Articles tagged with "river"

Niagara

Niagara

The next morning I managed to get to Union station in time for the train to Niagara Falls. I still almost got into trouble with a streetcar that stopped short of its normal destination and left me a few minutes away, but I got on the train with a couple of minutes to spare.

The train was going to New York. Ontario sped past outside the window, as the bright blue sunshine that had started the day ebbed away and left behind high grey cloud. We passed through towns called Aldershot and Grimsby, and eventually we pulled into Niagara Falls station.

The grey clouds were descending. I walked out of the station, into an empty town. I was coming to one of the most touristy places in the world, but it looked like not many people arrive by train and walk two and a half miles down to the falls. I reached the cliffs above the wide green Niagara River and walked south. Small icebergs in the river floated north.

I didn’t expect much of the falls. I wasn’t even sure why I was going there. I’ve seen some of the biggest and widest falls the world has to offer, and these ones would surely pale in comparison. But then I walked round a corned, and in the distance saw a wall of water thundering over a cliff, and it was breathtaking. I walked on down the road. Spots of rain were starting to fall. I passed the international bridge and wondered if I should pop over to the US while I was here, but I thought that my battered and frayed passport might make it much more hassle than it was worth. I decided to stay in Canada.

The rain got heavier. By the time I reached the falls it was utterly grim, and at the lip of the falls it was even more grim as the spray competed with the rain and made everything twice as wet. I briefly retreated inside a ghastly tourist complex, had a nauseating Tim Hortons doughnut and a coffee, and then decided that whether it was raining or not, I had to get out of there. I walked up into Niagara Falls town. Giant hotels and casinos lined the streets. I was thinking of going up an observation tower, but the top of it was in the clouds. I walked randomly until I got to a place downstream of the falls where I could look over the rushing river with the massive horseshoe bite taken out of it.

The rain eased off and I walked back to the falls. In spite of the horrible commercialisation and the horrible numbers of tourists, they were impressive. I watched the water powering over the precipice for a while, wondering why humans like waterfalls enough to build grotesque tourist empires next to them.

Then the rain started falling again, and I headed back up to the station. Clouds clung to the sides of the river valley, and icebergs drifted by. The bus back to Toronto fought its way through the downpour and at one point the driver had to ask a passenger to wipe the condensation off his front window. Wet to the skin, I trudged back to where I was staying.


Belém

Belém

The next day I met an Argentinian girl, Alexia, at the hostel I was staying at. She was a journalist working in Madrid, and was here for a weekend break. We explored Lisbon together. She had no qualms about speaking to locals in Spanish when we needed to ask for directions. I wondered if they found that rude, but they helped us out happily enough.

We went up to the castle for some great views of Lisbon. Alexia was a true Argentine; while we were up there she brewed herself a maté, having brought her gourd and a thermos of hot water with her. I’d spent a long time in Argentina but I’d never actually tried maté. I tried now, and quite liked it. As we passed the gourd, another Argentine happened to be passing by, and instantly recognised a fellow countrywoman.

We got a train to Belém. It’s famous for its tower and its pastries, and after we’d seen the tower we headed for the pastry shop. Then we went to the Centro Cultural de Belém. I didn’t even know it existed, but it contained a fantastic contemporary art gallery. Seeing a bit of contemporary art is one of my favourite things to do in any city so I was very happy to have ended up here.

At 6pm it was time for me to head off. Gig time was approaching.


Þingvellir

Þingvellir

I got a bus to Þingvellir. I’d wanted to go here last time but we hadn’t had time. I’d always thought it sounded like a pretty awesome place so I was looking forward to finally seeing it. It was a hot sunny day again, and Iceland was in a fantastic summery mood. We stopped in Laugarvatn and I bought an ice cream.

At Þingvellir the bus normally stops at the Hotel Valhöll, but startlingly the Hotel Valhöll had burned down the previous night. Emergency service cordons blocked the road. We took a detour and stopped at the national park service centre.

I went for a walk. The summery weather had changed a bit, and it was overcast. This was good. I’d always imagined that Þingvellir would be forbidding and atmospheric, and the hot sun didn’t really work for me. Under grey skies I liked the place a lot. I walked down huge chasms, finally reaching the site of the Alþingi. There was a sense of history. Here was where Iceland defined its nationality. Here was where the first settlers met each year to pass laws. And here was where two continents drifting apart were slowly tearing the country into two. Great chasms flanked either side of the sunken plain, across which a river flowed calmly.

The next day it was blazing sunshine again. I hiked back down the chasms but it wasn’t quite the same. I scaled a large rock face to get up onto the North American plate, and I looked across to Europe on the other side of the plains. The Öxará river fell into the gap, diverted into the plains by the early Norse to provide water for their assemblies. I relaxed in the sun until it was time to head, for the last time, back to Reykjavík.


Wild parts

Wild parts

When I got up the next morning it was raining hard. I spoke to the warden at the hut, and he reckoned it would start to clear in a couple of hours. So I waited before setting off. I tried to write my journal but my hands were too cold, so I wandered along the lake as the drizzle eased off.

The warden was right. After a couple of hours it was no longer raining, so I set off. The going was much easier than yesterday, and I set a furious pace again. Having started late, I found there were quite a few people on the trail in front of me. After a steep climb down to a bridge over a wild river, I found a huge dusty expanse in front of me, with five or six groups of hikers strung out across it. I like targets when I’m doing things like this, and I chased them down during the day.

The trail crossed a few more rivers. They were all brutally cold but not too difficult to cross. They were quite welcome, amid the desert-like scenery. Grey dust blew about, and there was hardly any vegetation or colour to be seen. The skies matched the ground, a uniform slate grey as far as I could see.

Later on it got less forbidding. A vivid green mountain came into view, looking to me like it could be the crazy home of some Norse god. On this part of the trek I could easily see why Icelandic folk tales have it that every other rock in the highlands is home to a spirit or goblin of some sort.

Eventually I crested a rise and found the Emstrur hut beneath me. I was two thirds of the way to the end.


Escaping the crowds

Escaping the crowds

I walked up to the castle. The streets heaved with tour buses and camera-laden tourists, and I wished I’d come here first in my European travels, instead of last. My dad travelled here in the 1960s, and it must have felt like a different universe back then. I walked through the castle grounds, barging through hundreds of tourist photographs.

I headed haphazardly back towards the old town. Another sense of direction failure meant I ended up crossing a busy road to get back to the river, and so finally I reached a spot where there weren’t many tourists around.


Prague

Prague

Who really counts Andorra, Monaco, Liechtenstein and San Marino as proper countries? Their only purpose is to take up the bottom spots in world cup qualification groups so that no-one else ever has to finish bottom. As such, when I visited the Czech Republic, I considered that I had then been to every country in Europe.

Normally when I turn up in an unfamiliar city, I can find my way about pretty quickly. For some reason in Prague I never really got my orientation sorted, and had a ridiculous time when I arrived trying to find my hostel. I got a bus into town easily enough, and walked to the station, but then it all went wrong. I went into the station so that I could follow directions from the relevant exit, only to get lost in its empty cavernous halls, and then to find that the relevant exit was locked up. I found my way back out, through a window in a deserted corridor, and set off in search again. I ended up walking for about an hour, exploring many parts of Žižkov and Karlin, before I finally managed to get to the hostel at 2am.

I got up late the next day, and headed back out into the city. I managed not to get lost, and found my way eventually to the Charles Bridge. When my sister had been here, a few years earlier, she’d said it took her twenty minutes to walk across the bridge because of the crush of tourists. Today, one side of the bridge was behind hoardings and the crush was doubled. It took me a long time to get across.


Mostar

Mostar

I got a tram from near Haris’s place to Sarajevo train station. It was in the newer, less fantastic part of town, with a large quiet square in front of it called “Srebrenica Massacre Square”. So often in Bosnia it was easy to begin to forget what had gone on during the 1990s, but there were always reminders.

The train to Mostar was a few hours late. It arrived in Sarajevo at the same time as a train heading for Zagreb, and neither station nor train seemed to indicate which one was which. I got on the one that had come into the platform I was on, stood by the door in case I felt the need to jump out suddenly, watched the station recede and then uncertainly decided to take a seat. If I’d accidentally got the Zagreb train, then I would just go to Zagreb. Why not? There was only me and one other person in my compartment and I asked him, in a patronising traveller-style gesturing sort of way, if this was the Mostar train. He replied in normal English that it was.

We started talking. He was called Sasha, and he was a Bosnian Serb, about the same age as Haris. He was a metaller, bearded, long-haired and dressed in black. He told me of the constant grief anyone who looks a bit alternative gets from the police in Bosnia. He said all the police were uneducated country boys and would stop and search him at pretty much every opportunity.

A native of Herzegovina, he said it bothered him a bit that everyone calls the country “Bosnia” when really it’s “Bosnia and Herzegovina”. But his Herzegovina nationalism was not particularly serious and he was generally more concerned with enjoying being a student in Mostar. We talked a bit about the war, and he said he thought Bosnia was healing, slowly. But I remembered Haris saying he just didn’t know if he could ever be friends with a Serb, after all the horrors he’d lived through. I wondered what would happen if these two good people ever met. Would they get on, or would the legacy of the brutality be too great?


Train to Belgrade

Train to Belgrade

The train was about an hour late arriving in Budapest. I’d been getting paranoid that I’d missed it. On board, it was busy. I found my way to a six seat cabin, in which I met two Serbs going to Subotica, two English girls going to Novi Sad, and a Hungarian who got off somewhere near the border. I chatted to the English girls for a while, then slept very badly. When we got woken up for the borders I felt so tired I hardly knew what was going on, but the Serb official who stamped me in was as jovial as any border guard I’ve ever met.

At dawn we reached Novi Sad. The English girls got off, and I had the compartment to myself. Dawn was breaking as we crossed the Danube, rumbling over a bridge that replaced one destroyed by NATO bombs in 1999. I slept until we got to Belgrade at eight.


Back to Budapest

Back to Budapest

I’d wanted to go to Budapest for years, and had finally got there in February. A few months later I decided to go there again. I was planning to travel through the Balkans, and Budapest was a nice cheap place to get to, only a night train away from Belgrade. I booked to stay at the same hostel I’d been to before, and arrived two hours late with Wizz Air just as I had before. What was different, though, was that it was incredibly hot.

I only had one day in Budapest. Last time, I’d failed to find the soundtrack to Kontroll, an amazing film described boldly as the best Hungarian film of 2004. This time I made it my first priority, and with some recommendations of record shops from Olga the hostel owner, I got hold of it.

I’d got what I came for, and so I went out to Keleti station to buy a ticket for the night train to Serbia. In breathtaking heat I queued for about half an hour, in a long line of travellers. Serbia was a very popular destination, because the EXIT festival in Novi Sad was imminent.

I had a few hours to kill before the train, and so I went up Gellért Hill, to watch the lights of the city come on as night fell. It was good to be back in Hungary, but I reckoned it would be even better to be in Serbia. I headed back out to Keleti to get the midnight train to Belgrade.


Moon river

Moon river

We went to Calle Betis on Sunday to see what was going on there. Not much, was the answer. Most bars were closed, and the only one we found that was open was extremely quiet. We decided to call it a night at about 1am. Outside, the clouds had cleared, and the moon was shining.


Gellért Hill

Gellért Hill

I went out to a club with some people from the hostel. It was fun but I had to leave after an hour: I’d broken a rib playing football a few days earlier, and the music was loud enough that every beat was giving me chest pains. I went home and slept badly, not realising at the time that my rib would be painful for weeks.

The next morning I went to Gellért Hill, just across the river from my hostel. At the top, in the warm morning sun, I looked out over Hungary and thought I would never get bored of going to new places.


Helsingborg

Helsingborg

We’d originally planned to head straight for Halmstad, but we randomly decided we might as well stop off in Helsingborg to see what it was like. The town was being battered by violent winds when we arrived, and we mostly stayed inside cafes to avoid dying of exposure.


Vila Nova de Gaia

Vila Nova de Gaia

I went to Porto for a weekend. I had to sleep at Stansted to catch the early flight, which is always a horrific experience, and in my exhausted state I bought the wrong metro ticket and ended up in a distant suburb with no cash to buy a new ticket. I walked into town.

Once I’d made it there, I walked down to the river, where the red roofs of Ribeira climbed up the hills on the Porto side. The buildings looked crumbling and poor here, and there were a lot of beggars around. Underneath the Ponte Dom Luis, I walked up a street down which smelly water was running. Small grubby children were playing and I felt like I was in a poor part of Latin America. On top of the hill was another story – shiny new metro trains rumbled by, and grand buildings lined the streets.

I crossed over the Douro to Vila Nova de Gaia, home of the port industry. Some sort of parade was taking place, and bands were marching by. I sat down and watched them going by, eventually falling asleep, exhausted by my night at Stansted.


Train to Shanghai

Train to Shanghai

In the morning I was woken at 7am by a thunderstorm, and felt disorientated to find myself in a strange room. I couldn’t sleep, and no-one else was up, so I decided to just hit the road. I’d thought about heading out to the river to see if I could get a boat down to Shanghai, but with heavy rain falling I decided just to get a train. I got the metro to the train station, taking note of the signs instructing me to ‘wait in safe-line’ and ‘care the gap’.

The station was a scene of chaos, and I felt that my lack of Chinese and shattered state was going to make things tricky. But the queues were fast moving, and the English-speaking girl behind the window sold me a ticket for a train leaving for Shanghai in ten minutes. I got on, found my way to a seat, and then slept all the way to Shangai, dreaming crazy dreams.

It was 4pm when I arrived in China’s biggest city, and I hadn’t eaten all day. I got on the metro, assisted by a friendly local who I thought might be after a tip like the woman at Beijing airport had been, but he wasn’t. He asked me where I was going, showed me how to buy a ticket, and was gone before I could say ‘xie xie’. And so I headed from the train station to Henan Zhong Lu, and walked down to the Huangpu River.


Brazil, briefly

Brazil, briefly

I got a bus from Cuidad del Este across the river to Foz do Iguassú in Brazil. The bus didn’t stop at immigration, though, so I found myself illegally in Brazil. I got a bus back, then walked to the immigration post on the Paraguayan side of the river, over the bridge, and into Brazil officially. If anything it was even hotter here than it had been in Paraguay, and Foz was a ghost town on a Sunday afternoon. I managed to mistakenly get off the bus in a distant suburb and walked slowly into the centre of town.

First task was getting some Brazilian money. I had a couple of worrying moments, the first of which was finding that two of my three bank cards wouldn’t work in the cash machines. The third was a Cirrus card, which the bank had told me probably wouldn’t work outside Europe, but strangely it did work here. Then, on trying to leave the bank I thought I was trapped inside. Turns out the Portuguese for ‘pull’ is dangerously similar to the Spanish for ‘push’.

Next task was buy an ice cream, avoid the hotel touts in town (they were about the only people out and about), and find a taxi to get to my hostel, out of town on the road to Iguazú Falls. It took a while for me first to find a taxi driver and then to wake him from his Sunday afternoon sleep, and by the time I got to the hostel it was too late to go to the Falls. Luckily the hostel was probably the nicest I’ve stayed in anywhere in the world, with a swimming pool, bar, restaurant and internet access so I chilled out there for the evening.

In the morning I got a bus to Iguazú Falls. It’s one of the world’s most famous waterfalls, a massive expanse of water falling 80 metres in hundreds of individual cascades. It’s also one of the most visited places in South America, and I really didn’t like the overwhelming weight of tourists. The crush was so great that I found myself often waiting many minutes to get close enough to a viewpoint to actually see the falls. And the overcast weather meant the falls didn’t look that great anyway.

But, as the day wore on, the clouds broke up and the falls began to look better. Despite the swarms, I began to like them a bit more, and when the sun came out properly I took a cheesy little train ride to a distant part of the falls where you walk for about half a mile over boardwalks above the river to get to a viewpoint right on the very edge of the falls, as they thunder into a gorge called the Garganta del Diablo. Here I decided the falls actually were pretty amazing. I’d never stood on the lip of such a huge waterfall before, and the waves of soaking spray deterred some of the tourists as well. I was seriously impressed and spent a while there trying to take pictures every time there were a few seconds where the spray seemed to die down a bit.

Eventually I felt that I’d seen everything I could at the falls, and headed back to the hostel. The following morning I had planned to go to the other side of the falls, but an apocalyptic thunderstorm had started during the night, and carried on until the afternoon. I probably should have gone out anyway because hanging round at the hostel was extremely boring. At 4pm I got a bus to Puerto Iguazú back in Argentina, and got an overnight bus back to Buenos Aires.


By the Arno

By the Arno

Heavy winter skies were breaking up at dusk, as we walked from the tower back to the station. When we got to the Arno, the skies were velvety blue and the town looked nice.


Hamburg

Hamburg

My flight to Lübeck was so early that my best option was to sleep at Stansted. My plan was that this would be a little bit less tiring than getting up at 3am, but then I met a fun bunch of people on the last train to Stansted, we played cards all night on the airport floor, and I was destroyed by the time I got to Germany.

I stayed in a hostel in St. Pauli, overlooking the docks. It was grey and cold, and an icy wind was blowing off the Elbe as I looked over the huge expanse of cranes. The bracing conditions at least woke me up a bit.


Salzburg

Salzburg

After my trip to Norway earlier in the year, I’d got a bit of a taste for European city breaks. There was a Ryanair sale on, and I got flights to Salzburg for 20 pounds, so early one November morning I headed up to Stansted to fly out there.

London had been grey and cold, but in Salzburg the air was fresh and the sun was shining. I’d got up at 4am and so I was pretty tired by the time I got into the city. I checked into a hostel, and sat down in a room by the reception to have a look through my guide book and plan my day. Suddenly, before I knew what was happening, the door had shut, the curtains were closed, a TV was switched on and I was in a screening of The Sound Of Music. I shut my book, jumped up and got out as quickly as I could.

After that lucky escape, I headed out to explore. I went for a walk along the banks of the Salzach River, down which a warm wind was blowing. I got to a bench with a view of the fortress, and dozed in the sunshine for a while.


Sydney again

Sydney again

I had one more day in Sydney. It rained heavily for most of it so I didn’t do very much. I got the ferry to Manly, and walked on the beach for a while. On the way back, the waters of the harbour were choppy, and me and another guy who was standing on the bow got completely soaked when we hit a large wave and spray crashed down over the decks.

Back at Circular Quay, I walked along the shores of the harbour to Macquarie Point. It was getting dark, and the bridge and the opera house were looking good. It was my last night in Australia, and I wondered when I would be back. Opportunities to visit the other side of the world don’t come around too often, and after two visits in three years, I thought it would probably be a while before I could return.


Adelaide

Adelaide

I got to Adelaide not longer after the World Solar Challenge competitors got there. They had raced across the deserts from Darwin to here in solar-powered vehicles, and in the hostel I met a guy called Sven, who had been a competitor. He’d finished last, but didn’t seem too unhappy about it.

I went to look around Adelaide. My dad’s cousins live in Adelaide, and I got a train to Marino to visit them. Three years ago in their house I had a terrifying encounter with a huntsman spider, but this time there were none in sight. I was constantly keeping half an eye out though.

Back in the city centre I looked around. As night fell I walked along the river and watched the lights of the city come on. I walked up to Light’s Vision, a statue of the city founder overlooking his creation. I thought he must have been pretty pleased with it.