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04 Mar

Tanzania : Day 3

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / March 4, 2013 / 0 Comments

Thoughts from Tory.
I woke at midnight and sadly, didn’t get back to sleep. Turns out, day 3 is a good one for jet lag. The alarm was set for 4 am anyway, so shower, wash the kids clothes and hang it out, out for breakfast (bread and bananas, with a cup o’ tea), then the bus to the stadium by 5am. It was so dark, they were still setting up, the stadium is dirt with some grass in the middle, a volleyball court on the side and some other nets around the place. Meat was being barbecued for later, the air was think with smoke, and runners were starting to file in. After a while, the music started – cheesy dance music at about 3000 decibels, and the MC kept reminding us of the various start times. The loos were Asian, with no TP supplied,  much to some of the American girls horror. Fortunately, I’ve been to third world countries before, so came prepared. Of course.

The first glimpse of the top of Mt Kilimanjaro in the pre dawn light was so special. It has been shrouded in cloud and haze since we got here, although we haven’t been able to see it early in the morning before. It was stunning, truly breathtaking and both Charlie and I felt a little sad that we won’t climb it. We’ll find other cool things to do, though, don’t worry.

It was so cool to see the startling crowded with scrawny fast Kenyans and Tanzanians, who sprinted off the start to get the advantage on the bend. The nature of the course with two ‘in and out’ legs meant that we could see the lead pack and eventual winner streak past through the morning. I settled in to my style – waving, high fiving kids, being laughed at by women, comments from men (I choose to believe they were just cheering), as I occasionally curtseyed in return. I suspect many of them had never seen anything quite like me 😉 I was rocking my NYM outfit – named T shirt and Jodi Lee Foundation tutu, getting a few call outs for ‘Toe Ree’ and thoroughly enjoying myself. It was a cool flat run for most of the first 12-14k, out of town and back again, then a loop through Moshi which included small hills. Several thousand people were lining the street the whole way, creating a very festive atmosphere. I was joined by groups of kids for kilometers at a time, and at one stage, by a man on a bike for over 10k!

We went back past the stadium at the half way mark, already a km or so into our climb. The climb continued until 31.5 km, through smaller villages, past coffee plantations, people going about their day – burning rubbish (choking on smoke), carrying enormous bunches of bananas (they may be plantains – I am not sure of the official difference), washing clothes, watching the world go by. As we climbed higher, it became a little cooler (very welcome) and we passed the banana plantations. Motorbikes were going past constantly, few of the roads were closed, and none were after the lead pack went through, then more cars and buses, loaded with local folk. Drink stops provided water in cups that I suspect were being recycled off the ground and refilled for slower runners – a few I was offered had coke on the outside once we got the the drink stops that also offered coke.  A few stops provided sponges as well – very much appreciated on a day that would have been over 30 degrees already.

The long climb had me walking a few sections. My right thigh (middle part of rectus femoris) was quite tight on the climb, so I was conscious not to be a hero with the hill – 10k of downhill running was going to put more load on that than I really wanted. Finally, after a few 7 minute km’s, the turn around point was in sight.  A drink, then open up the legs a little and enjoy the run. I had realised at 27k or so that I was actually still in with a chance for a 4 hr run if the hill wasn’t too brutal, so was watching my pace on the way up. I calculated I would be able to get there with low 5 min km’s all the way down.  So when I felt good and the slope was not severe, I was able to get a sub 5 k done, but I always slowed down for the water, and I didn’t want to be too sore afterwards given my holiday starting tomorrow. Soft, I know.

By the last 4 km or so, the road was getting very crowded with people doing their normal Sunday thing. I was having to run around the outside of buses as they pulled over to pick up passengers (the roads were all sealed but there are never any footpaths). I was really trying to get my 4 hr mark, worried I was needing 5min even km’s and I wasn’t feeling able to do that. It was hot, dusty, fumey (is that a word?), I was tired, and I felt a bit insignificant on this crowded road. I couldn’t even see the runners ahead of me, there were so many others about. As I approached the stadium, inside the last km, it was hard to even see the marshall, I didn’t know whether to turn left or right once inside the outer gate, and still couldn’t see any other runners. The roadway was crowded with people sauntering along (drives me bonkers at the best of times), then a small African hurtled past me, kept looking back at me and gesturing me onward. He led me into the stadium proper, I could see the finish archway, and hurtled towards it (I’m not sure how pretty I looked!). It turns out, there were two finishing shutes – one for the half and the other for the full. The marshall was standing directly in front of the only sign directing full marathon runners to the right, while he was chatting to his mate, so he grabbed my arm as I went past, ‘no, no, this way’. Arrgh.

I whipped around the star dropper, sprinted up the shute, and went under the archway in 3:59:56 (garmin time, not seen any official timing). Woot woot!  So excited to have done it. I really went in with a plan to run between 4 hrs and 4:20, but to just run by feel. My heart rate monitor hasn’t worked well for months, and I haven’t worn it at all for the last month or so – just running by feel. Weird for me. But now 3 of my 4 marathons have been finished in 3:50 something. I am nothing if not consistent!  I feel like my training has really paid off, and a run without jet lag, mothering duties and a 10k climb could have seen a PB run. I am stoked with it.

We ran on roads the whole way, which I didn’t expect. I only brought my Trabuco trail shoes, but I have run a fair bit on road in them with no problem, so figured they would be ok. They were, thank goodness. But my Kayanos at home which have about 1500km in them and are a little overdue to be replaced are still sitting at home. If I had thought about it a little better, I would have brought them as well, worn them for the run and then donated them. They are in reasonable condition – I just should not run in them anymore. My Trabucos are about 18 months old and have a fair bit of wear in them, but I will be wearing them all trip as my everyday shoe. They may not see much running once we get home, but I have run the Great Wall Marathon and the Yurrebilla Ultra Marathon in them as well, so it will be sad to retire them.

Thank you to everyone for your support – it has been wonderful to get the Facebook messages, and the donations to the Jodi Lee Foundation. I will thank everyone individually properly when I get home to easier Internet access. But thank you xx.

Thoughts from Charlie.
At the start line of the 5km run, the kids were hijacked by a large group of African dancers complete with drums, trumpets and cow bells. They were all chanting and singing and once they saw the kids in their braids they were instantly grabbed to join in on the fun. They look both puzzled / confused and slightly scared by this hoard of black people – but once they got into it they enjoyed the experience.

When the starting gun fired we all started walking and trying to run. The crowd was 5000 strong so took a while for the momentum to stat. Once we broke into a jog Luca took off followed by Milla and Charlie. I kept with them for a while but lost sight of Milla and Jr decided to hang with me. Gran was in the back markers with a new friend she found called Kathy whom both decided to walk.

Jr and I did well, running the first 2.5km with my camera pack on whilst i wrestled with a camera in one hand. I got some great shots of the chaos during and after as well as some further pics of mountain.

I think the low and high of the day was the GoPro debacle. Long story short, Luca decided take it off and put in his sponsors bag and then leave it on the ground in a crowd of mostly 8000 Africans. The stadium was pure chaos, nothing was normal. When I found out it was lost I sent Luca, by himself into the crowd to try and find. He came back empty handed after 30 minutes looking a bit sorry for himself. When Tory arrived and had time to relax this gave me time to try and find an official to see if there was a ‘Lost and Found’. I mean if you saw this place, the very notion is laughable in the extreme. 

After a few hand gestures and speaking with people around the main stage i was told to go onto the stage and speak with someone who was holding a mic to a speaker. He motioned to a man across the stadium whom i could only just make out. He was standing next to some dignitaries, probably the king or president or whatever they have here. The man with the mic told me that he had a camera that someone handed in!! He told me to go to the man and see if it was mine. Right. So I’ll just struggle through the crowd, climb under 2 barriers, dodge a guard and run up the stairs to the top row of the VIP section ask about a GoPro?? I did! And guess what the man had a red bag with my camera in untouched!

Amazing – I wouldn’t expect to see it again in Adelaide, let alone in one the poorest countries in the world, in a stadium of 8000 raucous Africans, street vendors, touts, runners and street urchins. I certainly didn’t judge in the purest sense, I didn’t expect to see it again just because the basic fact that it was about a years wage and it was our fault that it was on the ground. 

The only thing Im sad about is that no-one gave their name, they just handed it over. I was prepared for a reward payment, and happy to pay. 

The person that handed it up, required no reward, except for good Karma for the next 2 lifetimes.

02 Mar

Tanzania : Day 3

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / March 2, 2013 / 0 Comments

Thoughts from Charlie
Today is registration day for the Kili Marathon, which meant we got a free bus to the Keys Hotel in Moshi town, within easier walking distance to the Moshi town centre. Trudging a now familiar broken footpath to the large roundabout in the centre of town, we made our way to the supermarket to get water supplies and some afternoon snacks. Many things for sale are about half the price you’d pay in Adelaide. The standout difference was 1 litre of Smirnoff was $11! Probably out of reach for most people. Heineken was $2.30 a stubby for 330ml whilst the local brew is $1.20 for 550ml. Considering the low wage in this country im surprised how many people can afford to buy many of the things on offer. On the way to the supermarket I walked into a service station to check out the fuel prices. They were the same as Australia’s price per litre, and considering the amount of bikes and cars zooming around at speed it makes we wonder how much they have to work to get the bare necessities. I guess they don’t have iPhones / iPads / Gym Memberships / Large Mortgages / Broadband bills / Waterbills and probably not even electricity in a lot of cases.

After the Supermarket I wanted to head further downtown to the Buffalo Hotel. I read about this hotel as it bosted a Indian / Italian Restaurant, and was quite popular according to the intramanet. I figured Tory needed the carbs and the kids love their butter chicken. I guess I could sample a pizza as well!

The walk turned into a sensory overload of sounds, people and selling. The main road was a live market of people sowing clothes, washing and restoring old shoes, bartering, catching cabs, jumping out of cabs, horns blaring, yelling . . . It was a little too much for the kids at one stage but they soon took it in their stride, and with each day they get braver and more confident as they walk the streets of Tanzania.

As we got further into the melee that was Tanzanian trading I was starting to get worried that I may have got the family lost. At the last minute we stopped and looked lost we were pounced on by touts. One young man offered to show us where it was. It sounded like the all too familiar sales trap. But it wasn’t. The hotel was tucked away in a side alley, but as we walked closer we soon found ourselves beset by shirt, painting, and necklace sales people trying to extract dollars from our ‘wealthy anglo’ pockets.

I tipped the 2 guys that helped us and we went onto enjoy our Lunch. Luca and Charlie Jr got Butter Chicken, Tory ordered the Spaghetti, Milla, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Jenny had the Eggplant Parmigiana and I, the Anchovy and Olive Pizza. Washed down with Sprite and Beers it was the best meals so far and one of the best Butter Chickens I’d tasted!

Trying to escape the touts, we slipped further up the road to a side street, but our man was waiting patiently! We were trapped, we escaped only to get the sales pitch for a Tanzanian Soccer Guernsey further up the main road. Luca tried his hand at some bartering and we managed to get the top for 20,000 shillings and $4 USD. I think its the first time weve ever bought anything using 2 currencies before – very odd and quite amusing at the time. Final price was about $17.30 for an Adidas sports top. Good value but hard work.

Heading back up the road to our sister hotel I managed to get some nice shots with the big lens. You have to be very quick around here because if you get caught snapping a pic they yell and carry on, mostly for $USDs I think. So there were 2 shots I wanted to get, so I happily paid $1USD each for them – and they were equally happy to let me shoot away.

Back at the Keys Hotel we got the shuttle back to our place. 20 seconds after dropping our bags back at our room the kids were in the pool and the world was right (and cool) again.

Blinged up Taxi Bikes are everywhere.

Traditional Masai Medicine.

Roadside snack van.


Pineapple delivery.

Jr’s Butter Chicken.

Extra cheesey pizza and the stock standard Kili beer.

A man washing and restoring old shoes for sale on the sidewalk.


One of the many seamstress working on the main streets around Moshi. I paid this lady $1USD for her picture and she was happy to be my model.

Another stall selling candy, mints and cigarettes.

A shoe salesman / fixer naps in the heat of the day.

Thoughts from Tory.
We were now ready to get out of the sun, and into the pool at home, so started the 3km or so so walk to the main hotel again to get our shuttle. Milla commented that she didn’t want to go home.  I was surprised – she’d been talking about the pool for most of the last 2 hours. But no, she didn’t want to go home to Adelaide – she’s enjoying seeing Africa too much.

This afternoon, after much pool time and my trying to lie down and get off my bloody legs in preparation for tomorrow, one of the staff at the hotel here finally said she was ready and able to braid the children’s hair. Mum had organized it yesterday when she asked  Petronila if she knew where we might be able to get the kids hair braided (so I don’t need to brush it every day!!) and Petronila said she could do it. We suggested 8.30 am, and she agreed. So at 4pm she arrived and said she could do it now. Africa time. Eventually 4 other ladies joined her so we had 5 women huddled over the 3 kids heads, braiding for a solid 90 mins. Remarkably, they all finished at the same time!  Luca has 38 braids all sticking out of his head, Milla has 10 and Charlie has 9 that are mostly combined with 2 braids into 1 plait. They look awesome and the lovely ladies were all so pleased to have played with these kids straight hair. Awesome photos.

Luca was pumped with is – with his denim shorts, Tanzanian soccer shirt and funky hair, he looked very cool, and the girls look gorgeous. We are very much in holiday mode now, and are really enjoying all the family time.  They kids are all writing a little into their travel diaries, and Milla has done a little of her school homework. Both girls like to sit and do some of their puzzle book activities and I had bought Charlie quite a good looking maths book to work on while we are away. They are back in the pool again now, playing Marco Polo with a bunch of middle school kids that have arrived – we thi k they are form an international school, but the kids will fill us in later.

An early start tomorrow, 0430 for breakfast then the 0515 bus for me, 0545 for the others, for my 0630 race start (oh, there are the race jitters kicking in), and 0730 for my fun running family. Gran found a friend today – a lady called Kathy who Iives in Angola now but has a house in Houston – who saw us getting off the shuttle, so knew we were part of the Wild Frontiers group for the marathon and asked if she was walking the fun run. She has a sore ankle so will be walking and was so excited to find a potential buddy!

02 Mar

Tanzania : Day 2

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / March 2, 2013 / 0 Comments

Thoughts from Tory
After our ‘english breakfast’ of toast (somewhat sweet bread, seems common throughout the world trying to provide western bread – much sweeter than commercial bread at home, but perhaps the same as cheap bread in America), scrawny bacon, weenie wieners, anaemic scrambled eggs, cereal on offer, deep fried eggy bread, fresh mango, teeny bananas, watermelon, mango and papaya juices, we sent the kids for a swim before walking into town.

The walk was described as only being 10 minutes, but took over an hour.  Despite the fact that we walk at double the pace of any of the locals! We walked along the dusty road, occasionally being choked by diesel fumes again, but waving to passers by.  

Moshi town is messy and primitive, but we found a bank to collect some Tanzania Shillings from, organized a vodacom sim card for the phone, served by the ‘data expert’ who signed us up. He then proceeded to cut down a standard size SIM card for a pair of rusty scissors so that it would fit the iPhone, and guess what it worked perfectly the second it was put in the phone! Much better than our experience in NY. We asked where to eat lunch, and were directed to the Tanzanian Coffee House, where we saw our greatest concentration of western tourists so far. The kids were pretty happy to see regular food, so we did eat there. $50 for lunch today for 6 of us, about the same as dinner at the hotel last night. Cheaper than home, but not local pricing. 

We were beset by hawkers when we tried to look for a map – they are not handed out here like in other parts of the world. We started at a tourist centre, but he had none.  A man said he could get one for us, and led us down to his souvenir shop to wait while a map was found. His friend wanted over $25 for the regular tourist style map, so we declined, but the bead seller, wrist band seller, and painting seller surrounded us showing off their wares. This was the kids first exposure to hawking – trying to teach them to be a little savvy, even though I know we are being had. 

We did buy a couple of pictures from Ben, a man running a stall a few meters down the road from the hotel whom we met at the start of our walk. Our kids liked him and his manner and insisted that we go back there and buy a picture from him. So we did – a picture for each of the kids rooms. I’m hoping they’ll transport ok. We’ll see. No bargain there, paying $70 for the two, but the kids liked them, and we were happy to support him. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? 

The kids are playing together beautifully, enjoying the pool while we are here, and are fascinated by the differences here – the people, the roads, the cars (all right hand drive, so same as at home, but old and often crappy), the food, the buildings. They have commented that people are so friendly – waving and saying hello as we pass (‘not like in Adelaide’), converting money to work out if something is good value or not, and not once complaining about a 4 hour walk in the heat and dust. Playing in the pool, they made friends with a couple of local boys (young men) who had been ‘picked up’ by a group of 3 English backpackers. They all played happy rough games – throwing them in, doing tricks (one handed hopping hand stands) and having a load of splashy fun. Very sweet to watch. 

Another early night after dinner in the hotel – $40 for 6 of us, with the kids all eating well before settling down to sleep by 8, utterly exhausted after 6 hrs in the pool, a 5 hr trip to town, mostly on foot, and some quieter playtime. They’re having an awesome time and it is so cool to be here with them. 

Thoughts from Charlie
Highlights for me was dealing with the ‘Data Expert’ and his scissors and ability to get the job done. It seems in Africa it’s about working with what you’ve got. We saw a couple of men walking down the road, one with a car door balancing on his head, another with a car bumper – off to see the ‘scrappy’. Probably enough metal for a meal or fuel for their own cars.

I loved all the motorbikes you see here. They are their pride and joy. 125cc Hondas or Toyos. Blinged up with chrome and anodised mirrors. Sometimes carting 2m lengths of steel, sometimes a friend, sometimes half their family. Another standout mode of transport are old Toyota hi-ace vans. These to are covered in rapper’s names or adidas logos with Rastafarian stripes and mostly used as make-shift taxis, all you need to do is wave your arm and you can pile into the van with 19 other people and their goods.

Another highlight was Ben the art salesman. He is a Masai man, who against his fathers wishes, left his village to go to school and get educated. He did, and since then his brothers have got an education and have gone into ‘business’ for themselves. He talked to us about Masai life and his life helping young artists sell their paintings . His Unicef polo shirt was well worn and held a clipboard full of young artists that he supported. He also painted and he proudly pointed out the pieces of art that he created. His back story was amazing and he delivered it so passionately, i was slightly annoyed at myself for no thinking to film or capture it. But sometimes these experiences are best, in just listening.

I was allowed to take pictures of his ‘gallery’. It was an abandoned shell of what was once a house, some rooms with old stools covered in paint, a broom to keep the dirt tidy. All very humbling. 

As we were waiting for the pictures to be removed from the frames a thunderstorm cracked above the tin roof and the heavens opened up. We all (including the kids) ran around picking up his paintings from outside the broken walls and brought them in from the rain. He thanked us and we got our painting wrapped in old newspaper. It was a great end to a sale.

Very tall traditional Coca-Cola bottles.

I think this is why the cars smell so bad.

Quintessential African shot.

Scratchy appears.

Local schoolchildren playing in a 3 wheeler taxi.

The main roundabout into town had a water fountain and hoses where a lot of locals filled their water buckets and barrels to take home. Kids with bikes balancing buckets on their handlebars was the norm.

Inside Ben’s gallery.

The kids posing with Ben and their new pictures.

Ben removing one work from it’s frame.

Old chicken shed through a hole in the wall.

The workshop.

01 Mar

Tanzania : Day 1

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / March 1, 2013 / 0 Comments

Post from Tory
Waking early but needing to stay quiet. Africa is a massive change for the kids. We arrived later afternoon yesterday, around 5.30 pm to our hotel after 33 hrs of active getting to airport type behavior (straight from school, to shower, to grans, to brush hair there (both girls in braids), wait for Charlie, then the taxi, then for Chrisse to drive back with my handbag (and all our passports, left on the back of my car which she is using while I am gone), then to the airport.

Next, we check our 6 bags through to central east Africa, have a drink at the coopers bar while the kids explore the airport, virgin flight to Melbourne, collect boarding passes for the remainder of the journey from Qatar airlines, find some dinner, go through customs (have half a tube of toothpaste confiscated because it was a 120g tube originally, thus too big for the gel and liquid laws), wait for delayed flight, manage to keep all kids sane on 14 hr leg to Doha, transfer quickly to flight to Dar Es Salaam, watch thousands of kilometers of desert from 33 000 feet that gradually change to some greenery as we get to Southern Kenya and Tanzania, dried river beds snaking their way through the sand, sharp ridges, occasional signs of human life below (roofs, occasional road), a glimpse of Zanzibar and turquoise waters from above, and we land in Dar es Salaam.  

We wait on the plane for an hour, the kids play UNO, then we take off again for the final leg that takes us to Kilimanjaro airport. Watching out the window at the tin roofs, incomplete buildings, shanty towns and dry dusty roads of Dar, over increasingly lush forest and small fields, seeing small stand alone hills and the red dirt, comparing this ancient land to Australia – so similar in so many ways, seeing Kilimanjaro rising out of the plain, shrouded in haze and cloud, and a smooth landing at JRO. 

We take stairs off the plane, walk across the tarmac, a man at the door checks our yellow fever certificate, another sends us to fill in immigration cards, then through passport control (only about 30 people on the flight) to our bags that made it all in 1 piece!  A young man comes up with a trolley to help us with our bags, only a few meters to the door, where we find our bus driver to get us to the hotel.  The road is sealed, but there are speeds bumps fairly regularly, so our pace is never above 60 kph. Dust blows in the open windows, poorly refined diesel fumes fill the air and we drive for 45 mins along the road between Arusha and Moshi. People walk along the road – kids in near school uniform, most wearing jumpers on this 33 degree day, women carrying bags and buckets on their heads, shepherds with their goats and cows, some dressed in the red cloaks of the Masaai, drinking at little bars – open flat roofed 3 walled lean to buildings, made from scrap, with a large ‘Tusker’ sign out the front, all the way to Moshi. We saw no tourists along the main street, so wonder where the main part of Moshi is that the trekkers visit. 

We arrived at the Keys hotel, several 2 story buildings, basic and clean, and get to our rooms – 3 twin bed rooms, pine beds, mosquito nets over each, rickety shower, squeaky fan on the wall.  The pool is deep, warm, And we all pile in, trying not to disturb the 4 young trekkers reclining in the fading sun. Dinner didnt come quite fast enough – Africa time applies so food ordered for 7.00, arrived at 7.45 when all three kids eyes were hanging out of their heads!  Luca managed 4 bites before going to bed, Milla about the same, followed by Gran, then little Charlie. We finished up, paid for dinner ($50 for 6 of us in the hotel restaurant), then bed. Not much sleep, however, so today will be a long one. 

Post from Charlie.

Nothing much to add from Tory’s observations above. The beer is cold, the bed at our hotel is comfortable and the weather is great. Ive encouraged the kids to bring along a toy of which they can take photos of in-situ along our African journey. Toy chosen, Scratchy from the Simpsons! Perfect! So if you see a toy cat pop up then u know the back story. 

Doho, Qatar. 
A quick stretch of the legs after a 14hr leg, and then back on for another 7hrs.

On the way to Dar Es Saalem. 
Scratchy makes his appearance.

Through airport security and on our way to Moshi under the billboard advertising the marathon.

On the way to Moshi from the Airport, a Masai herder and her cows.

29 Oct

New York Holiday : Day 1

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / October 29, 2011 / 0 Comments

After a few too many beers at Uncle Vern’s house last night, Im now sitting in the 1862 Bar at the airport trying to muscle down a Coopers Clear. Feels like Ive forgotten something – but I guess that is always the way when getting ready to leave the country. Today Im flying from Adelaide to meet Tory in Brisvegas. We will then leave for NY Sunday morning so Tory can run the race of her life in the Big Apple. Im looking forward to the trip with some trepidation as I saw on the weather channel this morning that it snowed this morning and my wardrobe of ‘snow’ friendly clothes is lean to say the least. Having said that it will be 14º during the week – so Im expecting cold Adelaide winter weather for the whole time. That’s doable and besides I think we will be in shoe shops and restaurants most the time – so all good. Speaking of lean of managed to only take 1 body and 2 lenses for this trip as opposed to the 16kg of camera gear I took to Iceland. Oh and my Holga so I can hopefully get some ‘art’.

04 Sep

Day 14 : Our full day in Paris

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / September 4, 2010 / 0 Comments

After a 9hr sleep in Paris, it was time to begin day 2 in this wonderful city. The weather was forecast to be 20º and sunny. After a predictable Parisian hotel breakfast of bread, ham, cheese, yoghurt and croissants we headed on our way. Our first stop was to the shopping mall, Galleries Lafayette. An increasingly sprawling network of old buildings linked together by overhead covered gangways. Each building catering for each requirement. There was the womens fashion, perfumery and fashion séduction (lingerie), mens fashion and ‘David Jones-esque’ food hall and so on. It is an amazing building inside with stain glass windows, vaulted dome ceiling and all the opulence by an bygone era. First stop was the fashion séduction level so Tory could browse for some new sexy undergarments. The selection was to the horizon. Every shape, colour, style and fabric was catered for. The change-rooms even catered for men, with each booth, a comfortable a pink ottoman awaited. Quite the ‘experience’. Some choice numbers were selected, paid for, tax free refund was collected and we made our way to the men’s building. After walking the several levels we were soon convinced that french men dressed like girls and besides that, the size XL did not exist.

Next mission was to find the food market area (Rue Montorgueil) as described in a book that Tory recently finished, ‘Almost French’ and also described in an article I read in the Weekend Australian before our departure. After some very good navigating via the map we found the district and it didn’t disappoint. We purchased a selection of cheese from a Frommagerié which included goat, sheep and cow milk variants. Some beautiful ham (Jambon) from little Italian Deli, a Tradtionalé Baguette and 2 punnets of raspberries. All that was left was the champagne. After some extra exploring we found a place that had all the best French in a fridge, chilling down. It seemed ‘right’ to get the Moét as we were in Paris. Lucky for us they sold glasses. We weaved our way around to the Louvre and found a lovely spot on the grass of the Jardin du Carosel (ohmigod – allowed on the grass in Paris?!?!?!!?!?) to sit and enjoy our lunch. A lightheaded champagne-y walk through the gardens, then to the d’Orsay for a look there. We got there just in time for a tour, and after our experience at the Orangerie yesterday where all signage was in french, we thought it would be a good option. The tour took us past only a dozen or so pictures and sculptures, but the basic art history lesson was very interesting.

We then walked through the back streets again, again marveling at just how French the buildings and streetscapes are, before getting to the Musee Rodin. We opted for just a wander around the garden, which this week is free as they are doing some building work in the garden, so it is not as peaceful as it could be.

We tossed up going to the catacombs, in the dying minutes of the day, but decided that after 26 km of walking so far today, our feet had had enough. We caught the metro back home, and rested up for dinner – an afternoon of texts home to Mike (armed with a computer and internet) and to Michelle (for her memory after Mike’s googling skills didn’t quite get where we want) and we asked our concierge to book a table for us at Chez Francoise – the restaurant in the old Air France terminal.

Chez Francoise was the locale for our wrap party over 2 years ago when we were shooting a travel doco. In between the haze of the night I remember it being a cozy, out of the way, French Restaurant. It is downstairs of the old Air France Terminal. Long before school dropouts with towels for hats decided to set light to their shoes and bring down planes, you could actually check-in to your flights in the city, hand over your luggage and then make your way to the airport. The old terminal still houses some car rental offices, but other than that it is mostly empty.

The restaurant was French the whole way, we guessed our menu items (Foie Gras was easy, aubergine with chevre was manageable, De Carnard – Duck and Grilé Bouefe – Grilled Steak), ordered a bottle of wine from Burgandy and enjoyed the atmosphere. We quietly poked fun at the rich upper middle class French types, tanned like buffalo leather and draped in gold and expensive glasses. Clearly several tables of clientele just arriving back from their mediterranean holidays, when in August 30% of French locals disappear on holidays. It was a great romantic 3 course meal and at just under $200 seemed like a perfect way to almost end our holiday of holidays.

04 Sep

Day 13 : Travel to Paris

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / September 4, 2010 / 0 Comments

An early start for the 5am taxi to the airport, and we get there just before the buses. A quick check in, and some breakfast in “Europe’s Favourite Airport” (still expensive food, rest assured) and we board our plane for Paris. Cannot believe how much carry on luggage people get away with – handbag plus hiking sized rucksack plus IKEA sized shopping bags, on you go, sure you can stow it overhead!

We arrive at CDG (probably Europes least favourite airport) and wait over an hour for the bags to come through. No customs check, no passport check, and no stamps for us from iceland nor france. Bit sad really – probably my next passport will just be a card rather than bothering with pages. And on to the trains.

Charlie was a bit horrified with my approach. I figure – I have to walk for a long way – with my dodgy shoulder I can’t carry much in my right hand for long so the handbag is slung across my body, the big pack is assembled for my back, and the little pack is across my front, koala style. Hands free for train tickets and maps. Perfect. Just not pretty. Chuck had to drag his bag – turns out not only do wheels suck going up or down stairs, they also suck on the footpath. Fearlessly navigating the metro and the streets, we change at Gare du Nord, then pop out at Galleries LaFayette for the walk to our hotel. Through the crowds at 3pm on a monday, trying to get orientated so I know which direction to go in. We get there, and lug our gear the remaining few hundred metres to St Augustin’s hotel.

We walked out towards Place de la Concorde, enjoying the Parisian streets and the glorious autumn weather – 18 degrees and sunny. Lots of places are closed on mondays – we need to remember that for next time 🙂 Jeu de Paume, a photography museum in the Jardin des Tuilleries isn’t open, nor the Orsay, but the Orangerie is – so we went in there to admire Monet’s waterlillies, commissioned especially for the building. They are huge. And beautiful. Our plan for the evening was to get to the Eiffel Tower, so we crossed the river and sat in a little bar, finding out first hand the price difference between not only the ‘terrace’ vs inside, but the tables vs the bar – twice the cost in some instances. Wandering the backstreets, as we get to the Invalides, Charlie spots the old Aerogard Air France – there used to be an Air France terminal, right in the middle of town, where you could check in for your flight, then travel out to the airport and board. Very civilized. He had enjoyed a dinner there on his last (work) visit to Paris, so we decided to try to eat there tomorrow.

According to my trusty Lonely Planet guide, there was a casual bistro on level 1 of the tower. We thought we’d try there. The girl at the information desk laughed at me after I enquired which Pillier to go up, and she asked if I had a booking. Oh well. Trusty guide book also suggested the new restaurant at the Musee de Quai Branly – the museum of the colonies, with the plants all over the outside wall. Not open mondays. We ended up at one of the tourist trap brasseries that are on most corners, in a room filled only with foreigners. Not quite the experience we were after, but the food was nice enough, and the service was good. We walked back to the Eiffle Tower. I had never been up it, so we wanted to do it at night. The line up was 45 mins or so, in the increasingly chill air,and as we made our way up, it got windier and colder. We were the only ones wearing t shirts (bloody Australians) and half the others had parkas on! The view was pretty cool, though.

We crossed the Pont d’Alma, took a pic at Diana’s flame (tomorrow is the 13 year anniversary of her death in this tunnel) and caught the metro home 3 stops.

04 Sep

Day 12 : Reykjavik

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / September 4, 2010 / 0 Comments

A nice quiet start to our last day in Reykjavik – a sunday morning, nothing would be open before 11 or 12, and we have already done 400km excess on the and are a little worried how much we will get penalised for that. Operation sort out the car is commenced, and the final packup done in the light rain (just like northern scotland, really). We try to follow the guidebook which directs us to the 5 star restaurant at the Hilton, only 2 blocks away, where there is meant to be an amazing sunday brunch. Nope, no longer. So we head into town, searching for a cafe. We settle down in a delightful cafe on the main street (very much like Rundle St with its high end fashion, many cafes and bars and a few tourist shops). The cafe was playing Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, the timber floors and white painted timber window seats and columns and waitresses in cute aprons. What drew us in, however, was the menu – Charlie opted for a taster plate with Minke Whale steak, garlic lobster, fish stew and dries fish. I opted for the chicken salad – it was promised to be served with lots of vegetables. The plates arrived – a palm sized hunk of whale meat, surprisingly dark in colour (liver coloured, practically) but tasting very much like beef steak, tasty lobster bits, a very fishy white fish stew and dried fish that tasted like fish flavoured coir matting. The chicken salad was a little scary with a mango curry sauce drenching the small chicken pieces on a salad with rockmelon (!)

We walked down to the Reykjavik Museum of Photography in the city library. The exhibition there today was one put on by a man around our age, with photos by his grandfather, up to 60 years ago.

After meeting Agust, our car man, to hand back the car and settle the account (he originally wanted to charge us 600 Euro excess, but we talked it down to 400 Euro – still almost $600) and checked into our hotel room. After freshening up, we spent the afternoon exploring a local sculpture garden (amazingly gothic bronzes by Einar Jonsson) up on the hill near the big big church (looking imposing against the white cloud today), then settled into a bookstore – one of the 12 best in Europe, having an enormous coffee in the cafe, and uploading all the while. Free wifi in nearly every cafe and bar in town.

Dinner was at one of the fancy restaurants in town, and on tonights menu – more local specialities. After seeing all those sheep, we had to try the lamb, and our cab driver on the first day had told us that young horse was the best local meat. SO – the lamb and the foal it was. And they were both excellent, washed down with a french wine.

My favourite bar in Iceland. Very Exceter-esque.

30 Aug

Day 10 : Skogarfoss to the golden circle, via Eyjafjalljokull

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / August 30, 2010 / 0 Comments

After some early (and cold!!) shots of the waterfall here, we drove around to Seljandsfoss – a beautiful water fall that we are able to walk behind. We realise the best shots would have been last night into the setting sun, but it was not to be. A few hundred metres up the road, we find a waterfall hidden behind a small canyon, then continue up the road to Thorsmork. This is a beautiful area, and the end point of a 30 km hike from Skogar, or the start point for a 4 day hike to Landmannalaugar. We drive along the river flood plain, all covered in ash from this years eruption. The glacier itself is also almost entirely black with ash, but still steaming in places. It is pretty cool to see this famous volcano up close – but interesting to realise that this volcano is so insignificant compared to its neighbours that it is only named for the glacier on top of it – all glaciers are ‘jokull’, and all the big glaciers have at least one volcano underneath – Vatnajokull has 5 active ones. Katla is under Myrdaljokull and is one of the big ones due to go at anytime – it usually follows Eyjafjalljokull by a matter of months, and Hekla nearby is also due to go off around now.

The road to Thorsmork disappeared under the river near the hut and start point of walks, and after consulting the guide book we decided that what was on offer was not worth this deeper and scarier looking river crossing – we did around a dozen anyway, and the last few had been deeper than we liked. The wide flood plain was covered in deep ash, and there were extensive road works in places, obviously repairing damage sustained this year. All the bridges around here are very simple affairs – I guess the Icelandic philosophy is to build the bridge strong enough for the traffic, knowing it will need to be rebuilt after flood or volcano damage, rather than trying to withstand these enormous natural forces.

After making our way back to the Ring Rd, we keep heading west, towards Reykjavic. We stop for some fuel (all $2 per litre – more than at home, but really, petrol in Europe was $2 per litre 15 years ago, so I figure we are doing ok. Then again, it adds $700 to our costs), and Charlie samples a hotdog – a dog wrapped in bacon, with crispy fried onion, raw onion, mustard and tomato sauce. He wanted to get three! Interestingly, our purchase of a yogurt, a drink and the hotdog is only $6.50 – we are starting to think we have had the wool pulled over our eyes – Australia is actually getting really expensive.

Mind you, had we been here 2 years ago, the exchange rate was much worse – $1 is 100 kronur – very easy conversion, but then, $1 was only 50 kronur – petrol would have been $4 per litre. Ouch!! At Selfoss, we turn inland, but get distracted by yet another modern church. This one is the traditional shape, clad in blue tin, with enormous rectangular windows capturing the view and the sunlight. When we stop the car to have a look around, we can hear a woman singing inside – very operatic style. Another magical moment. Continuing on towards Gullfoss, one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland.

We have perfect weather – sun, big clouds, a rainbow arching through the mist over the falls, and all captured in megapixels. A beautiful setting, with a raging, roiling river disappearing through a narrow canyon below. Next stop is Geysir – the original geysir for which all others are named. Sadly, she doesn’t blow anymore. In the 1950’s, some tourists threw rocks into it, blocking the water flow. It has spouted water a few times since, but only for a time after local earthquakes (we were told yesterday that there are 30 – 100 earthquakes measured in Iceland everyday, but most are smaller than we can feel. Mind you, we both thought we felt one last night). Fortunately, it’s little sister, Strokkur, erupts every 5 – 8 minutes. We watch the steaming water eddy and bubble, before a big blue bulge appears and it erupts, many stories high (I can’t really tell, but it looked to be more than 4 stories). A couple of spouts that we saw were followed quickly by another smaller spout – perhaps house high. A very spectacular little geothermal field.

We then make our way to Thingvellir – one of the most important historical and natural sites in the country. This was the site of the original parliament, in a natural amphitheatre. It is also an area where there are many fissures and cracks, again the result of the these two northern tectonic plates pulling apart. The campsite here is surprisingly barren – no power, but free hot showers and a free washing machine. We are huddled in the laundry room because it is the only place with a powerpoint! And it is warm. With no power, our heating in the van won’t blow for long, so we’ll save that for bed time. We have done 2500km in our car so far, some of the wheels look a bit haggard after some of the terrible roads we have traversed, and our fridge smells evil, but we have had a great time. Tomorrow – a walk around here, and we’ll make our way back towards Reykjavic, the blue lagoon, ready to return the car on sunday.

Strokur Geysir about to blow!

In the shadow of the Eyjafjallajokull, the plain is littered with boulders from past erutptions.

The floodplain under Eyjafjallajokull. Notice the ash still in the foreground.

Steam rising from Eyjafjallajokull. The black areas is actually the Glacier covered in ash.

29 Aug

Day 9 – Skaftafell, Glacier hike, Jokulsarlon boat ride and a drive to Skogar

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / August 29, 2010 / 0 Comments

After showering (these times 5 minute showers are feeling long now – no need to rush so much!), packing up and moving the car, we joined Glacier Guides for a drive to one of the local glacier tongues for a 7 km hike on the ice. With crampons strapped to our feet, harnesses around our hips (just in case) and orange helmets on our heads (also, just in case), we walked up the glacier, learning about black ice (a volcanic ash layer from past eruptions, it protects the ice so it will melt slower here), the flow of the glacier (it is melting at 10 cm or so per day from the surface, and moves downhill about a metre per day), crevasses (which form where the slope is steeper and the flow is faster, and then close up again where the slope is less steep). Stunning to see.

We were supplied with a ham cheese salad sandwich and an orange fruitbox on the ice, then made our way across the ice before heading back down after a 4 hour tour. (It was funny to just get handed them – no choice, no enquiry as to allergies or preferences. Just some lunch, supplied, as per the brochure.) A short drive to Jokulsarlon for an amphibious boat ride amongst the icebergs. This time, we drove further along the road and over a bridge across Iceland’s shortest river (it is maybe 50m long, from the lagoon to the sea), that had small icebergs in it, and some washed on the black sandy beach.

On the way back to the national park, we pulled over at another glacier, also with a lagoon in front. This one was used for tours earlier in the summer, using Zodiac boats to get across to the ice. Unfortunately, where ever they parked the boats, invariably the icebergs would drift to ice it in, so they had abandoned these tours until next year, when they will have 2 boats that can be moored on 2 different parts of the shore.

After a full day’s turing and exploring it was back to the carpark to pick up the camper and head west to the small town of Skogar where we would camp. On the way we passed through Vik to photograph the famous church high upon a hill in the middle of town. In the last eruption is this area the church was the only building to survive as the floodwater and lava rumbled down the hill. Next stop was Dyrholaey, a small headland along the beach with a large natural arch that rose from the sea flow. Some nice photos of the arch and accompanying lighthouse completed this leg.

We arrived at Skogar after sunset to setup up camp in the shadow of the waterfall, Skogarfoss, nestled at the base of Eyjafjalljokull. Dinner was a simple affair of cup-o-soup and noodles as we listened to the hundreds of sheep in the paddock nearby bleating late into the night. Another long day of hiking, driving and sightseeing. It is now dawning on us that the adventure is very quickly winding up and we will be to home soil in no time.

Moving icebergs with the Zodiac.

Icecave, formed by the flowing meltwater.

Chipping out ‘steps’ from the glacier.

Samplng the purest water in Iceland. At .5º it was ‘fresh’

Sexxy crampons.

The view from our camper.