It’s been so busy at work over the last week that I never got the chance to blog our camping trip to the last weekend. An omission I aim to correct.

We started on the Saturday of the bank holiday weekend with a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs and salmon, before beginning our final inventory checks. And a good thing too, else we would not have noticed our missing tent pegs! From there it was off by train to Ashurst in North Hampshire. Our original plan was to walk from Ashurst to Lyndhurst, about an hour’s walk, but we were saved that particular stretch by a passing bus. From Lyndhurst then we began our trek to our camping site, on the premises of the public house. The pub is named after a piece of local history. Apparently Tyrrell was a huntsman of King William II who, while hunting deer, misshot and killed the King instead. Oops! The site is commemorated by the Rufus Stone. There are of course alternative theories and conspiracies that will keep historians arguing for ever.

Anyway, the first night’s camping was okay if a little chilly. Sunday was spent hiking around the northern New Forest, encountering wild horses, deer and all manner of fellow holiday makers. Fairly exhausted upon our return we took advantage of the fact that our camp site was adjoined to a pub and one selling at that!

Sunday we were awakened suddenly by a dramatic downpour which spurred us into action. Luckily by the time were were all packed up the rain had ceased and we managed to make good headway back to Lyndhurst for some much needed proper coffee and a decent brunch. Mmmm.. Bacon sandwich!

And that was that! Very mcuh enjoyed, though next time (Spring?) we’re looking to go to the Lake District.

Well, the weekend was spent up in Milton Keynes. We stayed with Stu and Sam, who kindly fed, watered and housed us for the weekend. In between playing games, watching Serenity and generally hanging out, Penny and I went to SnoZone in Xscape to brush up on our mad snowboarding skillz!
At first sight, the SnoZone is very impressive; imagine a big aircraft hangar with a decent slope and real snow. There’s a teaching slope and 1-2 regular slopes, as well as jumps, ramps and a very narrow set of moguls. There was a fair bite to the air as the entire slope area was kept at snow temperature. The whole experience was quite reasonably priced, considering that you didn’t have to pay for equipment hire, often one of the most expensive parts of a ski-trip apart from the lift pass.
The first day we went, we just did two hours of recreational boarding to familiarise ourselves with the slope, to get used to the idea of being strapped to a board once more and to find out what standard we were actually at. The second day we went for a three hour fast track lesson which refined our techniques quite a bit.
Overall it was quite exhilarating and reminded us why we loved snowboarding when we first went in March 2005. We’ll definitely be coming back to the SnoZone in Autumn before going on a snowbound holiday in winter.

Picking up where I left off, later that day we went to climb the huge spire of the Cologne Cathedral, the Dom. What a very long way up! Sadly it was spoiled by the fact that there was schoolkid graffiti all the way up! Outrageous! You have to hope that there’s some explanation why it’s not been removed.
We ended the day with a protest steak at an Argentinean steak house. By this point we had overloaded on pork! There’s only so much dead pig a man can eat!

Next day was off to see my parents in the Netherlands, which was good. We did some cycling around and ended up getting somewhat burnt on a two hour cycle ride. Typical. Two weeks of wandering around in the summer heat and barely a tan, but two hours on the coast and WHAM! Sunburn.

After that it was back home via Belgium and it’s curious lack of petrol stations, but overall it was quite painless.
And there you have it.

Here are the stats:

Miles driven: 2000
Days travelled: 16
Borders crossed: 13
Countries seen: 6
ODP members encountered: 5
Speed cameras triggered: 2
Days of “I feel too rough to drink”: 1
Grand Dukes foiled: 1/2 (He hit us hard, but we survived and weren’t thrown in an oubliette. We’ll call it a draw)

Highest mountain ascended: Zugspitze
Biggest lake seen: Bodensee
Most responsible for nigh alcohol poisoning: in Munich and it’s evil 1 litre jugs of dark beer
Most dubious honour:
Prettiest village: Ribeauville
Prettiest town: Tough, but I liked Heidelberg
Ugliest town: Brussels. It might have been Mannheim, but it was redeemed by the Rhein banks
Most potent memory: “Ghost”, the garlic sausage-eating, foul-smelling monstrosity.

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Germany is out of the World Cup and we’re nearly at the end of our stay here. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On our way north we decided to visit the beautiful old universty town of , including a trip up to the castle. A very nice town indeed. And such a contrast tour next stop, the concrete jungle of . It was not out of some sense of completion that we ventured here, but rather that we visiting some of Andy’s friends from , Irene and Daniel, who at the end of the day very kindly fed us whiskey and put us up on their floor as we had not managed to find a for the night.

The next day we had a good early start, following the Rhein north, with a stop-off in for the cathedral and an open air pool in the forest for a cool off as it was a 33°C day and we were roasting! We ended up staying at the excellent Youth hostel in the tiny Bad Marienberg (a nightmare to find) where they treated us excellently and we watched the expulsion of the German team from the World Cup.

Next morning we were up bright and early to go to , renowned for it’s impressive cathedral. After some sightseeing we once again met up with one of Andy’s ODP friends, Chris, who started to to show us around her city, but we were rudely interrupted by the return performance of the infernal weather machine of the as the skies opened and immense amounts of water fell to the earth. So we interrupted the tour to go and have some Thai food in a restaurant.

Andy’s feeling a little tender today, due to the post-dinner cocktails which seemed to present themselves, but we should be okay to climb the spire of the cathedral today. And tomorrow… the Netherlands.

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I never did mention the Arch-Duke’s infernal weather machine in the last post… talk about false advertising! However, due to an unscheduled change in itinerary we ended up evading it and the hailstorm hit the black forest just as we left it. Phew!

So far Andy has managed to get flashed for speeding twice. Luckily they were stationary cameras and not traffic police otherwise he’d be racking up spot fines by now!

We made it to the top of the Zugspitze via the cable car (no hard slog for us, we had a schedule to keep!) but sadly there were virtually no views since the top of the mountain was encased in cloud. Rubbish!

Next stop, and current location, was Munich. Quite an amazing city really, very vibrant. It seems the entire city is dedicated to god and beer and it’s major cathedral is the Hofbrauhaus. We ended up spending quite a few hours there, drinking liters of dark German beer at a time, watching England knocked out of the World Cup and, unfortunately, not eating very much. Needless to say we feel like shit today! It’s a good thing that everything is closed today as we’re not really up to doing very much at all!

Tomorrow morning it’s off towards Mannheim. For the rest of today, just chilling.

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Forgot to add on the experiences in Ribaeuville that when we came back to the hotel after our night out there (the night before the wine tasting) we caught the hotel proprietor in flagrante, in the middle of the lobby, watching porn! Andy and I observed different aspects of this before the channel as swiftly switched. He heard the enthusiastic moaning and I saw the … well, I think you get the idea. Highly amusing

Baden Baden is famous as a spa town, it´s hot mineral springs renowned for their curing abilities. More recently, BB was the site of a battle of Collossi: Andy´s prudish English nature and the spa´s tradition of naked bathing! And quite a battle it was, when you add in that going in nude would have meant that we didn´t have to go back to the car for our stuff! In the end, prudishness (and frugalness) won out when we found a newer, cheaper spa pool with no nudist requirements.

Oh and I must add the world´s largest cuckoo clock. It was the size of a house, but failed to impress Andy. The nearby myth-infested Mummelsee was much more interesting.

Pforzheim was a brief sojourn into nostalgia for me. Not much to see there, so on to the next stop of Konstanz, a pretty little town on the Bodensee. (In the background I hear Andy cackle: “Aaah! You used to live in a flat like a tramp!” but I´ll give it no heed!)

We shared our hostel room with two contrasting characters. One superfit guy who was cycling from Germany to Barcelona who was quite chilled. The other? Well… He was of the much more rotund variety… a smelly, and ate too much garlic sausage, farted throughout the night, got up at 5am to do the world´s loudest smelliest shit taking him about twenty minutes and the sounds horrified even Andy! He then proceeded to take 2 hours to pack his shit up, rustling carrier bags the whole time! Combine that with the attacks of low-flying mosquitoes and you can imagine we didn´t get much sleep!

Right, we´re off to the Zugspitze now so we´d better get going. I´ll try and edit this post sometime in Munich.

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Visiting a vineyard in the heart of the Alsace region – Nice
It’s , the 9th best winemaker in the world according to Decanter magazine – Excellent
Being shown around the tour and the tasting by the eldest daughter of the vintner – Outstanding
Having her uncle and co-proprietor keep popping over saying “You think that’s good, you must try this one!” and offering us a number of unreleased Grand Cru Rieslings…. Priceless!
Next stop was the Black Forest! (Five border crossings so far to get there) and Germany’s highest waterfall in Triberg. Next up, Baden-Baden, ultimate spa town of Germany. This roughing it lark is really hard work…
The Arch-Duke still hasn’t caught up with us, so we’ve escaped the oubliette again. Better keep moving…

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Well, we’ve done Brussels and Luxembourg so far and have today arrived in Alsace. The Grand Duke did try to detain us and throw us in an oubliette, but we escaped with lethal cunning!
So far we have seen castles, cathedrals, trees, bars, cathedrals, old French women weeing, an immense amount of litter in Brussels, trees, oubliettes, more cathedrals and enough beer and wine to resink the Titanic.
So far Andy has suffered:
  • Tension headache
  • Gout
  • Foot blisters
  • Bird flu
  • My sense of humour
And it’s only day three….
In a bout of irony, Andy has declared all youth hostels for tramps. Good thing we only have five more nights in them…
Next update? Who knows. After all, I still haven’t finished writing about Egypt!

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Well, I’ve put this off for long enough; I can delay no further. There are other things I want to blog but can’t because the Egypt telling hangs over me like Damocles’ sword. Still no pictures of course, but I’m closer to getting the 200 odd photos pruned down.

Travel day, which basically means lots of running around, double checking the essentials like tickets, passport, money etc., and double-checking transit times. Somehow, despite all the preparation that went into all this, Penny still managed to forget some things, so we had to go to Farnborough to picks something up from her work. Then she forgot her wallet in Farnborough. I spent the rest of the day checking to see if she’d left her limbs casually lying around…
EgyptAir was quite pleasant. Immense amount of legroom in Economy. Unprecedented! Some passengers were surprised by the fact that no alcohol was served during the flight though…
Arrival in Cairo airport was the first part of the adventure really. Navigating customs, visas (including figuring out where to stick those bloody stamps) and passport control was somewhat confusing. This was then followed by a coach trip to the hotel along some utterly atrocious roads. Looking out of the window, past the skyline bristling with satellite dishes, it became clear that Cairo was no modernised version of an ancient Egyptian city. This was a semi-modern Islamic city, air heavy with pollution, roads often barely paved and surrounded by the ghettos of farmers housing. I don’t say this to disparage Cairo, I found the city to be vibrant and filled with a strong spirit, I’m just being honest.
An early start so we can get to Giza before it a) fills up with tourists and b) before it gets too hot. The pyramids themselves are visually impressive. Sure they look short and squat from a distance, as some observers have commented, but once you get up close you realise that each level of stone blocks is nearly man-height. Those things are immense, and when you take into account their precision measurements and their perfect north-south alignment, you realise why these are one of the seven wonders of the world. Penny and I crawled into one of the pyramids, through narrow, stooped passageways, to find ourselves in the simple, unadorned burial chamber in the centre of the structure. Humid with the moisture from the breath of visitors, this room was surrounded by tons of stone, positioned over six thousand years ago.
There were a few things to be aware of at Giza:
  1. Do not get on the camels! No matter what you are offered, no matter the compliment, no matter the price, getting on the camels is a bad idea. It might be cheap, and a bit fun, to get on, but the camel drivers then send the camel westwards toward Libya and don’t let you off or take you back until you hand over everything you have on you. The locals call them the desert mafia. This didn’t happen to me, though we did see evidence of it.
  2. I had the somewhat surreal experience of a representative of the Tourism and Antiquities Police fish a scrap of papyrus out of his back pocket and try to flog it to me as “an authentic and ancient artefact”. The fact the some people still try this makes me wonder how often tourists actually fall for it. And it becomes clear the TAP are not above a little trade on the side.
  3. Baksheesh. Generally translated as ‘tips’ this doesn’t even begin to cover it. It is ubiquitous, it is demanded and expected rather than being a gratuity and for many it is their sole income. Somebody holds a door open for you? Baksheesh. Gives you directions? Baksheesh. Someone takes your picture, explains a statue, helps you out of a boat or carries your bag? You get the idea. It take some getting used to, but it’s best not to brush it off as the annoyance it seems. We tended to carry 50 piastre and one Egyptian pound (5p and 10p respectively) notes in easy to reach pockets and hand them out whenever required. It kept the locals smiling and they tended to leave you alone after the baksheesh had been paid instead of following you around, hurling Arabic at you (presumably accusing you of being a miser, counting how many children\donkeys\goats they had to feed etc.) Trying anything to avoid the ‘helpful’ locals, tended to be far more effort than it was actually worth. Accept the help if realistic and hand over 5p.
Moving on from the pyramids we arrive at the Sphinx, which is visually more interesting than it is impressive. I found it fascinating to note the preciseness of the parts of the structure that had been buried under the sand, compared to the sloppy concrete ‘repairs’ and the disproportionate head. Many archaeologists state that the head of the pharaoh Khufu. As to why his head seems so small compared to the rest of the body? Who knows, maybe the builders started off precise and accurate, but got bored half way up.
“You know what, guv? I sphinx we’ve done some fantastic paws on this ‘ere beastie, but you know what? The ‘ead of our god-king, long may ‘e reign? Can’t be arsed!”
I prefer the theory that there was a different head in place and that Khufu had his features chiselled in in place, a fairly common activity in Ancient Egyptian history.
Next up was the Egyptian Museum. I’m really glad we had a guide in here, the labelling and signage was appalling! Obviously the most impressive exhibits were the artefacts of Tutankhamun. The deathmask in particular was awe-inspiring. My mother had seen this in the travelling exhibit that toured the world way back in the day and it really was worth seeing. No photo does it justice.
Finally, a group dinner in a local restaurant and back to the hotel.
Train journey from Cairo to Luxor for ten hours!
We had the first class carriage, which was very comfortable and air-conditioned. But despite being first class, the loos were outrageous! Believe me, you wanted to touch nothing! Even being near the thing made you feel unclean! Utterly, utterly foul! And those were first class loos!
Upon arrival in Luxor, we get taken to our ship by calesh, a horse-drawn carriage. Very nice indeed.
That’s it, one third of the way through and more to come soon!

I’ve just experienced such a mood change. Going from being elated that tomorrow I fly to Egypt, to mad enough to spit feathers. The Powers That Be have decreed that since I refuse to fly to Holland on the same evening as I arrive back from Egypt, they’ve booked me on the first flight out on the next morning.
So I get to fly back, unpack, repack, sleep a few hours and head back out to Eindhoven. Furious doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Anyway, it’s nearly the end of my working day, assuming I can get everything finished. I’ll be back in the country late evening of the 22nd and then back out of the country the next morning. I’ll be incommunicado for some time then, but hopefully in a better mood than right now.