I have learnt many thing on my course this week. For instance, I now know that using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) ‘bicycle’ is spelt like this:
That’s so cool! It looks a bit Russian to me.
/oʊld grin ˈbaɪsɪkəl/
Any ideas what these means? (The picture should give you a clue)
I’ve not really had much time to think about the Trip this week because a few ducks that have been swimming about just out of reach have recently formed a nice neat row and taken flight. This makes it sound like the ducks organised themselves but of course this was not the case and the current alignment took a fair bit of project management (a fancy term for nagging). The ducks I am referring to are:
- the intensive CELTA (teaching English as a foreign language) course that I start tomorrow and which runs for four INTENSIVE weeks,
- my new job, which I start immediately after finishing the course,
- and finally, but not least, getting my bathroom painted and ventilation installed before my life goes on steroids as I attack the first two items.
This week has been challenging and I have uncovered a few ‘take home messages’, which include:
- As soon as you find a job, other job offers materialise in a veritable downpour of options making life complex and emotionally fraught;
- Finding a painter that actually exists (you know this because they call you back) and is a real carbon life form (you know this because they actually turn up) and can paint (you know this because they actually have some AND put it on your walls) is nothing less than a miracle;
- Twelve hours before your course starts is not too late for the painting to be finished, and it still satisfies the statement ‘I will get the bathroom sorted while I’m off work’;
- Homework is still unpleasant when you’re a grown up. But on the plus side, your old school satchel is now ineffably cool and you can bet that no one else will turn up to class with a vintage satchel from ‘England, World, Universe’.
The intensive course will probably mean that I won’t have time to write a post for the next few weeks. Instead, I’ll be writing essays. I suppose I could post those but I’m not sure how entertaining they’ll be to read. Perhaps I will post the highlights … if there are any! I do have to write some ‘reflection’ pieces so that could unearth a gem or two.
Once I’ve finished the course, I start my new job as a Learning Technology Specialist. It all sounds very interesting but has also thrown me a curved ball. During my job hunt I very specifically searched on ‘Auckland Central’. I am a central city type of person. Having once worked on an industrial estate in the middle of nowhere many years ago, I clearly identified a couple of ‘must haves’ for any future employment – central city and smart offices. My job searches on Seek interestingly turned up a few wild cards and revealed that Massey University … in Albany, considers themselves to be ‘central city’. Similarly, an establishment in Christchurch (can you believe) is also under that illusion, and to top it off even an organisation in Saudi Arabia believes themselves to be just shy of Auckland CBD … now that’s one hell of a bus journey if you ask me. I did a search on the Auckland Transport MAXX website to see what number bus took that route but nothing turned up (surprise!).
Well my new job HAD both these requirement when I went to the interviews, central city – tick, smart offices – tick. However once I was hooked, it transpired that they were moving to the North Shore (so I can’t cycle) … to a box … on an industrial estate. AAAARGH! Truth be told, it is only just over the Harbour Bridge and the ‘box’ is quite smart, and it is not really a very ‘industrial’ estate … so we shall see.
A friend alerted me to this video the other day. It is about some people touring in the Netherlands at Easter, and interestingly one of them has the same Brompton/Radical trailer set up we are intending to use. The accompanying post also mentions the freezing weather with days hovering around 0C and the nights at -5C.
It’s still not warm enough for me yet, although they did say it was unusually cold …
Hamilton is excellent! …. which was quite a surprise because the general response to our travel plans was “why?”, or “oh dear” closely followed by “why?”.
To answer this question I have been explaining about the gear shake down and the availability of a train plus hotel plus campground. However, I can now also add : some amazing gardens, a very nice little town, a gorgeous river and a very pleasant Main Street with a good variety of restaurants and cafes. To sum up, we had a very nice time and enjoyed Hamilton thoroughly. There were of course some low points but isn’t there always.
The trip down was a little more eventful than we first planned as I received an email from NZTA saying that all the train lines were shut down in Auckland over Easter due to electrification work. This didn’t quite fit with our confirmed train booking so I did some investigation and was told that our train would look very much like a coach for the first part of the journey and would then revert to the more traditional train type of train journey once we got to Middlemore. Looking on the bright side, being an optimist by nature, I decided that this was excellent news as it would allow us to shake down the on/off coach capabilities of our trailers as well. The Husband was not amused. It had already taken a great deal of ‘salesmanship’ to get this hare-brained plan ‘approved’ in the first place, so the ‘coach’ news was not well received. I do have to sympathise. We were traveling on a driverless electric underground metro system some twenty years ago in Lille, France, and it is very tiresome (and a little unbelievable) that Auckland has only recently decided that ‘this electric train thing might actually be a good idea’. Of course, they are still not totally convinced about these new-fangled tunnel things that you can use to make trains go underground. I wonder how many decades it will be before the idea of automated driverless trains occurs? It just seems so 19th century to shut down the complete Auckland rail system for days at a time.
I can report that the trailers go very successfully on and off both trains and coaches with not a murmur from any officialdom, even with the wheels still attached. The train was superb with excellent food, comfortable seats and even your very own power socket!
We arrived and took a very circuitous route from the train station to the town by virtue of getting lost. During this time, we made the relationship decision that when traveling the words ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ would be banned. Statements such as “I think your idea was preferable” and “That decision might have been flawed” would replace the highly inflammatory “you were wrong and I was right” statements. We are, of course, still working on this … it may take some time. We also decided that handles are necessary for these occasions so I have added ‘order handles‘ to my ToDo list.
We booked into our hotel room, which was very large but also a bit tired. The curtains did not draw fully and there was no soundproofing between us and Hamilton’s boy racer circuit, a.k.a the main street. Luckily we could pull out our ‘we’re CBD Aucklanders’ version of the famous ‘That’s not a knife, this is a knife’ Crocodile Dundee quote. Living in the central city, we have cultivated the ability to sleep through major boy racer drag races, drunken fights, lunatic arguments between drug addicts and their hallucinations and even the much louder relationship breakdowns that always seem to come to a head at 4am right below our apartment window.
We picked up the bikes from Veloexpresso, which turned out to be excellent brand new and stylish Schwinn Coffee and Cream city bikes, and rode them back to the hotel. All was now set for the most excellent adventure. We did a little cruising around and checked out the river and the local architecture, bought some provisions for the next days camping and took advantage of some of the excellent cafes and restaurants.
Our beautiful bikes
Local architecture – someone somewhere decided that what this villa really needed was a block work extension!
During a particularly fine cup of coffee, the Husband came up with a completely new concept that I think has some excellent applications. Having a mild ‘senior moment’, he replaced the word Lycra with Velcro and came up with the idea of a ‘Velcro cyclist’. Instantly I could see the possibilities. Image how useful it would be to new cyclists that have trouble staying on their bike. Carrying stuff would be a breeze, just slap it on to your furry outfit and it sticks. Say good bye to slippy pedals and drafts gaps would be a thing of the past … the applications are endless.
The next morning we headed over to the camp ground and set up camp. We put up the tent but the Husband was not happy – something about feng shui. So we repitched in a slightly different place. The ground was very hard because of the drought so we bent several of our special extra strong cross-style tent pegs and the Husband had a special Easter manifestation. The Husband, being a man, chose to push the pegs in with his hand rather than using the handy rock we had found. Presumably, using the rock demonstrated some sort of manly weakness, or perhaps it was just plain stupidity. Either way, the result was a bloody cross branded into his palm. It was Easter Sunday after all.
The camping went well. The trailers once again performed admirably and went in and out of the tent vestibule like anything. We ended up removing the wheels and stacking them up on top of each other.
In this configuration, I think all of the luggage including the folded bikes would fit very neatly.
We also tried out liquid fuel with the multi-fuel stove this time around. The Husband read the instructions, a decision based purely on his ability to see the tiny writing, and I followed them. It worked very well and was not any where near as scary as the 50 page instruction booklet (10 of which were dedicated to ‘Hazards’) would lead you to believe.
The weather was mixed with a little bit of everything, which was quite useful for our purposes. The main environmental problem was flies. I haven’t seen so many since we lived in Australia, they were everywhere and extremely persistent. Living in an apartment, we don’t deal with insect life very much at all. We might find one fly a year that has managed to navigate the central city and find its way into our apartment building. I spent quite some time one evening trying to capture two flies and evict them from the tent without gaining any new immigrants during the process.
On the Monday we went over to the Hamilton gardens and were thoroughly impressed. We spent hours exploring and discovered some beautiful places. It gave us the opportunity to shake down the strolling around, taking photos and commenting on the planting that we will need to do on our Trip. I think we’re ready.
There were little touches of Europe scattered about:
Monet’s garden at Giverny perhaps?
The Tuileries in Paris? (if you squint a bit)
Unfortunately, the last day dissolved into an argument (about nothing) that wasn’t resolved until the journey home. We eventually came to the conclusion that the equipment was performing admirably and without fail it had done what it said on the tin. The bigger problem we had was the organic part of the trip, ourselves. We have resolved to work on some communication tactics because after extensive testing of the fight and flight techniques we have used over the last 20 years, we have decided they don’t work and we need an alternative approach. We thought we might try talking to each other. I know it’s radical, but were going to give it a go.
We took a taxi back to the station … just to check it out, of course. And the trailers went in and out like anything!
The cutlery roll was excellent and I was extremely pleased with my handiwork. The pyjamas were spot on and even though the camp ground was not invaded (except by flies) I felt comfortably prepared.
Contrary to my predictions, everything fitted into our bags and the trailers with ease and there was plenty of space left over. I feel confident that we will have plenty of room for a years worth of belongings. The only tweak I would make it to add some bags to separate different types of belongings – a bag for tops and one for bottoms for instance. The duffle bags are excellent but are prone to chaos as there are no separate areas within them. This freaked out the Husband a little as I was writing an ‘equipment tweaks’ list and one entry was ‘separation bags’. Out of context, it looked very much like I was preparing for relationship outcome number two. The only worry I have with the separation bags is that it may become a Russian doll equivalent in packing, where you have so many bags within bags that you end up with more ‘container’ than ‘contents’.
A few weeks ago when we were camping at Goat island I discovered that what I’ve been calling ‘testing’ is also known as a ‘shake down’. An interesting man with a curious accent (Irish blended with kiwi and American, I think) was pitched next to us and we struck up a conversation about this and that. During our conversation he started talking about our shake down and also about his own shake down experiences, some of which were in the army. I nodded (as one does) as if I knew what he was talking about and made the assumption that it was an ‘Irish thing’, and ‘army thing’ or that I wasn’t understanding the words correctly and he was saying something completely different. I would imagine he gets this quite often on account of his accent. Back in Auckland, I did a bit of googling and found that the term ‘shake down’ can mean three quite different things:
- Extortion of money, as by blackmail.
- A thorough search of a place or person.
- A period of appraisal followed by adjustments to improve efficiency or functioning.
I am assuming that blackmail was not the subject of our conversation and that I haven’t inadvertently promised to drop a bag of money in a dustbin somewhere. Similarly, there appeared to be no thorough searching involved … I would have noticed that, so option 3 it is. We will now ‘shake down’ rather than test from this point forward as it removes the pass/fail connotation of ‘testing’ and thereby subtly states that failure is not an option. I think there is a ‘military’ theme running through this weeks post.
We have decided to ramp up the shake down for the next trip and venture into eccentric territory, where onlookers might perceive us to be completely mad, or at least a little deranged. The main problem we have encountered, as regular readers will know, is that we don’t yet have the Bromptons that our trailers require so we have been camping with a car instead of bikes, and cycling on our regular bikes with panniers rather than towing the trailers. This has left the trailers completely untested. This is a bit of a worry as the trailers will play a big part in our Trip. So, thinking outside the square, we have decided to ‘be the bicycle’ on the next trip. It all sounds very zen … and maybe it will be …
Essentially the plan is that we will shake down the trailers by towing them in the ’people with bags’ mode rather than the ’cycle tourists’ mode, which should highlight any problems in this area. However, just to complicate matters, we will also be hiring bicycles to get around … just not with the trailers attached. It will be like cycle touring that’s a little bit broken. We are going to hire bicycles from Velo Espresso so that we can have a look around the wonders of Hamilton. Unfortunately, this will mean that when we move from hotel to camp and then back to town, it will have to be done twice – once with the trailers and then again with the bicycles. This is going to be a bit tedious, but I think the benefit of having bikes out weighs the inconvenience.
The plan is to take the train to Hamilton with the trailers, thereby shaking them down (not really sure if ’shake down’ can be a verb, but hey ho) in an on/off trains scenario. We will then stay in a hotel for the first night, checking the in/out-ness of the trailers around built accommodation. And finally, we will spend the last two nights on a campground to see how they work with the tent.
This will also be a good shake down of capacity because we have just plain cheated on the camping trips we have done to date. Substituting a car for a bicycle enables a few comfort items to be thrown in, just in case … I’m sure you know how it goes. I do think that this is going to be quite a shock for us. My general rule of thumb is that you need the same amount of stuff for a week or a year so packing for 4 days SHOULD mean that we have a bit of space left over. BUT, in reality I think we are going to struggle to get everything in the trailers, even though they seemed quite large when they arrived.
This trip will also shake down camping in cooler weather. So far, our trips have been during lovely warm temperatures but the night are getting cooler now and I am a little concerned about being warm enough. Last time I had a cold head and shoulders during the night but hopefully I have fixed this with the addition of a few specialised nightwear items. My previous nightwear was not very ‘outdoorsy’ shall we say. This this time I am taking a beanie (not the bunnies sitting on your head version as I haven’t started knitting this yet) and some pyjamas. I picked up the pyjamas in the Smith and Caughey sale and they are THE perfect camping PJs. The fabric is green with grey flowers and is almost a styley version of the camouflage fabric that army types wear. I will blend into the environment beautifully and with the added benefit of being primed and ready in case I fancy a bit of bird watching on the way to the bathroom block or the campground is suddenly invaded. I don’t know whether soldiers wear pyjamas but if they do, these would be perfect.
Other new equipment includes a couple of down puffer jackets for the Husband and I. They pack very neatly into one of their pockets, are very light and provide a good level of warmth. The outdoor shops are having their last big sales push for the Easter break trying to clear last years stock before bringing in this years new winter gear. We bought both jackets at a very good price but are consigned to having to live with the stigma of wearing last years styles … somehow I think we’ll cope!
I have also minimised our ’kitchen’ by discarding all of the separate pouches, pockets and bags that the equipment came in and integrating them into the smallest space possible.
I have also resolved the cutlery issues from our last trip by making a utensil role that hold all the bits and pieces for cooking in one place. Hopefully this will work well, create efficiency and reduce the chances of losing bits along the way. We shall see.
Key elements that we don’t yet have are:
- small compact camp lights, so we will need to improvise;
- light weight camp chairs, so we shall have to suffer; and
- the Husband’s pillow, so all hell might break lose!
Have a good Easter and we’ll see you on the other side
This week circumstances have encouraged me to turn my attention to cerebral preparation for the trip. I am now officially ‘unemployed’. Having made the symbolic and real move of resigning from my permanent employment back in July last year when the Trip idea crystallised into a plan, I was then fortunate to have steady contract work up until very recently. However, I am now officially ‘between jobs’ and have been looking for ‘a proper job’. I am torn between jobs that I am qualified for, which are too ‘serious’, and jobs that interest me for which, I have been told, I am over-qualified. This seems quite silly to me and economically unsound. Anyhow, this has given me a little time to think about the long term plan and ‘nut out’ what might be necessary in the up-skilling department.
If you look at the original plan – travel a bit, work a bit and then travel a bit – you’ll notice that there is a ‘work’ component. This is primarily to test out some of the possible next steps (steps 3 & 4 below) after the gap year. The gap year has several ‘exit option‘ that I can see:
- Come back to NZ and carry on as if nothing has happened
- Come back to NZ to work for a while and then go on other extended trips to different places
- Stay in Europe for a couple of years before coming back to NZ
- Stay in Europe permanently
These options also nest inside the bigger picture ‘relationship options‘:
- We get on famously
- We get divorced
- We kill each other – either through marital differences, excessive cycling or by a third party such as a large truck
This probably requires a flow diagramme to fully explain but essentially is goes like this:
- if relationship (1) occurs, then all exit options are possible;
- if relationship (2) occurs, then all exit options are possible in any combination for both the Husband and I separately;
- if relationship (3) occurs, then all exit options (apart from the obvious) are irrelevant.
Then throw into the mix the practical component of language and you conclude that, since it has been 20 years since we lived in France and our French is now seriously rusty, the word ‘Europe’ will need to be exchanged for ‘Britain’ unless a certain amount of up-skilling is undertaken. Which brings me back to the original topic of this post.
Neither the Husband or I are particularly keen on Britain as the target for the ‘work’ phase. But for Europe, whether I am qualified or over qualified for any particular job is a mute point if I can’t speak the language. In my line of work speaking the native language is a must. The Husband is lucky in his line of work as he speaks the universal language of computers but things have changed over the last twenty years and even in IT at least two EU languages (English, French & German being the big three) are generally required. I did a small audit of our strengths and weaknesses, which didn’t take very long – English (tick), French (very rusty), and German (not a clue).
Given that learning a whole language from scratch generally takes a few years at least, we decided that brushing up the French is the way to go. I have downloaded a bunch of ‘learn French’ iPad apps, subscribed to several podcast channels, started following a few new bicycle blogs and borrowed a murder mystery novel from the library (all in French) as a start. Last night’s dinner conversation was conducted in French to try and blow out some of the cobwebs – it is actually quite surprising what lies dormant in your brain, ready for a quick dust off.
We will of course require a smattering of various languages to get around Europe in our travel phase. Handily, Daughter No. 1 is very proficient at French and German having taken them to year 13 at school and does a passable job of Italian, which she studied at uni. Daughter No.2 is excellent at Spanish, again having taken this to year 13 level. They are very keen to help us to learn all 4 languages plus a variety of others, such as Danish, through their in-depth research on the internet. However, rather than a smattering of everything we have decided to focus on just one and hopefully do it passably well. In the other countries, this will leave us relying on a digital phrase book, Google and mime – but I’m pretty confidant the plan will work. I generally find that people are very helpful and accommodating as long as you make a big enough fool of yourself in an effort to communicate first – this usually brings out their impeccable English and the odd giggle. The upside of having a properly ‘school French’ taught daughter around is that schools are very particular about grammar. Whereas our French was obtained through the more organic process of survival in a foreign country. This tends to breed good speaking confidence and vocabulary but very little in the way of grammatical precision. Daughter No.1 is already taking great pleasure in correcting our grammar.
The second idea is to do a TEFL course to enable me to teach English as a foreign language. Weirdly enough it seems that even with a masters degree in education, I am not deemed capable of teaching my native language. Easily fixed though through a four week intensive course. The course is not cheap and from my research, the income potential of this line of work is not great but it has the overarching plus point of enabling me to work in a non-English speaking environment. This could be very useful for the gap year, and beyond.
So the two pronged attack we have decided on for cerebral up-skilling is:
- Spend the next 12 months focusing just on learning a single language well – French, to increase the job options for both the Husband and I, and;
- Expand my options for working in a foreign speaking country by doing an intensive TEFL course – the INTENSIVE part sounds a bit scary but also reasonably do-able given my present ‘job-free’ circumstances.
Last weekend we went to Leigh for three days to break in the new stove and cooking pots. We hired a car to get there and to battle Auckland’s nasty 16 lane highway monstrosities that lie between us and the countryside. This was a rare and fraught mission as our usual stomping ground is the relatively simple 6 lane traffic sewers that dominate the central city, which we navigate daily by bicycle. I always find that visibility is terrible in a car compared to a bicycle and this adds to the complexity of the maneuvers required.
Somewhere along the way we realised that we hadn’t got any means of making fire to light the stove so we dropped in to a big box adventure store at Albany. We marvelled at the soulless landscape and the effort required to simply navigate the enormous carparks and find your destination. On a side note: I think it would be very interesting to calculate how many hours of people’s lives are swallowed up in these alien places. Has anyone ever gone missing? Are there any tourists lost, not in the New Zealand bush, but in New Zealand’s suburban mega-carparks? Anyway, back to the point, we came out of the store with matches and a ‘survival-style’ fire lighter. The firefighter was for fun and the matches were for actually lighting the stove. However, the fire lighter turned out to be an amazing buy and was really effective. It also had the side effect of producing strange caveman grunting noises of excitement from the Husband. It took me a couple of goes to make fire and the Husband put this down to me being a ‘girl’ (apparently, making fire is a ‘man thing’) but once I had the knack, it was easy.
We camped at Goat Island camp ground, an old haunt from the days before the vomit event. We got a great pitch with a lovely view overlooking the bay and established our HQ for a long weekend of snorkelling and other fun stuff.
Other fun stuff
The pitch was also successful in being a long way from the facilities. This was good in that it was easier to shun the well equipped kitchen in favour of our new stove and pots, but bad at 3am when nature called. The distance to the facilities prompted the familiar and inevitable weighing up of whether you would be irrevocably awake after navigating the several hundred metres and multiple guy ropes to the toilet or weather trying to relax (although not too much!) and ignore the urge would resolve the situation.
The stove was amazing and boiled the kettle quicker than our electric kettle at home. It also managed some very nice pancakes, which requires quite delicate temperature control. The only downside is the incredibly loud noise it makes – it sounds like a space rocket or jet engine. It is so loud that it brought the neighbours over to see what was happening and I am seriously considering ear plugs to avoid permanent hearing damage! The pots performed admirably and the drainer feature is very useful with pasta.
During the trip we have uncovered a few necessary equipment tweaks. After about the 4th time of attaching and unattaching the cutlery onto the little carabiner (x2) and placing it in and out of the individual cutlery pouch (x2), we gave up. A single utensil bag is required. I can’t quite work out the purpose of the small carabinas. You obviously can’t use them for climbing … it is clearly stated on the shaft – NOT FOR CLIMBING. Not even with really tiny ropes on a really tiny cliff face? Shame, they would be perfect for that!
I presume the carabina is to keep your cutlery together so that you don’t lose just the knife for instance, although there is nothing stopping you from losing the whole set. It all seems a bit overboard to me, I have never heard of cutlery loss being a major traveling problem. Passport loss? Credit card loss? Yes. Cutlery loss? Not so much.
I am also a bit concerned that I was quite cold in the night. I had a cold head and very nippy ears even in my sleeping bag. Given that in Auckland we are dropping to bitter temperatures of around 18C during the night, I am somewhat concerned that Europe is hovering around zero at the moment. The Husband is keen to launch the Trip at the end of February (not this year) but I am keeping a careful eye on the temperatures and dates to see when a temperature that I could survive, let alone feel comfortable in, is achieved in Southern Europe. I really can’t see this happening until at least April … but I keep you informed. I have found a great iPad app that shows the weather and forecasts for any city you choose. It allows you to create a weather ‘menu’ from around the world – probably very useful if you have your own jet, for instance … or are planning a trip to lots of nice places. I have therefore decided that a sleeping beanie is going to be a ‘must have’ item. Daughter No.1 suggested knitting an angora number with ear flaps like the one she has made for herself. Apparently, “it’s like having several bunnies sitting on your head” so definitely an experience not to be missed! I am presuming the bunnies are house trained. I am also thinking that some sort of puffer jacket (or full body suit) will be necessary for evening wear around camp. I will add this to the research list.
Seeing as though we were in a car, we did cheat a bit and take two camp chairs. The more I think about it, the more I think that at our great age we will need this luxury on the Trip. The Husband in particular is not very bendy and several hours in the lotus position is unlikely to be very restful, to say the least. At worst, it could have a significant impact on our ability cycle … or stand up ever again! Perhaps we should schedule some yoga classes into our Trip preparation?
We took a very cheap LED lantern from the $2 shop and it performed brilliantly. It is not very compact or robust but the concept is definitely something we need. It had a volume control for the light level and it lit our little alfresco camp in the evenings and then hung from a hook inside the tent providing just the right level of illumination in both cases. The trick is going to be finding something that doesn’t require a million batteries for a years use.
The last item on my ‘needs attention’ list is my penknife. While it has provided great service for many many years, it is deficient in one very important tool. I bought the Husband the same knife for Christmas (among other things) but they have obviously improved it over the intervening years and it now comes with a strange hook thing (next to the cork screw in the picture above). I don’t know what this is actually for but it works brilliantly to pull out tent pegs when decamping. Currently, we take turns with the wonderful hook but this slows things up a bit so I have decided to retire my old penknife and purchase the updated model. The penknife was in fact the only piece of equipment that was transitioning from our BC traveling to the post children gap year (every other item has already been replaced) so it is a very poignant moment. We had discussions about whether it would be the same penknife if we replaced the shiny coloured side pieces of the new one with the old scuffed ones off my original penknife (apparently you can do this), the same way you can replace the head of a hammer or broom, and then later replace the handle … but it still remains the same hammer. Alternatively, I could just keep the new one in my handbag for a few weeks – this would definitely rough it up a bit so it doesn’t look too ‘fresh out the box’.
One has one’s ‘street cred’ to think about, after all!
This week our thoughts have turned to technology. What will we need to take on the Trip to do the things we want to do? I have to admit that ours is a relatively technology-focused household as the Husband works in IT and of course I have a few blogs and such like, and my work involves developing eLearning. So this is a big question for us. What do we need to take that will do the job but minimises redundancy and duplication of functions?
There are two of us so the question is which items require personal ownership and what can we share? For instance one phone will be very limiting if we want to do anything separately and potentially phone each other to reconnect. The worst case scenario would be that we never find each other again – I’m sure this wasn’t a problem in the olden days, I don’t actually remember losing anyone through lack of a mobile phone, but for the life of me I can’t remember how we did it. Where as, I think it is safe to say that one laptop will perform all ‘laptoppy’ functions such as Skype calls to the Daughters, blogging and writing ‘the best selling Book’. This also brings up the potential minefield of ‘sharing’, and whether at our great age we can actually do this. We have spent years telling the kids to share nicely, so how embarrassing would it be if the Trip falls apart and divorce ensues due to an inability to share the camera or iPhone?
The second decision is around the make and model of the equipment. The laptop is easy as we have a tiny 11” Mac Air that will be perfect for the job. The other items are not so easy. The heated conversation we had around iPad versus Kindle would only be understood by a true ‘techy’. Incidentally, we had this
argument conversation twice as the original resolution had been conveniently forgotten by the Husband. The Husband is a belt and braces kind of guy when it comes to technology – heaven forbid that we should find ourselves without Internet access at any point, left with only 17th century architecture and lavender fields to keep us company! I have a suspicion (nay hope) that we will change our priorities during the Trip and reconnect with more elemental pastimes … oops, that brings us right back to the iPad/Kindle argument!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not for one minute suggesting that technology should be minimised because it is a fundamentally bad thing, and that I want to replace it with chanting or anything. For instance, an e-reader can hold many books while being lighter than a paperback and is therefore a very good thing, but I don’t want to be the kind of people who only see their holiday through the screen of their camcorder.
I am also not averse to being lost once in a while. I find that the best adventures can be had while you are ‘lost’ and the thought of following a small flashing iPhone dot around Europe absolutely does not appeal. The solution we have come to is that the Husband will have the smart phone and I will go old school and look at actual paper maps (I do love paper maps and there is nothing nicer than pouring over the little coloured lines and symbols in the evening planning the route for the following day). Part of the reason I prefer paper maps is, if you are navigationally challenged like me, the iPhone screen simply doesn’t provide enough context to see which way up you are.
There is, of course, also the lack of Internet connection and cell coverage that will likely occur in rural areas rendering all the whizzy bang toys into lumps of metal … technology rocks to carry up hills. Those paper maps may come in handy after all!
We have also given some thought to powering the devices and are trying to choose gadgets that charge via USB from the mains supply. We are also looking at potential backup alternatives such as solar and dynamo charging from the bike. The danger is that we will end up carrying more chargers and cables than actual devices.
Camera-wise, I actually have nothing suitable can you believe. My digital SLR is way too large and heavy, my camcorder is again large and heavy and primarily for moving pictures rather than stills, and my ‘happy snappy’ handbag camera takes pictures of insufficient quality for recording the big Trip (not to mention producing insufficient quality for the cover shot of a best selling book!). I would like a compact and light camera that takes excellent quality stills and descent quality video as well. So it looks like I might have to sell my SLR and/or camcorder and get something smaller that does both jobs.
I do love my iPad and I take it to the park, or a cafe if the weather is inclement, and use it to write these posts … but it needs to be charged quite regularly, is relatively large (compared to a Kindle) and its primary use is internet browsing. Therefore, we will not be taking one of these (N.B. I have written this here so that we do not have to have the iPad/Kindle argument for a third time).
Mental note: I must find out if you can write on a Kindle.
I have done a bit of an Excel spreadsheet to help make these decisions and would really appreciate any ideas or thoughts you may have so please leave a comment. Have we forgotten anything? Is there too much?
I will update on the models we are looking at as we go along but any suggestions would be welcome
Part of preparing for the trip is the minimalisation of our belongings. If asked, I would have said that we didn’t have much stuff as we did a lot of downsizing 4 years ago when we left the large family home and garden and moved into the apartment. All garden equipment, outside paraphernalia and a large grand piano was sold off. However, going through all the cupboards, we still seem to have lots of stuff. The plan is to store our stuff while we are away so the quantity of said stuff will be important.
The technique I have applied to the task is to do a once over sweep through each cupboard and across each surface to remove obviously no longer used or needed items. This has been quite taxing on the brain as my criteria for dismissal were: when was it last used? And, how much do I like it? The first challenged my memory and the second my emotions. If it has not been used in two years and/or I don’t really like it, the item is evicted. The next step, which I am currently conducting, is a deeper sweep with the criteria of: am I likely to use it in the next few years? And/or, do I love it?
The decluttering process has turned out to be a cathartic experience for the most part but has unearthed little tendrils of guilt and dutiful ownership attached to certain items. What to do with the china that we were given as a wedding present 22 ago, have since shipped from country to country and house to house but have never used and probably never will? A few items have been jettisoned, after much agonising, leaving a strange afterglow of relief and freedom. I can actually highly recommend jettisoning the odd unloved wedding present. A few other items are still looking at me from the back of the cupboard.
A large chunk of the stuff includes 2 x daughters plus their belongings. This particular ‘eviction’ will be the most difficult and I am not at all looking forward to that part, but life moves on and we can either be ‘left’, as parents are, or all leave each other at the same time.
Our Trademe listing will start again this weekend as most people are back from holiday and hopefully back in a spending mood. Conversely, I have found that our desire to spend money on ‘things’ is now markedly reduced. Apart from buying specific pieces of equipment for the trip, which is finite and dependant on pulling power, there is little point in buying other stuff as it just increases the amount we need to store while we are away. So I have become very aware of everything that enters the house and whether it needs to stay, can go right back out, or needed to arrive in the first place. It is a very interesting lens to view the world through and makes you realise just how ‘stuff’ oriented the world has become.
We have added a few new routes to the itinerary and have plotted them on the map.
There is a route along the Danube from Passau in Germany to Vienna in Austria that sounds very nice. Vienna is a place that has a black pin (must do) in it … it is the route on the right in the image below; the one on the left is the ‘Romantic Road’.
The Husband is irrationally averse to traveling in Germany (something to do with the war) but, after a quick slap, has agreed to the Romantic Road route I mentioned in my last post, plus Berlin, which I particularly want to see again (without the wall this time).
We have also added part of Eurovelo route 6 to the plan. It goes along the Loire valley (blue pins below), which is chockablock with chateaux, and the Husband is particularly keen on Brittany so there will be a bit of a tiki-tour around there as well. The route in red below is part of the Eurovelo route 1 and the part in green is where route 1 joins route 4. We thought these might come in handy as it is sort of the way we want to go.
The latest plan we have is to leave England and go to Paris by train and then pick up route 6 in Orleans and follow it by bike to the coast. Then do a bit of a trip into Brittany and then down the coast to southern France and across to do the French Riviera. It then gets a bit more sketchy and we are thinking of heading North through France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark to Sweden. Then going down again through Germany, along the Romantic Road, and Austria, along the Danube, and across to Italy (probably by train due to Alps). Then potentially across to Spain and Portugal. Apparently Portugal is cheap and we probably won’t have much money left by then. This is obviously still a work in progress.
There are still a few items we need (apart from the bikes of course) for the trip. Our current research list includes:
- head torch (preferably USB charged as a years supply of batteries is outside my comfort zone),
- a solar charged bike light that can be charged on the bikes during the day and then used for a tent light at night,
- cycling gloves that look styley rather than looking like we have forgotten the rest of the Lycra cycling outfit
- a different pillow for the Husband,
- stuff sacks for our sleeping bags,
- potential camping chairs if we can find something light enough – I know it’s a luxury but worth a look and I found this one …
Last weekend we went to Waiheke Island for the long weekend. We went over on our bicycles and stayed in lovely accommodation in Enclosure Bay. The ‘mission’ we had planned was to test out electric bicycles, as neither of us had ever been on one, and compare the experience with the common or garden variety.
Having previously lived on Waiheke, I am well aware of how hilly the island is. Our house was at the top of a particularly vicious beast of an incline and I spent many hours on our deck watching groups of tourists and school children walking their bikes towards our house with expressions of ‘who’s bloody stupid idea was this’, ‘I’m not happy’ and ‘somebody please shoot me now’. These expressions generally included ‘you’ve got to be @$&/!? joking’ when the next hill came into view, which occurred approximately 1 meter past the our driveway. In fact it became a bit of a sport to identify the moment they spotted the hill as they trudged past our house.
It always puzzled me why schools from the mainland insisted on dragging their pupils around Waiheke on an annual bike trip. Is there a bullet point in their school strategy that mandates a certain percentage of pupils must be put off cycling for life? Perhaps it’s a misinformed ‘safety’ measure to ensure that pupils avoid bicycles at all costs from that point forward, and focus all of their efforts on getting a car and licence as soon as humanly possible. I cannot believe that anyone in their right mind believes that dressing adolescent kids in oversized fluoro tabards and helmets, until the correct level of ‘dork’ has been achieved, removing all access to ipod and phone and then dragging them up enormous hills in the heat of the day until they have reached the absolute limits of teenage unhappiness, can have any positive effects – indeed, it is probably the cause of the general public perception that cycling is difficult and makes you sweat. So what is the purpose of these trips? Is it perhaps a day for the teachers get their own back on the kids? Although, I have to say that, apart from the teacher in the front (probably the gym teacher), the other staff members generally wore the same expressions as the students.
Anyway, getting back on topic, we hired two electric bicycles from EcyclesNZ. The Husband hired a cruiser and I went with a more generic looking step-through. It only really took a moment to get used to the way they worked and after a couple of ‘k’ we were fine tuning our technique. Rob from Ecycles had told us that using just the throttle would use up the battery much quicker than peddling with electric assist. He recommended setting the bike on 2-3 for generally riding with 4-5 for the hills.
My interest in electric bikes was not zooming about at great speed but instead the amount of the pain they remove from steep hills. I thoroughly enjoy riding on the flat, downhill is a dream and medium inclines are fine … but there is a point on hills over a certain incline or duration where things turn for the worst – my face goes bright red and nausea sets in. I found that setting the bike on number 1 was sufficient to remove this physical reaction. I used the gears as I normally would and the electric power just kicked in to remove the pain at the end. I found that when I was in the lowest gear, rather than nausea, my superpower appeared. I had bionic legs and failure was not an option! It was amazing; a revolutionary moment! It was like going to the dentist when you knew it wouldn’t hurt, catching a bus when you knew it would arrive at the bus stop when you did, or going shopping when you could afford everything you wanted. Not only was the pain removed but the anticipation of pain was removed. When I knew a big hill was coming up, I had no feeling of dread; the usual game of estimating at what point I would need to get off and walk was no longer necessary. I was totally confident of my superpowers and strangely enough I had a strong impulse, never before experienced, to wear logo covered lycra, a pointy helmet and a small red cape!
We had acres of power left over even though we had been everywhere and tackled plenty of large hills (like the one above). We went over to Rocky Bay and searched for a friends house, we had been there before but couldn’t remember its exact location, which was something I would not have otherwise done. In every route decision on a regular bike there is an element of ‘is it worth it?’. On a normal bike, I would not have gone to Rocky Bay and searched for friends that might not have been at home. On an electric bike, no problem. So electric has two benefits that I can see – it removes the pain and extends your options. This of course has raised the question once again of whether we should use an electric or regular bike for the trip. I will have to do a lot more research and of course and I will post what I find. I think it will need a complete post of its own.
The other news is that my new shoes, whilst being very comfortable, did not solve the problem that initiated their purchase. When on longer trips, my feet go a bit numb when I am cycling. The numbness goes away as soon as I stop pressing my foot against the pedal but this is of little use as obviously cycling kind of requires you to pedal, otherwise you don’t go very far. I thought this was a problem with the shoes I was wearing, hence the shoe purchase, but apparently not. The shoes I bought particularly mentioned cycling as an activity that they were perfect for so, I have had to come to the conclusion that the problem is not with the shoes but with my feet. If anyone has any light to shed on numb feet – whether my feet will drop off or go green – things like that, or has any ideas on how to fix my feet, please leave a comment. On the plus side, three different people came up to me while we were away, said how lovely my shoes were and asked where I got them.
The next trip that we have planned is a camping trip to Leigh to test out our new camping stove. I’m not quite sure when but it will be via hire car I think, so watch this space.
I promised in my last post that I would tell you about the book I am currently reading. I have actually got another book out of the library by the same author and am reading them concurrently, which surprisingly works quite well. The first is ‘Greece on my Wheels’ and the other is ‘Dawdling by the Danube’ by Edward Enfield. I am really enjoying his writing style and some parts are quite funny and insightful. He quotes Samuel Butler as saying “Exploring is delightful to look forward to and back upon, but it is not comfortable at the time, unless it be of such an easy nature as not to deserve the name”. This has certainly been my experience and probably the reason I enjoy the build up to a trip – it is often one of the best bits! That is not to say that the adventure is not enjoyable, it’s just that it is enjoyable in peaks and troughs of amazing moments and ‘thank god that’s over’ moments, whereas the planning phase is more of a gentle ‘happy place’ experience.
Edward is also a man after my own heart as he’s writes that unlike George Mallory who climbed Everest “because it is there”, he prefers to go around the bottom, if at all possible. His philosophy (which he borrowed off a man he met in Scotland) is, when confronted by a ‘challenge’, walk the other way. He also does not wear Lycra cycling attire as some years back his dentist told him he looked ridiculous, so he rides in normal clothes. At long last I have found reading material that has some relevance to what we intend for the Trip. Having read Dawdling by the Danube, I am also now very keen to cycle along the Romantic Road in Germany – I have added it to the map with green pins. The route is actually a lot longer than I imagined but sounds quite do-able from Edward’s description, so it is ‘locked in’.
I have been hearing quite a bit about different accommodation and travel options for the Trip so have started a page for these things. If you know of any more please add them to the comments and I will add to the page.
I have completed one arm of my footless arm socks and am now beginning the other. Given that I have knitted this without a pattern, the challenge now is to make the other one the same size …
I used my garter again for the Waiheke cycle trip and again was very impressed with its performance – this is definitely going to be a ‘must take’ item for the trip. Mental note: must write post on how I made it.