In 2015, there was an earthquake that destroyed large parts of Kathmandu, capital city of Nepal. When we visited, they were still rebuilding.
The side-by-side of rich and poor had never been so stark. Beside a luxury boutique hotel, a single wall, three storeys high, was being rebuilt by a dust-covered family when they finished work each night. They moved bricks until 2am, then they went out to work 4 hours later. Dhal Bhat Power, 24 Hour.
One of the best days of my life was spent on a makeshift rooftop terrace above a cafe, drinking Coca Cola with your daddy and watching the world go by, five storeys below. One of the worst days of my life was spent on the bathroom floor, then in a private hospital, where compassionate and efficient doctors gave me the news that I had lost my baby (caused by a very nasty fall in Xi’an, China). You were conceived exactly three months and several rivers of tears later, but the journey began here, for reasons I’ll explain some other time.
Visit Nepal for the food. The momos are crisp, the dhal bhat is smooth, everything is a unique fusion of Chinese and Indian, with extra cilantro (coriander). Visit Nepal for the monuments, breathtaking and almost Tibetan… but not quite. Visit Nepal for the people, so friendly and eager to show you their wonderful country. Visit Nepal for the bargains. Visit Nepal to do yoga and meditation with the masters. Visit Nepal to see Mount Everest (I’ll write you a separate postcard on that one).
But do me a favor, little one. Don’t come home with some cheap, badly-woven “angora wool”. It’s almost certainly ordinary wool woven in China, fluffed up with a hairbrush and imported. If you want stuff like that, go to Shanghai, instead. It’s cheaper. And there’s so many more things to spend time on when you see Kathmandu.
And whatever you do, don’t hire a car. Yes, your license is valid in Nepal. But 70% of the roads have literally no road surface. Leave the driving to the taxis. They will overcharge you. But we will teach you how to haggle before we let you go to Asia.
Some of you know I am a fan of boating and yachting, while to others, this will be a surprise. I’ve been on inland motorboats and seafaring yachts, and this article aims to cover how to start a boat with a motor, as well as a little overview of the rules of the waterways. Barges are a little different (I think; every time I’ve been on one, somebody else has sorted it out), but if you’re on a canal holiday in a barge, you should be shown how to work the engine.
1. Does it have a key-protected ignition? If so, put the key in and turn it.
2. Now find the engine. It’s usually a big, boxy thing at one end of the boat, or if it’s an inboard motor, they can be hidden behind a hatch or panel.
3. Find something that looks like a handle with a piece of string attached to it.
4. Pull it firmly. If you’re too gentle with it, it won’t start. If you pull it too hard, the string could snap. The engine might have a couple (or more) false starts before it catches; older engines or those which have stood idle for long periods of time have the most trouble with this. There’s a knack to pulling these so they catch more easily, which you will get the hang of with enough practice.
Rules of the British inland waterways:
At narrow passes in open water, canals or rivers, you should be on the right hand side when you’re passing another boat (the opposite side to where you drive a car, if you’re British). This is also true if you’re at sea and navigating a marina or other narrow area.
Approach bridges slowly, and ensure you have enough height and width for your boat, particularly if you’re not on a barge, as those are what the waterways are generally designed for and there’s some very, very low bridges.
The person closest to the bridge (or other obstacle) has right of way!
The speed limit on canals is 4mph. Any faster, and the wake (ripples) from your boat could cause problems for other water users.
To stop your boat, put the gear lever to the opposite of the direction you’re currently traveling: If you’re going forwards, put it into reverse, and vice versa.
Further information can be found from the Canal and River trust here.
I’m going to pick up where I left off last time, after I had just made it back to Zurich station and was now feeling like I was back in civilization having just spent the morning lost in the alps. I sat down over a coffee and wrote postcards to my Grandma and Aunt. This was 2008, a year after the EU smoking ban, which Switzerland was exempt from, so smoking indoors was a bit of a novelty and I did make the most of it (I don’t smoke now so I think I would hate to return to any country without an indoor ban on smoking). I asked two nice backbackers to take my photo with one of my disposable cameras.
From my travel journal:
“Next, I went to the station newsagent and negotiated stamps in German (all credit went to the pan-European phrasebook I’d packed). Next I searched for a post-box. “Excuse me?” I flagged down a passing man. “Hey there!” The friendly American accent warmed my soul. “I don’t suppose you’ve seen the nearest post box, have you?” “Sure! It’s just out there, on the left. It’s yellow.” He said. “Thank you very VERY much.” I replied. “No problem.” He said. I followed the directions and found the post box just outside the station, then posted my post cards and hoped that was actually a post box (that, or I’d just put them in a used ticket disposal box, but I hoped not because they were nice postcards).
Then I got the 9:00am train to Milan, which terminated at Venice. Depending on what time it gets in, I may just stay on the train rather than aiming for Verona. However, I would prefer to stay in Verona as from there it would be easier to get back to Calais. What followed was a wonderful train ride through the Swiss alps.
The scenery is beautiful, especially around Zug station – if I ever get a chance to go to Switzerland again, Zug is the place to go! Unfortunately, it also means I have already began using up my 3rd disposable camera – I’ll have to get another couple in Italy. The scenery of grassy fells, snowy mountains and powder-sprinkled pine trees is absolutely breathtaking. It’s much nicer to see the Alps from the ground than in an aeroplane! I’m glad not to have tried travelling onwards in the dark otherwise I would have missed this, which would have been unforgivable.
…I think I’ve just done my bit to ensure the continental opinion of English eccentricity; I took a photo of my compartment (because I’ve never been on a train with compartments before, this is like being on the Hogwarts Goddamn Express), but I waited until the other occupants had moved because it’s perhaps a bit over-zealous even for a tourist.
(a little bit later) As we emerge from the Alps, the architectural style has become markedly Italian, with the arched windows and straight-pitched, less high roofs. We are still in Switzerland, but signs for “ristorante touristes” are at the side of the road which runs parallel with the train track. There is also significantly less snow, but the sky is still that clear, brilliant blue, and the sun feels warm now. I feel less close to the sky again – being on the German side of Switzerland was like standing on a very high plateau, and it’s nice, but I’m glad to be at my normal altitude again. Hopefully it will be sunny in Verona and even more I hope that the tourist office is open so I can find accommodation between now and Tuesday (the Easter weekend is now upon us).”
Changing trains in Milan, I was profoundly disappointed. It was standard tall buildings type of architecture, nothing particularly chic or attractive about the place, it could have been absolutely anywhere. I decided to continue onwards. The next train was, now that I was in Italy, run by Trenitalia. It had dents all over the outside of the carriages and inside, there was no air conditioning, people were just crammed on top of each other. Opposite me, a woman sat down with a chicken in a cage. An actual chicken. It was squawking up a fuss and flapping its feathers everywhere, and she insisted, on this full-to-bursting train, that the chicken needed its own seat, even when a man tried to sit down. This tiny old woman clung to the chicken cage with a death grip and started shouting at him until he left the carriage. I was too timid to get a photo of the ridiculous chicken.
Later that evening, I disembarked at Verona train station and booked 3 nights in a hotel (Novo Hotel Rossi) in Verona, where I decided to remain for the rest of the Easter weekend. Annoyingly, despite it being the Easter Saturday, when everything is usually business as usual in the UK, in Verona, literally everything (apart from one Sushi restaurant) was closed and since I didn’t speak Italian (I do now, this trip is what prompted me to learn when I got back), I couldn’t understand the signs in the shop doors.
I found the aforementioned Sushi restaurant, only to discover that the staff didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak Italian, so I ended up trying to order in Japanese. Turns out, only the elderly grandmother could actually speak Japanese but she invited me to share a pot of tea with her after I’d eaten, apparently she’d never met a gaijin who could speak Japanese before. I guess you wouldn’t, living in Verona. I don’t speak very much though (and I sure as hell can’t read it), so she probably found my conversation lacklustre. I’d like to learn more at some point so I can navigate Japanese cosmetics but that’s a bit off topic for a travel post!
Anyway, that was my first day in Verona, and I’d used up over half of my Interrail pass (any 5 days of travel valid for 10 days of travel and non travel), but I decided not to worry about that.
I will continue with my Solo Interrail journey here.
As a side-note, if you are wondering why my posts/response times are erratic, it’s because I’m back to work, now teaching at a facility for children who have been expelled from school, mostly young offenders, which is a very intense job, as well as being quite a drive from my house, and I’m a bit exhausted, but I am interested in everything people have to say still!!
From my travel journal during my solo Interrail journey. New to this series? Start here. Missed last week? It’s here.
“Where do I begin? It’s 9:00 and I’ve already managed to do rather a lot today. Whilst I sit in the comfy compartment of the train to Milan, let me recount the goings-on of this morning.”
I got up amazingly early at 5:25am and had checked out of the hotel in Zurich by 6:00. At 6:20am I had found the Strassenbahn station, and I reckoned it would be a simple matter to get to the main station. I was very wrong! I got the S6, after asking directions, and was told I was one stop away, so I got off at the next stop. No sooner than I had alighted the double decker train than I realized this clearly wasn’t the right station. I got on the next train facing the same direction but it must have been the wrong direction to begin with. Whilst I was on the wrong train, I tried to ask directions, at which point I noticed an interesting cultural aspect of Switzerland of which I hadn’t been aware. Around Zurich, white people predominantly speak German, with French being the predominant language of multiculturalism. Not only that, but the white German speaking people (I asked several of them across two floors and 2 carriages) were quite rude to me, and I was surprised about that because in Das Capital everyone I’d spoken to so far had been so nice! I finally found a friendly couple from Senegal who were on their way to work. I asked them if this was the right train to get to Zurich Central station, and they said it definitely wasn’t.
“Hey, sorry to bother you, do you speak French please?” I asked.
“We sure do!” The lady said. She wore one of those striped fabric pinafore-bib type things that are the uniform of carers and cleaners the world over, and a beautiful short red (marron red) wig that meant her hair was elegantly coiffed.
“Um… is this the right train to get to Zurich Central station?” I asked.
“No, this is the train to St Gallen. Don’t worry, just get off at the next stop, cross the rails and get the next train back to Zurich.” She explained.
“Thank-you.” I said.
“You want some coffee?” The man asked. He was decked out in a blue shirt under a black suit, and very shiny black shoes. He clearly took very good care of his appearance. He held out a flask cup.
I had a sip. It was good coffee.
“Thank-you, I have been walking around this train and nobody would help me. How come the German-Swiss are so rude?” I asked.
“Oh, that’s because they don’t really like French speakers. They think we’re all stealing their jobs and what not.” She explained in a lowered voice, although this floor of the carriage was empty, and we were speaking in French in a predominantly German area.
“Stealing… their jobs??” I was flabbergasted.
“I know, it makes no sense, right?” The man laughed.
“Where are you from?” The woman asked.
“England. You?” I asked.
“We’re from Senegal.” The woman replied. “But now we’re from Zurich.” She winked.
“And you’re going to work in St Gallen?” I asked incredulously. It’s a hell of a commute for minimum wage.
“We do what we need to.” The man said, as if it was nothing special.
The conversation turned to other strange things the French-Swiss said the German-Swiss believed about French speakers, then the train began to slow, I said a hasty goodbye and descended the steps to the door. There was an announcement saying the train was about to stop, then I alighted into the most silent place in the world.
As the train moved away from the platform, I stood in 6 inches of snow and wondered whether I should have stayed on the train until St Gallen and turned around there, where at least if there were no more trains for the day, there’d be a nice cup of hot chocolate at a ski lodge somewhere (or something. I’m not really sure what’s there).
No, I was stranded at a train platform that was buried under snow halfway up a mountain, with one building next to the station, that looked like one of those water inspection buildings. Beyond that, there was nothing but snow and curvy trees in every direction.
There wasn’t a train timetable anywhere in sight. It was probably buried under snow. And there wasn’t anywhere to sit. That was probably buried under snow as well. In fact, there was no visible roads or any route to leave this train station and get to anywhere else. For all I knew, this could be the train station at the end of the world, it’s sole purpose seemed to be as a turning around point for lost passengers such as myself. There was, however, a station map, which claimed I’d somehow managed to get 30 miles away from Zurich on an alpine route. Oops.
I was alone. The temperature was very cold. Of course, on a journey like this, I knew I was going to be exposed to a range of temperatures, so I’d tried to pack light and dress appropriately, but then, I hadn’t expected to be stranded in the Alps. I was wearing a pair of tights (pantyhose), a dress that finished two inches above the knee (I still have this dress), with a short sleeved shirt underneath, and a wooly cardigan over the top, and my coat. My shoes were some of those Skechers hybrid trainers/ballet flats.
My hands were starting to go numb. I could see my own breath and there was an icy patina growing on my coat. I started mentally cycling though the things Ray Mears says to do if you’re lost in the mountains, and cursed the fact that I didn’t bring a tarp.
After over two hours, the train finally arrived. It almost certainly was punctual, but the frequency of trains up here meant that this was the first train that had passed in all that time.
When it finally drew up to the platform, I wondered if it was a snow-mirage, brought on by the cold, and made sure I touched the train before stepping onto it, just to make sure I wasn’t stepping off the platform into thin air. You hear some horrible stories about things that happen to people who get stuck on the train tracks at the wrong time.
Thankfully it was real enough and it was a cross-country one, so it took me straight to the Zurich central station with none of the messing around with small, local stations. When I got off, I sat in one of the station’s coffee shops and tried to thaw out.
I will continue recounting the rest of this travel day here because there’s a lot more that happened today, and otherwise this post will be very long.
I’m back, I got back from the Highlands, Islands and Aberdeenshire this afternoon. Did you have a nice quiet week without me? I will catch up on blogs as and when I can.
So I was pretty ill on my first two days of travel and then the day before yesterday I hit my head pretty hard on a large piece of Scotland, so the holiday was far less productive than I anticipated, however, I have now been able to tick the following things off my 30 list:
Visit the Brochs in Scotland (yay I can finally tick this one off – I went to Tappoch broch near Falkirk in April which I did a Youtube video about here:
; and now I have seen two more up at Glenelg – Dun Telve and Dun Troddan which were even more spectacular (I filmed them and THEN realized I haven’t sorted out the sound on my new camera so I may have to Redo from Start).
Go to Skye. On my 40 list it’s more specific and says I have to go to the caves but my 30 list just says to visit Skye. Which I did.
Climb Ben Nevis. This was the most exciting thing I did on holiday (and I did it yesterday so I’m probably suffering from the recency effect) and I felt really proud given that five years ago I couldn’t even walk to the front door unaided because I had a back problem. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK and I climbed the crap out of that badboy. I have the hip pain and “runners knee” (except I get it after I climb mountains) to prove it.
I did a bunch of other stuff as well, including getting sunburnt on the beach 20 miles north of Aberdeen (I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t even take suncream), going around some of the Harry Potter filming locations (I will do an article on this VERY soon) and photographing a beautiful partial moon that was BRIGHT ORANGE (I haven’t seen an orange moon for AGES – probably since I moved away from Bonny Scotland) with my new camera. It needs a decent telephoto lens but it was cool to have an opportunity to try out astrophotography even if it was a bit of a non-starter. Here’s how those pics came out:
I am very tired and my head is still very sore from where I hit it (the egg cracking sound is still making me cringe as I keep reliving it over and over) and I set off for home from Fort William at about 11:30pm last night, so I will sign off for now but rest assured, gentle and fearless readers, I shall return in…
Ms Adventure: The Full Scottish Breakfast that Loved Me (cue James Bond theme).