Saturday, August 2, 2008

New Blog!

Just letting you know that I have started up a new blog for my latest trip and it is almost as good as this one was :-)

The address is: http://sillybilliesreturn.blogspot.com/

Have fun!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

A Camel, a Mall and a Gold Souk in Dubai


Dubai! What a weird place for us to finish our trip...well at least a very big contrast to Italy. As I only had 3 days there we agreed to do the touristy thing...we stayed in a hotel!! And we visited shopping malls! But the shopping malls did have ski fields, Arabic castles, fountain shows to the theme of mission impossible and looked like palaces. On our first day there we swam on the beach with full view of the 'Sail' hotel which claims to be the only 7 star hotel in the world.


A ski field in a shopping mall. What next?


Swimming in the warm Dubai waters...

For breakfast we ate curry which was a delicious variation from pizza and pasta. On day 2 we went on a 'desert safari' which involved a large amount of hooning around sand dunes in 4wd and rather less camel trekking than we had hoped..but nevertheless the camel was very exciting and I am keen for more (desert and camels that is). We had opted for the overnight safari..which transpired everyone else left at 9.30, Chris and I got left at this camp thing with 2 sleeping bags and many ants! Rather interesting, we sat on a dune in the dark and found some scorpion tracks..yikes!


In the morning we were picked up from the desert then delivered back to the hotel. The roads in Dubai are wide and busy; everyone travels by car, big car, here. We visited the gold souk, a famous gold market brimming with diamonds and gold, then the spice souk. We ate at the food court for dinner (all we could really afford) surrounded by women in black veils and men in white suits and an elaborate Egyptian ceiling.


After a 3 hour long bus ride home (the bus system in Dubai is not so flash!) we started packing for me leaving and Chris staying at 1 am. At 3am we were ready and set the alarm for 6 am, great. All was packaged in our ginormous highly patched yellow pack liner sack (rather eye catching and we got strange looks from the fancy suitcase wheeling types). After a short taxi ride I was headed home for NZ, and Chris on the bus to Abu Dhabi for his adventure race. If you want to see how he gets on check out the race site and Sleepmonsters covers adventure races well too. (Chris's team is Nike).

This is a picture of the NZ team Adventure Sport coming in to land on Day 2 of the race this morning:


I am now back in sunny Christchurch for the next four months, Chris is back after the race...then we are heading off on another adventure to Malaysia and then back to Europe again, so you never know I might just have to let silly billys roam the world again and hopefully entertain you again with my appalling spelling (0: Thanks everyone for reading my blog, it was neat to think people were finding out about our adventures as we had them!

Goodbye and Ciao for now,

Em
Mmmmm...looks like scorpions to me!

The Last of Sicily

After Mt Etna we spent a few days in 'recovery mode', well I did, but Chris spent many hours bobbling about in the sea in a wee kayak. We attempted to sell the bikes in Catania, but had hilarious episodes trying to mime out 'sell bikes' to the shop owners who didn't get it at all. Eventually we got one shop to understand, only to be offered a miserable sum. So we biked back to the campground dejected, only to discover the campground owner was super keen for two new bikes and bought them for a bit more.




Below: Chris enters the choppy waters in Catania...

Below: Chris's bike looking all shiny and clean before it was sold (note his beloved red tyre).


The following day it was raining as we ran (running very late) to the station, missed the train and had to wait 3 hours for another through the centre of Sicily out to Cefalu on the Northern Coast. We found a nice hotel and splashed out on our last Italian pizza. In the morning we swam on the pretty beach and wandered around the town of Cefalu with its large rock. In the afternoon we headed to Oliveri to camp.



We woke early with the intention of catching the train to Milazzo hoping to maybe get out to the Volcano Islands. But, at the station the grumpy little Mr Bean conductor said 'No, no trano till 12 oclock', great. Miserably we wandered around pukey little Oliveri with our large yellow sack. At midday we returned to be told 'No, no trano.....ever...its schobero,...schobero...no trano! No!' And with that he went and hid in his office! Panicked we asked others only to be told sadly 'schobero, yes, schobero'. And no trains came at all. So we went back to the campground to uncover the mistery of this schobero thingee, and discovered that in fact it was a national strike and there were no trains, no planes, no buses and no boats running all day!

So in Oliveri we remained and in the evening discovered a very nice bit of beach just along from our camp spot. In the morning we caught the 7 oclock train to Messina, and then the ferry, and then the 7 hour train up and finally back into bustling Rome. We bused way out to a campsite (were ironically it turned out there was no camping, only cabins?). On Dec 2 we trained to the airport and flew away from a place where we had had some great (if a tad crazy and frustrating) adventures over the past few months!



Monday, November 26, 2007

The Mount Etna Mission!

At 3300 Mt Etna is biggest and supposedly most active volcano in Europe. We decided to tackle it in a day from sea to summit as it sounded like a worthy challenge! We were told we had to take a guide to get up the last 15 mins to tje crater so we resigned ourselves to that, but decided to skip the gondola and jeep part that would just be cheating. The road goes to 1900 and after cycling that we would go on foot. Realising 3300 climb is rather large undertaking so we set off at 6 am. We cycled through the city in the dark and climbed up to Nicolosi where the city finally ends. It was drizzling and we were worried if our plan would succeed. Finally out of the 'city' the clouds cleared a bit as we cycled through giant old lava fields. Rather tired we finally reached the Refugio Sapienza at 9.45 am where the road ends.

We had been told there was an info centre there, but no such thing could we find, only the grumpy gondola man who could tell us nothing. So we headed up the rocky slope and reached the top of the gondola in about an hour and a half having climbed over some lava flows and up some steep screes. There seemed to be no track whatsoever. It was very misty and only a few people were around and no jeeps seemed to be running at all!



We continued up until we reached the top of hut where we were supposed to get guides, but there was noone there at all. We continued up through some snow folowing some old footprints. Then we came to a snow patch where many large boulders seemed to have landed - overtop of the footprints - without makingany trails int he snow in large craters as if they had landed form some height - a tad unnerved we continued up over hot ground covered in steam and sulfur. Suddenly the cloud cleared amd we could see the crater rim ahead of us. The whole landscape was reveiled and it was spectacular.


We could see miles down into the Catania below several layers of clouds like we were in an aeroplane it felt so high. Beside us was the Southwest crater billowing huge quantities of steam and below us we could see other craters spread out across the slopes. The crater we stood beside was billowing steam which was horribly smelly when it came our way so we didn't stay too long on the summit.



We ran down the shingly slopes admiring all we hadnot seen in the mist on the way up. We got down to the gondola and had a much needed refuel in the afternoon sun, thenm ran the final bit down to the bikes. It was a surreal cruise down the hairpins amongst huge lava flows with the sun setting and we 'whoopeeeed' as we went. Then Chris got 2 more flat tyres! (but luckily by now he was gettingsuper fast at fixing them!) With our flashing lights we entered Catania and negotiated the terrifying traffic to finally arrive safely back at the campspot at 6pm for a well deserved feed.

Later in the evening we spoke to the camp guy who said there had been an eruption of the southwest crater the night before which explained all the mysterious boulders in the snow!! Yikes!!

Since the Mt Etna Mission we have had two more days in Catania doing some more paddling in some interesting seas! (as shown in the photos and video below!). Tommorrow we are going on a train trip to the North Coast for our last few days in Sicily where we hope to visit the Volcano Islands! Today we are trying to sell our now shiny, clean bikes )0: On Dec 2 we fly out from Rome heading for Dubai! So ciao for now (0:




video

The Amalfie Coast and Southwards

Finally it was time to depart the happy orangegrove of Pompei after 1 enjoyable week. On a gray rainy morning we packed the paniers and set out first on the train to Sorrento, then on the bikes up over the ridge and down onto the famous Amalfie Coast. The road winds around high up on the cliffs and drops down steeply to blue blue sea. There are villages scattered in the most unlikely places. Other campers at the orange grove had said that the road was notorious for dangerous traffic, but we found it pretty quiet and not too bad, if a tad narrow at times. However, the large quantity of barb wire fences, rubbish, and lack of beach access did detract from it a little.

We continued around the coast and had made it as far as Amalfir township itself when disastor struck. Chris's back rim cracked entirely for no reason! This was rather bad (see below).
So he ran the next 5 km in Minori where there was supposedly a bike shop. Unfortunalty that didn't open till4.30 so we had to muck around for 2 hours. Consequently Chris turned into a monkey and climbed a tree.
When it finally opened the shop sold Chris a new wheel and cluster for a bargain 30 euro (it was pretty crappy stuff, but better than nothing!). So we were off - but unfortunatly now it was 5.30 and dark! So we had a nasty hour riding round the last bit of coast with lots of traffic until we reached Salerno. There we went to the railway station and bought tickets for the 20 min train ride to Paestum. It was late when we arrived, and we started biking towards the campground past the temples which were all lit up in the dark. Then there was a loud growl as a large thunder storm hit, so we arrived drenched at the campground and splashed out on a cabin.
In the morning it was still raining so we wandered to the Greek temples for a look. We went back to the cabin and had some delicious brew ups for the rest of the day. The next day was still pouring, so some interneting and wanderiong along the stormy beach outside the cabin was undertaken.
Finally the next morning was a little clearer so we forked out our money for a wander amoungst the funky temples, then cycled our way into the Cilento National Park on the coast which is baisically just an ugly citiafied coastline and I have no idea why it is called a national park. The ride was gray and the angry dogs barked while rubbish lined the roads...then Chris got a flat tyre, then another. Finally on dark we snuck into a closed campground which felt safe and we slept well.
In the morning we cycled round to Palinuro, hoping to exit the so called national park asap! Just after Palinuro we found a beach we could actually get down to, a rubbishy pine forest and beach but no houses!! So we picnicked then continued round a nicer stretch of coast to a pleasant Marina di Calabris.


From there we headed up a steep clòimb that was supposed to lead us over a 500 m pass to Sapri. However Mr Chris I Am A Good Navigator took us up the wrong hill! So we had to go all the way back down, then round and up the correct 500m pass where there were more barking dogs. Then Chris had a massive tyre blow out on the way down and it was dark - things were looking grim! Luckily we managed to hitch a lift in one of the classic Italien 3 wheel trucks to the railway, got to a bike shop to fix the puncture and caught a train to Sapri. At Apri we cooked dinner on the platform, then caught the 2 hour train ride to Palmi where we knew there was a campground.At 11 pm at night Palmi is a very scray place with big barb fences, not a sole around and lots of big barking dogs. And low and behold the large unclimable gates of the campground was shut and noone answered the buzzer. After some panicking I spotted the large flashing neon HOTEL sign , so that is where we went! It was a 4 star hotel, but the nice man offered us a cheaper rate so it wasn't too expensive and we had a luxiourious sleep both vowing not to let that happen again!
The next day we decided to head away from mainland Italy and it was off to Sicily with train, then a 1 euro ferry ride, then more training to a campground 60 km South along the coast which was definatly supposed to be open. But it was shut! Getting very frustrated we asked some Italiens if they knew somewhere we could stay and they pointed to the seaside. So we found a nice cheap bad and breakfast run by a big Italien lady who spoke no english and we were the only guests. But it was nice and even had a verandah overlooking the beach where we could cook tea. We were in Letojanni, a very small village.
In the morning we decided to head up the Alcantara gorge which had an eyeball on our map which usually means its good. So off along the coast on the bikes , the Taormina headland was nice to lòook at, but all the beaches are owned privatly by hotels which really sucks. We cycled on the busy roads to the big gorge turn off sign and headed in to be told we had to pay 3 euro to go down to the gorge from this big ticket office thing, so we grudgingly paid. The gorge was really nice with large volcanic rocks and we sat and enjoyed our lunch.
We wandered into the cold water of the gorge and up to a wee waterfall.
On our return we noticed another track and headed up that to discover it was a free entrance with no payment required! So we went back and asked for our money back which of course did not go down well and we got no money back. We headed back to our room for a yummy dinner.
We headed off on the following day to Catania by bike. The cycle was not so lovely, pretty dirty, alot of traffic and Chris got 2 more flatties. The coast was lined with factories and rubbish, not what one pictures of idyllic sicillian beaches.We finally reached the outskirts of Catania and located camping Jonio which is right on the seaside. It is a very rocky coast, big black volcanic rocks and very wild at the moment. We set up camp relievd to have for once made it there before dark.
Chris was keen for some paddle practise for Dubai so in the morning we discovered that the campground miraculously hired out little canoe sity on top of things. Getting in and out was pretty tricky with big swells pounding againgst sharp rocks you had to wait for a calm patch then jump in quickly and scramble onto the kayak. We headed round to the Catania port and the coast was pretty ugly, but the swell made it exciting!
When we got backl the guy who lent us them looked rather relieved - i think he thought we were a bit crazy! The Italians wont swim at the moment because the 20 degree balmy water is too cold! In the afternoon we organised oursleves for the grand finale of our cycle touring adventure - the Mount Etna Mission!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Spartacus and the Quest for the Blue Grotto


Another post for you avid readers! We are now in Pompei and have been for the last week, after catching a train straight here from Rome. We have ahad a cool week basing ourselves in the Spartacus campground beneath brimming orange trees right opposite the Pompei excavations!

We left Rome having finally made it into the collosseum after several attempts (there were very large ques and restricted opening times!). We had an interesting trip down on the train, nearly being charged 50 euro cos we hadn't stamped our ticket (which we were never even told we had to stamp!) The horrible ticket man made Chris get off at a stop, run madly the length of the train to the stamp machine and then jump back on just as the train departed! But Chris jumped in a different door which i didn't see and the ticket man told me the train had left without him! He was a horrible horrible man.




Pompei


The next morning we got up and splashed out on audio guides for Pompei, and spent about 8 hours wandering through the ruins. We really enjoyed it and the audio guides which we would normally cringe a bit at made it even cooler. There were not many people there (it was cold and grey) so we could explore the ruins on our own.





Mt Vesuvius


The next day was the day to conquer Visuvius. We headed panierless up the hill on our bikes, past barking dogs and endless piles of smelly rubbish lining the streets till we had panted our way about half way up the mountain. Then we reached a locked gate. The national park was 'shut'! Furiously we stormed back downhill and it turned out we had to go up a completly different way to get up. So we cuaght the train round to Ercolano, up another busy smelly road, and finally out of sprawling Naples into the National Park. The road had large barb wire fences on either side, bcause the national park is 'off limits' except for many roaming stray dogs and rubbish. We were rather annoyed and when we reached the top carpark were faced with a steep fee to wlak up a narrow track which went along the crator but not to the summit. We did get great views across Naples and Pompei, but vesuvius was an eye opening experience into Italys management of its National Parks.


Kayaking!


The following days mission was to somehow go sea kayaking. Tricky, when almost everything is closed for winter, but we attempted it anyway. We caught the train to Sorrento which is a very pretty city on the coast towards Capri. There we hunted around in vain until we spotted some kayaks on the beach. After asking about 6 different people we assitained they belonged to some sort of club. There was a model boat contest on, and the president amongst them was apparently the one to ask. However, an officila looking guy kept sending us away, so when he disapeared for a coffee we snuck in and Chris went round saying 'President? President?' till up popped the very friendly President who lent us a double sea kayak for the whole day for free!



We kayaked along the coast which almost entirely vertical sea cliff with little houses perched everywhere. It was great fun, we explored some caves and blowholes. After catching the train back to the campground we went out to dinner with 4 friendly Australians who were staying in the campground too.



Blob Day


The next day was rainy so we blobbed.


Capri and the Blue Grotto!




Well, this really was the exciting bit, and what you've all been waiting for. We headed back to Sorrento on the train (it was a nice sunny day, not super hot, but not too cold either). Once in Sorrento we caught the ferry out to Capri. The Island is very cool with steep sided cliff, and all those coloured mediteranian houses all on the cliffs. The 'Blue Grotto' is a sea cave on one side of the island with a one metre wide entrance and inside is a big blue pool. You can only get in by swimming in the sea. Of course Chris wanted to go there (suprise surprise). Normally they go in there in these little boats, but the sea was apparently too rough so noone could go there.



We met two friendly germans, Tim and Albert, who were also drawn to the allure of the evasive blue grotto. However, after some consideration we all settled on a boat trip round another part of the Island. The sea was pretty rough, and it was quite exciting going underneath the big arch.





After the boat ride Chris and I dived into the inky blue sea at the Marina Piccolo to the amazement of some of the locals, but at 20 degrees the water seemed pretty warm to us!



After lunch we parted with the germans who had given up on the blue grotto. But Chris had not! We bused up to Anacapri town, then walked through a maze of streets past barking dogs till eventually we found a hidden little path which led downwards.....


There were some fishermen fishing, but not another sole in sight when we got to the Grotto. The sky was grey, it was cold, there was a sign saying it was forbidden to swim in the grotto, but nevertheless we had to do it. (We had seen photographic evidence of people swimming in the grotto in books and postcards all round the town, and our boat driver assured us everyone does it!). So, ignoring all the deterrents we jumped into the sea and swam into the grotto (about 5ms swimming just in case I was making this sound too difficult). The grotto was an awesome blue, and you could sea hundreds of metres down below your feet. Just as we swam out a big cruise boat turned up and the people on board thought it was hilarious, waving and clapping.


Unfortunatly our fantastic movie of the grotto is too big to put on here and the photos are not so exciting (no delicious blue colour shows)...



So this picture here shows what it did to look like:


So, victorious, we wandered up to the highest point of the Island for a beautiful view as it got dark and all the lights went on. Our German friends were most jealous when they saw our video and I think the pull of not swimming in the blue grotto may well lure them back to Capri (0:





When we got back to the orange grove we were fed dinner in the caravan of two very friendly older Italien men who hardly spoke any english, but insisted on filling us with a good italian pasta and coffee to follow.

Now we are in Pompei again, and its raining, yucky. But tommorrow we plan to finally leave our orange grove and cycle round the famous Amalfie coast to Paestum. Then onwards South to the warm Isles of Sicliy. Back to eating more oranges!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A week in Tuscany

We have made it to Rome after a week filled with a mixture of cycling, catching trains and avoiding crazy hunters! We left Florence on a fine day after a couple of days exploring Florence and sheltering in our house tent from the rain, with the plan to cycle through to Pisa beach that day. However, after abour two hours making our way through the crazy streets of Florence and some rediculously busy roads we decided the train sounded much more appealing. After following some confusing signs we located the station, bought tickets and had an interesting time carrying pannier laden bikes up and down steps and onto the train. Once onboard it was a relief to watch the countryside whizz by and not have to be amongst the traffic. We caught the train as far as Lucca.

Lucca is a cool wee city with old city walls and was a lot less busy than Florence. We ate ice creams before heading off on our bikes to Pisa. The natural park were we wanted to camp was was closed, so we had to continue into central Pisa, where all the camping grounds were shut! So we biked a few km out of Pisa and camped in a really nice piece of forest not far from Marina Di Pisa which we visited in the morning. We then returned to Pisa central and ate lunch beneath the leaning tower on the grassy lawn which was very pleasant.


Then we decided we would continue on with the train to Sienna, seeing as the trains seemed cheap and pretty easy with the bikes. They have a bike compartment at either the front and the back where we can stash the bikes.


We reached Sienna quite late and faced the same problem as in Pisa, all the accomodation was either closed or completly full. So off into the forest we went for another camp. We spent the next day wandering round Sienna's pretty bussling streets. By late afternoon we cruised out of the city and into the rolling hills of Tuscany farmland. We both breathed a little sigh of relief at another peaceful stretch in the hills - as cool as the cities are it is nice to get out of them!



As we cruised down another hill I heard a mighty crash behind me to see Chris panniers flying through the air! His pannier attachment had completly broken, so we spent some time manufacturing a new one. Then we continued on to a pretty foresty spot to camp.

In the morning we were woken to the usual sounds of guns of the thousands of hunters who seem to roam the countryside. Only this morning there were even more of them! We continued through the forests on a well marked walking and 4wd track only to find ourselves in a grove of hunters! They we all hiding in wee camoflage sheds shooting at birds! So we retreated very quickly! Once back on the road we agreed that sad as it was we would have to avoid all forest camping and forests in general! There were hunters everywhere and the whole day the sound of guns reverberated around the beautiful countryside.

We continued on along the big ups and downs, all the villages seem to be located on the tops of hills and the roads went to all of them. Later in the afternoon we came across a very strong sulfur smell and found oursleves amidst hundreds of campervans, and beneath the road some great steaming hot pools! So we stripped and joined the throngs in the pools, it was like an extensive superior Sylvia Flats.


After a good soak, and some chilly dips in the cold river we jumped back on the bikes and continued through the countryside. It was a lovely balmy warm day making a great change from our normal frigid climes. We camped in a paddock in the wide open, deciding that being told off was less scary than being shot!

Noone disturbed us and in the morning headed into Grossetto back on the Mediteranian coast. We wanted to find out some info about all the hunters and where we should go, or not go, but there don't seem to be helpful information centres anywhere, unlike the Dolomites. So in the end we decided to finish with Tuscany, too dangerous, and continue our journey South. We caught the train to Rome, and carefully cycled through the busy roads to our preplanned campground. The Vatican was all lit up in the night.


Rome, we have decided, is much more suited to cars and buses and trains than little bikes so we have caught the local bus to see the sights. Today we are planning to go see the Collosseum which looks very exciting! Then we catch the train to Pompei tommorrow where we head off on another adventure through a bit of National Park along the coast.