Saturday 20 October 2012

Hiking, by the numbers...

So, we went for a lovely hike today - a ramble, a stroll, what's that, a slog through soggy cow poop filled pastures and shoe sucking mud, a lovely walk through Surrey.  It was a very organised walk.  I found it on the internet.  One of the local walking groups created it.  Funny thing about these walking groups.  They are very thorough.  Very.  The directions were written out in loving detail, and, believe it or not, were, for the most part, correct.  Two tiny little flaws, however.  The first was their thoroughness.  As I'm the one that found the hike, it was my job to follow the directions.  This meant walking through mud, over branches, climbing over fences and trying not to trip on rocks while carrying several sheets of paper with over 70 highly detailed and precisely measured directions.  Try hiking and reading at the same time and not walking into an azalea.  It's difficult.  The directions were also very important because there was no accompanying map, and given that we were in the deepest, darkest depths of Surrey (home of rich people and Land Rovers), there was also no phone signal.  So, without the excessively detailed directions, we were pretty much stuffed, and would have probably gotten lost and had to eat each other, though I suppose that might not have been very likely.  Well, anyway, we would have gotten lost and gotten crabby and I would have gotten a bit load of crap from everyone else about my poor navigational skills, which is very nearly as bad as cannibalism.

Anyway, it was a lovely walk.  We took an early (for us) train down to Holmwood, which is just south of one of my favourite places - Dorking.  From there we meandered through residential streets before setting off across fields and eventually up to the top of Leith Hill, which, at 900 and some feet, is apparently the highest place in South East England, outside of Vauxhall on a weekend night!  (Ha ha!).  It was murky and a bit foggy, so the stupendous views from the top were a bit, um, limited, but still, it being England, there were clusters of muddy mountain bikers and several families sitting around on logs drinking tea and hot cocoa, purchased from the kiosk in the fairly ancient looking Leith Tower.  Apparently, the Danes got their asses whupped on Leith Hill back in 851, when there were probably fewer mountain bikers cluttering up the trails.  There was quite a bit more walking through forest, and then, very importantly, a pub lunch.  I have learned in the years I've lived here that an absolute prerequisite for a successful hike is the presence of a pub at some point.  A pub-less hike is simply a forced march through mud infested undergrowth and is always best to be avoided.  We kind of wussed out on the last 3 miles of the hike as it was getting late, we were very muddy, and we stumbled across a bus, whose imminent arrival only 30some minutes later surely saved us seconds or more on our total time.

It was a good day.  The weather was properly autumnal (slightly crappy but not overly so), the mud was of sufficient British hiking quality, the pub allowed dirty clothes and no one slipped and fell in the goo.

Tomorrow I'm off to cycle to Brighton and, hopefully, to get a few job applications done in the evening.  I made the possible mistake of getting a slightly narrower seat than I had before on my bike - I thought it was exactly the same, but apparently it's 1 size narrower.  I do sincerely hope that I'm not muffin topping over the edges the whole way there, or its going to be a very uncomfortable ride...

Tuesday 16 October 2012

On the art of being a dumbass...

So yeah, rule number one for anyone who isn't 5 years old at work is not to send sarcastic bitchy remarks about someone or some organisation to someone else, and then helpfully forward their reply back to the organisation in question without remembering to remove the sarcastic, bitchy comment about their general uselessness.  When one does not do this, many aggrieved emails have a tendency to fly above one's head to one's manager and sundry other managers involved, interested or generally in the same postcode, which then requires that one sends an apology email ("no, I didn't really mean to say that you are a useless piece of crap, I was in a moment of stress, my dog died, the planets were misaligned, I was way out of order, and boy was I a silly dumbass to forward you the comment in the first place").  One then has to have a boring meeting about one's professionalism (where one spends the whole time thinking, well at least I said what I and everyone else thinks), and then one dreads the next meeting one has to have with said stupid organisation, as it will be uncomfortable and one might have to listen to how the email was upsetting, misleading and offensive, all the while pretending like one really didn't mean to say all that, when in actuality one did (though one is glad one didn't say words like poopy or fart or mention any specific names).  This is all highly theoretical of course.  I read this in a book, which I then promptly burned and forgot.



So it's been back to work, and back to thinking, what the hell am I doing with my life and in this place.  Two and a half weeks of complete and total (and, as it turns out very damn expensive) freedom kind of comes crashing down in a big pile of poo.  I think I have been going about my job searching all wrong - I'm not quite sure how I've been doing it wrong, but as I've been entirely unsuccessful, that could be my first indication that something has been amiss.  I'm trying to open up my mind to other types of jobs in other areas, to not try to stick to GIS, per se, as that search has been entirely fruitless.  Trying to think about what skills, in a very general sort of way, do I have - what do I like to do.  How can I get an interesting, well paying job without having to pay for more education, which just isn't going to happen.  Speaking of education, I didn't get the fellowship.  I don't know why - they still haven't responded to my request for feedback.  That did kind of feel like my ticket out of my current rut though, and it didn't happen.  And, honestly, I feel pretty deflated about it.  Yeah, I meant everything I said in my bitchy sentence in my informal email.  I meant all of it.  I'm tired of pinheaded little people who will only do what is requested of them through the chain of command - the deadweight bureaucratic heirarchy of more than my job's worth did you fill in the proper form for this load of crap.  I am in completely the wrong environment, drowning just a little bit more each day in forms and paperwork.  I must get out, but I don't know how.  It's sort of like a big, impersonal, aspiration eating plant, local government - it all seems so comfortable and stable, so predictable, and then you slip in, years pass, and your realise, oh my god, I don't have a clue how to get out.  I could be come a lifer, stuck at the top of my puny little paygrade until the end of time, content in my little corner of Middle England.  Yep, need to get out - but first need to figure out how...

Oh, speaking of poo, on a lighter note, one of my work colleagues has this large peace lily next to his desk, in a pot, in a white terracotta thingie.  I noticed that the peace lily was suddenly turning yellow, so I thought, hmm, time to transplant.  So, I went out at lunch today and bought a pot at the supercraptastic hardware store that never has anything other than paint and mops.  I brought the pot back and decided to get started (as we have a bag of soil in the office from a previous plant adventure).  First step - lift the pot out of the terracotta thingie.  Well, it turns out that work colleague had been pretty religious about watering the plant.  In fact, he had been so religious that the plant was actually sitting about 4 inches of what turned out to be extradordinarily foul smelling, rotting and very hot water, which somehow had been sealed off from the air (and from our noses) by the side of the pot.  Quite a lot of this water gushed out onto the windowsill, the floor and work colleague's football shoes, and the smell, oh the smell.  The entire floor of the office building smelled like, well, like a brontosaurus had simultaneously pooped and expired into a fetid swamp (pretty sure it was a brontosaurus).  Work colleague wasn't entirely pleased about this little stinky turn of events, but, as I pointed out, it was actually his own damn fault for watering the plant every day and drowning it!  Anyway, that did provide for 15 or so minutes of amusement at lunchtime (and probably helped with a number of people's diets as well). :-)

Yep, back to normal.

Sunday 7 October 2012

On the train again, just glad to be out of the rain again...

So, back to my usual location of typing these things... I'm on the 0723 from Bern to Paris, which I caught with at least 90 secs to spare. Unlike British trains, on most of the long distance European ones you have to disassemble your bike and put it in a bag, then cram it in with all the other luggage. I have a special bag for this I bought in Switzerland (of course), but it still means it takes me 20 mins to take the whole thing apart, then out this great big unwieldy thing onto the train and find a space for it. Needless to say, when one arrives at the train station at 0657, one is pushing one's luck ever so slightly. No matter. I have a group of excessively boisterous for this hour German speaking Swiss blathering away behind me, who sound like they have a collective phlegm problem. I'm so tired I just want to curl up on the floor, but, unfortunately, as I am such a princess, the chance of me actually sleeping is zero. Sigh. Anyway, I had a lovely 2 days staying with Kathleen in Bern, a place so excessively cute I'm surprised it's legal. It was 87 miles from Zurich to Bern. I whined to Kathleen that it seemed to be uphill most of the way. She said that I must be mistaken, as I would have just followed the Safe, which would have been quite flat. Unfortunately, I took the more scenic route, which opened up onto a glorious vista of the last dying rays of sun on Bern, but also meant a lot of unnecessary climbing at the end of a long day in the dark. This was nearly made up for, however, by the chance encounter of the Lindt factory. Come to momma! Probably for the best, however, I was limited in what I to what I wanted to schlep on my bike. That night, after Kathleen, hostess with the mostest, cooked me dinner, we went out for a drink with a very young, newly out as "bisexual" work colleague of hers, and I was just about able to string sentences together. Yesterday, I hung out with Kathleen in the morning, then biked off to Interlaken when she went to play volleyball. That was a route of truly Sound of Music amazing scenery, and I had to stop at least 987 times to take pictures. Interlaken itself is overrun with Chinese and Indian tourists. Kathleen says that, for the Indians at least, this is because it is the setting of many Bollywood mooves, as they can't film in Kashmir. Who knew? I chatted with another cyclist on the train back. He had just done 230km and 2 passes that day. Made me feel like a weenie. Of course, his bike was made of helium, but still... K and I went for Swiss food last night and I had veal sausage, which was delicious. I'm sure that baby cow can be happy knowing how yummy it was, as I bury my guilt. And now I'm back on the train, surrounded by annoying people. I do intend to come back to Switzerland to cycle though. Smooth rooads, polite drivers, no glass, scenery out the wazoo. What's not to love? Hmm, the train stops and sits for 15 minutes at some pissant nothing of a station in a god forsaken town in southeastern France. Here's a novel idea..., leave 15 minutes later? I'm sure the French have their strange, impenetrable reasons for this... ;-) Hmm, apparently the passport control on the train works like the 2nd border control north of San Diego. It's really more of a brown person check... And the delay was for a 2nd train to attach. My original suggestion still stands though... Oh, and old French woman who thinks dominoes a great game to play on the train, in the quiet car. Yeah baby, travelling 12th class is the way to go!

Thursday 4 October 2012


So yeah. I just scarfed down most of one of those large Lindt chocolate bars, after eating the little tiramisu cup I bought as my dainty little dessert at the supermarket. If I lived here, were it not for.the fact that I would be compelled to hike and bike and zorb and hula hoop or whatever every 5 minutes I would likely be the size of the Matterhorn. Fortunately, I live in England, where it is much easier to find more average, non gluttony inspiring food. ;-) So speaking of food, I had dinner at I guess the equivalent of a greasy spoon diner, where the schinken something unpronounceable dinner turned out to be delicious pork, noodles, veggies and some sort of rye slimy stuff soup best not investigated too closely. It was tasty too. The wikitravel guide recommended this place in its cheap eats, but warned that it was in the red light district, meaning, of course, that I had to go. Usually, I manage to stumble into the cruising park in every city I visit. That's what I get for walking. Anyway, I'd missed it here, so figured this was my chance to see a less salubrious side of Switzerland. So, I walked there too. There were a few seedy cinemas, some vaguely sketchy looking bars, a number of middle aged men who seem to have gotten lost (individually lost), but no obvious hookers and I only got wolf whistled once! And to think I had even shaved. The restaurant, well, it was brown. So was the food. In fact, the decor had all the general charm of a bus station and the Indians running the place seemed a bit blase about the whole thing. There were a number of individual older men, mostly reading the paper. I ordered menu item 4 (it was called that, and then a bunch or crap in German) and it was delicious. Gambrinus, I think the place was called. So, after, I took the tram down to the train station to go to the big supermarket to get my lunch food for tomorrow. Past the Lindt pick and mix, stopping in the salami aisle. Yeah, there basically was an aisle. Salami is good cycle lunch meat bc you can leave it out all day and it doesn't get any more questionable. Same with cheese. And of course there's 987 different types of stinky cheese as well. Oh the food is so yummy here! Don't get me started on the bread. So, anyway, there was no biking today. I just wandered around Zurich. I was, unfortunately, a zombie much of the day. The cafe downstairs only closes at midnight, and the person in the apartment got up for work at 0617. Ugh. Hopefully tonight will be better. In my dazed state, I walked all over the city, which gets a bit uncomfortable on cycle shoes, even cycle shoes made for walking. It's a lovely city, Zurich. Everything seems to just function properly and the people are polite and nice. Even the wineos at the train station seemed content to have their own little private conversations. I went in the requisite number of pretty churches. I took pics in the Catholic one, hut none in the dour, but quite beautiful evangelical Protestant one, as their God gets pissy about photos. I walked in circles many times. I decided I was, as much as possible, going to do the day without the aid of a map. Fun when you aren't trying to get anywhere. And now I am back in the room, I've done my hand laundry (dried my only shorts this morning by wearing them) and just maybe exhaustion will drown out the various annoying noises in the building and I will sleep. Yeah right. Like that's ever happened...

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Somewhere in here must he a WiFi signal!

So, tonight is from a pension in Zurich. Pension bc Zurich is outrageously expensive and this wasn't so bad. The only real issue is a shared bathroom and wc. You just never think about how annoying this is until actually presented with random stranger using the bathroom that you just laid a lot of money for!  Argh. Anyway, I've done my laundry in the sink with my tube of travel detergent. Must find more of that. Great stuff. I kind of lost in the dinner department tonight. I managed to soak my only pair of non cycling.shorts, so had to wait for them to dry (wore them for extra drying speed), and then finally wandered out. I ended up with Burger King, which I mostly scarred down at the tram stop. Fail. Central Zurich seemed to be full of drunk people, which might be bc they set up an Octoberfest tent in the train station. Hmm. I thought they only did that in Germany. Thought they would have the Our Trains Run on Time and We're Rich fest or something like that here instead. The other minor nitpick about this pension is that it's over a sort of cool post-studenty type bar. Oh well. Maybe I should camp? Today started in Andermatt, a squishably cute ski town at the foot of.several passes I've not yet cycled over. I started my screaming descent past the something famous I've now forgotten the name of bridge where some battle happened that involved Russians, in 1799. I don't know, it was in funny German, and, of course, I can't possibly look it up in Wikipedia. Down and down and down, through many tunnels and switchbacks, and through a number of chocolate box cuteworthy towns. There was a lot of traffic, as there aren't so many roads, and the cycle facilities were sometimes a bit spotty. However, they were very well signed and drivers very respectful of bikes. Actually, the Italian drivers were as well, even though some of the roads were pretty appalling. It's just southern English drivers, especially London. Honestly, is it that difficult not to be a complete  dick? Anyway, I finally left the mountains as I neared Zurich. Still pretty good cycling infrastructure and sensible drivers, though my god there are a lot of tram tracks! Tomorrow will be interesting, wandering around the city. Tonight, hopefully, I will sleep! Oh, one other thing I thought was interesting was how completely Gotthard Pass separates southern and northern Europe. Culture, climate, vegetation, everything. I'm in German Switzerland now, and even this morning, I was back to northern European, meaty breakfast. I wouldn't have thought it would have made such a large difference, especially within one country, but there you go!

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Flat on my ass, staring at the ceiling again!

So yeah, I'm in my little hotel room in Andermatt, listening to some crap interview with Larry Ellison, who really is just so seriously irritating he needs to be hit by an asteroid. The woman interviewing him is just lapping him up. Apparently he would like to buy the Lakers. Cretin. Anyway, I think I managed to completely and totally exhaust myself today. I mean totally. I cycled from Bellinzona to Andermatt, up over Gotthard Pass (6920 or so feet). I thought, hey, 55 miles. Piece of cake. Mountain pass? I'll have 2 please! Ha! The real killer about Gotthard Pass is you spend miles and miles heading up this lovely glaciated valley. Sort of like Yosemite but with farms and towns. There are some long grades and you think, hey, this isn't so bad. 40 miles of this. And then you reach the head of the valley, and 7 miles of pure agony. At least 3000 feet of climbing, several dozen hairpins, and... and... the road splits. There is the nice, smooth car road, and there is the old road, the bike road. It's cobbled. 7 miles of cobbles and absolutely endless uphill. The road climbs way up above timberline and the wind seems to blow in all directions at once. It took me almost 2 hours to climb to the top, trying to get there before sundown. I actually didn't think I was going to make it. I decided to just keep going because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to start again if I stopped. It was the first time in a long time I felt totally alone, I suppose, in part, because generally I was. I was so happy to reach the top, where I stopped briefly, had a few cookies for sugar, and put on every layer I had for the screaming, terrifying downhill on the north side, rolling into Andermatt as the last of the light failed. Would I do Gotthard again? Yeah. Would I take the cobbled road? Hell no! Anyway, Andermatt is the first German speaking town, and even though it's the same company, it feels totally different. The Italian part, well, it felt a bit like Disney Italy, to be honest. There was a noticeable, immediate difference crossing the border. Pays being a tax haven, I guess. Yesterday. Well, yesterday didn't go entirely to plan, but what does? I had to take the train the last 20 miles to Bellinzona, as I got to Lugano too late. I pretty seriously underestimated the shittiness of Italian roads. Oh well, live and learn. My morning was spent going to the supermarket, where I made the mortal sin of trying to buy an individual banana. Lots of Italian. Some gesticulating. Whatever. Stuff your banana. Tried to go to a bike store. Closed on Monday. Of course. Well, closed anyway. Closed on Monday? Who knows? There were no signs. Just shutters. I managed to get out of Milan, which was a lite hair raising, but not quite the carmegedon I feared. Flat plains with random development. Corn. Dinky, bumpy roads with loads of cars. Honestly, where do all these people go? The land started to roll slightly. Loads of oak forests. Not that unlike the Sacramento Valley. And then, all of a sudden, mountains! Not sort of parenthetical mountains, the sort of feeling you get when you start to drive into the Sierra, but more the holy crap of the Front Range of the Rockies. Not so surprising, given that the Alps and the Rockies are similar in their formation, I guess. I made it as far as Lugano, which is just dripping with money, then had to take the train, as I was afraid of ending up on the road in the dark. Got to my slightly depressing hotel room in Bellinzona, only to discover that Switzerland has silly electrical plugs! I asked at the front desk, and got that sort of blase, eh, you're fucked response that one comes to love and expect from staff at cheap hotels. Fortunately, the nice lady at the expensive hotel let me charge my phone and GPS there while I had dinner. Had to buy an adaptor this morning, which made today a bit late as well. Last thought, this ride is proving a completely different beast than the last one. Yeah, no duh, its in a different place, but really, it's much more stressful. The last one I just sort of fell into a comfortable routine. Coffee and cake at 3. Not this one. It's too unpredictable. Plus, I suppose, it's easy to just blend into and float through Germanic culture for me. Not so Italian. Much more work. Anyway, it will be interesting to see if that changes now that I'm in the German speaking part of Switzerland. Right. My thumbs are tired, as am I. Off to bed!