Tuesday, 30 August 2011

WCBU and Milano

We are now coming to the end of our first month of travel and
transitioning from Euro tourists to Australian visitors. We have
visited Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Greece and Italy. Today we fly
to London and from thee onto Australia.

Our week in Italy was for the purpose of playing the World
Championships in Beach Ultimate. Lee and I were both playing for the
Australian mixed team, the Breakers. Beach games are 45 minutes long
and we had up to 3 games a day. Temperatures were around 36 degrees
and not much cooler overnight in our dorms with no fan or
air-conditioner. Many people slept outside on the balcony with eye
masks and ear plugs in place. we were quite glad of our week of 'heat
conditioning' on the boat in Greece, although that didn't help the

The tournament started Sunday with the opening ceremony and a fair
accumulation of nerves for me as it's the first time I had donned the
green and gold as a player.

Our first game was on Monday afternoon (2pm) verses the Poles. They
were a strong opposition which made it hard for us to get into the
game, but we ground out the win. The sun was hot and the sand
iron-hot. We were quite glad of our purchase of Sand Socks 'just in
case' as they had their first wear.
The second game that day was 6pm against Brazil. Not as strong as Pol
pol pol pol pol pol pol-ska (Poland), I actually touched a disc in the
game and felt that I was able to contribute to the team. We won that
game with good spirit.

Tuesday we had a single game against Estonia. They were a strong team
made up of athletes. They were from Tallinn and played together all
the time, but told us that there were also players in Tartu. (Both
places we had visited with Lee's family.) Estonia gave us a great
wakeup call by beating us in universe point 9-8. This was a turning
point for structuring our team from offense and defense line into one
offense line and two defense lines. Another positive outcome was that
many on the team reevaluated their underestimation of European teams
and the effectiveness of their blades.

Wednesday morning (9am) we met a strong Irish team. Our experience the
day before helped in a universe point to win 9-8. Our second game,
that afternoon, was against the local Italians which we finished early
by taking to points cap (13-3/4?). The third and final game was
against a strong Swiss team. Lee joked with a few of them that he had
played with at Paganello which helped keep the competitive atmosphere
friendly. A really spirited game that we were disappointed to lose.

Thursday we had another big day with 3 games. 10am (Currier Island),
3pm (Netherlands) and the 9pm showcase game against Germany. We beat
currier islands and netherlands, hitting our stride, but the German
team seemed another level again. The cooler temperatures were lovely
making us feel fast, but the poor lighting made the disc hard to see.
I spent much of the time striding up and down the sideline wishing I
could play, but our offense line had trouble scoring.

Friday we were nearly at the end of the tournament and had only just
finished pool play. Our quarter final was against GB. The first point
was long and I called two contested fouls, which seemed to set the
tone for multiple calls through the game. Not the finest game, but
still a solid win of 7-5

The semi-final was another game against Germany. We had learned from
our match the night before, marking the unders and forcing backhand. A
good start with a break on defense was quickly eroded and they won the
game 13-5. I got one of our Ds, but our offense line struggled to
connect with multiple long shots thrown as cutters turned under.
Another well-spirited match, after which their captain and coach
gifted us Roo's Wind Arrow - a concept for maintaining possession on

The final day, Saturday, we played Portugal for bronze. Unlike every
previous day, it dawned windy with incoming storm clouds. Luckily for
us Portugal struggled to connect in the strong wind and a series of
breaks saw us take the game 11-4.

It is two days later and it has still not sunk in that our team
finished third in the world. I hadn't played with many of the people
on my team and I am looking forward to an opportunity to play with
them again.

Somehow with more luggage than we started with, we made our way to
Milan on buses and train. I was not very impressed with Milan the last
time I visited, but this time I felt I understood it a little better.

The first impression of Milan is of its train station which is big,
clean and impressively decked out with marble statues and motifs. We
stayed, fairly cheaply, in a nice hotel on one of the main shopping
drags of Milan, just 1km from the station in one direction and 2km
from Duomo in the other. After a week of late nights and waking with
the sun, we crashed for a couple of hours before a fancy dinner and a
photography excursion to Duomo. Lee proceeded to give me a lesson in
photos using the 50mm lens and the statement, "a good photo captures
what the eye does not see".

My impression of Milan this time around was impressive and
fashionable. The wide streets counteracted the dodginess of graffiti,
a mix which Athens could not duplicate. Exploring the city on a Sunday
night was really quiet, so I was able to take in and accept, if not
appreciate, the ludicrously priced fashions in the windows. Big square
buildings left no doubt as to the size and importance of this fashion

The next step in our 2 months of travel is Australia for a couple of
weddings. Luckily, Lee is able to work from the Melbourne office for
the next month, where he can get to know the new CEO a little better.
We fly out tomorrow.

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Sailing in the Greek Islands

Day 1
Shopping for drinks and food
Feel like like superstars when we see our boat
Set sail around 3
Arrive at Aiginos in time for golden sunset
Take our place in busy dock
Understand a bit better how moorings work to prevent dominoes damage
effect of boats.
Fish dinner in the town with horse carts going by
Still hungry so order more from local kebaberie
Go to sleep listening to local nightclub
Full moon

Day 2
Wake up to sound of church bells for Sunday morning mass
Rhys fishing
Wander through town
Fresh figs
Floppy hat
Flying fish
Swim for flying hat
Jumping off boat, catching discs
Swim to beach
Paddle bat with tennis ball on beach
Sail to Poros
Cook chicken and salad and mushroom and corn for tea

Day 3
Wake up early and wander through town - see email to mum and dad -
Maria name day - many wearing white
Wifi connection
Sail out of town and when wind dies swim in the middle of nowhere with floaties
Arrive in bay
Moor to rocks
Build fire
Goats with bells
Spaghetti bolognaise for tea
500 most of night

Day 4
Paddle in bay until lunchtime
See big houses and big boats
Moor in bay outside a beach for swim and explore
Sea urchin spines, Muscles the Crab, transparent little prawns in cave
rock pool beside beach.
Spiez overnight. Quiet taverna for tea.
Zombies on the walk back to boat

Day 5
Actually sailing today at some speed
Realised the reason/importance for some of the fixtures (eg steps with edges)
Stopped in a bay for a swim: Lu and pete late back to the boat
Accordion of boats strung to each other with ropes. Climb over a
series of boats to get to the dock
Mooring we were as useful to Janos as butterflies on a buffalo
Jumping off rocks
mojito overlooking bay as the sunset
Tipsy photos of sunset
Dinner in a green lit garden
Cats everywhere
Game of jungle speed and download photos before bed

Day 6
Some trouble when our anchor was picked up by neighboring yacht, and
some trouble when we picked up someone else's chain
Big swell and wind straight into our face meant we motored and sailed
at the same time.
Lee didn't have breakfast otherwise he would have seen it again, as it
was he saw stomach lining
Bit of a trigger for the rest of us, but luckily no-one followed his footsteps
Motored through the big swell, as the wind died down
Lunch and Swim next to boat in quiet cove
Motor in to .. To take 3rd last spot at dock
Training throw and game on artificial court grass - feels good to get
moving as quite stiff
Dinner: cheese pie (sold out in all other places), Greek salad, kilo
of lamb chops and baklava saved for tomorrow
Big orange moon as we came back to boat

Day 7
Early morning (9-ish) training on rubber crumb
Fresh bread and punnet of figs
Sail to quiet cove - first time on our own for a final swim, walls
built on the hillside
Rhys catches more fish
Motor-sail back in to Athens - each having a go behind the wheel/helm
for a photo
In to athens for a real (if cold) shower before dinner in Mikrolimano
- hunger drove us to eat in the first place we saw - bad choice as our
worst dinner yet in Greece.
Sleep in dock overnight

Day 8
Early start to make our way to Venice .. Via Istanbul.

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Saturday, 13 August 2011

Meteora 2

The imposing outcrops of rocks were the last thing we saw before bed
and the first after waking up. It was hard to believe that at the top
of these rocks Orthodox Christians had hauled all manner of religious
and historical artifacts along with their basic necessities (these
were alluded to, not on display).

Today we viewed the monasteries from the road after hiring scooters. I
was very nervous until I realised they were single speed animals.
After I got past my guilt for breaking my 'Pri-Inga Motorbike licence'
awarded at age 10 on the condition that I wore a helmet, long sleeves,
long pants and proper shoes, I really enjoyed the ride in my singlet
and skirt. It probably helped that they were quite gutless and we
never went any faster than Lee would go on his push-bike. To
everyone's astonishment we had a bike each - unlike the family of four
we saw on one.

We entered one more monastery today after failing to find the nunnery.
Agria Trias seemed to be one of the harder ones to reach as a tourist
involving a descent and a stair climb - not much to our Alp-hardened
lungs and legs but there was much panting and stopping by our fellow
tourists. No photos were allowed in any of the churches, but we did
see one case where the rules were relaxed. Yesterday, a group of deaf
and blind girls sang in the Great Meteora church. The acoustics in the
small, domed space were crystal, the music drawing everyone in the
space closer and stiller. The church today was no exception with a
dome above each of the two square spaces - I tested the acoustics
myself, but could remember no traditional hymn, in fact, the only song
I could think of was: 'Stand by your man'.

We finished off our day with a late lunch, polishing off poupasaka
(sp? Eggplant, mince, cheese) cheese crouqettes, lamb chops (yum!
Oregano and salt!), halva (hard stuff made from sesame seeds with
honey and cinnamon for taste) and melon (water and rock).

My impression of the people here is laid back and always respectful of
people. Respectful of property, not so much - there is graffiti
everywhere - including covering this train we're on. Although perhaps
it is the lack of money here that prevents its cleanup alongside the
pickup of the scrawny stray dogs and cats.

The occasional English-spoken news that we have picked up along the
way has surprised us: USA being down-graded from a AAA credit rating
to a AA credit rating for its inability to decide how to deal with the
problem of paying its debts; Italy and Spain being added to the list
of economies draining the strength of the Euro; and riots in London,
including some 10m from our house in Clapham Junction. Rioters lit
houses (and cars at other locations) on fire smashed into every shop
in the street, looting them bare. While we were safely in Austria, our
house sitter had a bag packed with our photo backup discs in case he
had to make a run for it.

Then back on the 5:30pm train that was scheduled to arrive in Athens
at 9:30pm.. And has arrived at 11pm.

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Friday, 12 August 2011


To reach Meteora we caught the full train (standing room only tickets)
for 4.5 hours. We were able to find some seats and soon learned that
possession is 9/10ths in this scenario.
In the first hour we passed through an agricultural area. Throughout
the valleys we saw small sections of irrigated crop and often on the
hills, plantations of trees, although whether the trees are for
produce I couldn't always tell (definitely some olives). Aside from
the trees, the most plentiful crop was one we couldn't identify -
cherry tomatoes was our uneducated guess, but surely there are not
that many Greek salads in the world that need cherry tomatoes. The
tops of the hills were growing rock.

In the second hour it became more hilly (I'm reluctant to use
mountainous after the Alps) with fewer patches of arable land. On this
land there were higher proportions of wheat/barley (I can't tell after
it's cut) and corn. Even sunflowers started to crop up.
In the third hour it was mostly hills covered in scrub and and rock
apart from the one big valley, which was squares and squares of crop.

The fourth, fifth and a half hours all just seemed more of the same.

On arrival (no wonder I couldnt find any information, that's the
fourth spelling of Kalampaka I have seen just from the train people) I
thought it would be a good idea to walk the 4km to our hotel. We
couldn't remember whether we were staying in a hostel or not, so we
were sure to pack pajamas and a towel. Coming round the corner in our
sneakers and shared backpack, we spotted our 5 star accommodation in

Checking in at our ritzy hotel at 3pm, we found out that
1) we could enter the monastries on top of the giant rocks;
2) they could be reached by road;
3) some of them shut at 3:30pm.

Skates on, we took a taxi up the mountain (we were assured that no-one
actually walks!) to see two of the monasteries. The first, Vaamal, was
a small one where we saw their chapel, their net and wooden winch (for
bringing products up the cliff) and their giant 12,000L wooden water
barrel. Every surface of the chapel was painted, many of them guilded.
The chairs and lecterns were elabourately carved.

The second monastry, Great Meteoro, was the largest. In this one there
was also a carpenter shop, kitchen, refectory, ossuary (where skulls
and bones were on display) and .. We were rushed out of this one but
had time to take in the many scenes of persecution painted in the
first room of the chapel. By far the majority were decapitations, but
the walls and ceilings also had stonings, crushing by vice, burning,
amputations and hanging upside down.

Very much like the un-initiated, I forgot that I would need covered
arms and it was really by chance that I was wearing a skirt. There
didn't appear to be any dress restrictions for the fellas.

Dinner was a fantastic. Fried cheese, stuffed vine leaves, pork
souvlaki and lamb chops, finished off with fresh watermelon - that
actually tastes like watermelon. Good bit o' melon that.

We have the option of either a 5:30am train or a 5:30pm train back to
Athens tomorrow. We think we may just sleep in..

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Athens, making curved lines straight since 447BC

Our overnight at a hotel chain near Munich airport was unfortunately
the least hospitable stay that even chocolate on the pillow couldn't
allay. On the bright side, we were out of there at 4:30am to reach an
early flight. We were able to recover some sleep as the plane was
delayed for 3 hours and then we were off to Athens.

Having looked forward to the heat of Greece for some time, it was
still a bit of a shock to see a brown landscape and feel 31 degrees
again. Exchanging our hiking boots for sandals made us much nicer to
each other.

We checked into our hostel and, after a brief rest in the air
conditioning, went to find the Acropolis. At 3pm the sweat was flowing
freely, and taking a wrong turn we ended up in a very dodgy area of
town: covered in graffiti, delinquent-looking men everywhere staring
as we passed, 'second-hand' mobile phone shops and our first lesson in
crossing the road - just walk. Walking with an air of confidence we
didn't always feel, we were soon back on the right track and on our
way up to the Acropolis.

The Acropolis has been a site of importance for centuries and human
occupation has been traced back to the Neolithic period (). It has
been a seat of kings, the home of a cult (to Athena) and the buildings
that remain today temples (?) built between 447 and 406 BC.
The scale of the buildings was massive, all built of marble, including
the ground which was a bit slippery at times. Every lintel, cornice
and column still retained at least some of its original sculpting.
Even the block-work of the walls was fitted aesthetically. All around
the buildings that remain standing are pieces of rock that .. Are
trying to fit back together like one giant jigsaw, made all the more
complicated by allowing tourists to take pieces home up until the
'80s. (?) When these buildings were whole it must have been truly

From the hill of the Acropolis you can see a full 360 degree view of
the city. There are few major, straight roads through the city, so it
appears quite jumbled. This is probably not surprising given it has
evolved over more than 2000 years. Over that time, various wars and
invasions have added to the destruction and thereby evolution of the

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Tuesday, 9 August 2011


Learning from yesterday that a late entrance causes waiting in lines, we went straight to the Wasserspiele fountains in Hellbrun, just outside of Salzburg, after breakfast.

Back in the 18th century, the Archbishop and ruler of the area built a pleasure palace, which he commissioned as soon as he came into power (in 1612 - and started building in 1613) as an antidote to melancholy caused by boredom. The site for the palace was specifically chosen for its many springs and streams. The Archbishop had grownup in Italy and on a later visit had seen a water garden at the residence of one of his relatives, perhaps giving him the idea to build his own. These gardens are ‘trick’ water fountains and many of the fountains tell a story.

The hour-long tour of the gardens began at the Princes table. Our guide described the trough in the centre, filled with fresh spring water, which kept the bottles of wine cool for plenty of drinking, then called for volunteers to take a seat. The rules which stand from that time are: 1) Hands on the table; 2) Stay seated; 3) Don’t panic. She then proceeded to show us the Archbishop’s little joke, which wet the crotches of every guest, but not the host.

The next short stop was a fountain labelled as a Gate to Hell. Back in the day, springs were known as gateways to hell, hence the literal translation of Hellbrun – Springs of Hell.
Next was a grotto which had a room with 40 different bird songs created and powered entirely by water. In this room nestled a metre-long ceramic dragon which had been fired in the 18th century. Here again were hidden fountains in the floor to surprise people inside and on the way out. The view out the door was of connected pools mirroring the statue of Perseus, as ever with Medusa’s head. The upper pool had 5 points, each fed from different springs and the lower pool could levitate a ball.

The walkway to the next section had miniature scenes of people: from a miller to a knight saving a naked maiden from a dragon. The walkway led to a giant scene with more than 200 figures and more than half of them that moved, powered by water. As the pipe organ sounded the finale, fountains wet the spectators from behind.

There are more surprises in store, but I won’t give more away – let me assure you it is considered ‘lucky’ to be wet by the fountains - and everyone that does the tour is considered luckier at the end. The sun came out in time for some spectacular photos around the gardens before we headed back to Salzburg.

World of the Ice Giants

We headed to Eisriesenwelt today, the world's largest ice caves, along with every other rain-drenched tourist in the area. After turning off the motorway we were forced to park at the bottom of the mountain. Not wanting to wait for the bus up the mountain, we decided to walk the 20 minute drive. 30 minutes up the mountain, dripping from the rain and sweat, with 50 photos of the same castle, and 7 full coaches having past us, I was starting to regret 'our' decision. On reaching the top about an hour and a half after setting off we discovered the wait for the 3 minute cable car ride was 2 hours, so we decided to walk the next section too. The estimated time was 90 minutes. We nailed it in 45. Must have been the cheese kranski and jam donut - lunch of champions.

We approached the ice caves with a little anxiousness as we were already soaked and cold, without being surrounded by ice. We were unjustifiably grumpy when our English-speaking tour group was mostly made up of native German speakers. Our guide, David, started by explaining the stats of the tour: worlds largest ice caves, 42 km deep with ice for the first kilometre, 1400 steps (700 up and 700 down), and all at freezing point. The caves were first discovered by Anton Posselt, a natural scientist, in 1879. Tours were conducted from the 1920s taking up to 8 hours. Our tour took 70 minutes and my hands and nose were glad of the end. Our way was lit by small lanterns which every second person carried, plus strips of magnesium which David burned to light up himself and the towers of ice. It was all quite dramatic. When asked, David was quite proud to reveal he had trekked a further 26km into the cave, and beyond that point would require sleeping in the cave.

The caves were breath-taking and walking up the stairs in the dim with ice both sides was vertigo inducing. When our guide climbed up into the ice figures and lit up the ice from the inside the view was amazing (very blue). The inside of the cave was very changable, one of the biggest figures that we saw today was not there 90 years ago, and one of the floors we walked on would have been 10m lower when the tourists came in in the '20s. The oldest ice found in the cave so far is 1000 years old. This cave is beautiful and has been shortlisted as one of the 7 natural wonders of Europe.

Early to bed tonight and hopefully we won't awake as two giant balls of mucus again.

Monday, 8 August 2011


A night of coughing was counteracted by a big breakfast and we were on our way to explore the old town of Innsbruck in the day light. We took in the museum with its golden roof, the Swarovski crystals, the Imperial gardens (giant chess, bright yellow seats and a water
fountain in the playground) and some strudel before hopping in the car and driving to Salzburg.

Keen to get started on the 'culcha' we booked ourselves in for a night of Mozart and 18th century food. The synchronicity of the violinists in the string quintet, the clarity of the singers voices and the ambience of the room in a restaurant that had been serving continuously since 810 (AD not AM) made for a special night.

Switzerland - Liechtenstein - Tunnels

Today we said goodbye to Switzerland with a few parting shots and ended up in Innsbruck, Austria. On the way we passed through Leichtenstein.

Leichtenstein was first on the radar as it is a tiny country in Europe. Researching what was there we found that the capital Vaduz had a castle, and our destination fate was sealed. We had some difficulty parking, as all spots were reserved for shoppers and in the end took a punt, after which we realised it was Saturday and those particular shops were closed anyway. Our accidental touristing magic had kicked in again and we were lucky to find a beach volleyball satellite tour (which is international competition but not at the top level). We sat in the sun enjoying the athleticism and pump up music, looking forward to our own tournament in 2 weeks time. I was lucky to have Lee on hand to answer some of my questions about technique and to take his predictions on the winner of the three semis we watched. Leaving the volleyball was not easy for us and outshone the castle and main town.
The people we spoke to had excellent English and I will remember them all being well dressed as a high end designer shop was having a 70% off sale.

I don't know what Swiss government rules are, but as soon as we were over the border, houses were made out of substances other than wood. It was incredibly scenic, to the point where we had to be specific when we said, "Wow, look at that!" as otherwise the response would be, "Which bit?" . Our first impression of Austria wasn't as scenic as Switzerland as we travelled inside tunnels for most of the motorway.
The longest we have been in so far was 16km. We were quite excited to hear our first song in German today. We've had the radio on each time we drive and mostly it's like listening to a classic rock station with an announcer we can't understand. Our impression of Austrian
architecture was not helped by our suburban entry into Innsbruck, which appeared to be blocks on blocks of 70s high rise flats.
We were staying in a hotel run by an Austrian couple, which had an authentic family feel. The hotel was halfway up the mountain overlooking the city. We had dinner there, which for me was Tiroler Groestel (boiled beef and potatoes, fried, and a fried egg on top). It
was a bit salty, but balanced by sauerkraut. Our wallets left dinner feeling much heavier than any outing in Switzerland.
Again our accidental touristing worked out for us as we headed into the old town and discovered a summer street festival with performers before heading home to bed (woohoo Saturday night!).

Friday, 5 August 2011

Hiking in the Alps

Plan A for yesterday was a mountain hike, which we did today instead. We realised that you could come to the Alps and not actually do any walking. There are cable cars, gondolas, trains and lifts. We wouldn't accept that kind of behaviour from ourselves and set out to prove it today.

We set off from Grindelwald .. And took a gondola up the first 500m to Bort (1570m).. From there though we hiked up the remaining 695m to the lake Bachalpsee (2265m). What I find hard to believe about these mountains are the wide variety and volume of wildflowers on display. We reached the top with plenty of sweat lost, photos of cows and a tinge of disappointment. What we hadn't realised on our first day was that the picture perfect, postcard weather was not permanent and that the pictures in the brochures are quite hard to replicate when the mountain is covered in cloud, the valleys are in part shadow and the mist is rolling in.

The journey down was sped up as for one leg we took an 800m flying fox. It was still a successful day as after 7 hours of walking, our legs did feel a little jellied. We were able to: justify that it's about the journey not just the destination; use human power to reach great heights; get our training in for the day; feel satisfaction in accomplishment; spend money on dinner instead of gondolas; and take in the mountain air.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Plan B, just as good as Plan A

Today we woke up to rain. Actually, more like storm. Seemed like an ideal time to revert to Plan B, Trunnelbach and Gruyeres.

Trunnelbach showcases ten waterfalls that flow down inside the mountain. There were multiple vantage points to view the thundering 20,000 litres a minute of glacier melt. Surprisingly, 16 degrees felt fairly warm after being sprayed from the falls inside the caves. A
couple of the vantage points let us get up close to the water, close enough to get nicely soaked (and cause Lee to hit Karen while running away from the splash) Our new tripod (yes, we bought one) is getting a full workout.

We got back in the car to warm up, dry off and drive over a mountain pass to the French speaking part of Switzerland and the 16th century town of Gruyeres. Here Lee broke his non-dairy diet with a vengeance, first item on the menu was raclette. This is where a hunk of the local cheese is melted bit by bit under a grill and applied to potatoes. The same cheese can be served as fondue: melted in a big pot and picked up with bread on a fork. Karen was pleased with herself that when she spoke French to the waitress, she didn't seem to notice we weren't French until Lee spoke.

Gruyeres is a picturesque town in a mountain valley. The old town is situated on a hill, has a medieval castle and is circled by a defensive wall. The castle housed eleven counts before the last one had to sell to his creditors.

The old town is home to 170 people and I don't think I would want to be one of them given the work involved to stay in theme nor would I appreciate the million tourists each year.

The drive back to the hostel was uneventful as we again took in the wooden houses with flower boxes or colourful shutters, the rolling green of the valleys covered in sheds and houses, and the strong smell of sheep and cow poo.

Tomorrow, back to fine weather and Plan A, The Mountain.

Love Lee and Karen

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


There must be thousands of tourists in the Swiss Alps daily, even just in Interlaken, and yet the feeling I get from the mountains is peace. Somehow it is impossible to feel stressed when you're already feeling awed by the mountains, breathing in the fresh air and hearing, well, nothing really, it's quiet.

Here, unlike Horst where the tourists all spoke German, there is a real mix of people of all ethnicities and languages - enclosed areas like cable cars provide a nice (although biased) sample of the population for this observation.
Today we made our way up the Schilthorn, which has one of the best views of the three monks, a view that is commonly associated with Swiss products. The journey started from Stechelberg at 900m. This is in the lush, green valley with giant mountains either side and log sheds and houses next to the winding river which appears white from the rushing.
Heading up past a cliff waterfall on the way, Gimmelwald is the first cable car stop: 1367m, 22 degrees Celsius. There are a couple of places to stay at this level, but it's a fairly quick stop as the next cable car is weighted with the first. A couple of para-gliders got off with their giant packs at the next stop, Murren: 1638m, 21 degrees Celsius. This area was still really lush, but harder to farm, as evidenced by the truck on a giant lean in a tiny field (about the size of a big Australian house block). The next cable car ride took a bit longer and took us up more than 1000m - Birg: 2677m, 12 degrees Celsius. The transition over this leg was from green farming land to mossy cliff faces. It's around this point that it really sinks in how hard it would have been to build in the first place. On the way up I had thought this was it, but no, one more cable car up to the summit - Schilthorn: 2970m, 11 degrees Celsius. At this level there are still odd patches of snow, but mostly it is a dark-coloured slate with some very hardy alpine flowers. At the very top is a viewing platform as well as a 360 degree view rotating restaurant. We were lucky to have a crisp, clear day and London had prepared me well, as it was warm enough in the sun in my skirt. The view was just spectacular. Having seen little kids walking up we decided that we would be ok to walk the leg back to Birg which is recommended to take 1h. We took 2 due to frequent camera stoppages. I'm glad we took that route as it resulted in our best shots.

We made it back in time for the last cable car of the day back to the bottom of the mountain. We finished off the day with a self-cooked pasta, some photo catchup and planning for tomorrow.

We had moments throughout the day where we realised and reminded ourselves just how lucky we are - to be here, to be with each other, to be fit and healthy, to afford to visit Switzerland, to both have the inclination to be here.. The list goes on.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Cows, car and crackers

Waking up to mist over the mountain before the sun rose, just magic.
Then waking up again after the sun has risen above the mountain, showing as a massive ball through the mist, priceless. I'm being slowed down by a cold, so it was a late breakfast before we made our way up the mountain in a cable car.

The pure magnitude of the mountain was breath-taking on the way up and once at the top, it was doubly so. Standing on the top of a mountain, wild flowers everywhere, tingeing the fresh mountain air with scent, the sun shining in the blue, blue sky, the gentle, albeit out of tune clanging of the cow bells, the mist rolling in, outcrops of white stone amongst the luscious, green grass - it would have been hard to get any more scenic. We made our way down to the cows via the difficult route (note to self, when Lee chooses the direction, put the camera away - you'll need both hands).

We came back to our hotel for another delicious meal before setting off for Interlaken. We spent a fair amount of time in the car today, with a few minor detours. The interesting part was that we were able to see the next step in the silage process. After cutting, the next step appears tone drying the grass out. This involves either turning it over with a spreader/rake behind a tractor, or by hand with a pitch fork. Once done it can start to be raked together. By hand it was with a wide rake that was bent toward the person at the end. Both of these manual steps appeared to be done by women and children today. Mechanically, it was tractors or small ride-ons that basically rake the width into a canvas barrier at one end to bring the spread clumps back into clean lines. The clean lines are then picked up by a conveyor(?) front-end that packs it into a following trailer. I found the whole process fascinating - as you can probably tell.

We went from scenery that was hilly with either grazing or being processed for silage, to the same hills covered in trees, to a mix of corn and pasture in the flat valley, then we were either in a tunnel through the side of the mountain or next to a lake (at least that was my impression when I was awake). All the way along there were wood houses with stereotype curtains in the window and masses of red and pink flowers in window boxes. There was at least one house where I don't know how they could see out the window through the flowers! There was one farm where I was really tempted to stop - selling butter by the side of the road!

We reached Interlaken an hour later than scheduled to catch up with Fabrice. We had met Fab and Alice in Melbourne, where Fab became well known for his ability to drink beer. Since then Lee has played with the Swiss frisbee team Wizards at 2 Paganello tournaments thanks to Fab and Alice who now live in Geneva. Today was Swiss national day, and more importantly, Fab's birthday. We celebrated with a BBQ on the Thun lake shore with a full spread of Swiss produce, as we watched the sun go down. The tradition of Swiss national day is to let off fireworks by the lake. At our BBQ spot what we viewed was more INTO the lake than over the lake. We arrived at our hostel in Inseltwald (just along the lake from Interlaken) in time to watch the traditionally-dressed band and lantern-bearing children progress along the main street followed by the official fireworks on the lake. It's now 11:30pm, and there are still keen beans letting off their fireworks all the way along the water. What a fun way to start our holiday!

Monday, 1 August 2011

On our way to Switzerland

Our journey started at 3am, while there were still revelers at the Clapham Grand across the road. Our driver accelerated and decelerated (speed cameras) like he was collecting points in a Mario game. There were no major dramas with our flight to Memingen (Ryanair's idea of Munich) and car pickup, and we were soon on the road south ("righty tighty, lefty loosey, right hand side of the road..").

Our first destination was Neuschwanstein, the castle that inspired the Disney logo. A tramp up the mountain to the front door and even further to an overlooking bridge soon got the blood pumping. Apparently 6000 people visit per day in the summer. There were definitely a lot of people.

From there, we made our way across to Appenzell where we are staying the night. On the way I was really surprised to see heaps of corn growing. There were also heaps of cyclists - don't they know mountains are hilly? Even more frequent than the corn and Lycra clad cyclists were the people cutting grass for silage. They were everywhere! Tractors with mowers on the front, tractors with slashers on the back and I had to feel sorry for the one-man-band mowers that were only 3ft wide [altough since then we have seen a man with a scythe! 3/8/11]. Of course then there were the tractors sweeping it into long piles and at the other end of the scale - people with rakes.
Everything was so green - it was amazing to believe it is summer. We have found out from our friendly waiter here tonight that it is the first time the sun has shone in weeks. We are actually staying in a small village, neighbouring Appenzell named Horst where we can hear the clanging of the out of tune cow bells and are across the road from the quarterly bonging of the local church bells. We have just finished an amazing dinner, for me, veal with the local potato gratin (for want of the actual name) followed by warm berries and ice-cream. Just delicious. Next on the agenda - jacuzzi - followed by the long-awaited bed. 3 hours sleep makes enthusiastic touristing difficult.

Overall, a successful day, travelling through Germany, Austria and now in Switzerland.