PARIS TO BOULOGNE We caught the train from the Gare du Nord up to Boulogne on the French coast and walked from the station up to the youth hostel. It didn’t open until 5:30 p.m. so we lay on the grass in front of the hostel and soaked up the sun.
The hostel was modern and well-equipped and there were some nice people staying there including two sweet young Scottish girls and a Canadian girl. After we had settled in we went downtown and bought some food and a cheap (64 pence!) bottle of vin rouge. Back at the hostel we cooked tea then sat around talking with other travellers until bedtime.
We caught the first train possible into the city and got off at St. Michel station. Our first stop was Notre Dame: the Church of Our Lady. Surprisingly small, it was nevertheless a wonderful example of Gothic architecture with some beautiful stained glass windows.
We walked along the Seine river – a vile smelling cesspool – and crossed Pont Neuf to the Louvre where we spent a couple of hours. The important thing we saw there was, of course, the Mona Lisa, but there wasn’t much else of interest apart from some early Monet and Renoir paintings. The majority of the works were the familiar biblical scenes of martyred saints and hovering cherubs. The Egyptian wing, however, was very interesting.
Movin on, we walked along the Quai d’Orsay then through the streets of the 7th Arrondissement to the Eiffel Tower. We paid 18F (francs) to climb up to the 2nd level with its impressive view, then another 40 francs to go to the top in the lift. Incredible [pronounced as the French would: “en-cray-arr-ble”]. At nearly 1000 ft the view of the sprawl of Paris stretched off as far as the eye could see in all directions. A sign a fixed to a wall stated that Wellington was 18,392 km away. At that height however, many of the city’s landmarks – Notre Dame, the Arc du Triomphe, etcetera, blended into the uniform grey of the city. Grey squalls coming across the city from the north combined to camouflage them completely.
Back on terra firma, we walked back towards St Michele and went to the Musee d’Orsay. Oh those fabulous impressionist works! Monet, Cezanne and Renior… exquisite colours and moods on canvas. But what grabbed our attention most were the Van Gogh’s. The vibrant colours. The thick, almost violent brush strokes, conveyed the madness of the painter in an almost palpable way. They were mesmerising.
By 5:30 we were sick of trudging around Paris so we caught the train back out to Arpajon and bought some food to cook for dinner. We spent the evening talking to a couple of New Zealanders who were also staying in the hostel.
TO PARIS We broke camp early and walked up to the centre of town, stopping on the way to the station to buy some pastries for petit dejeuner. We caught a train back up to Dijon and then booked tickets to Paris. Because our tickets from Chalon-sur-Sôane hadn’t been punched, we bullshitted that we hadn’t used them and got a refund!
The trip to Paris took about 2 hours and we ended up at Le Gare du Lyon. We decided to go out to the youth hostel at Arpajon instead of trying the expensive and probably full City hostels so we made our way to Le gare d’Austerlitz and waited with a Guatemalan guy who was also going out to Arpajon. There was a railway workers strike in progress that day so it was a long time before a train pulled into the platform but eventually we got out to Arpajon and found the hostel.
We pitched the tent then went round to the town centre with an Aussie girl and a couple of Poms for a beer. We also bought some food to cook up for tea.
We made an early start and walked up to the “centre ville” with the intention of going to the town of Beaune to a cheap wine tasting venue mentioned in Let’s Go¹. But there were no trains or buses until late afternoon so after buggering around trying to hitchhike we hired a couple of bikes and, armed with some bread, wine and cheese, set off to cycle through some of the local vineyards. It took us half an hour to get out of town and into the quiet back roads. We cycled through a small wood then stopped for lunch in a field of buttercups.
After lunch we cycled into the town of Givry and stopped at a tiny grocery shop for cold drinks. When we went to depart I discovered that I had a puncture in my rear tyre which I fixed on the side of the street. We carried on further into the hills through small villages and vineyards then circled back towards Chalon-sur-Sôane.
After we dropped the bikes off we had a look around the streets of the town then wandered back to the camping ground. Dinner that night consisted of leftovers from our picnic supplemented by a can of sardines and some apples.
¹Let’s Go Europe was one of a series of guide books writted by stupid Americans for stupid Americans.
DIJON TO CHALON-SUR-SAÔNE We caught a bus up to the Gare at 9:00 and bought tickets to the town of Chalon-sur-Saone, about 50km south of Dijon: a place we’d picked at random. When we arrived, we hiked in the heat for 3km to the campground and set up camp. We filled in the rest of the day with non-strenuous activities such as lying in the sun and…
In the evening, we had dinner at a nearby Moroccan restaurant called “Les Emirs.”
DIJON We had a very quiet day today as Linda was getting over a cold and I was coming down with one. We spent a couple of hours in the morning at a laundrette in town then spent the rest of the day slobbed out in the sun listening to our Walkmans. In the evening, we caught a bus into town and had dinner.
BERN TO DIJON We left the hostel at 9 a.m. and walked in the rain up to the station. We bought tickets to Dijon in France then settled down to wait for our 11:50 a.m. train. We looked around a few of the shops out on the street but it was so wet and miserable that soon were back in the station and sat in one of the cafes writing postcards.
Our first train took us down to Lausanne where our train to France left from and not long after we got there a couple of policemen in plain clothes stopped me and wanted to see my passport. They must have been looking for a criminal of some sort and perhaps I fitted his description!
At 17:30 we caught the train to France and after about three quarters of an hour, high up in a misty mountain pass, we crossed the border into France. As with most European countries, the border formalities were perfunctory and we didn’t even get a souvenir stamp in our passports. The train arrived in Dijon at 7:30 p.m. and we walked the 1 km to to the camping ground where we pitched our tent for the first time. We have named it Vern after a character in a Far Side cartoon. It is very easy to erect and will be warm and comfy. We finished the day with a short walk along the nearby River.
SALZBURG TO BERN We left the hostel at 9 and walk down to the station where we bought tickets to Zurich Switzerland. While we waited we chatted to a Canadian girl who was hustling rooms at the hospital.
We found a seat in an empty compartment and settled in to munch on our salami rolls and chocolate bars had bought with our remaining Austrian change, commenting on how plush the on Austro/Swiss train was. We left Salzburg dead on time and soon we were speeding through the countryside past green crops and plots of pine and birch. The mountains were spectacular, especially around Innsbruck where the towns was dwarfed by massive towers of sheer rock.
About midday, we were injected from our First Class cabin buy an officious train guard who obviously didn’t believe we were in there by mistake, and we spent the rest of the journey to Zurich slumming it in the second class accommodation which, was none too shabby either. As we crossed the border into Switzerland, the Swiss customs officers came through the cars and only sullenly complied when we asked for our passports to be stamped. The last leg of the journey was alongside Lake Geneva and a violent thunderstorm was raging when we arrived.
We bought onwards tickets for Bern (which stung us £18 each!) and caught the next train which pulled into the station. When we arrived in Bern an hour later, we tracked down the YH which was like a cross between Colditz Castle and a battery hen house run with the precision of a Swiss watch!
After we had settled in I went back to the station in the pouring rain and bought some grub for tea. We spent the evening in the common room of the hostel.
BICYCLES FOR THREE I got up at 5:00am and walked over to the Old City in the hope of getting a few sunrise photos. However, a low bank of cloud kept the sun from making an appearance so it was to no avail. But I did get a few pictures of the cathedral without the crowds of people that would soon be about.
Back at the hostel, we showered and had a meagre breakfast then set off over to the hostel where Rebecca is staying. We found her sitting outside in the sun and as the hostel was closed for two hours until 11:00 we set off to walk up to the castle. The cobbled path led up the steep hill below the castle walls through a shady canopy of deep green foliage which every now and then opened to give a view out across the hazy rooftops to the Old City. Half way up we found that we couldn’t get any further without paying an extortionate entry fee so we turned and followed another path which ran around the hill. Away in the distance we could see a range of jagged mountains with a cable car suspended between two of its highest peaks.
Back at the hostel, we hired a bike each for 50AS and set off to explore. A smooth, level pathway ran along the left bank of the Danube River and we followed it upstream and out of the city in the direction of the mountains. After an hour or so we stopped for a drink at a pub then carried on until we reached a dam across the river where we crossed over and set off up a side stream to find somewhere to have lunch. Our picnic consisted of bread, salami, cheese and fruit, eaten beside the river on a bank of bright green grass.
After lunch, we carried on following the river and after about half an hour or so we ended up at the foot of a range of unbelievably jagged mountains – the Untersberg – beside the cable car station which serviced the cable car we’d seen earlier from a distance. We decided that the fee to ride the cable car was too expensive so we settled for photographs of ourselves with the descending cable car in the background!
The road led deeper into the tree-clad mountains and a sign told us that Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s summer residence, was only 15 kilometres away, over the border in Germany. The border itself turned out to be just around the next corner so we stopped there for photos and a cold drink before we began to retrace our route back to Salzburg.
By the time we got back to the city, an hour and a half later, we’d had enough cycling for one day so we took the bikes back and said goodbye to Rebecca.
That night we dined in the hostel restaurant and went to bed early.
HALLSTATT TO SALZBURG We left the youth hostel at 9:30 and went up to the little church perched on the edge of the lake with a huge granite cliff behind it. As with all Austrian churches, the tiny graveyard was beautifully kept, with ornate wooden headpieces and bright colourful flowers. At the back of the graveyard was a small stone hut with grizzly contents. Because the graveyard is so small, every 25 years all of the graves are exhumed and the skulls, arm bones and femurs are placed in this tiny mausoleum. The piles of bones along three walls of the charnel house and the skulls arranged on top of them were a grizzly yet melancholy sight: endlessly staring out across the lake.
We caught the Post Bus down to Bad Ishel then another down to Salzburg. At the Bahnhof an Aussie girl gave us directions to the International Youth Hostel: a laid-back, boozy backpackers not far from the station. We checked in there and put our stuff in the dormitory then indulged in a very cheap beer in the bar.
We had arranged with Rebecca to try and meet up in Salzburg so after we had finished our beers we set off to try and find out where among the city’s seven youth hostels she was staying. After a bit of a search we found out that she was staying in the Main Hostel on the other side of the Old City. We crossed the river and in the centre of the old town was a large square with an imposing Gothic-style Church and the ubiquitous statue of Mozart at the centre of a smaller adjoining square. Eventually, we found the large hospital-like hostel where she was staying. She’d gone out for the day but had left us a message to contact her so we left a return message suggesting that we should meet up tomorrow and hire bikes for the day.
We took a different route back, following the narrow streets at the foot of the huge cliffs upon which the castle of Salzburg’s olden days was built. We sat in the square on the Eastern side of the church and watched a game of chess being played with outsized pieces on a grid painted on the footpath. The square was full of an interesting mixture of drunks, tourists, punks and locals.
Dinner that night was at a joint called Pizza Land then we went back to the hostel to try and ring home. The best way to do this was to ring home and give the hostel’s number and ask to be rung back. So, I rang Joe (waking him up at 7AM New Zealand time!) gave him the number of the hostel and waited for him to ring back. After a while I hadn’t heard anything so I rang him again and told him to get hold of the dialling code for Salzburg and try again. Ten minutes later he managed to get through and we delivered the news that Linda and I were engaged. I asked him to ring Linda’s mother, Helen, and give her the number of the hostel and try to ring us as well. Not long after Joe rang off, the phone rang again and this time it was Helen so we conveyed the same news to her. She said it was about time!!
About half an hour later we were sitting in the bar having a beer when another call came through for Linda. It was her best friend Pippa…news travels fast!!