Our 2018 European Adventures will mostly take place in Spain & Portugal. We start with a walk along the Camino pilgrim route to Santiago, followed by a ride in Portugal. We finish with some time in Amsterdam and the Swiss Alps.
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  • Day42

    Back Home

    October 29, 2018 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Allan and I finally arrived back at Tullamarine Airport at midnight last night. It had been a long flight, but at least the A380 is about as comfortable a plane as you can get,and its size means that you don't feel so claustrophobic. It is also a big relief when you finally see your own familiar luggage appear on the carousal.

    Now that I am home again I have a mountain of mail to plough through and also need to do some work removing several trees that have miraculously grown in my front garden while I have been away. I suspect that I will take a few days to get the jet lag symptoms under control. Apart from that I am feeling fine.

    I now have seven months home before I head back to Europe for the Baltics Adventure in June 2019. Thank you for sharing this trip with us.
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  • Day40

    Time to Come Home

    October 27, 2018 in Switzerland ⋅ 🌧 8 °C

    After walking hundreds of kilometres on the Camino Frances and cycling hundreds of kilometres around the hills of Portugal, it's finally time. After staying in 26 different hotel rooms, after riding on numerous trains, buses and taxis, the time has come. We simply cannot delay it any longer, we must now face the biggest challenge of them all - the long journey home in economy class.

    It is also worth mentioning that the rain has also finally caught up with us. Steady rain has been falling in Geneva all morning, making the place look even bleaker and greyer than it did yesterday. When I checked the forecast for Zermatt, it promised that the snow would be falling there later today. When winter arrives in Europe, it can happen almost overnight.

    It is hard to believe that those hot days in Madrid were only six weeks ago. So much has happened since that time that it is easy to get just get information (and experience) overload. It has certainly been a pretty relentless schedule and the constant routine of moving from place to place does get exhausting after a while. We also gained an appreciation for just how hard the Camino is.

    When I was planning this trip I had a notion that walking the Camino would be something like walking the well known Warburton Trail. I knew that it would be challenging to front up day after day to keep walking another 20 km or more, but I did not appreciate that the terrain itself would often be so challenging. Anyone who completes the entire 800 km walk deserves a knighthood.

    At the start of every new adventure you also worry how all the complex arrangements will work out. With so many people involved, and with so many travel and hotel bookings, you always have the lingering worry that someone might have made an error. Now that the trip has all but finished I can honestly say that EVERYTHING went according to the plan. What a huge relief.

    All we have to do now is somehow get to the bus depot without getting saturated, catch the right bus to Geneva Airport and then endure 24 hours of air travel. Why does Australia have to be so darn far away ?
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  • Day39

    Geneva - Where Materialism is Master

    October 26, 2018 in Switzerland ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Our final morning in Zermatt began just like every day since we arrived in Switzerland just over a week ago. Although everyone had been warning us that the fine weather was about to come to an abrupt end, when I looked out of my hotel window all I could see was unbroken blue sky.

    Although Zermatt is built around the tourism industry, there is no denying the fact that it is in a beautiful location and we certainly had grown fond of the place in the short time we had spent here. However, after six weeks of constant travel, we both felt that it was time to head home.

    We checked out of our hotel and walked the short distance to the Zermatt Bahnhoff. We didn't have to wait long for the next train to Tasch. From there we transferred to a waiting bus to take us to Visp. During the hour or so we were on the bus, we descended continuously. Often there were tight switchbacks in the road that required the bus to slow right down.It was only when we reached the large station at Visp that disaster almost struck.

    We had both loaded our main luggage into the boot of the bus and put our back packs in the overhead rack. When we got off the bus Allan forgot his backpack and went straight to retrieve his large case. Fortunately I noticed it in time and he was able to get it before the bus drove away.

    The final stage was a two hour train trip to Geneva. I had briefly driven through this city a couple of years ago and remember that it did not make a favourable impression on me then. As the train approached the main station and we saw mile after mile of ugly graffiti, it did nothing to improve my impression of the city.

    After a short taxi ride to our hotel, we decided to explore the so called "old city" and the lakeside. It seems that the main claim to fame of the city is the huge water spout that projects water 140 metres vertically in the air. Although it was somewhat impressive, I dodn't think that I would come here just to see it.

    Since we were both hungry, we both looked for a place where we could get something for lunch without having to sell our houses first. Once again it was painfully obvious that money is king in Geneva. If you want anything, you have to be prepared to pay an exorbitant amount of money for it.

    We finally settled for a pizza place on the basis that, since it didn't have table cloths, it would probably be cheaper. It wasn't. My average pizza cost about $32 AUD. When the waiter asked what we would like to drink, we both replied "Tap water", knowing that restaurants are required to provide it free of charge. He wasn't impressed and clearly made his disgust obvious.

    Some time later our lunches arrived and he made a half hearted apology that he had "forgotten" our water. I knew he was lying and told Allan that we will never get that drink. And we didn't. He just completely ignored us. I am normally an honest person, but I have to admit that I was very, very tempted to "forget" to pay our bill. It was a very disappointing introduction to the city.

    We then went is search of coffee. When we saw a Starbucks, we thought our problem was solved. That was until we discovered that a Starbucks Cappucino was going to cost over $10. We finally found a McCafe where the same coffee only cost about $7.

    The so called old town was rather underwhelming, although the central Saint Peter's Cathedral was refreshing in its lack of internal adornment. The cathedral is not catholic, but Calvinist and this made for a stark contrast to the elaborate cathedrals we had seen all the way along the Camino walk. It is also worth noting that 2017 marked the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.The rest of the buildings in this area just looked dirty and drab, rather than interesting. Perhaps too many years of constant tobacco smoking by the entire population has deposited a thick layer of black tar on every fixed object. Or perhaps I am just getting too cynical.

    In our final evening in Switzerland we walked down to the lakeside to watch the water spout under floodlights. A mass of high intensity LED spotlights illuminated the spout so that it could be soon from a long distance away. We managed to walk almost to the base of the spout and somehow miraculously managed to stay dry.

    Tomorrow we pack our bags for the final time, before catching the FREE bus to the airport. It really must be the only thing in Geneva that doesn't cost a fortune. When I arrived back at the hotel and checked the weather in Zermatt, Apparently it is now pouring with rain there, and snow is expected for every day for at least the next week. How about that ?
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  • Day38

    The Most Amazing Day of All

    October 25, 2018 in Switzerland ⋅ ☁️ 9 °C

    I seem to have been repeating myself lately. Perhaps it is a sign of extreme old age, or maybe it's because I am running out of superlatives when trying to describe the scenery we have been enjoying every day. There is only a limited number of times you can use words like "amazing", "spectacular" or "breathtaking", before they become depreciated.

    What I will say is that today has been one of the most memorable days of my entire life. Allan and I began early with a trip on the cog railway from Zermatt to Gornergrat. This is a famous scenic location that offers 360 degree views of the surrounding mountain peaks.

    Although the Matterhorn is the most famous, and certainly the most recognisable of these peaks, it is actually not the highest. There are several others in this region that are considerably taller. Allan and I climbed to the highest point we could find and were thrilled that we had the place to ourselves. We spent the next 30 minutes just taking in the surroundings and pinching ourselves to make sure we weren't dreaming.

    Once again the weather was absolutely perfect, with blue skies, warm sunshine and no wind whatsoever. It was such a peaceful location to just sit and be thankful that we had this opportunity witness such beauty in such ideal conditions. Apparently this run of fine weather is coming to a dramatic halt this weekend. Plunging temperatures and snow is predicted for this region, but today you would not believe it.

    I found a lovely narrow alpine track along a ridge line and decided to follow it for some distance. On either side there were steep slopes disappearing down into the values below. I guess that is why the signs warned that the path was not suitable for anyone with vertigo. In the shady patches there was still a lot of hard ice, which made the walking a little treacherous. Fortunately I only came to grief once, and that didn't really count as I only fell onto one knee and not my backside.

    I found another isolated and elevated position and just sat and admired what was all around me. There is nothing like this in Australia and I was so glad that we had made the decision to spend this time in Switzerland. As I sat I could hear distant sounds from way down in the valley below me. Overhead white vapour trails marked the paths followed by numerous aircraft crisscrossing their flights across Europe.

    I could also hear something else. I think it was the sound of crackling forming on the top of my head and face. I had somehow stupidly left my hat in the hotel and I could feel the powerful rays of the sun burning their way into my exposed skin. It was time to head back.

    After a celebratory coffee and strudel at the summit restaurant we caught the train back as far as the first station. From there we walked to the Rippelsee, a lake that provides beautiful reflections of the Matterhorn. We then decided to continue our walk past another lake which had frozen solid and then down the hill to Rippleberg Station. The steep descent really tested my legs, but I could not help but feel that we were so privileged to have been able to share a day like this together.

    Tomorrow we catch the train to Geneva for our final night in this country, then it will be time to begin the long journey home. It has been a trip full of diverse experiences and I feel almost overwhelmed with the huge storehouse of memories I will be carrying home with me. That is the main reason that I have kept this blog. I hope also that those who are reading this have been sharing some of the trip with us.
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  • Day37

    In the Shadow of the Matterhorn

    October 24, 2018 in Switzerland ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    It seems that, ever since we arrived in Switzerland, we have been travelling inside a fine weather bubble. Not only have we had perfect weather for each and every day, but the locals keep telling us that this "just never happens at this time of the year". Apparently the normal pattern is for the weather to be cold, wet and gloomy in October.

    I don't know exactly how we managed to fluke such a meteorological masterpiece, but we are happy to put it down to exquisite planning. In fact we only need another two fine days, and then we don't really care less what horrors might unfold.

    Today we made the complicated trip from Interlaken to Zermatt. It was meant to involve three trains, but it eventually also included a bus as well, as part of the tracks were being reconstructed.

    When we arrived at the first class carriage of the train from Interlaken, we were pleased to see that the carriage was empty apart from Allan and I, and another Australian couple from Perth. We loaded our luggage onto one of the multitude of empty seats and waited for the train to move off. Just before it started, one other passenger climbed aboard. Although the carriage was almost empty, guess which seat she insisted on taking ? You guessed it, she wanted the very seat our luggage was on. We manhandled all the bags so she could sit there and then discovered that she smelt so badly of cigarette smoke that it almost made me choke.

    Fortunately the first leg of our journey was only a twenty minute ride, so we held our breath for most of that time. After another change of train and then a bus transfer, we finally boarded the train for the final part of the journey. We were glad when the train finally rolled into Zermatt station at about 12.30 pm.

    Zermatt is a town of some 5000 inhabitants,situated at an elevation of almost 1600 metres. Its main claim to fame is that it is situated very close to the most famous of all of Switzerland's mountains. The Matterhorn is a jagged piece of rock that just abruptly into space and appears to finish with a sharp point at its summit.

    I had remembered seeing movies about the Matterhorn as a child and was fascinated by its beauty. It towers 4478 metres above sea level and was first climbed in 1865 by a team of climbers led by Edward Whymper. Tragically four of those climbers died in a fall during the descent.

    There is no doubt that Zermatt had built a thriving tourism industry from its famous mountain. The town itself mainly consists of a closely packed cluster of hotels and chalets. of course there are also the obligatory watch and outdoor clothing shops as well.

    We arrived as the temperature hit a balmy 18C. In the relatively thin air, the sunshine felt even hotter than that. The Matterhorn was clearly visible, apart from a tiny ribbon of spindrift that was being blown from the summit. It made an amazing sight.

    The forecast is for another similar day tomorrow, and then it all goes downhill. By next Monday the top temperature is predicted to be only 3C and snow is highly likely. By then we will be back home in Australia.

    It is also worth noting that Zermatt has banned cars and trucks. The only vehicles that are permitted are small electric taxis and horse drawn vehicles (and bicycles). It is a refreshing to see a city that has had the courage to take such a forward thinking decision.
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  • Day36

    Free Day in Interlaken

    October 23, 2018 in Switzerland ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    I can think of three things that Switzerland is famous for - watches, chocolates and army knives. On my free day in Interlaken I did not have to go very far to find all three. In fact the main street is populated with a whole series of shops selling Swiss watches. I decided to have a look in some of their windows in case I could grab a bargain.

    Even the very cheapest watch I could find was far too expensive for an Aussie battler like me. Some of them cost more than a luxury car. It was quickly evident that the main purchasers of these overpriced status symbols were the Chinese tourists. In shop after shop I could see whole clusters of cashed up Chinese, gathered at the counters and excitedly buying some of the most expensive watches on the planet.

    I continued down the main street and entered a likely looking chocolate shop. When I looked at the prices they were charging, I soon decided that I would have to forego any hankering I had for those lovely little indulgences as well. I didn't even bother going into the Swiss army knife shop as they had a display outside which indicated that their products weren't intended for cash strapped Australian tourists.

    In fact ever since we entered Switzerland about a week ago, Allan and I have been shocked at just how expensive everything is here. It is not just the watches, knives and chocolates that cost a king's ransom, it is literally everything. It is bad enough seeing the prices in Swiss Francs, but when you multiply by 1.5 times to convert to Australian dollars, it is enough to make you feel weak at the knees. Switzerland is certainly a lovely country, but if you want to spend some considerable time here, you had better have been born with a silver spoon in your mouth.

    I decided to spend my final rest day doing what I most enjoy - exploring and people watching. At least that wouldn't cost anything, and it was meant meant to be a free day, not an expensive day after all.

    At first I set out in the direction of the centre of Interlaken, but took a detour through some of the back streets, rather than follow the main street. Once again the weather was fine and sunny, but not as clear as we had enjoyed yesterday.

    I soon found myself in a large park area which had become the main landing area for the continuous procession o f hang gliders that were launching from one of the nearby mountainsides. As I got closer I could see that every glider actually had two people on it. It was obviously a very lucrative industry and virtually every single paying passenger was a young Chinese or Japanese female. I suppose I should not have been surprised that every hang glider was also equipped with a huge selfie stick to attach your camera to. I am not kidding.

    When each paying passenger landed, the routine was the same - do a "high five" with the pilot, take off the harness, then retrieve the camera. And how much was each passenger paying for about 10 minutes of flight time ? The cost that most companies were charging was about 180 Francs per flight (about $270 AUD). I wondered how many flights they could fit in each day and did some quick mental calculations. It is little wonder that there were so many in the air at the same time, it was like a license to print money.

    Later in the day I met up with Allan and we walked about some of the older part of town. We happened to stumble upon some sort of cattle judging event in the old city square. Allan commented on how large the cows were. I commented on how much manure each one could produce. There will certainly be some serious cleaning up required before the square will be ready for public use again.

    The sun continued to shine strongly as we slowly continued our walk. I decided to check the GPS to see how far I had walked during the day. The answer was almost 12km. I have lost track of the cumulative distance I have walked over the past 6 weeks,but I suspect that I could probably have walked half way to Europe from Australia by now.

    In the evening we went for dinner at a lovely little kiosk near the station. The food was delicious and reasonably priced, so we couldn't understand why there were so few people there. When I was curious about the unusual accent that the young waitress had, she explained that she had moved to Switzerland from Prague. She also told us that the weather was about to deteriorate in a few day's time and that rain and snow was predicted. This was another reminder of just how lucky we have been with our timing.

    Tomorrow we say goodbye to Interlaken and take a series of trains to Zermatt. This town is most famous for being near to what is perhaps Switzerland's most famous mountain - the Matterhorn.
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  • Day35

    On the Roof of Europe

    October 22, 2018 in Switzerland ⋅ 🌙 7 °C

    Some days are just about perfect in every respect. Today was one of "those" days. In fact the tone of the day was set the previous evening. After the two noisy nights I had endured in Lucerne, I was really dreading another repeat. To my sheer delight, the only sound I heard all night was the occasional tinkling of a distant cow bell. It doesn't get any more peaceful (or more Swiss) than that.

    Today was the day that we had planned to ride an assortment of railways to the famous Jungfraujoch. At 3500 metres above sea level this is the highest railway station in Europe and it was intended to the high point of our entire trip.

    Regardless of how much detail you put into your planning, there is one aspect that is always completely out of anyone's control. In alpine regions the weather can be very unpredictable and many people travel all the way to the summit, only to find that there is almost zero visibility. Although Allan and I had tried to pretend that we would accept whatever weather we were presented with, you can imagine our utter delight when we found that daybreak revealed a completely cloudless sky. Not only were there no clouds, it was easily the clearest skies we had seen since arriving in Switzerland.

    Our day began with a train ride from Interlaken to Lauterbrennan. Although the train appeared to be a "normal"electric train, I am sure that the gradients were at least up to 10% or more. As we climbed higher and higher, the vistas became more and more spectacular. It was hard to resist taking photos every few seconds. From time to time we caught glimpses of the line snaking ever upwards in front of us.

    At Lauterbrennan we changed to a cog railway for the next section of the climb to Kleine Scheidegg. If we thought the gradients in the first section were challenging, they jumped to a whole new level. At times I found myself struggling to stay on the seat, the carriage was titling so sharply.

    At Kleine Scheidegg we transferred to the final cog railway (The Jungfrau Railway). This incredible feat of engineering was completed in 1912 and consists of a steeply sloping tunnel cut straight through the Eiger and the Monch to reach the saddle known as the Jungfraujoch. At one point in the journey the train stops to allow the passengers to peer out of a series of glass windows cut into the famous north face of the Eiger.

    In 1936 five climbers tragically died while attempting to climb the north face of the Eiger. Their situation was made more macabre by the fact that the railway tunnel allowed railway staff to communicate with the stranded climbers, but they were unable to reach them, even though they were only a few metres away from safety.

    When our train reached the Jungfraujoch Station we were very conscious of the fact that we had quickly gained a lot of altitude. Both of us felt light headed and somewhat weak, especially when we had to climb the final staircase. There is now quite a tourist complex at the summit, with restaurants, viewing platforms and even an ice cave to be explored.

    Fortunately the skies remained perfectly clear all day and we were able to enjoy uninterrupted views in every direction. About 100 metres vertically above the station is the high altitude weather centre. This can be reached by a high speed lift which rises the 100 metres in only 6 seconds.

    When we emerged onto the highest platform, the temperature gauge indicated that it was 0 degrees, but fortunately there was no wind, so it did not feel too unpleasant at all. By far the biggest danger was from the plethora of selfie sticks that were being swung in all directions.Allan was immediately fearful that he would lose his one remaining eye on the end of someone's protruding selfie pole. If the selfie takers were not bad enough, someone had even taken a drone up to the summit, just to annoy everyone by flying it back and forth over our heads.

    After a couple of hours enjoying the views at the top,, we retreated indoors for lunch. It was while we were sitting at the lunch table that the day nearly took a serious turn for the worse. I felt in my pocket for my wallet. It wasn't there. I started to search every pocket and then searched my backpack. The wallet had gone. It had all my cards, ID and money in it. My heart started to thump - and it wasn't because of the thin air. It was my worst nightmare come true. Up to that point I had been so careful in looking after all my gear, but in an instant it had all hit the fan.

    I started frantically looking about the restaurant to see if I had dropped it somewhere, wondering what would be the chances of anyone actually handing it back in. It was only when I looked under my seat that I saw my precious little wallet just sitting there. It had obviously slipped out of my pocket and out of sight. If I had not chosen that moment to feel for the wallet in my pocket, the day would have been memorable for all the wrong reasons.

    With my wallet restored and my heart rate slowly returning to normal, it was time to start retracing our steps to Interlaken. This time we took the route via Grindalwald, rather than Lauterbrennan. I could not say which route was better as both were glorious.

    We arrived back at Interlaken at 5 pm and both agreed that it had been one of the very best days of our lives. It doesn't really matter what happens after today as we have already enjoyed our time in Switzerland so much. When we collected our room keys from the lady at the hotel desk she told us that it had been the best weather they had experienced for weeks. How's that for timing ?

    After dinner Allan and I had a bit of fun playing pool on the hotel's billiard table. The table surface was so uneven that it made the game quite hysterical. It was a great finish to a 10/10 day.
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  • Day34

    Riding The Interlaken Express

    October 21, 2018 in Switzerland ⋅ ☁️ 11 °C

    There is no doubt that Lucerne is a beautiful city. With its unique combination of lakeside location, medieval buildings and modern facilities, it is a place that I would have loved to have spent a little longer in. I only wish that we had not arrived right in the middle of the Lucerne carnival.

    Not far from our hotel the town had been taken over by a huge carnival, complete with a long line of fun rides, amusement booths, food stalls and much more. It was obviously the time for serious partying in Lucerne. While this might have been OK for most people, my hotel room unfortunately faced the street. On the first evening I was there, the noise outside did not quieten until almost 5 am. The entire night was spent with riotous shouting from drunken young people wandering up and down the street. I tried shutting the window, but then suffered from a hot and stuffy room.

    The next night was even worse. The noise kept up until sunrise the following morning. After two completely unsettled nights, I was really ready to say farewell to Lucerne and move to somewhere much quieter. If I was to ever return to Lucerne, I would make sure I booked a hotel that was in a much quieter location.

    After bidding a final farewell to the Waldstatterhof Hotel, Allan and I were soon seated in the first class carriage of the Interlaken Express and happily rolling through the greenest hills I had ever seen in my life. This was the classic Swiss scenery we had come so far to experience.

    We had not gone very far before we heard the sound of a distinctive Australian accent. It was coming from two women who were seated across the aisle from us. We have not come across very many fellow Australians on this trip, so it was fun to finally come across people who spoke the same language.

    Our two new friends then passed us a note that they had found on their seat. It was from the Swiss Railway company and explained how sorry they were that the train would not be going to Interlaken after all. Due to construction works we were all going to be offloaded to buses at Brienz. In the overall scheme of things we thought that it was only a minor inconvenience, considering how well all our other arrangements had gone.

    Our bus pulled into Interlaken shortly after 1 pm and we checked into the very comfortable (and very Swiss) Carlton Europe Hotel. Since it was still relatively early in the day, and since the weather was still fine and mild, we decided to take the opportunity to ride the funicular railway to Harder Kulm. This famous lookout is situated about 800 metres vertically higher than Interlaken and gives an amazing panorama of views out over the Eiger, the Monch and the Jungfrau Mountains.

    Although it was not so pleasant being shoehorned into the sloping carriage with about 100 very excited Indian tourists who shouted the whole way to the top, the views from the lookout were sensational. We climbed a little higher on a side path to escape the masses and enjoy some genuine peace and quiet.

    As we watched the cloud formations form and disperse over the nearby peaks, we both agreed that it really was a magical day and one that we will never forget. Allan and I have shared some great adventures together in the past and this one will also be added to our fondest memories.

    After returning back down to Interlaken we were entertained by a Swiss music group playing in front of our hotel. The combination of the surrounding snow capped mountains and the Swiss yodelling was a perfect way to end a wonderful day. Soon the music was augmented by the prolonged pealing of the nearby church bells. This is a regular feature of life in most parts of Europe, but something that those who have only lived in Australia could not understand.

    Tomorrow we take the train to the famous Jungfraujoch - the highest train station in Europe. At 3500 metres above sea level it will be even higher than our visit to Mt Titlis two days earlier. We both hope that the sequence of fine weather can hold out just a little while longer.
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