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Into the mountains…
4 29th, 2007 | categorizilation: all categories,Switzerland
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Today I head 1,000m up the hill to a small village called Anzere, where I will be spending the next two months working as a camp counsellor at a spring outdoor education residential camp run by Village Camps. Internet access is limited, as is time off during the camp.

Updates to this site for the duration of camp will be weekly updates.

Therefore, there has never been a better time to subscribe by to my blog by email, using the form on the front page of this website.

My contact details for the duration of the camp have been updated on the contact page. The Gillioz family that I have been staying with this past week kindly lent me a mobile telephone for the duration of my stay in Switzerland. A 20 CHF sim card later, and I have my own telephone number here in Switzerland.

My French is coming along nicely. I can now say ‘lots of snow’ and ‘I am not Mexican’. If you want to learn French, watch the lessons I have been watching online on Youtube here.

Last but not least, a massive thank you to Dominique and Jena-Richard Gillioz for welcoming me into their home for this week. I have met more people than I can remember the names of, eaten way too much fantastic food, and thanks to you got a great headstart on finding my way around the area. Thank you again for your kindness and generosity.

J’ne pas Mexicain.

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Day 277 – SWITZERLAND: Mountain crib in Daillon
4 26th, 2007 | categorizilation: all categories,Switzerland
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They don’t do things by halves when it comes to holiday homes in the mountains here in Switzerland. Many of these mountain ‘cribs’ as they are called in southern New Zealand, are renovated places.

Today I had the pleasure of visiting my host Dominique’s sister’s crib up past a little village called Daillon.

View from crib near Daillon, Switzerland

The crib is located at an altitude of 1,700m, and it is one of the highest locations in the surrounding area. On a good day you can see Matterhorn. Yesterday I had to be content with only having panoramic views of the valley far below and towering mountains behind.

Binoculars at crib near Daillon, Switzerland

The crib is a renovated cow shed dating back to 1850. Heating and cooking is done on the massive wood-powered Stanley stove, electricity for lighting is by solar, and water heating is by gas.

Interior of crib near Daillon, Switzerland

We went for a short walk up the hill with Attila. He was more interested in the small things than getting anywhere in particular. He reminded me of the importance of the journey, rather than the destination.

Simple things arouse such curiosity (near Daillon, Switzerland)

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Day 276 – SWITZERLAND: A jaunt up to Col du Sanetsch
4 25th, 2007 | categorizilation: all categories,Switzerland
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Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 72.95km
Average speed / 平均速度: 12.9km/h
Time on bike / 走行時間: 5h 37m
Total distance to date / 今日までの積算距離: 2177.7km (plus 9700km)
Ascent / 上り: +1935m
Descent / 下り: -1880m

You’d think that with all the cycling I do, I’d be sick of it now. But who can resist a good steep climb in the Swiss alps on an unloaded bike. I borrowed some good maps from Jean-Richard and headed up to Col du Sanetsch (2252m).

The weather was brilliant, with magnificent views of mountains on both sides of the valley. Curve mirrors placed just right so that you can see the other side of the valley without even turning your head.

Only in Switzerland (near Dallion, Switzerland)

The road passes though incomprehensibly steep vineyards. I was expecting more green fields of grass, but in the Valais region, it’s all about the wine.

Towards the end of the steep valley that leads up to Sanetsch Pass, the road zig zigs up the steep valley head walls.

Zig zags and mountains near La Crete on way up to Col du Sanetsch, Switzerland

It is peaceful here. Just the sound of the wind and gushing rivers. A great place for a mountain crib.

Mountain crib in Visse, Switzerland

From about altitude 1900m, there was still snow and uncleared rocks that the snow had left behind when it melted. The 800m long tunnel at about 2000m had a lot of fallen rock inside.

800m tunnel leading to Col du Sanetsch, Switzerland

I ditched the bike just past the tunnel and walked through the snow up to the pass Col du Sanetsch. I had no socks on so snow that fell into my boots numbed my feet.

Massive mountains were dwarfed by massive clouds.

Big clouds over Tsanfleuron Glacier, Switzerland

In summer, you can take the bus up here.

Closed due to unforseen circumstances - Col du Sanetsch bus stop, Switzerland

I think I could get used to these mountains…

A hole in the wall in tunnel leading up to Col du Sanetsch, Switzerland

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Day 275 – SWITZERLAND: In Saint Leonard
4 24th, 2007 | categorizilation: all categories,Switzerland
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Right, so yesterday I was innocently eating lunch in a small park in a small village called Saint Leonard. This kid wanders over, watching me and my strange looking bike from a distance. He looked cautious, as if at any moment the tramp might pounce and devour him along with the pasta the tramp was cooking.

“Bonjour.” They speak French here.

“Bonjour. ” I replied.

The kid scarpered, running over to where his grandmother was sitting in her garden.

Later I learned that Attila, the kid, had told his grandmother, Dominique, that I was French. I guess I should take that as a compiment on my French pronounciation.

Dominique walked over the small park I had set my kitchen up in and introduced herself in good English. When she learned that I was going to be working in Anzere, she said I should stay at her place until I start.


So that was yesterday. I met Dominique’s husband, Jean-Richard. I met their daughter (mother of Attila), Vanina. Jean-Richard is a keen cyclist.

Today I spent the morning while Dominique was at work updating the blog, and in the afternoon we went with little Attila to Europe’s biggest underground lake, just 20m from where they live.

As Dominique promised last night, tonight’s dinner was a Swiss delight. Grilled cheese fondu.

Swiss 'grilled fondu' in Saint Leonard, Switzerland

It was a regular family and friends affair, with four generations of the Gilloiz family present, plus some friends who had travelled in New Zealand.

Evening meal with the Gillioz family and friends in Saint Leonard, Switzerland

Dominique’s father, Remy (age 82, though you wouldn’t know it), did the melted cheese scraping.

Swiss 'grilled fondu' in Saint Leonard, Switzerland

This stuff is such good cheesy goodness. Served with taters.

Swiss 'grilled fondu' in Saint Leonard, Switzerland

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Day 274 – SWITZERLAND: From Brigabad to Saint Leonard
4 23rd, 2007 | categorizilation: all categories,Switzerland
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Surprise surprise. I am here. This is the region in which I will be spending the next two months or more.

Mountains up the valley as seen from Visp, Switzerland

I was always under the impression that I would be closer to Lake Geneva. But I took another look at the map, and Anzere, the place where I will be located with Village Camps, is here in the Valais region of Switzerland.

But I am getting ahead of myself. On the way to Saint Leonard, I met a snake.

Friendly snake near Saint Leonard, Switzerland

Being from New Zealand, the country with no snakes or any other nasty creatures that could bite you and poison you to death, I fearlessly poked it with a stick till it was tired enough for me to capture this shot. It didn’t look poisonous. I wasn’t game enough to touch it, but it looked friendly enough. Brown in colour, and about 20cm long, with a 1cm or so thickness. I mistoook it for a very large worm at first. After asking locals about it, it appears that this is a harmless garden snake.

And speaking of locals, I met Lukas today. He is from up north in Switzerland, and rides a Swiss-made recumbent. The maker is FATEBA, and it is a long wheelbase recumbent.

He was on his way up a hill to climb some mountains.

Lukas rides a FATEBA recumbent, made in Switzerland

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Day 273 – ITALY and SWITZERLAND: From Villadossola to Brigabad via Simplon Pass
4 22nd, 2007 | categorizilation: all categories,Italy,Switzerland
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Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 89.25km
Average speed / 平均速度: 11.0km/h
Time on bike / 走行時間: 8h 05m
Total distance to date / 今日までの積算距離: 2061.1km (plus 9700km)
Ascent / 上り: +1780m
Descent / 下り: -1365m

By the vertical meters I climbed today, you’d almost think I was cycling in the Swiss Apls…

The day began with some more picturesque Italian alps foothills villages, this one the center square of Villadossola.

Courtyard in Villadossola, Italy

And just in case you ever wanted to know, this is what the rear end of my bike looks like. Yes, the rear light is attached by a piece of garden hose. I didn’t have the drill required to drill a hole in steel pipe, so I melted some holes in the garden hose to do the attachment. And hey, it has lasted 12,000km, so isn’t all bad.

Rear end of a bike in Villadossola, Italy

Enough of the gratuitous bottom shots, and onto the real action.

I was eased into the mountains slowly, with the haze of the Italian side of the alps giving me teasing hints into the wonder that was to follow.

Misty mountains near Villadossola, Italy

A road sign pointed towards Siberia. I gave that a miss, thinking it would take another few years if I went via that road.

To Switzerland, the long way (sign in Domodossola, Italy)

The task for the day was to get up over Simplon pass to the town of Brig in Switzerland. From Domodossola, that was about 60km with a 2005m high pass in the middle. The plan was to take it easy and see how things went.

Swiss border at Gondo, Switzerland

As usual, I was feeling good arriving in a new country. As soon as I crossed the border, the environment changed. The air smelt great for some reason. Like Heidi had just skipped past or something, leaving a scent of fields of daisies. Like, honestly, the air really did smell different. I thought maybe they had special scent dispensers hidden in the mountains to welcome tourists…

In search of water after the border, I found myself at Fort Gondo. A massive mountain fotress carved into the rock. To see the whole fort you needed to ring someone to arrange a visit, but the main access tunnel was open to the public. It led to a massive 90mm cannon aimed just right to ensure the quick dismissal of any unwanted visitors heading up the Simlpon Pass.

Fort Gondo gun near Gondo, Switzerland

Barrel of the cannon at Fort Gondo, Switzerland

Road up Simplon Pass as seen from the gun turret at Fort Gondo, Switzerland

The road up the pass is steep in places, but never goes over 9%. I was happy enough to spin away in my lowest gear for the four or so hours it took to get to the top.

Simplon Pass, Italy

From the top it was a quick 22km downhill. What took four hours to climb, took all of 15 minutes to descend.

Simplon Pass, Switzerland

My first ever night sleeping in the beautiful country that is Switzerland was on the covered porch of a deserted building.

First sleeping spot in Switzerland near Brig

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Day 272 – ITALY: From Castano Primo to warehouse in Villadossola
4 21st, 2007 | categorizilation: all categories,Italy
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I slept in a small shed last night along side the canal that runs from the Ticino River to Milano.

Sleep spot outside of Castano Primo, Italy

As I was packing up preparing to leave, the apparent owner wandered by to check the water channels in the adjacent fields and seemed none too perturbed when I indicated by gestures that I had slept there during the night. Jolly nice lot, these rural Italians.

I headed from there straight to the Ticino River. The Ticino River flows out of Lake Maggiore. Lake Maggiore is the lake I needed to pass by in order to get to the pass that would link me with Switzerland.

Along the Ticino River towards the southern end of Lake Maggiore is Parco Lombardo Valle del Ticino, a nature reserve. The reserve has many tracks for walking, horse riding, and cycling. I promptly got lost, having a blast in the process.

Cycling through Parco Lombardo Valle del Ticino on the way to Seste Calendo, Italy

At times the tracks reminded me of Tajikistan. Big, loose rocks, soft leafy ground.

Cycling through Parco Lombardo Valle del Ticino on the way to Seste Calendo, Italy

The 10 or so kilometers to Seste Calendo took way longer than it should have, but hey, what a great way to break the monotony of endless sealed roads.

I had lunch today on the shores of Lake Maggiore. The southern end of the lake where I had lunch is not so great. Buzzing insects, stinky sand, and the air all a bit too hazy for my liking. And waht’s with all the middle aged Russian-speaking women drinking vodka? Honestly, it was the weirdest thing in the world. I thought I must have missed a sign to the entrance of the park saying ‘Park for Russian Speaking Middle Aged Women Only’. There were gaggles of these women spotted all over the place, with no other males in sight. One particularly curious group wandered over and began inspecting my cooking skills. They were from the Ukraine, and were suitably impressed with my fettucine, tomato puree, tuna, and walnut concoction.

I gobbled my lunch far too quickly, and made a hasty getaway after one of the women stated rather too enthusiastically that her daughter was 25 years old.

“Only slightly younger than you!” she breathed, with that twinkle in her eye.

I have seen that twinkle before. It is that twinkle that lays bare a mother’s desire to see their daughter marry a rich young western bachelor. Most often seen in central Asian countries, and very often accompanied by a grin showing a mouthful of gold teeth.

I was happy to get away, lest the mistaken image of me as a rich western bachelor be revealed.

Near Stresa, a town along the western side of Lake Maggiore, I had my first real mechanical breakdown of the trip. My indexing ring on the thumb shifters broke, leaving me only with the friction setting.

And now for those who are not as cycle savvy as some, here is the detailed version of what happened: 

My bicycle has gears. When I change these gears, much like on a car, it gets easier or harder to pedal. On the back wheel, there are 9 cogs, all bigger or smaller than each other. By moving the chain from one cog to another, I can select what gear I pedal in.

To make changing from one cog to another easier, my gear leaver that I move using my right thumb has a special thing inside it called an index ring. This index ring makes a clicking sound to let me know that I have moved the leaver just enough so that the chain jumps up or down a cog, enough to smoothly change gears.

Well, this index ring somehow broke in half today.

Broken indexing ring (Shimano Ultegra bar-end thumb shifters) in Stresa, Italy

The object above is the index ring, and it is supposed to be a ring. Not two halves of a ring.

All is not lost however, and there is a backup function on the gear lever whereby I can just move the gear lever freely without the clicking sound to guide me. After 8 months of constantly moving the gear lever to the several positions needed to select gears, I have the positions mentally set in my mind. Kind of like a violin player. I have gone from having frets to no frets.

Old stuff abounds in Italy. Old houses.

Old shed near Ornavasso, Italy

Old bikes.

Old bike in Ornavasso, Italy

As the title of this post suggests, I slept in a warehouse tonight. It was concrete. Massive and echoey.

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Day 271 – ITALY: From Seregno to just past Castano Primo
4 20th, 2007 | categorizilation: all categories,Italy
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I left Shirley and Yuri’s wonderful abode at about 2pm with a nice little 10 minute powerpoint presentation nestled safely in my USB memory stick. Thank you again to Shirley and Yuri for letting me take over their computer for a day!

Oh, and Shirley makes some mean Japanese cuisine. The tofu was awesome.

Tofu prepared by Shirley in Seregno, Italy

I headed from Seregno towards Legnano. The general mission for today was to buy stuff. A regular shopping spree. My big break came when I spied a big shopping mall near Legnano. Bought some togs (not ‘man skins‘), some new trousers and a t-shirt, and some rubber shoe things for walking in the water.

All in the name of summer camp counsellor work, due to begin on the 29th of April. After surviving for 8 months with only one set of clothing (the set that I wear every single day), I figured it was time to splash out and get a second set.

After all action, I was hungry. As hungry as a wasp…

A wasp chowing down on something outside mall near Legnano, Italy

I chowed down like a hungry school boy on the bread rolls and boiled eggs and other goodies that Shirley had ever so very kindly prepared for me this morning.

The shopping spree took most of the afternoon, so when I finally emerged from the extra-sensory abuse that was the mall, I rode off after the quick meal in a daze into the fading sun towards Castano Primo, a small town in the general direction of the Ticino River.

Bridge in Castano Primo, Italy

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Day 270 – ITALY: Serengo
4 19th, 2007 | categorizilation: all categories,Italy
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I have spent today sitting inside using Yuri and Shirley’s internet that they have kindly let me use. I have updated the last few days of cycling through Italy, with a few decent shots of churches…

There is something that I would really like some help on however. I am trying to put together a powerpoint presentation with some of the best photos of the trip so far. I am trying to choose at the most 50 photos (preferably less) that sum up the journey so far.

Here is what I have chosen after going through the 1,300 photos I have online:


(this link will take you to a special page with small images showing the photos I have chosen so far)

There are 97 photos here. But what a hard choice. I am trying to choose photos that do the following:

  • Move the viewer. Make them feel something strong inside.
  • Show life on the road.
  • Inspire.

For me, every single photo that I have uploaded during this trip moves me. For me, every photo has a story attached. But you can’t show 1,300 photos to an audience. They’d go home bored out of their chairs…

What photos have inspired or moved you? Even a vague description like “the one with the clouds and horses” will help.

Thank you!

Rob in Piazza Del Duomo, Milano, Italy


In other news, I was accepted by Village Camps to be a spring outdoor education camp counsellor this spring in Anzere, Switzerland. The location is near Lake Geneva. Therefore, the plan is to work with Village Camps over the spring and possibly summer, and then carry on to England once the contract at Village Camps is finished. I will still update this website once weekly with a weekly report during the camp period.

I start at Village Camps on the 29th of April. Till then, it’s all mountains! Bring on some tough climbing and fast downhills!

The Swiss Alps await…


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Day 269 – ITALY: From Milano to Serengo
4 18th, 2007 | categorizilation: all categories,Italy
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I left early again from my sleep spot in the field after a very good deep sleep.

Sleeping spot in freshly cultivated field 10km south of Milano, Italy

And then the joys of not having a guide book struck again. I had no idea that this existed until I rounded the corner. I let out an “ooof” kind of sound as I entered the Piazza Duomo.

Il Duomo di Milano, Milano, Italy

I mean, this thing is incredible. The spikey bits look as though you could throw a stone at them, and they would fall off their stools. Amazing that it has survived.

Inside of Il Duomo di Milano, Milano, Italy

The interior is breathtaking. How long it must have taken to carve just the floor pieces I can’t imagine. The whole interior and exterior of the Il Duomo di Milano is under refurbishing, but wow. Just wow.

Restoration work inside Il Duomo di Milano, Milano, Italy

Stained glass windows, embalmed bodies of dead priests, what a place.

Stained glass windows in Il Duomo di Milano, Milano, Italy

The wonder did not end once outside of the church. The galleria to the north of the Piazza Duomo is like walking though a time machine. If not for all the tourists, you’d think you had walked back in time. The glass roof is enchanting.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II roof, Milano, Italy

Earlier in the week, I had received an email from an old aquaitance from my time in Japan. Shirley was doing the same job as me in another small town in southern Japan, as Coordinator for International Relations. She and her husband, Yuri, now live in Serengo, about 20km north of Milano. We arranged to meet up when I passed through the area, and I stayed the night with them tonight.

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