales of over-designed furniture coming up next, perhaps?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

And so then we got on a train...

Here and now, starts probably one of the most intense parts of the trip.  It involves a lot of taking the train, and a lot of bite-size tourist days.  Mostly, our days were pretty similar in schedule: wake up somewhere new.  Get off the train, go to the ticket office, and find out where we can go overnight that we haven't been to yet.  Book tickets.  Find the tourist office.  Ask our very simple question (what are the three things we absolutely MUST see in this place?) and discount any responses that involve churches or castles unless the info person is particularly enthused about them.  If we remember, ask them to translate our five words into whatever language is local.  Go off for the day, take pictures, try to remember to eat lunch.  Perhaps pick up a picnic dinner and breakfast for the next day.  Get on the train. Try to sleep.  Repeat.

We started out in Nesslau.  The community has half-price SBB day passes available to whoever calls in to ask for them in the morning, it seems, and the Wiederkehrs offered to do so for us.  We accepted, because otherwise rail travel ends up being rather pricy, and walked down to the community office with Selina to get them, after packing up all our things, and making sure we had everything we'd brought.  We left our last Tesco tent (did I mention we bought two tents at Tesco in the UK? £10 each.  They didn't leak or anything) with Selina, and headed on our way.  The day was enough to make us appreciate wholeheartedly how efficient the Swiss train system is.  The trains run around and about the entire country, and I swear every single community has a station.  They are always within 5 minutes of on time, and generally the connections are excellent.  They can also print up itineraries, complete with platform numbers, so you have all the information you should need BEFORE you get to the station, though you should always check that things haven't changed.  In any case.  We went from Nesslau to Geneva via Kandersteg.  This meant seven trains in the course of the day.  From Nesslau to Wil.  Wil to Zurich, Zurich to Bern, Bern to Spiez, Spiez to Kandersteg.  In Kandersteg (and all you scouts will see this one coming) we went to the International Scout Centre.

KISC gate

This is the gate for the campground side of the KISC.  Not a bad pioneering project...

I mean, really.  We had to.  It was the whole reason for GOING to Kandersteg.  And it was cool.  We got the tour of the place from someone who is usually a maintenance guy, but happened to be at the desk when we came in.  So we got probably different versions of things than normally would be presented, and that was pretty cool.  We didn't get the chance to see any of the dorms, because it was high season and they were all full, but we got a great tour of the grounds, and were generally happy scout nerds.

Kandersteg Lodge
The front of the Lodge.  The flags are all from this year, from groups who have stayed there.  There aren't enough spaces for all of them to be up.

After spending some money on the requisite souvenirs (Pretty sure I sent at least one Kandersteg postcard, though I can't remember to who) we got ourselves back on the train, to go back to Bern, and from Bern to Geneva.  Now, the original plan had been to pick up our Eurail passes that same day, and get on a train that night.  But when we go in to Geneva, it was about 20h00.  Everything was pretty much closed up for the night, and we were not going to be able to get on a train.  So instead, we spent the night at the HI in Geneva, which turned out to be a pretty good deal.  We got a decent night's sleep after a long day, and had a chance to regroup and made sure we knew what we wanted to do.

The next morning, we packed up, had breakfast, and left the hostel, armed with one-day local transit passes, included in the hostel stay, and went out in search of the Eurail office.  That ended up being slightly trickier than we expected.  We ended up at the airport office, and had a great chat with the SBB guy there, who understood ENTIRELY what our plans were (essentially, none) and pretty much got right into it.  He wanted to help us book our whole trip, then and there, but we only let him book us on one train, overnight from Geneva to Hamburg, and took itinerary suggestions for the next few days of travelling.  And then we spent the rest of the day hanging out in Geneva.  We went, and were refused entry to,


the UN headquarters (something about having huge-as packs... whoops) and took buses and trams.  We went to the WOSM headquarters and took the tour, and caught the interest of our tour guide, who, it later turned out, is the unit manager for Advocacy and Media.  The fact that we were trying to blog the trip, and that we're both Rovers, was clearly interesting, but I haven't heard anything since.  There are better, more scout-centric blogs on the internet, I'm sure.  This one just happens to be mine.

Door marker at WOSM HQ
This is the marker on the door for WOSM headquarters. It's about 2" square.

In any case.  In the evening, we caught the train from Geneva to Basel (which, it turns out, is at the very border of France, Germany, and Switzerland) where we would catch the overnight to Hamburg.  We found dinner, and tried to take pictures of the craziness that was the departures board in mid-change.  I'm pretty sure mine still need some editing to look the way I want them to, but that's ok.

Waiting to go to Germany

In any case, that's probably enough for now.  Up next, Hamburg, or The Germans Have No Imagination.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Ok, so I last left you at the end of the Jamboree.  Of course, at the end of it all, camp does have to close sometime.  The kids go home, and the staff pack things up and do the same.  But what about those of us who are awfully far from home?  Well, we have our ways.  It turned out that the Swiss Contingent had driven over to the Jamboree.  So we asked one of the guys, Sam, if we could tag along.  The official answer was maybe.  He said he’d ask the others in his car, and they would work out who was leaving when.  On the day after closing, we finally got a proper answer.  It was probably about 20h00, and we were enjoying the evening, being finished with dismantling for the day.  Most of Outdoor had come down easily, with only the major posts for the ropes course left, and Antarctica was in a similar boat, with only their large tents to take down.  We were standing up on the road talking, looking down into camp, when Sam came up to us, with an awfully disappointed look on his face.  We assumed the worst, of course.  And thus we were pleasantly surprised when Sam asked us if it was ok for us to leave with Valentine that night.  The reasoning was that it was better to have three people in one car and four in the other (one of the girls, Selina, had left a few days before) than to have 2 in one and five in the other.  So after a long day of taking things apart, and an awfully quick packing-up, we ended up on an overnight drive to Switzerland.  And we ended the drive in Winterthur, about an hour (by train) from Z├╝rich.

This is Winterthur, and the view is pretty similar to what we saw from the Scout House.  Photo © Stadt Winterthur

In Winterthur, we stayed in a scout house.  Now, unlike home, it seems that Swiss scouts have figured it out; they have spaces available to rent out to other groups, set up almost hostel-style, though the booking process is different, and there are no staff on hand.  The plan had originally been to either camp at the site beside the scout hall, or possibly ask if we could camp in the backyard.  Instead, we ended up staying inside, as the group occupying the hall had some extra space.  It worked out well for us, as it meant not having to put up a tent, as well as availability of showers and somewhere with light to sort out the fast-as pack job from the night before.  Having sorted out somewhere to sleep, we wandered into Winterthur itself, and proceeded to see… a lot of it, in a few hours.  We even found the swimming pool (for once, within walking distance of town!) and so, after going back to grab things, we went for our first swim in I don’t even know how long.  Never mind that swimming laps was pathetic and exhausting, it felt good to go for a swim anyways.  We spent the night with the group at the scout house.  They even fed us dinner and breakfast (my life pretty much revolves around the kindness of strangers lately, it seems) and were sent off away when we asked if there was anything we could do to help them clean and pack up.  So we wandered off, having a couple hours to kill before meeting up with Sam by a nifty wooden sculpture of a giant in town (that we both entirely neglected to take pictures of).  We ended up grabbing wireless and weak tea, and then heading off to our meetup.

Speaking of wireless...  (or, not really) This is a Swiss keyboard.  Ten points (and maybe a postcard?) to the first person who can tell me what's wrong with it.  Gonzo, you don't get to say.

When we met up with Sam, it was pretty obvious that he hadn’t been home for long before coming to meet us.  Granted, he had driven (with a couple others) through the night, so it’s forgiveable.  After a couple of hours hanging out and talking scouty stuff, we headed off to Nesslau, where Selina still lives with her and Sam’s parents.  And dang, was the road to Nesslau pretty.  All winding and twisting and turning around hills and through valleys and basically a welcome change from two weeks of topographically-challenged Holland.

This is Switzerland.  It has mountains.  Mountains are good

We spent the next day and a half in semi-rural Switzerland.  We had “proper” swiss food (a process of eating called raclette by which there’s a grill with space underneath, and basically every person gets a frying-pan like dish in which to melt cheese, and then pours said cheese over potatoes and whatever else happens to be on the plate.  Grilling things before cheesing them is optional.) which involved cheese with bacon in it (bacon makes just about everything taste better) and had some time watching schwingen, the Swiss national sport, which involves special leather shorts.  And throwing one’s opponent on his back by holding on to his shorts.  It was actually a lot of fun to watch, and something we’d never have even considered if we had gone to Switzerland by ourselves.

This is Schwingen.  The shorts are provided.  Photo ©R McCoy because I forgot to take any.

So, until next time!  It gets interesting then.  And involves A LOT of trains.  I'm still trying to figure out how to break up the train-to-train-to-train travels, for the sake of posting.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Jamboree, and, perhaps, getting into better habits re: posting

So, since I've garnered an overwhelming response (read: 2 comments) I've decided that for my own sake, and perhaps yours, I will post bits and pieces of the trip, in chronological order, with pictures. The chronological order may or may not be interrupted by daily goings-on here in Oz. I'm not sure yet, because there's nothing particularly interesting on the horizon until the Moot, and that's in December/January. In any case. I'm going to start with the Jamboree, since that's where the last bit of real content came from. From there... We'll see how it goes.

So. First off. The Jamboree.

Scout camp is always fun. And I do mean always. Even when it is pouring rain, scout camp is a pretty good time. So going to a Jamboree, even when I don't speak the language, was pretty good. Even more fun, sometimes, exactly because I don't speak Dutch, since me trying to speak Dutch was occasionally hilarious (I tend to substitute French words for the ones I don't know when I'm speaking anything other than English) In any case, some of the highlights of camp were:

Adventures in Hand Sewing
While working at Outdoor during program sessions, I'm meant to be wearing an Outdoor tee. Of course, being a somewhat last-minute addition to the team, there were no shirts in my size left when I got mine. There were Larges, and X-Larges. Now, I am neither an L nor an XL in shirts. No problem. Three nights of sewing later, I had a me-sized Outdoor t-shirt. All sewn by hand. And it fits darn well, though I had to adopt diamond-gussets in the underarm because I didn't cut the body quite right…

It used to be a mens' XL, honest.  The tag even says so. (Photo care of the HotAir Vents, aka the Canadian Contingent to JubJam)

Inclusive Scouting night at Outdoor
One night, we set up Outdoor specifically for the scouting groups focusing on "Inclusive Scouting." Those would be the groups set up for, or at the very least, including, individuals needing special care or those with disabilities. We had part of the rope course open, as well as part of the climbing wall and the abseil tower. The best part of the night was just watching these kids' faces light up when they were able to come and play "like everyone else." Also, playing koala when I wasn't helping people stay safe.

This is Kit, pretending to be a koala, but really just bored and waiting for the next person to come along.  (Photo taken by Joren, on his iPhone.  Not bad...)

Hanging out in Subkamp Antarctica
Now, I've never spent a large portion of any Jamboree in a Subcamp. It turns out that I was missing a lot of fun. Because Gonzo was working for Antarctica (something about it being the closest subcamp to Australia…) I spent a good portion of time there, for the sake of sanity and sensible (and fast) English. Later, I also went out there because the subcamp staff became my friends, too, and because it was good to hang out with people who knew my name, after a day full of 30-second interactions with people, usually in Dutch. And the evening program activities were always interesting. Talent shows, and food festivals, and boat regattas… the list goes on.

This is Ivo.  He's very proud of his marshmallow-and-licorice penguin

Leaning to wrikken
First, I suppose, I have to explain what, exactly, wrikken is. The very first day of camp, when Gonzo and I had nothing in particular to do (the IST weren’t assigned jobs until the evening of the next day) we were wandering around camp, watching different groups set up. And we saw some people out on the water, with boats (usually 2) rafted together, and they were bringing them in towards shore using a single oar from the stern. Never having seen this before, we thought this was pretty much the coolest thing ever. Since then, we’d sort of put it in the back of our heads as something interesting, but we weren’t sure what to do about that. But a few days into the jamboree, we were hanging out in Antarctica, and Ivo was making a poster about water activities. We figured out that two of the titles were sailing and rowing. But the third, wrikken, had us totally stumped. So we asked. And he explained, and then we got really excited. We got even more excited when he offered to teach us. So the next free day we all had, we went out on the water to play. And spent the next hour (or more? We kinda lost track of time) teaching our bodies (and our heads, which I think was the harder part) how to wrikken. We’ve since learned that the english word for it is sculling, though most people assume we’re talking about a specific kind of rowing, then. So wrikken it is :) And no, I really can’t explain how to do it. I understand how it works, but it’s an awfully complicated movement. That being said, I now want to see what else I can wrikken, Dutch-style steel canal boats being somewhat scarce outside of the Netherlands…Perhaps canoes, or maybe kayaks, or, just for fun, surfboards?

This is me, trying to wrikken.  Apparently, I have already spent quite some time in the sun...

Chocolate Fondue at Outdoor
On one of the last nights at the Jamboree, the Swiss contingent got together and made fondue for their respective work groups. They managed quite well, actually, because 3 of them were working for Communications (2 photographers and a writer) and the other 3 were working with Outdoor, versus being spread out all over the place. As it was, there were still an awfully large number of people waiting for fondue when the time came. 30-some-odd of us from Outdoor, and about 20 (I think?) from Communications. And so fruit was cut, and chocolate prepared, and in the end, the fruit ran out first. But everyone had fun, working their way around the tent, conga-line style, forks (or chopsticks) in hand, getting chocolate everywhere. I don’t know how much chocolate there was left at the end, but it was a lot. And of course, while waiting in line, there was singing, and teasing, and all the things that go along with a bunch of scouts who are (patiently?) waiting their turn for some dessert.

At the end of it all, the Jamboree was excellent. Are there things I would change? Of course there are. Would I go back? I just might. You never know. But I might also take the chance to go somewhere else entirely, just for fun.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Settling in

Ok, so I did promise that once I'd settled, and unpacked for more than a couple days, I would post. Clearly, I've been procrastinating, and I haven't posted, and meanwhile, the most recent post says I'm in Bangkok, which, if you're been following the map, is clearly untrue, since it's awfully difficult to be in Melbourne when one is still in Bangkok. But now, since I've fallen awfully far behind, I'm going to leave it up to you (if there's anyone out there who's still paying attention) to choose what you want to hear about. Do you want more pictures and details about Europe? Do you want photos from Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore? Do you want any of the travel stories? Do you (god forbid) want to know about Cuboree? Leave a comment (on the blog, not on Facebook, if you will, please) and let me know!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Playing catch-up, AGAIN.

Looks like time for another picture-post.  There is, theoretically, actual content coming.  Seriously.  But..  I get verbose when I’m telling the stories of where I’ve been, and thus, you might have to wait until I’ve at least unpacked my bag for more than three days before all the tales come to the internet.  So far, the text document is at 4 pages, and I haven’t even caught up to the end of the last photo post.  So.  Here we go. (As usual, click on the photos for bigger versions, and other stuff I thought was photo-worthy)

Since I had no Paris photos to show last time, this is what it looked like while we were there.


From Paris, we went to Nice, where instead of pouring rain, it was 30-plus degrees and totally clear.


From Nice, as stated, we went to Strasbourg, which is just on the French side of the French-German border.  We didn’t stay there very long.  Instead, we went to Basel, Switzerland, and from there (over the course of the day) to Munich via Mannheim (which seems like an awfully lengthy “via” but it worked out) and since we only had 4 hours in Munich, we went for a swim.  At the Karl Mueller’sche Volksbad.  And…  It was pretty.


From Munich, we took the overnight to Venice.  (Finally.  It took 4 days of talking to ticket agents and trying to figure things out)  There were song lyrics stuck in my head all day but it was worth it.


The overnight from Venice to us to Vienna.  A friend of mine from the last Australian Rover Moot had the time to show us around for the day, and we spent the night at his place, having had NO luck with ticketing in the morning.  So we got our first shots of city-at-night since we started the whole train thing.


The morning after Vienna, we caught the train to Budapest.  It was… mostly falling apart, it seems.  There are new bits here and there that we saw, but mostly it was just cracked and faded, and not in a good way.  However, we learned that if you are looking for statues that are wearing pants, Budapest is the place to go.


After Budapest, it gets interesting.  Because we were starting to run out of days, pretty much.  We knew that we had to get back to Amsterdam (and the Utrecht) for the last day of the pass.  So.  We went back to Switzerland, because it seems that the SBB are pretty much rail wizards, and can book anywhere-to-anywhere tickets through the Interrail system, unlike most other rail companies, who can only book tickets originating (not even just terminating) in their own countries.  So we turned up in Zurich at about 0730 on a Saturday morning, and then, because we wanted to, and I had postcards to send (I bought stamps for them in Nice, but didn’t have a chance to send them) we went to Basel and from Basel to Mulhouse, France.  Nominally “for breakfast” and the novelty of saying “oh, we went to France for breakfast” but also to send postcards.  And breakfast was totally worth the travel time.  Plus Mulhouse is pretty, even at 9am on a Saturday before it’s properly awake. 


We did end up back in Zurich, and walked around the downtown bit and past the lake, where there were people diving off a tower by a bridge.  It was fun to watch.


In any case, SBB did not fail us, and set us up with the rest of our tickets, and that night we got on the train to Ljubljana, Slovenia.  And it was seriously pretty.  And there were cool dragons on one of the bridges.


I wish we’d had more time there, but alas, out train that night was leaving from Zagreb, Croatia.  So we got on the train in the afternoon, and after exiting the Schengen-area and entering Croatia, we acquired the Zagreb tourist map and did the walking tour suggested by it.  Encompassing, according to the guy at the tourist info place, “all the things you need to see in Zagreb.”  Total time spent walking?  About 2.5 hours, with packs on.  (So yes, normal people could also do it in 2.5 hours.)  There was some nifty tile-work, and a lot of yellow buildings.


The train from Croatia took us to Munich.  We had a quick train ride in the morning, due to Munich not being awake yet (I think it was about 0630) and the settled in for the day.  We were not-quite-accosted as we were leaving the train station with a “hey, you speak English!” by Lenny of Lenny’s Bike Tours, and he was convincing enough (and the price was right enough) to get us to store our stuff for the day and take a bike tour of Munich. 


We are glad we did.  Our tour guide was fun, and did a good job.  We saw the whole city.  And also (silly highlight of the day) I saw a lady selling those crazy “made in Germany” slicer things.  Like, the kind I’m used to seeing at the PNE. It was so unexpected I had to take a picture.


Munich’s overnight took us to Amsterdam.  We spent the day wandering around, as per usual, and found that a lot of Amsterdam seems to be under construction.  Also, the bikes there are crazy.  And their owners are worse than other cities’ bike couriers.  It was bad.


(no pictures to go with the following, because my computer is being slow, and I really don't have the time to wait for it)
Our very last train was to Utrecht, where we had somewhere to stay with friends from JubJam.  We spent the next day and night in Utrecht, doing laundry and catching up on sleep (never underestimate having somewhere horizontal to stretch out) and basically gathering our wits for the next bit of the trip.

I say gathering our wits because the next day we went to the airport to fly to Thailand.  We landed in Bangkok mostly sleep-deprived but otherwise fine, and have spent the last few days here coping with it being hot and humid in between torrential downpours (there have been 2 that we know of).  We’ve been to the zoo, and the market, and the palatial complex and the temple.  We’ve been both in and away from the tourist-heavy parts of the city.  Tomorrow, we go to Malaysia.  We decided while in Utrecht that going overland was a bad idea, so we’re flying.  And in Malaysia?  That remains to be seen.

Monday, August 16, 2010

An Apology

I have to apologize, right now, for being a bad travel-blogger.  Finding the time to write has been tricky; I never know when I will have power, or internet (right now, I have both, luckily) and while I have been trying to keep people up to date, it's not always the easiest thing in the world.  For now, I can tell you where I've been, since the jamboree, and maybe some pictures?  I will write with more content soon, but for now, this will have to do.

First, there was a Jamboree.


From the Jamboree (in Roermond, the Netherlands) We got a ride to Winterthur, Switzerland.


And then we went to Nesslau, with some friends.  We stayed there over the weekend.

sibling rivalry

From Nesslau, we went to Geneva (via a complicated route that makes me seriously appreciate that Swiss trains are ALWAYS on time)

In Geneva, we bought EuRail passes.  And then it gets interesting.  Since we got the passes, we've been spending a day at a time in various cities, and taking night trains to get to the next potentially interesting destination.

So.  From Geneva (we spent the day there, and it was lovely) to Hamburg overnight.  Instead of staying in Hamburg, though, we jumped on another train, to Copenhagen.

From Copenhagen (where we did not have enough time, but that's life) we went to Stockholm.  Also pretty, but by this point, the kr (the krone, be it Danish, Swedish, or Norwegian, and they're ALL different) was starting to feel awfully expensive (or maybe it was just Stockholm?)

So.  From Stockholm, to Oslo (it was that, or Finland, and we weren't sure how to get back from Finland easily) where it was pouring rain and the locals were... not unfriendly, but not particularly welcoming, either. It got nice about an hour before we left.

From Oslo, we went back through Copenhagen to Hamburg.  We stayed in Hamburg this time, for a bit.  Took enough pictures to kill my camera battery...
Hamburg Hbf

From Hamburg, we went (the long, complicated, mostly sleepless way) to Paris.  Where, once again, it was pouring rain. I borrowed the baby camera and got some interesting pictures of Paris in the rain.  No time to grab them yet, though.

Today, we are in Nice.  Where it is such a far cry from yesterday that it's nuts.  It's 30° and there are palm trees.  It's very strange.  And very Mediterranean.  Tomorrow, we get to Strasboug, and from there...  well, it depends on what the ticketing agent says :)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sorry, ik spreek geen Nederlands!

Ok, so as much as I would love to regale everyone with tales of travel around the UK, it would be a lot of text, and I don't want to type quite that much (nor do I have the time to)  Suffice to say that we went as far south as Portsmouth, as far west as Porthmadog, and as far north as Inverness.  Official rolling distance of 3000km ± 20km.  Longest amount of time spent doing one continuous thing?  About 3 hours, trying to get through London traffic, using Google's directions, and no street map (all the navigating during the trip was done by me, with a road atlas, which was generally sufficient.)

After getting back and dropping off Foxy (our awesome wheels, though a little battered by the rain) we spent one more night in London before heading out to Holland for the JubJam (though it's "yubyam" more often than not, here) in Roermond.  We crossed over the English Channel via Dover and Calais, and gathered another passport stamp, from France.  Nothing from Belgium or the Netherlands, though our bus drove through them, too.

After getting to Amstel (the bus depot in Amsterdam) we made our way to Roermond via train, in 1st class!  (it was totally worth the €1.40 extra) And then...  Well, we hadn't had internet for a few days.  Lots of travel, and apparently wireless is still a chargeable commodity.  So when we got to the train station, we weren't very sure where to go.  Luckily, the ways of the universe are immutable, and the repository of all knowledge is still the pub, even in Dutch.  Some helpful locals pointed us in the right direction, and off we went.  Innumerable steps later, we arrived at camp, to be sent forward and backward a few times before putting up tents and collecting meal cards.  And then it was lunch time.

After relaxing into camp a bit, we realized that really, no matter what language they're speaking, camp is always fundamentally the same.  You find the same people, doing the same jobs, everywhere you go.  Sometimes they even look the same.  And sometimes, it doesn't matter that you can't talk to each other properly, because faces and tones (English and Dutch at least share intonations, which has made life a little easier) and hands (often waving wildly) get the meaning across.  Plus, "wow" sounds the same here, and "ow" and "I need to pee" look the same all over the world. 

Tomorrow our program starts properly, and I'm working at "Outdoor" which is a ton of stuff I love to do; climbing, abseiling, high ropes and zip lines.  We also have some artificial spelunking (which I saw, but haven't closely inspected yet) and hopefully it will stay dry enough to put the slackline up.  But I have a feeling that I will be saying a lot of "sorry, ik spreek geen nederlands!"

Today, the opening ceremony for the jamboree was held in three town squares simultaneously.  It was fun (and in the pre- and post-ceremony times, I did a lot of dancing around like a fool) but if there's one thing I miss, it's being able to understand what's going on around me in words, not just the feel of the action.   At Outdoor, there is always someone to translate for me, given the time, but I didn't find a translator for the ceremony.  I will have to see what I can do about that for the closing.  Anyways, I'm tired of sitting in the lounge tent (the computer needed charging, and I can't do that wirelessly, yet,) and there's a food festival going on in a subcamp that I've made friends with, so here ends another post!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Kit says Hi from the East

Whoops.  I suppose I'm meant to be updating more often, aren't I?  Since I haven't, and I'm sure that at least a couple of people are curious, here's how the first week went:

(Skip to the end for summaries, because this is about to get verbose.  Click on the pictures for bigger versions and more; please excuse the fact that my camera lens is scratched, and thus I have a smudge in the corner of all of my photos.)

Monday July 5: Say goodbye to everyone; got on a plane, flew to NEW (Newark), flew to DUB (Dublin)

Goodbye, Vancouver!  See you again.... sometime.

Tuesday, July 6: Got off the plan in DUB; waited for Gonzo to catch up (spent 1.5 hours in the airport hanging out).  Talked to the tourist information people in Dublin and picked up transit/tourist cards.  Went to the Dublin HI (awesome, but tricky to find.  I think it took us about an hour to get somewhere that turned out to be 10 minutes away) and then explored Dublin on the hop-on/off tourist bus.  Found dinner at a decent pub with friendly staff and then went back to get some much-needed SLEEP (but we made it to 2200, so I don't think we did too badly)

Wednesday, July 6: Played tourist in Dublin all day.  Went on a guided (walking) tour.  Went to Christchurch Cathedral

Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin.  Dublinia is housed in the synod hall off to the left.

and then Dublinia (essentially a "history of Dublin" museum) and then it was time for lunch.  We went to get cornish pasties from a shop we saw on the walking tour, and then hit up the Old Jameson Distillery (not bad; I might even drink it straight?), and went from there to the Guinness Storehouse (I'm not a fan; Guinness tastes like coffee to me; that sort of burnt flavour and I don't get along well.) Finally we went back "home" for the night, after a walk and some dinner, plus some ice cream.

Thusday, July 7: One more day playing tourist in Dublin.  We started at Croke Park, the home of the Gaelic Athletic Association for the Sports Nerd in the company (not me, but I had fun anyways).  For those not in the know, the GAA is in charge of four sports: Gaelic Football, Hurley, Rounders, and Gaelic Handball.  I'm not going to go into details on them because it'd take too long.  Suffice to say they're all brutal, and Croke Park is the National Stadium for them.  From CP we went off to the Wax Muesum plus, which was... disappointing would not be too strong a word.  After the disappointment for the wax museum, we needed cheering up, and headed over to the pasty shop again, for more tasty pasties, and were recognized by the guy at the counter, before getting ourselves over to Kilmainham Gaol.  We made the tour group in the nick of time, and then spent the next hour trying not to be bored, because while the place itself is interesting, our tour group was HUGE, and our guide didn't have the kind of projecting skills she needed.  Also, she sounded bored.  And there were an awfully large nuber of details that would have been interesting if I were Irish, and knew all the people involved, but as it was, I don't, and thus didn't know the context of the information.  And that was Thursday.

Friday, July 8: Got out of the city today.  We took a tour out to Glendalough, the Browne's Hill Dolmen stone, and Kilkenny.  Glendalough (Glen da Loch in Irish; valley of the two lakes) is the site of the ruins of a monastic village, as well as the place where the Book of Kells was found, kept safe from Viking raids because the tower it was in doesn't have a door at ground level.

IMG_6182 IMG_6183
That door is at least ten feet up.  We considered trying to climb up, but determined it would be inappropriate.

The views of the ruins and the valley were amazing.  Absolutely lovely.  From Glendalough we traveled on to the largest (discovered) dolmen stone in Ireland, weighing in at (speculated) 150 tonnes.  Pretty darn massive.  After that it was straight to Kilkenny, for the sake of the castle, and lunch.  It turns out that it's nigh on impossible to procure on-tap Kilkenny when IN Kilkenny, due to it apparently being crap.  The castle is...  another castle.  After a decent lunch we got back on the bus back to Dublin.  In which we arrived in time to find a postbox and then check in for our bus ride to London.  The bus-ferry-bus combination was pretty uneventful, though the ferry reminded us of the Spirit-class BC ferries, just bigger. 

IMG_6206 IMG_6218
See?  Spirit class ferry :)

And paying for things with a combination of Euros and Sterling was fun.

Saturday, July 9: arrive in London absolutely sleep-deprived (the trip from Holyhead to London was not really restful; two people trying to find their respective spaces on a bus when they're only used to their own company is interesting) and without somewhere to stay.  The latter was resolved without too much trouble after a large amount of walking (past Buckingham Palace, and the Canada Gate at Green Park, and Guide House) and then some more walking, but we ended up at Holland Park YHA, which is directly smack-dab in the middle of a city park.  After dropping off our stuff, we went off to enjoy the city.  Meaning we visited the National Gallery, and the National Portrait Gallery, and Trafalgar Square, and Picadilly Circus, and Leicester Square, and walked past Freed (but it was closed), and then came back to the hostel.  Where we bemoaned the exorbitant internet (£1 for 20 minutes; yikes!), did the necessary internet crap, and went to bed.  In the three-stacks of bunks.

Sunday, July 10: explore London a a bit. Wander about, a lot.  We started at Buckingham Palace, for the Changing of the Guard (one of those things that you have to see at least once). We also took in the Canada Gate

Canada Gate with Green Park behind.  Of course I had to share the one with the BC crest on it.

and the Australia Gate, and the "gift of New Zealand" statues and sculptures on the fountain. We also discovered the logic behind police hats and helmets, and the gender inequality inherent in the system ;) We went up to the Greenwich Observatory, and set our watches to GMT proper.  Stood with one foot on each side of 0°0'0" but no pictures.  Too many people.  From Greenwich, took the train a wee bit, and then walked to somewhere to see the Tower Bridge (didn't go all the way to the bridge, but took some nice pictures) and then walked to London Bridge, which was disappointingly boring.  

Continuing along the Thames, we, like the theatre nerds we are, made our way to the Globe theatre.  And asked about £5 tickets.  We were told that yes, they existed, and yes, they had some for that night, but we decided against staying; we'd missed the first 15 minutes of Henry IV (II), and the £5 tickets are for the groundlings.  And while standing for the show is authentic, it had been a long day (and no dinner yet) to spend 3 more hours on foot.  Instead, we walked over the Millenium Bridge, towards an unidentifiable dome which turned out to be St. Paul's Cathedral. 

Not your average cathedral shape in London.  No spiky turrets here.

Exploring on foot is great :)  From St Paul's, we wandered along back towards the touristy (and therefore open-on-Sunday-night) part of town.  We looked for a barbershop on Fleet Street, but there were none to be found.  One or two pie shops, though.  We also found the candy shop from the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie.  Seriously.

Can it get any better?  I mean, really.  It's on the corner and everything.

Anyways, we continued on from Trafalgar Square towards theatreland, all the while avoiding the rabid soccer fans (there was some kind of game on?  The Spanish and the Dutch, or something? :p).  Saw a couple of hostels that were better than the one we were in, and finally made it back to Holland Park at about 2230.  Dang, that was a long day.

So, the summaries.

In Dublin:
The HI/An Oige hostel is great.  Wonderful staff, clean, fairly cheap, free wireless, and breakfast included.  10 minutes walk from the main drag.

Madigan's on O'Connell St is excellent.  Share plates contain enough food for two people (the way they're supposed to) and the toffee pudding is excellent.  They have good tea, too.

Do get the (3-day) Freedom Pass.  It's an excellent deal, and it makes it easy to get around.  Plus, the on/off buses are good, and the live commentary ones are quite a lot of fun.

Don't bother with a Dublin Pass (multi-attraction pass) unless you have at least 2 days to use it in.  There's just not enough time in a day for the one-day pass to be worth it.  Also, don't bother with the Wax Museum Plus (it's just boring, even if you're only 10) or Kilmainham Gaol, unless you're REALLY into Irish history. 

In London:

Figure out how the Underground works.  Learn how to read the map.  It will do wonders for your sanity and your ability to get around quickly, especially when paired with a Zone 1/2 daypass, as long as you pay attention to the service updates.

Find somewhere to stay before you get there.  Especially during high season.

Don't stay at the Holland Park YHA unless it's absolutely the VERY LAST option you have.  It's expensive, and the dorms suck.  I have no desire to pay £20+ a night (after the HI member discount) for a bed in a 20-bed dorm.  The staff are snooty, and while the breakfast is excellent (full english style) the internet is slow, and a ripoff (50p for 10 minutes, £3 for an hour).  It's also annoying to get to, and the kitchen is badly provisioned (in terms of dishes)

Walk around as much as you can.  The best discoveries are made on foot.

At this point, I'm almost a week behind, and I'll try to get things on track soon, but I make no promises.  Even my (paper) journal has been neglected for a few days...  Oops.  Anyways, till next.