January 27, 2013

The Road to Down Under!

It has once again been a while since I did any serious writing here, but that was not without good reason. The last big post I did was from Verona, Italy. Now I am in Sydney, Australia. I have seen friends on two continents, walked in five countries on three continents, woken up with -14 temperatures and gone to sleep with +30 degree temperatures. I have simply not had the time nor the internet access to write a proper blog post. I am going to attempt it now.

The problem is where to start. I don't know if I should continue sequentially and write about Swiss adventures, or if I should jog forward to real time, and talk about Switzerland once I am settled into a routine at school. I think that I might just take the second option.

As I just mentioned I am now in Australia. I did not just teleport here from Switzerland however, there were many adventures in between. After saying goodbye to Tiffany in the Luzern train station, I had a lovely train ride to the other side of the alps through the Gotthard Pass

After arriving in the very Italian city of Milano, I wandered about the amazing train station there for a few minutes, before purchasing a ticket and hopping aboard a train bound for Verona. About half way along the line, it started to rain. At first just a little, and then a lot.

Now I did spend a month in Verona, so I do know my way about fairly well. I am not however telepathic, nor was I very prepared for arriving there. I was staying with my friend Julie. She had moved since last I was there, and had sent me her address and phone number. Which I had looked at and promptly forgotten to write down. I remembered that the address had a "3" in it, but that was about it.

I did know the general area of the city that it was in, so I started walking in that general direction, wandering about looking for internet. Free wifi is very difficult to find. What little I could find required you to have a cell phone to text the password to. I did not have that, so I could not use any of those. After nearly 2 and a half hours of wandering in the rain which was slowly turning to snow, I found a copy place that had computers, and I was able to use the internet there.

I met up with my friend and all was well. I had a lovely few days in Verona. I did a lot of walking around and seeing the sights. I cannot remember if I mentioned this before, but in Switzerland, Tiffany and I started Geocaching. We found about 30 caches in the last few days of my stay, and I continued that in Verona. It is a neat way to see new parts of a city, and to see a city in a new way.I think I found nine caches in Verona.

Here are a bunch of pictures from around town.

Anyways, I spent three nights there. I caught up with a few friends, had a few drinks. Well a lot of drinks....prosecco is very yummy. It was very nice to see everyone, and to see the city in a little bit of a different way. It was also kinda strange to have a very short visit to a city I have spent so much time in. It was not really like seeing a new place, because I had seen most of it before, but it was sorta new because I was once again surrounded by Italian.

After Verona I headed north to Bruneck in the far north of Italy. It is deep in the German speaking area of Italy. I stayed with a family with whom my family is very close. I spent four or five days with them. It was very very nice to see them all again.

I did a lot of just hanging out, reading, and playing with the little guy. We also went skating, sledging, and on these crazy ski/sled things. We went for an hour and a half hike up a mountain with these crazy one ski sled things and it took less than ten minutes to slide back down.

After many a fine meal, and much good company, it was time to leave, and head out to Munich to fly to Australia. There was some amount of drama attached to the departure. I was catching a bus from Brixen, about an hour away from where I was staying. The bus would take me directly to the airport. It left at 6:15 am. We woke at 4:30 or so (the temperature was about -14), and got in the car at 5:00. We promptly backed up and got well and truly stuck in the snow. About five minutes of trying to free the car later we jumped in a second car and got on the road no problem. We were heading along, and I noticed that the fuel gauge was firmly in the very empty part of the dial. We kept whizzing past gas stations, when finally Astrid asked if I had a ten euro note, since she had been planning on taking the other car with a full tank, and therefore had no cash. I did indeed have a ten euro note. We stopped for a rapid pit stop, and then got back on the road. The only trouble was that I no longer had the cash to pay for my bus. Astrid made a call to a friend, and once again we had to stop to pick up a bill from her friend. Thank you to that friend by the way. We then made it to where the bus would stop.

All was well after that. It was a nice little minibus which drove through Austria, and into Germany to the airport in Munich. I had a bit of a wait there as I was quite early, though that was the only bus which would get me there on time. It was a beautiful cold clear day in Munich. It was an uneventful wait, and eventually I hopped on the plane. It was parked at a remote stand, so we had to take a bus, then walk up the stair truck which was kinda cool.

This was my last view of the continent of Europe after just having left the ground in Germany.

Eating breakfast 37000 feet above Ulan Bator.

My longest flight up until then had been a 9ish hour Paris to Miami flight. This beat that by an hour. We took off and headed to meet the sunset on our way to Beijing. I watched a movie, and a couple tv shows, then tried to sleep. The flight was almost empty so I had my two window side seats to myself. I dont thing that I managed to actually sleep, but it was a very nice overnight rest for a few hours.

Just before landing in China the sun rose. It was beautiful. Beijing's terminal three is also an amazing building. It is one of the nicest airports I have ever been in. It is a great airport for watching the planes come and go, and for walking, and for lying down. The chairs are comfortable, and they even have these recliner chairs all over the place which are brilliant. The one and only downside is the music. There is an extraordinary set of speakers spread all through the airport which give perfect surround sound wherever you are. At first it was very nice. The classical piano and orchestral music making for nice background noise. The trouble arose when it became apparent that there were only about ten songs which were played over and over and over....on a short layover that would be no problem at all.....a ten hour layover like mine though, and you rapidly begin to wish bad things upon the speaker system....

My ride to Sydney.

I had a nice little nap in the early afternoon, and after what seemed like many hours, mainly because it had actually been many hours, I boarded my next flight. This flight was almost full. I did however have what I think was a pretty good seat. It was not a window seat, but it was one of the ones at the front of a cabin, so there was tons of leg room, and it really didn't feel like I was surrounded by people. I could get up without disturbing anyone as well which is nice. That flight was even longer. 12 hours. In terms of the longest flights that is not that bad, but in normal terms, that is a long time to sit on a plane. After five hours of sitting there, there are still seven hours to go.....

All in all it was not bad at all. It was again a night flight, and again I dont think I actually slept, but I did have my eyes closed for a good part of it. The sun rose, and after a little hold, we landed in Sydney in the bright sunshine and the middle of summer.

I was near the font of the plane, and I made my way to immigration rather quickly, had virtually no wait at all, and after a bit of a wait for my bag, was waved right through customs without even stopping. I met my friend Josh, and we headed outside into the summer sun. We drove downtown, and ended up parking a little outside of it at his university. Which is beautiful. This is why we did not park downtown.

We took the bus down George Street. We jumped off and walked the last little ways, then went for a stroll around Circular Quay to the Opera. It was so crazy to actually be in that place, one of the most photographed in the world, one which I have seen countless time in pictures. The harbour bridge is stunning, and it was just a lovely day. It was a lot warmer than it had been back in Italy. About 47 degrees warmer in fact. And it was actually a lot cooler than it has been here.

We went for a wander, had some cool beverages, and after a few hours hopped back on the bus and drove back to Josh's place. On the way we stopped at the Olympic park. It was really cool. The stadium there is huge!

After having a nap for a little bit, we went over for a bar-b and poker night with a bunch of Josh's friends. It was a ton of fun.

Yesterday was Australia day. Around noon we headed into Darling Harbour to see what was going on. We had a bit of a wander around, all decked out with Australia tattoos, and silly mexican hats. For supper that evening we had another bar-b. It was very tasty.

I got to meet a gigantic stick bug as well. They are frigging weird.... And huge! She just kept crawling up my arm!

And now I am having a nice slow morning writing this post.

I cannot believe I am here!

January 23, 2013

A Short Hello

Hello! I have been in crazy non internet land for a few days. As I am writing this, I am sitting in Munich. At the airport. Waiting for my flight to Australia. Crazy! I cannot beleive it has gone by this fast. On to the next part of my trip!

January 18, 2013

A Very Swiss Adventure

So, when I left off Tiffany and I were asleep in a hostel somewhere in Zermatt, a good meal in our bellies and the intention of waking up early to catch the first train up Gornergrat.
The first train was at 7:20. We had to pack up and check out before we left so we got up pretty early and quietly shoved everything in our bags. We stuck them in lockers downstairs and went to check out. There was no-one at the desk, no box to put keys in, and no readily apparent information regarding how to check out...We left a note and started briskly walking to the train station at the other end of town.

The snowy streets were nearly empty until we got near the station, but even then it was much more quiet than it had been the previous afternoon. I keep talking about a train and I think it might be time to explain what I mean. The Swiss have a certain fondness for looking at mountains and saying "hmmm, that mountain looks nice...I think restaurant would go very nicely right on the top of it...with a train to get there". They build mountain railways, very steep railways with cogs in the center that the train holds onto. The train then winds its way up to the top of whatever mountain, and that is that.

Back to my story. We got the first train at 7:30. When we got on, it became apparent that there were very, very few other tourists on that run, and that all the people on board worked somewhere up the mountain. There were piles of supplies instead of skis, and toilet paper instead of snowboards.

The train left about 20 seconds late, but by the first stop it had made that up. It takes about 35 minutes to get up to the top of Gornergrat, and when you do get up there, it is like stepping into an entirely different world. The train takes you to very near the top of the mountain, just across the valley from the Matterhorn, the best place to see it from.

There is a hotel and a restaurant on top of the mountain, all contained in a building with two telescope domes on top. The bottom floor of the building is located at 3100 meters above sea level.

When we departed from Zermatt, it was totally dark out the train windows. As we climbed above the tree line, we could start to see the amazing scene outside getting brighter in the pre-dawn light. We knew that the first train really was the best way to go.

Although the views had been spectacular out the train windows. It was nothing compared to the first views after having stepped outside. It was that time of the morning where you look at something, then look away and look back an the light has totally changed and it is even more beautiful that it was before.

We walked up to the very tippy top of the mountain a few hundred meters away, and we could have been the only human beings on the planet. Standing on top of an Alp is an amazing experience. I totally get why people climb mountains. It was so quiet, there was no wind. Just one or two clouds off in the distance to break up the clear sky. And the Matterhorn, standing there proud as always.

To make it even better, the sun was about to rise on the mountains. The sky was getting brighter and brighter then all of a sudden, that unbelievable pink light struck the tops of all the highest peaks. We were very happy we had not gone up the previous afternoon. I am going to let the pictures speak their thousand words.

 Travel tip: If you are ever in Zermatt, take the first train up Gornergrat, and watch the sun rise on the Matterhorn. You will not be dissapointed.

After having a coffee and a gipfeli in the restauran we headed back outside to find it almost warm with the sun. We met some people and had a major its a small world moment. We ended up staying up there a long time. I dont think we went down until after noon. The trip down was filled with stunning views also.

Tiffany standing straight up and down in the very tilted train.

We retrieved our bags from the hostel, and went back to the main train station. Tickets purchased, and onto the train, we left right on time, and after a short journey were back in Tasch, and were reunited with Tiffanys car. We hopped in, and started driving back down the valley. It is an amazing drive. We got the makings for sandwiches in Visp, and headed on our way towards Montreaux, chasing the fading sunlight. The sandwiches were very tasty. They were buns with mayonnaise and fleischkase, or meat cheese literally translated. In Switzerland, mayo comes in a tube! It is brilliant!

The drive was once again, a beautiful one, this time following a wide valley with a flat floor stretching from mountains to mountains. German slowly gave way to french, and soon we were just across the lake from France. We stopped at a beautiful castle/chateaux thing in the lake.

Stopping for pictures down at the waterfront of Montreaux, the sun set in a spectacular fashion beyond the high mountains across the lake. We kept heading towards Laussane, and eventually saw our second sunrise of the day when the high mountains gave way to the low mountains, and the sun was once again in the sky. It promptly set again, and we raced it up the hill, gaining a glimpse it once again from amidst terraced vineyards.

Some assorted wandering about the little villages dotting the steep lakeside slopes rounded out our exploring, and we decided it was time to head back to Luzern. We took the motorway to Bern, then wound our way through country roads back to Tiffanys.

To round out what felt like a very Swiss day, we had fondue, complete with serviettes which looked like little Swiss flags. It was very tasty.

That was one long day, and as a matter of fact, this is getting to be a long post, so I will leave it there, and continue the adventure in another post.