Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Dear Diary,

I'm not really in the mood for conversing, but I'm hoping that a litre of Zywiec (that's beer, Adam!) and some Legendarny Smak Krakersy (which of course means 'legendary tasty crackers', right Ola?!) will improve matters somewhat.  And, as I become aware of drinking duty free beer in an airport terminal, I recall the threats to sic the Feds on us at Hobart airport for drinking some leftover goon, politely, from plastic cups.  Ah, Europe, the wondrous place where you can drink anywhere, provided you behave yourself. Seriously, on German trains, they have this clause.  But in Germany they also consider beer to be essential, thus it remains untaxed (a benefit which I don't think even applies to tampons in Australia) and insanely cheap – unlike coffee, which is heavily taxed in Germany.

So, for those of you who've lost track like me, I've been away now for about a month.  And, as is my wont, I'll work backwards to the beginning.

I'm currently in Katowice, Poland, awaiting part II of my nice cheap flight to Kiev.  It cost me somewhere around 60 quid, from Milan, but I had to kill five hours here.  Customs/border control tried to speak Polish to me while checking my credentials and were surprised to learn that I couldn't speak back.  Such is the sad truth – that I can probably speak more Italian than Polish, and even that I only just learnt in the past week.


Wow, my left ring finger really wanted to pluralise 'week', and it's true that it feels like I was in Italy for longer than one week – and I nearly was because although I knew my flight was leaving on the 23rd, I had the idea that it was a Monday.  It was only yesterday, lying in the sun by the cascata (waterfall) near Chiavenna with Michele, writing a thank you card for my wonderful hosts Laura & Vinci, that I realised the date, and...eeeeeeeeeeek!  Lolli and Teo had to kick people out of their bar so they could dash to Chiavenna for a good bye drink.  Oh, but I think they LOVED to have an excuse to chuck a bit of a sickie...

So, I arrived in Chiavenna last Sunday evening, from the Swiss Alps (the Engadine Valley), where Marty and I had spent the weekend – he went kite surfing FOR HOURS on the Saturday (he was the 2nd last kite on the lake at Silvaplana and I was accompanied by peanuts and beer while I waited, oh so patiently...not my forte, as you may know...and then he nearly blacked out, methinks perhaps he overdid the exertion...but some pizza fixed him up and we had an early night in a campground full of exhausted kite-surfers.

On Sunday, the worse for wear Grandpa Moo Moo and I went for a day hike above Pontresina (not far from Silvaplana, which is near St Moritz).  We kinda cheated, I thought, because we started our hike with a chairlift which took us up to around 2000m and only climbed the remaining 1000m up to Piz Languard (3262m), but still we did it and it was really excellent, but a bit difficult to breathe at that height!  Marty and I also had one fun night out with his flatmate in Stuttgart, on the Friday when I arrived – luckily for me it was the Sommerfest, a big festival in the centre of the city.  We saw some great jazz, including a very convincing rendition of 'What a Wonderful World' (video to come!).  I'd expected to spend more time there, but Switzerland was appealing to both of us, and I'd already spent two weeks in various German cities.

Arriving in Chiavenna on Sunday evening was like coming home.  There is nothing like Italian hospitality – and they tell me they're considered 'cold' in the north and that the further south you go, the better it gets!  We went to a fancy new restaurant that night, which had only very recently been opened by some friends of my hosts.  It seemed that nobody in our group really liked the place, and at that dinner, and future dinners, I marvelled at how much discussion there was about every element of the evening – in Italy, everyone has an opinion and they're not afraid to shout it out loud!  Anyway, I liked the dinner and it only cost me a kiss!  I liked everything in Italy!  And having a personal translation service, in the form of the dashing, young Fabio who lived in Sydney for 16 years and thus speaks Aussie English without a trace of an Italian accent, was a bemusing bonus!  Grazie mille Fabio!!!
I returned to Switzerland twice to 'take in the sun' during my stay in Italy, hence 'Switzaly'.  The first time Laura and I spent an absolutely lovely day lazing, dozing and reading by the Silsersee at Isola – a freezing alpine lake which we only managed to jump into for about 3 seconds and resurfaced to applause.  The second time we drove with Laura's sister Cami, her Mum Antonia and her mum's friend Mariana to the other side of the mountains, the Splugel Valley (I think), for the thermal baths in Andeer.  It was a great day too, but we drove through three mountain passes and spent two hours in the pools and were pretty tired when we came home to Friday night dinner and drinks plans...but we went out anyway and had a great dinner at a Crotto (www.crottoalprato.it) – a particular type of restaurant only found in Chiavenna and named such because of the mountains in which they have natural wine and cheese cellars.  There is a set menu usually at Crottos – and in this case it was a five-course, heavy, meaty and lasted a good few hours.  But of course, my dietary requirements were well catered for with cheese cheese cheese!  We also drank a few chocolate grappas (!!) after the meal, and then proceeded to amble across town to a bar, where I sat uncomfortably for a few minutes across from a cool looking couple who I really wanted to talk to, but got the impression they couldn't speak English very well.  Tentatively, I asked them a few questions, and when I asked the guy, Pepe, what he did for work the floodgates opened.  Turns out he was a soldier, of some sort, and really wanted to tell me all about it, rating the differences between the soldiers of different countries and telling me amongst other things, that he didn't think soldiers should be allowed to have opinions about war.


While in Italy I also visited Lolli and Teo for two days in Domaso, on Lake Como, which was just gorgeous.  Surprisingly hot, so they say, for this time of year, but that of course, was good for business – Lolli and Teo run a bar La Maddonina, and business booms when the sun shines.  It was so super to visit them, and they took a day off each, to spend time with me...I felt very special.

The first day Teo and I went to Bellagio, by ferry.  It's an important town, apparently, because it's precisely where Lake Como diverges to become two separate lakes.  And it was pretty sweet to wander around for the day, albeit scorchingly hot and NOT a good place for swimming.  Surprisingly, there aren't that many good swimming spots on Lake Como, and people tend to swim in pools, rather than the lake.  Not because of the water, although I did hear of some toxic fungus in one town while I was there.   Anyway, the second day I got to spend with Lolli.  She and I went to Villa Carlotta, a huge, beautiful villa (possibly 70,000sqm, but don't quote me) which was given to Carlotta when she married George...I never quite worked out who he was tho, a duke I think...I was distracted by thoughts of George Clooney, who has a house near there – but who, according to Mariana, an authority on most things, doesn't care about anyone and has never had a girlfriend for more than two weeks.  But I digress.  

Lolli and I had a great day at Villa Carlotta and later swimming in the pool at Menaggio.  But both evenings that I spent by Lake Como ended similarly.  At around five or six o'clock, the Italian host for the day realised they had to return to work at the bar and started to negotiate with me...oh...Leonie...let's not go back.  Lolli/Teo can look after the bar tonight.  Let's stay in a nice hotel...let's have a few more drinks...let's...

Oh shit.  I think my flight is boarding!

UKRAINE: 23RD AUGUST – present

Ok, so I didn't miss my flight. And as predicted the beer helped me recollect my experiences. Now I'm Kiev.  I arrived close to midnight on Sunday, and was met at the airport by the beautiful Tatiana Alexandrovna and her tall and handsome son, Rostyslav Yurievich.  We caught a taxi home and proceeded to drink a bottle of wine, eat Yura potatoes (just the way he used to make them), salad and some wonderful fried and heavily mayonnaised vegies and to reminisce for hours about Yura, Tanya's husband, my mum's cousin and my favourite Ukrainian of all time who very sadly and suddenly passed away in June this year, only four years after his younger brother.  Lezhat Spakoyna.

At about 2am Tanya's flatmate woke up and came into the kitchen to smoke a fag, and down some Dzhin Tonic...oh Ukraine, how perfectly acceptable alcoholism is...

The next day was Independence Day in Ukraine, so after drinking the remaining cognac along with our midday brekkie, we headed to the city for the evening's antics.  We (and everyone else in Kiev) started with a walk through Marinsky Park to the lover's bridge, where lovers go and attach a personalised padlock inscribed with their names to the bridge to signify their undying love, or something.  Although it seems some of them can't afford padlocks and just tie tissues to the bridge.  Anyway, it's a nice idea, I like it.  I saw a similar thing through the window of a train in Germany – I think it was in Cologne.

We made our way to the Motherland monument and sat down to drink a beer mix – a popular, new beer/soft drink combo available in cherry, lemon and god knows what else. We saw some oldies singing traditional Ukrainian songs, lots of young women wearing traditional clothing almost fashionably, with tight jeans or short skirts and some buskers playing Gunners – 'knockin on heaven's door'.  Eventually we got to Kreshchatyk, the main street in Kiev, which is a 4 or 6 lane thoroughfare that is entirely fenced-off – so you usually can't cross it, but must use underpasses.  However, the street was closed and lined with tanks and army trucks, on which there were thousands of people climbing and posing for photographs.  Of course, we joined them.  There was also a stage, and some cool music by the Ukrainian band ????? ???? ('Another River'), which continued until the fireworks went off at about 10pm.  It was really a massive celebration – they were calling it Ukraine's 18th birthday, but my host commented that she thought things were better before independence, an opinion I'm sure is shared by many.  

Later in the week, I took an overnight train to Nikolayevka, where my pseudo grandparents Ivan Zaharovich (he's actually my grandma's brother, so my mum's uncle) and his wife Maria Pavlovna live, and where Tanya, Yura and Rostik also used to live.  It was difficult to get a ticket, so I had a place in the Plaskartny Wagon, which is sort of compartmentalised, but without doors so it's pretty open, and all along what would be the corridor are narrow bunks too.  I reckon it fits more than 50 people and is a pretty novel experience the first time.  People often talk to me on Ukrainian trains, I guess because I look so obviously different, and I was really pleased to find that I could hold a conversation, if a little haltingly.  I was asked to change places with another woman, so that two friends could be nearer – and then a guy generously offered to swap with me again so I could have the nizxhny bed (bottom bunk), which unfortunately put me closer to the snoring babushka, which I suspect was his plan all along.  He was very friendly, but not in an uncomfortable way, and when I said good bye in the morning, he said something like 'don't forget me' (nichevo ne zabyla), which I thought was pretty funny considering I didn't even know his name.

I was met at the station early the next morning by a teary, clutching Babushka Masha (that's Maria Pavlovna to you!), who nearly climbed onto the train in her rush to hug me, and the gold-toothed smiley Sergei – Tanya's cousin who has a car.  It's getting more common now to have cars and even fancy, new cars or 4WDs, but nobody in my family has one.  Lots of young guys have motorbikes now too, and of course they wanted to take me for a ride.  It was near impossible to say no, and once there were even three of us on the bike...helmets?  Ne nada!  At Masha's house everything is new these days, including the hot water service, which she rushed to buy from a nearby city on the day I arrived – because in Nikolayevka, there's no hot water throughout summer...at least not this summer, I think it's because of the crisis.  And although there is now a lot of new stuff to be seen in Ukraine, like laptops, DVD players, MP3 players etc, the standard of living is still pretty low, with really poor road conditions, public conveniences (don't even think you can call them 'conveniences', when they're not!) and public transport – for example it takes an hour by bus to travel the 15km from Slavyansk railway station to Nikolayevka.  

Masha, Vanya and I started that first day with breakfast and vodka, of course, followed by a nap.  And I am continually offered beer, wine and vodka at every meal, breakfast included.  However, unlike previous visits, I'm not overindulging at the pure wonder of it.  I'm actually attempting to not be overfed and grossly overwatered, but it's proving difficult, and exercise too is proving very difficult to achieve – mostly because I'm practically not allowed to go anywhere alone, oh yeah and hangovers abound.  Generally, my friends don't even let me go up four flights of stairs from the front door to Masha and Vanya's flat. This is endearing, in a way, but I'm starting to feel a bit strained.  And it's odd, yesterday I even asked about a particular woman's over-friendliness and was told that of course, everyone wants to meet me, to ask me questions, and even to touch me to see if I'm real.

But because of this, and because some people want to use their English, and improve it, I have found myself another dashing, 24yo translator & running buddy – Anton Constantinovich Chaichenko.  I actually met Anton four years ago when I was last here.  I didn't really remember him, to be honest, but I did remember meeting two cute, young English speaking boys on my last night in Nikolayevka.  Turns out those boys were Anton & Vova – and they haven't forgotten me, but then again, neither had the lady who works in the chemist.  Foreigners really aren't very common here – and particularly Australians.

Anyway, the first night Tanya's sister came over for dinner with her 5yo son Nazar, his 18yo sister Inna and her motorcycle riding boyfriend Sergei.  We had a vodka feast and then went gulyaht, which means 'walking', but which really just means walking until you get to a bar or the 'centre' and then sitting down and drinking the night away.  I talked with Tatiana Sultanovna (her dad's from Kazakhstan) and Anton and we made plans to go for a run in the morning – which, despite feeling like crap, we actually accomplished.  We ran to the river, Anton took a quick dip, and then we walked back, talking all the way coz his English is actually excellent.  He told me lots of funny things, like that he only drinks when he's at home, in Nikolayevka, because otherwise he might get crazy and blow something up, coz he likes blowing things up, like his school when he was 16...but he only blew up one wall, you see, so it wasn't so bad.  And all the kids were pretty happy coz they didn't have to go to school for a week.  

I think the population here is about 17,000 and that maybe 5,000 people work in the power station, which is probably the only reason this city exists, because the station powers the surrounding region.  Anton told me that the British wanted to buy the plans for the station and build their own, because it's so great, but when they realised they would have to manually fix everything, they lost interest.

On day 2, we went to the cemetery.  I wanted to, but I didn't realise how awful it would be to see Andrei and Yura's graves, side by side, and their poor mother in great distress, kneeling to hug their  headstones, kissing their pictures, and just bawling over the terrible pain of losing both her children, before the age of forty.  Vanya sat in stony silence, and Lida (Tanya's mother and a great support to Masha) busied herself cleaning and tidying, until Masha joined her.  We took a short walk around to visit and tidy the graves of other family members, and then returned to Andrei and Yura for a picnic.  There are lots of picnic tables in Ukrainian cemeteries, and it's normal to have a meal by the graves of your loved ones, and it's actually really a nice thing to do.
In the evening we went to old 'starry' Nikolayevka, where there are very old houses – no high rise flats like in the cities – and big vegetable gardens.  Lida's husband Sasha lives there, so we had dinner with him, Lida's sister Shura, Shura's son Sergei and his overbearing wife Marina, Inna, her brother and her boyfriend and my dyedushka (grandpa) Vanya.  Masha had had a health scare the previous night, which required an ambulance call –supposedly normal occurrence and nothing for me to worry about?! – so she didn't join us.  Dinner, with much vodka, was followed by some drinks in a bar, and then going to another bar to watch Yura's beloved football team Shaktyor Donetsk unfortunately lose to Barcelona (1-0).

The days following continued in the same vein.  There's not much to do in Nikolayevka, but stay at home watching TV or sleeping, roam the streets around or sit and drink.  So we did all of the above.  Everyone likes looking at photos, so we did plenty of that too.  And I've tried to sit and talk with Vanya and Masha as much as possible, but it's really hard, and they're both really miserable.  When Anton came for dinner last night it was pretty uncomfortable and he didn't stay long.  One day Anton and I went shopping in Slavyansk, which was pretty fun even though we had killer hangovers and it was horribly hot at the market.  But I just LOVE the fashion here, and I would buy so many clothes if only I had a Sherpa. I settled for just one top, which says in big, sequined letters 'I'm not going to teach you how to dance' – I love it!  I also found some great badges, cool hats and tres sophisticated sunglasses.  Vanya thinks everything is SO expensive, so I couldn't tell him what I paid.  The sunglasses were 120 griven, which is about 12 euro, but when he asked how much they were, and estimated 15-30 griven, I just had to tell a little white lie and agree with him.


But I've been remiss and must say a few words about my first two weeks in Germany.  My arrival was wonderful, mostly because Marty surprised me by meeting me at the airport and driving me to Aachen, where we went straight to Nico's new flat for some welcome drinks and then spent the weekend hanging out and partying with Nico and Gummi and a whole bunch of their mates. This was actually pretty fantastic because, although of course I was very happy to see Marty and it was nice not to have to take the train, it's also 400km for him to drive each way from Stuttgart where he lives to Aachen. So, to drive 800km to meet me and spend the weekend was really super lovely!

I've written a bit about that first weekend already, but after that, Nico was a brilliant host and tour guide, and we didn't spend more than a few days in one place.  He managed to skive off work A LOT (and it wasn't always my fault!), and so went to an awesome football match in Duesseldorf (in which 2nd level Fortuna Duesseldorf drew with 1st level Hamburg who they wouldn't usually play but it was a tournament and it went to kick off after the siren – if that's what it's called – and was very exciting, Gummi reckon the best game he's ever been to!), and spent a few days after that staying in Mettmann, where he grew up and where we went pretty much so that he could work on the house with his dad for a couple of days and I could ride his mum's bike around town and do some Tourism Vic work while sitting in his mum's lovely garden – easy life!  And Nico's mum is real, and a fabulous cook!!  It was pretty nice to meet them and spend a few days with them.  Although, if only I could speak six languages, and actually converse properly with people's familes!!

Nico and I had a pretty cool night out in hot hot hot Duesseldorf drinking Alt Bier and exploring the old city, then headed back to Aachen on a late train for a couple of days of swimming, shopping (needed more summer clothes!) and cycling around town, going to barbeques and hanging out in the park in the evening.  We went back to Mettmann on the weekend for a big party, and a day lazing by the pool at Nico's parent s place, where I managed to get stung by a bee grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr and then back to Aachen again on Sunday night.  The very next day, after a big sleep-in of course, we caught a bus to Maastricht, in the Netherlands, just to explore another interesting place coz it's only one hour away and something like 5 euros for the bus ticket and is really a world apart – we did a walking tour of the city, had a delicious Dutch brekkie, at around 2pm and did a mini pub crawl, but couldn't actually find any decent bars...shoulda checked the guide book!!  I think we stayed in Aachen for the rest of that week, but we did a decent bike ride to the 3-country-point a couple of days later, and so visited briefly both Belgium and the Netherlands again.  And had a super active night in the climbing forest, of which you've probably already seen pictures.

It was absolutely wonderful to spend two whole weeks hanging out there with my favourite Germ, and I'd love to have stayed longer, or go back and visit again, but I had a time-limited visa and a plane ticket to Ukraine, an Ola Chiquita Bonita to visit, some Wieners to see (!) and I still haven't worked out what the hell I'm doing after my redundancy present runs out and the thrill is gone.  A job is certainly in order, although my small, responsibility-fuelled desire to find one in Melbourne is rapidly diminishing...ah decisions, they're so overrated.  I wish I could employ a decision-maker, along with my Sherpa.  I wish I could SEE the future!  Ha, maybe I'll go to Turkey – they're good at seeing the future there, if I recall rightly...

Fso, mne para ('Done, I have to go') Xx

Sunday, January 18, 2009

and then the fat lady sang

franz josef village feels like a lifetime ago.  the day we last wrote, we had beer for dinner - at least a schnitzel (7 beers), as nico says.  we didn't plan it that way, but it was pissing down and we sat on a swing on the verandah at our chateau franz (not quite as glam as it sounds) and, well, we just didn't move for hours - except to go to the fridge and back.  and when that was empty, we went to the pub.  we did think about dinner.  and we ate some of the free soup, but sitting on that swing, watching the rain pour down and drinking our tui was pretty damn satisfying.

it did, however, make for a difficult morning the next day - and we had a glacier to climb!  well, maybe climb is a bit misleading, we didn't go to the top (our guide had never been to the top either), but we did spend near on six hours hiking WITH CRAMPONS (the very idea of which scared me), and even ice axes!  well, our ice axes were really only for show, they helped with steep ice climbing, but they weren't to be used for axe-like purposes - that sort of activity was restricted to the guides...and their nice legs...oh, sorry, daydreaming...

but seriously, the guides were excellent.  they really knew what they were doing and ours was particularly no nonsense and gave us good safety info.  unfortunately, due to the seriously high volume of rain there had been recently, our guides spent a great deal of time carving out new tracks for us which was cool, but not scintillating to watch - oh, except for his legs! 

and there were some parts of the glacier that we couldn't go to, because they were just too unstable.  i'm sure you all heard about the guys from melbourne who met their unfortunate demise at the behest of an unstable glacier.  it was pretty scary.  before i even knew about that it was scary, because there are these things they call 'moulins' (the french word for windmill), which look like a little puddle on the glacier, but they're actually a very deep hole, sometimes 100m deep which, should you step into, would deliver you to an icy death.

clearly, we survived.  but it was a long day.  the next day we decided to hitch to queenstown coz we had a booking to do the routeburn track, which we'd made back in october - lucky, coz some, like our israeli mates, couldn't get on that track coz it was booked out.  we didn't get moving particularly early, coz we aren't much good at that.  and we kinda didn't realise just how far it was.  in fact, the advice we'd been given at doc (dept of conservation), was that it would only take five and a half hours.  it took a while to get our first ride, then a fellow tramper picked us up and took us just as far as the fox glacier.  nice kiwi bloke, told us we'd be 'blown away' by the routeburn.

took a while to get our next ride, but it was a sunday and i guess it was a particuarly touristy route.  the main highway down the west coast, yes, but not a whole lotta kiwi traffic going by.  and it was mostly kiwis who gave us rides.  so, just to prove me wrong, our next hitch was with a fairly strange bloke from york.  well, via manitoba, canada.  yes, he had a singsong lilt we could barely make sense of ("next stop poob", he said to nico at some point, to receive only a blank stare in reply) , and he was a grain farmer who was driving around the entire country without a clue about it.  but, to be fair, he drove us abbout 400km and we woulda been stuffed without him.

so, when around 7pm he finally threw us out in queenstown, we bought ourselves some zubrowka to celebrate our success!  and the next day, after a helluva breakfast at bob's weigh (HIGHLY recommended), we started the routeburn track...aka the routeburn river!  so, the truth is it's a beautiful track which takes you pretty much from glenorchy (not far from queenstown) and mt aspiring national park to milford (of the world famous milford sound) and fiordland national park.  it's brilliant, because it is something like 350km by road, but only 32km on foot!

but, what they don't tell you is that the route burn is a river.  and you don't walk it, you SWIM it.  our first day was ok.  not brilliant weather, but clear and warm enough and a nice cruisy 2hr~ish walk.  we took a lot of photos of water, not realising just how wet we would become in the coming days.  the next morning we had a lovely sleep in, and postponed the start of our 13.6km tramp, hoping the rain might ease off.  it didn't.  if anything, it got worse.  it was a little disappointing, because most of that day was spent above the treeline and the views, had we seen them, would have been astonishing.  honestly, try these on for size...


but we contented ourselves, with getting completely saturated, declaring ourselves mountain heroes yet again, and having a waterfight, just to make sure there weren't any dry patches.  and dry patches there were not.  which at the end of the day i discovered actually included everything INSIDE my backpack as well.  i think it was the first hint of a bad mood in our entire trip.  when i nearly cried because i did not even have a dry pair of knickers, not a stitch to wear AND my sleeping bag was wet too.

to his credit, ponyboy took control of the situation.  found somehow in his pack that contained SO FEW clothes (especially compared to mine that even had a frock for new year's), an entire clean dry change for both of us and enough sleeping bag warmth to start me snoring in about three mins flat.  well done, ponyboy!  when i woke up he cooked us dinner, using such creative implements as a tennis racquet, and all was well again. 

we did have to put our wet clothes on again the next morning, walk for another four hours or so in the rain, camp in a swamp, sleep through a thunderstorm with lightning in both directions the next day, but somehow none of that was as bad as that one moment without dry knickers.  unfortunately again, we could see only very brief glimpses of the view on the final day.  but we've since heard that this is very common - and seen pictures of trampers on the milford track at the same time as us, but they were waist deep in water at points!  and i thought i was wet!!

when we finished the tramp and got to milford, we were told it had been raining like that for two weeks straight, since the 30th of december.  and even for somewhere that apparently gets 7m of rain a year, that was frustrating for the locals.  a little frustrating for us too, when we went on a cruise on milford sound and again could see very little. 

luckily, and we were very lucky for a lot of our trip, it cleared up in the afternoon and the company operating the cruise let us go again in the afternoon!  so, when we finally jumped on our bus, we were pretty cheerful, although nico was feeling the effects of so much wet, cold weather and had a sore throat.  nothing a snooze on the bus, followed by a movie and ice cream in te anau couldn't fix tho!  yes, we saw quantam of solace!  and what a luxury a cinema was.

up again early the next morning, we were on a bus to invergumboot (also known as invercargill), and onto bluff and stewart island!  foolishly, we hadn't booked the ferry, so we spent an unplanned entire day in bluff.  but it was nice enough.  we took a hike for a few hours, and rewarded ourselves with VB and fish n chips, or "feesh n cheeps" as i apparently pronounce it!!  then, finally around 5pm, we were on the ferry and on our way to that funny little outpost stewart island, which is almost entirely national park and where nico tried to teach me to say "nichts", oh so many times, to the point where a bloke in the pub thought we were having an argument.  i mean to say!

the rakiura track (rakiura is the maori name for stewart island) is a three day tramp, which takes you on a loop from oban (the township on the island), inland and back along the coast.  it, the track and the tramps on the island in general, are renowned the mud and muddy it is!  it is also, however, fairly easy to avoid the mud.  if you're not me and if you don't walk...ohhh...straight through the middle of a knee-deep mud puddle.  oh, did nico laugh whilst i clung to a tree and wailed.  to be fair, it was first thing in the morning.  even if our mornings did start around 11, it was early, in my book.  anyway, just wait till you see the photos.

so, it was a great walk and despite the number of stairs, we bloody loved it.  i got a bit melancholy coz it was our last tramp and our holiday was coming to an end.  but i think i didn't sook too much.  so, all that's left is timaru, which we visited solely for the purpose of going to the tui brewery, and christchurch, which we visited purely for the purpose of leaving.  we got as much as we could out of both places, and stayed up all night in christchurch ~ the first place we'd found in new zealand that really actually resembled a city, a-mazing!~

and now i'm home.  and sadly, back to work tomorrow.  so, this is goodnight.  do vstrechi Xx

Friday, January 02, 2009


dear diary,
porangahau's famous hill, taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu is drawing increasing numbers of visitors to the area (but not us, coz we had tramping to do!  we just liked the name, so we thought we'd share it with you). it means 'the hilltop where tamatea, with big knees, conqueror of mountains, eater of land, traveller over land and sea, played his koauau (flute) to his beloved'. It's on the north island, but we're not...anymore.
so, where are we now?  in a bloody thunderstorm!  which has been going for what feels like days, but actually only started coday, when we were leaving arthur's pass with some new israeli friends, who nico has decided we should abandon already.  so we did.  but they were good for a ride!  if you know what i mean...no really, they had two cars between three people...they needed us - to pay their petrol!  so we let them make us coffee and drive us to franz josef village, where all we have done so far is eat, drink beer and have a spa!!!  bloody great!!!  we were going to do a short walk to the glacier, but we decided a full day ice hike tomorrow would be more in keeping with the ethos of 'trip danger'.  so today became a bludge day.  which is only fair considering we climbed a mountain on new year's day with hangovers!
yes, that was at arthur's pass.  an excellent detour from the main road down the west coast.  it's about a hundred Ks from greymouth of the south island, along a very windy and steep road.  we were trying to hitch from greymouth and it was absolutely PISSING down, and no bastard would stop and pick us up.  i was about to crack the sads if we waited in the rain much longer, but luckily, after only half an hour and when our jeans were still hanging on to our (skinny!  yes!  skinny!!) legs, a local dude took pity on us and stopped.  he wasn't going anywhere.  in fact, he lived right around the corner from where we were hitching.  but we were VERY wet.  and he was a nice, simple soul who decided a charitable act at 5pm on new year's eve was the right thing to do.  honestly, we couldn't believe the guy would take us 100km, completely out of his direction.  we sort of kind of tried to talk him out of it, but not very hard.  we just decided to give him plenty of drinking money instead.  WHICH he didn't want to take!  but we were insistent and i think he was happy.
we got out of his car outside arthur's, a bar/restaurant with accommodation.  we headed straight for their (fake) open fireplace and a nice big goblet of red wine.  then we decided not to venture back out into the driving rain, and instead we spent an exorbitant amount of money on a HOTEL room, yes, you read it right, a hotel room!!!  and oh what a nice luxury that was for new year's.  and actually, not a stupid amount of money.  only three times more than a hostel...eeeeeeeeek!  we made ourselves feel better though, by drinking our six-pack of VB and cooking up a feast in our hotel room - ssssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhh - well, when i say we, of course i mean NICO cooked up a feast and i kinda watched and vaguely assisted.  oh yes, VB.  please tell adrian.  it's even cheaper than in oz.  only cost us $9.90 (nz dollars!!!) for a six-pack.  woooooooooooo hooooooooooooooo!!  oh yeah, mmmhmmmm mmmhmmmm!!  and then there was the goon!!  oh yeah, and the pub and the pints and the shots and the band and walking home in the rain and....actually....i don't remember the rest.  bloody good new year's.  and we got to sleep in till eleven too - niiiiiiiiiiiiiiice.
and coz we were oh so fresh, we climbed a mountain (- It was Scott's track, Lou Lou!).  yup, and mum, if i haven't said this already, i'm telling you now, hitching is NOTHING compared to mountain climbing WITH a hangover.  it was only a five hour walk, but the winds were around 80ks and i honestly thought i would get blown off.  to the point that i was hanging on to nico and wishing i weighed about 120kg, just to hold myself down.  nico wasn't scared, of course, he did the chicken dance on the mountain top!!!  and yes, there's proof:

honestly though, the view from the top of avalanche peak was a-MAZ-ing!!!  and we left our hangovers at the top, hopefully they're still enjoying the view...but i think they would have got blown off too.  actually, it was the first time i was glad that meisie didn't come with us.  we would have had to hold her down.  oh yeah!  AND we saw our first glacier, up the top of avalanche peak, there was a glacier on the next mountain!!  it was just superb.
arthur's pass/avalanche peak was definitely the first cool thing we have done on the south island.  we'd left wellington on the 30th, got an early ferry in gorgeous weather across to picton, a bus through to richmond, actually through to Beverly Store and some damn fine ice cream.  and then it was hitching again for us.  with a friendly animation dude just back from LA, a bearded ex-melburnian in a beat up car (whose beard grew down to his belly button in just three years!), the nursing wife of a pig hunter and an awesome (and fucking huge) Maori truckie dude called Rima, who has had a burger named after him and loves his wife as much as....fried chicken.  no, i am deadly serious.  i think what he said after that was 'i wish it would rain chicken'.  what a dude.  but he dropped us in a fucking hole called springs junction, which was ridden with sand flied and NO DAMN GOOD for hitching out of.  took us near on an hour and a half.  grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
seeing as how we're going backwards, i'll tell you what we did before wellington.  wellington, btw, was a blink in the night.  we barely saw it.  we arrived on a bus around 9.30pm, after having spent three days canoeing on the whanganui river.  yeah!!  we started from ohakune (place to be careful, according to the bus driver with verbal diarrhoea who drove us from ohakune to whakahoro landing to start our journey) on the day after boxing day.  we weren't so very cheerful when we started coz we'd hiked a few K outta ohakune to stay at a nice free campground.  the hike itself wasn't so bad, except that we'd bought half a slab of beer just prior and had to carry the bastard.  but we made ourselves feel better by drinking it all when we got there!  oh yeah, and i was kinda nervous about the rapids on the whanganui river.  remember, i went canoeing not that long ago and managed to capsize the boat effortlessly.  didn't really wanna do that again.
but, master of the river, captain kuru, managed to guide us very safely through ALL the rapids, just by yelling at me lots - PADDLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!  it worked, surprisingly.  gee, who'd have thought paddling was all you needed to do!  oh yea, he (captain kuru) did get about oh....ten litres dumped on him each rapid.  ha, not me tho.  because i was in the back...yes, i'm clever sometimes.  anyway, weird trip, kinda, because the other canoeists and kayakers were carrying heaps of luxuries.  like eskies full of beer and snags.  and they were cooking up feasts.  and we were in tramping mode and trying to reduce our luggage so much that we ended up with bugger all, such as only one cup and only one fork.  kinda tricky when eating spaghetti.  or drinking coffee for that matter.  i'm pretty sure nico has learnt the word "share" now.  but purely for necessity. 
christmas we spent in whakapapa village (pron. "fuck a papa", and whilst being a useful expletive, actually means genealogy, or something like extended family - aunts, uncles and cuzzies - apparently).  well, half of it.  it was actually the day we finished the four-day tramp (41km) starred as mt doom in lord of the rings.  bitch of a climb.  but we did it!  along with a bunch of bloody yanks. it's an active volcano too, seriously, it was steaming at the top!  but i wasn't scared.  nope, not me.  scaredy cat?  don't know what you're talking about!  but seriously, there were SO many people up there i couldn't be scared.  plus, i was too busy trying to catch my breath.  nico didn't have the same problem, and certainly no fear, he RAN down the bloody thing.  took me a wee bit longer...
hard day's walk tho.  nine hours from start to finish and were we buggered?  oh yeah...just a bit.  we were certainly too buggered to bother talking to the five fucking thousand germans in the huts.  ok, so maybe there were only 15 of them.  but too many!  we were super happy to have our...errr...nico's fancy tent to retreat too.  even when it was raining, we preferred it.  didn't have to share our manuka honey vodka with anyone!!  oh yeah, the next day was hard too.  coz even tho it was only three hours, it was PISSING down.  so we got drenched.  wet weather gear?  nah, what for, we're HARDCORE.  and uh...wet.  but that was ok.  we had soup when we got there and that was the day that nico decided we should eat ALL of our hot chocolate powder, just like a fondue.  or a chocolate soup.  damn fine idea.  there were some jealous people there.  but we didn't share.  nuh-uh. 
the next day was christmas, also known as the day without food.  yeah, we kinda ate it all already.  and we had left some fucking crackers.  no cheese.  a few nuts.  and water, glorious water.  oh yeah, and we walked oh...about 16km.  piece of piss...not.  actually we nearly had our first fight.  because, we couldn't find the honey.  nico was getting a bit upset.  and pretty much tipped his entire bag out onto the track.  yeah.  hunger changes people.  but we found it.  and we sat and ate every single piece of food we had.  a guy came past and asked if we were opening a restaurant.  he suggested it might be byo - and we said yeah, and you have to feed us too while you're here.  no good.  bastard didn't.  so we kept walking.  when we saw the chateau (a la Shining) at whakapapa village we had to hug and jump around in circles.  then our "beer legs" propelled us the rest of the way - no probs, actually, suddenly we weren't tired anymore.  and the mac's great white tasted bloody fine when we got there - but not as good as the 500g of pasta with a bottle of cream and a hunk of blue cheese that we demolished in a very short period of time for dinner.  more high fives.  actually it was a cool christmas.  oh yeah, except we really missed our families heaps.  so much that we had to drink away our sorrows all night long.  and, good thing was, the fancy pants chateau that we were drinking at had heaps of delicious cakes on offer, for the guests, which didn't really include us, but we got our fair share anyway.
ok.  seriously outta time.  sorry!  can't tell you about art deco napier.  we did check out all the awesome art deco buildings.  there was an earthquake in napier in 1931, i think.  blah blah.  google it.  oh yeah.  huka falls were good too.  AND the hot springs on the way back into taupo.  good clean FREE fun.  yeah.  mhhhmmmmm!!
see ya!
oh and if there are any lp editors reading, there's a typo on pg 573 of the nz guide in the boxed text about the tasman glacier.