Thursday, November 03, 2011

My Little Bohemian Adventure

As well as my first time in the Czech Republic, this trip gave out more than its fair share of firsts. Before we even entered the country I had my first shot at driving in a foreign country in a foreign car.

One of my favourite things about being in Vienna now is how easy it is to escape to somewhere new. I know for most people going to Vienna alone would be enough but I have been here eight times and I have ticked all the tourist boxes for Vienna itself (Saying that I have never actaully been on the Reisenrad). Now my poor Aunt is struggling to suggest new attractions so we have expanded our trips to outside the city as we like to take advantage of how you can get around so easily. Both my Aunt and I come from the Orkney Islands, a group of islands off the top of Scotland, and to escape the island you have to time it neatly with the ferry that runs only 3 days a week and is more than often cancelled. Therefore the idea of jumping in a car an ending up in a different country with in an hour is ludicrous! In the past we have visited Melk Abbey, Krems, Sopron in Hungary, Bratislava, Slovakia and this time was one I was particularly excited about: Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. It was the one country left without a pin on my map but somewhere I have always been interested in. Before we got there though my Aunt had another personal adventure in store for me…

I knew she preferred to look out the window on our car trips and I had mentioned before I would love to try driving here, and before I knew it I was put behind the wheel. Somewhere between the town of Zwettl and the Czech border I was placed behind the wheel. I have only been driving for a year and a few months but I have been dying to drive abroad since I got my licence. However as you all probably know, it is one of those things I was dying to do but when I actually got offered the chance I was petrified! It felt like my first driving lesson all over again. Everything was out of the norm, obviously the main difference was the side of the road. My road positioning isn’t great at the best of times but when my aunt had to remind me what side I was driving on, I was glad my Aunt is as relaxed as she is. Of course I was also driving in the passenger seat and the combination of an automatic didn’t make life easier when I was slapping the window looking for the gear stick. I drive a Renault Clio and this thing was a bus in comparision and to help with the Czech signs I had the Sat-Nav, in German. By the time we crossed the border only to be struck with my first ever level crossing [I learnt to drive in the Orkney Islands, we don’t have trains and the rest of my driving experience has been driving between Aberdeen and Edinburgh], which wasn’t nearly as in your face as those in the UK.



After turning into a bus depot which didn’t allow cars we got to our hotel . From the drive I saw that the buildings of Czesky Krumlov were beautiful classically bohemian buildings. They weren’t quite as grand as the palaces of Vienna but the rough bit’s round the edges made them all the more quaint and charming. Our hotel was just off the main road, in Britain that conjures up images of budget hotels but here you turn into a picturesque little street with colourful buildings lost somewhere between colonial Dutch and Habsburg Palaces, this is not to say the hotel wasn’t cheap; it was about £30 a night and I got a double bed, TV, en-suite (with a bath) and a balcony. I’d like to see that off the M25, well maybe not as I wouldn’t have a view of a river and palace out of my balcony.

I don’t know what I expected from the Czech Republic, I had never really put much thought into what was there, I just wanted to see it. For me it seemed it was a point where the West and the East met, aptly fitting with the confluence of the Danube river where Prague is located. I had a rather old fashioned idea of gypsies and a very relaxed atmosphere from reading "A Time of Gifts" one too many times. I can definitely say that the atmosphere was relaxed, a great relief from Vienna. Don’t get me wrong I love Vienna but it seems so busy and the people are always busy. In Czesky Krumlov there was a relaxed air, no need to do anything done in a rush, and since everyone had this mindset it wasn’t causing a problem. That evening we aimlessly wandered the streets well past nightfall and only retired indoors when our stomachs wouldn’t let us do anything otherwise, well except for a short trip into the World of Mirrors...

On the way back from dinner we were incited inside the café across the road from the hotel. The Antré had dim lighting an bright walls, there was no sign of anyone at the bar and there was only a woman at her laptop and a group of men playing cards in the corner, could it get more cliché? We sat down at a table and looked at the menu, which had been drawn on my previous visitors and as we looked around we realised there were doodles everywhere; on the menus, on the walls and on the tables. The women at her laptop came over and took our order, I would have never have guessed she was working here; she seemed so relaxed! The relaxed atmosphere in this café was a nice example of the whole atmosphere I had felt in the town. After some chilli hot chocolate and honey cake, the relaxing air and dim light lead us back to our rooms where I spent an evening enjoying my double bed and realising there was free wifi! I went to bed early enough so I could get my £30’s worth and have a bath and a full buffet breakfast in the morning. Thank-you Czech Republic!



The next day we saw the sights the culminated in the large castle overlooking the town. It was a huge fortress-style castle and was very different to the baroque palaces in Vienna, it had that beautiful and unique rough around the edges feel. To add to it's rough and raw nature the castle was surrounded by a natural moat of the Vltava river so to make it even more secure, we found three bears (before you ask there was nobody called Goldilocks there!) in the moat by the castle called Kateřina Vok and Marie Terezie. The climax of the castle was a terrace that looked upon the town, you could imagine that if we had arrived in the peak of the summer season we wouldn't have been able to move up here as we would be too busy being sandwiched between eager picture taking tourists.

After a tour of the gardens and endless photo opportunities we headed down and went into a glass shop that my Aunt Var had been enchanted by on the way up, thanks to the informatvive shop owner who gave us the brief history of glass in ten minutes, and she bought two glasses as a souvenir.

After a crepe (or two) we headed back along the quaint streets towards the hotel and gazed upon the rust -tainted Egon Shiele rooftops for one last time before it was about time to hop in the car and head back to the whitewashed palaces of Vienna. I can see why Shiele escaped to here, it is an enchanting place that easy going revellers dream of. It can only make me hope I will come back some day and hopefully see much more of this wonderful country.

Pretty Buildings...^-^

Vienna is famed for its grand palaces, as well as other things such as coffee, Mozart and Turner Prize-worth cakes, but I think many of the other regular buildings in the city deserve more credit. If you compare the apartments in the city to those say in Glasgow, there is no comparison! It may be just the exterior but it blows me away every-time I come here, and I have been here about seven or eight times now(I've lost count). Each block of apartments look like palaces in themselves, not just the ones in the city centre either; it is common throughout the city. I keep saying to myself that if I find myself living here I will just wander around drawing every single building, they are just gorgeous.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

I Freakin' Love Airports

Airports are great. I know most people associate them as being somewhere to hang around fully sleep deprived before getting to where you actually want to go but I see them as an exciting hub of stories and multiculturalism. The more diverse a place with many exotic influences the better in my opinion. Imagine a Britain without pizza, curry or hoisin duck, I don't think I could survive on just carrots.

Everyone in an airport is either about to embark on an adventure or have come back with a rucksack full of stories to tell. As we all know from the film "Love Actually", an arrivals hall in an airport is bursting at the seams with emotion. Even the most cold hearted of us can't help smile when a child grinning to the ears, runs and leaps into their Dad's arms.

It's not just the airports I love, I am fascinated my the machines that they have to thank. The aeroplane is one of those feats of engineering that still seems like magic to the majority of us. I like to think of air travel as the closest thing to time travel that we will probably ever experience. Concorde especially, you could get to New York from London in about three hours and due to the time difference you technically arrived before you took off. I would love to be a pilot, I think they have the best job in the world. As a child I dreamed of getting to go in the cockpit and meet the pilot, I still do to this day! Although essentially you are just a glorified bus driver, there is such a glamour to it that is so much more enticing. I don't think you could get a better view from your office window; the sky is always a cacophony of colours you can only see high above the clouds.

It's not just planes, I am generally a fan of all methods of transport. Be it the freedom you have in a car or the rickety romantic clank of a train they are all there to get you somewhere new and exciting, to reunite with loved ones. As a person who doesn't like to stay still, airports and train stations have become some-what of a home to me. Arriving at your destination is usually considered the beginning of an adventure, but I think enjoying getting there only enhances what is yet to come.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Orcadian Kilimanjaro Article

Here is the article I submitted to my local paper in Orkney about my new adventure to climb Kilimanjaro next summer.


Anyone who knows me knows that I can’t stay still for long; I always have to have an adventure planned. I have no real long term goal and no proper career plan in mind as being stuck doing the same thing makes me shudder in fear. For example; Although I am studying biology at the University of Dundee I think being an airline pilot would be the best job in the world but that is only if I fail at becoming a wildlife photographer or travel journalist. All in all I just want is too have an interesting story to tell at the end.

I was into my second year at university and it had been two years since my last big expedition, I had spent the summer working every-day in my mother’s café in Hoy and the novelty of being at university has begun to wear off. I needed a new fun project so set my sights on, and an exciting new place to go. Then one day in September, I got an email tempting me with an information evening for a charity climb up Mount. Kilimanjaro. The email didn’t say much more than that, and naturally I spent a few days “deciding” but I think at the moment I read the email I knew what my answer was going to be.

At the information evening I found out that the charity Childreach International were offering around twenty students from the university of Dundee to climb the world’s highest free-standing mountain next summer. The trip will cover 10 days; 6 days including the trek and 2 days either side to prepare/recover and to visit projects where the money we raise will go as well as 8 days independently funded travel around Africa. Childreach International is a registered international development charity providing community based development for children around the world including access to healthcare, education and human rights. They work in nine countries around the world with companies to establish community-based development projects to help children reach their full potential no matter their background, race or gender.

Kilimanjaro is found in Tanzania sitting proud next to the border with Kenya. Kilimanjaro is made up of three-volcanic peaks; Kibo, Shira and Mawenzi, where Kibo is the highest of the three at 5,895m above sea level. The trek will take me through three different eco-zones starting with a lush rainforest at the base, a dry lunar landscape and finally the snow-capped peak. There are six official trekking routes each with different difficulties and success rates. We will be taking the Machame route which is one of the longest but this is due to having a higher summit-success rate. Four days are spent walking through the day, on average six hours per day, until the fifth day where we will endure a night climb starting around midnight and aiming to reach the summit in time for breakfast to watch the sunrise. The descent will only take one day as we don’t have to take acclimatisation into consideration and we can finally have a well-earned rest in the hotel.

Other than the initial buzz of a spontaneous decision, I took up the challenge because it is one of those “once in a life time” opportunities and I don’t think I will get many chances to go to Africa again! Myself, like most children, dreamt of experiencing the real “Lion King” after exhausting my parents of the film, either that or repeatedly asking for a pet Lion or Zebra.

Compared to mainstream adventure travel companies, this charity offers a very reasonable fundraising target which is a very important factor as a student! It’s like getting a reward for raising so much for a good cause! I also get the chance to go with people I know and a group of like-minded people all studying at Dundee. Other than actually climbing the mountain I am most excited about the opportunity to fund our own independent travel for 8 days afterwards. Here we can do anything from a safari to sunbathing on the island of Zanzibar! I am currently looking into doing a safari for a few days to keep my camera happy and if my savings allow me, perhaps a trip to Rwanda or Uganda to see Mountain gorillas.

Our departure date is the 14th July 2012 when we will depart from Heathrow and fly to Nairobi, Kenya before a 6-7 hour bus ride to Moshi, Tanzania at the foot of the hill. However like any adventure, the adventure starts before you arrive. The trip will be physically demanding for my muscles, asthma and immune system; I have to get a total of eight vaccinations as well as taking anti-malarial’s. Although the success rate of the route I am taking is high there is still a one-in-five chance of not reaching the top, but with plenty of aerobic training it is more likely. The thought of having to turn back a mere 300m from the famous wooden sign at Uhuru Point would be devastating, so I have begun training already by getting on the treadmill for a half-hour run every-day! Each of us have to raise around £2,500 each, where £1,990 will go straight to projects by Childreach international and the rest is for flights. We are hoping to reach our target by having some group fundraising events in Dundee as well as some at home, sponsorship and out of our own pocket. For my expedition to Norway with the British School’s Exploring Society I experienced the generosity of people in Orkney as they helped me raise over £4000 towards my scientific research adventure in the Arctic. However, as I am based in Dundee for the majority of the year, organising events in Orkney is rather difficult but watch this space! At the moment I am only hoping to generate an interest with those at home and I hope they are excited as I am!

Anyone who is interested in donating something towards my(Rose’s) climb can do-so at https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/rosematheson
For more information on the charity and what they do you can visit their website: www.childreach.org.uk