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Published: September 25th 2007
"Like Queenstown but better", quipped Davies.
After a relatively good night's sleep, it was an fairly early start for our mammoth train journey from Barcelona to Annecy.
We had to run to make the train - again.
Davies then asked me,"Listen, can you do me a favour and just get up 15 minutes earlier? I'm sick of running for these bloody trains."
Haha. He obviously doesn't know me well enough.
I did feel bad, and of course he has a point, so I will try in future. But those of you who know me well also know that my best friend is the last minute, and that we go way, way back...will some things ever change?
When I say that our train ride was mammoth, I wasn't kidding.
In total we had to stop 4 times - in Cerbere, Narbonne, Avignon and Valence - 12 hours duration in total.
Revisiting Avignon albiet briefly was a cool feeling - the familiar sights remind you that you've been here and that you know exactly where everything is - it's a weird feeling, I guess a traveller would understand better.
Nestled near the French Alps near Geneva on the shores of the lake of the same name, Annecy
Medieval Streets Of Annecy
Pretty, cobblestoned pedestrian street in the old town of Annecy.
is a gorgeous alpine town some 500m above sea level - completely different to the settings we had become accustomed to in Spain.
Annecy is the capital of the Haute-Savoie region - a region with close historical ties with Switzerland (the flag of Haute-Savoie is in fact the Swiss flag with the cross going all the way across the flag). A very wealthy region of France, this region only became part of France in 1860, and has it's own (peaceful) separatist movement.
The first thing we noticed about Annecy, was that it was freezing - it was only 15 degrees, but remember that just that morning, we were in 30 degree heat in Barcelona!
Our European summer is over, as we're not gonna be anywhere near the Mediterranean from now on, so sadly, we're gonna have to get used to this.
I did appreciate the clean, crisp air however - even better than in Auckland!
Davies' friends, Guillaume (pronounced Gkee-yom) and Lilas, who Davies met during his time in Canada, are a really cool couple.
During the winter, Guillaume works on the slopes in the French Alps, while Lilas works in a stable. At the moment, they are
Palais de Ile
Once used as a prison, this old palace now houses an art gallery.
here in Annecy, living out of their van, where Guillaume is currently working on a ropes course up in the mountains.
Luckily for us, they came to pick us up from the train station. The directions to our hostel were, "Take bus 23 to Hotel Police, and then walk 1.5km". We certainly weren't keen on the "walk 1.5km" part - especially in this cold, wet weather after a 12 hour train journey.
After dumping our bags at the hostel, we were well famished, so we went to a restaurant for our first taste of Savoyard cuisine.
Lilas recommended "tartiflette", which is basically bacon, onions, cream, white wine and potatoes baked in "reblochon", a local Savoyard cheese. It was scrumptious. This was all washed down with some deliciously sweet Savoyard white wine. Unfortunately, I couldn't quite enjoy the wine as much as I would've liked, because the crappy hostel in Barcelona had some ferocious bedbugs who left their legacy on my back and arms, and the wine merely served to swell up my bites and I was itching like a mofo.
We enjoyed a couple of beers from the local "Munich" pub after dinner, before Guillaume and Lilas dropped us
One Of The Canals In Annecy
Another feature that makes Annecy so beautiful.
back at our hostel.
Our little-English-speaking, Indian roommate at the hostel wasn't best pleased with us waking him up at 12.30am. Davies had already gone to bed, and I was brushing my teeth at the sink when the our sour roommate started talking to me in French. I told him I couldn't understand him, then he asked me to follow him out into the corridor and towards the communal washroom. He then pointed at his watch and basically told me that I should brush my teeth here at this time of night. I was getting pretty pissed off by this stage so I just walked back to the room.
I was then putting my stuff away, when I noticed him standing next to me, just staring angrily.
"You can go back to sleep now, I'll only be a couple of minutes," I told him, but he insisted I finished before he went back to bed. He told me he has to go to work at 6am the next day.
It didn't seem to matter how many times I said "je comprend", he insisted on waiting for me.
I was sorry for waking him up, but his patronising behaviour was
The Lake & The Mountain
Perfectly idyllic location for this gorgeous town.
And his excuse about going to work at 6am was bullshit, as he ended up taking off around 8.30am.
Which was about the time Davies woke me up to go to breakfast. I told him I was too tired, and kept sleeping. When I got up at 9.30, I found out that Davies told me to get up because Guillaume had come to pick us up for a scenic cycle around the lake, not because of breakfast, so I missed out. Was a bit gutted about that.
Our hostel was another HI Hostel, with a ridiculous 10am-4pm lockout for cleaning, so Guillaume was soon back to pick me up and we picked up some lunch from a boulangerie to eat by the lakeside.
This place is absolutely gorgeous, and the lake and the mountains give Annecy a wonderfully idyllic backdrop. Davies' description of it being "like Queenstown, but better", wouldn't have been far off. It was as good as anything we've got in New Zealand - although perhaps I can't really talk since I've never actually been to the South Island! Ah, it'll still be there when I get back ;-)
With it's proximity to the Alps
View From The Ropes Course
Nice to have a pic of natural beauty for a change.
and the famous Mont Blanc, Annecy is also a favoured stop for many of the rich folk who come to the region to ski the mountains.
In keeping with the outdoor vibe of the place, we went up to the ropes course where Guillaume worked to have a free go. I relished having the opportunity to do something other than sightseeing for a change.
Up top, the view was amazing. After going from city to city on our trip so far, it was nice to come somewhere a bit closer to nature. The colour of the lake is such a beautiful shade of blue, you'd think it was pristine enough to drink.
The ropes course was good fun. Built among the trees, each activity had it's own challenges and the combination of rope ladders, tightropes and flying foxes made me feel like a kid at camp again. Of particular fun was the "Tarzan swing", where you end up falling, and then swinging into a large rope net. Weeeee!
After our fun day on the ropes, we all went out again for some more tasty local cuisine.
Tonight, I had the Savoyard set menu, of which the highlight was
From left, Lilas, Guillaume, myself and Davies.
definitely the dessert - "ile flottante". So nice for something so simple - imagine a chunk of pavlova floating in custard - thus, you get a "floating island". Yum.
Guillaume said that when he was younger, he ate so much of it so often that he now can't eat it anymore - and who could've blamed him?
The red Savoyard wine, was probably not as good as the white, but it did contribute to a wonderful meal and time had by all.
Since, Guillaume and Lilas' home is mobile, they just parked it in the hostel carpark overnight and took us to the train station the next morning. Handy.
So a big shout out to Guillaume and Lilas for making our stay in Annecy such a peaceful and pleasant one - I think I'll be back to do some sailing and paragliding here some day - and most importantly, for being our chauffeurs! Without them, getting round would've been troublesome.
So our next destination was Brugge, Belgium - a change from our original plan of going to Brussels. We figured we probably have to pass through Brussels again later on in our trip, so for now we wanted
The commanding Belfort tower in the Markt (main square) in Brugge.
to see why everyone says Brugge is worth a visit.
It was another hefty train journey requiring changes in Paris and Brussels, but only about 7 hours this time.
The weather wasn't much warmer when we arrived in Brugge - and the sky was murky as the rain drizzled down. What did we leave Spain for!?
Tired from the train journey we weren't up to much that night - but our self-cooked steak with hash browns and frozen ratatouille was almost as awesome as the food we had in Annecy! OK, maybe not that good, but definitely the best we have cooked so far - which we have in fact done quite a lot of; more cooking than I had anticipated that's for sure. You get a much better feed this way, and you do get sick of kebabs eventually ;-)
What we did do that night though, was plan our journey.
After Hamburg, we were originally going to keep going through Germany to visit a couple of my friends en route to Oktoberfest, but no-one we knew was going to be at Oktoberfest the time we had planned for, and my friends in Germany weren't going to be around
The main square in Brugge. The statues are those of two Flemish heroes, Jan Breydel and Pieter De Connick, who led a successful uprising against the French in 1302.
at the time we wanted to visit them.
Also, I was planning on finishing travelling on September 25th, but my rail pass doesn't actually expire until October 16th. There is no point in wasting that time and (I think) I have the money to keep going until October 16th, so why not?
After Hamburg, we will hit Scandinavia - Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki and Tallinn - before I fly back to London on the 25th September, as part of my working visa requirement (I cannot be outside the UK for more than 3 months at a time). After a couple of days reorganising things there, I will be off to Oktoberfest at the start of October, before we head to Prague, Berlin, Hannover, Brussels and then Paris for the Rugby World Cup Final - for which we have tickets. Go the All Blacks! If they win it, it will be the perfect end to the perfect trip.
The next day, we decided to hire a couple of bikes to explore Brugge with - by far the best and most fun way to see they city - from the hostel.
Our hostel by the way was excellent - run almost single-handedly
These busts are made of chocolate, in the chocolate museum.
by a really cool chick, the place had loads of character and included a bar that many locals frequent. The two flights of stairs to get to our room though, were lethal!
The first stop on our tour was the chocolate museum. A free sample on the way in was most definitely appreciated, and then another one after the chocolate making demonstration was even more so.
The museum itself was very interesting, detailing everything from how to make chocolate to it's history and spread across the world. The Incas were in fact the first to drink chocolate, before Spanish explorers brought it to Europe. It was then a luxury good only drunk by aristocrats before it hit the mainstream.
We didn't buy any though - our cool, sarcastic, written-for-backpackers city guide from the hostel says that the cheap Cote d'Or and Jacques chocolates at the supermarket are also the real thing, and just as good. And I agree - we certainly stocked up!
We then picked up some delicious pommes frites (french fries - the Belgians claim to have invented them though) with beautifully thick mayonnaise, the way they eat it round here and the way I like it.
The most romantic spot in Brugge. Notice the tourists on the horse-drawn carriages - not so romantic now...
We now only need to sample some waffle and our Belgian food experience will be complete - I love Belgium!
We then hit the sights.
Many European towns and cities have old towns, surrounded by an old wall. Brugge however, has a river - like a moat. A park and cycling trail follows this river most of the way round, which makes for a pleasant and scenic cycle. Inside the moat, Brugge is every bit as beautiful as people say it is. The word "medieval" has been used so often on this trip that it now has a rather vague meaning, but here in Brugge it is definitely the real thing. Someone I knew who has been there described Brugge as being "fake" - well, there are a few too many tourists here, but it's anything but fake.
The Markt (main square) is the epicentre of the city, where which stands the impressive Belfort tower, the old town hall, and the majestic Provinciaal Hof. In another large square nearby, the Burg, stands the Old Court Of Justice and the Basilica Of The Holy Blood, where drops of Jesus' blood is kept, apparently.
Other sights we saw included the Cathedral Of
Beer Wall In The Brewery
Puts Alastair's and Mike's Rosedale beer wall to shame...
Our Lady and the Minnewater, a nice romantic, swan-infested spot to take your lady friend ;-)
The whole town is a sight in itself however with it's beautiful churches, graceful canals and cobblestoned alleyways. I can see why they named this place after you Murray ;-p
After our little tour of the city, it was off to the local brewery - the only brewery that still brews beer in the old town itself - for a tour. To be perfectly honest, I'm not too interested in how they make the beer, I just like drinking it. Nevertheless, the tour was quite interesting - in one part of it, the guide explained how when they had to clean some of the vats, no one person could stay cleaning it for more than 5 minutes without passing out. The guide herself was quite impressive also, in the way that she could conduct the tour fluently in Dutch, French, English and Flemish. Flemish - a bit of a mix of French and Dutch me thinks, is quite different.
The free beer at the end of the tour went down well. Personally, I think Belgian beers are the best. They just have a
Old Court Of Justice
Located in the Burg Square, next to the Markt.
different taste to them - like a woody aroma - and they are always rich and tasty, while refreshing at the same time. Hoegaarden on tap is still my favourite in the world, but the one here, Bruges Zot, is probably the beer I have tried on this trip.
With our next night being in Amsterdam - a Friday night - it was another quiet night in for us that night. Not that there seemed to be much happening anyway - Brugge has a pretty boring nightlife - the girl who worked at our hostel admitted as much.
And so concludes our two stops en route to Amsterdam - an entry I am sure most of you are looking forward to - I certainly am...
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