Tuesday 11th April *Hong Kong

We are flying away again. As usual, life got harder as departure date approached; nothing serious, just little hiccups. The biggest of these was our car failing to start in Castlemaine nearly a month ago, needing to be towed away, and taking nearly two weeks to get fixed. This proved to us that we can live moderately normally without a car, but things took longer; despite the train service between Melbourne and Castlemaine being good, the “door to door” time was substantially increased and the amount of stuff we could take with us was decreased. And on the last weekend in Castlemaine it poured with rain all Sunday (nearly 60mm!) so the amount of grass mowing time prior to going away for two months was much reduced. But it did force us to “chill out” a bit instead of rushing to get things done.

Alison, though technically unemployed, has been putting a lot of time into getting her new practice at Ping Ming Traditional Chinese Medicine prepared so she can start up there soon after getting back to Australia.

One of our little problems was clothing for Helsinki (average maximum 4 degrees) followed by the camino (much warmer, and needing to carry everything we have). So we've come with some old warm clothing to discard / give away after getting to warmer climes. Last night Alison had the serendipitous find of a wheelie bag, in perfect condition, on a nature strip; so we have plenty of room for warmer clothing, and for the wine and chocolate bilbies we're taking to Paris, where we're spending Easter with Sylvie and Jean Charles whom we met in Tahiti.

But we were ready this morning and Rob drove us to the airport, after having a coffee at Beatrix. It was all very straightforward. We walked around a bit, checked our (now three) bags in, and went through the tediousness of security screening, and though a very automatic emigration. We walked around looking for the Cathay Pacific Lounge, eventually finding it. It was very full, with people on a Hainan Airlines flight to China; including a number of buddhist monks. I had the feeling that they were meant to do things on the smell of an oily rag..... but obviously not!

When the Hainan flight left, the lounge was much emptier. But still – we read the papers, had some coffee and a bite to eat; but tedium set in. We had to leave and go for a walk around before the plane was ready to load. But load on we did, and now were on the way. We are in an Airbus A350, and it is a very nice aeroplane; smooth, comfortable, and remarkably quiet. Conversation is much easier than it has been in many other planes. But it is still a long way to go.

Now we're nearly in Hong Kong. 8+ hours later, 10pm our time, and despite being a comfortable aeroplane to be in we're both getting tired and had enough of it. It's a long way from Australia to anywhere else! Now we have 3 hours in Hong Kong before boarding our Finnair flight to Helsinki, on which with any luck we'll spend a lot of time asleep.

Wednesday 12th April Helsinki

Hong Kong was tolerable; we had a bit of trouble finding the lounge we were able to use, but it was quite nice and it even enabled us to have a shower! Which made the trip onwards much better. It seemed a pity to me to have all this free food and drink available and not use any of it; but... I didn't need it, except for an apple (which was very nice).

Just prior to midnight (Hong Kong time; 2am Melbourne time) we headed off to the departure gate and got on the plane; and at 25 minutes past midnight took off. They started off by serving dinner, but we were more interested in sleep than dinner so we put on eye shades and ear plugs and lay ourselves down. We were sitting in the middle of the plane, next to each other, but contact was if anything more difficult than sitting behind as on the first leg.

It was an uneventful flight in a comfortable plane. I managed to sleep for a fair amount of the night, rising at 5am, an hour before landing, and having some breakfast. I put on the headphones and listened to some of the very limited music; but found that for a significant time there was no sensation of travelling at all. No background noise, no vibration, no movement; I felt as still as sitting in a chair at home. It was a bit uncanny.

We descended into Helsinki. The temperature on the ground was -2º. Well.. we had expected coldness. Into the airport, through it with no hassle at all, and onto the train into Helsinki station. We set off mostly using memory to Hotel Katajanokka, past patches of ice on the footpath, and arrived ~8am. And we were let into our room straight away! So nice! We came upstairs and unpacked and reorganised things, but only till 9.30am; at the airport Alison had read there was a free city walking tour at 10am. So we set off for the White Cathedral, where it started. I wore a vest and carried my jacket; I saw no-one else with bare arms. But after standing still for 10 minutes the cold crept in and I put my jacket on – and it didn't come off again for hours!

Luckily, the tour was all in English. The guide, Mikail, was very good and very knowledgeable; we walked around, and it didn't finish till 12.30pm. (It was only meant to be 2 hours, but it kept going.)

We were getting a bit hungry. But not having found an ATM yet, we were short on money; and we went out first for a coffee with a couple we met on the tour – Judy and Nick Meagher, from Jan Juc – who know of our friends Steven and Michelle, who live in the same street there! It is a small world. They'd arrived on the same flight a day earlier than us.

After this, we went looking for an ATM. They are not as prolific as at home, and we worked out that they are called “Otto” here. The first one we found would give us only €140.00; so we went looking and found another which was happy to give us €400.00. And next door to it was a supermarket, which had a deli selling filled baguettes, salads, etc. We bought some and went and ate it at the station – inside, as outside in the sunshine it was only 4º.

Then we headed back to the hotel, stopping at a nice little cafe / bakery on the way. Back home – tiredness has reared its head again but we have not given in to it.

We went out for dinner to the bistro in the youth hostel which is almost next door. It was a fairly disappointing dinner – fish & chips which were not terribly nice, and a salad which was better, but....

We managed to stay up till 9pm; pretty good, I think. Then got back into the travelling routine of washing socks and undies before going to bed. Aaaah!

Thursday 13th April Helsinki

We both slept like logs, not surprisingly. What was surprising was being able to mostly sleep in till 7am! Alison got up and looked out the window – with her glasses off – and uttered a yell of surprise. It was snowing! The ground was white. This meant that we had to go for a walk outside before breakfast. We walked down to the end of the peninsula and back home via a square we'd never seen before.

Breakfast was, as expected, excellent. I began with muesli – very gingerly, remembering the broken tooth I sustained in my first breakfast here four years ago. Nothing like that happened this time; we had a slow and good breakfast.

After tidying our things up, we went out. Alison had looked up op shops; we walked south past the Market building and through the park on the hill there, which was all white from snow and very different from yesterday. We got a little bit lost, but only a little; we wandered through a lot of the town, visited a couple of shops, and had coffee at the Brooklyn Cafe. (We'd walked past this, thinking an American-style coffee we didn't want at all; but a shop lady said they were very good, and they were. The lady running the shop was from Brisbane!)

Next stop was a shoe shop, where there were some Ecco shoes on special. Just the shoes Alison had worn out and been looking for more, and in her size too! So despite needing to carry whatever we buy on the camino, we bought them. They're not too heavy.

Then we headed back down the Esplanade, past the posh shops, and to the tourist info – which was interesting but they didn't really know anything about the area we plan to go to in June. But they did give us a map of the whole country, which is useful.

By now, it was after 2.30pm. After last night's disappointing dinner, we decided to eat up during the day and skip dinner tonight; so we went over to the market building for some soup. It was excellent! Big bowls – beetroot and beef goulash – and it filled us up. We set off for home. The snow had stopped and there were glimpses of sun, but it was still very cold.

And we came home for siesta. We even lay down on the bed, which was dangerous; but we got up again and went out. We walked north along the seafront and over the bridge into Koppio, the former run-down but now hipster area. It looked less affluent; the apartment buildings looking more like housing commission. But still a quite nice area. We went into another supermarket (with the usual poker machines they have here outside the checkouts) and bought oranges and some instant noodles. This was our dinner, which we ate after walking back over the “long bridge”, back to home.

We then managed to stay up till 10pm. We are improving.

Friday 14th April (Good Friday) Dammartin en Goele

We still wake early, though. (Clear skies and no snow today.) This meant we were early down to breakfast, before it became more crowded; and then we checked out earlier than we really needed to, and set off on a meander down to the station. Plenty of time. We had a look in at the Russian Church, and continued on. Being a public holiday, it was very quiet in town; little traffic and few people. But there was ice. On the footpaths; icicles hanging from the fountain; and even some areas of ice on the surface of the sea!

We got to the station, bought our ticket, and got on the airport train with very little waiting. (This time, we had the ticket checked on the train.) Got to the airport, checked our things in, walked around a little aided by the use of a scooter they have for people to use, and then retired to the lounge for an hour to await our flight to Paris. An easy way to spent the time.

After we tried to get on a flight to Stockholm we found the right departure gate and got on a full plane to Paris. A “domestic” flight and not as comfortable or spacious a plane as the intercontinental ones are, but it's only a 3 hour flight.

We flew in over France. It was green! Spring has come here, but it had not yet come to Finland. It was realy nice to see. We landed far from the terminal, and had to be taken there by bus. We got into the baggage clain and there were Sylvie and Fanny on the other side of the glass wall! It was quite a wait for our luggage; we couldn't talk to each other, so had to communicate via written word shown through the glass.

Eventually our bags came, and we went out and found Jean-Charles with the car, and were driven over to their house. Here, we found Francoise who had come over from Germany for a few days. It was very good to see everyone again.

Then – we talked a lot. And ate. And drank. We gave them the things we'd brought for them, and gave away the “road kill” wheelie suitcase we'd brought them in. And despite having an extra hour of jetlag time added on in the change of countries, we didn't go to bed till after 11pm.

Saturday 15th April Dammartin en Goele

We slept well – and despite all the talk of snoring last night, and the wine consumption, there was none to speak of. We woke to a grey day, which soon began to rain. Alison went out with Sylvie to buy bread and croissants, and we had a large and delicious breakfast.

The weather was a bit limiting. But we all went out to a large shopping centre, the other side of CDG Airport; and walked around a small part of it, going to some interesting shops. One very like a large “Australian Geographic” shop. Then back home. Alison and I were keen to have a coffee, but it came only after a delicious lunch with wine. We are going to need to walk a lot to counteract the amount of food we are having here!

After watching some video of their trip to South Africa, the rain let up. We drove over to a forest not too far away and went for a walk. It was good to be out in the open air again; lily of the valley was just coming out (early) so we picked a fair amount of it before returning home. Now Alison is down being a “sous chef” assisting Jean-Charles who is preparing a fish for dinner.

Then, after a Brazilian lime aperitif, it was dinner again; with a lot more talking, and it was after 11pm when we got to bed. My eyes were closing.

Sunday 16th April Dammartin en Goele

We are getting better at sleeping in; we didn't really wake till after 7am. Even so, we were the first up (except for JC). I found Sylvie and Francoise under a rug on the couch in the living room – a sort-of adult version of Alice and Louise.

So I went out for a short walk around the block while Alison wrote her journal. Alison spread some easter eggs around the garden and after breakfast we had an easter egg hunt.

Then, in 2 cars, we all went out. First to a nearby town, where there is a market; but it was last week. So then on to the forest for a walk, and then home for a late lunch. Alison and I went out for a walk, and managed to find our way up to the town centre of Dammartin. I have been a bit “lost” in their house in Dammartin, and now I am much better orientated.

Sylvie drove Francoise to the airport she is returning home to Germany tonight.

We made Almond and Vegie Bake for dinner while Jean-Charles barbecued a chicken. But it was nearly midnight before going to bed and my jetlag is over now.

Monday 17th April Dammartin en Goele

This morning, after last night's walk, we knew our way into town; so after we'd been out for a little walk finding the industrial estate, we offered to walk up and buy the daily bread. 2 baguettes “Bel Air”. We walked up following Sylvie's instructions, but found yesterday's route better. There was a drop of rain as we walked home, and Sylvie came out in her car to get us - “it can get heavy suddenly” - but it all went away.

After breakfast – different without Francoise, and lasting a long time – we watched Jean-Charles' video of their trip to South Africa.

Tomorrow, Sylvie and Fanny are back to work / school. So we went out with Jean-Charles for the afternoon, visiting the town of Senlis (a very old town – the cathedral from 1150 AD) which has retained it's character. We wandered around, then drove via an old abbey and the “Mer de Sable” - a large area of sand, and unusual in France - back home; on the way stopping to pick some “bear garlic” to have in our salad tonight.

We had sort of skipped lunch today, which was better considering the amount of food we've been eating, and for dinner had cheeses. A huge variety – 4 sorts of chevre, and 6 other cheeses from brie to red cheddar to Roquefort. Followed by a baked lemon delicious we made.

Tuesday 18th April St. Jean Pied a Port

We got up just before 7am to say goodbye to Sylvie, who had to go back to work. There was no point in going back to bed; so we got up, packed up our bed, packed our things; had breakfast, a last talk to Fanny; and a 9am left with Jean-Charles who was driving us down to Paris (45km away) and Montparnasse Station.

He was surprised how clear the freeway was; but it didn't stay that way. We ended up in stop-start traffic, and he decided to drive through Paris instead of using the peripherique. It was for us an interesting, if slow way; I was very glad it was not me driving because at times other vehicles got frighteningly close. There were many motorscooters as well and I think there must be a lot of accidents.

Eventually, we got to Montparnasse. He dropped us off and we said goodbye.

It was cold. I'd left my fibrepile jacket – it was brought for the cold Helsinki weather, but the weather here seemed to be punishing me for leaving it. It started to rain a bit, as well. We found a Monoprix supermarket, and bought some food for the train trip. And some filled baguettes from a nearby bakery. Then back to the station, and onto the train. Along with a number of other obvious peregrinos.