Saturday, July 23, 2011

Travels in Euroland

So, where've we been?

Including stopovers, we've seen Paris, Lyon, Marseilles, Nice, Ventimiglia, Milan, Florence and Ausserferrera so far. We didn't spend very much time in Lyon, Nice or Ventimiglia, but we spent at least four nights in each of the others. Paris is.. Paris. It's an incredible, vibrant city, chock full of history and art and culture. It's beautiful, but then most places are in the middle of summer, on a perfect evening.We spent the days in galleries and museums and doing classic touron things like seeing the Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomf and the Eiffel Tower. And, you know what? They're pretty spectacular.

Marseilles feels like a sleepy beach town, a playground for the rich tourists, but it's also a sprawl, built around a picturesque harbour, encircled by overpriced restaurants. We spent days walking Marseilles - to la plage des Castillanes for a swim or up to the Notre Dame (another one) to take in the city. Milan is very different - it's industrial and it has a vibe about it, especially in the difference in people and attitudes. Where France is very laissez faire, but subtle and elegant, Italy is brashness, emotion and warmth. But while the French can't really be bothered about you, the Italians will engage you, chat and generally be friendly. We wandered the streets of Milan, Tanja enraptured by the fashion, debating the merits of a culture that worships a 1000 Euro handbag, eating ice-cream and drinking the incredible coffee that is available almost everywhere.

Florence is as pictureseque as anywhere you've been - il Duomo, the river Arno and it's bridges, and the view from the Plaza Michaelangelo are incredible, as is the art collection in the Uffizi, which is the equal of the Louvre and the National Gallery in London, if not in size, but in quality of collection. we spent four days walking Florence, getting completely lost and trampled by tourists, but eating ice cream and canoli and drinking more coffee and Heinieken than is healthy.

And then to Ausserferrera, via an hour in Milan to collect a rental car. If Florence was tourist-choked, Ausserferrera is the opposite. Dead quiet, high up in the Swiss Alps and, blessedly, cool. Tree-lined hills, rivers, boulders and peace and quiet were so different to anything else we've experienced, where the beauty was completely man made. I wanted to come here for the climbing, but the change in pace and aspect is refreshing - the endless drive of travelling tires you out, to the degree that we reached a point in Florence where we couldn't face leaving the guesthouse. I guess that after two-odd weeks of walking and moving and missioning (and yes, we've been walking a lot - I would guess that on some days we easily walk 12 - 15kms, and we probably averaged 5 - 7kms a day), you actually deserve a rest. Who would have thought?

We're spending a week here and then we're off to Vienna, another entirely new stop on a list of stops the feels immense and exciting.


It's like a postcard, really, but with grumpy people who charge far too much for necessities like coffee, weissbier and wifi. And, as I was writing that, they just crapped all over us for daring to have a laptop cable across the aisle of the restaurant. This is a beautiful country but, damn, the people are assholes. While we were driving here, I wondered how soon it would be before I got shouted at. Answer: less than 24 hours. It's now twice in less than 48.

Anyway, shitty people or not, we're staying in a beautiful guesthouse in the mountains, minutes away from some of the best climbing in the world. Needless to say, most of my posts are going to be on the other channel for the next week.

More later.

Oh and, by the way, if the Swiss are the most unpleasant people we've encountered, the Italians were the coolest.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Travel-Induced Lethargy (Redux)

Like the similarly-titled post over there, we were completely broken yesterday. Basically, I left the hotel to:
(a) Get coffee
(b) Get lunch
(c) Go climbing
and not much else.

Which is not to say that Florence sucks - it's a tourist-choked hellhole, but it's pretty damn picturesque. You know how there are all these cliches about narrow cobblestone streets and crumbling brick facades and ivy etc? That's Florence. At first, you're all "Argh, Montecasino" and then you realise that this is the original. It's crumbling because, well, it was built by Italians.

More about Marseilles, Milan and the general Italian temperament later. For now, we're off to be tourons.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Admittedly, this includes stopovers..

..but, damn, that's a lot of cities and countries we have planned for the trip.

View Trip in a larger map

So far, we've done 3.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Week 1: Paris

After the rocky start, Paris grew on me somewhat. OK, quite a lot. It's a beautiful, vibey city full of .. tourons. Like us.

I can now completely understand why they refuse to speak anything other than French at you. Of course, in most cases, if you actually make the effort to greet and approach them in French, they'll drag out more than enough English to be friendly and helpful.

At which point I feel like a complete dick.

Highlights were:
(1) Seeing my wonderful girlfriend after 5 months apart.
(2) Our apartment. It was small but comfortable and having a kitchen makes life a lot easier.
(3) The Egyptian exhibit in the Louvre.
(4) The various sights. Yes, I know it's cliche, but it's pretty cool to walk up the road and see the Notre Dame like it's something you do every day.
(5) Patisseries
(6) Fromageries
(7) Sandwicheries
(8) A Vieux Camper. Basically 2 city blocks of outdoor shops. One of which is dedicated to climbing gear. Climbing gear that's hella cheap.
(9) The park down the road from the apartment where I went running.
(10) Not the tourons.

Basically, after wandering around Pont Neuf for a few hours, I thought it was a little like Covent Gardens in London. Then I realised that it was 9pm, the sun was shining, the weather was perfect, the people were beautiful and the vibe was chilled. So nothing like Covent Garden really.

Now we're in Marseilles. It's also very cool, but in a completely different way. More later.

Oh, and just so you know: this is much better than work. (I know, I know, I'm a dick.)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

just smile and nod, they're laughing at you

i'll say it again - i really hate the french. in fact, where i previously only mildly disliked them, i'm now sick of the bastards. all of the stereotypes are true.

and it's only been 5 hours.

the problem is the whole language thing. and the fact that they patently refuse to speak english. even when you know they can. i met people in rural india who spoke better english that french shopkeepers in paris. and the indians lived in huts. huts made out of mud. but at least they'd make an effort to scam you in your own language.

whereas in paris, even a trip to buy wine turns into an experience frustrating enough to cause you to break out in hives. you politely greet the shopkeeper in french, with a friendly 'bonjour', and then explain that you are south african and don't speak much french. at which point they rattle off more, faster french at you. so you point, smile and use what limited french you have - 'oui, rouge, deux s'il vous plait..' etc. at which point the shopkeeper has a full-on pointing and laughing session with one of the other customers, who descend into a cackling mass that couldn't be more french if they were moustachioed, wearing stripy shirts and berets, smoking gauloises and riding bicycles with front baskets containing baguettes.

so you just smile and nod and know that the fuckers are laughing at you. it's not like you've got any snappy comebacks in french, and you know that the assclown behind the counter knows english well enough to kick you out sans wine if you mouth off at him in a real language like english.

next time, we'll side with the germans. that said, two hours in frankfurt airport was enough to make me side with the russians. the frankfurt airport staff were hilarious, in a bad way - they literally searched *every* black person going through the security checkpoints. and not a single white person. i'm suprised they don't have a separate line. i'd like to see them try that with Chalky White.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

On the road

the roads were glittering and cape town was shiny and clean and blanketed in cloud and rain as we took off. i tried to check myself, to force myself to accept the reality of what was about to happen. i was leaving cape town and my home for almost three months. i was going to somewhere i had never been for almost three months and i was going to have to confront the fact that i had far more time than i'd had in almost 10 years and probably not enough money to sustain myself.

and yet, in trying to force myself to accept that i was leaving home, I was sobered by the realisation that i don't really feel like i have a home. i have a house, but i don't really live there. i sleep there 3 nights a week. i haven't spent more than a week at a time in the same city since september 2010. i'm a gypsy, used to living with music in my earphones and trying to sleep in an airplane seat, or drinking coffee in an airport lounge, waiting for another flight, or hot-desking with my laptop. i've become, in some ways, incapable of accepting a stable existence, unable to deal with stasis.

Another adventure starts today*. it won't be like india, but it will, i hope, be pretty awesome. i fully realise that i'm in a rare position and that i'm really, really lucky, but it's up to me to make the most of it.

fuck, i sound like charlize theron. no more emo bullshit.

what's next? paris. then marseilles, nice, milan and and and... all of it, i hope, with the person i most want to spend it with. unless, that is, she decides that i'm a shitbag and leaves me for a greasy italian.

Whatever happens, I've got a passport, a credit card, an ipod and a whole shedload of grit. Bring it on.

*I should also write more about india - you know, actually write it up into a narrative that is (a) coherent and (b) moderately entertaining. i know, i know, i know. and i will. i've got a few days worth of posts in the pipeline and i swear i'll get around to posting them. actually, by the time you read this, they should be posted. and, seeing as i have the next 3 months off, i'll start transcribing the rest of my notes and writing it all up properly, because, apparently, people actually read this (and not just my mom. Hi Mom!).

Friday, July 1, 2011

Just go already..

.. I'm in the Slow Lounge at Cape Town airport, waiting to get on s flight to Jo'burg and then to Frankfurt and then, eventually, Paris.