Last Day In Lauterbrunnen.

We had left ourselves a free day in Lauterbrunnen to see things in the area that caught our eye. First up was a Swiss culture festival that was being held up a nearby mountain.

We caught the usual assortment of trains and cable cars and arrived at Männlichen on a bright and sunny morning.

It turns out that there’s nothing but a hotel, playground and viewing point at the top, plus a herd of cows with bells to make it all one hundred percent Swiss. You could hear everyone stepping out of the cable car station making ‘oooh’ noises because the scene was just so pretty.

Wildflowers everywhere, snow-capped mountains all around and Grindelwald visible down the valley in the distance. We took some photos and had a wander then made our way to the hotel, where all kind of Swiss things were happening on the deck.

Alpenhorn!

Whip cracking demonstration. I don’t know if it’s actually easy or he was just really good at it.

We watched for a while and took some photos but it was all pretty similar to the music we’d seen in the last two days so we headed to our next activity, a cog-wheel train to Schynnige Platt. Even though this train had been on the map as an activity, it had looked pretty short and so we expected it to go to a low plateau where the Alpine Botanical Garden was reputed to be.

It turned out to be probably the most scenic ride we took in our whole time there! The sides of the little train were open, which meant it was much better for taking photos and videos (no reflection) and it took about forty minutes to get to the top.

There was not a whole lot there but we had a quick look at the Alpine Garden and then sat and had some lunch at the hotel. It was a perfect day with amazing visibility and pleasantly cool at that altitude.

If you go up Schynige Platt go to the top level of the hotel restaurant.

We had thought about trying to make it to Trümmelbach Falls afterwards but ran out of time so Luke visited them the next morning before we left while I packed my bag.

View from the Schynige Platt railway

We were very sad to leave the Bernese Oberland. By far our favorite place that we’d visited so far and it had raised a very high (unfairly high, some would say) bar for Geneva to reach. I don’t often go to countries and think that I would happily move there but Switzerland makes the list. One day we’ll come back and see it in a different season and visit more of its cities. One day!

Postcard perfect Switzerland

View through the cable car station window.

First Pizza in Naples!

I have never really heard anything good about Naples that wasn’t pizza-related. Perhaps a rumour about good museums, but when people talk about the city it is always as something of a cesspool of humanity and actual garbage.

To be honest, this photo could just have easily been taken in Rome or (language aside) London.

Perhaps it was to see if it was really as bad as people say that I decided I wanted to come here. I mean, could it really be more filthy than some Asian capitals like Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh? And of course with Luke’s pizza obsession we were going to come here eventually.

We arrived by train and I was surprised at how new and shiny the main station was and linea 1 was entirely air conditioned too.

Also can I just show you this outfit that I took a sneaky photo of as this lady was getting off the train? Totally irrelevant but what an amazing item of clothing. Where would you even buy something like that? Not that I need to know since I’d never do it justice but… wow. Also I’d have it soaked in massive and undignified sweat patches within about five seconds of getting off the train but that’s a different matter.

When we reached our Airbnb flat the owner told us that the station is so nice because it is only a year old and it wasn’t representative of the rest of the network. Too bad!

Our Airbnb has also recently been done up and has some rather interesting lighting features – three colour-controllable LED strips in one wall and strip lighting around the ceiling. It’s more tasteful than it sounds and it’s actually a spacious apartment too, with lots of food available for breakfast and snacks. Pastries, biscuits, milk and juices. Very nice! We bought a litre bottle of Bombay Sapphire in the Croatian duty free ($35 AUD – bargain!) that we are taking with us from place to place for our evening post prandial drinks.

Also the apartment is on the ground floor, which is always nice! Especially in Naples where there are miles of stairs everywhere anyhow.

The atrium of our apartment block.

Now I have a travel tip for you!

We have gotten into the habit, if there isn’t an ice cube tray in our freezer, of pouring water into the bottom of some glasses before we go out exploring then freezing the whole. This means a nice cold glass into which you can pour wine or whatever when you get home after a day’s hard sightseeing.

So refreshing!

Luke had done some research and made a map of pizzerias that are generally considered top-notch. One was quite a walk from the others so we decided to hit that one first. Plus it had tables so we could dine in. Quite a few Neopolitan pizzerias are just grab-and-go storefronts.

It opened at 7pm so we had time to walk around a bit. Naples street art seems to be a cut above anything we saw in Rome. Which wouldn’t be hard since all we saw in Rome was tagging. Urgh.

We tried to find a bar for a drink but they all seemed to be stand-up affairs. I found a blog that said drinking isn’t big in Naples. What? Italians not big on drinking? This didn’t really fit all my stereotypes of Italian culture. More research will be required.

We got back to Starita as they opened and had already decided what we wanted. We were having their traditional Margherita and their specialty, a deep fried pizza. For this one the crust is deep fried until it is puffy then quickly baked with topping on.

I preferred the traditional, Luke preferred the fried crust but both were excellent.

While I would not go anywhere near so far as to say we are experts, we know a reasonable amount about pizza. Luke helped kick-start a pizza documentary that we have watched several times and if you read our entry on pizza in New York you’ll know how much we love it. I also like making my own from scratch at home so I was keen to get ideas on how to improve it.

Naples is the birthplace of pizza, but from Naples pizza spread via migrants to New York and Boston before being popularised in the rest of Italy. It began as a way for bakers to slightly cool the base of their ovens so that loaves of bread would not burn. To stop the pizza inflating like a balloon (as pita bread does), tomato sauce would be spread on it. This became a cheap early morning food for workers in Naples and then its popularity meant pizza was served all day. Putting cheese on pizza didn’t happen immediately – the Margherita was invented to honour a queen and the basil added to pay homage to Italy’s flag.

In Australia we think of ‘marinara’ as a seafood pizza but here it means a pizza with only tomato sauce and herbs, no cheese. Pizza here is very different to pizza in most other places. It is cooked unbelievably quickly – in as little as a minute – and the sauce is pure pulped tomatoes. The base is charred but the whole thing is a bit soupy in the middle and there isn’t as much cheese as we like to pile on at home. The joy of Neapolitan pizza is in the freshness of the ingredients. For the true traditional pizza the tomatoes must have been grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. The tomatoes taste so tangy and salty-sweet that, combined with the olive oil and cheese there is a buttery-richness that is magical.

All styles of pizza are good and pizza is a dish that is reinvented over and over around the world. Experiencing it in Naples doesn’t mean you have had the world’s best, it means you have added a dimension to your appreciation of it. At least that’s my feelings on the subject!

I would love to know what other people have thought of pizza they have eaten in Naples – or anywhere around the world! Where have you most or least enjoyed it?

The Museums and Galleries Of London

I have been to so many museums in the last week or two that I hardly know where to begin. I had no idea London had so many and I didn’t even make it to all the ones I wanted to go to – I haven’t yet been to the Garden Museum and I saw a poster for a Goscinny and Uderzo (who created Astrix and Obelix) exhibition at the Jewish Museum and I didn’t make it to the Geology Museum or the Foundling Museum either.

I’ve already written about the London Museum and the Natural History Museum (both worthwhile and both free entry) so here are the others.

The Wallace Collection (fine art and armoury)

The WC (an unfortunate abbreviation) is an excellent collection in an outstanding building and, if you like design, worth a visit for the wallpaper alone. Check these rooms out!

It is home to some very famous artworks, my favourite was The Swing. When I was little we had one large book in our house on the history of art and I loved this painting most of all. To come upon it unexpectedly made me very happy.

Although the building isn’t huge it is like a jewellery box, fully of shiny and delightful things.

I could’ve posted a dozen photos but this entry is going to be long enough as is. Just trust me, if you like fine art get to this gallery!

The Wellcome Museum (medical history)

This museum is just over the road from Euston Station and free to enter so if you’re interested in medical history I’d recommend going, just be warned that despite being in a big building the displays aren’t huge, possibly because the Science Museum is about to open a big medical exhibition using items from the WM collection. Either way, the real draw of the Wellcome is the gift shop, which has a fun range of quirky things I haven’t seen elsewhere.

The exhibitions that were on while I was there included one on …

It was kind of gross but interesting.

… and weird. Pretty weird.

There was also a small display about obesity and an art exhibition. I couldn’t tell you what the theme of it was, but one room had giant pictures of cows wearing artwork woven out of insemination straws. I’m not kidding.

Another room had a display on HIV and gay culture. I liked the wallpaper. The art was mainly messy paintings that didn’t really appeal to me.

If I had to pick two themes of my photography in the last fortnight I’d go with stairwells and wallpaper, which is not what I would’ve expected on arriving in London, but there you go.

The last Wellcome exhibition piece was a group of films by a woman who learned to free-dive and each film was a single dive. It was very atmospheric and doesn’t translate well to photography but if you’re reading this and in London, it might be up your alley. I liked it but it felt quite claustrophobic after a while.

Anyhow, go browse the gift shop!

The British Museum (ancient history)

I’m doing these all out of order – the BM was the second last museum I visited. Another great piece of architecture but it didn’t take me long to wander through and recall why I didn’t spend long here when I visited last time. I love ancient history but I have almost zero interest in sculpture or historical relics. I read through the displays in the Alexander room and that was about it.

Going to all these museums has really made me think about what interests me and what is worth my time. Admittedly I’ve had heaps of time in London thanks to my hay fever but if I only had a few days I’d think really hard about what I wanted to see because there is an almost endless variety.

The Victoria and Albert Museum (um… everything?)

I was a bit blurgh on the day I went to the V&A and the thing I liked best was putting my feet in the pool. The V&A is a weird museum, it has a bit of everything and I think I would’ve had a better visit if I’d researched and gone to see a specific thing. I did admire the William Morris dining room but otherwise I wasn’t terribly inspired. I’d certainly give it another go when I felt a bit more energetic.

The Science Museum

I wandered in here on the same day I did the V&A and therefore wasn’t probably in the best frame of mind. However I can see the SM would be an amazing place to take kids and there’s something there for almost anyone.

I didn’t even take many photos in the SM. it was certainly deserving of more attention than I gave it.

Tate Britain (art through history, excepting whatever goes into the Tate Modern I suppose).

This was the first place I visited on this trip and I loved it. LOVED IT. I love fine art and the TB (another bad acronym) has a large Pre-Raphaelite collection. It was like a ‘greatest hits’ parade of romantic paintings.

There were lots of people sketching artworks and it made the gallery feel very lived-in… if that makes sense.

The thing that tickled me most in the TB was the entry hall installation. The artist had covered the entry in tiles…

And scattered sculptures around but also had a person dressed as a squash lounging around, just stretching and wandering.

Watching people watching this person-vegetable was terrific. People smiled, made eye contact with strangers, wondered out loud what it could possibly mean.

The TB, while not as outrageously fabulous as the Natural History Museum, had its own architectural beauty.

The John Soane Museum (architecture and Victorian life)

The JSM is an unusual museum on several levels – literal and metaphorical. It is the collection of one man and displayed in his house. John Soane was an architect and I wish I’d learned a bit more about him before going to his house because there aren’t labels on anything, to help preserve the feel of the experience. Photography is not allowed in the building, however I did take this sneaky shot in the toilets.

First time I’d used an original!

There were a lot of staff around who were happy to explain things but I wasn’t feeling talkative that day. Plus most of the collection is sculpture so not entirely my thing. The house itself was quite interesting with much of the original furniture in place.

The Cartoon Museum

The very last museum I visited! Almost over the road from the British Museum, the Cartoon Museum is quite small and costs £7 to enter. However if you are interested in cartoons I’d recommend dropping in.

Danger Mouse! One of my childhood favourites.

Some of the displays were familiar, some new. Some were one page of a book or series, some were one-off pieces.

The Saatchi Gallery

More like an Australian art gallery than any of the others, the SG has big white rooms and big artworks. When I went there were four or five exhibitions. I particularly liked one by a collage artist who did huge works on photographed backgrounds.

So my advice, if you want to see museums and galleries in London, is to do some research and think about what you like. Don’t waste time on a big name if you don’t actually like that style or period – for example I think the Tate Modern is outstanding, but don’t go unless you like modern art or you’ll waste half a day and walk five kilometres around the gallery for nothing. I’ve learned not to bother with miles of rooms of statues.

I enjoy variety when I travel and I think I’ve had my fill of high culture for now – the next week is all about visiting family, Luke arriving (yay!) and then back to Andrew’s and a visit to Luke’s family before Lauren arrives and we’re off to sun ourselves on Croatian beaches.

But first I need to finish writing up what I’ve done in London. I hope you didn’t think this was it!

Here Comes The Planet 54 – Tanzania 07

In this episode of Here Comes The Planet we take a cultural tour around Mto wa Mbu Village in Tanzania. This consists of walking through the village’s farms and sampling an amazing array of delicious food, learning about the village’s history and entertaining its children.

We also watched some local artists at work, sampled banana beer and found the village nightclub!

Also – DISCO TOTO!!!

Here Comes The Planet 44 – Tanzania 01

The first of our Africa videos! After completing a long to-do list before arriving, we finally get to Tanzania. Our friends Leigh, Nicolette, Lucas and Kat are along for the ride, sharing the African leg of our trip with us. First order of the day is some relaxing on the island of Zanzibar before we start our safari tour. Amanda and Lucas get their hair braided at a local village after learning how to weave palm leaf baskets and make coconut rope and we all eat at The Rock restaurant – which sits on a rock just off the coast.

Also, surprise adoptions!

World Vision Visit

Monday was the Big Day – our visit to my school’s World Vision sponsor child, whom I shall call Mary for the sake of anonymity. We were picked up very promptly at 8am by Jane and our driver. After a stop for petrol we headed out to the very outskirts of Arusha and down a dirt road that was like a creek bed after years of erosion and drought.

Jane, our guide, on the right walking towards the school buildings.

We arrived at the school and it was pretty much like schools you’d imagine in developing countries. Two rows of cement classrooms. Windows but no glass, no electricity and surrounded by dirt. The first thing we did was meet the principal of the school in his office. We asked if we could film. Although he had some English Jane translated our request. I’d read online that English is the official language of Tanzania and assumed this meant everyone spoke it but this is most definitely not the case. Maybe in Dar Es Salaam this is true but in farming country they learn it to the same extent that kids in Australia pick up other languages – i.e. not much.

Next we met Mary. She is 14 and in the last year of primary school. She was very, very shy. We touched her head with our hands, which is a traditional Masai way of greeting (interestingly, in other places we have been touching someone’s head is a huge faux pax) and then set up chairs outside to interview her. Jane translated and we have no idea if any of it will be useable for making our video as they both spoke very softly. Mary did not smile very much, at least to start with. She told us about her family and her friends. In Tanzania girls start school at 6 and a half, boys start at 7 years old.

One of the first grade books.

Then we interviewed the school’s English teacher. He told us that there were over 800 students in the school and 15 teachers, which meant about 80 to 100 students in each class. He asked how many students in my class and I felt almost embarrassed to tell them 20. I asked how much teachers there earn. About the equivalent of $250 to $400 a month, was the answer. The problem with getting teachers is a lack of money from the government, not a lack of teachers, I was told.

We visited a grade one classroom and met the class and looked at their work. They were practising writing their letters in exercise books that weren’t much different to the ones we use at school. The children sang us a song and kids from other classes gathered at the windows to listen.

Then we went to Mary’s class. The students sang a song to greet their teacher, which I thought was brilliant  – what a great way to focus attention! I’ll certainly be using that when I get home. Their teacher encouraged them to ask us questions in English but mostly they were too shy. One boy asked how old I was and another asked our names.

A building project paid for by money raised in Australia!

After that we looked at a building World Vision had paid for and filmed a bit of that, met some tribal elders who’d seen us walk past and come out to see what we were up to. Then Jane told us we’d be visiting Mary’s family at home – something I hadn’t expected at all.

We piled back into the 4×4 and headed up a road that would challenge even Magnus, our Icelandic super-jeep driver. There were deep chasms, piles of rocks and dust so thick you could sink your foot up to the ankle in it. We stopped at a point where the car couldn’t go any further which, fortunately, was right outside Mary’s family farm.

We were met by Mary’s father, a Masai tribesman, and welcomed into one of the buildings, a round mud and tin house. One of his wives brought out a tray of tin mugs and a thermos of hot, sweet tea. We talked (through Jane) about his culture and lifestyle. I asked if women could have more than one husband and he laughed. Then I asked if there were lots of men who couldn’t find wives and he said there were enough women to go around. I had a suspicion men who couldn’t find wives might leave the countryside and move to the city and so today I’ve looked up statistics for the number of men and women in Tanzania.

0-14 years: 45% (male 10,646,436/female 10,461,674)
15-24 years: 19.4% (male 4,553,069/female 4,559,629)
25-54 years: 29.2% (male 6,855,700/female 6,839,430)
55-64 years: 3.5% (male 701,915/female 930,892)
65 years and over: 2.9% (male 590,927/female 773,096) (2012 est.)

It’s interesting that the numbers stay fairly level until the 55 to 64 age bracket where women jump into the lead quite significantly. Apparently there are definitely not enough women to go around if some men have up to 6 wives, depending on how wealthy they are. Also, nearly half of the population is under 14 years old! No wonder classes are so large. All the children we saw at the school looked very healthy and robust – if a bit threadbare. I wonder if developments in medicine mean that more children are surviving longer but families are still having huge numbers of children. Jane said that 10 or more isn’t unusual.

We also talked about the problems of having many children and having to divide property between them – all land is inherited in farming communities and so plots get smaller and smaller. I asked if he wanted his children to stay on the farm or get jobs in the city and he said he didn’t mind what they chose to do.

Another thing we weren’t expecting was food. Jane didn’t expect it either and kept saying ‘alright, time for a photo of everyone then we’ll have to go’ (they were dropping us at the airport) but then the wives would bring in another round of food. First we had maize and milk porridge, called ‘ugali’. It was very bland tasting. It wasn’t bad, but I’d have to be very hungry to eat much of it.

A bit like popcorn in milk.

Then we were served a rice and potato dish that was fantastic. Leigh commented on how fresh the potatoes tasted and the rice was perfect. Very savoury with a simple flavour. I’d thought I was full from the ugali but I finished my plate of rice first. Delicious!

After all the food and drink we went out the front to take some group photos. Some of the female family members had to be coaxed into the photo and brought along utensils to hold. When I sat down to be in one of the photos the oldest lady of the family (I think the mother of one of the wives) took my hand. I was extremely touched by the gesture. We had a photo with Luke and Leigh in as well and then it was time to leave.

Various things were embedded in the walls of the hut.

As we drove to the airport I felt very fortunate to have had such an experience and seen for myself how people live in such a different way. It was good to see the community looking so happy and healthy but also wishing there was something I could do to add to the lives of these people and the future of the students. I plan to send them hard copies of the photos I took of the family and school and I’d like to do some fundraising through work when I get home to send books and school supplies.

Sorry about the dire lack of interesting photos. I can’t post photos of any children or the families but if you see me in person I can show you the photos and video and hopefully World Vision will put our video on their site eventually and we can direct people to it then.

Arusha, Tanzania

We spent more time in transit getting from London to Arusha than you would normally spend getting from Australia to the UK, which is twice the distance. Mainly because we had a huge gap between arriving in Tanzania and the domestic flight to Arusha, Tanzania’s second largest city, not far from Mt Kilamanjaro.

Dar Es Salaam airport, where we landed, was possibly the most basic airport we’ve been to so far. We arrived at about 2:30am and, apart from all the people getting off the plane, the airport was almost deserted. We found a shop in the airport complex that would mind our bags for the night. Not a shop that actually advertised bag minding, mind you, just somewhere the lady at the check in counter recommended and I found the owner asleep in a plastic chair out the front of his shop. Thank goodness we bought the pac safe before we left. We were farewelled with ‘Hakuna Matata’, which you will be instantly familiar with from the Lion King and is either something people here say all the time or something people here think tourists expect to hear all the time.

Divested of our huge travel packs, we lay down on some purgatorial metal benches and managed to fall asleep for a few hours, despite garbled loud speaker announcements, occasional blaring of soccer on the nearby tv and the bright fluorescent lights.

We looked, felt and smelled like hobos when we woke up at about 8am to check in for our 11am flight. Fortunately so did half the other people in the airport. The other half were dressed in the fantastically bright colours that I associate with Africa. One lady had on what looked like a black business suit that has had a terminal collision with a flamingo. And shoes! African women like them with gigantic wedge heels with as much sparkle as can be managed. The obvious choice for long haul flights.

We sampled the rather limited fare at the airport… canteen? I’d use the word ‘cafe’ but that would give entirely the wrong impression. It was a lot like a school canteen but nearly everyone looked miserable. So actually more like a hospital canteen. They also refused to take the pre 2003 US dollars which the bank in London had given Luke. Fortunately there weren’t too many of those notes. Apparently people do not like them because they are easily forged.

The flight to Arusha was in a quite small plane. I did not realise how much the size of the plane affects the amount it shudders and bumps in the air. Getting up to cruising altitude and down again was somewhat hair-raising. It was a relatively modern plane – no crates of chickens or wooden benches to sit on a la Indiana Jones (to my disappointment) but the lady in front of me did leave her rather large bag in the aisle nearly the whole flight and the attendants just stepped over it. It seemed a minor thing but so unthinkable to me – how many microseconds exactly would a bag last in the aisle of an Australian plane?

Speaking of planes, the flight from Istanbul was 7 hours and the guy next to me was one of those charming people who does not fit into his seat and does not do anything to help matters, sitting with his foot in my footwell (he was in the aisle seat) and having his elbow and shoulder in my space. It’s a difficult issue – no one wants their space invaded, and yet telling people to buy a more expensive seat or lose 30 kgs doesn’t seem right either. Or does it? I don’t know.

We made it to our Arusha hotel without incident and checked into our rather sparse two bedroom suite. It’s right in the middle of town with a view over the local, rather derelict, sporting field. From our room the sound of car horns is pretty much constant and the mosques can be frequently heard.

We lay down for a rather long nap then headed out for dinner to a place called ‘Khan’s’, which advertises itself as ‘chicken on the bonnet’ because it is a mechanic’s by day and then they grill food out the front at night. The guys there were all super friendly and the food smelled amazing. It also happened to be on the same street as the hotel but two blocks down so nice and easy to find. Another Tripadvisor find. I must say that, while it seems almost lazy to be getting recommendations for things from just one website, Tripadvisor is yet to steer us wrong.

We had a shared meal and drinks for about $7 US each. We helped ourselves to a plate of salad each then they brought over plates of meat, bread and chips. The chips were not great but everything else was really tasty. Tandoori-style chicken, mince cooked on skewers, beef pieces were all really nice.

Chicken pieces over coals.

My ‘passionfruit’ drink was a disturbingly radioactive colour but turned out to be quite nice. The boys got totally retro coke and pepsi bottles.

As we finished a lady, obviously quite poor, wandered up and made motions towards the food. We had eaten everything except the chips so I said she could have them. A couple of guys from the restaurant wandered over and she tipped the chips into her bag. They were telling her to go but she was saying something back (it was all in Swahili) but then hit them and they started fighting! The men were trying to restrain her and push her away then she started ranting at us and called us ‘Americanos’ but we had no idea what she was saying. We got up to go and pay and the owners were very angry with her. Seems like they get people like this coming by and causing trouble. I felt a bit guilty for starting it but they said it happens. They did not have the most charitable attitude towards her, which I can understand, but she genuinely seemed mentally disturbed to me. You wouldn’t think giving unwanted food to a person would start a fight. I couldn’t help but think it was like feeding a seagull at the beach. Things start off calm then swiftly descend into madness.

We wandered back up the road, buying one of those ubiquitous woven bracelets (‘Because it is Ramadan! You help!’) for a couple of dollars. Touts here, as Luke observed, seem more friendly than in Asia. At least they will walk and talk with you for a bit before trying to sell you something. not just ‘You buy! You buy!’.

An early start tomorrow, hopefully the World Vision meet up goes well and then I can relax!