Sunday, September 1, 2013

Toskana Therme- the spa

Or, as I like to call it, Saunavana.

Bad Orb is an old spa town, give-away is in the name there! (Bad = bath) The water has lots of mineral salts in it, so it's got all sorts of special healing properties, beneficial for x,y,z etc.

There is a really wonderful spa which is practically next door to me here, it's officially part of a hotel, but you can buy entry separately, a bit like paying for entry to the local swimming pool, which is what I thought it was to start with. How little I knew!

Let's start first with the pesky little details, they always take longer than they have a right to! Entry is a little pricey, starting at 14 Euros for two hours, but I will concede that it doesn't rise a great deal after that, the longer you stay the better your hourly rate, quite noticeably. Once you are in, the changing rooms are, to me, a little unusual, with a long row of cubicles that you enter, lock both doors, and once changed, exit via the second door into the locker area. I rather appreciate the locker system; they give you an electronic wrist-tag, which you get on entry (you use it to get in) then once you come in you can use it to open a locker, put your things inside, and lock it again. That is now your locker. The really good thing is, of course, that the wrist tags are waterproof, and you can wear them everywhere, even the sauna (although they do get a bit hot on your skin), and as you wear it like a watch, there's no losing it. It also has a nice facility where you can buy things at the bar with it, and pay when you leave (as you need the tag to exit the building), which is much easier than going to get your money while you're between saunas!

Onto the heart of the matter then...

I had heard about the special salty water, and that they did something called Liquid Sound, where you could hear music under the water, watch lights and goodness knows what. Being a spa I also had hopes for a big pool, a jacuzzi perhaps, that sort of thing. What I got was utter delight.

I can't actually say how many pools there were, I can think of at least seven or eight in the main area, big ones, small ones, lane ones for lengths, jacuzzis for relaxing in, baby/toddler pools, and of course the big attraction, the Liquid Sound pool, where you float in the salty water, listening to the music with your ears underwater while staring up at the pretty lights on the ceiling. It was rather nice, being about body temperature you were quite comfortable, but I must admit to becoming a bit squeamish about having the water in my ears (it takes a long time to come out and feels ikky okay?!), so didn't find it as relaxing as it is supposed to be. 

The highlight for me though was without a shadow of a doubt the sauna area. Seven different sauna experiences in the one location- genius!!! Naturally I gravitated towards the Finnish sauna (a.k.a the hot one), but they also had a 'warm' one (about 50C) which would be great for those who like the sauna experience, but find them too hot, a 'damp' one (a.k.a. steam room) which I also really love, a Broncharium (not sure what that one was for exactly) and a Lektarium, which, from what I can see, you are supposed to read in. Then there was outside, where they had a Solarium (about 30C or 35C if I recall correctly) and Panorama sauna, which had a view of the sauna garden area (not in and of itself very exciting, but nice to cool down after baking!), and is kept at the same temperature as the Finnish sauna.

So, what do all of these different saunas have to offer? How can there possibly be so much variety in hot rooms? Here's a run-down.

  • Finnischesauna- (Finnish Sauna) the traditional sauna experience. Come inside the 90C heat, sit (or lie down, if there's space) and roast yourself to perfection. The graduated seating give two (or was it three) choices of sauna experience- the higher up you are, the hotter it is (heat rises don't you know?!). This one, by necessity, has wooden seating, and a towel is a must or you'll burn your backside! The Finnish sauna has low humidity, which is why such an extreme temperature is bearable (to a point), but they do put water on it every now and again to keep things sane. The real treat comes later...
  • Dampfsauna- (Steam Room) pretty self explanatory really- 100% humidity kept at 43C; it's quite an intense experience. Either way, it's quite warm enough with that sort of humidity! It's a treat for sore muscles, they feel forcibly relaxed, it's really quite incredible. Unsurprisingly with that sort of dampness, this room is tiled rather than wood, and towels would be, well, rather soggy after a few minutes! There are hoses to wash down your selected area of warm tiles, and if there's a sauna I must recommend lying down for, it's this one. The coloured lights on the roof, seen though the hazy, misty air are just delightful! Fairy lights have never been used to such great effect for those over the age of 6.
  • Softsauna- name says it all! This is also a wooden one, towels recommended to protect those tender buttocks! This one is kept at 50C but with 40% humidity it might well be quite nice. I must confess to not having used this one yet, so far I've been too busy rotating between the Finnish, Panorama and steam saunas to spare time for a cooler one, but I can think of a few people I might point in that direction! As you might have noticed, I like my saunas hot!
  • Lektarium- this one puzzled me from a distance, but the promise of reading in a sauna was irresistible and I had to explore. It's another tiled one (but dry, which I think means you should sit on a towel), although I'm not entirely sure why. It's (apparently!) kept at 43C, with low humidity, so you're not exactly breaking a sweat in there. In fact I was feeling a little chilly, and after making a circuit of the bookshelf I decided not to bother (seeing as I can't read German anyway). Perhaps it was turned off?!
  • Broncharium- another tiled room kept at a remarkably low temperature of just 30C. I couldn't figure what this one was about while I was there, there was some stuff in the air, which I presumed was supposed to be good for your lungs and breathing or something, which is more or less what their website seems to be saying, salty fog anyone?! I didn't really get into this one, it was a bit odd.
  • Solarium- one of the wood-benched outside saunas, although I'm not sure it should really count as a sauna. I think the temperature was fixed around 30C or 35C- basically about the temperature of a nice summers day, and humidity to suit I believe. I don't think I actually went it, I just couldn't get my head around the point of it, but perhaps that view will change come winter!
  • Panoramasauna- as the name suggests, this is a sauna with a view, albeit of a plunge pool and a walled garden full of deck chairs. Like the Finnish sauna, this one is hot at 90C, with low humidity. Also like the Finnish sauna, it has wooden benches of graduated heights, allowing you a choice of roasting temperatures and towels are a must to protect those those butts! In keeping with the similarities to the Finnish Sauna, this is also one of my favourites!

That is basically what all the different saunas are about. In addition to those, there is a jacuzzi (which feels luke-warm at best when you've been roasting in a sauna), two plunge pools, a bunch of bucket-with-a-rope type shower things (I haven't tried them yet, they seem to be quite busy) and a tub of crushed ice. I haven't yet been able to recreate the sensation I had last winter when we ran out of the spa doors, jumped in the heaps of snow, then raced back inside and leapt into the jacuzzi- that's really quite an amazing feeling. I think you need to get a bigger surface area of your body much colder than you can with a handful of crushed ice, and maybe a slightly hotter jacuzzi (in my opinion the one in the sauna area of Toskana Therme is a bit too cool, but it might just be contrast from the saunas) to get that tingling, burning sensation when you get into what is basically a nice warm bath! Worth doing if you ever get the chance, the contrast is incredible.

And speaking of contrast, I do love the plunge pools in Toskana Therme, they're great. There is an outdoor one next to the two garden saunas, and it's surprising how long you can (and want to) stay in cold water when your core body temperature is high from the sauna. There are some showers too, if you want to just rinse off and cool down naturally, but I particularly like the sudden contrast, which gives you the feeling of radiating warmth from the inside. 

The best things about the saunas though I have kept for last. Firstly, being in Northern Europe, the saunas are a 'textile free' (read: no clothing) area, which is a welcome relief from the British approach to saunas where you must wear a bathing suit (really, sweating into lycra is just a bit gross, and quite uncomfortable) at all times. 

The other really brilliant thing was that every hour or so (there was a timetable somewhere) one of the staff would come into either the Finnish or Panorama sauna, and mixed into the water they put on the stones, there are some oils. I was there just for one with Eucalyptus, but they do a variety of different ones, I think I saw lemongrass on the list as well. They of course evaporate into steam the moment they touch the hot stones, spreading through the entire sauna. Usually they would concentrate in the upper levels, but with the aid of this amazing person those oils are persuaded down and all around the sauna with the skill-full use of a wet towel being flicked and whipped around your heads, and you are buffeted about by wave after wave of hot, scented air directed towards you. You can feel the benefits of it easily, you can't help breathing it in deep, and when you exhale it's like you're breathing out all the old air that's been building up inside you and getting stale, leaving you fresh and strong. 

I really couldn't recommend the saunas of Toskana Therme strongly enough!

If you're looking for directions to this Saunavana, or want to know more then their website can be found here.

Toskana Therme

This will be a two part post, as I have two aspects I would like to comment on, and this one comes first so I can end on a high note!


So, having quite sensitive skin, I tend to avoid shaving whenever possible as it usually brings me out in an unattractive, itchy rash, utterly defeating the point in having shaved. Thus I usually go for waxing, it's not so painful once you get used to it, and although my skin doesn't love that either it's not so bad as shaving, and at least you only have to do it once a month! However, it's not very DIY friendly. It's a possible, but awkward, and underarms ARE impossible, so it requires a salon somewhere. Now I've been to various salons in a variety of places, New Zealand, London, Milan, France, other places in France, Milan (seriously, I've only been there twice, no more than 24hrs at a time!), and now Germany. It's not always easy, the first time in France they didn't speak English, so I had to mime what I wanted at the reception desk to even find out if they did waxing- they did. Following my epic miming of details, which produced much hilarity they did a decent job. The second place in a totally different part of France actually spoke English, so it was easy. The first place in Milan was the same as the first in France- lots of miming and we got there, it worked well enough, they did a good job. The second, were, I must say, ruthless. Effective, certainly, there wasn't a hair left, but boy she was efficient. I was in and out in 40 minutes (it's usually about an hour), she wasn't the slightest bit concerned with my comfort, like the ones who apologise over and over throughout the process.

However Bad Orb is not Milan, nor London. It is a small town, like those places in France. So off I go to the nearest likely looking place, which happens to be the local spa- Toskana Therme. They had appointments so I booked. They did advise me that unfortunately they couldn't do under-arm waxing ('why on earth not?!' I did wonder), but I had heard they were good for other things, and they use a brand I happen to favour for their lack of chemicals (Dr Hauschka, go German green-ness!), so I decided to roll with it and worry about the under-arms later.

I'm particularly glad I did decide to worry about the underarms later, I often find them to be the most sensitive, and they're technically the most difficult for the beautician too, because the hairs tend to grow in any old direction, making them tricky to get out.

It started just fine, here's the bed, lie back, we discuss what she will do and she gets to work. I was not thrilled to note that they only have two varieties of strip wax- I assume sensitive and normal, as I usually ask for a hot wax for sensitive bits like bikini-line. However I had already resigned myself to the likelihood that it would be a strip wax, which aren't always too painful, if the beautician has a good technique. Now I'm no beautician, but I've had enough waxing experience (and enough emergency DIY waxing!) to know how it goes, and it's something like this:

  1. Put the wax on the skin, smoothing it on in the direction of the hair growth
  2. Put the strip over the top, smoothing in the direction of hair growth and avoiding bubbles etc.
  3. Peel strip directly backwards as quickly as possible against direction of hair growth.
  4. Move on to new patch of hairy skin.
  5. Re-use the strip until it becomes too sticky and doesn't come away cleanly, throw it away and get a new one. I find five or six uses at most, usually less.
  6. Never re-wax skin more than once. If it doesn't come out second time, it's tweezers or you'll damage the skin.
  7. Gently rub the skin with a nice oil to help remove the sticky wax and soothe it with nice oils like chamomile.
That's more or less how my DIY wax goes, and roughly outlines the rules beauticians seem to follow. The beautician at Toskana Therme:

  • The wax. It was those roll-on dispensers, which I'm not fond of at the best of times, but they're usually okay on your legs. If they're warm enough for the wax to come out easily. These ones weren't, so they dragged and pulled on the skin as she tried to spread it, which is more than a little uncomfortable, especially when the are is already hyper sensitive because it's been waxed three times already.
  • So, once the wax was applied she...
  • Rubbed against the hair growth
  • Pulled the strip upwards and outwards away from the skin, not backwards over it.
  • Used three strips. Three. A total of three strips for bikini-line and two half-legs.
  • I lost count of the number of times she re-waxed various places, having little success getting the hair out (I wonder why?).
  • The failure to hold skin taut in the right places is a big one in waxing, and is without a doubt the hardest bit of DIY waxing, because you run out of hands. Beauticians often ask you to hold/pull a certain spot to help them. I'm happy to comply because it is basic self-preservation- if you don't and she can't get the skin tight you're likely to end up with bruising where the wax didn't come away from the skin cleanly. It hurts. A lot. I've had it before from DIY waxing, as I said, you run out of hands. But a beautician shouldn't, she has four at her disposal. Suffice to say I have bikini-line bruising, due to not only the skin not being tight as the wax was removed, but also the outwards pull of the waxing strips (seriously, not only does it not work, it also hurts a lot more, outwards is BAD.
So the overall results?
Well I'm too lazy to actually take a picture, but if I did it wouldn't be a pretty one. One week on my legs are hairy in various lengths and patches (shins should not be hairy, they're the easy part!!!). Some patches are long where clearly she just didn't get the hairs to move at all. Other patches are now at the prickly stage, suggesting the hairs broke off at skin level. And in some places they are actually still smooth, suggesting that, surprisingly, she did occasionally achieve her objective of pulling the hairs out by the roots. 

I'm really glad they didn't offer under-arm waxing. I may just have to make monthly trips to Frankfurt to deal with that aspect, and do the rest myself as best I can (which is, at least, better than the local spa).

And if you're curious about exactly which place I mean... follow this link.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tall and reflective

Finally I manage to post a picture the same day that I took it! It's gorgeous today, a little bit of summer.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

More wildlife!

(and also another pond picture.) 

I really liked the under-water-lilies in this one.

Mole! I've never seen a real-life mole before. We don't have them in NZ, and I'm quite intrigued by the elusive little creatures that leave piles of dirt here and there as proof of their existence. All I need now is a badger, and a water-rat, and I will have spotted all of the Wind in the Willows cast! Granted this one might not have been totally alive... okay it was more than a bit dead. But it was still a Mole! I didn't know they were so small.

Yesterday was another slightly damp day, which meant that my favourite little frogs were out and about, hopping all over the path! This time I had the presence of mind to work out how demonstrate their size in a picture without the frog just hopping away from the big scary moving thing. I felt a bit bad for him, but it was for less than a minute, and I did let him go on some nice ground on the side of the path he was aiming for!

As you can probably see, I've been enjoying the local wildlife here. There were also some lovely butterflies I wanted to take a picture of, they were nice and settled on some flowers so I got out my phone and sure enough, they lifted their wings (causing a hurricane in South America no doubt) and fluttered about until I put it away again, at which point they re-settled. I wasn't quite in the mood to stand around for hours getting impatient with butterflies, so I gave up after we played a few rounds of Hide From the Camera and kept walking. They were pretty though!


 Roof goats!!!

I liked the roof goats. Can you tell? 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A series of pictures

I have already mentioned that I am lucky enough to count a walk in the forest as part of my schedule several times a week. What I may not have mentioned is that my walk usually takes me past a little pond, which at this point in time is full of water lilies (and frogs, apparently!). I have been taking pleasure in photographing it, particularly in the different weather we have had- it's quite different with the sun behind it, or mist swirling through the trees. So, here are a few samples!

We had a few really gorgeously sunny days, which have some wonderful effects in the forest! I was quite distracted while out for a cycle ride by staring at the evening sunlight filtering through the trees, quite a striking image I am still holding in my mind, but unfortunately not one I had a camera handy for.

It hasn't all been sunshine though, and one rather atmospheric day I was out it was rather misty- also a rather memorable sight! The mist swirling through the tree tops and settling down between the long trunks, over the mossy logs was quite lovely. As were the minuscule frogs hopping about all over the path- you've already seen pictures of those!

It hasn't all been sunshine though, and one rather atmospheric day I was out it was rather misty- also a rather memorable sight! The mist swirling through the tree tops and settling down between the long trunks, over the mossy logs was quite lovely. As were the minuscule frogs hopping about all over the path- you've already seen pictures of those! I took the picture on the left on my way out for a walk, and the one on the right on my way back, when the sun was just trying to break through the mist, although that isn't so clear in these pictures unfortunately.


The other two pictures here are from some more of the lovely weather we have had- just sunshine and loveliness! I really like the way everything reflects so much on the pond, broken up by the water lilies and debris floating in the water.

Okay folks, one of the things Blogger doesn't do so well is formatting with pictures, and I just can't be bothered trying to make it co-operate any more! Hope it's not too much of a mess :-/

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

In the forest...

We are on the edge of a forest and, fortunately for me, my job requires adventures (or at least a stroll) in the woods each day, which is quite interesting. It's a big forest I gather, but criss-crossed with trails and even roads in places. Going for a stroll in the morning is just fine, but I must confess that I would find it outright creepy in the twilight. I'm constantly looking around for the Big Bad Wolf, or maybe a bear. I am assured the most dangerous thing in there is the mosquitoes, but it's still creepy, all those tall trees and quietness. However, aside from the non-existent baddies I keep looking for, there are some neat non-evil things too.

Spot the frogs!!! I promise there is one in each picture, and they're hiding in plain sight! They're tiny little things, the size of a fingernail. I thought they were beetles for a while, till I decided the movements were a bit too odd, and actually bent down to examine them, and was quite captivated by them.

Hint: this one has really good cammo!

Hint: he's making a get-away from the camera!

You really can't miss this one!
And yesterday, to spice things up a bit, I encountered something I haven't seen before- a wild deer. I know this isn't the best picture, I had to zoom a lot so I didn't scare it off, but it's right there under the tree!

As you can see, I've been enjoying the great outdoors here... to be honest there isn't much else to do. Luckily I do actually like nature, and appreciate little froggies hopping across the path, and a glimpse of a wild deer, or I might actually go crazy! This is the closest I've been to living in the country since I was a child. Still, Frankfurt is a decently sized city and very well connected with the third busiest airport in Europe and of course the trains. Perhaps I can even find an English cinema there...

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Cycling Autobahn

Well, last I posted was from Isola d'Elba, that gorgeous island in the Mediterranean that I so love. I have since, and somewhat unexpectedly, spent a few weeks in Britain, where I caught up with boring paper work, did a few assignments for a short course I did, and bought a bike. However I have since had to leave the bike in Britain, but for all the right reasons. There was a bike here waiting for me when I arrived! Well, almost anyway. It's a little on the big side, which makes things interesting when I have to stop and wait for traffic (getting on/off is difficult when you can't reach the ground!) but that's okay. It's a bike, and it's here. And this place is amazing for cycling!

Where I am living for now is sorta out in the sticks, but not completely. And certainly not if you're on a bike.

The front of the sign, facing to Gelnhausen
This is where our local trail meets up with the Cycling Autobahn (I happen to think that simile is awesome, I've totally adopted it!), called the R3, which goes from Fulda to somewhere the other side of Frankfurt, totally 228km which you have to grant is a pretty damn long cycle ride!

So on Sunday I took myself to Wachtersbach (see back of sign), a total of 5.9km according to these signs. Wachtersbach itself was, as promised, not particularly exciting, so I just had some sorbet (it was really hot, it has been really hot a lot actually) and set off again, this time for Gelnhausen, 9.5km away.

At this point, I have to confess, it was not smooth sailing, nor was it particularly enjoyable, and I was quite concerned about getting back because I could tell that the path was more or less flat. There was strong headwind which made me feel every single kilo of what is a rather hefty bike (and the rider is none too light either!), not to mention the somewhat too soft tyre pressure (to be fixed as soon as my pump arrives!). Luckily, there was an ever-present back-up plan, in the form of good-old fashioned train. Germany has particularly nice ones, and on time to boot.

The back of the sign, facing to Wachtersbach
There is just one slight, small flaw with the train back-up plan, which is that Wachtersbach is actually our nearest station, so it's still 6km home from the train station! There are buses between Wachtersbach and Bad Orb, timed to meet the trains (Oh, German efficiency!!!) but I doubt you can get a bike on them. Thus, at points during my trip to Gelnhausen, I was really dreading the trip home. Even with the train I would still need to cycle another 6km, with the last bit uphill too.

Turns out that headwind had a lot to answer for. Coming home was a breeze. Sure it took an hour, but actually it only took an hour, and it wasn't a hard hour either.

I am really, really liking the cycle networks here. I was going to go out and ride this evening, but I was put off by the world's most epic thunderstorm, it was better even than the incredible ones Phuket had to offer when I was there. I love a good thunderstorm, and this was the finest, and possibly closest, I've ever had the fortune to watch, but it was accompanied by a lot of rain. I'm not keen on that horrible warm, sweaty, sticky dampness that comes from exercising in the rain. In fact I detest it. Thus I skipped a ride this evening, although I might do something else instead.

Anyhow, back to the Cycling Autobahn. If you have a separate road for bikes, you have separate bridges. Obviously. It has a ramp so that you can cycle right on up, over, and back down again without getting off. Nifty! Other good features of the Cycling Autobahn aside from the obvious lack of people in cars trying to run you over, are the lack of traffic lights, which, trust me, is a big deal when you can't reach the ground from your seat. Another good feature is the signposts. The ones in these pictures here are them. They're on the Cycling Autobahn. For cyclists. They don't tell us boring stuff like how far to the next motorway entry, or that you can't park a car here. They just tell you how far it is to whatever is in that direction. Brilliantly simple! (I may have learned to hate road signs in Britain while learning to drive. Far too many of them, far too many).
Nifty cycle bridge on the Cycling Autobahn (R3), and also my bike. 
That is my experience of the Cycling Autobahn so far, all 30km that I've explored. Well, technically only about 26km of it was even part of the R3, the route down to it from Bad Orb followed a dinky little train line (I believe an actual, real train line used to run there some time ago) which I think has tourist trains every now and again, or something. It was pretty cool anyway, and I definitely have a few more adventures planned for my lovely red bike on the Cycling Autobahn.

Saturday, June 29, 2013


 was my adjective of choice regarding the jellyfish in my lovely little cove. It appears the one I saw was simply the first to shore of a swarm, blown in by the wind. I really couldn't have picked a more inaccurate adjective had I tried! Alas the beaches this side of the island are now fundamentally unsuitable for swimming. They're not dangerous jellyfish, in that they aren't so poisonous that you're likely to die from a sting, but they do sting. Well, that is a bit presumptuous of me, but given even the children wouldn't go in the water, instead preferring to snag jellys with sticks from the rocks, I infer they aren't great company up close.

I am not without things to do here though. Aside from a few errands that I have to run, I would also like to go to some other places on the island, and see what there is to see. I've already been to most of them last year, but I had only an hour or two in Porto Azzuro and Capoliveri, both of which I recall being quite striking and beautiful. I could also go to Portoferrario, which is significantly bigger than any of the other towns on the island, where I might be able to get a couple of things I've been wanting to get my hands on, but are not available in Rio Marina (really out-there stuff like coconut oil and cranberry juice). Doing so would mean making use of the uh, extensive and regular bus services Elba has to offer, which could be interesting. I have obtained a bus timetable from the tourist info office in Rio Marina, so it is within the realms of possibility.

Should the jellyfish still be bothersome after that, then I also have my camera, and an island full of beautiful just waiting for me. Potentially that could keep me entertained for quite an extensive period, although it would be in competition with lazing about reading, and half-hearted attempts at extending my non-existent Italian.

And there's still the matter of the bells to figure out, which I revise my opinion on about a dozen times a day.

A slightly more reality-based note, for any of you who still read this to see what I'm doing with my life (other than lazing about on some island or another).

I've left my old job based in London, and have since accepted a temp contract in Germany, starting the middle of July. I've been doing all sorts of odd bits and pieces work-wise, updating my first aid cert, doing a short course, interviews here and there, and my driving licence. I've decided to move towards a free-lance sort of version of my current job, taking temp contract here and there, working with newborns. It's more flexible and, to me, a bit more interesting. It is self-employed, which ought to be an interesting aspect (at least for a while), with all of the obvious upsides as well as the various downsides.

So, when am I coming home? Well, how long is a piece of string really. It is a matter of timing with work and finances now. Permanent plans are still something I don't really deal in, (case in point: just ditched a stable(ish) job for self-employed freelance work, the very definition of unstable employment), but one of the up-sides of this new work is that I have control of my own timetable, so I can book in holidays when they suit. Watch this space.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Italian adventures

I could happily live in Italy. It's just that little bit random and haphazard, nothing quite makes sense, but it's okay, because nobody expects it to, it just is. Everything just is. It's quite wonderful.

I'm back on Elba, the beautiful island I discovered last year, although this time I am on a different part, Rio Marina, on the Eastern side of the island, facing towards the mainland. It's a nice little town, not much more than a village really, although it does have a port where the ferry from Piombino calls several times per day. The houses are set on the hillsides, sloping steeply down towards the port where the shops and restaurants are concentrated. There is just one small supermarket, a handful of panetterias and a few restaurants. I suspect the restaurants, gelaterias and coffee bars are somewhat less numerous in the off season, now it feels like a town just waking up for the summer, like a household of people getting ready for work and school.

I love the sleepy feel of The Rock, it may be a gorgeous island in the Mediterranean, relying largely on tourism, but it doesn't have the glamour of Sardinia, it doesn't take itself too seriously. It's laid back and relaxed, more than a little bit sleepy, and it feels precisely like what it is; a large rock, isolated from the mainland by a few kilometres of beautiful clear blue water. My perception of time here is utterly lost, I haven't the faintest idea what day it is, and only due to the particularly enthusiastic symphony of bells just passed am I aware that it is around midday. The bells are a particular peculiarity which will leave me forever checking my watch for the time! From where we are on the hill, we can hear two bells. There is the simple chiming of the clocktower above the beach, which marks out the quarter, half and three-quarter hours by 1,2 or 3 chimes, and on the hour it strikes out how many hours. The other clock, which I am yet to discover the location of, but I believe to be inland somewhere, is a little more comprehensive. It strikes out the hour in a nice, deep tone, followed by the 1, 2 or 3 strikes for the quarters past the hour in a slightly higher pitch, and provides a definitive notification of midday. There are two complicating factors to this system of telling the time. The first is that I rarely observe when the bells start, and so cannot count the chimes accurately, meaning I often get the hour wrong (although I usually manage to catch up in time to find out how much past the hour it is). The second complication lies not with my ability, but with the bells. The deeper, inland bell is quite accurate, it marks the hour right on the hour, within a few seconds of my watch and phone. The belltower by the beach, however, seems to struggle. I believe that it simply loses time, because today it seems to be almost accurate, while the last few days I had observed a discrepancy between the two clocks of almost five minutes. A final confusing factor, which I have just observed, is that they do not both always mark the quarter hours. The 12.15pm bell was simply two chimes, and just now (12.26pm) there was one solitary chime, but I could not have said for certain which tower it was. I should find out soon, because hopefully the second will chime properly.

Luckily there is no fear of me being late to anything here, for there is nothing to be on time for! However it is quite fascinating observing the bells.

Hmm. Perhaps the inland bell only chimes the hour and half hour, but not the quarter hour. It was perfectly punctual for that time.

Other than observing the bell-ringing & timekeeping, I have also been enjoying the beaches. Rio Marina itself has two small beaches either side of the port, neither of which I could really recommend, although one of them does have a set of fresh-water showers, which I thoroughly approve of. To compensate for the small, tourist-filled shores by the sea in Rio Marina, there is a simply stunning little beach nearby, only ten minutes walk from the beach with showers. It is a lovely little cove, quite enclosed, with steep rocky sides coming down to it. The beach is pebbles, spreading outwards to the sea and becoming larger smooth, round stones. The water is absolutely crystal-clear, with little fishes swimming around, a few sea-urchins to make sure you don't put your feet down, and the very occasional colourful jellyfish to keep you in touch with reality. It is, without a doubt, the nicest beach I have found outside of New Zealand. It doesn't have have waves, that is true, but for a rocky beach that is a good thing. It is just beautiful. Hopefully I can rouse myself to taking pictures one of these days...

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Moving on...

Chamonix was my last post... oops! Since then I've been to St Bathelemy, New York and California, and back to London. And I am deep in planning for my next adventure, to Italy again, via Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany (or so the plan goes anyway). In brief here are my thoughts on...

St Barthelemy- The colonial era isn't over after all. The French still own islands in the Caribbean, using the Euro and everything. It was, in essence, a playground for the rich and famous. Private jets, convertibles and yachts abound. Not really my cup of tea, but the wildlife was cool- giant hermit crab (really, the shell it was in was the size of a big coffee mug. That just ain't right for a hermit crab.) and turtles randomly coming to chill out in the garden, listening to the kids read. And no horrible biting, stinging, nasty things, although I wouldn't want to mess with the sea urchins!

New York- New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of... yep, it was pretty much everything it promised to be. Glitz, glamour and sky-scrapers. I quite liked it actually. It was pretty much exactly what I expected, we stayed on the 40th floor of a hotel overlooking Central Park and I got to walk down 5th Avenue, marvelling at how cities have these streets which are household names the world over, and yet are practically identical. 5th Avenue = Oxford St = Champs de Elysee = via Montenapoleone and so on. Still, it was fun to see. Would have liked a night to explore the night life and have some fun.

California- it must have the best climate in the whole world. Cool nights, sunny days, every day. Just lovely. Pity it's so... American. Drive to the shopping mall to buy milk... walk? On what, the road? Sigh. Lovely place, if it were just less American.

And now, to work. But not for much longer. The next few weeks will be my last in London, and they're gonna be busy, so I will be back on here maybe from Italy for all I know!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Chamonix Mont Blanc

Well it must be said, mountains really just don't do it for me. Rumour has it this is one of the most glamorous skiing spots in Europe, but I just want to get back to London. I'm sunburned, my lips are dry, my ears hurt from the altitude and the French/Alpine food makes me ill. It would probably be better if I wasn't vegetarian, wasn't so sensitive to the sun and the air pressure, and was a skier. But I am none of these things and so far I prefer the beauty of the snowy mountains through the glass door while I sit in front of the toasty fire with a hot chocolate (full of milk and cream and other Sam-poisons).

I can be interested in many different things while travelling- if it's got swimming I'm keen, I like food, culture and history are interesting, wildlife, listening to the language, there are lots of things. But, like Spain, this place seems to be full of British holiday makers, so all I hear is English, and everything is oriented for people hurtling down mountains in some way, shape or form, to the exclusion of anything else. And the French SUCK at accommodation. Vegan? Forget it. Vegetarian? No. Please? No. Are you serious? Let me ask the chef.... He refuse. FOR FUCKS SAKE!!! I'm not asking for anything more than a salad for goodness sake. Yes, a salad WITHOUT meat in it. Who on earth would want that? *grumble grumble* stupid French food. *vomit*

I might oblige you with pictures of the stunning natural beauty if I manage to get batteries for my camera tomorrow, but currently I am unable to perform such miracles, and I have little faith in the ability of anybody in this place to manage something as complicated as telling me where I can get more AA batteries. It's quite an ask.

The weather closed in today, so picture opportunities were not so good, and I didn't manage to get any batteries for my camera, so these are just what I managed on my phone before we left.

At least I think that is Mont Blanc, but I'm not really so good on the directions. It's the biggest, nearest looking one, so I assume it is. 

It was peaking through the snow clouds... geddit? *ducks to avoid projectiles*

Time to pack, London tomorrow!