Hmmm. A bit of an enigma to me still. Part magical, part scary, part whimsical, part dismal. Wales is characterised by the small town. The buildings in villages would be very closely clustered together, like they were in a huddle to form a solid core against the unknowns of the wider natural world.
Wales is where the most fantastic inspiration struck me however. I know it’s ridiculous, but I hope I keep it in my mind so that one day the fire will spontaneously light in my belly and I will carry it out despite all cost and trouble. See, ’tis a land in possession of fantastic hills; on the bus ride from Snowdonia to Pembrokeshire we passed through terrain consisting purely of undulations as far as the eye could see. Up, down,……..then UP, then down down down DOWN….then dowwwwwwn……..then uuuuuuuuppp…. Oh, it was great because they had some fair height while still seeming not unseasonably steep. Seeing how far this landscape stretched and how empty these green hills were, nothing but unadulterated grass and a sky in cahoots… Already visualising the preparation phase, I saw a relief map of the area and markers identifying individual settlements. I imagined discussing it with some official, nodding my head and saying “yes, yes, so I’ll have to talk to this farmer over here… and then go over to that farm over there… because I’ll need access through these sections here…” It would be arranged for a short defined period of time that I had free access to the landscape for the purpose of freely running up and down the rises and the slopes. It would be perfect. This would be no cross-country marathon or display of human dedication, the strength of one person’s will. It would be absent of any envisioning of pushing the body’s limits and discovering hidden reserves. It would be running freely, openly, unfetteredly over hills! Not having to stop until I got tired, not having any target or purpose or goalpost. Just going to keep going, because there’s nothing else but playing and more playing.
A small nugget in brain informs me that this is a crazy plan. But the bulk of it remembers how I felt sitting on the bus staring wide-eyed in wonder at the potential of that landscape. So empty… so little used, so little traversed, and likely even less so for the purpose of fun. So much potential! We would be so perfect together, me and those Welsh hills.
Places visited: Llwyngwril , Abersoch, Dolgellau, Machynlleth, Fishguard, St. David’s and St. David’s Peninsula, around St. Brides Bay
Goodness. Of the “Simple” variety rather than the “Golly Gosh My” strain.
It was a good place to have as a base. Just being on a train back into the country, seeing that particular scenery and hearing the character of Schwiizerduetsch being spoken softly around me was reassuring and made me happy. I imagine that if you don’t have a feeling for the “goodness” then you’re apt to see it as boring. I really appreciated how clean and looked after the environment was, it didn’t come off as anal to me. In the Bollywood films of my childhood Switzerland was the epitome of perfection and luxury – sure in a material way but even more importantly in a natural world way. It’s like how tourists come to NZ and marvel at how “unspoilt” and beautiful it is, more than that I think their reactions are being influenced largely by how this unspoiltness makes them feel – rather than the literal sight of something pretty alone. Then they go back to the home they continue to desecrate and remark about how special NZ is, as if it’s some anomaly of the world especially anointed by God to serve as a model of perfection. ??? Anyway. Switzerland feels good because the space you move around in as you do your living is easy to navigate around, clear, clean and very aesthetically appealing. I imagine some Scandinavian countries compare well to this type of experience.
One of my best experiences was definitely the Glacier Express train, from Zermatt to St. Moritz. If you can only breeze through Switzerland I would highly highly recommend taking this one trip. Regular train rides through Switzerland are scenic and enjoyable as a general rule, however what makes this journey exceptional is a combination of the gorgeous outside world and the ambience of the inside of the train. The windows are huge and stretch all the way up to the ceiling, making the whole trip feel like you are actually outside, somehow smoothly gliding across the land upon a magical armchair. The seats are arranged around a table in groups of four, and it is sooooo spacious and airy inside. Yup, I am talking 2nd class here. I fell easily into zen, swallowed up by relaxation, pleasure streaming through each of my senses. At one point I had a trippy moment when we passed through a tunnel, causing me to stare as the surface of the reflective black walls seemed to wobble inwards and outwards, the unstable barrier heralding entry to another reality. “Woooo-oooh……..” I marvelled with a low-key curiosity, too blissed out to worry about the possibility that my body was soon to disintegrate into gazillions of tiny disorganised particles.
Places visited: Solothurn, Bärn (Bern), Luzern, Chur, Lausanne, Züri (Zurich), Lugano, Locarno, Valle Maggia, Val Bavona, Val Verzasca, Poschiavo, San Murezzan (St. Moritz), Swiss National Park, Santa Maria Val Müstair, Müstair, Maienfeld, Jungfraujoch (Top of Europe 2007), Zermatt, Thun, Jura, Montreux – Château Chillon