Sindelfingen’s Unexpected Medieval Centre

Sindelfingen, Germany: Looking for the museum

We were looking for the museum, surrounded by concrete brutalist architecture of the square boxes variety.

Click here for the rest of this article.

[travel] HAUL – Outdoor Walking and Snow Gear

Outdoor Walking Gear Haul
The past two months have been pretty awful, so I decided to cheer myself up with a little shopping spree with the Sports Direct sale:

corner boots1

haul outdoor gear


Let’s start with the Karrimor Walking Sandals.  The box said they were reduced from £49.99; I actually paid £13 for them because there had been another reduction since they were first put on sale.  I wore them the very next day to walk two miles and they were very comfortable – apparently needing no “breaking in” period, as most shoes do.  They felt odd when I first put them on at the store, until I realised that the strap at the very back needed loosening, then they were super comfy.

Karrimor walking sandals

I really like the ’90’s style they’ve got going on and I also love how lightweight they are – I can’t wait until summer to go hiking in them.  They also have super-grippy soles so I think these would be good for hillwalking.

Karrimor walking sandals

I bought size 6 which is an EU 39.5.  I’m usually a size 40 (which gets interpreted as a 6, 6.5 or 7 depending on brand of shoe) but these fitted fine in the 39.5.

box for walking sandals

The snow shoes I bought were also intended for hiking.

snow boots karrimor

Those of you who have been following for a while will remember I have a list of 20 Must-Climb Mountains in Europe that I want (no, I NEED) to climb before I turn 30 in 20 months’ time, because they’re on my to-do list.  I had the opportunity to tackle Scafell Pike recently and had to turn it down because I didn’t have any footwear that was suitable for winter mountains or for fitting crampons to.  I have now remedied this with these beauties:

How nice are these snow boots?
How nice are these snow boots?

I was a little bit disappointed because they also had them in pink but didn’t have anything resembling my size, so I went for the blue ones which were allegedly for boys.  The only difference I could see was that the blue ones were blue, and the girls’ ones had pink laces.  If you really wanted them to be more like the girls’ version, you could always buy some pink laces to put on them.  They didn’t do a version that was strictly “for adults” but since the children’s ones went up to a UK size 6 (which was actually an EU 39.5 again) I was more than accommodated, which is interesting because it’s the first time I haven’t had to get a size 7 in a walking boot.  One thing I like about sports direct is the staff never try to steer you to a particular gender or target-age of a shoe, they just let you get on with it.  They were so comfy (in the words of a furniture store we saw in Salzburg, they felt “so schlaft, man”) I actually felt like my feet had got their own cosy beds to sleep in.

Sorry about my feet, the boot wouldn't stay put!
Sorry about my feet, the boot wouldn’t stay put!

I felt a bit sad having to take these off both in the store and after taking the photos.  The inside is padded with something that feels suspiciously like memory foam, which, along with their fake-fur plush lining, is what makes them feel so comfy.
Another thing I really like about these is that they have a 100% waterproof part at the bottom, so that you can’t get wet from stepping through puddles etc.  While I’d love to be able to afford something in Gore-Tex that was completely waterproof, as a cheap boot for winter walking these really look a lot better than all the others – I always slightly distrust nylon-looking fabric that claims to be waterproof because in my experience it’s “light rain proof” not “puddle proof” but as you can see, these are 3 inches of rubber so unless you’re fording a stream you’re gonna be dry:

snow boots waterproof karrimor

The label says they’re completely waterproof, and certainly in the snow they shouldn’t get my feet damp.  They were £29.99 which was a reduction from £59.99, as you can see on the box:

snow boots karrimor waterproof
I really can’t wait to go walking in these boots.

Next there was a pair of No Fear winter sports gloves.  I wasn’t expecting to buy any gloves, but then ended up spending quite a bit of time in the shop trying different ones on.  The ones I settled on were reduced from £24.99 to £9.99, and I couldn’t be happier with them:

No Fear winter sports gloves

They have a clip so you can clip them together when you’re not wearing them, to avoid losing them, because there’s nothing more irritating than losing one glove under normal circumstances.  Out on the slopes in the snow, you could end up with frostbite if you lose a glove, so it’s extra important.

No Fear winter sports gloves with clip

There’s also a good grippy bit where your fingers go – unlike another pair I tried, the grip on this one felt comfortable in the Make A Fist test (make a fist, if you’re fighting your glove all the way, get a different glove, it’s going to make it hard to hold things when you wear them).

No Fear winter sports gloves waterproof snowboarding grip side

I also liked the baffle inside the glove – a strip of fabric that went all round the inside to stop wind blowing down the glove and making your wrists cold.

No Fear winter sports gloves with clip

These ones had elastic at the wrists AND adjustable velcro on the back of them, making them give a good fit without letting the cold or wet in.  Lastly, the label said they were waterproof.  I tested this in the sink today, and they didn’t let any water in when the tap was running over them.  I absolutely LOVE these gloves.  They were Extra Large size because they were “for girls” not women, but I found the fit more comfortable and felt I was getting more features than any of the ladies gloves.  Additionally, they didn’t have any for adults that looked this good.

Lonsdale mini backpack

I bought a Lonsdale Mini Backpack for £5.99 because when I went to Italy, I was a little fed up with having to drag my shoulderbag up and down big hills and endless steps around Salzburg.  I thought a nice lightweight backpack would be perfect.  I looked at all the daysacks, but I found them all to be overly-technical and overly expensive for what I needed (we were talking over £20 for one, and I don’t need it to be Camelpak compatible or have an MP3 headphone port or an air cooled back).  I wanted something I could roll up and stuff in my suitcase.  So I got this, an absolute steal at £5.99.  It comes in a range of colours, I picked the black one because I thought it would suit every outfit and mood.  It’s much smaller than most “sports” backpacks so my lunch and bottle of water won’t be bouncing around everywhere inside it when I walk around, and there’s a little pocket on the front where I can put postcards.

Lonsdale mini backpack rear view
I liked this one better than the Nike version because they only had the Nike one in Lime Green.  The Lonsdale one (which I bought) also had the advantage of padded straps, which a lot of standard sports-type backpacks don’t have.

Then there was the waist pouch.  I have been toying with the idea of a handsfree type area around my waist for festivals, concerts and other places that require the use of my hands to declare my love for whatever song is playing.  I liked this one because it was the smallest one available so I thought it wouldn’t look as bulky on my tiny size 8 frame:

It’s another Karrimor discount, and it cost £5.99, so the same price as my backpack.  I like it because it has a little pocket at the front to keep your MP3 player or iPod, and a headphones out port, so when you’re at a festival and that band you hate starts playing, and you can hear them still across the other side of the field, you can drown them out.  Not that I have ever done this, but I did consider it during one act at Sonisphere last year.  I shan’t tell you which band it was because I profoundly loved most of the bands that played and don’t want to be mean spirited.
The back of the pouch looks like this:
karrimor belt pouch for money etc

I can’t wait to try this out so I can keep my coins on me without having to worry about the safety of my purse while I rock out like a loon at my line-up of festivals and concerts which I’ve got planned for this year, and I also thought it would be very handy when I go to Spain and Morocco later this year as well, to avoid pickpockets, because the zipped money pocket is on the inside.

Lastly, I got some spare laces.  Every time I see some cheap ones I buy them because, in a house filled with five rabbits, shoelaces often get chewed when you are least expecting it, and this means a supply of new ones is essential.  They were only 99p:
karrimor spare shoe laces

I was pleased with the whole experience on my shopping trip, and I really enjoyed the shopping process because I didn’t feel pressured into buying anything and felt like I could still ask for help when I needed it.  Even at the till when I changed my mind about something and was super-apologetic, they were really nice about it and just put it to one side to be re-stocked.  The equipment I bought at Sports Direct will help nicely with my plan to do some of the Via Ferrata in Andorra this year as well, since for Christmas my aunt got me a Via Ferrata Harness and safety line, and a guide book on all the Andorran Via Ferrate.  I will show you these and tell you what I think of them in a future post.
Have you done any new equipment shopping so far this year?  Let me know in the comments.

The Trouble With Concert Tickets

I don’t have a regular article for you because I have spent all day today trying to get concert tickets.

I have a Bands Bucket List which is a list of bands I need to see before THEY kick the bucket.  It’s quite long, because I haven’t been to many concerts (three and a festival, if we’re counting), but that’s ok because there’s some younger bands on there too and by the time I get to them they might be old enough to be in danger of kicking it.

The trouble is, there’s no central place to check them all, half of them don’t seem to announce tour dates until they’re actually happening, which is great if you’re one dimensional and only follow one band because they probably let their official fan clubs know sooner but do we need this kind of class division based on how much money you can throw at a band year-in-year-out based on the small hope that they might get back together and tour again?  It’s just not cool when I’ve got over 50 great bands to check and if I joined all their fan clubs, that would cost me £500 to £1000!!!

Last year, I checked in February and there were no tour dates.  I checked again in April and I’d missed half of them.  How do people find out about these in time to go and buy tickets?  The other significant issue is that they tend to be sold out by the time I finally get to hear about them.  It’s crazy.  Take Glastonbury, for example.  It’s been sold out since before Christmas, but there isn’t a single band confirmed for the line-up yet, and won’t be until Spring 2015.  Who buys tickets to a concert when they have no idea who’s playing it?  What if it’s all your least favourite bands?  And those tickets are NOT cheap either.

So far this year I’ve found three of my bands are playing the UK or Europe this year, have announced their dates in good time and have still got tickets to sell; Lynyrd Skynyrd are playing Manchester, Muse are playing Download and System Of A Down are playing London (but are sold out) and across Europe, I think I can get tickets for one of the European gigs because they tend to sell out less quickly although the French Ticketmaster isn’t even releasing tickets for them yet.

I wish I could have my own music festival filled with all the bands I love and get them all to play in York…  le sigh.

Have you got any plans to go to concerts this year?  Do you know of any good venues in Europe or have any favourites (anywhere within 8 hours drive of Calais would be perfect but I do have a car camper so longer journeys are being considered at this point)?
Let me know in the comments!

NEVER take these 10 things on vacation

Here are the 10 things you should NEVER take on vacation.

The wisdom in packing isn’t knowing what to take, but what to leave out; so I thought I’d bring you a round-up of some things nobody should take on holiday, business trips, vacay or extended travel.

1. Plants:

don't take plants on holiday

I had a Great Aunt (may she rest in peace) on the Irish side of my family who used to travel to Ireland every year. Every year, so I heard, she’d get a flowering plant to bring back and put in her garden. Not only is this highly illegal and awkward to actually transport (she’d always hide them in her handbag), but it’s also an environmental nightmare.

There’s a reason that you shouldn’t take plants on holiday or bring them home – they can take over the local plants and interfere with plant succession in any environment that isn’t their natural one. Cute exotic pets are illegal to take on holiday (e.g. you can’t take your pet rabbit to Queensland, Australia, and you can’t legally take grey squirrels into the UK either) or bring home, too. The technical term is invasive species.

Examples of how this has gone wrong include: Russian Vine in the UK, Pampas Grass in New Zealand and the U.S. and Japanese Kudzu that has invaded parts of the U.S. For these same reasons you should never take plants with you either.

2. Anything with a spray or pump nozzle and no lid:

spray bottle

Even if it has a twist off mechanism, it’s like having a loaded gun of mess ready to go off and wreck the rest of your stuff. Even lids aren’t a guarantee of safety: I once had a great foundation from L’Oreal, and it had a pump top and the flimsiest lid. I kept it in my handbag.

At least, I did until the lid cracked, came off and the pump lid was left squidging 18-hour foundation all over my stuff, a lot of which had to be binned because it was super greasy. It. Never. Came. Off. It also wrecked the bag that it happened in.

The saddest part was that it was a really great foundation and there wasn’t much left by the time I discovered what was happening.  Another time, I ran into the hallway responding to a hissing noise. Certain it was a snake, I gingerly opened my bag with a stick and was met with a puff of body spray.

The sprayer had jammed on something during some subsidence (I carry a lot of crap) and had filled my bag with a floral scent that was at once greasy AND powdery. Again, things had to be thrown away (and it was almost empty when I found it so I had to buy more, which always lives in my bathroom now).

3. Interesting Stones or Pebbles:

I love finding pretty or interesting looking rocks and taking them home. I pocket far less of them than I’d like to, but they always cause the same problems: Rocks are naturally heavy and messy, usually either with mud or sand caked around them and sometimes damp (and isn’t it annoying when you find a stunning one on the beach just for it to fade to a boring off-grey colour when it dries out back home).

I’m not saying don’t pick them up, because I personally can’t help myself particularly if they’re those sparkly ones around the water systems of North Scotland. Just… be sensible. Sometimes, it’s better to take home one medium size rock than twenty little ones. And always take them out of your pockets before you wash your clothes, or remove them from your bag before you do yourself a back injury from the extra weight.

4. Travel mugs:

I’m in two minds about them – on one hand, they’re great if you’re the sort of “urban warrior” who walks along a flat pavement to the underground then sits on a flat train to the office then waits in an elevator until you reach your desk. Travel mugs are probably perfect for these people.

On the other hand, if you’re running for trains, bending down to greet children, getting jostled in busy market places or even driving around a corner with the mug in a cupholder; travel mugs are really useless. They’re not really made for actual travel, they should perhaps be called “transit mugs” instead.

They spill, they leak and they never seem to taste right when you drink from them. Get a very small Thermos instead; I don’t think they’d even spill if you were skydiving or scuba diving.

5. Big pallettes of make-up

jazooli 180 eyeshadow palette

They seem like such a great idea. Lots of variety and they save space on taking each different item individually, right? Right until you drop your bag or it gets roughly handled at an airport or someone steps on it and you hear that awful crunching sound.

Additionally, they never come with key pieces such as primer, and you need to budget even more space for brushes. Palettes are best kept at home. Take a capsule set of make-up and keep it in a water resistant bag.

6. Excessive on-location storage solutions:

storage solutions plastic coathanger hanger

An English teacher once told me a story about how he’d taken a class of kids to Russia just after the Berlin Wall had come down (if you don’t know why that was big news, read some world history). The country didn’t really have the infrastructure to cope with tourists, and weren’t sure what to make of a school trip. It was 1990, and everyone was still holding their breath, waiting to see if Russia and America were finished trying to destroy each other.

When one pupil’s bag went through the X-Ray machine with a huge tangle of metal wires in the bottom, security officials leapt into action. They surrounded the fourteen year old whose bag it was, pointing AK47s at him and pinning him to the ground. Nobody knew what was happening or why. When the bag was searched, it turned out to be half-filled with wire coathangers.

The boy had never been abroad before and took a bunch of hangers with him. He (and the teacher) then spent seven hours explaining to Russian officials why this had been allowed to happen. Moral of the story? Don’t take storage on holiday. Mary Poppins or not, nobody in the 2010s needs to take their favourite hat stand


7. A bag that’s heavier than its contents:

There are some amazing bags on the market. They have all sorts of bells and whistles – walking pole attachments, aluminium frames, retractable wheels, extra padded compartments, iPod attachment, the list of features are endless. So is their carrying weight. Above all, the most important consideration for a good travel bag are that it fits your stuff in and it’s light enough that you don’t dread moving on.

Amazon lets you check the weight of most products before you buy them – use this feature wisely, and don’t always rely on bag reviews done by well known outdoors journalists who can carry twice their own weight and live off creatine. Unless you do, too, in which case I recommend the lead-lined bombproof suitcase. In lime green, so you never lose it at the airport. It has an ipod attachment.

8. Anything you’d be embarrassed to explain to an old lady or a toddler:

It’s an acid test. Sometimes, in customs, when they see something peculiar in your luggage, they will pull it out and question you on its use and function. If you’d be embarrassed to explain this to your grandma or to a small child, think how much more embarrassing it would be to explain it to a security guard with a crowd of passengers waiting behind you. If the idea makes you blanch, leave it out.

9. Open packets of food:

open packets of food

They spill, they smell, they make a mess, they attract unwanted attention and sometimes they make annoying noises at inopportune moments. Clip it closed with a food clip and put it out of the way until you can finish nibbling.

10. Board games:

board games

A pack of cards is great. Travel scrabble spells fun on the road. Monopoly, Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan and Hero Quest are best left at home. Or someone else’s home.

When someone I know once came to stay with me in Edinburgh, they brought a huge rucksack stuffed full of things. I thought they must be going somewhere else afterwards. Nope. They’d filled their bag with one change of clothes, and topped it up with board games. I’m not sure they even brought a toothbrush.

It was a highly entertaining two days, but we didn’t even play half of the games and the weight of the bag was unbelievable. Also, you’re liable to ruin your boardgames if they’re with you when you capsize in the Amazon.

How to build an igloo

How do you build an igloo? With all the Boxing Day snow we’ve been having, I am going to show you how to build a functional igloo; we built this igloo in our drive in 2013, at a guess it was about 12 feet (3m) in diameter.

We built this igloo that lasted several days (until it melted in some heavy rain) and we were able to camp in it with sleeping bags and roll mats. I always wondered if it was true that igloos were warm and dry inside. I don’t know how it’s possible, but it was actually pretty cozy camping in our igloo!

It took us about 4 hours to make this igloo, mostly because I didn’t have a lot of energy at the time and working on this was manual labour.

1. Get some large plastic boxes:  Recycling boxes or storage boxes will do just fine for igloo building.  A packing crate isn’t very good as it’s not very strong and the sides are full of holes so the snow falls out instead of making solid igloo ice blocks.

This is the sort of box we used for the first layer - it's a 70 litre plastic box.  The lid wasn't much use.
This is the sort of box we used for the first layer of igloo ice blocks – it’s a 70 litre plastic box. The lid wasn’t much use.

2. Fill the boxes with snow.  Pack the snow down in the box to make giant bricks of ice.  You will need to repeat steps 2 and 3 a lot to make an igloo.

These are the stronger plastic boxes we used to make the bricks from the 2nd layer upwards.  I don't know where they're from - my OH was using them to store Lego before this.
These are the stronger plastic boxes we used to make the bricks from the 2nd layer upwards. I don’t know where they’re from – my OH was using them to store Lego before this.

3. Tip the boxes upside down in a circle (leave room for an igloo door) and pat the bottom to get the snow-bricks out (see picture):

This was the first layer from a different angle.  We left loads of room for the doorway.
This was the first layer of blocks for the igloo from a different angle. As you can see our first box cracked and we used a smaller one for the igloo’s other layers (which made our igloo really strong). We left loads of room for the doorway.

4. Once you have a complete layer, do the same above – but don’t line the bricks up (think about how brick walls are built), and make sure the ice blocks are facing slightly inwards so your bricks eventually meet at the top.

This was what our igloo looked like at our halfway point.  The igloo doorway was improved with bricks set at a different angle for structural stability.
This was what our igloo looked like at our halfway point. The igloo doorway was improved with ice bricks set at a different angle for structural stability.

5. At the top of the igloo, you have two choices – some people prefer to build a capstone out of ice, to stop everything from falling apart.  Otherwise, leave a hole in the top to let air in.  We left a hole in the top of ours.

This is what it looked like when it was nearly finished.  The MDF at the front was used as a door when we camped out in it over night and to keep cats out while we were building.
This is what our igloo looked like when it was nearly finished. The MDF at the front was used as a door when we camped out in the igloo overnight and to keep foxes out while we were building.

6. We used polystyrene and wire mesh to support the door of our igloo because the size of our ice blocks (and the ambient temperature being only -5 or so) meant the whole structure may have collapsed if we hadn’t used any support.  Smaller boxes (than 70 litres) or hardening the blocks of ice using cold water would have both prevented this problem, but it wasn’t cold enough for water-hardening the ice blocks and they just melted when we tried it.    For the amount of time we put into building this igloo, I was very happy to complete it and didn’t worry too much about it being 100% Eskimo-worthy.  Whether you end up with a perfect building made only of ice or not, you will feel damn proud when you go inside your finished igloo.

This is what the finished igloo looked like.  It took us about 5 hours to build, including a break every hour or so when we went indoors to defrost.
This is what the finished igloo looked like. It took us about 5 hours to build, including a break every hour or so when we went indoors to defrost.

7. Now admire your igloo.  Can you sleep in an igloo?  Definitely!  We camped out in ours with some roll mats and a double sleeping bag and it was surprisingly cosy (although we did this wearing serious layers).  It also confused the neighbours which was hilarious.

This is the finished result.  We had a LOT of fun in this igloo last year.  Hope it snows as much this year so we can build another one in our new house (and get some better pics)!
This is the finished igloo. We had a LOT of fun in this igloo last year. Hope it snows as much this year so we can build another igloo in our new house (and get some better pics)!

8.  Take plenty of photos and share them with me via Twitter @mamaadventurez so I can see your awesome creations!

How long will it last?

An igloo can last for weeks in the right weather conditions. If it’s dry, snowy and subzero (celsius), your igloo will only give up when it’s been subjected to too much wear and tear. Rain, as we found out with our igloo, will basically kill an igloo.

Does it need a roof cap?

The traditional (i.e. boy scouts) thinking is that you do need one, but leaving the roof open improves ventilation and the shape of an igloo means very little falling snow will actually get in. If you’re concerned about rainfall or snow, you would be best off sticking an umbrella over the top of your igloo.

Making a roof cap that balances properly is a complete faff because you either need to build the bricks higher, and the top is hard to reach from the outside due to the curvature of the igloo, or you need a really big, solid and sturdy block of packed snow which is difficult to make without the right shape of container.

We left ours open at the top and found it warm enough but not stuffy at all, because the air was able to circulate.

Can you really sleep in an igloo?

It’s worth noting we stayed in ours in dry conditions in temperatures of -3, you may find the blocks are prone to becoming weakened in warmer temperatures, especially once you hit positive numbers on the thermometer.

Have you built an igloo?  Share your igloo pics with me on Twitter!  Who needs an expensive package holiday to Iceland?  You can do this in your own front garden!

Twenty Must-Climb Mountains in Europe

Ever wondered which European mountains offer the best climbs?  As a key point on my “Things I Must Do Before I’m 30” list, I’ve spent the last few weeks compiling a list of twenty mountains in Europe that are worth climbing.  I’ve presented them here in order of height:

20. Ben Lomond, Scotland, UK.

Ben Lomond viewed across Loch Lomond

Ben Nevis may hold the title for the highest mountain in Scotland – and the UK – but Ben Lomond, sitting on the edge of Loch Lomond, is a worthier climb:  It has the traditional mountain shape, and at 3196 feet (974 metres), just about anybody can climb it.

19. Scaffell Pike, Lake District, England, UK
Scaffell Pike is the highest peak in England

Scaffell Pike is the highest mountain in England, at 3209 feet (978 metres).  It’s situated in the middle of a cluster of other peaks, and the view from the top is reputedly stunning.

18. Mount Vesuvius, Naples, Italy

Ever fancied climbing an active volcano?

Most people know that Mount Vesuvius is the active volcano that destroyed Pompeii.  Far less people know you can climb this mountain (when it’s not erupting) as it’s part of a National Park.  At 4203 feet (1281 metres) we’re still in “long hike” territory in terms of difficulty of climb, and climbing an active volcano is definitely a story to tell back home.  Just avoid any glowy orange streams.

17. Ben Nevis, Scotland, UK

Ben Nevis in summer

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain both in Scotland and the UK, at 4406 feet (1344 metres).  Its funny shape doesn’t put off legions of climbers every year, and there’s even special arrangements for disabled climbers to reach the summit.  Just beware the vicious midges that plague Scotland during the summer months.

16. Serra Do Geres (sometimes spelled Gerez), Geres National Park, Portugal

Stunning countryside, seclusion, what's not to like?
Portugal isn’t famous for having particularly high mountains, but the ones it does have are an excellent platform to hone your skills before attempting any of the Alps, Pyrenees or Sierra Nevadas.  At 5115 feet (1548 metres), Serra Do Gerez is a worthy offering.

15. Mont Ventoux, Provence, France.

That view across Provence...

Just take a moment to savour that view.  There’s a road all the way to the highest point, which is 6273 feet (1912 metres), so this mountain could be cycled, rollerbladed or skateboarded if you wanted to mix it up a bit.  As the name suggests, it’s windy at the top, so you’d better pack a mac.

14. Torre, Serra da Estrela, Portugal

Do you wanna build a snowman??

On the Spanish border with Portugal, Serra da Estrela (Star Mountain Range) packs an impressive punch.  The highest point is Torre, which is 6539 feet (1993 metres).  It’s also Mainland Portugal’s highest point (the highest point in Portuguese territory is on Madeira Island in the Atlantic Ocean), so if you bag this one, you’ve climbed the highest mountain in Portugal.

13. Rochers de Naye, Montreux, Switzerland

caves AND marmots.
At 6699 feet (2042 metres), this is the first mountain over 2000 metres on the list.  It’s also a Via Ferrata, a special network of fixed climbing points around the Alps (and now extended all across France/Andorra) that can be solo-climbed.  There’s also caves and marmots nearby.  What’s not to love?

12. Kaiseregg, Bernese Alps, Switzerland
Kaiseregg... sounds like an indie band.

This mountain looks like it got bombed, with the huge curvy hole in its front.  I guess that’s where the “egg” in “Kaiseregg” is supposed to fit. At 7169 feet (2185 metres), it’s well worth a climb when there’s no snow.

11. Arcalod, Jarsy, France
That is a rocky mountain.

The fourth highest mountain in France, Arcalod is 7274 feet high (2217 metres).  It also happens to be an Ultra Prominent Peak (the peak is at least 1500m above the surrounding landscape).  I would imagine getting back down again would be the trick.

10. Tour d’Ai, Leysin, Switzerland

Stripy drunk mountain

At 7658 feet (2334 metres) high, this mountain looks like it fell down drunk and landed in the forest.  I particularly love the stripy effect of the rock face and the greenery.
9. Torre Grande, Cinque Torri, San Vito Di Cadore, Italy

The pointiest peaks
Cinque Torri is a five-peak mountain on the Via Ferrata, one of the first Via Ferrate to be constructed – this one apparently has a museum dedicated to the World War One Italian soldiers who fought their war right here on the Austrian Front.

8. Mount Olympus, Litochoro, Greece

I love this halo cloud

In mythology, Olympus was home to the Greek Pantheon of Gods, and no list of European mountains would be complete without it.  It’s the highest mountain in Greece (of course) at 9577 feet (2919 metres), and as part of a national park it’s climbable, too.

7. Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy

This might be the most dangerous climb in Europe

Officially the highest active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna was rumoured to be the resting place of one of the Ancient Greek Titans.  Higher than Olympus, Etna’s height is constantly changing because of the regular eruptions, but currently stands at 10,990 feet (3350 metres).

6. The Eiger, Bernese Alps, Switzerland

Are you eager to climb it?

Famous for having the biggest North Face in the Alps, the Eiger has claimed the lives of many climbers in the early days of mountaineering.  It’s 13,020 feet high (3970 metres).

5. The Matterhorn

It looks like a wizard hat
Another infamous mountain, at 14962 feet high (4478 metres) the Matterhorn was classed as the most dangerous climb in the Alps for a very long time.  Now, there’s a funicular (railway) all the way to the top.  Also, it looks like a wizard’s hat.

4. Mont Blanc

It's big...

Most climbers consider Mont Blanc to be the highest mountain in Europe (although it depends on the geographical definition of Europe, as the community’s a bit divided).  It’s certainly the highest mountain in “geopolitical Europe,” at 15781 feet tall (4810 metres) it’s certainly no picnic in the park to climb.  Most climbers spend some time acclimatizing before making a bid for the summit.

3. Mount Ararat, Turkey

Mount Ararat

It’s the tallest mountain in Turkey, dwarfing even Mont Blanc, at 16954 feet (5137 metres), and is said to be the mountain where Noah’s Ark ran aground after the Great Flood, so it’s very historic.  You need a special permit to climb it, however.

2. Gora Dykh Tau, The Caucasus Mountain Range, Russia

Gora Dykh Tau

While there’s a lot of disagreement as to whether The Caucasus actually counts as Europe, both the Seven Summits and Seven Second Summits lists have mountains from the Caucasus range in them.  Dykh Tau is the European contribution to the Seven Second Summits (the second highest mountains in each continent) at 17077 feet (5205 metres), so it made my list (and the first five thousander on the list).

1. Mount Elbrus, Caucasus Mountain Range, Russia.

Tallest mountain in the Caucasus

If Gora Dykh Tau was the second on this list, then Mount Elbrus, the European listing for the Seven Summits, is of course going to be number one.  It dominates the landscape at 18510 feet (5642 metres) and has the reputation for having the worst toilet in Europe on its summit.

Which of these would you like to climb most?  Which looks impossible?  Are you inspired to climb something in the New Year?

[travel] Buying Petrol in Europe

Buying Petrol In Europe and European-language countries

I was actually photographing the misty mountain in the background
The 7am queue, Sunday morning at a petrol station in the Austrian alps. The majority of petrol stations we saw in Austria/Germany were Shell garages.

When we were approaching the ferry at Dover, England, I pulled into the petrol station and filled the tank. My OH’s mum had told us confidently that petrol was much cheaper in France. This should have meant waiting until France to fill up, surely?  Why, then, was I getting petrol now?

Actually, I was deeply worried by particular practicalities of our trip, not least of which, where to actually buy petrol. I didn’t know any of the brand names and was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find these petrol stations. I’d looked online for a list of company names to look out for (Esso, Shell and even BP have stations abroad), but since no list existed I was limited by searching for the overseas locations of petrol stations I already knew the names of. I’d also searched online to find the names of fuels abroad.

I was still deeply worried about running very low on fuel and not being able to find a petrol station. This only happened in Italy, where there were so many different flavours of fuel and colours of hoses that it was rare to find somewhere that carried all of them. The only constant everywhere was diesel, which left me wishing many times that our vehicle was a diesel one. But you got what you got, all you can do is work with what you got.

I’m going to tell you what I learned about filling up abroad, and I’ve included a list of names of petrol types (and which engines they go in) for the countries I’ve been to so far.

Here’s my top hacks for buying petrol in Europe:

1. Service stations generally sell fuel at an almost-reasonable price, but it varies wildly. In Northern Italy on the Autostrade (plural of Autostrada, or freeway), they give you the next 3 prices for diesel and “benzina” from which you can work out the relative prices for your chosen fuel if it’s not either of those.

2. Always fill at two bars or quarter of a tank, and always round down when making the decision; every time we looked at the two bars (1/4 tank) and thought “it’s ok, we can shop around for a better price” something always happened that stopped us getting to a petrol station in good time, and we cut it far too close, far too often. We actually skipped quite a few stations on the way down because we didn’t understand which fuel to put into the car (because the Italians have so many) and they all had black, yellow or red pump handles, no green ones.  There was the time we suddenly ended up in a 4 hour gridlocked traffic jam around Firenze, in 45 degree heat, watching our petrol dwindle. There was the time we took an A-road (I think they’re “routes” or “interstates” in America – the one that’s the next size down from a freeway??) and our 50 mile route suddenly became 100 miles in the dark on continuous hairpin bends every 30 metres or less, so we constantly were doubling back on ourselves, and that hadn’t been marked on our map as such, cutting across from just below Ravenna to the E1. The scenery around there is apparently stunning, but at 1am, it was dark and we didn’t have enough fuel. Luckily the second half was 50 miles of the same, but downhill, so we just rolled it until we got to the E1, and there was a petrol station within 500m of getting onto the Autostrada.  The engine never stopped from lack of fuel, but it came very close a couple of times (making that dreadful hiccuping sound as it gasped for gas).

3. SP95-E10 is the name of a semi-synthetic fuel that is an EU-approved version of petrol. In some countries it’s cheaper than normal 95 octane petrol, in others, it’s more expensive. It’s good stuff though, at least, it was really good in our Citroen Picasso, and I was a little sad when we got back to the UK and couldn’t buy it anywhere. SP95-E10 gave us a vastly improved mileage and the car engine sounded healthier whilst it was using it. I would highly recommend it if you have a Picasso – it’s like they’re made for each other, which could be true, since it’s a French car and since SP95-E10 is prevalent in France. It’s often also called “Super E10.”

4. In Rome, most petrol stations are self-service, but there are men who will insist on filling your car for you (they will be on a mobile phone the entire time, and usually smoking as well, we saw many of these) and then harass you for a tip. Unless you’re sure of yourself physically or speak Italian louder than whoever is on the other end of the phone, you just have to give them some money. I consistently gave 2 Euros on a 20 Euro fill, and it did work out cheaper than the manned petrol stations on the ring road. I don’t think these men actually work for any petrol station company, but Rome is a city whose primary workforce are street hawkers, so you just get used to it.

5. In Austria and Germany, many stations have full service pumps and self-serve pumps, and these mean different things to elsewhere. With the full service pumps, you stop your car and tell the attendant how much fuel you want (like in the olden days of good service) and they’ll fill it for you. At the self-serve pumps, you put your own fuel into the car – but with either option, you still have to go inside to pay. They don’t have a pay at the pump option at these stations so either way you’ve got to waste the same amount of time. The full service pumps are usually about 15-20 cents more expensive per litre than the self-serve, which can seriously add up (that’s 1 euro extra every five litres of fuel. Your fuel tank is usually 25 to 30 litres, so service costs 5-6 Euros per complete tank fill).

6. Make sure you have a credit card as well as your money, some pay-at-the-pump self service machines only take cards, and they’re the ones you’ll get stuck with late at night.

7. To use the European pay-at-the-pump petrol stations, you actually don’t pay at the pump you’re using. In the centre of all the pumps, there will be a machine that you have to select options from and prepay for the amount of fuel you’re going to put in your tank. There are usually language options for at least French, German, Spanish, Italian and English, but once you’ve used 3 or 4 of these machines you’ll know the menu options well enough that you won’t need English (unless you really aren’t paying attention). Just follow the menu through to select fuel type and amount to buy, select payment method if it’s an option and give the machine the money. Eventually it’ll let you go back to your pump and fill up.

Some of them tell you the price in litres and get you to confirm you are happy with this price before letting you continue. Others just take your money. Once you’re filling up, it will automatically cut off at the amount specified. There isn’t an option with these machines to “fill ‘er up” so you need to guess how much fuel you want to put in. I usually went for 20 Euros because the price per litre was often quite high and I thought that if anything went wrong with the machine I’d only lost 20 Euros. If something does go wrong there isn’t really anything you can do about it because these stations are totally unmanned, so just write it off to experience.

8. Knowing your numbers 1-15 in foreign languages really helps with identifying which pump you’re trying to pay for petrol. In England, you walk into the shop and say “pump number 5” and you do the same thing in foreign countries. Just have the number ready before you go in and they can process your request faster. If you don’t know the numbers of the country you’re in, Europeans often can also do English although it might take them a minute to work out what language you’re speaking in, just like if someone started speaking to you in French at your place of work you’d need to think before responding.

9. Despite my worries, it’s actually really easy to spot petrol stations abroad – because they look like petrol stations. Big roof, booth for paying (usually), sign with prices, petrol pumps. Unless, y’know, you’re really unlucky and end up at a car wash or diner that used to be a petrol station and still has all the trimmings. I think my main worry was needing to look for them on my smartphone which always needed a brand name to search, but since it didn’t have any network at all from Dover onwards, that really wasn’t an issue for me because there were so many roadside petrol stations.

10. As a final hack, none of the petrol we bought in France was anything remotely resembling the prices OH’s mum had found before we left.  I hadn’t been holding my breath, but it’s worth bearing in mind that those price comparison tools are not always very up-to-date and it’s probably going to save you time to not bother looking them up, especially if you’re going to be gone drivin’ for more than a day or two.

Here’s the names of fuel in various countries, and what engines they go in:


Super E10 – unleaded engines

Super Carburant – leaded engines (old 4 star cars) don’t put in unleaded engines.

Gazole – Diesel engines

LPG – LPG/autogas engines
Sans Plomb 95 / Sans plomb 98 – Unleaded engines

You can carry up to 10 litres of fuel but not aboard ferries.


Super – unleaded engines (95 octane)

Super Plus – unleaded engines (98 octane)

Super E10 – unleaded engines (synthetic SP95-E10)

Diesel – diesel engines

No lead replacement available.

You can carry up to 10 litres of fuel with you, but not aboard ferries.


Benzina – generic term, sometimes used for “fuel,” still unsure if this would go in my car.

Benzina verde – unleaded engines.

Benzina super – unleaded engines (higher octane)

Gasolio – diesel engines (don’t ask for gasoline if you have a petrol engine, they’ll think it’s this)

GPL (gas di petrolio liquefatto) – LPG engines.

No lead replacement available, but you can buy a fuel additive to use with unleaded petrol.

Sometimes unleaded is called “senza plombo” but it’s not an official grade of petrol.

You can carry up to 10 litres of fuel with you, but not aboard ferries.

Over 800 miles of driving in Italy, I only saw SP95-E10 once, and it was far more expensive than anything else they were selling.


Bencina – petrol, again nowhere was able to tell me if this was ok to put in an unleaded engine or whether it was a common term for something else.

Gasoleo “A” – Diesel engines

Gas-oil – Diesel engines


gasolina super – Leaded 4-star engines

gasolina sin plomo – Unleaded engines.

biogasol – another one that no-one could agree on the meaning of. Most likely biodiesel but might instead be something to fuel houses. Probably best to avoid.

SP95-E10 may or may not be available in Spain – it’s likely because it’s a European initiative, but then we don’t have it in the UK, so I will report back when I return from driving to Moroccco.

You can carry up to 10 litres of fuel with you, but not aboard ferries.

Check out this AA motoring guide for other European countries and their specific driving rules, including what to carry when you go abroad:

Does anyone have any further experience on the names of unleaded/diesel in other countries? I’d love this to become a reference. Don’t just post website translations because I’m specifically collecting the words printed on the sides of petrol pumps. For example, some Italian dictionaries say “petrolio” means “petrol” but it’s actually never used in the sense that we would mean, because it means “petroleum” like “petroleum jelly” (Vaseline). If you asked for it at a petrol station you would get mocked. So, only contribute what you’ve seen at petrol stations please!

Happy driving!

The 30 List

The 30 List: Things I need to do before I turn 30 (according to my 18 year old self)

When I was 18, I wrote two lists for myself. One of them was the list of things I wanted to accomplish before I was 20. The second? The bigger list, of things I wanted to do before I was 30. This was a very long, but very concise list of everything I hoped to do before I was “old.”

The day before I turned 28, I decided to revisit this list. I didn’t have a copy of the original any more, but I was surprised to discover that I could remember nearly every item that had been on the list, despite the fact I hadn’t even considered this list since the day I turned 22.

Unconsciously, this list had been shaping my life for the past six years. Become a professional ice skater – yep, I have worked as a professional ice skater for three years in total. The first time I set foot on the ice? I was seventeen years old and didn’t know my Salkow from my Lutz. I’ve had competent skaters ask, “how old were you when you started? I was six. Didn’t you love the friends you made at the rink?” In an environment where everybody has to constantly outdo everyone else, it really doesn’t go down well to tell them I started skating at seventeen (in fact, I didn’t tell them, for the first year). In the skating scene, that’s like… leaving school at eighty! I retired after three years due to a back injury. I lost six months of my life to that back problem, although it affected me for years afterwards, but before that happened, I’m glad I got to tick off one of the most unattainable-seeming points on my list.

Train as a teacher – done. I wanted to be a teacher, applied three years in a row for History, but kept getting turned down for two reasons – firstly, my degree is in archaeology, not history, a distinction (that’s irrelevant to teaching high school) that only history graduates care about, and secondly, although I’d volunteered as a teaching assistant for a year during sixth form, I apparently didn’t have enough school experience. When a friend got their application fee refunded, due to a government scheme to get more maths and science teachers, I decided to send my application to some science PGCEs. There was also a dare involved, and anyone who’s dared me to do anything will tell you I can’t say no to dares.

Three of the four colleges dismissed me out of hand, and I don’t blame them – my total qualifications in science related subjects at the time consisted of two GCSEs grades C and C, and a failed maths AS-level that I was nonetheless very proud of, since it had taken me three tries to get my maths GCSE (first time – missed coursework deadline, second time – wasn’t allowed into the exam, third time – got a high B).

Three weeks after sending my application to the fourth of a list of about ten providers, I got a phone call. Someone who ran a PGCE wanted me to come for an interview. Long story short, I got offered a place, including a fully funded year learning physics and chemistry, then passed a fully funded PGCE in chemistry. I spent the best part of a year working in secondary schools, then gave it all up to work in a supermarket. I still do supply work sometimes, when I feel like it, but mostly have decided it’s not worth the mental anguish. I was mildly annoyed and highly amused that they never did refund my application fee.

Learning to drive with a full (non-automatic) licence – oh this one took some doing. After giving up on three separate instructors since age 15, I learned the best way to pass a transportation related qualification is to effectively strand yourself in an unpleasant location until you can drive out of there. I moved out of a shitty Edinburgh council high rise (sublet by a creepy, lecherous alcoholic) three weeks after I passed my driving test, but only because I couldn’t get a McDonald’s transfer any quicker. That was a bad year, but everything had to happen and I did get some great writing material from it. Also, passed the driving test first time with three days left on my Theory Pass Certificate. I’m often a late winner.

Be on TV – maybe I should have clarified this one better, but I feel my responsibility to the hopes and dreams of my eighteen year old self has been fully enacted. I signed up with The Casting Suite back in 2007, and in the space of a month got work as an extra on TV and in a film. My television career consists of being shocked at a dropped coffin for a sketch in the Friday Night Project where I worked with James Nesbit (yeah, me and 200 other extras).

My glittering film career was playing a student (another extra role) in a film called The Oxford Murders – one of those box office flops; it could have rivalled The Da Vinci Code, but it didn’t make any money because the marketing was awful and nobody knew it was out. Shame really; I felt Eliah Wood’s performance had been a little wooden, but John Hurt gave an excellent performance (on and off camera), and the actual plot and script were really strong, as an adaptation of a mathematical mystery novel. Mostly, it was a day spent sitting on a chair, but there’s a split second cameo of me with red hair in the final cut, in a long lecture theatre scene. I decided film work was boring and London was the place you had to be to actually get paid or participate in projects that weren’t grassroots, so I gave it up as I had two years to go on my degree.

Languages – I have learned French, German (Austrian) and Italian this decade. I’m not fluent, but I can get by, and languages are a journey, so I intend to expand my knowledge as time goes on. I haven’t learned Greek or Japanese to anywhere near the extent I was hoping, and my Swahili is still non-existent. I’ve clearly wasted my life.

Get four A-levels – I actually left school with two (history and geography) and an AS (Drama; also the failed Maths which didn’t really count). So I studied and did exams for two more while I was doing my PGCE. Just to prove that anyone can learn anything, one of my additional A-levels was my longtime nemesis, maths. The other was psychology. I’d actually wanted to do physics or chemistry to make myself more employable as a science teacher, but none of the private candidate exam centres could supervise the practical components. Having dyscalculia, I was damn proud of getting a D on A-level maths. At 50% marks, that’s classed as a passing grade on an A-level (indeed, so is an E, at 40%). The French course that I studied at uni last year is equivalent to a fifth A-level, and the Chemistry course the year before my PGCE is equivalent to a sixth. Why? Because I love learning, and find tangible measuring points an integral way to assess my understanding against an established baseline.

Publish a book – I’ve done this twice. There was a dubious erotic novel which I got paid for, the details of which I will spare you, and a parody of the Famous Five, which I didn’t get paid for. The parody was self-published, the erotica was through a quality-controlled publishing house. I’ve also been paid to work as a writer for a research project which needed some reading passages and comprehension questions. The grand sum of £25. Which they PAYE taxed, sending me a cheque for £20.

Travel around Europe – I’ve done this twice, too. Once on interrail, which was a glorious way to waste a second student overdraft, which was readily given to me in the pre-recession months. The second was a more responsibly funded driving holiday, which involved my MPV campervan conversion from a Citroen Xsara Picasso (I really must do more on that before Morocco).

Work as an archaeologist – I have and I haven’t. I’ve been on digs, excavating the past, interpreting it (as much as you can) and bagging, tagging and EDM-ing. It’s far and away the best social life you can ask for. I’ve also worked at some awesome heritage sites such as Rosslyn Chapel. What hasn’t happened yet is getting PAID to work as an archaeologist, which I believe was the spirit of this task, if not the letter, so really I can’t tick this one off.

Buy a house – This one seemed like it was going to get left off the list, it seemed like the unattainable one, but in the end, it was easy. I and my partner saved large portions of our PGCE bursaries and put them down on a house the minute we graduated, using our job contracts as proof of our financial standing.

Ironically, three months later, neither of us were working at the same schools, but we make our payments and I feel very lucky to have gotten this mortgage six months before the rules were tightened – nobody would possibly lend to us under the new rules, and we’d still be trapped in rental hell, with some complete stranger owning our house and feeling free to turn up and nag at us every month or so, a task landlords willingly give themselves to, for the modest compensation in rent of about 250% what we’re paying in mortgage plus all those nasty deposit, letting fees, credit checks and whatnots.

For digital nomads with parents, it probably seems odd to want a house, but I don’t have the security of mom and pop boxing my worldlies in their attic or garage until I’m “ready to settle down.” For me, owning my own home gives me a safe base from which to explore. When you consider Attachment Theory, it’s actually what everyone needs (the safe base, not necessarily in the form of a house) in order to explore the world without taking too many risks (avoidant) or being paralyzed by fear (anxious). Plus it’s nice to have somewhere to hang street art and keep bunnies.

And the things I didn’t complete yet (although, two years to go):

1. See the pyramids. I’d like to drive there but I can’t seem to get a suitable circuitous route that doesn’t involve long time on a boat. The land is all in the right places but for some reason (mass genocide, and all the other tragedies that accompany it) it just doesn’t work.

2. Go to Antarctica. I’ve probably missed out on this one – I have no skills to offer to the British Antarctic Survey and no pressing reason (as far as they’re concerned) to go. I’d love to do some archaeological surveying to test the Atlantis Theorem of Rand Flem Ath, but without the backing of a major government (and let’s face it, no-one’s going to give me money to investigate a Fringe Theory or pseudoscience, even if my rationale is sound), I’m never going to be able to investigate. To just go on the survey as a member doing things they actually want people to do, you need some sort of qualification or skill. You also need to be able to commit to a particularly awkward timing of departure, length of stay, and return, which gives me exactly one opportunity of timing before I turn thirty, and I’d rather spend next year doing something else since being in Antarctica without being able to do my survey will just be frustrating.

3. Get a Master’s Degree – so I did a PGCE, which is a postgraduate qualification, but it’s not a full Master’s Degree, and I have little interest in topping it up to an MEd because that feels like cheating and defeats the point of getting a Master’s. I haven’t done this yet because every year masters’ fees just go up disproportionately with inflation, so I can never save enough to pay for the course. For some perspective, my house deposit was not enough to pay tuition for a Master’s degree in Archaeology the same year. I doubt I’ll have the money for a full time course before August 2015, so I won’t have an MA or MSc before I hit 30.

4. Excavate Xi Huangdi’s burial site in China – I don’t like to relegate things on this list as impossible, I believe the very act prevents you from thinking big and achieving your dreams. I like to be unrealistic (for a given value of real) but I don’t like to consider anything as impossible. This, sadly, was the exception. I can’t get to China, I don’t speak any Chinese (C or M) and anyway, they haven’t changed the law to allow anyone (even natives) to excavate Xi Huangdi’s tomb. It is very sad, but there is absolutely nothing I can do to get around this one, and good archaeology is just decomposing to waste. I don’t think I will ever complete this in my lifetime.

5. Climb Mount Kilimanjaro – I’ve actually got a huge laundry list of mountains I should have climbed by now. Unfortunately, I’ve had to take a rain check on mountaineering for a long time due to the back injury I got when I was 23. I haven’t had an “episode” (period of time when my back won’t even let me move) for about 13 months, although I get occasional twinges still, mostly due to good management (see article, once it’s posted).

Everest, Kili, Matterhorn, Mount Olympus, Mont Blanc, even Ben Nevis and wee Ben Lomond have had to take a back seat. I did successfully climb Pen-Y-Fan in South Wales in 2012, followed the very next day by Lord Hereford’s Nob on the English-Welsh border. At the summit of Pen-Y-Fan, I cried tears of joy, because I thought my awful problems were over. Another severe episode in late 2012, followed by one in April 2013 and another in November 2013 have prevented me from further attempting anything that might require an airlift to get back out of.

I have had to accept that this just hasn’t been my decade for achieving physical fitness and endurance goals – I haven’t cycled or ice skated since my back injury, either. I still remain hopeful, since I haven’t needed my hiking sticks for support since November 2013, that I might be able to tick off at least one of these mountains before I turn 30. One thing’s for certain, I envision a day when I have the time and support to get up these mountains. After all, if double amputee Mark Inglis can get up Everest…

6. Circumnavigate in a boat. So it turns out you need special skills for this. I don’t know how to sail, navigate or even use one of those fancy radio-ma-jigs. I’d love to learn and then tick this goal off at some point in the future, but I don’t think now is the time to do it. One of the keys to my success at this list has been pragmatism – you have to relentlessly pursue your goals, but there’s always a trade off. There physically has not been time in my schedule to learn sailing this decade, except at points where I would have been incapable of doing so due to ill health. Sailing is also pretty expensive. I’ll carry this forward, though, because I really really want to do this, particularly stopping at islands and coastline that would be otherwise inaccessible or expensive to get to.

7. Skate the fjords of Finland. I’ve always loved the idea of ice skating as a practical and useful means of transportation, as well as the beauty of manipulating your body within the parameters of the forces acting upon it to produce stunning physical artwork. To be fair, anything to do with skating’s got my vote (except TV shows. I love watching the Olympics, it’s inspirational and educational, but I dislike Dancing On Ice – why watch other people skating on Saturday night during primetime when you could be out on an actual rink, skating? It’s as baffling as travel documentaries). Using frozen waters as a route to get from one place to another, camping on the ice, has all the excitement of trekking combined with the sheer joy of ice skating. This is one thing that will be on my lists until it’s happened at least once.

8. Music – Grade 8 flute. This was a massive failure. I lack the self-teaching-of-music ability to actually learn music on my own, and I’ve struggled to find a teacher or do the exams. Earlier this year, I finally decided I didn’t want to try and cram seven grades of music into two and a half years before the advent of my next decade, so I sold my flute. I still have a fife and a piccolo, but you can’t do grades on those.

What next?

With two years (one year, 48 weeks – eep) to go before my 30th birthday signals the onset of my fourth decade of life, the real questions are what am I going to do between now and then; what else can I cram into my twenties? What is going to go on my new list of things to do before I’m thirty? I feel the list of mountains deserves at least some attention. I also feel that educational goals have been given a lot of time and energy, so perhaps the final couple of years should be spent on something else. I’d love to focus on travel, but obviously the cost and time investment mean I need to pick carefully.

Do you have a list? What’s on it? Do you find lists motivating? Tell me about yours in the comments.

Mirabell Gardens and Palace: Breaking all the rules.

Mirabell Gardens and Palace: Breaking all the rules.

Mirabell Fountain
The curious origin of the streams of water…

It’s bad form to start at the beginning when you write a travel piece. This is the special exception: The fountain, facing away from us as we entered Mirabell Gardens, was a half naked woman who appeared to have two streams of water pointing in opposite directions around her chest area. It looked like her tits were leaking. I got two or three photos because I thought it was so bizarre. I walked around the fountain and when I reached the front, I saw there were actually her hands, directly in front of her chest, and she was holding two bluebirds, who were facing away from each other. The water was actually coming from their mouths. It does raise some questions about why anyone would just loll around half naked in a pond with birds in their hands at chest height, but we’re taught not to really question it if it’s Art, and this had at some point been Art. I could imagine the Georgian upper classes viewing this fountain with the same disdain with which recent audiences have treated work by Damien Hirst. Having said that, there’s a lot of stuff like this dotted around Western Europe.
The mystery thus solved, we moved on, into the gardens. Needless to say there were flowers everywhere; flowerbeds formed geometric patterns. Sitting on a bench to eat lunch, we were treated to being harassed for money by a beggar.

“Haben sie zwei Euro?” A man asked with a Turkish accent. He didn’t look particularly poor, but clothing obviously isn’t the best indicator. He waved a paper at us.
“No thank you.” I replied. The beggar glared at me, then did the one thing that guaranteed he wasn’t getting a sale from either of us. In a Western country, with (almost) equal rights, he ignored me and looked to my husband, waiting for an answer, still proffering the paper. We both stared at him in disbelief.

“NO THANK-YOU!” My OH said loudly and slowly.
“You want to buy a paper? Two Euro?” He asked, in English this time.
“NO…THANK…YOU.” He repeated, even more loudly and slowly. My other half has no compunction about talking at people in English until they’re imbued with the gift of speaking his language. It’s usually incredibly humiliating for me, as I’ll try to speak someone else’s language and fall silent before submitting to requesting if they speak English. This time, however, I just let him get on with it. After all, the paper that the guy was flogging was still in German, no matter what language he tried his sales pitch.
“You got a Euro for the bus?” He asked, still not taking the hint.
“No. Go away.” My OH replied loudly. He’s usually very polite but I think the man’s sexism had rankled him.
“Fifty cents? Fifty cents for bus?” He shook his coffee cup in my OH’s face, at which point my beloved just turned towards his sandwich and resumed eating.

The man started shouting a tirade of abuse at us, then walked off and started the exact same routine at the very next bench. I wondered, with his amazing command of colloquial English expletives, why he was wasting his effort trying to sell German-language papers to English tourists instead of making a mint teaching at an English Language School. I felt a little dirty inside, having broken my personal rule of letting my OH act like a tourist.

After lunch we decided to check out the famous Mirabell Palace, mentioned in guide books and internet must-see lists as “Mirabell Palace and Gardens.” Disappointingly, it turned out to be a council offices, which wasn’t open to the public. Not even a toilet to be had.

There was a thoroughfare which was quite pretty, and which led us across a car park and ultimately caused us to end up at the Austrian Hair Supermarket, which was as it sounds – a shop the size of a supermarket that only sold hair products. A self-inflicted platinum blonde, I just love hair products. I love finding new ones that do good things to my hair. I had bravely left home without so much as a hairdryer, let alone straighteners or a curling wand, so anything that would improve my hair’s appearance was very welcome. Thank-you, inaccurate travel guides everywhere; the hair supermarket was one of the shopping highlights of the entire trip. Across the road, there was a toilet.

I’m breaking another travel writing rule here, but I have to tell you about this toilet. As I was approaching the toilet, an older woman barged right past and into the toilet. The door swung closed and I wasn’t sure whether it was a single toilet inside or many. I decided to wait for her to finish, even though I didn’t see any lock on the outside of the outside door.

A good ten minutes later, I was still waiting. I decided to check inside. There were two cubicles, as I suspected. The older woman was sitting on one of the toilets, trousers down, cubicle door wide open, bags, rucksack and hiking poles spread about in front of the sink. I decided to step over the bags and I went into the other cubicle, as she kept speaking an unidentifiable, possibly Eastern European, language at me, getting louder. I locked the door and started cleaning the toilet seat, as she kept banging on the cubicle wall and shouting at me from the next toilet. I came back out again to see what she wanted. She just kept shouting in a foreign language.

Eventually, she declared, “Pissing!” at the top of her voice and I just gave up and left. I waited for her to be finished as she clearly wanted the entire toilet block to herself for some bizarre reason that I couldn’t fathom. Some people just can’t share toilets apparently. When she was finally done, I burst into the cubicle I’d prepared earlier and locked the door firmly. I breathed a sigh of relief. I’m sure you know the kind I mean.

Later, when I was washing my hands, I thoroughly checked the cubicle containing the toilet she’d used. The lock worked perfectly, there was plenty of toilet roll. The outside door also happened to have a bolt on the inside that she could have used for privacy, presumably in case women wanted to use the baby change station on the opposite wall to the sink. I couldn’t help but wonder what she would have done at a pay-per-cubicle toilet, where people would have been more reluctant to leave, as it would have meant forfeiting the toll paid for use of the toilet. I still can’t work out what her problem was. Tourists.