Apr 25, 2011 in Canada 2011
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. As it hauled itself slowly out of Toronto I felt that I wanted to be going on a much longer journey than the two hour run to the border. 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 [...]
Nov 08, 2009 in Portugal 2009
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 like me for a weekend break. We explored Lisbon together. I spoke to her in Spanish and she spoke to me in English, and in this way we communicated very effectively. She also had no qualms about speaking to locals in Spanish. I wondered if they thought us 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 sampled some now, and quite liked it. As we passed the gourd, another Argentine happened to be passing by, and instantly recognised a fellow countrywoman. He was a long-time expat but like Alexia, he made sure he had some maté available wherever in the world he happened to be. We got a train to Belém, a riverside suburb of the city. It’s famous for its [...]
Jul 12, 2009 in Greenland and Iceland 2009
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. [...]
Jul 06, 2009 in Greenland and Iceland 2009
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 [...]
Dec 06, 2008 in Czech Republic 2008
I walked up to the castle. I was liking Prague in every respect except for how everyone else was liking it at the same time as I was. 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. Still lacking any consistent sense of what was where in this city, I headed haphazardly back towards the old town. My 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.
Dec 06, 2008 in Czech Republic 2008
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 [...]
Jul 10, 2008 in Balkans 2008
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 [...]
Jul 05, 2008 in Balkans 2008
The train was about an hour late leaving Budapest. I’d been getting paranoid that I’d missed it. On board, it was busy, and when I bought my ticket there had been no mention of seat reservations, let alone sleeper compartments. 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.
Jul 04, 2008 in Balkans 2008
I’d wanted to go to Budapest for years, and had finally got there in February. Now, only 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 fearsomely hot. Last time I had slept terribly because I had a broken rib; this time it was because it was about 40°C in the room. 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 headed out into town. The second shop I tried had it, and for weeks after I listened to almost nothing else. I’d got what I came for, and so I went out to Keleti station to buy a ticket [...]
Apr 21, 2008 in Sevilla 2008
We were keen to make Sunday night as large as we could, and we headed out to Calle Betis 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. There were just some dodgy women from Gran Canaria who were about twenty years older than us and terrifyingly flirtatious. We decided to call it a night at about 1am. Outside, the clouds had cleared, and the moon was shining.
Feb 24, 2008 in Budapest 2008
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, which towered over the south end of the city 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.
Jan 19, 2008 in Sweden and Denmark 2008
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. Sitting on an exposed bit of the Öresund coast, Helsingborg was being battered by violent winds when we arrived, and after a quick walk up to a park overlooking the town, we retreated inside a cafe to avoid dying of exposure. After a few restorative espressos, we decided to head on to Halmstad.
Jul 07, 2007 in Portugal 2007
I was oddly reluctant to go to Portugal. In South America, I’d only spent three days in Brazil, confused by the way Portuguese looked quite similar to Spanish but sounded incredibly different. I felt like I should have been able to understand it, but I couldn’t. So although I’d been to Iberia many times, I’d never been to the Portuguese bit before. And my trip started with confusion. I had slept at Stansted, which is always a horrific experience, so I was probably too tired to work out the metro system properly. I managed to buy a ticket that wouldn’t take me all the way into the city, so I got off at Fonte de Cuco. The ticket machine there wouldn’t take my notes, and so I walked through the suburbs in the hot sun to Senhora da Hora. Once I’d made it into town I walked down to the river, where the red roofed bairro 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, and yet the streets were characterful. Underneath Eiffel’s massive Ponte Dom Luis, I walked up a street down which [...]
Apr 22, 2007 in China 2007
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 [...]
Oct 24, 2005 in South America 2005
I got a bus from Cuidad del Este across the river to Foz do Iguassú in Brazil. Unfortunately, the bus didn’t stop at immigration 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’. I was glad then that most of my trip was going to be in Spanish-speaking countries. Next task [...]
Dec 11, 2003 in Pisa 2003
Heavy winter skies were breaking up at dusk, as we walked from the tower back to the station. The town away from the Campo was much nicer, and we stopped at a great little pizza restaurant for some dinner. When we got to the Arno, the skies were velvety blue and the town looked nice.
Nov 15, 2003 in Hamburg 2003
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.
Nov 16, 2002 in Salzburg 2002
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, hardly defying expectations for November. 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 [...]
Dec 05, 2001 in Australia 2001
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 were 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 views of 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 feared it might be a while before I could return.
Nov 27, 2001 in Australia 2001
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 explored the planned city. Unlike Canberra where things like street signs and soul are lacking, Adelaide has got all the essentials. The central grid is surrounded by a ring of parks, with the Torrens River winding through. 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.
Nov 17, 2001 in Australia 2001
Three years after my first trip to Australia, I had an opportunity to return, for a conference in Canberra. It was a few months after the September 11 attacks, and my flights were quiet. I travelled via Japan, spending six hours in Osaka airport’s vast terminal building before getting on an almost empty flight to Sydney. It was good to be back in this amazing city. I’d left London on a cold November day, but here it was 30°C. In a jetlagged haze I wandered around the harbour, and ambled into the Royal Botanical Gardens. I sat down in the sunshine and before I knew what was happening I was waking up and a couple of hours had passed. I got up and blearily wandered back down Pitt Street to where I was staying. The next day it was raining heavily. I ran through the downpour to Central Station and got a bus to Canberra. All my Australian friends in London had told me that a week in Canberra was a week in hell. Soon I would find out if they were telling the truth or not.
Jun 29, 2001 in Southern Africa 2001
The security guard at the Red Cross woke us early the next day. He was very much the worse for wear, having clearly been drinking all night, and slurred at us that we should get out, that the place next door was much better, that we were being ripped off here, and quite a lot more that I couldn’t understand. We gathered our stuff and managed to check in at the Jolly Boys hostel next door. We spent the morning there doing washing, shopping, and relaxing, before finally working up the energy to go and see Livingstone’s raison d’etre: Victoria Falls The Victoria Falls are Southern Africa’s greatest tourist attraction. The sluggish Zambezi, over a mile wide, thick and green, has its tranquillity interrupted by a cliff, one hundred metres high, which it plunges over. Downstream, the river is squeezed into a succession of gorges no more than fifty metres wide, churning along in a mass of white water for many miles. Touted as one of the great natural wonders of the world, it draws some 150,000 visitors each year. And it’s incredible: the vast, never-ending wall of water can’t fail to impress. But after the isolation and remoteness of [...]
Jun 27, 2001 in Southern Africa 2001
We got up before sunrise the next morning, packed up all our stuff, re-stoked the fire for a quick breakfast and got on the way at 8am. Sioma was really not very far away, and the turn-off for the falls was just a little further, so by 10am we were being dropped off by the roadside and watching the truck disappear off into the dusty distance. We were about an hour’s walk from Maziba Bay, where the hitherto very reliable Bradt guide to Zambia said there was a lodge, from where you could easily walk to the falls, and also for very agreeable prices it was possible to hire boats and even microlights to see the falls. We set off eagerly through the bush, passing snakes warming themselves in the morning sun. It was eerily quiet when we arrived at Maziba. We dropped our bags and had a look around, and there were certainly buildings, but no people to be seen. Eventually someone appeared, and we asked if we could stay. We certainly could, he said, but only to camp. And there was no hot water as the pipe had broken. We asked if he might have any cold drinks, [...]
Jun 26, 2001 in Southern Africa 2001
If we hadn’t got out of Lukulu the next day I would have snapped, but our luck returned to us in spades on Monday morning. We walked out of the resthouse at 7.30am to find two people outside who we’d spoken to briefly the previous day. They had a very comfortable-looking 4-wheel drive, and they were going to Kaoma. I almost laughed hysterically. And they left almost straight away, defying the normally very reliable ‘Zambian hour and a half’ rule of how the time people tell you you’ll leave relates to the time you actually leave. The journey to Kaoma was long and tiring. The six hours down the sandy road to Kaoma became indistinct, the monotony interrupted only at a town called Nkulo, where the villagers had a roadblock, and extracted a toll from any Zambezi fish traders passing through. At 2pm we arrived in Kaoma, and drank Coke for the first time since Zambezi. I had become horribly addicted to the stuff – there was no coffee to be had at all in western Zambia, so coke was my only caffeine fix. After a couple of hours, the Mongu bus came along, and on we got. There were [...]
Jun 21, 2001 in Southern Africa 2001
Eclipse day. During the night, I had a succession of horrible dreams in which I was in Cornwall again, watching the clouds cover up the crescent sun, or I was waking up in Zambia to find that it was cloudy. And when I woke some time before sunrise I thought my worst nightmares were coming true. I looked out the window to see dull grey skies casting a lifeless light over the land, and my heart leapt into my mouth. Surely this was all wrong! It took a while to realise that this was just the very early pre-dawn light making things look odd, and as the sky tinged blue with the oncoming day I relaxed, just a little bit. We got up and went down to the river to watch the sun rise. Two years earlier I’d watched the Sun rise over pools of mist from a Cornish hilltop, and I’d listened to Mute by Porcupine Tree. I did the same here on the banks of the Zambezi as I watched the sun sliding inexorably towards its rendezvous with the moon, lurking unseen next to it in the sky. There was not even a hint of a cloud in [...]
Jun 20, 2001 in Southern Africa 2001
Day 7. One day before eclipse day. We were recovered enough to contemplate travel, and we decided we would go to Chinyingi. It seemed amazing to me that between source and sea there were just four bridges across the Zambezi. Chinyingi was the uppermost of them. We headed to the bus station to see if by some miracle there was a bus heading in that direction, but there wasn’t. Instead of a bus, we found Catherine, a bank worker who we had met in Solwezi. She had thought she wouldn’t be able to get time off work to come and see the eclipse, but it turned out she had managed it, and so here she was in the path of totality. Like us, she could not believe what an experience the journey to here had been. Unlike us, poor woman, she would be returning the same way after the eclipse. Catherine wanted to head to Chavuma, to meet up with Rune, and as Chinyingi is on the way to there, we invited her along with us. In the absence of buses, hitching is the way to head north from Zambezi, but hitching in Zambia always involves a contribution to petrol [...]
Jun 19, 2001 in Southern Africa 2001
I could have slept for at least a week, but we were woken early by Martin, who was keen for us to see the sights. And oh, what a sight when we pulled back the curtains to see the river winding towards us from Angola, dazzling under the bright sun. Though we were weary and battered, we managed to get up and go for a stagger around Zambezi. The town stood on thick sand, the northern fringes of the Kalahari desert, so walking around was hard work, but we managed it. Soon enough we found our way to a bar, and decided to stop for a while. It was the Riverside Club, which as we were to discover over the next few days, is one of the best places in the world to spend an evening. Still shellshocked from our overnight odyssey, we sat there for some time, drinking cold drinks and watching the river go by. Rune, who had travelled with us from Solwezi, was intending to go on to Chavuma, right up on the border with Angola, so after a bone-soothing few hours at the Riverside, we wandered off with him to find out about transport in that [...]
Sep 23, 2000 in Central America 2000
We had spent enough time around Arenal, so the next day, we moved on to our next destination, Rincón de la Vieja. Situated in north western Costa Rica, this is another active volcano, which last erupted in 1998. We hoped to climb to the top and camp the night there. We made our way to Liberia, via the towns of Tilaran and Cañas. During the three-leg journey, the weather got ever hotter. As well as talking to a crazy young Costa Rican called Jorge, who would occasionally lean out the window and do tarzan whoops as we passed through the forest, we met two Austrian travellers, Andi and Eva, who also wanted to go to Rincón de la Vieja. We decided we’d all go up together, and decided to try and find a way there the next day. There is no public transport to Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja, but the owner of the hotel Moh and I were staying at had a 4WD, and said he’d take us to the park and pick us up the next day for $10 each. We hired him, and after we’d bought food and fuel, we set off. It was an awesomely [...]
May 28, 2000 in London to Munich 2000
The first thing to do was work out the Paris metro. Of course I’m biased, but I thought it was really rubbish compared to the tube in London, mainly because the map is awful. It’s a horrible spider’s web, especially in comparison with London’s, which is a modern design classic. But eventually I’d worked out how to get from République to the centre of town, and later still I’d work out that it would have been quicker to walk it anyway. I started off by checking out Notre Dame. If I’m honest, I didn’t think it was that great at first. I’d expected it to be bigger, and darker. But after looking all around the outside, I decided it was quite impressive. Round the back there is a garden which is much quieter than the tourist nightmare round the front, which always helps when you want to appreciate something. It was incredibly busy when I first arrived, so I thought I’d wait until a bit later on to go inside. I filled up my time wandering the streets of the Left Bank, eating crepes and enjoying the sunny weather. It’s a hugely explorable area, around there, and very pleasant just [...]
Sep 08, 1999 in Iceland 1999
After this brief return to Gullfoss, we headed back to Selfoss, from where we went to Hella. This small town, apart from being the inspiration behind a million bad puns, is also the nearest town to Mt. Hekla, Iceland’s most famous volcano. During the middle ages, it was, in popular legend, the entrance to hell. The skies were supposed to be filled with vultures and ravens, and the wailing souls of the fallen could apparently be heard all around. Presumably, less people go to hell these days, as the only sound we could hear from the campsite at Hella was that of the road, and large black birds were conspicuous by their absence. We set up camp in a beautiful location by a river, and thoroughly appreciated the excellent facilities that we had only paid three hundred kroner each for. After cooking dinner in real pots and pans for the first and only time on the trip, we enjoyed a truly magnificent sunset, and a fine night’s sleep. Early the next morning, we awoke to find a day of pleasant sunshine, and walked a mile or two out of the village to find a good view of mount Hekla. Clouds [...]
Sep 06, 1999 in Iceland 1999
We spent our second day at Geysir exploring the multitude of other mini-geysers and hot springs in the area. Several tiny geysers erupt constantly, throwing hot water about a foot into the air. A lot of springs just bubble impressively. All around, steam rises into the air. Most of the tourists just watch a Strokkur eruption or two before leaving, and so a short walk off the beaten path leaves the crowds far behind. Beyond Strokkur, a large hill rises over the valley, and we climbed this. From here, Strokkur looked very impressive, surrounded by acres of land from which steam was rising. On the hill, hidden from the path by some bushes, is Haihver, meaning High Spring, which is probably only seen by about 30 people a year. We sat down in the sun by the spring, in a large patch of clover, appreciating the scene. Further on up, a view disc points out all the impressive sights around, including the Langjökull icecap, Iceland’s second largest, and, on a very clear day, Mt. Hekla far off to the south-east. On our final morning at Geysir, we watched Strokkur again for a while, and then got the bus back up [...]
Aug 30, 1999 in Iceland 1999
And then it was time to leave Mývatn. Unfortunately, a slight misreading of the timetable led to us arriving at the bus stop two hours early. However, this slight mishap aside, the onward journey was trouble-free. More spectacular scenery was seen, as we passed the huge lava fields east of Mývatn, and eventually came to the valley of the glacial river Jökulsá á Dal. Like most Icelandic place-names, it sounded mysterious and evocative to me, but actually means, rather prosaically, the Glacial River with the Valley. The usual twenty or thirty beautiful waterfalls were seen, before we stopped for lunch at Egilsstaðir, in the far east of the country. From here, the ring road follows the deeply indented coastline, so that you sometimes travel for 20 miles to make half a mile’s headway. We arrived in Höfn, in the south-east, at 8.30pm, and stayed the night there. The mighty Vatnajökull icecap oozes into the sea through several valleys here, and in the evening twilight, it looked magnificent. The cool but calm weather gave the place a very Arctic atmosphere. The next morning, day 10, we took the bus from Höfn to Skaftafell, from where we would explore the Laki fissure. [...]
Aug 23, 1999 in Iceland 1999
Mývatn means ‘Midge Lake’, and it’s not wrong. We arrived on a calm day, not too long after sunset, and as soon as we got off the bus, we were engulfed. During the half-mile walk between the bus stop and our campsite, we were nearly driven insane by the things. We dived into a petrol station half way there, and were horrified to see dead midges inch-thick on the window ledges. Flapping wildly, we rushed for the campsite. We soon made the happy discovery that they don’t stay out at night. With some relief, we set up camp in the cool fresh air of northern Iceland. The sky never got completely dark at Mývatn, with a sort of late twilight glow hanging over the northern horizon throughout the night. At around midnight, as I looked at the stars overhead, I saw what I thought was a high cloud still lit by the Sun. But as I watched it changed shape rapidly, and I realised that it was the northern lights. As we watched, the lights drifted around overhead, shapeless and eerie. We were very happy to have seen the aurorae on our first clear night, and we hoped that we’d [...]
Mar 02, 1999 in OHP 1999
We didn’t spend the entire time on the observatory site – the group hired a car, and on one of our days off, three of us went to see the Gorges du Verdon, allegedly the second biggest canyon in the world. It was a long drive to get there but the scenery was increasingly impressive. We entered the canyon at its lower end, and drove slowly along, appreciating some stunning views and also occasionally experiencing some stunningly strong winds blowing down the valley. Further up the canyon we walked a little way up to a couple of view points. It started to snow briefly but luckily not for long, and we enjoyed standing right on the edge of heart-stopping precipices to look down on the tiny Verdon river far below. After that we drove back downstream, stopping again at the windiest point because it had the best views of the turqoise river. At the end of the valley, the river broadened, the wind dropped completely, and the Verdon carried on placidly towards the Durance, then the Rhône, then the Mediterranean Sea.
Aug 12, 1998 in Australia 1998
On our last night in Australia, it was cold and miserable, and drizzle drifted on the breeze. We walked down to the harbour for a last view of the bridge and the opera house. The crazy shells of the opera house were spectacular to see, and it seemed impossible to imagine that it hadn’t always been there. It was also impossible to imagine that in its early years the opera house had been beset with difficulties, running vastly over budget and schedule, and with its architect Jørn Utzon hounded out of Australia by political interference. He never saw his completed masterpiece. By the morning, a ferocious downpour was battering Sydney. Our bus to the airport almost crashed, and our take-off was delayed by a couple of hours. On the way to Australia, the journey had gone quickly. On the way home it dragged on and on. To stave off boredom, I accepted every offer of alcohol the cabin crew made, and soon discovered how much more effective drinking is at high altitude. By the time we landed in the sticky heat of Bangkok at midnight, I was already getting the hangover. It had passed by the time we got back [...]
Aug 08, 1998 in Australia 1998
One evening we went up the Sydney Tower. I thought it would be impressive, but it turned out to be spectacular. We went up late in the afternoon, and not long after we got to the top night began to fall, and the lights of the city came on. The sight was truly amazing.
Aug 07, 1998 in Australia 1998
We flew from Alice Springs to Sydney. After we’d got into the city and found a place to stay, we walked toward the harbour, through the forest of skyscrapers around the central business district. Sydney Harbour is so famous that it almost seems unbelievable that it’s real, and I’ll never forget my first sight of Circular Quay, with the Bridge to the left and the Opera House to the right.