Stage Five – Overnight Warsaw to Moscow – on the way overland UK to NZ

In which you shall learn a life lesson, like I did. What did I learn?

Still a few leaves in Belarus
Still a few leaves in Belarus

First overnight train! This is the Warsaw to Moscow Polonez as mentioned by the Man in Seat 61.

When I showed her my ticket as we boarded the train, the white-blonde compartment manager wearing a smart red beret held up one finger. She said, firmly and clearly, directly into my face, ‘One’. Gottcha. I clambered onboard with everyone else and wandered up to the end of the compartment to realise there was no number one. I went back to find the first compartment held three worried looking faces staring at me. I had place number 11. I guess she meant the first compartment.

I was very lucky to share a compartment with Tatiana, her daughter Maria, and colleague Ella. Tatiana and Ella are teachers at a select Secondary College and extremely clever people. Tatiana speaks excellent English as she spent her teens living in London with her parents. They gave me an introduction into life onboard a long distance train. First get into your comfy clothes because it’s warm inside. Then crack open the snacks and keep going. And keep hold of your keycard.

We had basic Russian lessons, compared teaching lives and enjoyed some simple jokes. Like the one about me going to spend 6 days, one hour and four minutes on the TransSiberian. They couldn’t stop giggling. ‘You’re going to live like this for a week?’

But, what was more hilarious, Tatiana and I both knew all the words to Donny and Marie’s sign out song! With gusto, everyone!

We were in a Russian train. It seemed new. It was certainly a solid heavy piece of equipment. There was no riketty racketty clicketty clackity here. This ironmongered beast was a smooth driving force.

Soon enough the Belarus police came to check our passports. The Russians got a stamp. I had to fill out a duplicate form. It took a good time for the officials to get through the train. Then a short trip to get our wheels changed. The rail gauge changed over the border. This also took considerable time. As we pulled in the men-power were getting into formation. There seemed to be about twenty blokes involved. They set about rolling a huge gantry thing overhead, connecting each carriage somehow to the side yellow pillars which must be a jack system. When the other train pulled in opposite I could see what must have just happened under our train. I didn’t feel any perceptible lifting of our carriage but it’s clear how high they have to go. I could see the folk in the carriage opposite going about their snacking and chatting. The others in my compartment had gone to sleep by now. We were not allowed out to watch. They have to physically move the wheels under each carriage. Three frail men sliding under the trains, heaving and pushing these enormous machines into place under the carcass of the carriage. There seemed to be mortal danger everywhere I looked. There was a far bit of smoko and wait and check the phone but the job got done.

How they manage without loosing a plate or a bolt or a wire in such dim lighting is astonishing. How much would a continual line of equal gauge cost between the two countries? Or is it better to keep decent men employed in an important and responsible position?

Changing the wheels in Brest - Warsaw to Moscow overnight
Changing the wheels in Brest – Warsaw to Moscow overnight
This is the hammer bench - the train opposite is about to get our wheels and visa versa
This is the hammer bench – the train opposite is about to get our wheels.
See the hammer on the right? (No sickle.)
Wheels rolling under the train opposite. See the elevation?
Wheels rolling under the train opposite. See the elevation? And the hammer?

After a short trip along to the station, customs officials came to call. They brought a cute dog that everyone along the corridor cooed at in turn. We had to get out of the carriage so they could take a good look. We were very serious and obedient.

Brest Railway station - Belarus customs check
Brest Railway station – Belarus customs check

Around two in the morning my bladder called, we argued, I lost. I slipped out of the compartment to go to the toilet. As the door clicked firmly shut I remembered Tatiana’s advice. ‘Keep your keycard with you.’

Uh oh.

Russian train toilet - clean and orderly
Russian train toilet – clean and orderly

After making use of the facilities I made my way slowly back down the corridor. A corridor lined with locked and shut doors. My locked and silent gate. I looked longingly at the empty manager’s chair as I passed but I could not invade that sacred space.

The compartment managers office
The compartment managers office

I went out to the doorway and sat in the stairwell. I had passed the sleeping manager but I did not think her temper would be improved by me waking her around 2:30 am. I came back and stared at my door. I figured my best place would be where either the manager or one of my ladies might go so I sat down and practiced my meditation skills just outside like a loyal canine companion.

A shiver of hope came when the manager’s little alarm went off. Something was about to happen. Soon enough the train slowed and came to a station. She moved around quickly, putting on her uniform and attending to things in her office. Then she noticed me and without a hint of surprise indicated the door. Oh, yes, spasibo! And I was back in my comfy welcoming bed just after 3 am. I was so pleased to straighten out!

My bunk - plenty of room underneath for luggage for both up and down bunks
My bunk – plenty of room underneath for luggage for both up and down bunks

It was after 8:30 when I became aware that our breakfasts had been delivered and our door was clicked open. New day!

Russian 4 berth cabin. Tatiana staring out the window
Russian 4 berth cabin made in Austria. Tatiana staring out the window
Tatiana demonstrating morning happiness
Tatiana demonstrating morning happiness – we did remake the beds into the seating arrangement immediately after I took the photo. Honest.
Contents of Russian breakfast - tea and coffee vegan
Contents of Russian breakfast – tea and coffee were vegan

Bread bun thing I will not name with a French word beginning with C, biscuits, tea/coffee/sugar, napkin, salt and pepper and a refreshing towel. What more could a train traveller want?

On our Russian train, Maria has breakfast while manager is at work
Maria has breakfast while manager is at work

Taking careful turns with the available space, we managed to get the packing done we managed to get going with the day.

We had a twenty minute stop to change the engine – one of those thunderously big machines. It reminded me of the old iron lawnmower we’d inherited on moving in to one of our houses. Incredibly heavy and incredibly effective. The wooden roller tamed the grass and, once sharpened, the heavy blades made short work of the greenery. The train was built to last. Possibly your grandmother’s sewing machine would also share that permanence and purpose?

Our compartment manager and her carriage
Our compartment manager and her carriage waiting for the new engine
Information screen inside Russian train
Information screen inside Russian train – it’s warm inside
Engine change three hours away from Moscow
Engine change three hours away from Moscow
Autumn came to Russia already
Autumn came and went in Russia
Angel Ella who brought me to Moscow (Mockba)
Angel Ella who brought me to Moscow (Mockba) and introduced me to the Metro, even buying my ticket. Spasibo!
Belorussky Railway Station, Moscow - my entry point
Belorussky Railway Station, Moscow – my entry point – don’t think I’ve done it justice. The Metro is nearby and I’m so grateful I had Ella to help.

There will be more about the Metro in Stage Six – Moscow – but for now, I’m getting ready to start that hilarious six day TransSiberian jaunt. Not sure when I’ll get email again.

But trust me, I’ll soon be back and let you know more of my tågskryt journey!

And guess what lesson I will endeavour to remember just as hard as I can?

Stage Four – Warsaw – on the way overland and sea UK to NZ

The first thing you see when you get out of Warsaw Central train station
What is the first thing you see when you get out of Warsaw Central train station?

On the train (Tågskryt!) from Berlin into Warsaw I sat next to Simon. He lived in Berlin and was not a DJ. Proof that not everyone in Berlin is a DJ. (See previous post or if you’re brand new and want to read about planning this trip, here’s Part I ) He was editing music on his laptop, working on songs to play with his new band, the Soft Boyz, chill electro-jazz, so watch out for them in the future. Simon comes from Warsaw and loves to spend time with his family – he speaks to his mother EVERY DAY. He is saving up to travel through South America next year. He told me the best things to do in Warsaw are to visit the Polin Museum and to take a walk through Praga (no, not the city, silly) the artist’s side of Warsaw.

Kind Simon actually walked me out of the underground maze and pointed me in the right direction. It doesn’t take long to get familiar with a place but those initial first few minutes … Do you remember those 3D hidden picture puzzles? That’s how I feel when I stare at a map of a new city until it comes into focus. Takes a day, normally. I was very grateful to the first citizen of Warsaw, Simon. I hope his travels in South America find him many kind and helpful people in return.

When I asked my Airbnb host, Alicja, she said, ‘Oh, no, don’t go to Praga, it’s dirty and violent.’ So I didn’t. (Actually I ran out of time!)

View from Airbnb kitchen Warsaw
View from Airbnb kitchen Warsaw
View from Airbnb bedroom Warsaw
View from Airbnb bedroom Warsaw
view inside my Warsaw Airbnb
View inside my Warsaw Airbnb

But, Alicja could name three vegan restaurants within five minutes walking. Cake for dinner!

The next morning I trekked in to the Central station to see if I could catch my Moscow train from there rather than out in the suburbs.

Beautiful aromatic walk through a block and a half of flower stalls next to the market.

the flower walk outside the market
The flower walk outside the market
More than one market in this market
This market goes back three buildings and offers a fancy food hall at the rear
Modern Warsaw
Modern Warsaw on a beautiful day
Central train station
That’s me on the right – striding out – not really

As I marched up to the station a man appeared at my elbow and said, ‘Passport?’ He kept saying ‘Passport? Passport?’ and then added, ‘Australian?’ and I said ‘Yes’, but even as I pulled my passport wallet out to show him (regular readers will know I’m not holding an Australian passport but I am a citizen) he indicated I should follow him and I did because he also added, ‘Police’. I would follow this man to the end of the earth. This is Warsaw. Round the station and out the back and into a twisty office section and he flung open the door and announced to the ladies inside, ‘Passport! Australian!’ One of the ladies rose to her feet with a sympathetic and worried look. She found a small handbag, fished out a passport, opened it to reveal a wad of cash, and the police officer grabbed it and thrust it towards me. I felt, one, relief, I wasn’t in trouble and two, tremendous pity for the poor woman who had lost her passport. I spent the rest of the day looking for her. My friend Nadine lost her passport in Canada. When she reported to the police, they opened a drawer full of other passports, so it must be common. Keep a hold of your identity, people.

High on this feeling of relief, I went to Information and, with minimal mime and clowning, managed to extract the information my train could be easily caught from platform two the following day.

On to the next thing, a walking tour, a mere short walk away. Only, the map of Warsaw is a bit bigger than it looks! The walk went through parks and streets and took a long time.

One of those ubiquitious scooters and cool park bench
One of those ubiquitious scooters and cool park bench
Autumn colour in the Saxony Gardens
Autumn colour in the Saxon Gardens

Just made it to the Palace and the Sigismund memorial to hear that Warsaw had been obliterated by Nazi bombing, particularly the centre, up to 84% of the city was laid waste. Poland was invaded from two sides. The Allies refused to help Poland. They were on their own and after the Warsaw Uprising the Nazis stamped on them hard for trying to resist. But the citizens of Warsaw were determined to rebuild and the old town in the centre is now finished. With such an devastating history, Warsaw is filled with monuments.

Marie Curie memorial for her first science lecture
Marie Curie memorial for her first science lecture attended as a teen

The Polish White House
The Polish White House where round-table negotiations
brought a peaceful revolution and Solidarity.

No sign of Extinction Rebellion. Regular debates and free speakers gather outside the White House to express their thoughts. This is where they would be. Should be.

The poets you didnt know you didnt know
Known as Poland’s greatest poet, Adama Mickiewicza certainly has the biggest memorial
Not repairing bullet damage is a memorial too
Not repairing bullet damage is a memorial too
Changing of the guard at tomb of unknown soldier
Changing of the guard at Tomb of Unknown Soldier – with another memorial offering of flowers BG

Behind the square you can just see the Opera House – the third biggest stage in the world after Moscow and Beijing.

Tomb of the unknown soldier Warsaw
Tomb of the unknown soldier Warsaw – the remaining columns of the grand Saxony Palace

Warsaw citizens still debate what to do with the site of the Saxony Palace. Many wish it to be left open, with the Tomb a sombre reminder of the waste of war. Some, including a local lady in our group, suggested that it could be rebuilt and used to house the Polish National Museum. It turned out almost half of our group, with that opinionated lady, was from a business that supports International Workers arriving in Poland with their visas and guide them through the myriad legal requirements. They were out for a team building exercise which was fun for them but meant our guide was often tested and gently reminded of her facts. Sometimes they offered the punchline of her story without waiting for her build up. She remained admirably calm in the face of this intense scrutiny from the senior female cohort and they had a good time, looking at their city from a different perspective. Sometimes.

Musical chairs play different Chopin pieces along the Royal Walk
Musical chairs (benches) play different Chopin pieces along the Royal Walk
Copernicus guards a museum
Copernicus guards the Polish Academy of Sciences
Not repairing bullet damage is a memorial too
Not repairing bullet damage is a memorial too
The rebuilt Prudential building, now a fancy hotel
The rebuilt Prudential building, now a fancy hotel – pretty sure that’s not Napoleon – was blown up by the Nazis. Because it held pride of place in their hearts as once the tallest building, Warsaw residents insisted it be rebuilt and revered.
Beautiful mural in back streets of Warsaw
Beautiful mural in back streets of Warsaw. Risk seemed to be a dress shop
Warsaws growth flanks memorial mural
Warsaws growth flanks another Memorial mural
The Palace of and Culture and Science, Warsaw
The Palace of and Culture and Science, Warsaw – Remind you of anything?

The building in the photo at the top of this post and here, the Palace of Culture and Science was given to the people of Warsaw by Stalin. It is a copy of one of his Seven Sisters of Moscow. Apparently most older people in Warsaw hate it. They wish it had been destroyed along with other Russian edifices in the ’90s. But the younger generation are more practical. They believe as it’s made its mark on the city, it’s iconic and there’s a couple of cool bars inside.

And the walking tour finished directly opposite a cool vegan restaurant, Nancy Lee! Truly delicious soup.

Finding strength for more exploration I went in search of the Museum of Modern Art’s Architectual Exhibition at the Zodiac Gallery. It was called Pomnikomania – Monumentomania – Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. There was a lot of art-speak but as Warsaw contains so many monuments the young artists’ responses varied from absurd to offensive. I liked a video piece I didn’t understand but it was a ritual performed next to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Monument to monuments from Pomniko Mania at Museum of Modern Art
Monument to monuments from Pomniko Mania at Museum of Modern Art
Sculpt from Pomniko Mania at Museum of Modern Art
Selected words from Pomniko Mania at Museum of Modern Art

The next day dawned bright and early. After washing and organisation, Alicja let me leave my luggage for the day. I would seek the Copernicus museum down at the river’s edge. It’s right by the Modern Art Museum. Glorious day. Off I marched once more to discover that map really is too small. I walked FOR AGES to get to the river.

Thought Id made it to the river. False bridge
Thought I had made it to the river. False bridge.

When I passed the underground I relaxed, I’d certainly be able to get back in time for Alicja. Continued to walk under the bridge, passing enterprising stallholders displaying freshly picked mushrooms, great grey platters of sunflower seedheads, homemade pickles and jams. Finally reached the shores of the great Vistula. Across the river is the enormous sports arena.

Korean food on one side, Polish sport heaven on the other
Korean food on one side, Polish sport heaven on the other

I was reminded of my visit to Merida, in Spain, and the remains of Roman civilisation visible there. What will citizens of the future find here?

Take me to the Vistula
Take me to the Vistula, drop me in the water …

Amazing how fast I calmed down as I walked by the river, looking out at the wilderness preserved opposite. This side is for smooth paths, museums and cafes. The other is the famed and ‘dangerous’ arty Praha. There are bicycle paths that run through wild areas left for animals and even eagles have been spotted there. Our guide lived there and spoke rapturously of her interesting environment. Alicja, you have to make a visit. In the daytime, you’ll be safe. Certainly, the Warsaw I visited so very briefly was clean and under development. It is a modern city like most, however, it is in Poland!

The Warsaw Mermaid on the Vistula River
The Warsaw Mermaid on the Vistula River. Do you think she looks like she is about to cut through the net of that bridge?

I couldn’t find a good vantage point to photograph either the Copernicus or Modern Art buildings so I turned away and found this lookout. Oooooh.

University of Warsaw Library
University of Warsaw Library lookout point. I had to get up there!

It’s not easy to work out, two innocent bystanders pointing up, over and around things for me, and finally I walked through a gate and then up into a wonderfully peaceful garden over the roof of the University. Given the proximity of Copernicus and Modern Art, this garden is surely worth a visit should you have a day to spare in Warsaw. Leave time, though. It’s all a lot closer on the map!

University of Warsaw Library dome
University of Warsaw Library dome
University of Warsaw Library dome and roof
University of Warsaw Library dome and roof garden

The metro from Kopernicus was clean, fast and easy to work out. Once I’d worked it out. I had minutes to spare before my Airbnb deadline so I raced back through the supermarket, bought some mandarins and a bread roll for the trip. Back at Alicja’s, made sandwich from leftover dinner, left most of the fruit for weight, got act together and went to one of her recommendations, Cafe Miasto, for lunch. So busy! But, as I waited, I saw the library of exchange books and decided to ditch the one I’d been carrying around recently. Sped through last three chapters and plonked it on the shelf. This made up for the newly added weight of mini shampoo and biodegradeable baby wipes. Had to speed through my meal as well but it was extremely tasty.

cool ad
Not sure how advanced Lidl is into Polish territory.
I didn’t see this ad in UK, Spain or Germany where there are many Lidl
but, as far as ads go, I like it!

That was it. I jumped on the tram straight down the line back to the station. I was ready for the big train journey ahead. My first overnight experience. What would it be like? How would I cope? Locked in a compartment for nineteen hours with three others? On to Mother Russia!

Stage Three – Berlin – on the way overland and sea UK to NZ

Memorials – how to remember? Or how not to forget? Writing this blog? To remember? If you’ve forgotten or you haven’t been there, see Stage One and Stage Two. Or you could start way back with planning, Part I

It was 10:30 am on the train from Hamburg to Berlin when a young chirpy woman’s voice presumably welcomes us to our journey in German, before adding, clearly, ‘Good afternoon’. A loud laugh from the man near me gave notice there were not too many English speakers on the train. She said no more.

There was no ticket inspecting, as compared to Spain, where any intercity train journey is accompanied by a security check and close analysis of tickets at every opportunity. No-one ever checked tix in Hamburg. Does anyone even buy tickets apart from tourists?

As for my carefully reserved seat, there weren’t even any numbers on the walls or the chairs. The man, so kind and genuine, selling me the tic in his comfortable uniform and urging me to make that extra payment of four euros fifty to reserve a seat, said, ‘Hamburg to Berlin is our busiest route. It’s normally full. But, you must wake up in time. If you miss it you must pay again.’ All so jovial and such a big, fat lie!

I didn’t miss the train. Walking to the train station was a joy. It was a beautiful sunny morning in my leafy suburb and the fallen leaves, crisp and crunchy the day before, had already turned to sludge in the soft rain. The glowing autumn colours shone through. Those old trees spoke eloquently of change and time passing. The grey mist enhanced the mystery.

On the train I found my Jess-made sewing kit and fixed my pockets and zips, particularly the wallet pocket zip. Definitely a case of a stitch in time. Could not afford a uniform malfunction in the wallet area.

The renowned Trabant outside hostel
The renowned Trabant outside hostel

Arrived safely in my cheerful Happy Bed Hostel in Berlin and thought to seek delicious German fare.

Main dining room Unami
Main dining room Umami, Kreuzberg

All the world’s cusines are in Berlin!

Buddha Rolls and Rose Tea @ Unami, Kreutzberg
When in Berlin try the Buddha Rolls and Rose Tea @ Umami, Kreuzberg

Wednesday began in Kreuzberg, with the simple idea of getting my ticket printed and doing a tour of Berlin, taking in the Spree Gallery in the afternoon. I figured the ticket might take half an hour. I began at the U station, Hallesches Tor, near my efficient hostel.

I bought a daily ticket which no-one asked to see, ever. I put it in the machine to get it stamped. Who buys tickets in Germany?

From there I caught the train to Warschauer Strasse station. Then I had to change to the S-train. I asked the only staff member I could find who was hiding in a booth and didn’t want to come out. He didn’t speak any English and the jutting of his whiskery chin made it plain he didn’t like the idea of English. After I indicated my desired destination by jabbing at my map, he pointed to the exit. I came out of the U and looked around the streets for the S. Where was S? I started to feel I was in an ep of Sesame Street. There was considerable building, scaffolding and blocked pathways around me. I was about to cross the street to find a café with a human who might know something when I looked up. A sign!

Where is the S? Or the U? The answers reign on high
The answers reign on high

When I got to the S I could not find a train that went to my station. It only went to Nölderplatz. You might think this is petty but when you are trying to organise ongoing travel arrangements these things can get stressful. If I had made this trip the next day when I wanted to catch the train to Warsaw, I would have missed it. So the dry run was turning into a sweaty run. But I took deep breaths. Planning ahead is good.

Back in the corridors of train world, I asked a couple of men in orange high viz and they shrugged. I figured it was better to get close to where I wanted to be and caught the train to Nölderplatz. There seemed to be no ongoing to Lichtenberg. I asked a couple of charming smiling women in high viz orange and they pointed across the suburb and waved and danced the information that I could catch a bus two streets over. Schliststrasse? Schillerstrass? So I wandered out of the station, into a nice park, saw a bus stop that did not list Lichtenberg and wandered two more streets, past a skateboard park with no graffiti and a man in his fifties practicing his skate moves in his dark blue raincoat. The yellow leaves made sharp contrast with the grey concrete curves.

I saw a promising orange bus. It did not list my name so I went to the other side, just missing another. Then I returned to ask a oncoming driver of the first side. He pointed at the other side. Why did I cross the road? To make sure I was facing the right direction. Finally a bus arrived. I asked for my station. He shook his head, staring ahead. Oh, dear. But then, in the nick of time, he remembered! Yes! Get on, get on, so I did.

The couple in front of me looked worried and turned back to examine me. Lichtenberg, they muttered to each other and shook their heads. I had no-where else to be but time was ticking on. I would get somewhere. I looked out of the window at the grey day. The blocks of flats were either grey or cream or off-white or taupe or beige and the paint was flaking but the parks were always present with their glowing gold and orange tints growing bolder through the greenery. People in the streets wore olive green, brown, black and navy coats.

We arrived at a large carpark with a small bike-stand array (why are there so many cars in Berlin?) and there was Lichtenberg station.

My ticket out of there
My ticket out of there

It was quiet. Shops were shut. Informative signs in German guarded the stairwell. I found my ticket machine, chose the Union Jack and looked for a pre-paid ticket option. I patted and tapped all around the choices open to me. I couldn’t find it. Luckily, I was standing right next to the information desk. I went to stand in the queue stretching out into the hallway. There seemed to be an invisible forcefield around the workers’ counter. Only one person could fit into the shop in this queue. At least two metres separated our first contender from the desk. Purposeful German chatter filled the air as the two assistants organised tickets and directed people. I took deep breaths.

I got the old guy with a white beard. I apologised for speaking only English and he stood up, as if to go, and on second thoughts towered over the printed information I offered him. English? What is English? Reluctantly, quickly, he read my journey details and told me to go to platform 16. I indicated no, not now, tomorrow. And tried to explain I needed to print the ticket. He shouted, ‘Machine! Machine!’ and pointed with vigour at the place from whence I’d come. I said, ‘But I can’t … ‘ He said, ‘Machine!’ and turned to go.

He swung back to look at the next person in the queue. You can bet I was saying Bitte and Danke all I could but, really, this guy was working in the information desk? In Berlin? In an international station? Are all their patrons German? I went to look at platform 16. At least there were no barriers across it. I took deep breaths and headed to the WC for extra calming. A little queue in front of the shut doors looked worried and held money and one guy at the front had even managed to print a ticket. But it was closed. A large woman wearing a floral scarf around her neck and a taupe jacket stretched across her front marched to the machine and talked to the young man commandingly. Perhaps he had broken it? No? That was that. She had enough and left. The WC, the entire station, was not functional today.

Considering my options I thought the best thing to do was return to a place where I had once found kindness so I returned to the air and went to find U. Finally, worked out how to get to Alexanderplatz on my path to return to Berlin Hbf (of which I had fond memories). Alexanderplatz is where that big tall landmark tower is.

On my way to find the S I saw an information booth and stood in a queue there. After a while the lovely smiling woman showed me a photo-card of the correct options in the machine. You have to choose ‘All Offers’ and ‘Bahnof tickets’ and then you are given a choice to put in your number or voucher. Job done. It had taken me nearly two and a half hours to print my ticket.

There were a lot of people sleeping rough, especially around the train stations.

I won’t go into the struggle to find a café, although there was one, my decision to head towards the Brandenburg Gate to take a tour regardless of lagging vim and joyfully, on the way, by chance, finding a brand new café called ‘Beets and Roots’ where they really do treat you like a rock star (my name was Bradley Cooper) and the food is delicious. I sat outside in the silvery sun and had an ongoing discussion with three kamikaze wasps. I believe all three survived in the end. Greedy things.

Beets&Roots on the way to the Brandenburg Gate fresh tasty fare beside a park
Beets&Roots on the way to the Brandenburg Gate fresh tasty fare beside a park

How much of Berlin’s landmarks were blasted by allied bombs? 80% of the city.

First glimpse of Brandenburg Gate
First glimpse of Brandenburg Gate

The Brandenburg Gate was familiar from much film and tv. The lady with the chariot and prancing steeds was apparently once called ‘Peace’ but after Napoleon stole her away to the Louvre and the Prussian return, she is now known as ‘Victory’ and carries the German Eagle to show her people fresh resolve. (How did Napoleon and indeed, the Prussian victors, get her on and off the gate? Were there cranes?) It memorialises war, victory and ownership.

My guide was called Susan Grouchy. She had a masters in archaeology and had returned to uni to study memorials. Berlin is the obvious place for such an endeavour. She was not originally from Berlin but urged us to find not only physical memorials but people who lived here. They would be sure to have some interesting stories. What do they remember?

The Mourners @ Brandenburg Gate
The Mourners @ Brandenburg Gate

As well as the roads steeped in history, from 1250 onwards, there was a group of vibrant red Extinction Rebellion protestors gathering, silently swaying, palms skywards, flags fluttering, white faces grim, making a bold statement against the grey imposing structures around them.

XR info point Brandenburg - good flag
XR info point Brandenburg – good flag

Can such a people-based movement rise up once more in this city of peaceful protest? When the Berlin Wall came down thirty years before hundreds of thousands of suppressed people took to the streets to come and see for themselves if the travel restrictions had been lifted? And the guards did not open fire. There were not enough bullets to shoot everyone and the time had come for the German people to come together again. The walls came down.

The climate crisis is here
The climate crisis is here

Now the fight is not so tangible. You cannot see climate change. You cannot smash it or break rocks from it. You cannot paint it with colourful visual poetry. Is the time right for people to see a change in how corporations use fossil fuels? Can we shoot the typhoon headed for Japan?

Directly under the Brandenburg Gate
Directly under the Brandenburg Gate

In this German, Berlin, backdrop, the Rebellion took on a resonance that it had not had in Brighton. I did not see cheery dance classes or breast-feeding women blocking streets here.

Memorial to Jewish victims of Nazis
Memorial to Jewish victims of Nazis

Susan took us to the great and sombre grey block Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. There are other memorials to different minority groups singled out for extinction elsewhere but this Jewish memorial is imposing, belittling, awe-inspiring. I can see how politicians might feel when they take a break from the nearby Reichstag, with its glass dome to symbolise transparency, and visit this neighbour. You must interact with it. You must consider the shapes and individuals and be overwhelmed by the height of it. Lost cities. Lost dreams.

Who was just there?
Who was just there?

Our guide, as student of memorials, encouraged us to consider these effects. She explained what the artist Peter Eisenman stated; that it was designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and not stated; that any numbers or shapes were symbolic in any way, in his presentation to the city.

Ghost City
Ghost City

In the end each individual’s response is personal and how I wish everyone in the world in power had to come to this place to consider their responsibilities. People making, negotiating and dealing in missiles, arms of any kind and tanks with a view to harm and destruction should come to this place. The humans on the UN Security Council, they should come here.

The Berlin wall seems so flimsy now
The Berlin wall seems so flimsy now

Marching along the remains of the wall, so weak and thin, she told us of Amplemann and obeying the pedestrian signs, or else.

Berlin green person - the Amplemann
Berlin green person – the Amplemann
Red Amplelmann - no doubt this is a stop sign
Red Amplelmann – no doubt this is a stop sign

She took us to the car park over the bunker where Hitler ended his life. She showed us the work-places of Goebbels and Himmler. The great grey sideways skyscraper where the Lufftwaffe was based, now the taxation office. She took us to the cheery tourist ridden Checkpoint Charlie, overlooked by KFC and Macdonalds and other brazen honeypots. She showed us the cobbled reminder of the wall but she did not point out the small brass squares, brightly (recently) polished that we walked past.

KFC and Macdonalds Checkpoint
KFC and Macdonalds Checkpoint

The German and French Cathedrals (copies rebuilt by the East Germans to show what Berlin used to look like) stand on opposite sides of the Konzerthaus. Nice they are brought together by music.

Koncerthaus red carpet
Koncerthaus red carpet

And the Konzerthaus had a red carpet pleated up the tall stairs to the grand entry. Exciting events during the 30th anniversary of the Wall coming down.

Luther looking at Berlin pointy things
Luther looking at Berlin pointy things

All is building, barriers, perhaps in preparation for a thirty-years party – or the Festival of Lights – but many buildings under construction or renovation and of course, the S-train is to be improved. About time. There is surely room to improve the signage! Many police officers and cars in evidence – if it was for the Extinction Rebellion they were over-prepared. The people had not come to the streets in any great number. Why not?

Berlin pointy things, traffic and barriers
Berlin pointy things, traffic and barriers

We ended up in the Bebelplatz facing the Humbolt University Law Faculty which used to be the library. This is where an angry mob burnt 20,000 books. Books written by Jews, homosexuals, non-Aryan … The memorial was a deep bunker of empty white bookshelves in the middle of the plaza. Then Susan led us to a corner to sit and told us the story of how the wall came down. She managed it with aplomb and shivers went through my spine as she described those Berliners watching Gunter on tv turning to each other in disbelief. What did he say? And the walls came down.

Berlin wall remains art gallery
Berlin wall remains art gallery
A sense of the death strip between the walls
A sense of the death strip between the walls – and some of the ongoing building projects in the background

She told us the quote, ‘History may not repeat, but sometimes it rhymes.’ Could be Mark Twain.

Dancing to freedom painting on the wall
Dancing to freedom painting on the wall

Never made it to Spree but my taxi driver in the morning was a Berliner. He spoke English extremely well, having grown up in the West. He’d visited Australia when he was a kid. He said he feared he was a rare oddity in this international city. I assured him there were plenty of old white German men who did not wish to be part of the tourist flood, most of them working for train stations.

He remembered when the wall came down. He was twenty and ready to party. He hated David Hasselhof for stealing the moment. He thought Paul Weller should have come. He was still waiting for Paul Weller.

Walls come tumbling down

You don’t have to take this crap
You don’t have to sit back and relax
You can actually try changing it
I know we’ve always been taught to rely

Upon those in authority
But you never know until you try
How things just might be
If we came together so strongly

Are you gonna try to make this work
Or spend your days down in the dirt
You see things can change
Yes, an’ walls can come tumbling down

Governments crack and systems fall
‘Cause unity is powerful
Lights go out walls come tumbling down

The competition is a color TV
We’re on still pause with the video machine
That keep you slave to the H.P.

Until the unity is threatened by
Those who have and who have not
Those who are with and those who are without
And dangle jobs like a donkey’s carrot
Until you don’t know where you are

Are you gonna realize
The class war’s real and not mythologized
And like Jericho you see walls can come tumbling down

Are you gonna be threatened by
The public enemies number ten
Those who play the power game
They take the profits you take the blame
When they tell you there’s no rise in pay

Are you gonna try an’ make this work
Or spend your days down in the dirt
You see things can change
Yes, an’ walls can come tumbling down

Paul Weller

Speaking to another young Berliner, she said, ‘It is a city to make memories in.’

Another of the questions Susan asked us to consider was, ‘Why are so many Berliners DJs?’

I was sitting next to a young fellow on the train on my way to Warsaw. He was editing some music on his computer – listening intently to his headphones. Maybe I’ll ask him.

I’m heading to Poland!

I’ll read this on the way.

Stage Two – Hamburg – on the way overland and sea UK to NZ

Yeah, nah (as we say in Melbourne) yeah, nah, not flying, but it was a flying visit! My tourism style is definitely skittering over the top – I’ve got a train to catch. If you want to catch up, start with the planning: Part I or find Stage One of travel here.

plane over ferry Hamburg
Plane over ferry, Hamburg (I’m the one in the ferry)

On the rails again, I was encouraged to see so many windturbines, not only through the Netherlands but also in Germany, as the train trundled over the border. We also passed workers building an enormous solar array in the middle of lush green pastures.

On passing through Gouda, I reflected on the illustrious history of that cheese and the many times I had enjoyed a sumptuous slice on a cracker. Which lead me to contemplate the current lack of (cows milk) cheese in my life. No bad thing. Imagine if, when breastfeeding Felix, someone had snatched him away to make me ‘donate’ my milk to other beings? I suppose, when our cows were Daisy and Buttercup out in the back paddock and we were all friends together it might have been different but now there are billions of us drinking billions of café lattes and billions of little calves snatched away from their billions of bellowing mothers. What happens to the baby cows? The things you think on a train …

The verdant green paddocks flashing by my window were divided by slim, flat channels of shining water. Wooden fences, trees and fat ponies were interspersed with modern buildings and power lines. The old and the new sat back to back in the Netherlands, like the woman in the Rotterdam memorial to the fallen facing sadly down to the past and the man with the spade looking up for a new vision.

Netherlands is trying to shake the Holland image – Holland being only one part of the country. I’m shaking off the Netherlands! Onward! Forward, forward went the rattling train, into the next county, the next region, the next country. Human muttering, snuffles and snores surrounded me all the way to Amersfort.

Amazed how stressed I became when I couldn’t find a notice board giving me the onward time and place for my connection. I had to go outside the station and find a tiny little screen well-above head-height to spot it. It did not show on the platform screens for another twenty minutes. It’s difficult turning up bright and early, prepared and ready, when the systems are not ready for you.

A pretty young blonde sitting in my seat, innocent as you please, said, looking around at her fellow gang, ‘Oh, most of us don’t have reservations’, as she snuggled in (to my seat) and looked smug. The rest of the passengers seemed to nod but I may have imagined that. They might have just looked down to avoid my eye or read their book or check a piece of fluff on their shirt. I passed on to lean on a patch of wall with the other too-lates-for-a-spot. I remembered the summer of 2016 when I had travelled on a Eurail pass, two of my German trains had neglected to add my carriage. Clambering into any available wagon, many of my fellow passengers squeezed into corridors, sat on the floor or leaned on their luggage to while away the hours. Perhaps this was normal in Germany. When the ticket inspector came along he made no comment to those hogging the reserved seats, looking carefully at each ticket and then grudgingly approving them. When he gave my ticket the required grunt, I asked about my seat number. He said, ‘Well, you should go and sit there.’ I explained that I could not. ‘But you reserved it.’ Shrug. And he said, ‘Well, she should move.’ And I said, ‘I don’t think she wants to.’ And he said, ‘She has to.’ And I said, ‘I can’t make her.’ And you could see the exasperation in his eyes. ‘She has to.’ And my silent shrug made him decide who was in charge. He marched toward the pretty blonde but pretended he didn’t realise it was her, looking around at all the seat numbers innocently, creeping closer to his prey. She didn’t like it but he persisted and soon enough she was packing up and the seat was mine. The woman next to me said, ‘Awkward’ in that funny American sitcom kind of way. I said, ‘She’s young. She can cope.’ And the woman leaning next to me smiled and said, ‘That’s the rules. Unfortunate.’ BUT NOT FOR ME!!

I had desires to buy a coffee and eat my sandwich but her blonde companion sat beside me like a disapproving thunder cloud, crossing her long legs uncomfortably against the seat in front of her like a thin-legged crab trying to get into a shell. Her judgement lay across me like a forbidding arm.

The train stopped to change staff and take a break. The voice said you could go outside for a smoke so I went to look out of the door. Ah. This is the sort of thing I could expect on the TransSiberian. Pausing. But I did not want to risk losing the train so I did not set foot on the platform plus, you know, tobacco smoke. It was only for a few minutes and I’d left my run a bit late. Still. Got to practice the idea.

View from Airbnb in Hamburg
View from my comfy Airbnb in Hamburg – not looking at chateaus here BTW

My Hamburg walking tour – sadly forgotten guide’s name – mainly because she lost ME – began by the water (river Alster) next to a Venetian looking shopping mall, Alsterarkaden. She was an excellent speaker. She told us that one in forty citizens of Hamburg was a millionaire. And there are more billionaires registered in Hamburg than anywhere else in Europe, maybe the world. The rivers were full of ships and boats of all sizes and shapes, tangible evidence of supremely successful trade. I was also reassured of wealth and comfort by the chateaus grandstanding in the leafy suburb near my cosy Airbnb apartment.

Not sure what the people sleeping in the street imply, tucked up, silent and hunched, in their sleeping bags in shop doorways and alleys. One was even curled over into a wheelchair. What sort of life is that? Hamburg was cold.

The guide told us the city has been built and destroyed over and over again in its long history. It was originally a fort surrounded by three rivers, Alster, Elb and Bille. Water is more than life-blood. It is food, drink and communication channel. It is wealth.

A couple of young lads rolled up on their little scooters and peered over shoulders. When the guide asked them if they were joining us they said, ‘Yeah, nah,’ and I knew we were in the presence of Melbournians. ‘Yeah, nah, we’ll just park the scooters.’ We walked up from the river, part of the lake now, up to the Hamburg Rathaus (town hall).

Hamburg Rathaus
Hamburg Rathaus

The Rathaus is canvas writ large with historical figures and symbols.

Rear of Rathaus Hamburg
Rear of Rathaus Hamburg

At the rear of the Rathaus to look at the Goddess of Hygiene in her fountain, chosen because of the cholera epidemic as a result of the Great Fire of Hamburg. The fountain is cleverly used as part of an intricate cooling system throughout the building. When the water trickles, it must be summer. In the winter it’s turned off or else the pipes will freeze and cause all sorts of trouble for the Rathaus.

Hygieia, Goddess of hygiene, health and sanitation
Hygieia, Goddess of hygiene, health and sanitation

We walked to the Patriotic Society – a kind of NGO for growing community – and found a group of several small brass squares embedded into the footpath outside. These little squares, called Stolpersteine (stumbling stones) by Gunter Demnig, are now all over Europe (apart from some places where they do not think walking on memorials is a respectful act). I’d seen them before in Lubeck. She explained they were memorials for those persecuted by the Nazis, regardless of religion. They give names and dates but cannot tell much more of the story apart from their placing. These particular people must have been members of the Society. Our guide explained that when locals go about their business they often keep their eyes down and they will see those names, and perhaps be jolted. That those who notice will have to look down to read the names and therefore will be bowing.

She told of meeting an elderly man on his knees in front of the plaques when she was delivering her tour. He was polishing the brass. When asked, he explained that his father was a member of the SS and this small task, polishing these little squares of metal, were a way for him to atone his inherited feelings of guilt.

Saint Nikolas, Hamburg
Saint Nicholas, Hamburg

We moved to Saint Nicholas, a blackened wreck of a church, which has been left as a site for memorials. It makes for sombre visiting. Most of Hamburg was bombed by the allies. It is now thought to have been the most bombed city in WWII. The allies decided to force the citizens to decide to give up – they rained down white fire on Hamburg for ten days and nights. The white fire was so powerful it drained oxygen from the air, sucked life from deep inside bomb shelters and killed old, young and creatures alike. When offered the choice, Hamburg quickly surrendered.

sculpture 'Prüfung'
Sculpture ‘Prüfung’ “No man in the whole world can change the truth. One can only look for the truth, find it and serve it. The truth is in all places.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

My father was a navigator in the Royal Australian Air Force. I do remember him talking about Dresden. He thought the destruction of Dresden was one of the greatest crimes of his war. He talked sadly about the beauty of that small city before the allies had smashed it. I don’t think the Australians were involved in bombing Hamburg. He did not talk much about his war, apart from jovial remarks about his only injury coming when he’d drunkenly fallen off a gate. I knew he’d been shot down in the Mediterranean because his brother, Syd, told me so. His crew had been rescued by a British submarine that surfaced metres away, saying clearly and commandingly to ‘Douse that light, you … ’

Angel on earth
Angel On Earth – see her broken wings?
Label for Angel on Earth by Edith Breckwoldt

I did not inherit any guilt about these bombings. As far as my education and assumptions about WWI and WWII went, we were on the right side, we won and we did the right thing. My grandfather and my father told me so. I could not help but think of those who are suffering in wars at this time. Have humans learned nothing but arms deals?

My walking tour took a break in Starbucks. I could not remember ever having taken food or drink in one of those before. I really enjoyed my almond-milk hot chocolate but the three other Aussies (from Melbourne) despaired at the quality of their coffees. ‘Yeah, nah.’ Making faces they said things like, ‘Disgusting.’ ‘Medicinal.’ ‘Don’t do it.’ Think of all those poor little calves and their milking mummies.

Then we visited the surviving 16th century buildings near the beginning of the Great Fire, some of the few old buildings in this city. They not only survived that fire but also both world wars. These are strong buildings. See the tidal marks on the foundations?

Sixteenth century houses in Hamburg
Sixteenth century houses in Hamburg

We progressed towards the harbour proper, still river water. When I started chatting with Debbie, a ceramicist from Florida, we lost sight of the group. More and more tourists and locals out for a weekend stroll swirled around us. I thought I saw the other American on the tour wave at us but perhaps I was mistaken as our dash to catch up was fruitless. So I never did get to hear the end of the guide’s story. But Debbie and I talked about Extinction Rebellion and the gritty reality of American politics until I had to meet my friend in St Pauli, the edgy side of town.

I met Tanja at StrandPauli, a funky beach themed café. Wish I’d taken some photos but we were too busy gossiping. I met Tanja at a Christmas yoga retreat near Seville nearly ten months ago. Later we walked down to the Elbphilharmonie (or concert hall on the Elbe). She told me the glass for the windows was difficult and expensive and when you see the melty bends and flexes in the surface of the glass it is easy to understand why. Apart from the fact it’s very high up and really, will people notice that, or the tailor-made light bulbs that also had to be made internationally?

The next day was sunny and delightful. I wandered from my little apartment to the old fishing village area, Treppenviertel, now a gentrified suburb for some of those millionaires!

Treppenviert area near Blankenese, Hamburg
Treppenviert area near Blankenese, Hamburg

I wandered and waited to catch a ferry from Blankenese (white nose). Had no idea where the ferry was going so I wasn’t surprised when it seemed to be driving towards shallow water, a surly bridge and an opening gate.

River Elb river gate
Heading towards river Elbe river gate
Gate on the river Elb
Gate on the river Elbe

There was an aborted landing attempt, presumably because the open gate was releasing a force of muddy water (were they dredging in there?) twisting the ship around at unpredictable angles. Our ferry had to push away from the dock and regain composure mid-stream.

Neuenfelde on the river Elb
Neuenfelde on the river Elbe

I did wonder if we were to go through the gate but finally, with much bumping and clanging of those big metal pillars, we tied up, folk disembarked and new passengers ran to get onboard. Then we sat again. Cigarettes were smoked. Babies’s chins were chucked. The sun was brilliant. Glorious day. Expectation remained high amongst the other passengers. We would surely be leaving soon. Wouldn’t we?

Went down to ask about buying a ticket (and our destination) in this luxurious autumnal cruise and found my daily train tick was ample and I would change ferry at the next landing. Eventually we got underway.

Gate of Neuenfelde on the river Elb
Gate of Neuenfelde on the river Elb

Back we went to Blankenese, carefully avoiding the mudflats pimpled with small birds.

Mudflats showing how tidal the river Elb is
Ferry navigation on the river Elb. Stay alert, Capt’n!

No hesitation here. Off we went into deeper shipping channels and new industrial vistas. It is a huge port.

Ferry heading into Hamburg port
Ferry heading into Hamburg port – that’s the airport on the right.

Change of ferry and closer to urban life …

Hamburg ferry with circular tables
Hamburg ferry with circular tables makes a great family outing

On we went, up to the Elbphilharmonie. Love the waves on the roof.

The river Elb crowned by the concert hall
The river Elbe crowned by the concert hall

The main reason I came to Hamburg was to check on the assertions given to me by young peregrinos on the Camino. They all attested to the great beauty of Hamburg. No, really. It was far more beautiful than Sydney harbour. Much. Well. Yeah. Nah. I don’t think so. Sorry.

River Elb from the Koncerthal Hamburg
River Elbe from the Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg

Yeah. NAH.

See Stage Three here.

Stage One – The jump – Harwich to Hoek of Holland – (travelling from UK to NZ overland and sea)

(‘Arrich to ‘Oek of ‘Olland)

Walking beside the beach (?) looking over to Harwich Port
Walking beside the beach (?) looking to Harwich Port

The planning over (there’s six parts to planning – begin with Part I if you like) the travelling has begun. To mark the change, the journey will be named in Stages.

After arriving by train to Harwich International (at the port) I found my quaint Bnb five minutes away. Don’s dining room featured, amongst other treasures: Gainsborough-esque prints hung in golden curlicue frames from the wooden-panelling walls, an Australian-shaped clock on the mantlepiece, different-sized elephants trumpeting, a metal swan, a large wooden African mask, a teddy bear in velveteen dungarees eating from a felt honey pot (I could tell because of the little bees), a Greek vase, countless other vases from other lands, all topped by a little, old, framed photo of a curly, haired terrier, solitary and plucky on top of the shelf.

Beach huts surrounding the playing fields at Harwich
Fringe of beach huts containing the playing fields at Harwich

Harwich might be a bit bleak in cold weather but I was lucky enough to be there on a cheerful sunny day.

Harwich takes their beach boxes seriously
Harwich takes their beach huts seriously – not sure when they get to use the beach?
Nice walk beside the Harwich beach
Got to check your tides in Harwich!

I managed to get my goods in order so I could be ready and waiting at the departure point for my ferry bright and early in the morning.

Ticket in hand, I'm departing Harwich
Ticket in hand, I’m departing Harwich

When is the start of the journey? Boarding the ship? Casting off? Half-way across?

Boarding ferry in Harwich
Boarding ferry in Harwich

Can you see the ropes? I watched them go.

Trucks rolling in the containers on board the ferry
The little truck cabins clip on and off pretty fast. The containers have wheels, the drivers so skilled they can zoom up the gangway, turn 360 on the spot, swing the cabin out to the side, spin their chair so it faces the rear and drive the container quickly into position before snapping off their truck and leaving the ship to collect another.

Stayed outside until the ropes loosened, the blokes lifted them over the bollards and the engines kicked into gear, pushing the ship out into the stream and I began to cough.

You can find Stena Line’s sustainability policy here.

Is your emission really necessary?
Is your emission really necessary?

The gentle to and fro, the engines thrumming, strong and driving, dependable.

Pulling away from England
Pulling away from England

We had clear sky, growing some smooth flat clouds for the first couple of hours as we moved steadily towards darker-hued cauliflower fields. After an hour or two, the water began to fade to grey and there was a bit more movement to the ship. The strip of sea by the horizon took on a deep blue.

Big view out of the big front windows of the ferry
Big view from the big ferry front windows

On a number of occasions we drove towards rows of wind turbines in the middle of the sea, which given the lack of movement, looked more like grass flowers, thin stalks on the horizon. The first clump we passed were surrounded by cargo ships, perhaps queued for port or perhaps involved in building or installing the turbines.

Outside there was sky and sea. Inside the Monkees, Bee Gees and Maggie May, Rocket Man, Lighter Shade of Pale and the Bump. The sound of my old people’s home.

I wasn't sure if it was a sur-charge?
Sur-charge? Surf charge? Surf LARGE? This is for two hours of a seven hour crossing.

Where are you going? To NZ.

I think I will travel to NZ in a similar sized ship
Look! Freighter! I think I will be travelling in a similar sized ship from Taiwan

Via Holland? Yes, indeed. Well, that’s a long trip. Yes, it is.

Ahoy! Hoek of Holland on the horizon!
Land ahoy! Hoek of Holland on the horizon

Foot passengers waited until after truckies, bikies and sundry drivers got away, then we were directed to the gangway and land. It was very straightforward and easy. The tram was waiting outside the ferry terminal and REMEMBER you must BUY A TICKET at the machine. THEN TOUCH ON!! When you get out at your stop you much TOUCH OFF! There were interactions with tram staff, all very polite and friendly, but firm. TOUCH ON! Ambassadors for travel.

The tram took half an hour or so to arrive in Rotterdam. I had been given clear instructions by my Airbnb host and it proved an easy walk around the corner to my abode.

Not sure what it tests? But at least we know where we are ...
Not sure what was being tested but at least I knew where I was …

I arrived tired and flustered to find my host Olivier Scheffer sharing long distance walking experiences with a guest. Olivier recently completed a 2,000 km longitude walk from Helsinki to Thessaloniki (not only because he liked the sound of the names!) His guest, a fellow peregrino, recently walked to Santiago de Compostela, Galicia. Some discussion of footfall, footstrike and RSI followed. These guys were experts.

Olivier's map - the scissors mark the spot
Olivier’s 2,000 km walk map – the scissors mark the spot

Olivier is an artist who prides himself on his Triangular Art House in inner city Rotterdam.

Walls decorated with pieces different tapes designed for particular purposes
Olivier’s dunny walls decorated with offcuts of different tapes
designed for particular purposes
Bathroom ceiling - not quite the cistern chapel
Bathroom ceiling – not quite the cistern chapel

Like the Airbnb, Rotterdam proved a fun and inspirational place to visit. Once the largest harbour in the world, Rotterdam still rules Europe but other cities in Asia have overtaken her. Popped in to the triangular Central Station to buy my next train ticket. Took me a little while to focus on the dates I needed. Because I’ve been planning this trip so far ahead there was a fictional quality to the time. I couldn’t quite believe that it was now. Time had more than crept up on me. Time had ambushed me. Mind you, there is nothing like being on an unknown tram or trainline with names you don’t know or understand going somewhere you don’t know to keep you focussed on the here and now!

Central Rail Station points at a huge building
The angular (controversial) railway station points at an engineering marvel. Rotterdam is essentially a swamp. Underneath that tall, shiny building is a massive underpinning
and presumably a gigantic budget.
Memorial in front of the Rotterdam Town Hall
Memorial to fallen during 1940 bombardment in front of the Rotterdam Town Hall. The woman represents grief, looking down and to the past, but still connected to the child of the future. The outward-looking man on the right, holding a spade, represents rebuilding and vision.
stronger through struggle
Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands said Rotterdam was ‘stronger through struggle’
and insisted they could rebuild

Because of the devastating German bombardment in 1940, Rotterdam has been rebuilt with an enthusiasm for adventure and experimentation. And some controversy. Unlike Amsterdam, where original canals and buildings force restrictions, architects are encouraged to make their mark and the inhabitants tend to make their opinions felt by protesting ticket barriers at the train station or not using the Markthal for its original purpose.

The pencil sits beside the cube houses
The pencil sits beside the cube houses
Markthal, known as the pencil sharpener, is opposite the pencil
Markthal, known as the pencil sharpener, is opposite the pencil
Building connected to the closed art gallery complex of Rotterdam
The Rotterdam art gallery is closed for the next seven years
but with impressive designs like this one,
looks like it will be worth the wait.

Rotterdam’s greatest son is Desiderius Erasmus, who urged everyone to get out and travel. He travelled out of Rotterdam at the age of twenty and never returned. That’s why the UN called their study exchange program Erasmus.

Can you see Erasmus turn the page?
Can you see Erasmus turn the page?
Hope springs from a crane in Rotterdam
Hope springs from a crane in Rotterdam

There is a lot of building going on in Rotterdam, together with art, cycling and smoking weed. The famous street of bars, galleries and ‘coffee shops’ is called Witte de Withstraat.

Witty translates to English just the same
Let’s hope so

Not far away is the Kunsthal – an art gallery that aims to make art popular

Solitaire by Joana Vasconcelos
Solitaire by Joana Vasconcelos outside the Kunsthal – look at that ‘diamond’ catching the sun!
Spirit is a beautiful vego restaurant in de Groene Passage
Spirit is a beautiful vego restaurant in de Groene Passage

But for me, my happy place was in De Groene Passage with a delicious vegan buffet lunch at Spirit followed by some fantastic ethical window-shopping. I wished sincerely I could live there, in that restaurant, forever. Bliss. BTW, if anyone in Christchurch knows Alexa, could you please let her know Spirit says, ‘Hi.’

Rotterdam harbour reminds me of Hong Kong
Rotterdam harbour reminded me of Hong Kong

My next train stage takes me to another harbour in another of the great European cities. Here’s Stage Two! I hope you can join me!

Part VI – UK to NZ overland … The gathering

Contrails over Brighton Beach UK
Contrails over Brighton Beach UK

If you haven’t heard of the planning for this trip, see Part I here, Part II, Part III, Part IV and Part V. Quick update: I have been granted an electronic NZ Endorsement, which I don’t need to print out. I trust the server will keep those records safe. Thanks, NZ Immigration!

Finishing up my summer teaching with Kings Education Brighton (I don’t know how I could have attempted this journey without Stephen’s support, thanks Boss DOS!) I moved to London for a couple of days to gather myself together.

A few chores and little shopping things: I wanted to get some currency, euros, roubles etc, just small change, so that if I needed a taxi or something on arrival in a country I wouldn’t have to panic looking for a bank. I found a cache of Money Changers nested close together around the Leicester Square Tube, near Covent Garden. It was raining. I went from window to window to compare rates and was informed that, yes, it was a good idea but I should have organised it three or four days earlier. They have to order in the different currencies. I could call back in the afternoon when they would have enough euros and possibly some yuan but unlikely roubles or zlotys. Every morning they start afresh.

Here is the lesson. If you want to go overland start thinking ahead. Minimum three months to get the ship and the visas and now, three days for the currencies!

Time for a quiet walk in a London park …

Regents Park
Regents Park

and an orange fog

fog from Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life at The Tate Modern
In this installation from Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, at The Tate Modern, I could not see more than a couple of metres in front of me. It tasted sweet.
What would be ahead of me in my journey across the world?
Check out his https://littlesun.com/

and Hampstead Heath

Hampstead Heath with a British magpie
See the magpie?

to see a seminar in the How the Light Gets in Festival called Modern Crises and Ancient Gods. The speakers were Baroness Natalie Bennett and Roger Hallam (absent due to arrest), Sir David King and Sister Jayanti with moderator, David Malone.

King proposes to repair climate change by refreezing the poles.

Baroness calls out for system change and sustainable development goals.

Sister reminds us each and every one of us is part of our family.

(Note: the arrested one is silenced.)

King and Malone, Baroness and Sister on stage at the arena.
From left; King and Malone, Baroness and Sister

It was Saturday Sept 21 13:15, grounds of Kenwood, Hampstead Heath

Kenwood estate
Kenwood estate in Hampstead Heath, London

My great-aunt Winifred (Min) was a charismatic dowager who took great delight in teasing status. She arrived at our house one day thrilled she’d caught a lift in a vehicle bearing the Royal Coat of Arms. She’d hitched a ride in the post-office truck, while wearing her fur coat, of course.

British Royal Mail Box at Harwich Port
Not sure if the NZ Royal Mail Box has exactly the same coat of arms but there it was in Harwich, UK!

She taught me the value of persistence.

Quiet tents at How the Light Gets In at lunchtime
Beautiful day on the Heath (not so many people visible at the festival).

When I arrived at the glamorous tent city that housed the UK’s answer to TED, I discovered that I had not purchased a daily ticket for eighty-four pounds online. (Eighty-four pounds!) Instead, I had two months previously, merely bought a ‘fast-pass’ for this one ‘Crises’ seminar for five pounds. I arrived half an hour early and the bag search people let me in as far as the ticket desk, shaking their heads, muttering to each other, how could it have happened? At the desk where I was told I could not enter without a daily ticket, I explained I could not stay for more than a couple of hours. Could they let me buy an afternoon ticket? Nope. All or nothing. (NOTE: This is how ideas are spread. By money.)

George Orwell lived here - next to Hampstead Heath
On the way to the festival I passed George Orwell’s old home – not a museum – I don’t think he would have been impressed with 84 pounds for a day of chattering, do you? Ironic?

I asked to speak to a superior. Finally, Daisy the manager let me in just for the session, bless her. I did remember Min’s charming, cajoling ways. She would have been proud of me.

I explored the surroundings before my seminar began. No water refill station. No compost toilets. (The reason I’ve linked to UK companies here is when I asked organisers they said they couldn’t find any. Took me all of three seconds each, if you’re reading this for next year… ) What was I in for?

Lovely atmosphere on sunny day in Hampstead Heath
Music, comfortable convivial conversation and comestibles for the people who could pay eighty-four pounds for the day

King’s opening remarks began with the sad observation it took twenty-seven years to get the Paris accord and nothing has changed since then. Making a valient effort to speak to the topic, he noted Greek, Judeo/Christian philosophy has changed the original meaning of ‘physis’. No longer the universe we’re thrown into, where the Gods of the seas must be appeased with sacrifices to prevent them rising up and swallowing the sailors, but ‘physics’. He also referred to the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of nature as being separate from humans:

nature /ˈneɪtʃə  /
▸ noun
1 [mass noun] the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations: the breathtaking beauty of nature.

Oxford English Dictionary phone app

King, also a Knight and a Scientist (Chemistry), believes humans are both part of and separate to nature. He thinks we have treated the world like a dustbin and run the risk of losing the earth. He asked how did we lose the sense of the essence of the Earth?

As you know, I think humans are very much part of nature. What do you think?

The Baroness, also a Politican, agreed that we have used the planet as a mine and a dumping ground. She believes arrogant science attempts to offer solutions to problems without fully understanding the consequences. When she studied soil science, at Uni in Australia, fertiliser was all the rage for farming’s woes but now new science recognises fertiliser kills off micro-organisms, causing long-term damage. ‘Fertiliser is good for the father but bad for the son.’ She called for system thinking – bringing together knowledge from many different sources to develop sustainable goals.

I wondered if she recognised she was in a perfect position, seated between a representative for science and one for religion. How could this politician work with her neighbours to create a sustainable goal right then and there?

The Sister, also a Director, explained that not just one part of humanity is to blame. Each and everyone is part of our family.

We could compare that with the brother’s speech in the recent film Farewell, as he exhorted the granddaughter to follow the family tradition of working together to assume the emotional weight of the elder. The revered grandmother must not be allowed to suffer. Her children and grandchildren should take the emotional weight for her. The family worked to keep her happy. If the granddaughter had told her of her cancer it would only have been to assuage her guilt at not being honest. Not telling the truth? The truth so valiant and important? But who would that benefit? Only the granddaughter.

The-Farewell-2019-movie-poster
The family look after the weakest link

The Sister quietly reminded us that all human beings have values. It’s not science that’s lost values. It’s humans. She said, ‘Come back to knowing who you are’.

David Malone asked King if it was true that 80% of all nuclear power stations were within the projected sea level rise zone. The King (who has a past in nuclear matters) stated it was of greater concern that places like Calcutta and most of Bangladesh were currently in direct peril, with the probable consequence of unimaginable amount of refugees.

The Baroness suggested that science must become more critical of itself. That it was important to recognise all creatures have a need for quality of life. Wellbeing? What does that mean? If all are depressed and stressed, how can that result in a healthy planet? She thinks we need to think about our own existence as a natural organism. What is necessary for survival?

The Sister pointed out that if minds are in a state of chaos, if individuals are struggling  within themselves, that is reflected in the world outside. Everything starts from human consciousness. We have to shift our thinking, not just our own spiritual consciousness but our relationships with each other. We need to evolve to a state of harmony and from there to a harmonious relationship with nature.

The King feels now is a dangerous time. It’s not 1932, but similar, a slippery slope. He asked who controls the media? Big money. Not just to sell copy. They are influencing people. We have allowed a small percentage of people to acquire enormous wealth while there are people living on the streets. Consider Europe in the 1930s. Something is wrong. Polarisation does not always end in the right place.

The Baroness said that change has already started. People can see the system is broken. She believes centrist politics is dead. She said, ‘Chose, either Right or Green. We’re not going to stay the way we are. That’s profoundly unstable.’

The Sister wants us to change from within and work together as a family.

Come on, everyone. We can do that!!

Cheshunt Lake in the Lee Valley is home to ducks, herons and moorhens and other birds I didn't see!
After constant English class preparation and worry about planning a trip halfway around the world, a walk around Cheshunt Lake in the Lee Valley was the perfect antidote.

I spent a couple of nights in YHA Lee Valley, London. This hostel is set in a park full of lakes and canals although strictly speaking, it’s still in London.

Lee Valley White Water Centre
Lee Valley White Water Centre is apparently one of the best in the world according to the athletes who were assembling for a big competition that weekend

There’s water activities everywhere.

Cheshunt Lake 7:30 am light reflecting off the water into the shadowy trees
There is an angler just getting out of his tent in the middle of that light. I can just make out the top of his head but you probably can’t. He stood up right in the centre of the pic milliseconds after I took the shot as I backed away quietly.

Birdwatching hides and a dragon fly sanctuary, the young mariners club and a white water centre were all part of the once London Olympic complex. It was a great place to admire bird life and sculptures and it even had a proper dog playground with brilliant climbing frames and hoops.

Waltham Abbey
Waltham Abbey, Essex partially built by King Harold himself

I farewelled England with a quick visit to King Harold’s memorial in Waltham Abbey.

Memorial to King Harold 1066
Memorial to King Harold (1066 and all that)

Then I caught the train (forty-three pounds this time) from Cheshunt to Stratford to Dedham Vale to Harwich International. I would be delivered right into the port!

Dedham Vale for Manningtree and visa versa
My ticket said Dedham Vale. The duty person had never heard of it. That’s because the station is called Manningtree. The walk is called Dedham Vale.

One of my favourite poems is by ee cummings

r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r

E. E. Cummings – 1894-1962

                                     r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r
                           who
  a)s w(e loo)k
  upnowgath
                       PPEGORHRASS
                                                       eringint(o-
  aThe):l
               eA
                    !p:
S                                                                        a
                                      (r
  rIvInG                              .gRrEaPsPhOs)
                                                                         to
  rea(be)rran(com)gi(e)ngly
  ,grasshopper;

From Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage. Used with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1923, 1931, 1935, 1940, 1951, 1959, 1963, 1968, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1976, 1978, 1979 by George James Firmage.

Stag beetle sculpture in Lee Valley
Stag beetle sculpture in Lee Valley – not quite a grasshopper

The gathering is over. Now, we leap …

the fool from the Tarot a young man, with his little dog beside him, is looking up and about to step off a cliff
http://www.sacred-texts.com/tarot/tcc/tcc01.htm What will happen next?

What the flight?!! UK to NZ Part V

An English woman, a New Zealander and an Australian walked into a bar.

Wait!

They were all ME!

Augra, Dark Crystal, The Resistance @ BFI, London
Oooops. That’s Aughra.
Victoria Osborne
This is me. Blocking really cool street art in Brighton

And, it being a Brighton bar, I had a delicious vegan roast lunch.

Seven Stars Sunday Roast Brighton
Perfectly cooked greens at Seven Stars. Sunday Roast Brighton

Back to planning epic trip. Are you new? See Part I here, Part II, Part III and Part IV. On we go …

Whenever I saw ‘Contact’ on an email I felt sick. It would be from my shipping company. I would not open it until I was in a safe place and able to deal with their harsh reality. I felt like a moth fluttering against a window; unseen and incomprehensible barrier. Why did their company take such an unreasonable line?

Alexandra and Oceane, my two shipping company women, were brusque. No, there was no way to review the rules. The regulations were not available. I must travel from China to NZ on the British passport.

This put me in a bad position. I needed to enter Australia and NZ on the NZ passport. You would swap midair if you travelled by plane. Passports are only of interest at borders. If I were to arrive in Australia or NZ on my GB passport with no visa I would not be allowed to set foot on either land of my parents. I had no time to organise a visa.

The company’s flat, oft-repeated, position was that as the Captain sent the passenger’s passports forward to the next ports (all of which; on my itinerary, Taiwan, Australia and NZ, would accept an NZ passport without need for visa) their computer said ‘Captain only able to send one passport per passenger’. I had to leave China on the same passport, the one with the visa, that I had used on entry, the British. Why was this so unusual? I couldn’t believe I was the only dual-citizen seafarer, passenger or crew, in the lifetime of sea voyages.

The final straw was the email stating I had two options. Either travel on the GB passport or don’t go. Luckily, I was able to humbly correct them. There was a third way. I could join the ship at Taiwan.

My simple, elegant, time-saving plan was busted. Instead of a quick train from Beijing to catching the ship straight out of China, cleverly designed by me to improve on the Man in Seat 61 journey through all of South-East Asia, I would be seeing a bit more of the world.

All I had to do was organise train from Ningbo to Fuzhou, bus to Pingtan, ferry to Taichung, and train to Kaohsiung. Plus accommodation. I began to lose sleep. I tried to up my salad quota. Another yoga class. I lost things. Disarray.

I contacted Christine at Real Russia! So far she has organised my tickets from Warsaw to Ningbo where I was originally going to catch the CC Coral. Real Russia was the group to help! Could she help get me to Taiwan?

Christine from Real Russia
The lovely and helpful Christine Stadnik from Real Russia
organised most of my tickets.
I personally could not have got this far without Real Russia.

Nope. With the help of their Chinese agents, Real Russia could get me as far as Fuzhou but I would have to get across the water by myself.

I found differing information online. Man in Seat 61 provided link and suggested manipulating timetable to find out which dates the ferry ran from Pingtan to Taiwan (three times a week). Took me ages to work out he meant to check availability of  a return journey. Der. Two of my preferred dates were sold out. It looked like I needed Taiwanese ID to purchase tickets.

Found a travel agent who offered completely different dates. From completely different places.

Sue, fellow mum, met through my son’s school in years past, lived in Taipei. I messaged her with my ferry tribulations. On opposite sides of the Facebook world we looked at the same website and could not make much sense of it. She, having Chinese, was a lovely support as I struggled to understand through the Google translated site, where I was going. Having her there made the trip seem plausible at least.

Back in London again, I stayed in Earl’s Court YHA the night before I visited the Chinese Visa Centre. I liked to imagine all the Australians and Kiwis hanging around there in the fifties and sixties. London adventure time! I was excited to visit the Royal Court Theatre but not so impressed with the play. Accidentally bumped into a very pleasant vegan restaurant called Wulf and Lamb. ‘Run with the wolves, eat with the lambs.’ I ran with their delicious carrot cake – best vegan cake ever.

Outside the Chinese Visa Centre, London
Outside the Chinese Visa Centre, London

There was something exciting, even clandestine, about organising to meet a courier carrying my passport outside the Chinese Application Centre in a street called ‘Old Jewry’. Right next to the Bank of China the red flag fluttered high above the long queue … wait on … very, very extensive queue right around the corner … how long was all this going to take?

The young man gathered the three of us Real Russian customers – the other two were expecting to travel in a couple of days so were even more rushed than me. We waited, poised for China, while the queue disappeared into the building. As soon as the clock struck 9:30, our courier guided us inside, found a bench and handed out our passports. He waited for our number, found us a desk to sit while our paperwork was checked, led us to the next place to be fingerprinted (an electronic plexiglass system like Russia) and we were done. (When I was nine having my fingerprints taken in Hong Kong for the ID card I remember the black ink didn’t come off for days.) The charming young woman wound an elastic band around my two passports without raising a hair. I noted other people in the queues snaking around the room looked exasperated, tired and confused as I sauntered past on my way to the exit.

We were done and dusted, signed, sealed and delivered and it was 9:40 am. Thanks again, Real Russia!

I thought it best to seek culture. Noting ridiculous queues outside British Museum chose instead the London Review of Books shop wherein to drink a delicious Chinese tea called Sichuan Dew from Jing Tea. It did taste as described, grass meadow with flowers. Chef from Frankston. Told her about my Frankstonite barber in Brighton. What were the odds?

Deet, Dark Crystal, The Resistance, @ BFI, London
Deet, Dark Crystal, The Resistance, @ BFI, London

Went to see the World of Thra exhibition at BFI and got into a free Empire magazine showing of the making of the Dark Crystal Resistance. Very happy to watch some keen young puppet captains demonstrating their craft.

Met a woman in a library who planned to fly to Melbourne next month. Suggested she plant some trees to offset her carbon. Perhaps I was judgy. But how else do we change? Flygskam!

Accept I’m going to Taiwan. Here’s an article about the ferry between China and Taiwan.

On return to Brighton, my comfy little student’s den at Kings Education, I watch ten eps of Dark Crystal, The Resistance. (Not all at once!) Beautiful pictures but I couldn’t help wishing for a script editor – someone who could bring some poetry and delete the explanations. But the story was great.

Kings Education Brighton English Teachers Office
My office (well, empty staff room at weekend!)
Signage in Kings Education
Going up

Delightful Sue in Taipei helped me realise I could not book ferry tix from China. More research required. Here’s some Trip Advisor unanswered questions. Attempted to fill out an online form for the ferry to Taiwan. Looks like I have some options. Have made email contact with csf but no promise of ticket as yet.

Begin to worry about different currencies. Should I carry roubles and yuan? Hang on, Chinese money … renmimbi?  More research coming up!

Then, I had the realisation.

I would still be leaving China on the GB passport. I must leave China on the same document, with visa, that I arrived on. For this plan to work, I needed to arrive in Taiwan on my NZ passport. On one voyage. On one ship. Does this sound familiar?

Was? I? Stuffed?

Would the ferry be the same as the cargo ship in not allowing me to swap passports midstream?

Snookered. I realised I might be pinging backwards and forwards between Aust and NZ until someone saw my citizenship extended past the Captain’s say so and rescued me.

More emails and research informed me of the existance of an NZ Endorsment. I could get this sticker in my GB passport. It would alert officials that I was a New Zealander travelling on a different passport. I would not, however, be able to land in Australia.

Remembering Chinese wisdom I sought I Ching. Reading about leaving Danger and Unknown and, finding strong steed, moving to action, success and light. Main message? Keep going. I take it a strong steed is a train or cargo ship? Authentic, wouldn’t you agree?

symbol of hexagons and yin and yang to illustrate I ching
https://astrology.com.au/psychic-readings/oracles/i-ching

Strain beginning to show in right eyeball. Philip Pullman’s first book in Dark Materials, La Belle Sauvage has his character Malcom experience a rainbow shimmering crack in vision. So did I. It did shimmer like a thin new moon to start with and grew larger and more open, shifting to the side. It did not hurt. It was quite wondrous. An internal kaleidoscope. But I took an aspirin in case it became migrane. Tired. Slow. I managed to get through my classes.

Booked massage with expert Charlotte Softly. (If you’re ever in Brighton!)

I was not getting clear messages from NZ as to where to get the NZ Endorsement stuck in my passport. My passports still with China so there was not much point panicking yet but …

There had to be a way through this section. I kept trying. I Ching told me so.

I discovered I could get an NZ Endorsement over the counter. I found an address.

Discovered NZ Endorsement is also known on the website as ‘Endorsement’ and as ‘First Endorsement’ which explains why I couldn’t find it in the drop-down menu.

Lunched with fellow teacher Karolina to pick her brain about Warsaw (Chopin museum?) and record her saying ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘I only eat plants’ in Polish. It is always nice to eat with a friend. Dziękuję Ci.

A working lunch for Karolina

After school, Nurse Ruth gave me the two-injection-NHS-travel-combo of Hep A and Typhoid, Diptheria, Tetanus and Polio. Given I would be travelling on a working cargo ship I could probably expect rough edges and rusty metal.

Travel vaccine card
Thanks, Nurse Ruth! (Don’t worry, I filled it in.)

She was as gentle as a mosquito and, as a bonus, provided me with surprising admiration for my feat. I felt quite chuffed as she exclaimed over my itinerary and even told a passing colleague of my plans. I thought I’d better get some more business cards printed so I can get folk to read this blog! Hi, Nurse Ruth if you’re reading this!

On the train from Brighton to London to pick up passports, threw lukewarm coffee all over my front, marched up and down train to find working toilet with cold tap to rinse, sat with wet (clean) front, raced to Real Russia, picked up one passport – hang on there, young fellow (who is covering for Bill cowering out the back who does not want his photo taken) – where is the other one? In a separate different place. Got it. The GB is now weighty with four glistening new visas. Wonderful.

Raced over to NZ. It was quicker to walk. Not NZ House where my grandfather’s name marks the entry, but a scummy office building, looking like it was built to store archives, somewhere in the back roads with other archive-type buildings. Immigration has been outsourced. NZ shares a floor with Italy which covers an extensive office of waiting rooms and computer screens, board room and long customer counter. NZ is in a cupboard. The NZ nook.

The young woman there, with whom I had a prior email relationship, was alone and unwell. She coughed and sputtered unhappily and called me Madame even though I insisted on calling her by her first name. I handed over form and two passports. I had eighty pounds in cash ready. She examined the form and asked for my visa photo. I pointed out the form stated I merely needed to show her the NZ passport. She had to ring someone to verify. She asked if I intended to travel within 26 days. I said yes, I was leaving the UK within ten days. She asked for ninety-nine pounds. When questioned she said the service fee of nineteen pounds is listed on the internet. I offered the cash. She explained she could only use the card. I pointed out the tick on the form saying I chose to pay in cash. She said that was not possible. I paid by card.

She said the Endorsement would be emailed to me within 26 days.

I pointed to the tick in the form where I had chosen the option of a sticker.

She said I could not have a sticker. No one could ever have a sticker. The NZ immigration office was closed. I could only have an Electronic Endorsement. I would have to print it out and carry it with my GB passport.

I asked if I could get it in a hurry.

She said she could try. She tapped at her computer. She looked up doubtfully and said, ‘Madame, you could write a letter to explain your circumstances.’

I said, ‘Right-oh,’ and dashed off a note, on paper, pleading for haste and mercy to the Immigration Office (presumably not the one that has closed).

All things considered, it would be better for me to be allowed to enter NZ on arrival.

BUT

No sign of it so far. Nor of ticket for little ferry from China to Taiwan.

BUT

Sue forwarded a link to the typhoon warning system!

Travelling overland from the UK to NZ should not be this tricky. Nor this expensive. Flying is too cheap. One of the students in Kings Brighton flew to Cophenhagen for twenty pounds last weekend. Rail is too expensive. It cost me forty-two pounds to travel from Brighton to the YHA Lee Valley.

Contrail above Brighton Pavilion
Bye bye Brighton and thank you!

Next stop, Harwich! I’m on my way!

AND

UPDATE FROM MARCEA IN TOTNES!

Hi again – well it’s the final week before the global climate October Rebellion. Our area is assigned the theme of food and scarcity – and will be a multi faith platform of speakers. I have been told to pay £105 costs for obstructing the highway last April and not to get arrested again for 6 months. I will be looking after arrestees this time as they leave police cells. I’m making skeleton costumes about hunger and to go to fossil fuel conferences in London with placards etc – we have weekly meetings and 3 times more folk have signed up than April – we don’t know how it’ll go but it’ll be a big impact around the world so let’s hope it’ll nudge the politicians in the right direction!

Marcea made patch
Marcea made my patch so I can nail my colours to the mast

AND

Need help?

Do you feel the Earth move? Here’s who was Rebelling last Friday. Where will you be on 7th October?

https://twitter.com/sallymcmanus/status/1178082679020904448?s=20

Part VI continues here.

Real Russia – the real support system for a trip OVERLAND from UK to the Antipodes! Part IV

Central contrail cuts the blue sky over the roof of a passing train
Contrail splits the sky over a passing train

Welcome to my flygskam overland journey! If you are just starting, here are the first bits: Part I, Part II and Part III

I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have found Real Russia, or rather, to have the Man in Seat 61 tell me about them. After only a quick enquiry, Anastasia took charge of my visas while Christine became my ticket gurini, setting me up with a tracking page so I could see at a glance where I was up to. (If I could find the link.) Both were based in Russia, in the south, in Volgograd (former Stalingrad) so I wouldn’t be able to meet them this trip. But I am so grateful to them.

Anastasia gave me a good talking to about filling in the required visa forms (Belarus, Mongolia, Russia and China) ASAP. They’re all arranged via the Real Russia website. I spent two late nights in the school office, sweating over details like next of kin and employers, the dates of my parents’ deaths, my income and if I should be including my darling son’s passport number when he’s a grown man and nowhere near this expedition!

Also required in the forms were my accommodation. Aaaaargh! I quickly searched through Booking.com and found The Strawberry Duck Hostel (!) in Moscow and the Beijing 161 Wangfujing Courtyard Hotel – blearily looking at maps, negotiating dates and trying to understand different currencies. (As a result, both bookings contained errors which took a week or so to sort out later.) But I completed the forms, hit submit, and dragged myself out of the office and into my comfy little student room upstairs.

Phew. Made the deadline. The next step was a date with destiny (actually Bill) at Real Russia London to deliver my passport. I had to negotiate time off with my work which I was reluctant to do. I felt so grateful to Kings Education, Brighton, not only for giving me the opportunity to teach such a wide range of people, ages and cultures but also to live within the establishment. I had to work in reception once a fortnight or so but what a marvellous opportunity to save money for this epic journey!

I caught the train the afternoon before, walking up and down the main street of Brighton to find a photographer who could do the visa photos. Der. When I got to Victoria Station there was a machine. Just like the one in the Brighton Railway Station. But I sat up straight and finally achieved useful snaps.

(Stayed in the St Pauls YHA (you can hear the bells beautifully) and enjoyed Notorious with Cary Grant and Ingmar Bergman at the BFI.)

The next morning I woke with the bells and was glad I had extra time to travel the short distance from Tower Hill tube station to Real Russia so I could worry if I had the correct paper work, passports and photos, worry if the photos, suitable for American and Indian visas, would suffice for Russia and China and worry … worry … where the heck was the office?

The Tower of London and London Wall
The ancient city walls and the Tower of London

Real Russia is a little bit difficult to find.

Corner of the Minories
London is building everywhere

The address is 122 Minories, London.

Minories to the right. 122 Minories around the bend to the left!

The door is not on the Minories. It’s around the corner.

Real Russia's address is Minories
Real Russia is just around the bend
Real Russia sandwich board
I do not think this was outside the door the first time I came to visit. I thought I had better capture it when I could

I could not work out the twisty corridors, choosing (why?) to head downstairs to an abandoned stairwell that looked as if it had suffered a midnight flit or a sudden search with fallen lost things and pamphlet failure. Real Russia is just on the first floor, that’s all. If you’re clever and take the lift it’s easy.

The front door of Real Russia
The London Office of Real Russia is upstairs, behind a quiet, unassuming door.

Once inside, I met Bill Watkins, cheery Englishman with gold neck chain, who examined the electronic forms, corrected my mistakes and had to call in Irene, who knew he loved her, to explain why there was such a strange pop-up in my page.

Everything had to be done in the correct order. We had to go to Mongolia first and we had to expedite Russia, then apply to China and finally Belarus. I had left it way too long and I had let my finances get away from me. I would need to return to London once more to deliver my passport to Russia (for the biometrics). Bill looked as if he’d clipped many photos to size and attached more than a thousand forms to their passports. He admitted he could do them in his sleep. I surrendered my passport to him. (Duel citizens must carry the Chinese visa in their British passport.)

Bill was not there
Where in the world is Bill?
(That’s Lenin on his desk. Remember Arthur Ransome’s pal?)

We had a nice talk about identity theft. His sister is extremely paranoid about it. Bill, who works for a Russian travel agency, thinks that if anyone wants his identity, they’re welcome to it. To put up defences against any kind of theft is enormously difficult. Better not to have too much stuff, really. I told him I’d been really nervous four years ago when I had to copy and email my passport for the Spanish government via an insecure network. The NZ passport. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve copied them since then. Both passports, that is. That’s right. I’ve got two passports.

I am incredibly lucky in this world. Because I was born in London, I’m British. Because my mother was a New Zealander, I travel between Australia and NZ on an NZ passport. And, because my father was Australian, I am also eligible for an Australian passport as a citizen. Whilst in Europe (hah bloody hah Brexit) I’ve been able to freely move around with my British passport. However, I was employed by the Spanish Government as a NZ citizen, so they were able to utilise both passports.

Real Russia had everything under control.

Back on the road again, I found I could attend the matinee of Peter Gynt at the National Theatre, written by David Hare and Ibsen, an energetic romp through modern madness. My London outing was complete and I returned to Brighton refreshed and ready to prep for more classes.

And, after hours, fix up my mistakes. As it turned out, I’d mistaken the accommodation dates because I had no idea it took nineteen hours and twenty seven minutes to train from Warsaw to Moscow.

Clocks over Bill
Ulan Bator, London, Beijing and Moscow

You mean all that distance takes time?

That’s the best thing about overland travel. There’s a sense of time and distance that’s completely lost in a plane. Especially if you can’t see land from the window. You appear to be drifting in fluffy clouds – a sort of living heaven – where sun beams bless your face intermittently and flight attendants bring you assorted plastics smeared with some kind of indistinguishable food stuffs.

I do like flying – I’m quite good at it. But now I am a proponent of flygskam – a Swedish word meaning “flight shame” – favour eco-friendly transport such as trains over planes. 

I was through the worst of the planning. Real Russia was handling all the visa application processes. All I had to do was deliver the passports to the Visa Centres when required and get finger printed. The next trip to London would be to visit Russia.

Costs of visas as at August 2019   
£98.46 Mongolian Single Entry Mongolian Transit Visa application (Standard service consular processing)   
£134.03 Russian Tourist Visa application   
£101.18 for Fast Track Russian Tourist Visa application   
£89.56 Single Entry Belarusian Transit Visa application   
£193.80 Chinese Tourist Visa application   

I negotiated time off on a Monday thinking I could get back in time for my afternoon class but as it happened I did not have such a thing so I had time to play in London. I picked up my passport from Real Russia, walked past the Barbican Centre and the London Museum, to the Russian Visa Application Centre in Gee Street. The centre has a wonderful photographic wall of Moscow, whetting my appetite for my visit to the Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral. I could see concerned people thumbing through papers, attending to payments, having to sit down again and wait for their number to be called, attend to another thing, then back to wait again while I, friend of Real Russia, leapt at once to my feet with my number, presented, signed, held four fingers on a yellow disco perspex place then the other fingers then two thumbs close together, dah, better. And biometrics over, back into the London sunshine again.

I went to visit Mary Quant at the V&A. I had such a delightful hour or so there, wandering past my youth frozen in glass cases, the stylised daisy logo, the tights, frocks and short hair …

Back in Brighton, back at school, searching for scissors or holepunch or some textbook or other, I opened a drawer in a classroom and came upon a DVD. There were no DVDs in Kings Education. Everything on the IWDs was online or on desktops. I’d never seen one before. But this DVD was Joanna Lumley’s TransSiberian Adventure.

You may or may not be able to view all three episodes online.

She began her trip in Hong Kong, where she used to live as a child. SO DID I, Joanna Lumley! Wow! Only I was there a bit later, from the ages of 8 to 10 years old. So on my return I was able to remember a bit and walked around our old neighbourhood with the mental map returning to mind.

Cicada in foreground overlooking buildings in HK
A cicada-eye view of the ever encroaching buildings of HK. My birthday treat in 2016 was a visit to our old home in Bowen Road, now a fitness trail. There used to be wildlife here, monkeys and birds. There are still insects.

It’s a bit of a stretch, but it could be said my entire journey started in April 2016, in Hong Kong, so there is another similarity. Ms Lumley, though, got on and off the train, met people and did adventurous things. I’m just going to sit on my bum and stare out the window for seven days. Also, she went the other way, ending in Moscow. I’m going to start from the UK (where I was born – another kind of beginning) and head out across the Channel to Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Russia and China.

One of the teachers said to me on a Friday afternoon, ‘Who will you talk to on the weekend?’ Well, I spoke to Abdullah and Ned and Simka and a Chinese lady who is staying in Brighton for four days with just a few words of English. I realised I’m going to China with NO Chinese. Quick! XieXie. And Russia with NO Russian. Spasibo. Learning starts at home.

I was getting excited. Had my undercut sharpened up at ‘Hello Sailor’s Barber Shop’. Suitable, I thought, for someone about to sail from China to New Zealand. The barber came from Frankston in Melbourne.

BUT

NEWS from the shipping company.

Alexandra and Oceane want me to chose ONE passport. They have to send it to the Captain who will then send it on with the list of passengers to all the ports.

Gulp.

By return email, I explained that, because the Chinese visa will be in the Great British passport, I have to exit China as a British citizen. But I must enter Australia and New Zealand on my NZ passport as that is how I exited Australia. Could they please help me?

Alexandra and Oceane say, ‘Pick one’.

More emails. I fight back with the NZ regulations:  https://www.immigration.govt.nz/knowledgebase/kb-question/kb-question-1170 pointing out the international waters don’t care about my passport. It’s only relevant when I enter and exit a territory.

Their reply:

“It’s the rules – we can’t do nothing. If you want to cancel the trip – please let me know.”

Part V coming soon!

Marcea at the Global Climate Strike in Totnes
Update from Marcea. She’s on the left, Friday 20th Sept 2019, supporting children striking for their future

UK to Antipodes OVERLAND Part III … via TOTNES!

Welcome to my planning reports. Please find Part I here and Part II here. We are now embarking on Part III.

Two bands of contrails across a blue sky
Contrails might only be the visible marks of a plane
but around that water vapour also fizzes the remains of burnt-up av-gas

In a somewhat nefarious manner I picked up the NHS application forms at a local doctor’s surgery where I had not made application before. The receptionist said (voice tinny through security speaker) it was against the rules at this outrageous time, seconds after closing, but she did reluctantly agree to slip the papers through the door. She opened it only a few centimetres to prevent my bursting in upon the doctors unannounced. It felt very clandestine. The next day I returned the forms, brazenly walking right up to the desk, the office now formally open. Signed, sealed, delivered. I have no idea why I couldn’t have been accepted in the closer surgeries. They didn’t like the cut of my jib, I suppose.

It would be a couple of weeks before I could get an appointment. I must reassure you, everything was honest and fully disclosed except I neglected to mention that pesky medical certificate for the shipping company. That would be between me and the doctor. When I got an appointment. If the forms were accepted. What could possibly go wrong?

On a journey half way across the world? Many, many things. Did I really want to do this? Could I take all the risks? By myself? Oh, I was nervous.

I needed a holiday, a little break. I would go to Totnes. Why Totnes? Because of Transition Towns!

The main street of Totnes
The High Street of Totnes might have been littered with horse manure four or five hundred years ago but historical buildings are still to be seen jetting over pedestrians
in this modern market town

I first heard about Transition Towns perhaps a dozen years ago, during a Symposium at our son’s school. I’m not sure how I first heard about the Awakening the Dreamer Symposium. It might have been organised by Be the Change Australia although I also attended one held by Engineers without Borders before I became more involved with the Action Circle Discussion Groups which helped our small community to learn about sustainability and deep green philosophies.

My family also joined our local Transition Town, watched films like The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, ordered our fresh organic veggie boxes straight from the co-op and enthusiastically supported our first CarrotMob!

I’ve just mentioned a lot of groups.

Paul Hawken calls the environmental movement the largest movement the world has never seen. There are millions of organisations, from Transition Towns to The Red Cross, WWF and Greenpeace to the Friends of the Earth and Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum and 350.org, all working together to heal the wounds of the Earth. Paul Hawken calls these groups (Amnesty International, Sea Shepherd, the Wilderness Society) the white blood cells of the world.

Which groups do you belong to? You are part of the movement.

As well as Transition Towns, Totnes is the home of Schumacher College, Charles Babbage and … for the Australians in the audience, Wills (from Burke and … )

Totnes is famous for many things - for an Australian - Wills! From Bourke and ...
Right in the centre of town, famous Australian explorers,
Bourke and … (Did I say successful? No, I did not.)

You can read more about my theory of places of power here but I am sure Totnes must be such a place. There must be Ley Lines near. It’s first mentioned in history in 907 AD but apparently Brutus of Troy landed here to found Britain way back before there was writing. There is definitely a wonderful energy, particularly around the Dartington Estate during the summer music school.

On the approach to the estate
Wetland area of Dartington Estate – singing frogs, singing people …

I found a delightful Airbnb and wrote to the host, Marcea, to confirm dates and establish communication. After I explained my interest in Totnes, she was pleased to tell me of her own long-time involvement with Transition Town. I was particularly interested to hear she hopes to get a place in their co-housing project. Her children are grown and gone and, as mature-aged ladies, we established a rapport even through these early emails.

When I walked into her house, here is one of the first things I saw.

Extinction Rebellion Flag
A patch for Extinction Rebellion made by Marcea.
The symbol represents an hour glass hemmed in by limited time.
Marcea, my Airbnb host, a delightful climate activist
Marcea was one of the thousand arrested in the April Rebellion.
(Note her little home-made felted badge.)
Birds flying to freedom drawn by Marcea during her short incarceration
Marcea spent only a few hours in prison but it felt long and lonely to her.
This is her statement
with her drawing depicting a longing for freedom.

Marcea is currently awaiting trial with some trepidation. Although Extinction Rebellion does offer legal and emotional support, Marcea is not intending to make any grandstanding speeches. She’s a grandmother. She didn’t want to be dragged when she was arrested, in the middle of the night, at Waterloo Bridge. She has a sore shoulder. Even though the police are slowed considerably by having to use four officers to shift one climate protester, Marcea chose her more sedate walk to the police vehicle, not wishing to add to her already high stress by causing police too much trouble.

Extinction Rebellion provides a web of educated communicators and different levels of involvement. Marcea is no longer part of the arrestable group but will support those who have been imprisoned. She says the joy of seeing a friendly face and being handed a peanut butter sandwich on her release was one of the highlights of her life.

Extinction Rebellion faces accusers who believe the idea of white middle-class protesters putting themselves in the way of arrest is immoral. How can the Extinction Rebellion be a rebellion for all people? Read an excellent article about this here.

Only the wealthy will be able to weather the initial storms of climate change and after a few years even they may find basic supplies harder to access. Climate change is for all people.

This is not a drill is a collection of essays and think pieces about the future and humanity's place in it
‘This is not a drill’ is a very entertaining and informative book.
You can pick it up, read a short piece or hang on to read many opinions.
I really like the Social Contract at the end.

Extinction Rebellion is trying to broaden their reach and has already managed to get Great Britain to declare a Climate Emergency, one of the main objectives.

Extinction Rebellion’s website states the following aims:[12][13]
1. Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
2. Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2025.
3. Government must create, and be led by the decisions of, a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extinction_Rebellion

This is why Marcea was willing to be arrested. She believes something must be done and … ‘if good people do nothing … ‘ At least the Extinction Rebellion protests with art and good humour. With no alcohol or drugs, violence is strictly prohibted. Yoga classes, singing and dancing are strongly encouraged. The blockades are for families, sharing food and discussions.

Police said they had been forced to divert officers from tackling crime and policing neighbourhoods to deal with April’s protests – which saw a pink boat block Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge fitted with greenery and skateboard ramps.
Activists called it “Garden Bridge”.
Mr Taylor said officers arrested more than 1,150 people during the protests and around 180 have been charged so far. He has previously said he wants the Met to push for every one of those arrested to be charged.
“We absolutely respect people’s fundamental right to protest, but we do not accept that extends to causing misery and mass disruption to everybody,” Mr Taylor said. “Absolutely I can assure Londoners we will do everything we can to avoid that situation again.”
But Mr Read said “any disruption that we cause is just a vanishingly-small fraction of the disruption to our entire civilisation and utter misery that ecological breakdown and climate breakdown are starting to bring.”

https://us-issues.com/2019/08/06/extinction-rebellion-you-cant-arrest-us-all/

And then there’s Greta Thunberg, the Joan of Arc of the environmental movement. She too travels lightly upon the Earth and I wish I had a fraction of her fortitude.

Okay, Greta. Okay, Marcea. I’ll try. I will continue with my plans to travel without flying.

Greta

And so, with renewed Totnes vigour, fired up from Greta’s successful Atlantic crossing, I returned to Brighton to find the NHS had accepted me! I could make an appointment with a doctor which I did, forthwith. He tested my blood pressure, made me jump up and down, listened to my chest and looked at my old teeth. Then he signed the necessary medical certificate! I was on my way!

Once I sent the paper work to my environmentally-minded shipping company, I could start booking the rest of the trip. I needed to clarify my dates backwards. Starting from Ningbo, China, where I would catch the CC Coral, I needed to book accommodation, because the dates of the ship are ‘around’, given the exigencies of tide and wind. Then a train from Beijing to Ningbo. Once I had my dates for the TransSiberian, Moscow to Beijing. I’d need visas.

I spent a few anxious hours trying to work out the Chinese and Russian visa procedures. I’m sure it’s only a matter of going step by step. I looked at the Man in Seat 61 again and then the Lonely Planet guide and finally decided I needed help.

I contacted the wonderful Real Russia and asked if they could advise me. When should I start organising my visas?

Last month.

AAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaargh!

Tune in to Part IV to discover how much visas for Belarus, Russia, Mongolia and China cost. Especially when you have to pay for the rush version.

Flight or … ferry, train, freighter … UK to the Antipodes Part II

This is the story of my journey to a family reunion in New Zealand in January 2020. I’m in the UK. How to travel without burning av gas?

(Please find Part I here.)

Once I established my travel would be by train and sea, I turned, with some trepidation, to The Man in Seat 61. The Man lists each step of the travel.

I hasten to add the trepidation was not due to any doubt about his veracity and, in fact, I wrote him an email thanking him for making even imagining this journey possible. He wrote back, saying, ‘Enjoy your trip!’ I felt a long way away from actual travel. I didn’t even have a ticket or a visa or immunisations or those … unknown unknowns … like a destination.

First things first. Following his suggestions, I was almost certain I would be travelling from Singapore to Australia by freighter ship. These ships are cargo carriers; they’re already going this way, there’s no song and dance, it’s a working transporter. They take few passengers and those passengers are left to themselves, pretty much. Sounded ideal. The carbon is already spent before I got involved. I would just hitch a ride. (For something like $4,000 Australian dollars).

To begin, The Man advises getting in touch with these lovely people:

http://www.cruisepeople.co.uk/

http://www.travltips.com/cruises/freighter/overview.php

or

http://www.freightercruises.com/

And, I’m not sure how I discovered these kind people:

https://www.globoship.ch/tour/grosse-asien-australien-asien-reise/

Reading through these websites reassured me that freighter travel was safe, comfortable and within my physical capabilities. I sent emails to all concerned and within a week had four quotes from Singapore to Australia.

They were all within much of a muchness but there were certain differences. It will depend on what you want to do and where you want to go as to what you choose. Yes indeed. Just where did I want to go in Australia? Fremantle? Adelaide? The next stop, surprisingly, was Sydney. Then the ships seem to loop back to Melbourne after that.

The Man in Seat 61 blithely recommends travel through several Asian countries to arrive in Singapore. So many different languages, borders and currencies – I imagined basic survival was going to be taxing – especially as a vegan!

I found it difficult to visualise where I would be going. I needed support. I went to the library.

Lonely Planet guides for planning
Off to the Brighton-Hove Library!

Then I called in to international company, STA travel, a travel agency that helped me plan my initial Gap Year – three and a half years ago in Australia. Way back then I booked a flight from Melbourne to Madrid via Hong Kong (to revisit my childhood). A simple year away in Spain, walking the Camino de Santiago and working in a school in Catalyna evolved over time, not only because I was reluctant to return south by air, but also because after the Camino I decided to develop a writing project. This project eventually needed research across France, England and Belgium. So much travel, so little time! The Gap Year stretched and stretched …

And then, so did the novel! But that’s another story …

Back to the freighter cruises.

STA travel could offer me a package deal on the TransMongolian (even suitable for old people such as myself) which would take all the worry out of planning and give me some expensive friends to play with along the way. Did I mention my budget?

The kind representative proffered the fat, glossy brochures of both European and Asian holidays – which gave me a plan. Taking them both, I proceeded to the nearest large bookshop and bought a map of the world. I pinned it to my uni-accomodation wall and proceeded to chop up the glossy brochures, liberating pictures of landmarks and cities the train would visit on the TransMongolian Express! Office-craft with destination in mind.

Starting at the UK, I pondered how best to get to Moscow. I loved the Eurostar and I had travelled by ferry between Dover and Calais and also between Santander and Plymouth. Humming and haaaing and using the ecosia search engine often, I saw it was time for a new ferry. This time from Harwich (pronounced ‘Arrrich because it’s England) to Hook of Holland. I’d already visited Amsterdam, time for Rotterdam.

Three years ago I journeyed with a Eurail pass to many of the bigger cities, such as Paris and Munich. Now I particularly wanted to visit Hamburg – on the Camino I had met many argumentative people who told me that Hamburg was the most beautiful city in the world. Really? I was nonplussed. And what about Sydney harbour? You can’t tell me a little old German town can beat the home of the Eora people? Really? THE Harbour Bridge? That Opera House? Oh, they insisted, it could. What of the glory of the two rivers, the artificial lakes, the churches … I wanted to go to Hamburg and see this magnificence for myself. Sticking up more little signs I added Berlin and then Warsaw. There was a nice direct line beginning to happen. Straight ahead to Moscow and just under a week to Beijing. Simple. Then I had to get to Singapore.

Map of half a world showing possible route from UK to Oz
First draft of overland trip from the UK to Oz

Soon I had a neatly-labelled wall of the world. I could see for myself where I was going. It made a big difference to my thinking. No longer a world away, here were colourful representations of these places right in front of me. I examined the route with interest. Only, as I stared at the journey, it began to look very complicated. I did not want to be a tourist. I wanted to be a commuter.

I watched YouTube videos of the train journey to China and, thence, most particularly, the border crossing between Thailand and Cambodia. What a shemozzle. It sounds as if a new trainline has now cleared that particular blockage but it did cause me more than one second or third thought. Thailand. Vietnam.

On the Camino Frances I met Kay, a true intrepid traveller, who had been on the TransSiberian more than once. Both times with friends, she had experienced warm temperatures as well as a winter sojourn. She had stopped in many places, particularly Lake Baikal where there is an annual ice festival

She thought it nothing to cross half the planet by train. ‘It’s easy,’ she said.

Another intrepid Australian woman, Narelle, told me, if in doubt, one should just pretend to be invincible. ‘And you will be.’ She reminded me of my typing teacher from the early 80s in Sydney. She was a small elderly lady with terribly died hair. One day as she attempted to straighten my paper or point out some error in my typing ways (there were many) I noticed the tattooed numbers on her arm. I paid attention to her. She told me to sit up straight, hold my wrists correctly and pretend to be a typist. I was an acting student at the time and she thought I should make the most of this experience by ‘acting like an efficient secretary’. It would probably work. In these mindful days she would probably say, ‘Be the person you want to be.’ I sat up straight.

Okay. I’m an efficient secretary and an invincible traveller. If I can walk across Spain then I can sit on my bum in a train for a few days!

Yet, I was not sure I wanted to go to Cambodia without seeing Ankor Watt or the Bayon Temple and I did not want to buzz through Thailand without exploring … aaaaaaah the world is so BIG! There’s so much to see. Budget. Time.

Somehow the messages I was getting from the freighters became mixed up as I dithered over routes and final destinations. I started to see that if I really wanted to be in New Zealand in January what was I doing going to Sydney or Fremantle? There were curls and twists in the different itineraries. Every day at sea gets more expensive. I began to imagine landing in Fremantle and catching the Indian-Pacific train across the Nullabor to visit my sister in Adelaide. That would add a mere twelve hundred dollars to the budget. But how cool would it be …

I got more and more confused until I contacted the company that most of the agents seemed to be quoting about directly.

Voyages en Cargo by CMA CGM

Once I established I was speaking to a real person (two, in fact) and this was a real company with a real address (they had recently changed both) I was able to proceed. I made a decision.

https://voyagesencargo.com/lines/cargo-ship-travel-asia

Now my pin board was rearranged.

I would no longer be travelling UK to Australia via Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore. I would be going straight from China. And I would be travelling to New Zealand.

Map of the world showing route across Europe towards NZ
Now China to Taiwan to Australia to Auckland

I had a plan. I paid the deposit. I filled in the forms.

I just needed to organise a medical certificate. Pop in and see a doctor.

But.

I couldn’t get past the guardians of the various reception areas. Or email enquiry forms.

‘Not in this medical centre.’ ‘We don’t do that here.’ ‘Our doctors don’t do certificates.’ ‘Not here, sorry.’

I couldn’t even pay for it. One surgery gave me the NHS forms to fill out, then when I returned them, realised I was only a short term visitor and gave me the short form. She took it, smiling and nodding. The next day I popped back in to hear her say, ‘The doctors are not prepared to fill in the certificate,’ as she handed me back my carefully filled out NHS forms. She would not register me in this surgery.

How was I going to be able to see a doctor in Brighton?

I could not proceed with my ticket purchase until I had that certificate. I tried writing to my Australian family doctor (they do not use email) with no reply. Long shot. After all, I had not seen them in over three and a half years.

Now what?

Access to the vessel is dizzying [préciser la hauteur pour les grands navires], the passenger shall be able to climb the access gangway with luggages on his/her own.]

Some passages in a container vessel are narrow or hard to access. It is essential to ensure the passenger has full mobility. The passenger may have to promptly don an immersion suit if need be.

If the passenger is on regular medication, the latter shall bring on board medication in sufficient quantity for the length of the journey increased by fifteen days taking in account the uncertainties of the sea passage such as weather conditions, maritime accident, deviation.