- Day One -

And we’re off. Almost a year in the making, lots of dreaming, thinking and planning the day is finally here At 6AM we leave our little house in Perth and started our adventure to see a bit of the world. 30 Hours in planes an airports, though, doesn't generally make you that excited, but the pay off at the end will hopefully be worth it. Shout out to Keon who slept on our couch to make sure that we got their on time, although we have found someone to rival Joel Rolt as the latest braker at Kingdomcity, the amount of times it felt like we were going straight into the back of the car in front, I hadn't experience that since last time I was in a car with Joel. But we get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. We were checked in and though customs in less than 15 minutes. We are off to a great start. We board the plane, and we got exit row seat upgrades, we had the whole row to ourselves and the flight went without drama, I did a cross word without cheating, watched heaps of TV, and re charged all my devices, this plane has power points on each seat. Power points. Its unreal. Could this get any better? Yes it can. They bring out breakfast which is a beef curry and it the best airplane food I have ever had. I do want to try and not come back really fat, but 30 mins in Im already hoeing down food. No great. We land and get off, and are assaulted by heat and humidity. it was lucky that we where wearing clothes to handle the Swiss alps. I literally start melting and pull my track pants into shorts and rush into the air conditioned airport as quick as possible. Bangkok airport is massive, and pretty poorly signed, we end up making our way to the next gate, we have a 9 hour wait. We walk around the shops for a while and we stumble across a little hotel thing, that lets you book rooms for hours. So we bite the bullet and get a hotel room for 6 hours. Probably the best $100 I have ever spent at an airport, bed, shower, massage, dinner, internet, it was awesome. What a great way to pump you up ready for a 12 hour flight. As we leave the hotel, we make the 1.5km walk to the gate, looking at every $20,000 watch on the way. We check in to see if there is any exit row seats, which there isn’t, but she makes sure we have a whole row to ourselves, which in a plane as full as this one was, it was a real blessing. I get about 50 pillows make myself comfortable, and fall asleep. I slept for a straight 5 hours. Amazing, I wake up, then go back to sleep and wake up with only 2 hours left on the flight. Its a great result, I was hoping to sleep a lot and wasn't sure if I would be able. I look out the window and there is a bright light in the distance, to bright to be a star but looks to close to be a plane, as I stare at it, it appears to be getting bigger and closer, I was starting to get a bit freaked out, as I felt like a plane shouldn't be flying that close to us, until I realised it was the light on the wing tip of our plane. Crisis averted, we were safe. I looked at the flight map and we were flying over Sarajevo, ill be lying if I didn't stare at the groups and lights half expecting to see a missile shot our way, with flash backs of that MAS flight that was shot down by Russians, I said a little, prayer, and who knows if that prayer didn't save us all. We land safe in Rome and get off the plane, its cold, but not freezing, we get on a train which takes us to customs, where we waited for about 30 minutes. A few quick stamps and we are on our way to the last post, to collect our bags which I am praying have come with us on the plane. My sister who was without her bag for her entire Europe trip a few months back had left a linger fear in my mind. I really want our bags. I am praying hard as we stride towards the belt, and for the first time in my life, my bag is one of the first ones, I see, quickly followed by Katie's. I wanted to make a quick dress change, so I find the keys for the little padlock on the bag, but it seems stuck, so I put a bit of force and and the most annoying thing happens, the key snaps off in the lock. Perhaps this is where our luck runs out, but I manage to get the key out and the spare key opens it. i throw the lock in the bin and we are ready to get out of here, our first over seas flight together was an amazing success. There is suppose to be someone waiting for us with a sign to take us to our hotel, but as a scan for signs, I can see anyone, the my phone rings, “Mr Jono? I so sorry, I am running late, I slept through my alarm, I so sorry…” Our driver had slept in, I felt like I was back at church waiting for the youth pastors to get into the office. He made up for it when he arrived, He was driving a brand new Mercedes, and drove it at 130kms the whole way back to the city. As we are driving through Rome for the first time, there is so much that takes your breath away. Although my first thought is, Im so glad I didn't hire a car here this place is crazy. Its like a maze of the tiniest streets you ever saw, but this guy knows what he is doing we get to our apartment where we check out bags in and meet our hosts, who give us a map and some info, they also have a 15 year old dog who comes says hello and then does a massive wee in their living room. Pretty funny. Lucky we like dogs. We grab the keys and head our to explore. We find a little cafe where we grab 2 coffee and 2 amazing croissants for $5 Euro. Amazing. Then make our way over to this breath taking monument, the Altare della Patria, which was built for the king. As we walk around it, its massive, I am blown away, Katie doesn't seem to see what all the fuss is about. This city is awesome. We spend the next 3 hours just walking and discovering. We sit down for another coffee, we might as well, its so cheap. I haven't got the hang of ordering yet. I order a macchiato which comes out as 2 big shots of expresso. When she brings out the bill, I have a couple euro in my hand to pay, I nearly fall off my chair when it says $15.80. Euro. For coffee. Thats 20 Aussie dollars. We had to laugh. I guess we will ask how much next time. We stroll through amazing streets, and stumble into an old church, the Parrocchia Santa Maria in Vallicella. It is a breath taking building. Huge, high paint ceilings, gold trim everywhere. It was remarkable, we explore around a bit and I go up the to the pulpit and microphone which I quickly found out was turned on. I turn to Katie and as her if I should preach. She yells at my quietly to get off it, which I do, not before taking a photo off the building a sun beam, cuts through small window in the roof, It looks amazing. As we are walking out a big group of people come in and they head to a side room and begin singing. A worship service just started, and this old church was filled with hymns, I felt there presence of God, come and began to silently worship with them. It was an amazing moment. We continue walking through streets which all feel like movie sets. We eat pizza in Piazza Navona for lunch and then head back to the hotel to shower and unpack, before heading out again. We head to the Spanish steps and to the top of the hill to watch the sunset and take some photo’s, it really is a beautiful city. As the sun sets all the light turn on and Rome takes goes to a new level. Everything glows golden as the lights bounce through the small streets, there are people everywhere and the place is buzzing. As we walk down the Spanish steps, like a scene from many movies, we see a couple riding in a horse drawn carriage and I thought, that would be cool. Next minute we are on a guided tour through the streets of Rome. unbelievable. We end up back at Piazzo Navona, where we eat in a little alley way, convicted by a cute little Italian man to pick him. We eat grab gelato and head back to the hotel. We have only been here 1 day and it already feels worth it.

- Day Two -

4:31AM. Thats the time I woke up full of beans and ready to go. Katie was referring to it as “jet energy” the opposite of jet lag. So it was that at 4:31 I started writing about our first day and thought that I might make this a thing. It had rained all night, with quite a lot of thunder, which was actually quite peaceful as our room is on the top floor of an apartment building, we could hear the rain hitting the roof. But we push aside our fleeting temptation to lounge around in bed all day listening to the rain, after all, we are in Rome. We get up at about 5:30 and start head to Vatican City. Being on the top floor, our apartment has an elevator to get up and down, which isn't the case in a lot of old buildings. But it does give Katie the chance to over come her fears every morning. As you step in, the whole thing shudders and then as it starts to go down it jumps violently again. Its a bit disconcerting, but perhaps its just to scare tourists like us. We head down to the local cafe for a croissant and a coffee before starting the walk to the Vatican. We are told that there is line upon lines that you need to overcome, so I purchased our museum tickets online, so that we can skip the longer ticket cues. But we get their an hour and a half early, so we just wander around and we end up at the ticket booth to climb the Dome of St Peters Basilica. There is an option to pay 6 euro to walk or 8 to take the elevator. I make the choice to walk, so we enjoy the full experience. That was dumb. As we walk past the point of no return there is a sign saying 510 steps and thats just to the bit where the elevator stops, after that there is still another 500 steps to the top. We definitely should have taken the elevator. After 1 minute, my legs are burning, after 5 they are like jelly. we reach the platform and you can already see across the city and before stands the actual dome which we haven't even climbed yet. We enter a small corridor and another set of stairs, as we go higher and higher they get narrower and narrower, and the final steps are a tiny little spiral staircase. It was putting all of Katie's fear of heights to the test. We get out and the view is break taking. We have a 360 degree view of the cit as far as the eye can see, its remarkable the city just sprawls forever, we take a selfie, have a quick kiss and head back down. We end up inside the basilica, and you really have to stand inside to understand the scale, it easily seats 15,000 the roof must be 30 meters high. Mosaic cover every centimetre of the walls and ceilings and every though its on 7:30AM there are people everywhere, some tourists, some praying, some worship. I am in awe of this church and the attention to detail within it. As I walk past a confessional booth, I stop and look inside, on the wall is a painting of Jesus on the cross with a lady embracing his feet. I was moved remind of Christ incredible love for us, there is such a presence in this church. We head out and make our way around he museum entrance, this is where the joy of pre booking our tickets kicks in. Its 8:45am and there is already a line of 200 people waiting, and its a slow moving line. We simply move in front of everyone and head straight inside. I think we saved at least 2 hours. I almost felt bad, but everyone can buy them online. Inside the foyer its literally like a high security airport. Maybe its got something to do with the 17 billion dollars of artworks we are about to see. There are metal detectors, scanner, guards. We get through security and we are told that we have to check our bags in. I am praying that I am allowed to keep my camera, which I am and we are ready to go. We begin the tour and there is just so much to see, sculptures, painting, tapestries, mosaics, all by some of the greatest artists of all time, Raphael, Michelangelo, its amazing, and the further we walk the bigger the scale, entire hallways, ceilings, walls, framed paintings, 10 x 5 meters, all telling stories of history, the bible, the gospels. Im not an overly “artsy” person but I am finding this experience awesome and each step takes us closer to the one thing that I was so excited to see, the Sistine Chapel. We listen to the audio track before we enter the chapel, it tells us that the entire room tells the creation story and the walls are adorned with the gospel story and also images from the old testament. I hold my breath as we enter, and I am just taken aback by the most famous room in the world. Its bigger than I thought it would be, and the famous image of God reaching out to man, which I thought would cover most of the roof is just a small part of a vast story which was painted by one and and covers 460m2. Absolutely breath taking. The chapel is lined by benches that you can sit and take it all in. Although you need to fight for a seat, as there are a few hundred people that your sharing the room with, although in my experience I felt like I was the only person in there. I just sit in silence and take it all in. You can see all these images from the bible and Katie and I sit together and point out each story that we recognise. There is a sign saying no photography, but as I read why before I entered it it because Nikon entered an arrangement when the roof was restore that they would fund it in return for exclusive rights to photograph room, and also that camera flashes may damage the artwork) I thought, I dont use flash (I know how to use a camera properly) and I use Nikon so I felt entitled to take a sneaky photo. I pointed my lens from my lap at the roof and just hoped that I captured something half decent. I actual ended up with a couple of pretty special photos. As we walked out I was just amazed to have had such an incredible experience. As we came out we had to walk around to pick up our bags, on the way we stopped at a little cafe to have some lunch, the food here is so so good. As we approached the museum entry for the 2nd time. The line had grown and without exaggeration there would have been over 600 people waiting. I couldn't think of anything worse and this is the off peak season. Crazy. we get our bags and then head off to just wander the streets again. We head back the hotel, its 2pm in the afternoon and we have already clocked up 16kms of walking for the day including climbing up 40 stories of stairs. We rest back at the apartment and have a shower and nap. We head back out to the Roman Forum, to take some photos of the sunset. I am up on the Alta of the Fatherland, taking some photos and this little lady rushes over and says no tripods allowed, which I actually didn't know this time, and we are ushered off the monument, which Katie found hilarious and snap chatted the whole episode. As we look up the street we realise the colosseum is only a few hundred metres down the road, so we head down there, walking past amazing roman ruins which all glow golden as the are lit up by subtle floodlights. The colosseum is amazing, its way bigger than I imagined, like most things over here, bit we are doing a tour of it tomorrow, so Ill leave talking about it till then. We find a little restaurant that over looks is and we have an amazing dinner, just every day brings new memories that we will cherish forever. As we are walking back to the hotel, a street salesman puts a paid of little birds on Katie's head and then takes my camera and takes some photos, its a pretty funny moment, he is laughing with us and he takes photos with us holding his birds, his laughter however, turns when I only give him $2.60 which is the only cash I have left. They are sneaky these street guys, but this was a moment worth paying for. Hilarious.

- Day Three -

We woke up a bit later this morning at 6am, perhaps we are starting to adjust. I actually love this time difference. 7 hours, makes you get up early and go to bed earlyish. I hope I take this habit back to Perth. We had breakfast at our accomodation this morning, I had made a booking at a super fancy, super expensive restaurant for our last night in Rome, so I wanted to eat heaps of breakfast and not eat for the rest of the day. The spread that our host put on was unbelievable. Toast, breads, rolls, salami, cheese, yogurt and coffee. I actually sat at the table for over an hour just grazing. The food here, even the simple things, actually does taste better. We had a surprise FaceTime from Holli (our dog) but I was saddened as she didn't say much nor get excited, she must have forgotten who we are or be mourning that we are gone. Any way we had booked 8:30am tickets for the colosseum and we were already running late, so we head off. We have adjusted amazingly to the city of Rome, we can pretty much get to exactly where we need to without looking at maps at all, despite the city being like a rabbit warren. To get to the colosseum we just go straight past the Altare della Patria, we get to a set of traffic lights and I sort of bustle past a big group who are blocking the street, as I brush past the guy, I notice that he is wearing an ear piece, then I notice they all are, its the Italian secret service, guarding someone important, Im glad I dont get shot/arrested or both, and we go around the corner and the Altare is packed with military in full dress garb, police, fencing, camera towers, news vans, the place is a circus, we go for a closer look and have our bags and bodies searched. We join the fast growing crowd and end up in a pretty awesome spot, next minute over a loud speaker something “presidente” is heard and this phalanx of motor bikes and limos rolls into the square, everyone starts to cheer and the military band starts to play. This is awesome, I dont know whats going on but I like it, although our 8:30am booking is getting further and further away. I think it must be the Italian version of remembrance day. The president lays a huge wreath at the foot of the monument, then they play the nation anthem which everyone sings, but towards the end or the song, this loud roar starts to build, Katie thinks terrorist attack, next minute, 8 jets literally tear 100m overhead, straight over the Altare della Patria, with Italian colour smoke coming from the engines. Its one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Then everyone looks the the sky as a parachutist is falling through the sky with a huge Italian flag, he lands in the middle of the square and the stretch the flag out and play the national anthem again, I just sing pretend words and get involved. Then the president leaves and the event is over. It turns out it was nation unity and armed forces day. It was pretty awesome to fall into the middle of it. Its now 11:30, our ticket to the colosseum read, be there 90 minutes before your time slot and late tickets will not be refunded. Not good, by the time we get there we will be 5 hours late. The colosseum at this time of day is like a zoo. Similar to the Vatican there are 100s of people in crawling lines, luckily I think we have a ticket that we allow us to skip them. As we are trying to find an entrance, a tour guide comes and looks at my ticket and says that if we pay an extra $30 euro we can get entrance to the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and quick entry, it sounds like a good deal, although for some reason I feel like he is trying to rip us off. I just go find the line there is one with 400 people in it and one which looks empty. I choose the empty one. I choose right. I turns out I had the right ticket and the guy was trying to sell me what I already had. We walk straight past the lines and through the crazy security guards/metal detectors. Katie tries to smuggle a bottle of water in. What a rebel. But they were having none of that. The last frontier was to actually be let into the colosseum on our 5 1/2 hour late ticket. We pick the ticket booth with the friendliest looking person, smile a lot, and we are on our way :) The colosseum is amazing, we buy an audio guide, which I give Katie. I saw the movie Gladiator and feel like I already know all there is to know about the place, but Katie is blown away. The violence, the animal deaths but mostly, the systems and people flow. The moved 60,000 people with no worries in the world, seats had individual engraving, different levels were reserve for different classes of people, it is remarkable what man can achieve. Again the scale of the place blows your mind, as we wander round you are literally looking down on an arena where people killed each other for fun and staring into holding cells where many people spent their last moments on earth, its surreal, morbid and exhilarating all at the same time. Katie is particular intrigued by the lift and pulley system that would realises lions and tigers into the arena, its pretty amazing. We make our way out and head over the Roman Forum, which is a place full of our ruins and buildings. It use to be the hub and centre of the city and we enjoy walking around it with 500,000 other people. We also wander around Palatine Hill, which has some beautiful gardens and old churches. You could spend all day there and not see everything, but we have few other things on the agenda, so we head off to the next stop. Post some postcards and go shopping for watches. We are both starving but have committed to not eating so we dont spoil our dinner. We post some stuff and then find a new part of Rome we haven't been to yet. We walk for a while and find our selves in a beautiful mall. Its more like the nicest building you have ever been in, more so than a mall. Every here is also so well dressed, its probably the classiest city I have ever been in, and this mall is just terrific. I find this little shop, with 2 stunning watches, I think I have found a winner. I want to get a nice watch in every country we go to. But we continue walking and start heading back home. As we are walking, we talk about dinner plans, we have a michelin star restaurant booked. Neither Katie or I are foodies on a crazy level, so last minute we decided to not spend $300 euro on dinner, there are to many nice places that are 1/10 the price, besides, that will free up more budget for watches. We end up getting a table directy in front of the pantheon and enjoy an amazing dinner, before setting off the the shop to buy a watch. On the way we stop to look for watches for Katie, I want to get her one to, she is pretty fussy so we try on most of the watches in this shop, before deciding she does want any of them, to which the attendant isn't super impressed. We leave to go to my shop and we get there just in time for it to be closed. Devastated. Hopefully we still have some time tomorrow. We head to Giolitti Gelato (apparently its a big deal) make Katie the happiest she has been since the colosseum, and we head home. According to our step counters on our phones we have walked over 60kms in 3 days. My feet are crying out for some sleep. Tomorrow we head to Florence and start a whole new set of adventures. Rome you have been special. Until next time. Ciao.

- Day Four -

My brain is messed up. I wake up at 3:30am and cannot get back to sleep, so I grab my laptop and start writing. Although yesterday was our last full day in Rome, we still have a few hours to kill once the sun comes up. We enjoy another huge breakfast and then head back to the shop that was closed last night. I’m pretty excited, I love a nice watch. As we are wandering through the streets, we realise that we actually know where heaps of stuff is and fully can navigate without a map or google or anything. It almost a shame that we are leaving today, as we have just got the hang of Rome living. We get to the shop and it doesn't open for another hour so we keep exploring, there are so many little alley ways and the shop front windows are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. I find this random little watch shop, but it only has old watches, like beautiful 40 year old watches, and unlike most stores that sell expensive stuff and only display 3 things in the whole window, these watches are just whacked on a dirty old shelf, but I am in love with some of these watches. There is a guy inside who says come back in 10 minutes, so I walk around the block, getting really excited that I might be about to get a genuine antique watch for $100 bucks or something like that. As we get there my first question is how much? He says a lot of stuff in Italian and then says $1500. Mmm. Perhaps Ill just keep walking. I mean, I like watches, but not that much. We head back to the store we missed last night and I get a really nice Tissot, complete with a 30% discount, you gotta be happy with that. And thats Rome done, we catch a taxi, the first car we have been in for 3 days, and head to the train station. Next time we are in Rome, we will be heading back home. Hopefully that doesn't come around to quickly. The train to Florence, is a breeze, despite our bags, which are seriously heavy, it isn't that much of a hassle. We get off and get to another taxi which will take us to our next apartment. We get in a taxi, and the driver explains that the person with her in the front is her brother and they are learning how to be taxi drivers. This could be interesting. Its not. They get us there quickly, without incident, now we just need to work out how to actually get into our apartment. Luckily there is a door bell with the ladies name on it, she unlocks the door and lets us in. Now like our Rome apartment we are on the top level. Unlike Rome there is no elevator. This is the worst moment of the trip so far, I struggle up the stairs with bags, tripods, coats, pillows draped all over me, the lady was nice enough to carry Katie’s for her. The apartment is so homely, and it has a 360 degree view over Florence, not bad for $60 a night. Our host, Zoe, wasn't actually expecting us till later on, and has friends over for lunch, they share some food with us and have a chat. She is way more chatty that the hosts at our last place. We dump our bags and head off to explore the city. We make our way down to the river. We get there and I think it is really special, autumn colours line the banks, old buildings and stone bridges, just a beautiful scene. Katie is somewhat more underwhelmed than I am. “Is this it…” she said, before she bursts out laughing, “it reminds me of Margaret River”…Ill admit the over cast and rain, probably took some shine off, but surely this is better than Margs. Anyway, we continue through the streets and heard through the Palazzo Vecchio, which is basically a beautiful square full of massive statues of naked dudes. For cultured people its probably breath taking, for Aussies, its just pretty funny. The streets are full of leather shops and we find ourselves on the Ponte Vecchio, which is a bridge full of jewellery shops and things we cant afford, but its nice to look and dream. We had back to the accomodation and head out onto the terrace which overlooks the Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore (the big famous dome church) a shoot a few frames, before it starts raining, then I pack the camera away and grab Katie for a quick kiss in the rain, at which point the bells of the cathedral start to ring. I definitely earn a few romance points for that moment. We head out to dinner and already feel like we have a good sense of direction, we easily find our way back to the palazzo Vecchio and we eat right in the middle of the square, every place we eat seems so special and the whole experience so far has been amazing. As we eat the rain tumbles down, but they give you a blanket with your meal, so we stay warm and under cover but the rain makes everything shine. The street salesman actually comes in pretty handy on this rare occasion. He is selling umbrellas and we need one for the walk home, although its the smallest umbrella I have ever seen, so I chivalrously allow Katie to have it to herself. I like the rain anyway. But lets hope it clears up tomorrow.

- Day Five -

Every day seems to start with me waking up super early. Its the same again today. Its 3:15am, but I dont wake up because of jet lag, I wake up because there is a crazy thunderstorm raging outside. Our bed has a little skylight and it is just flashing constantly, I cant sleep in this. So I do the only thing that I know to do. I grab my camera and tripod and head to the roof. Now although, I have been know to be in stupid places during lightning storms, I listen to my better judgement, as I see there are many TV antenna (aka lightning conductors) and we are pretty much the highest point in the area, and setup my tripod so its only half outside and I can stay in the relative safety of the doorway. I have my camera setup pointed at the Santa Maria del Fiore, and I am hoping I get some crazy flashes right across it. Unfortunately the storm is over the hills and I dont have much of an angle. So I head back down after about 15 minutes and go to bed. When we wake up in the morning, the rain has stopped, and we head out to go to a few of the cathedrals and museums. Its pretty early, and once again we seem to be awake before everyone else in the city. Katie is keen to get something to eat that isn't a pastry, we stumble across a little juice bar, which makes Katie pretty happy. I am still keen to find a ham and cheese something, although we settle on eggs, bacon and coffee. I also had coffee when Katie got juice, so I buzzing. We head the Santa Maria del Fiore, we have tickets to climb the dome and explore the whole. We decided to start with the bell tower, which is a huge amount of stairs in a narrow corridor and its already filled with people. Nevertheless, start the climb and about halfway up, I stop to get a photo, as a beam of light bounces of a wall, from a small window, Katie is snap chatting the whole thing. This is where our trip takes its first serious turn south. My camera freezes up mid photo. I click it off but it stays on, so I take out the battery and it shuts off, but then it doesn't seem to want to turn back on. Now those who know me, would know that one of my great loves is photography and one of the things I am most excited about on this trip is photographing it. As far as bad things that could happen on this trip, first would be one of us (or both of us) getting hurt, sick, or dying, second would be my camera breaking. The second worse thing that could happen has happened. 4 and a bit days in. I am absolutely devastated. I actually dont know what to do. I am hoping like anything its just the batteries, but I am convinced I had charged my spare. I am hoping for the best but I sort of know that its probably not going to be a good result. I head home to charge the batteries, but the camera is fully dead. It wont give a single sign of life. So we leave it at home and head back out. My soccer team is playing and I want to try and find a place to watch it. We find a sports bar who have a downstairs room who will put it on for us, the order some food and watch the game. Tottenham go down 1 nil. The day is getting worse. We square up with a dubious penalty, but the game finishes 1-1. Not to bad. By the time the game is over its about 3pm. The streets are buzzing with people and the rain is really belting down. We are in an outside market when the hail hits. The shops get hammered, everyones gear is getting wrecked. I know the feeling. I am actually quite enjoying the rain, I feel like my jacket is quite water proof. We head into some more shops. I didn't know it to start with but I am pretty sure that leather is a big deal in Florence. Every second store seems to a leather shop. I am pretty keen to get a genuine leather toiletries bag and also a small sleeve to hold by bible and journal in. Going into almost every store we end with the perfect 2 items and both were half price. We start heading back towards home but via the river. The forecast said some flooding could happen and it has been raining a lot and I thought the river might be a bit fuller than the day before. I was right, I reckon the level is 2 meters higher than yesterday and water is cascading down at a strong rate, and across the other side, there is some real drama happening. There is a bunch of excavators and machinery that were on the river bank that are now almost completely underwater and there is some kind of rescue operation happening. There is a fireman being winched over the side. Im not to sure what he is trying to achieve, but it looks cool. We wait and watch for a while, I end up buying a rainbow umbrella, probably about 2 hours to late, he doesn't do much part from get really wet himself, before they winch hi,m up again. All this observing has made me hungry, dinner time. We choose a place that close to our apartment. As we sit down, its at this point I realise I am soaking wet. My whole t-shirt is drenched, and here is me thinking I was dry. I order a t-bone steak and Katie orders some fish pasta thing. Both meals are delicious. We feel like we are spending heaps of money on food, but thinking about it, we spend far more when we are at home. Besides, this isn't a holiday we will have very often.

- Day Six -

Its been raining all night and I have had the worst sleep. I feel like all night long I have been the food buffet for 1000 mosquitos. My body is itching all over, the bed is small, its hot and stuffy. Its just not a great situation. I really want the morning to come so we can get up and get going. Adding to my bad nights sleep is the fact that my camera is completely gone. We pack our bags and carry them down the 6 stories of stairs and make our way to the nearest plaza to get a taxi, on the way we see 1 serious car crash and 1 cyclist get hit by a car (we didn't see the incident themselves, just the aftermath) and apparently the day before there was a violent anti-government protest in the city and we didn't even know. Florence has been wild. As we are trying to flag a taxi, a local lady comes up and without much english says you can only call taxis, you cant wave them down. This is an issue as we dont have a phone, but she calls one for us and we thank her to which she replies “of course, I am the best” she does a little skip and off she goes. We wait for the taxi and our next stop is something I am actually quite nervous about. Partly because I have never driven on the other side of the road, but mostly because I haven't had contact with the camper van company for 3 days despite trying. I am just hoping the van actually turns up. I arranged the meeting point to be at a McDonalds close to the freeway. We pull in and can already see the van. I breathe a huge sign of relief. But my next breathe draws in more apprehension. The van is massive. It would be almost 3m high and 8 meters long. (2.8 x 7.8 to be exact). As confident as I normally am, I am very nervous about driving this thing. The guy shows us the van, it is very very fancy. All we need to do now is pay, and we will be on our way. We strike our first issue. My card payment is asking for an SMS code to process, which we cant get, because we have our international roaming switched off. So we somehow ring commonwealth bank off his phone and they do some things which mean the payment will work, but the whole saga took 90 minutes, of being on and off hold, phones cutting out, internet not working. It wasn't very fun. But we get it done and head into the Macca’s to use the wifi and get going. Problem number 2. The Macca’s wifi requires a credit card number to use and due to my recent bank card issues my card isn't working at all, so we cant use the internet. This is a problem because now we dont know where to go. I did see a camper van ground near the Piazza that over looks Florence, so using an offline map we make our way there. Now driving on the other side of the road wouldn't be to hard to get the hang of, if you weren't driving an 8 meter long truck. But I am so this really isn't fun at all. Every corner I find myself asking, which side of the road should I be on. But the real problems haven't started yet, the road to the campsite is getting narrower and narrower and turns into a one way road. We get to where the camp ground should be and its just not there, so I keep driving there are cars buzzing all around me, its real intense. Then problem number 3. I drive down a dead end street. I wedge the thing as best I can, I am covering 3 houses and have almost no way of getting out, I ask a local where the campground is, they said its closed, so I do a 55 point turn and somehow end up facing the right direction, but then we come to a intersection with three options, I dont even know which way I am suppose to be facing to a pick one and make a right turn, but the car is so long I cant fit around the corner, I am stuck blocking 4 roads of traffic with hordes of onlookers staring at the 2 white Aussies, in a pretentiously big camper van, with no idea what they are doing. I manage to manoeuvre the thing around (without damaging it, praise God), while getting a lot of colourful advice from everyone. I turn to Katie who is beyond tears and say where do we want to go. I answer myself and simply say, out of Florence. We head towards Pisa, and after about 90 minutes of driving, which was very testing on our marriage, we come to a quaint little caravan park, which is also closed, but there is no gate so we drive in anyway, and go for a walk on the river. Its actually a magic sunset, but I am in tears, because I cant photograph it (I still need to work out what we are doing with that) but we have no internet, no phone and not much idea on what we are doing next. Its been a very stressful day, but suppose on a big trip not everything is bound to go smoothly. We might just cry ourselves to sleep and hope that tomorrow is a better day.

- Day Seven -

After the fiasco of yesterday, things can only get better. We both actually had an amazing sleep, for its ridiculous size, the van is super luxurious, it has 2 double beds, a toilet, shower, table full kitchen and so many features. We decide that we will head to a shopping mall to get a new camera, I cant be on this trip without one. I ring my insurance, and they say that it should be covered, I just need a note from the police stating what happened and then we can get reimbursed when we get back to Australia. So we bounce around for town to town looking a shop that actually sells my model, which isn't that many in the part of the world we are in. But after a few hours we have found what we are looking for. I have a new camera in hand and we are praying over it, that it works well for the rest of trip. After the shop we need to find a police station. I need to get a report of what happened to the camera for the insurance. So we find one and realise the further we get away from Rome the less people speak english. The lady points me to a lady who says you dont need the local police, you need the carabinieri, which is like the police only different, I dont know how. There is a police man who knows english who is trying to help me. He says he will take me there and to follow him on his bike, but I let him know we are in a massive camper and I wont be able to fit through the streets. So he tells me just jump on the back. So without a helmet, I am hanging on for dear life on the back of this cops motorbike as he flies down the road, I think he may have forgotten that I am on the back. After about 3 minutes of driving we get to the place. We go in and after a discussion gets heated, he tells me they will take my statement but late rent he day. They have to much important work to do. Which surprises me as I can see 5 officers who are just standing around laughing and joking. But they all have pretty big guns so I dont question it. Ill just find somewhere else to do it. We go back outside where the officer says, you know your way back? I am going the other direction? And without much else to says rides off. Well I guess I will find my own way back. Hopefully Katie isn't getting to frantic waiting for me. I find my way back, it does take a while, but its all good. Ill try again another time. I am getting the hang of driving the van, its more navigating the roads in Italy that is the issue, I feel like they were designed by a kid with a hot wheels set. There are just loops and off roads and ramps everywhere that dont really seem to make any sense. We decide to head towards Cinque Terre, and the Italian coast. Its about an hour drive and we get there with relative ease, and with the help of maps, find our way to a campsite. The issue is that the camp site is closed. In fact we are in a camping town, there are about 50 camper van sites, but they are all closed. So we drive down the road about 20 minutes, following a map to another campsite. But after turning down a few roads, we get to a situation similar to the dead end street debacle of yesterday, we decide to turn back before its to late. We head back to a town called Massa, we have literally been trying to find somewhere to stay for about 2 hours. We find a big car park near the beach but we are a bit nervous to stay there, as we aren't allowed for camp on streets. But we dont really have much choice. I am praying that we dont get an angry knock on the door at midnight (Italian police dont like you camping in public places) or worse, someone tries to rob us. We decide that we will go for a bike ride to try and find some food, the camper van comes complete with 2 mountain bikes, which is actually super handy. We head down the main street and after riding for 20 seconds we see what looks like an open caravan park. Are you kidding. After driving around for over 2 hours, the last place we stop after giving up, is 20 seconds from the only open park in the region. We talk to the lady, who is the sweetest, not only is it open, but they have wifi, a washing machine and did I mention it was open? Its almost a miracle, ts crazy how many things are closed. It doesn't make the places we are going any less beautiful, just harder to work things out. We park, get the van setup and have an amazing nights sleep. The plan is that in the morning we will head towards La Spezia and train into Cinque Terre for the day.

- Day Eight -

For the first time in 8 days we wake up at about 8am. The biggest sleep in we have had by almost 3 hours. The van is so comfortable to sleep in, you can even have a proper hot shower. Very refreshing, we heard down the office to pay for our night and also to call ahead the place we are staying to make sure we dont waste time driving around in circles. Thankfully they will be open and we jump on the road, its only a 45 minute trip to La Spezia. We find the camper van site easily and we bag my bag and head to the bus stop, to get to the train station to get to Cinque Terre. Its all pretty simple, we buy a pass for the train and we are on our way. Cinque Terre isn't one particular place, its actually a region (world heritage listed). Cinque Terre is Italian for 5 lands, and on each headland is a town which make up Cinque Terre. The first town Riomaggiore, is our first stop on the train. Our plan is to walk around the coast to the next 4 towns, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso then catch the train back. Its about a 12km walk and is suppose to take about 5 hours. I am a bit worried at both the time and the weather forecast. Its a fine day now, but at 2/3 a thunderstorm is suppose to roll in and its already 12pm by the time we get to Riomaggiore. We hop of the train and head to the coastal walk, and we are extremely disappointed (along with 20 other tourists) to find that the track is closed. The options are, take the overland track which is 4 hours, or wait for the next train and catch to Corniglia and then walk via the coastal track to Vernazza. We take the train option which means waiting 50 minutes for the next train. We head up the lookout. Its an amazing view, all you can see is water to the horizon. I sit up on the wall which is about 100 meters straight down to the ocean, which has Katie screaming at me to get down (standard). As we are waiting for the train I grab a sandwich and all these pigeons start to gather around us. They are so close you could grab them, kick them, hit them, and turns out you can feed them from your hand, they are obviously so attuned to tourists that they know what to do for a feed. This effectively fills our time. The train arrives, and we get off at the 3rd town of Corniglia. Its a pretty town, but we dont spend to long exploring it, we want to get on the track as we have a 2 hour 4km hike to get to Vernazza, and I would love to do it before the rain hits. The weather has become overcast and its quite cool, but the sky is a deep blue/grey and the water is like turquoise, it looks really spectacular and the walking track climbs and weaves and clings to the side of a small mountain providing a constant view over the ocean and town that we just came from. Its a breathtaking walk, and despite the fact that it seems entirely uphill, its really enjoyable. The air is still, but you can sense that its the calm before the storm, you can see its really dark and raining over the ocean. I reckon we have about 60/90 minutes before it hits us. We walk, climb and photograph and after an hours walking we decide to pick up the pace, the temp has dropped and the wind has picked up, I feel that we only have 15 minutes before the storm hits us and we really dont want to be on the side of a cliff face when it does. We meet a couple coming the other way and I ask how far, she says about 20 mins, but it was all uphill (for them) downhill for us. She asks me optimistically and I regrettable say about an hour. Not good for them. We feel the first few sprinkles of rain, and we know that things are about to get interesting. It's starts raining properly as we enter the town, its about 3pm and the rain feels like it has set in. We really need to be back in town by 5pm or we might struggle to get back to the camper in the dark. I make an executive decision. I find some wifi and book an airbnb, we are staying here tonight. We have no spare clothes, only what we brought with us, but at the same time, its really exciting and as soon as we find our room, we are loving it. Its literally a room about 2.5 x 2.5 meters, there is a kettle, and coffee, which we make straight away because we are soaking wet and freezing. but the balcony overlooks the Mediterranean. Its unbelievable. We have a coffee, lie down and listen to the storm rage. After an hour we head down to explore the town. Its still raining but just a steady drizzle rather than the down pour of earlier. Its another picture postcard perfect town, and the rain makes everything glisten. We explore the little souvenir shops and cafes, we buy our customary fridge magnet (we are doing this every place we go) we head to a lookout, which is a bar in summer, and watch the waves roll in. Its so peaceful, there aren't many other people around. We notice a church and like we have done in many other places we head over. It s a big stone building, with glass windows that look out over the ocean and we grab a seat on the wooden pews and have a bit of a pray. Its another serene moment, despite the fact that these churches are used by very religious people, I still find a real presence in all of them. We head back out to get a pizza to take back to our look out. This will ve our entree before we get dinner for real. We head back to our room to drop off our gear. When we get there, we are both pretty full so we lie down for a bit and as we do, this gunshot like sound rings out. Katie is scared immediately. I am more intrigued at what the sound was. Katie says forcefully lock the door and also asked if I locked the 2 gates outside. I said no and as I do the sound rings out again. Its a bit weird. I look out the window, but cant see anything. Katie tells me to go lock the gates, its freezing, raining and Im pretty sure they dont lock, but being a good husband I go out. I am right, they dont lock, but I come back and tell Katie they are all locked. It makes her feel safe. Its 7:30pm. Time for bed. I want to get up before sunrise in the morning and with a gunman on the loose it feels like the right option.

- Day Nine -

Its been raining all night, the gunman turned out to be some noises from the train station, but the weather has turned and we are looking towards a beautiful day. After a last minute decision to stay at Vernazza, we wake super early, I am keen to get a photo of town with the sunrise in the background. we have woken up early enough, all we need now is the sunrise. Its still dark when we head outside, I reckon we have about a half hour walk to get to the lookout over the town. As we leave you can see cloud in the sky, but none on the horizon, a good sign that we might get some nice colour. Its so early no shops or cafes are open. After getting to the lookout we have a 2 hour walk to the next town and we realise that we have no water or food or anything. Im sure we will be okay. With each step it gets brighter and the sky is starting to fill with colour and we get to the lookout at a perfect time. TO get the really nice angle, I jump the fence and perch on the side of the cliff, Katie runs ahead to see if there is a better spot, but we are already on the money spot. The sunrise is beautiful, and we head towards the next town of Monterosso, the walk is stunning. Even better than the previous day, the track is full of little waterfalls and creeks. The only issue is that the first hour is purely uphill and not just slightly but a never ending staircase of uneven rocks, even though the air temp is only about 5 degrees, we are hot and sweating in t-shirts, I dont know how people would do this in summer, although they would probably be dressed better than we are. About halfway we come to a really weird sight. There is about 5 little dog kennels, with pictures of cats laminated and stuck to a rock face. There is a cat hotel in the middle of no where. There is a sign saying please cuddle and feed the cats. Of course Katie obliges, a big fat cat comes out of his house and is happy to eat. Such a random thing, in such a beautiful part of the world. We get to what feels like the top of the climb, and we pass around a corner and can see the next town. Its still a while away, but its good to see where we are heading. As we pass the sun also begins to shine over the mountain tops and cats a golden light of everything. Its perfect for photos and I get a bunch of great shots. The last 30 minutes is all downhill and before we know we arrive to a sleepy Monterosso waking up. The farmers market beneath the train station is opening and we decide to get some fresh fruit for breakfast. We get 4 mandarines, 2 apples and a bunch of grapes. It cost $2.20 and we go find and seat. We find a bench that overlooks the ocean and we sit and eat. Its so serene, then breaking waves, fresh fruit, sense of accomplishment, having just finished the trek. We are feeling amazing, all we need now is some coffee. After we head we walk around the headland to the rest of the town and find this cute little coffee shop, right on the beach, we order some coffees and just enjoy it, its such a perfect moment. After coffee, there is the big rock formations that is just off the beach, I tell Katie I am going to go climb it and for her to take a photo of me. The beach is full or rocks, not sand, its pretty cool. I get over to the rock and time my run as to not get soaked by waves and jump up on it. I climb to the top and give Katie a big wave, as which point a small crowd has gathered to watch, I sit with my feet dangling over the edge, its about 15 meters high and I have a little moment with God. We walk not he beach together collecting some rocks as souvenirs, way cheaper than the gift shop and head back to the train station. The last thing that we need to cross off the list is the camper van being still there and not broken into. Im sure it will be fine. Sure enough its all good. We decide that we are going to head to Lake Como for the next few days, a change of scenery and location is something we are both pretty keen to do. Its about 350km and a 4 hour drive. Its 12pm by the time we get on the road and we should get there with some light still left in the day. We have earmarked a caravan park that we know is open and we are praying that we make it in one piece. I am getting a lot more confident driving and after navigating some interesting turns and freeway changes, we are on the highway and going fast. There is no speed limit on this thing. Cars literally fly. I have this thing going 120kms and cars still fly past. The only tricky thing is in a car this size, every car that flys past sends the camper into a small speed wobble, and the same happens when you overtake trucks when you come out of their slip stream, it takes full concentration to drive, but after 4 hours we arrive at the south end of Lake Como. But we are still about 50 minutes away as we are staying at the north end, but the rest of the drive takes us along the lake on the right side and it is absolutely amazing. The lake is surrounded by tower cliffs, mountains, villages and it is such an epic landscape. One of the most awesome I have ever seen. I cant wait to get to our camp site. the drive is literally taking forever, and we are on the final stretch, the road goes from 3 lanes each way to 2 lanes both ways and it isn't that wide, with only a few kms left I dont want to crash now, but coming straight at me is a semi trailer and it fully doesn't look like there is enough room for us both, but he isn't slowing down, I almost close my eyes as he goes past. I feel like an angel pushed our side mirrors and keeps us out of a ditch, we make it and soon enough pull into our camp and WOW. this is unbelievable, our sits is literally on the water, next tot he lake a snow capped mountain opposite a sleepy town behind. There are even about 20 white swans just cruising not he glassy lake right in front of us. This is almost to good to be true. We even have wifi working inside the camper. We might not leave this place. We had only planned to stay a night but something tells me we will be staying a bit longer.

- Day Ten -

We were hoping to get a spectacular sunrise this morning. The sun should rise right over the mountain that is opposite our campsite. Unfortunately it is raining and the whole lake and surrounding mountains are surrounded by clouds. there is a mist across the lake, it still looks beautiful, but not as epic as yesterday when it was surround by mountains. Today you wouldn't even know that was the case. We stay in bed, its warm in the camper and with the rain outside, we dont need to get up for anything. For the first time on the trip we just lie around listening to the rain on the roof. Eventually we decide to get up and find some breakfast. The guy at the reception told us there are some restaurants around the corner from the campsite. We head out, its still raining, we grab our $5 umbrella and wander around in the rain. Its actually very peaceful, although I'm not sure where the old guy at the campsite got his timing from we have been walking for 15 and haven't found a thing. Either he is a bit senile or we are walking the wrong way. We dont mind, we are enjoying the walk, eventually we find a cute little cafe. As we sit I order my new favourite drink, an expresso shot with the tiniest hint of milk. I have no idea what they call it in Italy, so I just order and expresso with milk. I dont think I will go back to drinking big coffees every again. The sky is pretty dark, we decide to go and explore the lake, its an hour and bit down the lakeside road. The lady at the desk said the roads aren't super wide, but I reckon we will have a go anyway. We secure everything and get driving. There is a place called Menaggio or something and it has a lot of ferries and transports options so we might see if w can find a spot to camp near there so we can travel around the lake. The road doesn't start out to bad, but eventually it starts to get pretty thin. There are sections that only fit 1 car, so you just drive around corners and pray no body else is going the other way. We reach the town starting with M, there isn't any campsites and there are no real obvious places to park. Again we dont want to try drive around and end up making a wrong turn and get stuck, so we keep driving. Its a bit stressful driving, the roads are so narrow and there is heaps of traffic. We have to regularly pull over as 15/20 cars bank up behind us. We pull over and have a look at the map, there is a series of three waterfalls about 15kms down the road. We decide to head there, this place is spectacular and I'm sure these waterfalls will be epic. As we approach the carparks is approaching. the issue is our van fills the only available park and the exit road for everyone else to get out the right way. They will still all be able ot get out, so we decide to just park and not be too long. There is a huge flight of stairs which we start making our way up, I feel like we have climbed so many stair cases on this trip, it leads to a locked gate, which Katie says I cant climb over, so we head back down and have to walk around the main road which has cars and truck whizzing by, at this point Katie would have preferred that we climb the gate. Eventually we sprint across a bridge with camera and tripod in hand and we see the waterfall for the first time. It is not amazing. its basically a small trickle down a rocky outcrop. Pretty underwhelming considering the rest of the landscape around us. We make our way back to our ridiculously parked car to find a dodgy looking man scoping out the van. I kind of quickly walk over towards him and make eye contact, he backs away. I am pretty intimidating. We quickly get back in the van and as we are driving we see him photograph the van and appears to take the number plates. I am not overly worried. the van is from Czech Republic and so even if they manage to track down the owners, I’m not to sure that there is to big of a penalty for bad parking. We start to head back, I took note of a spot that we should be able to park and go have lunch and a walk around. its a town called Tremezzo, and its home to this luxurious hotel called the Grand Hotel, its undergoing huge renovations, but it looks like the kind of place movies stars would stay. We park in the car park out the from t of it. It has nice big double bays. As we are getting out the car someone says, to us that we cant stay here overnight as its a private car park, I said thanks we just want to go get coffee, he answers us ‘thats fine” so we go off in search of a coffee shop. again we find most things in this sleepy town are closed. We settle with a nice walk around before heading back. As we get to the van another lady abruptly tells us this is a private car park. I said thanks for the info, we are leaving anyway. After quite a lot of driving we get back to our original campsite. Its to good to not stay there again. The night before i noticed this church halfway up the hillside. Obviously you must be able to get there somehow, although it doesn't look obvious. But we head off on a mission to get up there. From the ground it looks like it would provide a sweeping view across the whole lake. and it would be a magic spot to watch the sunset form. We find a sign (in Italian) but it has a picture of what looks like the church on it so, we start walking. Soon enough we get to a path and yet another set of steep stairs. We start climbing, I sort of forge ahead of Katie somewhat. The sun is setting rapidly and I dont want to miss it. We head past a dodge looking barn which gives of the haunted vibe something shocking and after about 30 minutes of climbing we reach the final stairway make the final steps, we already now this was worth it. The view is unbelievable. It is literally an uninterrupted view over the whole lake and surrounding towns and the sun is about to set over the hills. This is special moment, there isn't another person for ages, we look down over this slow moving town with an amazing vista before us. We sit and watch (and take some photos of course) as the sun sets over the hills. The mountain opposite stays sunlight for quite a long time after the rest of the lake is cast into shadows. A super cold wind is gusting of the mountain behind us, but we are pretty rugged up so its all good. Katie starts playing some worship music on my phone which makes the moment even better. We stay till well after the sun has set and then realise that we have a long downhill walk in the dark. Its eerie walking through the bush in the near dark, but we hustle down and head back to one of our favourite restaurants of the trip. We went there last night and it was so good. The waiter remind me of Wallace from Wallace and grommet so I gave him a $10 euro tip which made him beam from ear to ear (like Wallace from Wallace and Grommet) , he is working again tonight but we are served by the other waiter who is a dead ringer of the night-fox from Oceans 12 movie. The food here is so so good. The night before we were the only ones in there tonight its packed. I think we will be heading to a new destination tomorrow. Lake Como has been amazing.

- Day Eleven -

Today we head off in search of new experience and new sights. Our end destination is Nice in France, but we are just undecided on driving the whole way there in a day (500kms) or stopping somewhere and doing it over two. I think we will just get on the road and see how we feel. Its a very uneventful 3 hours. We are just driving and driving and driving and also singing a lot. Normally I only listen to worship music, but I have a playlist on my phone called “non Christian” which is all my favourite songs from my high school years mostly old love songs and ballads, with some pun k rock thrown in for good measure. It makes the trip go so fast and without really noticing we have driven 300kms, so we decide that we will just head straight to Nice. As we turn one of the corners you can see the french alps in the distance including Mount Blanc, they cover the whole horizon. It look pretty amazing. It gets us excited for Switzerland. I have been going so fast in this camper. Its cool having no real speed limits. I saw a car pass me and was followed by a police car, but not in a chase or anything, and I was doing 120kms (I have a current high speed record of 135kms), they would of easily been doing 140. Im not sure what the rules are here. It also doesn't help that every sign and warning is in Italian. Hopefully we dont get a stack of speeding fines and what not when we drop the car off. We pull over at a rest stop to fill up and keep going. We have less than 200kms and 2 hours to go. We climb a hill and as we come over the crest the Mediterranean comes into view again. Even though we have only been away from it for 3 days, its still a little bit breath taking as we follow the coast now for the next 200kms. The road winds up and down, the thing about roads over here is, the constantly go into tunnels. It seems they dont build over mountains here they just go straight through them and they also just build huge bridges over valleys making for a lot of scary moments for Katie. She has done really well navigating this long trip. It might have something to do with the fact that we have only made about 3 turns the whole trip. But she has been good nonetheless. We go through our last toll way and then according to the maps we will be crossing over into France. There is no big signs, no fan fare, just a small bump in the road and we are in another country. Im not sure what I was expecting but thats that. We wave goodbye to Italy, we will be back there for our flight home. But we are looking forward to experiencing France. We have been travelling for 6 hours now and we are pretty keen to get to the camp site. We finally get off the freeway and are only about 3kms from the campsite, but the drive has one more curve ball. We come to a final toll way that has three lanes, one is for auto pay only, but that lane is the only one big enough for our camper to fit through, the rest are all 2m high limit. So we pull in get a few coins ready. Its only $1.20, so I put it in the machine, and it rejects the coins. I try a few more times. No good. So I try to pay with my card. Again it doesn't work. I try a note, it wont go in. At this point I am getting pretty frustrated, and there is a pretty big line of cars banking up behind us. I hit the assistance button, where a french lady comes on, speaking in French. She says I must pay $1.20. I say thank you for that information, I have been trying but it wont work. I tell her about 10 times that it isn't working, but she keep reiterating that I must pay $1.20, there is a chance this could be a recording, but I think its just a french lady who cant understand my accent. By now cars are starting to honk at me and not just one car but as one of the cars started honking, everyone has jumped on. There are literally 30 cars, trucks and scooters I honking at me, I’m shouting at them to shut up and while I’m trying to get this lady to help me. By this point I am out of my car. I feel angry, frustrated, helpless all at the same time. Finally some dude comes around the front of my car puts a $1.20 in the machine, the gate lifts and we are free to go. Calls me and idiot and walks off. Are you joking. Was this guy magic? How did he make it work. Either he is a wizard or I was just putting stuff in wrong place. Crisis averted. I wave to the 128 cars that are piled behind me and we drive the last 2kms without incident to the campsite. Where we pull in and turn the car off. After 6.5 hours, I wont mind if I dont drive this thing ever again.

- Day Twelve -

We are in an area that is about a 10 minute train ride from Nice. Our plan is to stay at this campsite for a few days and just travel around by train. More by luck that design the place we are is a 2 minute walk from the beach, train and shopping centre. We will easily be able to base ourselves here. We walk down to the train station. Its a sunday and everything is pretty quiet, we are going to be spending the day in Nice. The train is simple, we dont have to wait long and before we know it we are walking down the main shopping road in Nice. There is tram tracks up the middle and its about 2kms long, but we just walk enjoying this new place. We stop and go inside this beautiful old church. An actual service is taking place, it is sunday after all. We stay up the back, the whole thing is in French and unfortunately my 2 years of french in high school has completely left me, except for the fact I can count to 10. We continue our walk and end up in a big square with huge fountain on some kind of timer. its looks pretty cool and we decide to head towards a hill over to our left. I have a feeling that it will over look the promenaded (the famous part of Nice) and from there we can walk along the whole thing. So far Nice has been nice, but not amazing, just a better than average mall. But as we leave this square, we enter into he old town of nice. the buildings are old and colourful and there are fresh food markets everywhere. Its smells and amazing, and the little alley ways that everything is crammed into is buzzing with noise, people and atmosphere, This is more like it. We are both hungry and every shop has something in it that we want to eat. But we just keep wandering, I have a feeling that the promenade will hold some good things for us. As we turn a corner we see the ocean. By the way, its a spectacular day. its about 20 degrees, sunny and still. Not quite the 38 everyone back in Perth is complaining about, but just super pleasant. the beach is before us and the water looks stunning. Its bright blue and it set off by the white and grey rocks which make up the beach. There are about 20 old people, like properly old, walking around or sun baking on beach in there speedos and bikinis. The colour of their skin (deep dark brown) indicates that they have been doing this everyday for the last 70 years of their lives. There are bikes, scooters, kids, dogs, segways, stuff just buzzing around everywhere. We decide to find somewhere for lunch and we spot this bar that has a second story with benches that overlook the whole thing and looks out over the ocean. We spot a couple of free spots and head up there. This is magic. We feel like we have struck the jackpot, I order a coke zero and a whole bunch of tapas. We have found our spot to hang out of the next few hours. We just sit and eat and talk and people watch over such a lovely view. Its really cool. We think about getting coffee but deicide do that somewhere else. We wander down the promenade and though the malls, I stumble into a watch shop and immediately see cabinet marked -50% there is this stunning watch and I want to try it on, we are in France and I did set aside money to buy a watch in each country as a souvenir. The discount brings it into my price range and while we haven't been to Paris yet, ill regret not getting this watch so I do. It feels awesome. Super happy with my purchase we leave it in the bag and head back towards the beach. There are soldiers with machine guns which I think is the result of the devastating attack that happened in this very spot only a few months ago. We actually stumble across a huge memorial to the victims of the bastille day attack. We wander around it looking at photos, toys, flags and banner all left as tributes to those who were killed. Its a pretty sombre moment, it makes you appreciate what you have a pray that events like this become a thing of the past. its getting late in the day, we decide to head back to camp. We have had an awesome day. Tomorrow we will go and checkout Monaco. We cant be bothered going out for dinner, so we have a bowl of cereal in the camper, its actually the first meal we have cooked in here so its pretty special. Now its time for a movie and some sleep.

- Day Thirteen -

After an awesome day yesterday, we are hoping that Monaco is just as good as nice. The train is slightly further, but I am pretty keen to see this playground for the rich and famous. Just so we fit in a bit better I take my new watch out of the box and get a little bit dressed up (as does Katie) only to find, my brand new watch doesn't work. The day isn't off to the best start. We are going to have to go to Monaco via the watch shop in Nice. Not ideal but its early enough and sort of on the way. Hopefully we remember how to get there. Once in Nice we jump on the tram and I find the watch shop straight away. The lady has a quick look and says she will need about an hour. Its a bit frustrating but we are both hungry and haven't had breakfast yet so we go for a wander and hopefully we come back to good news. I remembered as we were walking the promenade yesterday that further up there where a bunch of restaurant literally on the beach so we go to see if one of them does breakfast and as we look up the beach we can see a bunch of tables, chairs and couch soothe waters edge, so we head down and end up finding one of the best places we have ever sat down to have a meal. What a blessing in disguise the broken watch has been. We are about 5 meters from the water, its another stunning day and the food here is amazing. We share one of the best crossings we have ever had, some coffees, freshly squeezed orange juice. This is really really special. And takes up about exactly as much time as the watch lady needs. it turns out it was just the battery which is replaced. I put on the watch and we head onwards to Monaco with a classy watch and already a fantastic memory. Then we get off the train in Monaco. Almost straight away a Ferrari drives past, then an Aston Martin, a Range Rover and Jaguar, There is some serious money floating about this place. We wander down towards this old looking fort place. All the hill I am trying to work out where the F1 track is. I can see pit lane, I know that much. This is so cool, we head up to this old building which is kind of build on a headland between the 2 ports of Monaco. As we lookout you can see high rises that cover the slopes of the cliff faces, and towers rock faces rise above those, its pretty amazing. If I was mega rich, I would probably live here to. There is some kind of palace that we are in front of and it has an armed guard in full dress gear marching up and down a well worn track. What a boring job, I guess he just does that all day. We wander through some more amazing little alleyways. I buy a model car for my Dad. I reckon he would love this place. We head to the botanical gardens which overlook the other side of the city. There are yachts, boats and nice cars everywhere. Its crazy how much money some people have. We pass a row of the coolest, biggest, nicest yachts I have ever seen. Some have boats on the back, some cars, they all have full time staff who simply look after them. Its next level opulence. We make our way over towards the old casino and shopping area, I want to buy Katie a really nice perfume, and what better place in the world to buy it that in Monte Carlo. As we are on our way we stumble into a theme parky, showy kind of area, with rides, sideshows and stuff, its pretty cool and I love sideshow games. I play a few shooting games, almost win some great prizes and then come one of my highlights of this whole trip. There is this game, its like a horse race, you roll a ball toward some holes, and whatever number hole you get the ball into is how many spots forward your horse moves forwards and first one to the end wins. This is exciting. There is a pretty old couple sitting there practising, and I sit down next to them. Its on. I am number 5. The race start and I am off to a flyer. I am halfway down the track before they even get going, but then the wheels start falling off, I can sink any throws, just ones here and there before I know it the old man has caught up, he is one from the finish I am three. Its almost all over until I roll a cracker, it circles the 3 hole about 5 times then drops, my horse lurches across the fish line, I rise to my feet and go ballistic, I have won a horse race in Monaco. You can see the disappointment on the old couples face. but there is always a winner and a loser. I collect my prize. I have a choice, between a laser pointer, piggy bank and deck of cards. I choose the piggy bank. Im not sure why. What a great win. One of the best of my life. On that high we leave the show, not before buying Katie some caramel and almond nougat which makes her the second happiest person in the world (after me), and head towards the shops. Time to buy Katie a present. These shops are next level classy. Neither of us feel super at home here. But its nice to pretend for a moment. We head into a perfume store, pretending like we do this every day and start spraying perfume all over the place. We end up buying a lovely bottle of Chanel no. 5. Now we both have a great moment from this awesome city. Its been a great day. The sun is starting to set and we head to the train station. Unfortunately its at the top of the city which means we need to climb a lot of steps to get there. But we are super used to that by now. We end the day with a 3 course feast at an Indian restaurant. the food is good but it is certainly no Haweli from Wanneroo Rd. We tick another great day off the list. See what tomorrow brings.

- Day Fourteen -

Today we are making our back up towards Lyon, where we will be dropping the camper in a few days time. We have enjoyed our time by the seaside, but now its inland towards the rivers and mountains of France. We have bookmarked a town called Avingion, its suppose to be very beautiful, but it will be hard to top the place we have been so far. Its about 250kms and 2 hours. We get the camper cleaned, serviced and ready to go. There is one thing we are worried about and that is the gas levels. We have been pumping the LPG heater non stop and a full tank is suppose to only last about that long. We did try and fill it a few days ago, but the service station would fill it as its against the rules, the reason i have no idea. SO before we get on the freeway I want to try and fill it up. We squeeze into a small gas station, and I ask for some but help, but they say you must do it yourself. So its going to be a bit of guess work. With highly flammable LPG. Mmm. I have 3 attachments to pick from, I pick the one that looks best fit, I put the thing and squeeze the trigger, but I cant tell if its working or not. The attendant says you must lock it in place than press the button on the pump, but there is no way for this to lock in. I call Katie out, I am just going to squeeze it in place and get Katie to push the button. Im not sure this is a great idea, but neither is being freezing all night. She presses the button and the gas starts flowing. Its going somewhere…Hopefully into our gas tank, I am pretty nervous doing this, after 15 litres (not idea if thats not much or a lot) I say thats enough and release it. So far so good. I dont want to have to do that again, so I hope that enough to last the rest of the 3 days we have left. The drive is another uneventful one, although we did miss seeing a crash live by about 2 minutes, somehow a car had managed to get up onto the safety barrier, but stopped before falling down a pretty long drop. Everyone seemed to be okay, but traffic was starting to back up like crazy. We get close to Avingion, and it doesn't look like the pretty place that we read about. It looks run down and commercial, the roads aren't very good and there are traffic lights every 50 meters and every light is red. We are driving, very slowly, for about 3 kms, but then we come to an intersection, up ahead is this medieval looking walls and forts, and it looks to circle the entire city centre. I think this is it, we circle around the city, our campsite is opposite the city, just on the other side of the river. We cross the bridge and its stunning. Obviously we saved the best bit till last. There is old bridge that juts out over the water, really old castles and walls, and the sun is setting so the light is amazing, I grab my camera and walk along the river edge taking photos, there is a bunch of photographers also there, its a beautiful night for photography. As the sun goes down it gets super cold. Colder than I have been on this trip, we rug up and head across to the city to find somewhere to eat. We haven't been inside the city walls yet so we hope its nice and hope to also find somewhere to eat. As we past under the old gates, nice is an understatement. Its absolutely beautiful. There are towering old trees, that bend over white stone pavements, it looks like the white city from Lord of the Rings, the shop fronts are all super ritzy, like Rome, and the golden street lights just set the whole place of. We cant wait to explore this city tomorrow. We just need to find somewhere to eat. We follow our way around towards the brightest lights and eventually end up in a huge square surround by restaurants. We pick a moderately priced place and enjoy a nice meal. After eating we walk back to the camp site, its about a 15 minute walk from where we are. Its so so cold. I really hope the gas has worked, we will struggle without out. As I get back to the camper a couple of cats have followed me. Normally I hate cats, but I am missing my dog, and these animals are cute. I open the door and they just come on inside. Katie is a fair way behind me, as she went to check the facilities, so when she opens the door and comes inside she get the fright of her life as 2 cats come out of the shadows. After her initial fright, she is stoked and begins playing, feedback and taking selfies with the cats. All the want is food and they dont want to leave. Even after I kick them out, to Katie's pleas to let them stay, they just stay out the front door for ages, hoping we let them back in. We won’t (I won’t) but I hope they have a good night.

- Day Fifteen -

During the night someone tried to break into our camper. It was about 2am and Katie awoke shouting, I woke up and also started shouting. Our shouts must have scared the intruder away. Either that or an acorn fell on the roof of the camper and we are parked beneath and acorn tree. Ill let you decide. Either way, it set my heart beating for about 30 seconds until I fell back sleep. I asked Katie to set an alarm so I can get up and photograph the sunrise. At 6:30 the alarm goes off, but I mumble something like “I cant be bothered” and we both go back to sleep. We have hit somewhat of a more normal routine, going to sleep super late and getting up, well later than we had been. Today we are going to explore the city of Avignon and from what we saw yesterday, we are both pretty excited. We also decide that we will stay an extra day here, all we know is that the camper needs ot be at Lyon Airport by 12 on Friday, so when we find somewhere we like, we have just been staying. We set off, but its so cold, I head to the campsite store to get a coffee, to warm our hands more than anything. I order them to go. What we end up with is some super strong coffee’s poured into the same plastic cups we use for water at church. I cant hold the cups because he has made them so hot. I find Katie and give her a coffee, which taste more like the plastic cup than coffee. It was a good thought. We wander about a km over to the city with our plastic coffees and just start exploring. As I said yesterday this city is truly beautiful. It was the town that housed the popes for about 80 years in the 1500’s and the big castle at the top/centre of the city is his old house and church. We buy some tickets that give us access to the old bridge which hangs halfway across the Rhone, the other half was destroy in a siege of the city in the 1500’s. Its actually amazing what people where able to build 100’s of years ago. Things that are still standing strong today. We head from the bridge to the Palace of the Popes, but not before stopping for a quick croissant and coffee. The Catholic church sure does own some extravagant buildings. This palace is no different, although it is not as decorated as the Vatican, but I think that is owing to its age and relatively original state it has been preserved in, but it still has an amazing sense of grandeur nonetheless. Unlike the Vatican this is the popes actual residence, so we are walking through His old dressing rooms, guest rooms, study and library, its quite interesting. Katie is loving more than I though she would. We come to a room that is a museum of how they constructed the building and also old artefacts and things they found when digging around the palace. One of the items discovered is a human skull complete with a cross bow bolt still lodge in it. This was the skull of someone killed during the siege of the city in the 1500’s. Amazing. We continue on the self guide tour and come to the end. We the walk around the popes garden which give a 360 degree view of the whole area, as you walk around them. We leave the popes palace and head down into the city and stroll through the alleys. The pavement is made of huge blocks of marble. It just feels amazing to walk on. We browse through shops, look for shoes and Katie stops in every patisserie to just look at all the desserts. Its a lovely afternoon. I cant remember being in a prettier city in my life. Although it does remind me a bit of Hobart, especially Salamanca and Battery Point. Makes me wish I appreciated where I came from more. We head back up to the Popes gardens to watch the sunset. The sky fills with colour and the trees around the area glow. We get ushered quickly out of the garden by security despite the fact its 30 mins before closing time. Perhaps he is keen for an early night. We make our way back to the camper. We decide to not eat out, as we have done almost every night. We opt for crepes and baguette on the way back. We have an early start tomorrow, to go somewhere that I am sure we will work out. Its our penultimate night in the camper. Its been an adventure thats for sure. Ill let you know where we end up tomorrow.

- Day Sixteen -

Last day before we head to Paris. We were planning on going to Lyon, which is where we need to drop off the camper. But owing to the fact that there is only 1 open caravan park, the city looks really tricky to navigate and the place is still over and hour from the airport (where we drop it off) we decide to look for other options. Before we do we get up so we can watch the sunrise over Avignon one last time and it doesn't disappoint. The sky glows orange and purple. There is a light mist that is hovers over the water. What a great way to end our time here. We have decided to head north east about 2 hours to the mountain town of Grenoble. Its only 50 minutes from where we drop the camper off and it looks beautiful. Besides, I dont think Lyon will have much more to offer than Paris and we will be there for 5 days soon. There is a cable car which travels up a mountain and provides a view over the entire area. I am pretty keen to check that out. Katie not so much. we get on the road. We have a major miscommunication, almost for the first time on the trip, which leads to our first ‘passionately heated conversation’. We end up taking a 15 minute, 10km, $1.90 detour. After that we are back on the right track. Its a 2 hour drive to Grenoble. After about 30 mins we pass a huge series of smoke stacks. They are just massive. I reckon its a nuclear power station. It is almost eerie to look at, there is so much power being generated in that facility and all I can think about is Chernobyl. Hoping it doesn't meltdown right now. We keep driving and without to many more communication errors we get to Grenoble, which is actually a pretty massive city. The camp site is easy and its right on the tram line which take us into city. We need to get a bag to put all our purchased good in, as our bags were already jammed full before we even got here. It needs to be a certain shape to fit all the stuff, plus act as carry on. So we are on a mission in another place we have never been. We find, of all things, a quiksilver shop. They have what we need but we press on to find something cheaper and better. I almost buy a $150 euro mountain climbing bag from an outdoor shop, persuaded by the grey and bright pink colours, but we decide against the impulse buy and get a good bag at a cheap price. Then we head onwards toward the big cable car. It is a series of small spherical bubbles, the track is 1km long and hangs about 100m in the air. Its pretty impressive. Whats more impressive is that it has been operating since 1934. I am super excited. Katie is super scared. We hop on and I am hoping its smooth and not to bouncy, for Katie sake, but I dont think it would matter, she is terrified anyway. It only takes about 3 minutes to get to the top, which seemed like eternity for Katie. Once at the top we have a 360 degree view of the snow capped mountains which surround us on every side and if you walk a further 3kms up the mountain you will come to the Bastille memorial, which is a tribute to the 150,000 french soldiers who died during WWII. Of course I want to go up there. Katie sits this one out. She gives me the instruction of what time to be back and for the first time on this trip we part ways. After an aggressive 30 minute walk, I am on top the memorial which gives a more uninterrupted view, all the cable cars and tracks and buildings are out of site its really cool. I climb over the fence and find a really good rock to sit on. I am perched on the top of a rock face staring across the French alps. Its a beautiful sunny and its actually the first time I have been alone for almost 3 weeks. I am enjoying the serenity, but I look at my watch and I need to be back down or Katie will start to worry. As I get towards the bottom of the track, she is waiting already, but has a smile on her face which is good. We head back towards the cable car station and the restaurant where we plan on having dinner as the sun goes down. We find a nice table, but the problem is the kitchen is closed, we settle for a coffee and will have to find somewhere in the city. Katie psyching herself for the trip down the cable car, I really want to sit up front, but that isn't going to happen, see closed her eyes and prays the whole way down. Mission accomplished. All we need to do now is find our way back to camp. We stop at a little patisserie and Katie orders a burger. It looks stone cold to me and lady ask Katie and questions which she says no thanks. The lady gives her a funny look and we leave. Katie takes a bit of here stone cold burger and we realised that the lady had asked if she wanted the burger heated, which Katie declined. Ah the joys of the language barrier. We encounter the same problem when we get back to the camper when we open the bottle of milk to find out that its straight cream. I guess I wont be having cereal for dinner. Only a 1 hour drive to go in the morning and onwards to Paris. Bring it on.

- Day Seventeen -

Here we go. Last drive in the camper. We have an $800 euro security deposit down and I would like to get it all back. We have done over 2000kms in 10 days without a scratch and we have 80kms before we hand back the keys. I have to empty the toilet, fill the water and clean the camper before we head off. We also need to try and contact the guy picking it up with a meeting point. This is proving difficult with no internet connection. i manage to eek out a bar of something that allows me to send an email, but I get no response, so we just hope the guy is there when we arrive. As we leave Grenoble it starts to gently rain. Its the first rain we have had since Rome, and the first drop since we have had the camper. From a November in Europe the weather has actually been amazing. Before we know it we are out of the city and on the tollway. We are actually way ahead of time so we pull in at a rest stop for a coffee, so we get to the airport for pickup on time. We had asked the guy to meet us at a petrol station near the terminal, we hope he is there. We said to meet us there at 11:30, we arrive at 11:25. Now we wait. Time ticks by and there is no sign of him. We are getting worried, we have train tickets booked to Paris that we cant miss, we need this guy to be here. Its 11:45, and then we see a guy in the distance walking toward the petrol station. Its our guy. Katie is over joyed, she wont have to navigate in this thing ever again. The guys name is David, he is super friendly. We shake hands, now for the final inspection, there is nothing to report expect a light fitting which was busted when we got it and some tree marks (from some tight turns in caravan parks). Its all good, he says the light fitting breaks all the time, every other mark will just wash off with a clean. We sign papers, we will get our full deposit back :) and then he drives is to the train station. Its a 20 minute drive and we arrive with almost 2 hours till our train. We find a Starbucks and just sit and chill for ages. I do some writing, Katie snapchats (she has been doing a lot of that on our trip) time flies by. The tricky thing about french trains is they dont tell you what platform they leave from until 10/15 mins before they depart and the stations are pretty big. Finally the sign flashes platform C, we have 10 minutes to find it and get on board. We find the train, jump on board and get comfy. There is hardly anyone in our carriage, the train take off and we are on our way. How exciting in 2 hours we will be in Paris. The train is going pretty slowly, in fact it doesn't really pickup much speed at all before making its first stop. The lady opposite us looks like she is ready to get off, while we are unpacking and getting comfy, she is doing the opposite. In fact a lot of people are getting off at this stop. Hang on. Everyone is getting off at this stop…Are we suppose to get on another train? Very confused we pack up quickly and get all our gear and get off, we ask a lady who is actually very helpful, but she says we are on the wrong train. I dont understand as 2 people scanned our tickets before we got on 1 stop ago. The only possibility,, which is seeming increasingly likely, is that we got on the train at the wrong side of platform C. This train has made its last stop FROM Paris. Very annoying, the ticket guy waved us onto this train. We had to the ticket office to try and sort it out. I have found people in France to be pretty rude and not very helpful (unlike Italy, where everyone was lovely) the train people are no different. They said this ticket is no good. I try explain the situation but they just dont care and say I will need another ticket. I end up just walking away and looking for the next train to Paris, I have brought the ticket and I intend to use it. We manage to get onto the next train, the lady even scans our tickets, which work…strange, and we take our seats, but the train is packed and we get moved for sitting in peoples seats, we move to the back of the train, we just hope that the train leaves so we can stay on it. Finally after what seems like an age, we get rolling. I am going to find a drink, I leave Katie to guard our stuff. We I get back Katie said that while I was gone the ticket guy came through checking tickets, Katie is laughing as she was one of only a few who didn't get asked, she reckons an angel made her invisible (she is reading a book about angels at the moment) I laugh, we both breathe a sigh of relief. Onwards to Paris. The rest of the trip is seamless, we get off, and head toward the exit. I have the address written down, we head straight to a taxi. There are about a thousand waiting at the station exit and 20 minutes later we are at the apartment. We meet our host (Airbnb) and he lets us in. Now this place looked nice in the pictures and I wanted somewhere with a bit of space after being in a camper for so long. But when we open the open doors, we realise this is way better than the pictures. This apartment is amazing. Katie almost cries in happiness (or relief that its just not a camper van) large living room, kitchen, 5 start bedroom, fats internet, and the good stuff, ironing board, washing machine and hair dryer. Things we have been without for a while. This place has it all. Its right in the heart of Paris. 200m to the louvre, beautiful vibrant streets all around. We are going to have a lot of fun exploring and imagine we will clock up a lot of walking kms. We settle in and head out for some dinner. we wander the streets for a bit before ending up in the famous street Rue De Seine, where we eat dinner and grab some gelato for dessert. While we are eating a group of 4 older people walk past, 2 in gold Australia wallabies beanies. I shout out Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, they respond oi, oi, oi and we have a quick chat, they ask if I am going to the game tomorrow. I ask which one and they said Australia vs France at Stadium of France, which seats 80,000. I answer back, I am now. First thing when we get back to the apartment, book rugby tickets. I was tossing up going to London for EPL, rugby will be a lot cheaper :) Im pumped. looks like tomorrow nights activities are planned. Paris is going to be great.

- Day Eighteen -

Our first full day in Paris has been a cracker. We woke up early and had breakfast on one of the main streets in our neighbourhood. Katie had her first cappuccino with froth for the whole trip, I hope sure enjoyed it, it cost $5 euro which is about $7.50 Aussie, which is expensive even by Perth standards. I am trying to get her into expressos which cost $1, but so far its just not happening. We didn't really wake up with a plan, so we decide to head toward the Eiffel Tower. Its about a 3km walk, but there is so much to see on the way. The streets are full of shops, sounds and colours, we get there in no time. It is surprising to me that from our Arrondissement onward you cant really see the tower, due to the buildings be in way. We both thought that you would be able see it due to its size, but the closer you get the more it hides. We need to be able to see it because we dont Preallyhave any idea of where we are going. But as we peak around a corner, the tower explodes into view. It really is very big and considering how old it is, its a pretty impressive building. Since about our third day, we are never really to sure of what date it is or what day of the week. Without thinking about it in the morning, we get close and remember its Saturday. And its sunny. This place is going to be packed. It is. The lines are all about 500 people long and all look like they are crawling and if there is one thing I hate in life, its being in a long line. Walk walk around the Eiffel Tower but we decide not to go up it today. We are in Paris for 4 days, so we will come back when we have booked a ticket. We decide to head back the way we came and after walking for a while (having been harassed by about 20 people to buy something, try something, hold something) we get to a huge building with a bright gold dome. It turns out to be the nation military museum. We do want to do something touristy today, we check the price. Its cheap so we go in (not before getting lunch) this place is pretty amazing. Katie is more interested than I thought she would be. There are so many displays, exhibitions, artefacts, we even get to go and see napoleons tomb. The only bummer about the place is everything is in French. Most places we have been have an english translation next to anything french, but not here. It does take away from the experience a little bit, but Katie is in a super funny mode and is cracking heaps for good jokes so we have a good time anyway. We get back home and decide to watch a movie before we head out to the rugby. We had a waiter who was a spitting image of “the night fox" from oceans 12 so we watch that together. Its actually super nice to not be walking. We order an uber and head to Stade de France for the Wallabies vs France rugby union game. It was such a fluke that we found out about this. I am so glad I shout out to those Aussies. the tickets were 40% off only cost us $20 each. I am so pumped for this. The uber gets us, but takes forever. The stadium is only 9 kms away, but we have been driving for 50mins. The games doesn't start till 9 but its now 8 and we still aren't there. I can see it up ahead, but we aren't even moving. We ask the guy if we can just get out and walk, which we do and soon enough we are waiting in a huge crowd to be checked before being let in. Its the tightest group I have ever been in. There would be about 2000 people trying to get in this gate, but everyone is being frisked as they enter. There is a guy behind me who is literally pressing his whole body into mine, as if the more he presses against me the whole crowd might just vanish. After 15 minutes of being pressed, rubbed and shoved by this old man, we are in and we head around to our gate. Of course its on the opposite side of the ground and its a big ground, as we start walking toward the gate, I am noticing that more and more people have their tickets printed out. In fact everyone does and I forgot to bring my printer on this trip so I thought that my e-ticket would suffice. We get to the gate and he says we need to have it printed, but the good news is we can do it at gate R. Which of course is on the opposite of the ground. Thats annoying. Whats more annoying is that after we print them, we have to come back to this gate to get in. Its now 8:30pm we rush back around and find gate R. The good news is we find it. The bad news is there are about 100 people already there and its a slow moving line. We jump in after 5 minutes of waiting we get talking to a couple of french guys, he is loud, confident and constantly stirring me for being an Aussie. The banter is fun, expect when he goes into full french mode, he then starts showing me replays off youtube of every time France beat Australia. Good times. Its now 9:05pm we get to the front print our tickets and race back around the other side. We get in and I am in zone to get to my seats, I faintly hear Katie shouting at me and turn to see 3 security guards closing in. Apparently we are suppose to get checked again and apparently I didn't stop. Katie said they were literally about to tackle me to the ground. That could have been fun. I get search and finally we are allowed to find our seats and what seats they are. We literally couldn't be further away fro the game. We are int he very back row, but we can still see pretty well and the atmosphere is awesome. This stadium fits 81,000 and its jammed. We are 2 of about 20 Australians in the crowd. But I dont let that stop me from shout and cheering. The game is a cracker. We are in front for most of the night. But as the game nears the end the French are coming, they score a try and are only 2 points down with 3 minuets left and they have the ball. The clock goes past 80 they still have the ball, they toss it out the back for a field goal and the win. The ball scrapes the outside of post. It missed. We win. I jump up, super excited and happy. 80,970 people aren't. Now we need to work out how to get home. Its 12pm and we just follow the crowd hoping they are heading to the train station. there are thousands and thousands of people getting on the train, I ask someone who says yes get on this train but we will need to catch another from a different station. Even though its so late, there are so many people around we feel safe. We know which train we need to catch, but we dont have tickets or any cash to buy them. I notice that when someone walks through the gate it stays open from an extra second, enough time if you ghost someone to get through (which I normally wouldn't do, but we are only going 2 stops and I dont want to be stuck after midnight in some train station) anyone who knows Katie, would know that this is something that she absolutely doesn't want to do. But I jump right behind the next person and get through. Now she has no choice. This will be fun to watch, after hesitating about 10 times she picks her target and walks right behind her ready to charge through before the gate close on her. Its was going really well until the girls ticket didn't work and Katie charges right into the back of her. I am killing myself laughing. This is awesome. Katie then just starts looking at panels and gates and is really embarrassed by I encourage her to come on keep going and she makes it through. Hopefully we dont have to do that on the way out. We managed to get of at the right station we are now only a few hundred metres away from home. Its 1:00pm and we go to a bar which is still serving dinner. we have a super late feed and then head to bed. What a great day. That will be hard to top :)

- Day Nineteen -

After a super late night yesterday (for us old people). I am finding it hard to get out of bed this morning? We walked over 20kms around Paris yesterday and had some great times. We are going to church this morning, at Hillsong. Apart from a catholic mass which we accidentally went to in Nice, we haven't been to a proper church service for a few weeks. Its about a 3km walk, which is awesome because we haven't walked that far for about 6 hours. Its pretty cold out so we rug up, and we are running a little bit late so we walk pretty fast. This is a bad idea, buy the time we get there, we are super hot and sweaty and to make things worse the heaters are on full bore. Church is in a pretty cool theatre, it has a lower section and a tiered section, we get ushered to the front row of the tiered seats. Its actually pretty confusing, there is no real obvious welcome booth or team, but Hillsong United is playing pre-service which is nice to hear something familiar. The service starts and they are singing in French. Im nor sure why, but I am surprised, i thought it would be in english. You can tell what songs they are singing, but they dont quite flow as nice as they do in English. After worship, 2 people come out to do the welcome, a french guy and and Australian who look exactly like Amy Clark. She is the interpreter, its a bit weird for me. Normally its the english that is translated not the other way around (in my world). She shadows him and repeat what he is saying. I guess this is normal to them. They do Take 1, using the exact same countdown clock we do, and then its into the preaching. the pastor is away, so the creative guy is leading the service, he is pretty funny and gives a good message and then the service is over. No welcome lounge, we just grab a cup of coffee and head off. It makes me miss Kingdomcity so much. Our next stop is the Eiffel Tower. Again. But we have pre brought our lift tickets, so hopefully we dont have to do much waiting this time around. Also its a bit of a grey day, its rainy and pretty windy, which I imagine should keep the crowds down. We have time to kill so we explore the other side of the river, there is a big fountain, some more big important looking buildings, more people trying to scam us with, street gambling. We try for ages to get a good selfie with the tower in the background, but our faces just aren't cooperating so we decide to go get some lunch. Katie orders a burger I order what looks like a steak sandwich. It definitely has steak in the title. Katie burger looks amazing, what comes out for me is a burger patty on a plate with an egg on top. The language barrier is killing me again. Anyway, after mediocre lunch we head to the tower. We are part of a tour group. It was only $10 more and we get to skip all the lines. We also learn a bit about the tower itself. We pass heaps of security checks, and jump in elevator. We head straight to the second level (about halfway up). The tour goes 360 around the tower pointing out all the landmarks. If I am honest Paris just goes forever and everything looks the same from this vantage point, I think when it would be truly spectacular is at night. As we are coming to the end of the guided part, you can see dark clouds and rain coming towards us. So we jump in the line to go right up to the top. As we are waiting (only for about 10 minutes, the rain hits.) Its not super heavy just misty, get you soaking wet rain. As we exit the lift. The view leaves me speechless. Its just pure white. All we can see is clouds, you literally cant see a thing. Every few seconds the wind will blow open a small gap so you can see the ground, but thats about it. I open my umbrella (brought for $5 in Florence) and it goes inside out immediately, its super windy, wet, cold and there is zero visibility. But we have having a great time. I think the bad weather makes it even more enjoyable. I shout out “This view is incredible” and start commentating on the conditions. People who understand english are laughing. Its great fun. Im sure it would have just looked the same as what it did from halfway up. Although I can see a local soccer pitch right next to the tower and a game is on, so I watch that for about 5 minutes, which is pretty cool. I ask the lady if I cant walk down the stairs, she said not today, but you can walk from the second level. We catch the the lift back down and checkout the gift shops. I buy a coffee and some camels and Katie has a macaroon, just to remember the experience. Then I decide to walk down, Katie says she will meet me at the bottom. Off I go. Its about 4:30 and starting to get darker, as you walk down you can see lamps that are all over the exterior which apparently light up at certain times. Our guide told us there are 20,000 of these lights all over it. As I am about halfway down the huge orange floodlights which light up the whole thing come in and then there is a shout from the crowd and I realise that the lamps are going off. Its like 20,000 camera flashes constantly going off. Its pretty magical and even though I am inside the structure I can still see it and think to myself this is great. I get down and Katie is at the bottom, we race out to get one more selfie. The plan is to head across the river, take some night time shots and then head to the Arc De Triomphe and down the Champs Elysees. But its starts raining quite heavily, we down let that deter us. After all we have our really “high quality” and “not broken at all” umbrellas, but the rain get heavy and I am unable to get a good photo, not without getting soaked and potentially wrecking my camera (which is already my second one this trip, insurance better payout). We find some cover and wait and hope for the rain to clear. It coming up on the new hour and the lights of the tower will start to go off soon. The rain seems to ease and we head back to the lookout. The rain clears momentarily, long enough for me to get 1 half decent photo, then I pack my gear away before it starts raining heavily again. The tower is going off, we steal a kiss and enjoy the lights. Almost as soon as the lights go off, the rain comes again and we head towards the Arc. its about 1500meters away, but again the Paris streets are so vibrant that walking, even a long way, doesn't really seem that big of a deal. As we arrive at the Arc, there is some kind of ceremony happening beneath it. Public access isn't allowed, although some lady ignores the police and goes anyway, but they scruff her and drag her back. The Arc is in the middle of the biggest roundabout I have ever seen. There are no lines or lights, and cars are flying. Its just a bit of a free for all. I reckon if you watch for 10 minutes you would see car crash. We see one. 2 cars pull over, after colliding (not badly) I feel that would be a regular occurrence in Paris. We start to wander down the Champs Elysees, which is a next level shopping street and true to the song, it is a very busy street. Audi and Mercedes have shops with high end cars in the windows, there are designer labels everywhere and bars and restaurants galore. its a really pretty street to. old style lamps line the paths and there is just people everywhere. Up ahead we can see a crowd gathering, there is PA, lights and banners up and music playing. The banners have a movie poster all over them. I say to Katie I reckon this is a film premier. Its the new Brad Pitt movie which also stars the french chick from inception. Sure enough after another 5 minutes the crowd has quadrupled in size and then screaming and cheers. Brad Pitt gets out of car. Brad Pitt. This is hilarious. We grab our phones and cameras and start clicking away like everyone else. You actually cant see much through everyones raised hands and phone, but as he comes towards us, you can totally tell that he waves directly at me and Katie. Im sure of it. Then all the famous people go inside and the crowd disperses as quick as it gathered. How funny. We continue walking down and toy with the idea of just getting a taxi back to our area, as we have been on our feet for about 12 hours by now, but decide to eat first. We cant pick a restaurant, its all pretty expensive, but we can see there is some festive looking stalls up ahead, looks like some kind of Christmas marketplace. Getting closer it is way more than some stalls, the entire street has been transformed into this winter wonderland, huge movers fill the sky with light, fairy lights and decorations are everywhere, huge displays and stalls step up. A soccer pitch sized ice skating rink, mini rollercoasters for the kids and this is just on our side of the street, this place is amazing. Katie is in heaven. We decide on hotdogs and crepes as oppose to expensive over priced fancy food and we just enjoy the experience. This is obviously an annual setup, and it just continues forever, half of the Champs Elysees is this Christmas village and before we know it we have walked to the end. There is a huge ferris wheel opposite, which I try to convince Katie to go on with me, to which see replies, , “what, you want to end this night in tears,” good point. Still not having overcome here fear of unstable heights we just look at it. Before trying to get a taxi home. We end up finding a bike taxi, like a Paris version of a tuk tuk, but wayyyy more expensive and we find our way home. I thought yesterday would be hard to beat, but we just topped it and seeing as though we just met Brad Pitt we decide to watch oceans 13, which feels just like catching up with a friend.

- Day Twenty -

It feels like we haven't sat down and stoped walking for so long. Thats what my body is telling, its 9am and I dont want to move. Neither of us do. The apartment has automatic shutters which make the room pitch black even in daylight, so even though its mid morning, you would think its still 3am. We aren't n a rush though. We have some plans today, we want to check out the Cathedral of Notre Dame and then go see Mona Lisa in the Louvre. We also haven't really seen much of the North side of the river as we have been based South so we plan to wander around their a bit. But by the time we get going its already 10:30am. We stop on a restaurant who is still serving breakfast and have a nice meal to start the day. Holidays are great. One of the cool things about Paris is by the river there are these big green locked boxes, which are actually pop up shops, selling, books, art, magazines and souvenirs. I noticed one a few days ago selling old Tin Tin comics. Growing up as a kid I loved Tin Tin. I use to go the library every friday night with my Dad to get books, and I always used to come home with some tin tin comics. These ones not the side of the river where original from the 1970’s. I am so tempted to buy one. What a great souvenir. But they are upwards of $100 euro. I love tin tin and almost that much. The only downside is they are in french, which is cool for the souvenir, but if I am spending that much on a comic I want to be able to read it. Or perhaps it would be a good way to learn french. Maybe Ill come back later. I pass on Tin Tin and we head to Notre Dame. We found out yesterday that the cathedral is the most visited tourist site in Europe. 14 million people pass through it every year. Thats 40,000 everyday. And the main reason. Its free. Even today on a dreary Monday the line would be able 300 people long. But its a super fast moving line, we are inside within 10 minutes. There is actually a service happening as we enter. There are about 500 people in the building, and about 26 of them are actually engaged in the service, everyone else is clicking away, myself included, surely that would be off putting as a preacher. The standout thing about the cathedral is the stain glass windows. they are huge and very very old, but glisten in the light. It is pretty spectacular. As we walk around the far side there is a he carved mural it would be about 40 meters long and its 2 sided and its carvings telling the life of Jesus, his birth, fleeing when Herod starts killing the babies, its fun to pick which moment are being told. Some are easier than others. The last moment moves me to tears. Its the garden of Gethsemane, The final moment where Jesus asked for the burdon to be taken from Him. I stare at it for a while. Im so thankful for Jesus. And then we walk out. Perhaps that another reason why 40,000 people a day go through it, it only takes 15 minutes. The Louvre on the other hand. Thats a different story. Our guide told us yesterday there is actually more stairs in the Louvre than the Eiffel Tower and if you were to spend 2 minutes in front of every photo without sleeping, you would be there for over 6 months. The place is massive. I cant imagine Katie and I staying that long but we will see how we go. Like we have done at pretty much everything else, I brought our tickets online. Its the same cost but saves you lining up. The line again here is massive but we just walk on through. Even the foyer is massive. Its pretty hard to know where to go. We have 1 main objective. The Mona Lisa, so that where we head. Im not sure what is so important, special, significant about the painting. But as we walk though the first few rooms, there sure is a lot of statues of naked people. Like everywhere. I guess that was the thing back in the day. We walk down a corridor towards the Mona Lisa, the other thing I notice is that if it isn't naked people, so much of the art is either Jesus or bible based. I love the paintings that tell biblical stories, there is a great 2 part piece with David and Goliath. As we enter the Mona room its full of people there is a swathe of people about 4 deep, all taking pictures and selfies. There is even a dude putting snapchat filters over her zoomed in face which is pretty funny, Katie says, “Im going to do that”. Once at the front the painting is actually pretty small. Maybe a bit bigger than an A3 piece of paper and its protected by a glass case, so you cant really take a good photo of it. But its cool to see it. We take some selfies and Katie toys her filters to no avail and then we head out. We walk around for a while longer. But we both feel that once you have been to the Vatican museums and seen the sistine chapel nothing really compares so after about a hour and a bit we head out and back to the hotel. We need to pack our bags which have ben properly strewn all over the apartment before we leave pretty early int he morning. I am going to head back go the louvre later on and photograph the famous glass pyramid as the sun goes down. We get bag to the room and crash not he couch. We are suppose to be cleaning and packing but we really cant be bothered. Its about 5pm and I am seriously thinking about just staying here. But I get up and head out. Katie is going to stay home. as soon as I get outside I am instantly glad the sky is glowing orange. Finally a beautiful sky in Paris. I might get some good shots after all. The walk to the Louvre is lovely. The sky is on fire and the reflecting of the river looks pretty specie. I stop and take some pics but I really only have one photo I want. I setup my gear, tripod and all. But there are people everywhere . Its going to be hard to get a good shot without people in it. There is a wedding party taking photos, people everywhere. The vibe is awesome, there is even a violin student practising in a little nook int he wall but it send the sound all over the courtyard. Its just not that good for photography, but the light is amazing, the clouds glow for over an hour provide a stunning backdrop to the pyramid. I find my angles and now I just needs to wait for pockets of 5/10 seconds when no one walks past. As it get darker there a less people and almost everyone is clear from my shot, except a couple of girls who are just sitting and chatting. I might never be here again, so I politely ask them if they can move for a second which they both do and I get one of the best shots I have ever taken. Perfect. I got what I wanted I head back to Katie, so we can go out for our last supper in Paris. We pick somewhere close and nice. We head to Normandy in the morning, but we have had a lot of fun in Paris.

- Day Twenty One -

Today is going to be a crazy day. We travel, about 600kms catch three trains go to 2 cities and in between we are going to the D-Day landing beaches of Normandy for a tour. We wake up at about 6:30am. We need to finish packing, which gets more difficult every time, due to the things that we are buying along the way, and tidy the apartment. Surprisingly we manage to squeeze everything in and we are ready to go. We catch a quick uber to the train station, we need to make sure we get on the right train today or we will be stuffed. We are staying in Normandy for the night but our return train comes back to this station, so we plan to leave all our bags here and pick them up on the way back through. This is be so much better, as we are each carrying about 35kgs. So we make sure we get to the station with plenty of time to sort that out. I ask the lady where the lockers are, the train website said they are at every station. As it turns out everywhere expect this station. Literally at every single other station bar this. that is super inconvenient, we will have no other option that to lug our gear round with us. At least we have good strong bags with great wheels. Hopefully they continue to standup. The train is about 2 hours to a city called Caen. Then we will just need to make our way to the memorial museum where we will have till 1pm to explore until our guided tour of the beaches begins. As we arrive in Caen, we notice its a really small place. A lot smaller than anywhere else we have been in France. We wait for a bit for a taxi, but there isn't any at all. But there is a tram, so I think its going in the direction we need to be. Katie says we should go ask someone. In classic ‘bloke’ fashion I think we will be alright and we just jump on. According to my memory of the map, we seem to be going the right way, but my phone has frozen up so I cant check. It turns out that we would have been going the right way, if the museum was in the opposite direction to where is actually is. Mmm. Should have listen tot Katie. We jump off and go back to where we came from, just by chance when we get back to the train station we see a taxi, which I jump into the road to flag it down. The driver then drives us the longest possible route, catching every red light on the way and we finally arrive at the museum. We were suppose to be here around 11. Its now 10 past 1 and we wont have much time to look around. They have a huge spitfire (a world war II plane) hanging from the roof. We store our bags and wander around the museum. We dont have long, but it doesn't matter that much, we actually saw a lot of similar stuff at the big military museum in Parsi. We are mostly keen to just start the tour. We will be with 5 other Americans who we meet. One of them use to half own a company with Kerry Packer. I imagine that he is super rich. In classic American fashion they talk heaps and are very loud. There is a middle aged lady who is particularly dominant, you can tell her husband wishes she would be quiet. but she is pretty funny. Its a 45 minute drive to our first site, the Pointe du Hoc, which was the first place the allies would attack to take out key guns and a road. A small party of 300 soldiers captured this headland and sustain heavy losses. The drive in the guide talks the whole time, its fascinating, she gives a details explaination to everything leading up the invasion and provides an in detail description of what happened at each of the places. She is fantastic. Once we are on the ground at Pointe du Hoc, the first thing you notice is the landscape. The ground almost looks like an exotic golf course huge rolling mounds and craters. The guide tells us this use to the flat and the holes and mounds are actually from the artillery shells which bombarded the whole coastline before the soldiers landed. We spend time walking around and then actually going into the bunkers that were once filled with German soldiers and machine guns. We look out through the small viewing holes across the ocean that was once filled with allied ships and over 100,000 soldiers. What a site, The ocean is still and probably couldn't be further from what it would have been like 70 years ago. From there we head to Omaha Beach, which was the primary landing point for US troops. Its the same section of beach which you see in Saving Private Ryan. I have watched that movie so many times, and right now we are standing on the same beach that these young soldiers ran straight into enemy fire int he hope to get across unscathed. I can imagine the scene and it feels pretty special to stand here. I am so grateful for the sacrifices these men made for us. We travel onwards to the American cemetery. This is probably the most moving part of the tour. Over 75,000 allied troops died int he Normandy invasion. Of which 10,000 are buried here in this cemetery. Each graved in marked with a marble cross and all 10,000 are in perfect alignment with perfect green grass and careful sculpted gardens and trees surrounding them all. The cemetery itself is on land that was given by France to America and overlooks the beaches that these troops died. As the sun sets they play taps and lower the flags, everyone present gathers around included quite a few veterans who stand in salute for the entirety of the ceremony. The whole experience is very moving and leaves us wiht a deep sense of gratitude for the sacrifices that so may made for our freedom. We are both so glad we made the journey out here. As we head back to the train station, the actual country side around here is absolutely beautiful. Most of the houses (That remain standing) have been there for 100s of years. Our guide points out that the farm on our right is quite new, built in 1700. There is a beautiful sunset. The sky is yellow and pink, its killing me to be stuck in a car unable ot photograph it. We arrive back at the train stations where we have 2 catch 2 trains to get to Le Harve, which is where are morning train to Zurich leaves from. It will take us 2 hours to get there. We should arrive around 10:30 and we are praying that there are more taxi in Le Harve than there were at Caen. Otherwise we will have a pretty long walk to the place we are staying. As we disembark in Le Harve, there are quite a few taxis waiting, so we get to our place with ease. Its quite late, as our train was delayed but our hosts have waited up for us and are waving to us from the balcony. Looks like we will be carrying our gear up more stairs. Our hosts are a super old couple and they dont speak English. There house is beautiful, so much character and it overlooks the ocean. They have a little terrier called moustache who we have a good play with, and is a remember of how much we miss holli. They also have a 30 year old parrot who speaks (french). Pretty sad life to be a bird in a cage. Our bedroom has a balcony over the sea. Its almost a shame we are only staying 1 night here. Its been a very long, emotional, but powerful day. We are so grateful for the experience, tomorrow we leave France and head to our last leg of the trip Switzerland. Hopefully we get some snow so we can celebrate an early white Christmas.

- Day Twenty Two -

Our train leaves at 12:30, which gives us the morning to enjoy some breakfast and a bit of a sleep in. Le Harve, looked beautiful by night, but its actually pretty industrial. Its more of a port that a city, so we are glad to be heading off to the mountains of Switzerland. We discover that our beds are the electric ones which move up and down at the touch of a button, so we have some fun mucking around with that, but decide to stop before I break it. Our hosts have made us breakfast which is really nice, we try have a conversation with them, but its hard they dont understand much of what we are saying, so I get google translate which helps somewhat. We sit on the balcony for a while and enjoy the view before ordering a taxi and heading to the train station. I have done a pretty good job of planning this trip, our trains, hotels, locations and bookings have all been awesome so far, this little bit was probably the one thing I missed. I didn't realise our train to Zurich goes back to Paris, so we really should have just done a day trip instead of packing everything us and catching trains all over the country side. Nevertheless we enjoyed normandy and despite the slight inconvenience of having all our bags we are glad we did it. We arrive in Paris at 3pm and our connecting train is from another station but we have an hour and twenty minutes ot get there, which should be plenty. However as we approach Pari the train slows down quite a lot and we are still 20kms out when the time we were suppose to arrive passes. As we are looking out the window Katie said she saw a body bag, as we come through the station there are workers and police everywhere. Someone has obviously fallen onto the tracks. How sad, and after the beaches yesterday, its another stark reminder of how fragile life is. We would later find out that it was a suicide, and it actually happens quite a bit at train stations in Paris. It also delayed our train by 40 minutes which only gives us 43 minutes to get 8kms which feels like we should still make it. We run out to the taxis anyways which takes 3 minutes. We have just under 40 minutes. The countdown is on, and we quickly realise Paris traffic is ridiculous. We have gone 1km in 15 minutes. This will be tight. The driver is weaving in and out trying to get us there, but as time passes we aren't traveling to far and by the time we get to the station, our departure time is 1 minute away, we run into the station, hoping the train is delayed, but we arrive 1 minute late and see the train rolling out of the station. Not good, and with how militant the train companies have been with tickets we are really hoping, despite, it is their fault that 1. there is another train and 2. they lets get on it. Good news in both department there is another train and they give us tickets to it. We just have a 2 hour delay, which gives us heaps of time to kill. Its funny how much traveling tires you out, even though you dont do that much. We eventually after what seem like an ages get on train, in 4 hours we will be in Zurich and on the final leg of our trip. We managed to score a whole section all to ourselves. We read watch a movie and arrive before we know it. Our apartment is only a 1km walk. Its right on the river in Zurich and immediately you can tell this is a beautiful city. We managed to get in and just like almost everywhere else we are on the top floor (8 flights of stairs) and no elevator. Its almost standard for this trip. But at least we get good views when we get to the top. Hopefully.

- Day Twenty Three -

It was 10:30pm when we arrive at our accomodation last night. Our host arrive home after we did, they had left the key in the mail box. She was super friendly and obviously comfortable in her own skin has she got changed into her pyjamas and then did her nightly routine of full face mask etc. and didn't even care that we were right there. The place is awesome, it over looks the river and it very peaceful we sleep well after a long two days and in the morning we just chilled around the apartment for a few hours. I watched the cricket on my phone and then at about 11 we get our gear together and head into checkout the city of Zurich. We pickup our hire car at 3pm so we have some time to kill. Our first impression of Zurich is that its the best city that we have been in so far. Its clean, not to big, but not to small, beautiful buildings, pretty slow paced, watch shops and chocolate stores everywhere. It was almost as if we are in heaven. There is Christmas festivity everywhere, little stalls and markets. This is honestly such a great place. We need to find a fridge magnet, we are still holding course on getting one in every city we go to. So we find a cute little souvenir shop and we pick one we like, Katie ends up also buying a mini cuckoo clock and I get a Swiss Army knife. What a perfect souvenir. As expect and reported by our friends who had been here, Switzerland is very expensive. A coffee cost us $1 in France/Italy costs $5 here. meals are back over $25/30 each. We did plan for this and have made our budget pretty backend heavy. But I would kill for a dollar coffee right now. I was having 3/4 a day in France. Not here I dont think. We continue wandering, its actually a special day in Zurich, tonight they turn on the city Christmas lights for the first time, we are so keen to come back and experience it, we will see how we go when we get to our next accomodation. We are on the hunt for a watch, we are keeping our eyes open for signs saying ‘specials”, “promotions” or “discounts” unfortunately we dont find any but we do see an omega watch on display for $287,000 CHF which would be over $300,000 Aussie. The person who would buy that obviously has to much money. We get a hot dog and roll for lunch, we are trying to keep things on the cheap as much as we can, before heading into a local Christmas market full of homemade items. We get a little personalised souvenir and then its about time for us to head to pickup the car. We collect our bags and decide to walk the 1km to the place. I booked through some online company that was really cheap. Im hoping that its al legit and that it works and that I also dont have leave $1000s of dollars as security deposit. But we get there and we are in an out with a car and only a $200 deposit in about 10 minutes. Good result. The car is the opposite of the camper, expect its the same colour. White. Its a tiny little car, there is only just enough room for all our bags with the back seats folded down, but its awesome to drive something you feel isn't going to hit every wall and every car that you pass. Driving in Switzerland is also very chilled out, almost the opposite of France and Italy, where they drive with no speed limits, here everyone sticks to the speed limit and those limits are 30 kms slower than French roads. I dont think we will have nay drama here, touch wood. We only have 30 minutes to a town called Weggis, for our next Airbnb. We get driving and as we leave Zurich we are almost instantly surround by mountains, lush green hills and cows. Everywhere. The country smells like farms and animals, which other people would probably hate. Katie andI love it. The cow bells ring across the silent, still air. It is so peaceful. Weggis is halfway around Lake Lucerne, and as we arrive to it we are taken aback. Its absolutely stunning. Its much like Lake Como, just a bit smaller and higher mountains surround it. the closer we get to our place, we think we have hit the jackpot. We know before we get there this will be the best pace we have stayed. After we arrive its not only the best place from the trip, but its probably the best room I have ever stayed in anywhere. Our balcony has an uninterrupted view straight across the Lake and to the surround mountains. The room has a giant wooden hot tub, which also over looks the like. There is a huge TV on the wall which swivels around to the hot tub and is complete with Netflix and we have Ambers account (thanks scotty). We are only booked here for 2 nights. But I immediately ask if we can stay for three at the expensive of a night in our next place. After checking in, there is no way we want to leave. We start running the bath, we will just relax here tonight. But then trouble hits. The bath is leaking absolutely everywhere. I call for help and a handy man who lives on site comes in and helps clean up the mess, but I kind of want him to fix the tub because we really want to use it. However, it doesn't look like we will be getting that chance tonight. It turns out, because its wood, when it doesn't get used the wood shrinks leaving gaps, but as the water is soaked in it swells so it will be fine to use by tomorrow. We decided to watch a movie and for the first time ever Katie agrees to watch war movie. We put on Saving Private Ryan and it takes on a whole new meaning having been in the exact same places only a day before. Even the open scene, we notice in the cemetery in Normandy. Its quite emotional watching it. Katie's first proper war movie ever, Im proud of her. Neither of us are hungry so we settle for cheese and biscuits on the deck. Its a really clear evening, and completely still, this place is heaven. Im not sure how we found it or ended up here, but so glad that we did.

- Day Twenty Four -

We set the alarm this morning, the sunrise will be magic from this vantage point. Unfortunately clouds, have settled and we can no longer see the sky above or the mountain opposite. Its still a beautiful and mysterious place, but its just not going to be very sunny today. In fact after checking the weather forecast the clouds are set in for the next few days, no rain or snow, but we just might not see the sun for a little while. We are provided with a stunning breakfast of scrabbled eggs, bacon, bread, coffee, fruit. The whole works, which we hoe down as to not need food again till the evening (all part of our money saving plan). After looking for things to do around the area in a handbook, we decide to heading over to Mount Pilatus which is the huge mountain opposite us. it has a cable car to the top, plenty of nice walks around it and also the worlds steepest train if we choose that option, both terrifying to Katie, but I am pretty keen at the prospect. We head in, the route takes us thought he city of Lucerne, which, like Zurich is suppose to be really beautiful. The roads are sedate and just wind around the lake edge. As we come into the city I make a last minute call to walk around the city first so I take a turn and we end up on what is actually a road, but we are the only car on it and people are very slowly getting out of our way. I feel like a farmer driving through a huge herd of sheep. Katie is panicking, but after driving the camper , I feel I can drive anything anywhere, especially a little car like this. We zip around the streets and eventually find our way to a carpark. I guess our trip to the mountain is on hold. The weather isn't that great anyway. Lucerne is just like Zurich, but with far more tourists. It takes us a while to find them, however, because as we got out of the car park I led us in the opposite direction of where we needed to go. My sense of direction in this city is shot, its normally excellent, but not in lucerne. We end up turning around a corner and its like the north pole at Christmas. Trees and fairy lights, decorations, the river is flowing through the middle, with huge old wooden bridges spanning across. . Its spectacular and the streets are lined with awesome shops, and today they are celebrating ‘black friday’ so pretty much everything is on 30% off or more. So our trip to the mountain turns into an impromptu shopping spree. Katie's buys some pearl earrings, I get a watch and pair of shoes. We grab coffee and hot chocolate and wander round as the su sets. The temperature is dropping its really quite cold, we kind of want to eat dinner here, but the first place we look meals start at $40. I think we will find somewhere else. There was a pizza and pasta place near our house right on the lake that looked awesome. so We will try there. As we are leaving a horse drawn carriage operating as a bus passes by us. Katie is in love with this city. We find the pizza place which is just in the most stunning location. We share a meal and head back to the apartment to unwind in the now working hot tub. Its the most relaxed I have felt in a long long time. Completely de stressed, this is amazing. We may never leave.

- Day Twenty Five -

The clouds still hover low as we wake up, the cricket is still on back in Australia, so I watch a few overs and we just relax looking over the view. I sit down to write with some coffee on the balcony. Its so so good. The air is so still, there is no wind at all. If the clouds lifted it would be perfect. We hang around home till about 12 and then decide that we will head to Mount Pilatus again. This time, we will try to avoid the shopping detour. There is a webcam that shows you the conditions on the mountain and from one of the levels it looks like you can see a bit, but the top is covered with cloud. But we have nothing better to do and the cable car up will be fun anyway. Its about 30 minute drive to the cable car station. Its more expensive than we thought. Grenoble cable car cost us $8 each this one is $40. But its a heck of a lot high and goes for way longer. Katie is surprisingly relaxed, far more than she was in France. We rug up as I imagine it will be close to freezing on the mountain, pay our fare and off we go. The cars are all singular, and it very smooth and quite fast we are zipping up the mountain. We are travelling through the clouds and fog which has hovered over Lucerne for that last 2 days, but slowly visibility is increasing and we actually come through the cloud and we are now above them. We come to the landing station which is 1 below the peak (you catch a separate car to get to the top of that one) the view is one of the best I have ever seen. We are sitting above the lake and can see the peaks of mountains surrounding us in every direction. Huge pine trees are stacked in perfect lines everywhere, and instead of the lake there is a sea of cloud as if where were in the sky in a plane. it looks magical. Strangely the top of the mountain is covered in cloud again, its just our little space that seems to be clear. We head on a few little walks, through the trees, around the tracks. There is other people around but not heaps. We see and touch our first snow of the trip. Katie stamps her foot straight through it, and I was glad it wasn't a hole or deep snow because she would of smashed herself. we get back to the station. The restaurant is open and we grab some drinks and go see how much the ticket to the top will cost. The cable car too the summit is next level. It holds about 30 people, and lifts 100s of meters above the mountain face. But its super expensive and the webcam shows nothing but grey cloud and we have already had that view from the Eiffel tower. we pass on the summit. Besides i have already seen where I want to go next. There is a tree line and steep hill (70% angle) that leads to a rocky outcrop before the mountain turns into a vertical rock face. Its covered in snow and I tell Katie I am going up there I reckon its about 300 or 400 meters up and there a small trees that almost proved a natural rope the whole way up. I am off. After 20 minutes I am stuffed. We are 2000m up, I'm not sure if the air is thinner, I have a cold or I am just unfit, but its not easy to breathe, my heart is thumping and I'm sweating like crazy. Katie is getting smaller and smaller but I keep on going. It doesn't feel dangerous, but its taking longer and is further away than I initially thought. but I'm not giving up. Im having to much fun. But the higher up I get the steep and more dodgy the climb is becoming. Soon enough I'm not just walking up a super steep hill but actually climbing around rock faces and trees, until I eventually come to the rock ledge that I was aiming for which gives me just the most special view across the whole area. I take my gear off to sit down and take some photos, have a snow cone, take a selfie, a quick video and psych myself of the trip down. The trip back down is way more dodgy that the climb up. Due the slope you cant really go slow because all the forces of nature are trying to push you back down. I find myself almost abseiling, using these big shrubs as hand rails. until I slip and fall, about 2 meters, before I grab onto a big branch and find a foot grip. This is awesome. All the while Katie is watching on horrified as she saw me take a tumble, but Im okay. About halfway down the angle lessens and there is a huge snow drift and I have a Bear Grylls moment. I remember an episode where to get down a mountain face he slip down using his jacket as a toboggan. I have a rain cover for my bag, Im going to try the same think. I lay the cover down and as I go to sit on it I find out that the snow is really deep and I sink straight into it and get soaked. Not the result I was after. It would have been awesome if it worked, although I am not sure how I would of stopped when I hit the bottom. Probably a g thing it failed. Katie is relieved when I get back, mostly because she is freezing cold and want to leave. The sun is starting to go down and the cloud lake beneath us is starting to turn pink. I setup my tripod for some pictures, but then something rings in my ears about the cable cars only operating till 4:30. Its 4:30 now. I would love to not be stuck up her for a night so we head back and turns out th last car is in 10 minutes. That was lucky. We dint really know that and not sure what would happen if we missed it. The trip back down is amazing the sun is properly lighting up the clouds and its a special moment. The church bells are ringing out as we approach the city again and the lights of the city are all turning on. What an amazing experience. I realise that was the highest I have ever been while still on land. My knees and legs are aching. Time for another hot tub I think.

- Day Twenty Six -

Hopeful of the clouds to be lifted we awake with expectation, but its soon quashed as the clouds hover lower than they have for the last 3 days. Its our last morning in Weggis, we head to a little barn on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere today. We have a 4 hour drive ahead of us and owing the beautiful scenery in Switzerland we will probably be stopping a lot along the way. We have our final breakfast, and say our goodbyes to “house with a break taking view” as its so aptly named on AirBNB, it certainly was and we will never forget our time there. We are on the road again in our little buzz box. There is a hint of rain in the air, we have had such good weather while on the roads this trip. I dont mind rain, but we dont want any ice on the roads. Before we know it we are back on some kind of freeway. We get about 30 mins in and we come to a range of mountains bigger than we have seen before, we pull into a road stop and grab a quick hot chocolate and enjoy the view. After another 15 minutes we stop again, this time at a lake, where there are about 15 people fishing. After 30 more minutes we arrive at Interlaken, where I make a last minute decision to stop again, I pull into a side road and we end down by the lake which has the most stunning crystal blue/aqua water I have ever seen. At this rate we arrive next week. We say we wont stop anymore, which end up not being true. We stop 2 more times until we get to our first toll booth and like everything in Switzerland its expensive. $30 bucks and we have only been driving for a few hours…But it turns out that it isn't a toll but a train ticket, as the road ends and we drive our car onto a train. This is new. The train takes off and we start travelling beneath the Swiss alps. There was a rest stop with a bathroom which O should have pull into right before we boarded the train. We aren't allowed out of the car and I really need to go. Added to my pain is that the car bounces with every bump and movement of the train, not good. Im hoping this doesn't go for to long. Its like a show ride, the tunnel walls zoom past, the tunnel is only just wider that the train. After about 20 minutes we see the light. We have saved heaps of time, and had a pretty cool experience, totally worth the steep toll. On the road again we only have an hour to go. We really need to find a supermarket, and the place we are going literally is 30 mins from anything. But its Sunday and everything is closed. We pull into the last major town before we are on the final leg to our place and nothing is open. At least we have 1 packet of dry crackers left. We could be having that for dinner. We are only 15kms away and the roads start to narrow. Our GPS (which has been the saviour of our holiday) is telling us to turn right, But there doesn't appear to be a road, just a small path only just wider than the car and super windy. But it looks right and our house is pretty obscure. So I pull into the narrowest roads in the world. My tiny smart car can barely make the corners they are that tight and the big stone walls on either side threaten to take both sides off the car, thankfully its only a short road and we come onto something a bit wider but not much. Soon we are winding our way around mountain sides, climbing higher and higher, there are no guard rails to protect you from falling 100s of meters down, we travel at an average speed of about 20kmph and pray that we dont pass many car coming the other way. But after 30 mins of this we come to our town. Population 42. We knock on the door of the lady we get the key. She doesn't speak English but shows us whee the house is, a 300 meter downhill walk. Finally we arrive. This place is something else. Its a converted barn, fully made of timber, with a stunning view or huge mountain peaks, no phone, no internet to tv. It has electricity, but we feel so isolated from the rest of the world. We arrive as the sun is going down, I am going for a walk to find a good spot to take some photos of the stunning landscape. The town of Eison Le Crettaz, where we are is 1612m high, I start walking down the steeply angle slopes toward the valley floor, before I know it i am halfway down and find a great angle to get some photos. What sucks is I now have to walk back up and that always a lot harder. I am actually about 1.5kms from our place and the light is fading rapidly. I put my hand in a prickle bush trying to get a hand hold to pull myself up, so I decide to go around which takes longer, and after about 45 minutes of constant climbing I can see our place. But its always worth it for a good photo. We cook a pasta for dinner, we ended up finding a small market in one of the little villages on the way. We then settle down to do not much, because there isn't much to do. We watch the stars for a while, its kind of nice being disconnected completely from internet, phone, emails. We will enjoy the solitude while it lasts.

- Day Twenty Seven -

The bed in this place is just a mattress on the floor, yet I have the best sleep i have had in a while. The converted barn we are staying in has 3 levels and the steepest, most non OHS compliant stairs I have ever seen. The bottom is the lounge room and bathroom, with s wood fire place, couch and huge windows that overlook the mountains, the 2nd level is the finding and kitchen and the 3rd is a mezzanine floor which has the bed. Its a stunning piece of architecture. I would love to know how it was built, and how much it cost. There is a photo album of the construction phase, which took 3 years, in which is a photo of timber and material being helicoptered in. There is no way trucks would fit down these roads. It feel like a privilege to stay here. It is clearly the owners pride snd joy, you can easy tell by the strict and lengthy set of house rules. Luckily we are a nice christian couple and we will look after their place. We both wake up super late, fortunately we dont have anywhere to be. I look at my map to see what is around the area, before deciding what we will do. We have some cereal for breakfasts, which as usual I put way to much milk in, but there are some feral cats who live around here and they lap up the rest. There is a cable car to the top of a peak only 5kms from where we are which seems like a good place to start the days adventures. We jump in the car and follow our gps. It doesn't take us long and we are on the opposite side of the valley, I am so keen to get in heaps of snow and the tops of these mountains are covered in it. We find the cable car, which is actually just a chairlift, but it looks pretty closed. There are a few cars about so I go down and check it out. I even try turning the thing on, with some huge buttons on the wall, but no good. Looks like we will have to try something else. There is a waterfall marked on the map, so we head in that direction. As we follow the gps we are winding up a mountain and we can see heaps of little houses above us, pretty close to the snow line. I reckon we might be able to drive most of the way up and get to the snow. We turn off the gps and just follow this narrow, 1 car width road up the side of this 2000m high mountain. There are little turn outs, which just fit 2 cars and you have to wait there when you see cars coming the other direction. You are literally centimetres from a long long way down. I concentrate pretty hard while driving but its hard not to stare at the landscape. I tell Katie I wont drove anywhere I dont feel safe and comfortable, which gives her some peace of mind, but at the same time, my level of safety and comfort is quite different to hers. We pass the last town and with the track getting quite icy decide to park in the next practical spot and we will walk from there. We find a place and begin walking. This is so amazing. There is snow all around us, but we want to head to some bigger field of snow which we can play around in. We aren't really sure of where we are going but we are just heading up. We decide to go off the road and make our own path. The sky is clear blue, not a single cloud in sight. There is a river of melting snow trickling down so we sort of follow that up, until we can see this huge wooden cross ahead in the distance. We make that our destination. As we get to it, it is actually a big concrete building of some sort, it kind of looks like a big stable, but it is completely out of site until you are standing at it. above it are big field of snow and we would only be 300m from the summit. There is park bench which we sit at, climbing up was hard work, we both strip into our t-shirts despite the outdoor temp being about 4 degrees. I climb up on the roof for a lie down and just enjoy the peace and quiet. After a while I find a good spot and call Katie up, time to build a snowman. We brought our snow gloves with us, from home (left over from our life in Tassie) which is one of the best calls we have made. Handling ice and snow without them would be impossible. We make the coolest snow man, 2100m up, I setup the camera on my jacket and use the timer to get a photo of the three of us. We then make our way back down. Now, we come to a big downhill slope covered in snow. Im not sure whats underneath, or how deep the snow is. But all I want to do is try slide down in. Without thinking I sit down and push off and actually slide perfectly down the 50m slope and dig my feet in at the bottom and come to a nice halt. Perfect. I cant believe that worked. Getting down this mountain n wont take long at all. Katie is still standing at the top. Her normal desire to do risky things isn't great but she sits down and pushes off. Due to her snow pants, she comes down a bit quicker than me, but to my surprise, she loved it. I am so proud. We then proceed to slip and slide down every possible part of the mountain. and we reach the track the car is on in no time at all. I have a quick drink from the melting snow river we we make the final walk to the car, glad that neither one of us hit as rock, or fell down a hole. We hop in the car I drive very carefully back down the hill and head back toward our place. We stop along the way to watch the sun go down over the mountains. There still isn't a cloud int he sky and we have salmon to cook for dinner. We are only staying 2 nights here, before we go to the skiing village of Zermatt. We get back and light the fire. I do some writing and then we play a quick game of scrabble before getting an early night, we are both stuffed. We will probably climb another mountain tomorrow.

- Day Twenty Eight -

We didn't climb another mountain today. We both woke up still tired. I am had the flu for the past 4 days and now its rubbing off on Katie. We are going to Zermatt which is a skiing village surround by 4000m high mountains. We figure a rest day wont hurt, so we just packed up and clean up and head back into town to drop of the hire car and catch the train to Zermatt. Before we reach the car however we have a 400m uphill walk carrying all our stuff. It really isn't ideal and the last thing either of us feel like doing. I suppose that as the downside of travelling to so many different places, especially obscure places, you end you carrying your stuff around ALOT. Back in the car and now all we need to do is navigate the small roads and tight turns and we may even received back the deposit on the hire car. I make a quick stop at the local shop of the off chance that have magnet souvenirs (we have been collecting them on the trip) but this place only just has electricity so I'm not surprised they dont have fridge magnets. We make the 30 mins of driving and get to the train station at about 1pm the next train is 1:23 so its good timing. The only issue every shop over here seems ot close between 12:00 - 1:30 for lunch, I could leave the keys in the drop box, but I'm not keen on leaving without receiving the piece of paper saying everything was in order and all good. We wait, the following train is only an extra 30 minutes. They sign off on the car and I go get our first fast food lunch in almost a month. The Macca's over here is good. Now 2 trains and we will be in the last place of the trip (expect back to Rome to fly home). The train to Zermatt is awesome. Its brand new, has floor to ceiling glass windows and hugs the side of mountains and hangs over the edge of huge valleys, the Swiss landscape is to dramatic and spectacular and as we draw closer and closer the mountains seem to get bigger and bigger and they are all cover in snow. The weather is perfect again, not a cloud in sight and as we pull into Zermatt we still have some daylight left which is handy because we dont know how to get to our apartment and there are no cars allowed in Zermatt so I'm not sure if taxi is an option. We get out to the station. Its so cold. According to a flashing display board at the station its 0 degrees. Out side the station we see a sign saying taxi, which is good because since the start of the trip we have gone from 3 bags to 6. We wait for a taxi, but I see a car label Zermatt Premium Apartments, which is the name of our company. I go say hello and the taxi is for us. How awesome. The cars are gloried golf buggies. They zip around town everywhere. We begin winding through the streets on the way to our place. This apartment is the one I know least about. It only had 2 pictures on the website. So I know the view should be good and the inside will be nice, but pictures can also be deceiving. I know that we sit above the village, so we must be up high. I begin looking at good buildings praying that one is it. We are driving for about 10 minutes climbing higher and higher until finally we get to a building which is in a pretty dream location. This could be good. Out we get, and then down 4 flights of stairs (standard) and the open the door to the apartment. It is stunning, the timber floor and decor are amazing, but then we look out the lounge room window and I am amazed. I dont think there would be a better view of the matterhorn from anywhere in Zermatt. Katie is blown away to. We seem to have done it again. Our accomodation on this trip has been something else. Although we have had some kind of drama in each place, and in Zermatt the problem starts as we try to log onto the internet. Its not working. I call the manager and he sends a lady to come and check on us. She is lovely but has no idea about solving our problems. She gives us great information on Zermatt, skiing, things we should do. I ask how far to the shops and she says 5 to 10 minutes. Go down the road 200m and you will come to a lift which will take you to the city level and then a few more minutes your at the shops. They close in 30 minutes and they are sending a tech to fix the internet so Katie will stay here and I will head to get some dinner. The 200m to the lift is more like 400 which would not have been an issue if the lift was working but it is shut down for the night, so I need to walk the whole way dow the hill which is about another 2.5kms. I get to the shop just in time, get some dinner, marinated steak (which turns out to be some part of a wild boer) and then walk 3 kms home. Its below zero so I am wearing a stupid amount of clothes, but its so hot walking I am sweating. When I walk in the door an hour later, the lady is still there. She asks if I found the lift okay, I said yes but it was closed, so looks horrified and is so apologetic. I need to work off these travel kgs anyway. The tech is now here and spend the next 2 hours on the phone yelling at swisscomm (their version of Telstra) who wont reconnect the line. So they end up up giving us the key to another apartment so we can go use there internet (which we need to do, because we need to plan the next 5 days being here). Its pretty inconvenient, and not an overly relaxing first night in Zermatt. But you cant beat the view and tomorrow we will get to see it all up close and personal and maybe even do some skiing. Heres to hoping it all works out better than our internet.

- Day Twenty Nine -

Without much internet last night, it was hard to come up with a plan for our time in Zermatt. It is a big skiing resort town, but it isn't built for first time guest or tourists, most of the people who come here are seasoned skiers or locals, so it was a bit difficult to work out how to do anything. We decide to head to a ski shop that does lessons, to work it out. Part of me thought, we would just hire some skis and “have a go” but just looking at the map of the ski lifts and runs, you quickly realise that isn't going to happen. We find a place called ‘Stoked Ski School’ who do a three lesson and ski gear package. Its the same price for two as it is for one. So we both sign up. We will start tomorrow, today we will try and do a bit of hiking and exploring. Last thing we need to do is buy ski passes, which give us access to the lifts, cable cars and trains. With out one of these its impossible to get up the mountains. They are pretty expensive, I quickly realise why a joke is made about skiing being only for rich people. With the ski lesson and passes, we have spent as much in 20 minutes as we did in the first half of the trip. But it was all budgeted and accounted for, so its all good. The lifts and mountains look complicated to sort out. We head to the station that is closest to our apartment. Its called Sunnegga which is Swiss for “Sunny Corner”. Its suppose to be the warmest side of the mountain which matters because despite the sun shining, and being not a cloud in the sky its below zero in the shade. So every ounce of sunshine helps. The first part is a train that mores straight through the mountain on a pretty steep angle. We come out at Sunnegga, where there is some bars and restaurants and some ski runs, you then have the option to connote further to Rothorn by cable car, which is 3109m peak, which we decide to do. Once at the top, the view takes you breath away. We are opposite the Matterhorn, there is snow all around and clear blue skies, this is actually amazing. We were told that 2 days ago was the first time you were able to see the Matterhorn, as the previous 2 weeks, was rain, snow and storms. We are pretty lucky (or blessed) the forecasts is for clear, fine weather for our whole time in Zermatt and due to the storms there is good snow coverage over the whole area. While on the peak of Rothorn, we walk around and muck around in the powdery snow. I take a bunch of photos and then release that we get wifi up here so we jump of Facebook and go “live” which is something I have never done. People start tuning in and we talk rubbish and show the view to about 25 people who are watching. I have no idea how to interact with the people so I get bored with it and shut down after a few minutes. We head back down and make our way over to the Matterhorn Station which will take us to the Klein Matterhorn, which is highest of the cable cars. It sits a 3883m and gives a 360 degree view of the surrounds which include 24, 4000ers (which are mountains higher than 4000m). The cable cars are high and take about 20 minutes to get to the second highest platform. Katie is surprisingly calm, given how she freaked out and hated the little cable car in Grenoble. We reach Trockener Steg, which is where we will be skiing tomorrow, to get to the top you have to jump in a big cable car. Most of the cable cars are little pods that fit 4/6 people. But the one to the top of Klein Matterhorn is huge and fits 70. This cable car is pretty nerve racking it is suspended about 500m above a glacier and looks to steep to even operate. But it travels smoothly across and we get out at almost 4000m in the air. We are now both higher than we have ever been before. The view is spectacular. Huge mountains, glaciers, snow as far as the eye can see. We are actually on the Swiss/Italian border. So cool. We have lunch in the restaurant before heading back down. The steep price of the ski pass is already justified in my mind. I feel that we have already got our moneys worth. We wander through the main street of Zermatt, its so picturesque. Small chalets are everywhere, there is a cover of snow on everything, little cafes, restaurants, and ski shops are everywhere and there is just such an awesome vibe as we wander. We are a couple of old a handful that aren't decked out in full ski gear and carrying skis over our shoulders, but I suppose we get to do that tomorrow. We head back to the apartment, we might come back down a bit later for dinner, however, when we arrive back we think that the cost of lunch and time of day tells us to just have toast for dinner. We just relax back at the apartment by night. We have an earlyish start tomorrow (and for the next 3 days) as we start ski school. Im very nervous and excited. We both hope we can do it.

- Day Thirty -

We wake up early. The sun hits the tip of the Matterhorn and causes it to glow orange, which is an amazing sight. In a few hours we will be just beneath its peak, learning to ski. Neither of us have actual ski gear (expect gloves which we have from our time of throwing snowballs in Tasmania) but surprisingly some of the clothes we do have a very appropriate for skiing. All we need to hire is a pair of ski pants for me, which turn out to be a hideous green and look like MC Hammer pants. We get to ‘stoked’ at 8:30, collect our skis, boots, helmet and pants, which were all fitted the day before, we then catch a taxi to the station where we head up the mountain to ski for the first time. Our instructor is a lady called Ron (assuming its short for Ronda), what we quickly notice and Ron lets us know is that Zermatt is not the ideal place to learn to ski. Its geared towards pros and experience people. Most of the runs are difficult to hard and most to us look like that are just vertical. Due to the winter season only starting 2 days ago, the actual learning areas aren't open yet. So we will be learning on the entrance to one of the intermediate runs, which is a bit daunting because if we fail to stop or turn the wrong way we will very quickly be shooting off down a really big hill. First things first she asks our experience. I said we have both water-skied a fair bit, but never on snow. She quickly points out that snow skiing and water skiing are about as opposite as you can get. You learn forward on the snow, back on water, you turn with the opposite legs. The only similarity is that you are on skis. This will be interesting. First she teaches us how to stop, which will be very helpful. Then we learn how to turn. The area we are on, is gentle slope but only about 80m long, so you dont have much room to travel. Annoyingly the beginners run isn't open as the lift is broken. So this will have to do. Katie is slow and steady and get the hang of it really quickly. I on the other hadn't really struggle with opposite nature of snow skiing. Leaning on your opposite leg to turn, leaning forward down the hill. It all feels very foreign and making things a bit more complicated is that Ron, is over explain everything to me, which tends to confuse me. I learn better by just pushing me down a hill and see how I go. By the end of the lesson I am sort of getting it, Katie is going way better than me. Tomorrow the run will be open and we can go to a proper piste (ski run) which I am looking forward to. I am a little disappointed, I was hoping that I would be a natural and could just shoot off down the slopes. But I dont fully understand the mechanics of snow skiing, but hopefully tomorrow it becomes a bit easier. We get lunch at a pizza bar which overlooks the Zermatt valley. It is so beautiful, Katie is happy that we have both come away unscathed from our first day skiing. We decide to head back up to the Klein Matterhorn after lunch, there is a lift that we missed yesterday that takes you down to the glacier paradise, which is a series of tunnels inside the glacier itself. Once we are inside, its pretty impressive. There are literally millions of tonnes of ice above us, and we are wandering through ice tunnels. Its freezing cold, and inside the glacier they are carved heaps of different sculptures, walkways and even a slide. Its amazing. I convince Katie to come down the slide, which she does very slowly. Its getting late in the day and you need to be off the mountain by 4:30. We are both pretty tired and head back to the Chalet. We plan on going out for dinner but we are both too tired and just decide to toast again. I spend the night working out how to ski in my mind. Hopefully it just clicks tomorrow.

- Day Thirty One -

Another early start. I am nervous, so is Katie. we are heading to a proper ski run. I just want to be able to do it. Katie can do it, but is terrified of going fast. We meet Ron back at the same place, and do a few practise runs I felt a bit more in control that yesterday, but I still dont really know how I am doing things. One thing is, unlike Katie, I struggle to go slow. I just tend to want to speed down the slopes rather than across them. Our first challenge comes when we get to the lift that takes us to the run we will be doing. To get to it, we need to go down a really steep section of a red run (intermediate) we do this me snaking across the face and back, but as I take my first turn, I just head straight down it, the instructor shouts stop, but I am going, I manage somehow to slide straight to the place we are meant to be and come to a skidding halt, like most of the pros are doing, the problem is I did it by mistake, but worked in the end. The lift kind of just pushes you up the hill. You stay standing on the ground and the t bar push you from behind. Once at the top of the blue run, which is suppose to be the easiest of the runs, we both notice that it looks very steep. But as we get going on these longer sections I realise that I can ski, and am having a hard time staying as slow as Katie and Ron who is guiding her. I am finally getting the hang of it. I sort of rush ahead and then wait for them to catch up. Katie can actually ski, and she has a better technique than I do. She just lacks confidence, which is not something I am struggling with. I race ahead and wait, this goes on for about 30 minutes. Next time I take off, I actually miss my turn and start heading straight down the steepest section of the run, I am going really fast really quickly. My initial reaction is panic. How do I stop? I dont know, but then I realise that I am not falling over and after this steep section the run flattens out and that will naturally slow me down, so I sort of make a long arching turn and then being to slow down on the flat, I wait for Katie and Ron there. By now I am almost a 1km ahead of them. When they get to me, Ron is impressed with how well I handled the section. I pretend I knew what I was doing and say thanks. What I didn’t realise happened, which Katie told me afterwards, is that when I started shooting down the hill, Ron (who was strongly guiding Katie) panicked and shot off after me, but with Ron gone, Katie panics and starts going faster than she would like and screams, so Ron looks at me flying, and back at Katie, decides, to go back to Katie and pick up the pieces of whatever happens to me next. But Katie was gone, because she also was worried about me. She goes stiff and scared and needs to be pushed by Ron the rest of the way down the mountain. eventually everyone makes it back to the bottom in one piece. I am starting to understand things more and am keen to keep going. Katie is happy to sit down. The issue we now have is the run liv tis broken again so to continue to will need to go right to the top which is a lot steeper. I am keen so off we go. Right to the top on the border of Italy and Switzerland. 3000m up. I thought she was takin me to the top of the blue run. We are actually at the top of a red run. This is next level steep. I am not scared but I dont have full control yet, I am half understanding, half fluking turns, but with Rons help and plenty of heart in the mouth moments for me and the instructor, I make it (in record time for a learner) down the intermediate run. But I have a way bigger sense of satisfaction than I did yesterday. I am sort of keen to keep skiing, but don't have the confidence to go on my own. Also we need to check out of our Chalet and into our final hotel for the last 2 nights in Zermatt. With a huge smile on my face we head back to town. Because of the muck around on the first night of our stay. They agreed to give us a late checkout and a lift to our hotel. I confirmed via text message the day before. We get back and need to pack our bags, we sort of just shove everything in. We will need to do a proper pack at the next place. We came with two bags, we now have about 6 full of food, extra stuff and clothes. We will definitely need the lift, as there is no way we are getting all this gear down the hill. The arranged pick up time come s and goes. There is no sign of the van. So I find a way to call them, he said he was waiting for my call and tat the van wont be available for another 2 hours. This is very frustrating as we had arranged it yesterday. I call the hotel we are going to and they agree to come and pick us up. Although it was made up for by the view in the chalet, the customer service and way we have been treated at this apartment hasn't been great. Hopefully y the next place is a lot better. We are staying at our first proper hotel of the trip and it was pretty expensive as I wanted to finish with a real bang. I learned that it was newly renovated and we are actually the first guest to stay in the new penthouse. Our first impression is WOW. There are three people who meet us and collect our bags before we even get inside. They usher us to the bar for a welcome drink as they take our bags to the room. I guess this is the benefit of a hotel vs airbnb. Its amazing. The hotel is stunning. Its all timber, concrete and slate. Beautiful light fittings and we are only in the lobby. We get to our room and realise that we have certainly saved the best for last. A huge king bed, with a huge hot tub next to the window. Big bathroom, and our own wellness centre with sauna, steam room and rain shower with a balcony that looks straight up at the Matterhorn. Man I love Switzerland. First thing I do is turn on the sauna and fill the hot tub. When its below zero all day, a hot bath feels like heaven. Its a great way to end the day and start the last 2 of our trip. We head to there restaurant for dinner and share a meat platter for 2 which comes out with deer, rib eye and veal. The best place, best room and best meal so far and we still have one more day of skiing to look forward to.

- Day Thirty Two -

Its the best sleep I have had in ages. In fact the only place I really slept well is the camper van. the window literally frames the matterhorn so we dont have to move an inch to see the first morning rays light up its peak. You could stare at that view all day, but its our last day of skiing. We head down the the restaurant, breakfast is included in our room, so we eat a huge breakfast, including scrambled eggs and pancakes and then its to the mountain to meet Ron one last time. Katie has decided that her run yesterday is enough so it looks like I will be solo today. I felt that I was getting the hang of it at the end of our lesson yesterday, so I am anxious to get going. We arrive early and jump straight on the chair lift which is about 15 minutes to the top of the only peak we hadn't been up yet. Gornergrat. The run is a blue run, but looks more like the red run from yesterday. She said it should be a challenge for you, but says I wouldn't have brought you up here if I didn't think you could do it. We take off, and it is still with me, its starting to click. The run is about 4kms long and as we snake our way down, I am feeling more and more comfortable and confident. Which is a bad combo, I start to speed up and before I know it, I loss a turn and sendup tumbling down the hill, my ski come flying off (which its designed to do) and Ron chases it down the hill. All that is hurt is my pride, in fact not even that. I have seen a few other people fall down, so I dont feel so bad. The last section of the run, it all fully clicks for me. I am turning sharply left to right and I know exactly how and why. I feel like I am fully in control. Ron is super impressed and says that I am doing exceptionally well. I am so stoked that I can ski. Now that I have got the hang of out I am going to setup my phone to film the next run. I leave it hanging slightly out of my chest pocket, like a go pro. And off we go. Now I have a small issue, when I don't fully finish a turn, I tend to go more downhill and faster and loose some control, I now feel like I can regain it easy enough. Sure enough I begin to gather some speed, Ron shouts for me to stop. I press hard on my right foot and come to a skidding halt. I stop perfectly. The problem is my phone continues. It flys out of my pocket and starts sliding down the slope. I have stopped, but Ron, like an slips fielder, races ahead and catches it before I lose it. That footage will look awesome. We do the run 2 more times, before my legs begin to ache a bit, which is a sign to stop, especially after I fall 3 times on my last run. We head towards where Katie is sitting, at the restaurant with about 30 other skiers. Feeling like I should do something impressive here, I gather a little bit of speed and get ready to lay into a big carve to stop, but as I turn I fall straight over into the side of the piste and stand up covered in snow. Not quite the impressive end I was going for. But I'm sure good entertainment for everyone watching. Katie shakes her head. I feel great, we thank Ron heaps for teaching us to ski. I still want to do the run on my own. But I hang up the skis for the moment, Katie and I will head to the top of Gornergrat for a final peak view of the mountains. Our passes end today, so we want to make the most of it. There is a special cog wheel train that heaves us to the top of the mountain. The view, again, is amazing. We stand on the edge of a sheer drop, down to a huge glacier, and on the other side of that are 2 4000ers. So impressive. I snap a few more photos. Somewhere around here is a famous lake that is often photographed, I wanted to see it, however today it will be frozen over and I am pretty keen to get a final run in. So we head back down. Katie partly wishes that I will just call it quits, but I will regret it forever if I dont have a crack. I put my gear on and head to the chair lift. I wobble on the first turn, I haven't even got to the lift yet. This could be interesting. The change in confidence without an instructor with you is tangible. But I start slowly and before I know it I am in my groove, with no instructor telling me to slow down, this is awesome. I feel in control and I even take the spectacular view around me as I wind down the slope. I fall over twice, as I push my boundaries I bit to far, but I am down the slope before I know it at an average speed of 40kmph according to my gps. I decide to quit while I am ahead, which please Katie much. But I have achieved what I wanted to achieve. now we need to take the gear back to the shop and do a final piece of shopping. We have some gifts and our customary fridge magnets to but before our last super in Zermatt. We take the gear in and then wander the streets, some people are proving to be hard to buy for. Bt we get there in the end. We also need ot buy a second bag as the extra one we brought in France is already full and there is no way we are fitting everything else in. Back at the hotel. the hot tub gets turned on straight away. I notice some really high level cloud and I know that the sky will be full of colour tonight. I have a feeling I am going to take the best photo of the trip. I already have the angle lined up, its now just a matter of waiting for the sun to set. Sure enough the sky lights up, red, pink, purple and true e e to my feeling I take the best photo of the trip. Its almost like the perfect bookmark on our European adventure. But there are still a few more chapters to write. Katie has some cool news for me, which I will tell you all at a later date. We head back downstairs to the hotel restaurant for dinner, but they are fully booked. So we go for a walked and find ourselves at a little local place, that apparently does great food, but there is only seats left at the bar, which turns out to be cute tables in the bar area. That will do for us. The host comes and lights some candles and we enjoy what becomes the best meal of the trip. What a perfect end to a perfect day. In the morning we pack our bags and start the long journey home and what amazing memories we will be taking home with us.

Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In