This blog is about my travels. At home in New Zealand, in other parts of Oceania, North, Central and South America and in Europe.
From New Castle I took the train up to Edinburgh. Edinburgh is a gorgeous city, full of history and atmosphere, and of course, the setting for a lot of Harry Potter. The cobbled streets and little shops are just the sort of places you would expect to buy a wand or ingredients for a potion. There are also plenty of Harry Potter fans around, dressed in Hogwarts uniforms (usually from Gryffindor)!
The weather was cold and misty, late Autumn type weather. Not that I minded, somehow it just added to the atmosphere!
Something I particularly liked was the Church of Saint Andrew's with it's kilt wearing angels, playing bagpipes!
I also visited the National Museum - my favourite are the pictish stone carvings. The meanings of some images are swathed in mystery but some think that they might be referring to star constellations. Others are mysterious half human half animal creatures, Edinburgh is definitely a magical place!
From Amsterdam, I traveled across to Newcastle in the UK. I liked Newcastle. My time there was caught up by a bit of a dilemma, the tramping boots that I had sent to be repaired hadn't been fixed in time, so I spent a chunk of my first day trying to sort it out. In the end I had to go the walk in my running shoes. While I had used them a lot for running they were far from ideal in the boggy early winter weather, nevertheless, they had to do.
Delayed by the fruitless hunt for my tramping boots my walk that day started later than I'd like. I wandered from Haddon-on-the-Wall through to the Robin Hood Inn at the wall houses. It was rainy and dark when I arrived and the owner was a warm lady who showed me to my incredibly cozy and warm room and made a vegan burger and chips for my dinner.
The next day I wandered off following the little acorn symbols that indicated where to go, through the hedgerows and past fields.
It was pretty cold and I was starting to look for a spot that wasn't too damp to sit and eat my sandwiches which were getting pretty soggy when I spotted a little coffee house. The prospect of being warm won me over and so I went to visit a lovely little coffee house and got warm soup and had the kindest customer service ever and heard the locals talking about the latest political scandal, giggling away with their geordie accents.
In the afternoon I passed through Heavenfield, the site of an ancient battle between pagans and Christians. A tiny little church stood on the site, and there was a very informative series of historical panels inside about the history of the site.
I finished that day in the dark as well. My accommodation for that night was a decent walk off the main path, which also meant extra walking time the next day. I was walking the path pretty fast and I had a big day ahead of me. I set my alarm for early the next day and fell asleep pretty fast!
The next morning I woke up to a gorgeous day! It was fine and clear and frosty.
As I walked I started to gain a bit more altitude and see more of the original wall. At the start and the end of the Hadrian's wall path a lot of the original wall has been removed. Over the centuries it was repurposed for farm fencing or for use in houses. But in the middle section the wall is the same as it was built nearly two thousand years ago.
Around lunchtime I stopped at an amazing site, it was a temple to Mithras, a god of soldiers. Exposed to the elements for the last two thousand years, I couldn't believe what good condition this little temple was in!
I hurried on as I had a lot of ground to cover that day. I saw so much of the fantastic wall, it was truly an amazing feat of Roman engineering. It was intended to keep out the fierce Pictish warriors from the north.
I finally finished that day in the dark. The stars on the way had been amazing and just before I got in, I'd met some local star gazers, gazing at the stars on this clear, fine night. I was sure glad to get in to my Inn at Greenhead. I'd been walking for 13 hours! My foot feet were pretty battered from the running shoes, but I strapped them up. Luckily the next day was a shorter one.
The next day was fine and very frosty as you can see from the photos!
I got to my accommodation just as the sun was setting, for once I hadn't arrived in the black dark! My destination for the next day was Carlisle, and from there I would catch the train back to Newcastle.
The next day I set off to Carlisle. There weren't views of the wall anymore, but I followed the pretty hedgerows through the countryside.
I kept walking until I got to Carlisle. I'd made it! The beautiful red bricks of Carlisle Castle were so impressive, and other buildings in the city are the same colour, built of the same bricks. From Carlisle I caught the train back to Newcastle. I'd walked across England!
The next day I visited the museum in New Castle which contained relics collected from the Hadrian's wall path.
From Berlin I traveled to the Netherlands. As someone who has worked on urban design related projects I have been interested in the town planning of the Netherlands, who made a conscious effort, decades ago, to provide infrastructure for bicycles (cycle lanes, plenty of cycle parking) instead of just building their city around cars. It's certainly paid off! There are bicycles everywhere, people choose to take this healthy, environmentally friendly way of getting around. The lovely old buildings look a bit like gingerbread houses and admire their reflections in the canals.
While I was in Amsterdam I made a beeline to see the Van Gogh museum. Vincent Van Gogh is among my favourite artists of all time. The museum tells the story of his life. He struggled so much with poverty, loneliness and bipolar disorder, despite of all this he created some of the greatest art works of all time. His brother and sister and law are also mentioned, and they both provided important emotional support to Vincent as well as financial support, despite the fact that they were not wealthy. You really have to admire the incredible passion that Van Gogh felt for his work. During his good periods he was extremely productive, producing a painting a day. As well as his brother and sister in law, his contemporaries recognized his talent, he did actually manage to sell one painting in his life time, to an avant garde collector who liked his work. If only he could have known how well loved his paintings are now!
From Prague I traveled to Berlin to meet an old friend. As fate would have it, I arrived at the same time as the 30th anniversary of the Berlin wall being taken down. There were all sorts of celebrations planned for this event. We roared around Berlin on our bicycles under the light of a full moon. One of the features of Berlin is that history is not swept over. To the credit of modern day Germans, dark parts of history are noted with historical plaques. I would like to see more countries acknowledge their history in this way, because some countries unfortunately sweep parts of their history under the carpet.
I felt very lucky to arrive at the same moment as the 30th anniversary celebrations for the fall of the Berlin wall! There were some fantastic artworks including a commemorative video projected on the side of a building, another was a series of wishes for the future from children, which swayed in the wind and were projected with blue light, like a strange underwater creature, it was a happy occasion.
From Krakow, I traveled next to the beautiful city of Prague. I made sure to see the famous astrological clock, although I happened to see it strike completely by accident!
The Kafka tour! Being a Franz Kafka fan, I signed up for a tour of Kafka's home town. I visited his birthplace, his workplace, his school, and even had a coffee at one of his favourite haunts.
Next I headed off to Prague Castle and Prague Cathedral. It was a gorgeous day and the views of the city were quite something!
The first stop was Prague castle. I couldn't take photos of most things, but here are some photos of what I could!
I really liked the old church which was part of the Castle complex.
And I visited the beautiful Prague Cathedral. It was a sunny day and the stained glass windows looked stunning.
From Slovensky Raj, I took an all night train ride to Krakow in Poland. It was a series of small train journeys, so I couldn't nod off, I just had to stay awake and pay close attention to when my stop (announced in Slovenian) was going to arrive. I arrived at my accommodation in Krakow at around 5am. I was on a tight schedule and didn't have time to sleep (although it was rather appealing by that point). I had a shower, a strong coffee, and set off on my day. I went to a concentration camp. It was difficult deciding to go such a sad place with such a terrible history. 1.1 million innocent people were killed there, just for being slightly different (Jewish, Romanian, ethnic poles, homosexual people, political opponents of the regime, disabled people). It was a devastating place to visit, deeply disturbing, but I feel like travel should be about education, and sometimes education involves turning our mind to the bad parts of life. How can we make our world a better place if we only turn our attention to good things? I believe it is good to encounter the bad as well and turn it into action to make our world better. It was a very sad place and I hope that we can work to end genocide forever. Afterwards I wandered around Krakow, a beautiful glistening city. Europe has some very sad history, but I'm glad that they are becoming more progressive as time goes on.
From Budapest, I caught a bus and then a series of trains to a tiny Slovakian mountain village on the border of the Slovak Paradise national park. I traveled through the night on a long series of trains. I arrived at the small town of Slovensky Raj on my final leg of the journey. It was a Sunday so the streets were almost empty. Soviet era statues looked down at me with guns in their arms. It was grey and swept by an icy wind and I was mighty hungry. I wandered the streets looking for a supermarket, or just any place where I could get food but everything was shut. In the end I found a tiny store that only sold vodka. Unwilling to drink vodka for breakfast, I kept looking and guided by my nose, finally found a warm pizza place, that happily made me a giant vegetarian pizza. The young people working there spoke pretty good English, something that I noticed the older folk didn't seem to as much in Slovakia*. Despite this, a very kindly elderly Slovakian gent had helped me on my train journey, despite not speaking a word of English. One thing that you learn when you travel is that kindness is everywhere.
* I should note that I also do not speak Slovakian!
I travelled to the small town of Spizzka Nova Ves and stayed at a little guest quarters run by a mother and son, the son spoke English and was surprised to see my New Zealand passport. I had difficulty finding food in Spizzka Nova Ves too, but I managed to find a place that sold pea soup. I was pretty delighted with my little room with its soft cozy bed after travelling all night.
The next day I visited the National Park. It was somewhat cold and rainy, but I had a raincoat. Unfortunately I had been having some battery issues with my camera and I was only able to take two photos of the forest.
The Slovakian forest was mossy and shrouded in mist, like something out of a fairy tale. It was so nice to be in the forest again after spending time in cities! Slovakia has quite a few national parks and they are much loved by the people of the country.
From Vienna I caught the train to Budapest. Budapest is a city with a full on history, and it is also full of beautiful architecture. It had to endure not just Nazi occupation but was also on the Western frontier of the Soviet empire, so it has some dark history. The city is undergoing a metamorphosis as some of it's beautiful but crumbling buildings are being rapidly gentrified.
There are so many interesting corners to the city, like the underground church, and mid 19th Century hot pool complexes. The city is a varied, colorful and quirky place. I must say, I really do love Budapest!
Budapest is home to the largest Synagogue in Europe, which I went to visit. It is a beautiful building and I signed up for a guided tour. Sadly, it is also accompanied by a tragic history, most of the Jewish population were killed under the Nazi occupation during WW2. There is a beautiful shimmering tree sculpture in the garden to the people that were killed called the tree of remembrance.
I went to see Vajdahunyad Castle, built in 1896, it is really quite a recently built Castle. I particularly liked it's pointy turrets, it kind of reminded me of Dracula's castle.
I also went to see the cave church in central Budapest. The legend goes that a hermit monk used to live in these caves and use the naturally occurring thermal water to heal the sick. It was later turned into a monastery and chapel.
Budapest has some fantastic, historic hot pools, so I made sure to visit them when I was there. They seem very popular with the locals as well as visitors. They are truly beautiful and a great place to visit on a chilly autumn day.
From Casablanca I traveled up to Vienna. It was like stepping into another world again. Instead of the heat of Marrakesh, the air was crisp and autumnal. Instead of the delicious smells of spices in the markets in Casablanca, was the sweet smell of cinnamon and apple tea for the guests of the hostel. I must say, I do also like apple tea!
My first visit was to the Summer palace of the Habsburg dynasty, which was a short walk from my hostel. This giant place is also known as Schönbrunn palace and has 1,441 rooms! Like many other European palaces, it is completely over the top. Unfortunately taking photographs of the interior was verboten but I can tell you that one of the rooms was where Mozart gave his first performance. The palace was also the birthplace of Marie Antoinette. Everything is covered in gold and just seems so excessive. Meanwhile, most of the population lived in poverty!!!
Next I went to the beautiful St Stephens Cathedral. This amazing Catholic Cathedral was completed in 1160. It really is beautiful, and being inside this building is like stepping into the heart of medieval Vienna.
By the time I popped out of the Cathedral it was dark. The days sure are short in Europe in Autumn! I went for a wander around the city before heading back to my hostel.
The next day I headed off for the winter palace. This has a whopping 2,600 rooms! Now, aside from the museum it is mostly used for government buildings and other assorted purposes.
The tour of the winter palace was interesting, sadly, this is another place that photography was not permitted. So I was only allowed to take photographs of the seemingly endless gilded cutlery and porcelain crockery. One of the most interesting features of the tour was an exhibition on the story of the life of 'Sisi' the Empress Elizabeth of Austria. Engaged at only 15 years old, she quickly became unhappy in her arranged marriage, disliked her formal duties and wandered listlessly around her vast palaces, usually at the opposite end to her husband. I felt sad for her husband too, as he seemed to have been besotted with her. She was an interesting character, very athletic and intelligent, and I wondered what her life would have been like if she hadn't of been royal. If she had of been able to marry for love, to be able to make full use all her drive and energy and her many talents, I am sure she would have been a much happier person. Her father is known to have said that she and he would have been in the circus if they hadn't been born 'into nobility'. Looking at the vast array of gold soup tureens, porcelain dinnerware and fancy furniture of the palace, it seems such a sad spectacle, a life in an unhappy marriage filled with material possessions instead of personal fulfillment and happiness. Another reminder that material things can't buy happiness, if, however, some of this wealth had been used to help the less fortunate it could have done a lot of good. She suffered from eating disorders and other mysterious mental health conditions throughout her life, and died in 1898 when she was assassinated by an anarchist.
Next I headed off to the Art History museum, the Kunsthistorichesmuseum. It really was the perfect day for visiting an art gallery, grey and drizzly! The building itself was really something. There are some fantastic works of art on display. My personal favourite was Hans Holbein's portrait of Jane Seymour. I had recently read 'Bring up the Bodies', Hillary Mantel's sequel to 'Wolf Hall' and she actually mentions Hans Holbein in the book, he painted several members of the Tudor court, and they really are terrific portraits, full of incredible detail with little symbolic touches.
From Marrakesh, I traveled to the neighbouring Atlas mountains. On the way we stopped at a traditional Berber village. At a roadside stall I bought a 350 million year old fossil, from when the Atlas mountains were buried under the sea.
On the way we stopped for lunch and had traditional mint tea and some kind of bread which you dip in date and almond paste and Argan oil. It was super delicious.
We kept on going until we got to the small mountain village of Imlil. The towns in this area are all Berber - the indigenous people of Morocco. Although the Atlas mountains are in general a dry place, the towns are well irrigated and green, due to the fertile mountain soil.
At 4137m. Mt. Toubkal is the highest mountain in the Atlas mountains, and the second highest on the African continent. Certainly high enough to start feeling the altitude!
We stopped at a little mountain store on the way up. I was pretty hungry, but the servings were too generous for me! I also listened to traditional Berber music while I had my lunch. Not an experience that happens every day!
As we arrived at the lodge as it was getting cooler. The altitude made things a lot colder and the wind was cold. The lodge itself was very well equipped, and plenty of people were staying there. In winter it gets so much snow it is a ski resort, and it is very affordable for locals, it only costs $5 to ski there per day. I had dinner and went to bed, tucked under as many blankets as I could find. I didn't have much rest because the next morning we were all getting up at 3am.
The next morning, bright and early, we bustled awake and headed off up the mountain. It had snowed a bit overnight and there was a lot of wind and it was very cold! We headed on up, a row of bobbing head torches. Towards the summit we could see a bit more in the pre-dawn light. The sun rose just as we reached the summit. It was amazing to see the sun rise over North Africa. The locals said prayers to Allah and we took our summit photos and headed back downhill quickly. It was freezing cold and the wind was blowing so hard it was hard to stand up straight!
We headed back down and I went back to Marrakesh. By the evening I was sitting in my colourful hostel drinking mint tea. The next day I caught the train back to Casablanca and also went to the hamman (spa complex) at the mosque. It was very affordable and definitely recommended after any climb of Mt Toubkal.
I am a traveller from New Zealand. My blog is to inform friends and family about my adventures. I hope you enjoy it!