Thursday, April 26, 2012

When In Rome

Not much walking been done for the past few days, except around airports (you can pack a few kilometres in that way - in fact you have little choice).

We flew from Christchurch to Bangkok, a 12-hour flight. What we didn't know is that we were going to Syndney on the way, which made it a 14 hour flight, arriving in Bangkok at about 0130. Our overnight hotel was fine, but it was in the middle of an industrial area. We took a taxi (amazingly cheap, unlike the hotel) to a shopping mall in or near the city and spent a few hours there to pass the time and to get out of the very hot and humid day and away from the appalling traffic and pollution. Then back to the hotel, where we had paid to keep the room until 1800. We were due to leave for the airport at 2200 so we sank a couple of margheritas and had a pleasant meal.

Bangkok is awful.

Our plane to Dubai was one of the huge A380s. This is capable of carrying almost 1,000 passengers but Emirates fortunately limit it to about 500. The first thing you see when entering the fuselage is a wide staircase leading upstairs. This is for the nobs, of course. I believe first class passengers have a private shower. I can confirm that first and business class probably get all the extra room available on this plane because there is no discernable advantage in Economy.

Where there is an advantage to travelling on A380 is the speed with which one can board and debark, because there are so many doors, on both decks. I find it a bit alarming on, for instance, our other flights which were 777s. It takes an age to board, most of which is spent in the airbridge or queuing inside the plane for people to get out of the way. It seems inconceivable that the whole passenger complement could be evacuated quickly "in the unlikely event" of an emergency.

It was while debarking in Dubai that I realised my favourite jacket was probably still inside the x-ray machine in Bangkok, or adorning the back of some lucky x-ray machine operator.

That flight was 6 hours. The next one, after a 4-hour wait in Dubai airport at its busiest time, was 5 and a half. We arrived in Rome at about 1330, where Nicola and Alessandro had come to meet us. This day would have been my mother's 100th birthday if she had survived another 9 years.

Yesterday was one of the many public holidays in Iddly. Alessandro's school has chosen to remain closed for the rest of the week, despite having just reopened after the Easter break. Nicola has her monthly publication meeting with the Italian cycling magazine for which she is the translator for the English edition. So we are Alessandro-sitting for the day. We have just walked him down the big hill into Formello, breakfasted (why does this cost half the price in Italian cafes compared with French cafes?) "done" the small market and then marched up the hill again. May as well get the lad trained to replace his granddad in the big walking stakes. It is quite warm.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Quiz Time

Tomorrow we come to the end of this year's trip to New Zealand We hope to be back next January for another 3 months. We will arrive home in France on April 30th, via Bangkok, Dubai, Rome, Barcelona and Girona.

I will leave you with a little quiz.

What is the connection between these two pictures?

For the answer you need to see my writing blog, which is you see by clickng here

If you don't already have my bok "Vic's Big Walk" details of where to find it are here

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Fellow Walker Across France

Best Foot ForwardBest Foot Forward by Susie Kelly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was very pleased to find this book and really looked forward to reading it because I did a similar, longer journey, across France and then across much of England, on foot. I walked to raise funds for research into finding a cure for pancreatic cancer, the appalling illness from which my first wife died. It would be interesting to compare my walk with Susie's, and my book - Vic's Big Walk - with Susie's. I was not disappointed.

Soon after starting Susie’s book I was in touch with Susie and found a certain symmetry in finding that she was reading my book as I read hers.

Susie’s walk was quite a lot shorter than mine but she was a lot less well prepared physically and clearly found the effort very taxing. She was also afflicted, from day one with an enormous number of blisters. If only I could go back in time and tell her about the wonders of Vaseline – a light smearing of this over the whole foot works wonders.

There were many parallels. Like Susie, I know the difficulty of a vegetarian eating in France. And what is this – she also has a serious eye problem, although luckily hers can be treated although not, obviously, during the walk.

The first 44 days of my 70-day walk were in France. During this time, only 5 days were rain-free. Susie seems to have been much luckier in that regard – at least during the day. But she had more than her fair share of torrential rain during the nights, most of which she spent cowering in a tiny, cold, non-waterproof tent.

More than once Susie decided she could go no further. But she seems to be blessed with a disposition which lets the next little high cancel out the last few horrid lows. She pressed on to her triumphant arrival at her goal, arriving at Geneva after having walked all the way from La Rochelle. She delights in meeting many characters, not all of them French, and not all of them human, on the way – and in telling us about them.

She had survived her foot problems, a navigational ability which seems to be about equal to my own (fortunately my wife planned an excellent route for me each day or I might still be wandering in the wilderness), an attempt by a well-meaning friend’s friend to take over the walk, cold, lack of food, and worry about what was happening back home, which she had left in the hands of an incredible American who insisted on holding the fort – despite the death back in Texas of her own father – until Susie had finished the job.

Susie writes well. Her descriptions of the terrain, the flowers, the birds, the small creatures she frequently rescues from the middle of the road, are very evocative. You may not wish you were there, but you feel that you are. She is not given to clichés, but to the minting of sentences like this:

“I felt like a human waterfall, with sweat running down my body and legs in a rapid stream”.

I obviously had a particular interest in reading this book but I highly recommend it to any reader.

View all my reviews

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Time To Head For Home

As we drove from Kaikoura to Picton on Wednesday, it rained heavily. In fact it rained for 24 hours. We heard that Christchurch had half of the normal April rainfall in 24 hours and it was probably the same where we were. But all became fine again on Thursday afternoon. As we drove back from Picton to Christchurch airport on Friday, we saw that the rain had fallen as snow on higher ground, as pictured above. This is an indication that it will soon be time to head for home ourselves. One week from today we shall be in the air on the way from Christchurch to Bangkok.

We stayed overnight at the airport hotel and at not much after 4 am on Saturday we walked across to the airport and saw Dana on her way back to Austrailia. Gay and I went back to the hotel but checked out soon after daylight. We decided to drive to Sumner, where the beach for Christchurch is, for breakfast. Sumner, which nestles under cliffs, was severely damaged in the recent earthquakes, as you can see in the following pictures. The containers are to absorb any more falling hillside. I believe there were properties standing where those containers now are, but they were destroyed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Life Of Luxury

Walking has been put aside for a week or so. Gay's sister Dana has arrived from Australia for a short visit - her first to New Zealand. Normally we meet her in different parts of Australia and she is the one to arrange the itinerary and accommodation. Now it is our turn.

Dana's arrival time was switched from early evening until c. midnight so all we had time for was some quick greetings before bedtime in our Christchurch motel. The next morning we had a quick visit to the container mall I mentioned in this blog in January. Then it was out to Akaroa, where we were staying at the Criterion Motel. When I was small I was in the habit of using the word "criterion" as an insult. I don't know where that came from but there are many Criterion motels or hotels in Nww Zealand and of course I have always fancied staying in one. This one doesn't look much from the outside but, in order to have two separate bedrooms, I had booked the penthouse. This was magnificent, with spectacular views.

We spent two days in Akaroa including a boat trip round the enormous harbour - the result of volcanic eruptions. As always, we had several sightings of the tiny - just over a metre - Hector's dolphins. Because we have made this trip so often, starting in 1995 - we were given a free pass for our next dolphin cruise, hopefully in 2013.

On Monday we drove back through Christchurch and up the East coast to Kaikoura, which was a whaling station but which now is a centre for whale watching. This is one of the few places in the world where sperm whales feed and dive within a short distance of the coast - because there is a huge undersea canyon which, combined with the ideal currents, makes an ideal feeding place for them. We went out on a whale watching boat and were rewarded with two sightings of sperm whales and numerous sightings of the amazingly acrobatic Dusky dolphins.

Our accommodation was at least the equivalent of that in Akaroa but was a self-contained detached villa. We had wonderful views here as well. This was Tuesday morning's sunrise.

Today started off very wet and remained so as we drove to Picton, where we are now ensconced in the far north of South Island - this is the point of departure for ferries to North Island. We are here for two days then it will be back to Christchurch airport for Dana's departure.