Tuesday, July 27, 2004

hello everyone! weel it took us a few weeks to get to an internet cafe as you may see.  is it weeks? we've really lost all ability to keep track of time on this trip. 
we are in norway, and it's flipping gorgeous.  sweden was pretty nice too, but that was just a little wander in some woods as we had lunch on our way to norway.  sweden has very nice smooth round stones with pines forest and bilberry bushes growing on top of it.  norway had endless endless forest that looks a little dull from the outside, just like a carpet on the looming hillslopes, but as soon as you step inside it's wonderful - quite open with moss and lichen and bilberry bushes, shades of green, moss green, pale grey green contrasting with bright reddy orange leaves here and there and warm orangy brown trees trunks that stretch up above your heads before the branches and pine needles start.  fresh and airy.  the fjords are downright impressive, and the waterfalls, in fact it's so impressive that you get a little immune to it after a while.  then I remind myself of my view in sheffield! 
we've been here just under 2 weeks.  went to otta for this kayaking festival, we actually made it, and it wa still on, only fran injured his shoulder the day before it started so we kind of got the impression that god didn' want fran compteting, only now there's no kayaking either, at least not on white water. so we've been focusing on us and what god is doing between us and with us.  which is always a lot.  i'd like a brek now but I don't think that's going to happen! we had a really fun day ina place called fl�m when we got the fl�msbahne railway to the top of a hill and back, with countless wonderful views on the way and a really really amusing stop where we all got off the train at a waterfall, only for tinny music to start playing and a girl dressed in red to appear on the waterfall, enacting the nymphs of legend who call people into the water.  very bizarre in this reserved beautiful culture.  people here stare, like much of europe we've visited, but then when they get close enough to smile or say hello, avoid eye contact so I'm left talking to myself.  they also ignore you driving, if you wait for a car to pass on the road thewy virtually look through you, very strange compared to our english politeness, but i think it's a shyness thing.
I had tonsilitis, which just felt like attack, but a doctor sorted me out for drugs and I'm ok now. 
we're in bergen at the moment, a fun town with lots of wandering potential.  today we're headin off south to stavanger where the 3,000ft rock overlooking a fjord is, fran itching to see (or be!) a base jumper going over the edge!
going to go now, hope you're all well, send us a text or email

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Tuesday 6th July

After a late getting up, reading, chatting morning me and fran went into Prague. It was raining so we out on cold weather clothes, even though God had said it would get nice, so we ended up in the town centre in sunshine in cold clothes and I got completely slimed. (slimed: coming under spiritual attack, which Prague is quite good at, generally leaving me feeling icky, although that�s not a strong enough word, and wanting to leave the city) So we ended up going back to the flat. Amy had cooked goulash (superb!) and we talked in a good way as things loosen up and friendships get more accustomed again. It�s so good to see friends, just making us perkier and brighter and lighter.

Monday 5th July

Graz, Austria to Prague, Czech Republic. 450km.

This is the earliest we�ve managed to leave yet. Including a tyre change. And another provision from God � a really strong man who could loosen the wheel nuts which were so tight we�d already broken one spanner-thing. Whatever they�re called. Then we went to see the Lipizzaner horses of the Winter Riding School in Vienna � only on holiday in Piber just outside Graz. We got there only to encounter one of the few Austrians who spoke hardly any English, to discover that you could only go round on tour and the only English tour was at 1pm, it was then 10.30am. more struggling with tourism � it seems you need to be on a pre-booked coach to be a tourist in Austria. So we ended up going with a German tour at 11, of course not understanding anything. But I really wanted to see the horses, to go and then do nothing just wasn�t a possibility. The horses were lovely, although the experience was a little short lived. So we ended up leaving about 1pm. And quite a long drive to go, especially as when we planned this stage of the trip we were going from Vienna not Graz, not that�s an extra 2ookm before we even started. We made it though, with our first passport checking at the border, to Prague at 8.30pm. God said Derek and Amy were there, although the closed windows tried to deny it. Really they were there, inside, completely shocked because they hadn�t got our email saying we were coming. But we did arrive, the week they�re leaving. Cups of tea, Thai green curry, both couples revelling in having company, and finding it a bit unusual, but very very good.

Sunday 4th July

And we start by going back to the play wave, but somehow it�s 12.30 before we get there, and then after lunch we go to the skulpturenpark. What a fight to get there � a nice guy we met at the wave, the first real meeting of people I feel, told us how to get there. Only he was wrong. We did get there, but then it was hot, fran wanted food. You know all those little things that make it bumpy and a bit difficult. The sculpture park was cool though, very deserted, but cool. My favourite part was a garden full of big bendy sails stickinh out of the ground that got blown in the wind til they were bent right over forwards, or backwards, touching the ground. Very peaceful.

Saturday 3rd July

I�m sitting in the evening sun outside the van as fran puts his boat back together. Today we made lots of plans, but managed to do really little. It was free rides on the bus today and there was some kind of fair in town with what looked like just about anyone putting up any stall they wanted to. It was fun though, street musicians etc, and the sun was out always adding to the pleasantness. On our way back to the bus we found some surfers and kayakers playing on one of the waves under the bridge, the river flows right through the centre of town. So we came back to have a swim and then go into town. That was about 2 hours ago � since then fran found an ants nest in his boat. He�s just putting the last few bits back after completely dismantling it and washing it out. Oh what fun! Still going to the wave though. Hopefully drop in to the internet caf� and phone a few people too.

Friday 2nd July

Austria seems to have brought out the Julie Andrews in me. I just went to fetch milk in the rain with a bright pink umbrella and sang and skipped as I went along.

We�re in Graz in Austria, in a campsite next to possibly the biggest swimming pool in Europe � 110x110m! Unfortunately it�s cold and raining and it�s closed. I�ve been getting into my swimming recently although my energy levels are not what they�re supposed to be.

Graz is a beautiful city. We got the bus in from the campsite to the centre of town. No problem with communication � everyone speaks English, at least more than my german! The city is very beautiful, with that Praguesque quality about it � streets leading onto streets with beautiful tall houses, lovely towers, bells that chime, quite quiet and romantic. It�s also got a modern convergence going on with a building known as the friendly alien that�s like a big blob with spikes sticking out of it, and a building in the middle of the river that is smooth and curved a little like a fish which has a caf�, amphitheatre and play area for kids.

The competition that we came for is not on. There�s been too much rain and the river is flooded and the waves/holes are washed out. Which brings us to ask what it is that God wants us/Fran to do re kayaking comps, as they�re not really working out for us. It does feel like we�re supposed to be here though, unlike Sort which felt like we really weren�t supposed to be there. This is pleasant, that was hard work and icky. We need to decide where to go next and how long to stay here. Tonight we have the pleasure of finding nemo, the first tele we�ll have seen in three weeks � ahh, escapism!

Thursday 1st July

Lake Garda, Italy to Graz, Austria. 500km.

And a beautiful start to the morning - a swim in the lake which was beautifully fresh and clean. And then into the van for more driving. Fan purchase from yesterday coming in very handy. Great scenery as we got into Austria, you could feel the change in pace and a feeling of peacefulness as we drove. Excellent restrooms � rivalling Andorra for cleanliness and pleasantness. Amazing food displays in the raststations, though still ushering you through in one direction only! And very pleasant to arrive in a country with thunder and lightning and rain.

Wednesday 30th June

Cannes, France to Lake Garda, Italy. 500km.

And another long drive. Very cool along the coast though as it�s mainly made up of valleys and rocky spurs sticking out to the coast, which means the motorway goes over bridge, through tunnel, over bridge, through tunnel, over and over again. The bridges are 300-700m high and tunnels 250-800m long. I took over as we went inland and into the easier driving. Now, observations on Italy. Interesting road systems, at the toll booths the lorries have to go to the right to pay and the fast vehicles have to go left � a complete crossover of traffic coming off a motorway. Similar completely useless traffic crossover in numerous places. And motorway services are built into the smallest space possible where you have to hunt for parking room, the shops inside are one directional so you have to go through all of them before you squeeze past people at the exit, and to get food at the food counters you have to go to the shop till to pay. Madness! Also, a tendency to stare really openly, which is very disconcerting when you�re from a non-eye contact culture. Italians are however very laid back about some things � service for fuel at the garage, stopping and talking to walking salesmen who come to your table at the restaurant.

Lake Garda however makes up for all of this. Absolutely beautiful. We found a campsite from the book we took with us - very commercial, on the lake shore, facilities by the thousands for family holidays. We got there in time for a swim in the beautiful water � fresh, clean, clear and delightful to swim around in. Then we went to find a restaurant � only here for one night after all. We found a beautiful old town inside defensive walls. Obviously the tourist place to go. We had dinner on a terrace looking over the lake, and then strolled around the town with ice creams.

Tuesday 29th June

Narbonne to Cannes, France. 350km.

Nothing at all exciting about this day really. Miles and miles of peage driving. The campsite in Cannes was just of the busy streets but was a peaceful haven of stillness and shade. I went for a quick dip to cool off and then we cycle-explored as far as the tropical mini golf just around the corner. Fran was a little too serious for my liking, and poor playing, but we both had a few wonder shots and the course was quite creative. And the man let us in for 41 cents too little as that was all I had in my purse!
Now the thing about the French is, and this is the only thing I can come up with that could be better, their road signs. They keep changing the names of the places on the signs you are following. Same road, going the same places, but it�s like they don�t want some towns to miss out so they swap then over every sign so everyone get�s a fair go. This only proved a real problem in Aix-en-Provence where we got quite lost and ended up needed to change over about 4 lanes in the rush hour up a steep hill from standing on a motorway in our poor little van. Otherwise, they rock. Rant over.

Monday 28th June

Sort, Spain to Narbonne, France, via Andorra. 280km.

Back over the road of a million hairpins. Better from this side though as it�s more gradual gradient from this end. And then to Andorra! I was hoping to stop somewhere nice in Andorra, and maybe finally eat paella, but paella is avoiding me and Andorra was about _ city, _ beautiful mountain passes with not much along the road. It was a beautiful country. We stopped and had lunch just before the tunnel that would take us the border. It was about 40km end to end. Back down to the coast in France where we�d only been a few days before, but this time we stopped in Narbonne. The road down to the coast was beautiful � lots of vineyards interspersed with strongly scented pines and the chirping of cicadas. We found a site where we could camp next to the ocean, and I went for a swim while fran read. Then we feasted on kingsize prawns and trout for dinner before going to bed very tired.

Saturday 26th June/Sunday 27th June

Sitting by a gorgeous river in Spain. In the shade of tall trees along the river. I am in fact right next to the van, at the our campsite. Fran�s set up the tarpaulin to give us shade. We have our tables and chairs out�

At 2 we cycled into Sort to see the final day�s festivities for the European Freestyle Champs. Nothing happening til 4. So we found a caf� to have a drink and some food. Went back to the river, still not many people around. And slowly as 4 o�clock was here and still nothing was happening, we realised this wasn�t Saturday. This was Sunday. Explaining why the icecream shop had Sunday�s date on it�s counter, and why on �Thursday� someone had said it was the 25th, why everyone in the campsite was packing up this morning, why the wave was deserted and people were snatching banners as souvenirs, why the Danish couple next to us left the campsite at 10 last night (to see the final), why there were burnt out fireworks on the bridge above the wave, why all the cars with kayaks in the town centre had gone, why people were getting quite drunk at the bar last night� we arrived in time to see it, and sat having dinner in our camper instead!

Not really a lot more you can say about that! Where shall we go next?

Friday 25th June (actually Saturday 26th June)

Cammargue, France to Sort, Spain. 400km.

We awoke early to the sound of a bulldozer cleaning sand from the parking spaces next to the beach where we�d parked up for the night. I hardly slept as this seems to be the spot young people come after drinking to generally make noise. The night, however, was worth the morning � beautiful clean clear beach, fresh and warm, but for a few dog walkers the beach was ours. Definitely a nice way to wake up.

We arrived in Sort at 7.30pm after a gargantuan mountain drive. From the Camargue down the coast to Perpignon. We tried to find the sandy beaches edged with pine forest that Fran�s remembered from family holidays, only to find virtually the whole coast sprawling with new tourist developments. From Perpignon to the Spanish border. The air smelt beautiful � fresh, clean, and very fragrant. As we approached the Spanish border we thought they were checking passports, ours were in a bag in one of the boxes under the seat cushions, so I was stretching over to the back with my bottom waving in the air, just as we came up to the guards! They waved us though, NOT checking said passports � hmph! Things started to get stressful as the map didn�t give enough detail on where to go, so we swapped over so I was driving. I did a quick reversing into a wood store manoeuvre and we were off. This time to the serious up hill � I lost count of the hair pin bends but there were between 25 and 30 I�d say, and all taken in 2nd gear, right to the top!

Thursday 24th June (actually Friday 25th June)

Briancon to Camargue, via Chateau Queyras. 300km.

Woke up this morning and God said the parcel had arrived. Me being very human then came up with lots of reasons why that couldn�t have worked, but sure enough our parcel was there at reception. Thanks steve! We went over to Fran�s friends with the forces to say goodbye, only to discover they were off to do Chateau Queyras and Guardian Angel Gorge, which fran really wanted to do. So we packed up camp and headed up to the get in. With the paddlers off in the river, I drove down to the get out, which was a beautiful location, to read and spend some time with God�

�Beautiful. Sitting at the end of Guardian Angel Gorge which fran will be coming out of in a few hours time. The mouth of the gorge is like a smaller version of that which they paddle down in Lord of the Rings, two old bridge supports acting as sentries. The water is fresh and clear � a beautiful milky turquoise, and it flows out into a wider river valley, trees lining slopes down to the sparkling water. The sky is blue and clear, a few wisps of clouds. A fresh breeze prevents the sun from baking me.�

They arrived sooner than I expected, and after chatting with Tom for a while we left to start our journey. The sun was hot and travelling in the van was pretty baking. We stopped in Gap to find an internet caf� briefly � very seedy, again teenagers/young men playing doom type games, or looking at porn. French internet cafes seem to have this over them, rather than the English ones which seem to be clearer, cleaner, about information and communication. Then we were off again, down to the coast. We decided to stop in the Camargue for the night � ever since being a horsey younger girl the white horses of the Camargue have been a little fascinating. As we drove in with the sun setting on the right of us, we saw the black bulls, white horses and flamingos all famous in this area. We reached the coast and pulled up by the back and dipped our toes in the med in the dusk. Quite a difference to the High Alps we were in that morning.

Wednesday 23rd June (actually Thursday 24th June)

Fran went off to do the Durance Gorge with the Forces group, and I went in to Briancon for the morning. After doing a few errands, I walked up to the old town in search of a coffee. It was beautiful. 4-storey houses rises higgledy-piggledy against each other in the sloping streets, wide enough for a car to get down. At street level it was cool and dark with houses towering over you, cutting the sun out. I mooched around the tastefully touristy streets for a while, looking for a place I could sit and spend time with God. I came out on the edge of the old town. Set a top a big lump of rock rising up from Briancon, the fortified town has big walls and big views of the valley. It was here that I found my caf�. On one side the lovely old French houses, on the other a sweeping panorama from valley top to bottom, and mountains all the way round. Definitely a nice place to sit and be.

In the afternoon me and fran decided to do the Durance Gorge via-ferrata. This was described in the book as being quite strenuous and exposed, so I think we were both a little nervous, for different reasons. We started at 5.30, as the heat was coming out of the day. The trip was very, very fun � starting off traversing in on ledges with a few overhanging moves to get to the first bridge, crossing the gorge about the water about 5m up. Then up an overhanging section to a second bridge, directly above that returned us to our starting side. Traversing onwards and upwards we came to a third wire bridge � across a shallow scree slop that, if the hydro power pipes running nearby build up too much pressure, releases water straight down the slope, bringing rocks flying with it. There was a big wire net across the slope, and signs telling you not to linger on the bridge. Along and down a scree slope we came to the fourth bridge, just above water level. Then it was about 150m up a cliff face, following grooves and cracks with a reasonable amount of rock climbing, rather than the metal staples they sometimes put in for hand and foot holds. At the top all the climbing was finished, apart from crossing back to the other side of the river. This was a huge suspended wire bridge that crossed the gorge at the very top, about 150m from the river below. A little unnerving as it swayed in the wind! WE finished about 9, and headed back to camp for a large dinner!

Tuesday 22nd June (actually Wednesday 23rd June)

Fran paddled the middle guil in the morning with army guys. Then in the afternoon we went back to chateau queras to do the via ferrata. It was very fun � made for families to do. (I�m writing this about 2 weeks late, it got missed somehow, so details are sketchy now!)

Tuesday 22nd June (the lost day)

Lost the sun. In fact I�d say the wettest since we�ve been here. We�re waiting upon some mail from England before we leave, otherwise now would�ve been a good time to get on the road. Think we�ll be pootling into Briancon to do some cybercafe stuff. Last time I tried to download my web pages and save them it only saved the link and not the content, so getting the rest of oddshapedhouse going may take a little longer than previously thought.