Archive for September, 2009

The Prime Meridian is Also Wrong!

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Further to my equatorial adventures I can confirm that they’ve also gotten it wrong in Greenwich. 00° W is not actually on the line in the Royal Observatory; it’s about 120m out.


Luckily, the real meridian is in the park rather than behind the observatory’s entry fee, right next to the hot dog van. So you can all enjoy longitude 00°00′00” at no cost!

(00°00′00” For real:)

Turns out it’s actually the GPS system that is wrong. Wikipedia explains that the first GPS systems extrapolated from their origin in the US midwest, and the accuracy was such that by the time you’d rounded the planet to Greenwich, you were a few hundred feet out. Pity, but I guess they’ll need to relocate the Royal Observatory because those satellites won’t change their tune in a hurry.

It’s also amusing that when many countries were arguing over who should own the one true prime meridian, England won and France abstained from the vote ;-)

Versailles and Western France

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009


We’re officially back on the euro-tourist circuit. It’s a bit of shock to be surrounded by hordes of massive-camera toting europeans prepared to pay 4€ for a shitty coffee. Also interesting that in many places the man-made beauty (grand buildngs, mostly) outshine the natural features. Up until Europe we generally found the reverse.

There’s not much point waxing lyrical about big ticket items like Versailles; wikipedia will do a much better job. But the weather played nice and gave us some great photos:





And the Chateau:

Dad in the abbey at Mont Saint-Michel:

And my Facebook persona spotted on the coast in St-Malo…

More dessert, French-stylee:

Half Way Round

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009


Part two of the trip begins in London. The numbers thus far: 4 months, 11 countries, 17 flights, 59 different beers, 5200 photos.

We’ve also reached our most northerly point at 51 degrees, coming right after Rio our most southerly point at 22 degrees. We’re a little more than halfway round the globe now.

Arriving in the highly developed old world of Europe didn’t present too much contrast, coming as we had from a couple of the most developed cities in Latin America. The good fortune of a Business Class upgrade on British Airways courtesy of longtime friend of my fathers also helped ease us into the luxuries of home.


Well, home away from home – we’ve stayed at my parents house in London for a couple of weeks now, and have really enjoyed the break from a traveling lifestyle. It feels a bit like cheating actually, to enjoy all the comforts of home (and then some!) when you’re midway through the epic adventure. But we’d be kidding ourselves to pretend we’d been especially roughing it anyway.


I had been kidding myself about how much work I expected to get done whilst stationary in London. Despite some of the fastest Internet, best coffee and fewest distractions of the entire trip, my progress was decidedly lackluster.


And seeing as I’m sitting in the back of Dad’s car somewhere in France writing this, and that we’ve booked up most of the rest of our days in London plus an onward flight (to Berlin) less than two weeks from today, not much is likely to get done. Oh well. Luckily some good people are on the case.

Time has once again run away from us, and brought the realization that 11 months isn’t actually all that much time in which to traipse around the planet. We’re continuing to ruthlessly cut items from the itinerary, most notably (and disappointingly) Spain & Morocco.


Standing in the queue at Versailles yesterday I offered some small advice on French vocabulary in Spanish to a couple of Argentines, and lamented that we’ll miss the opportunity to make use of our relatively competent Spanish ability again on the trip.

We’ll be back from France for a final week in the UK, before continuing eastward to Berlin, and eventually southward onto, presumably, southern Europe and eventually the Middle East.

(les escargots in Versaille. Every bit as good as they look)

Our initial, vague, and admittedly poorly considered plans were to buy a couple bicycles and cycle through a sizable swathe of Europe. On paper you’ll agree this is a particularly awesome idea. When it finally came down to working on the logistics I was forced to admit that we’ve arrived far too late in the season for this to make sense. Cycle touring Europe seems to be about Central Europe, long summer days, and well equipped camp sites. Or short loops in France.

I was pretty disappointed to arrive at this realization – cycling is one of the things I’m missing most whilst traveling. Plus we were kind of hoping to have free rein to eat as much as we liked for a couple of weeks ;-) Even our fairly zealous jogging schedule doesn’t afford that.


Even without buying bikes, though, things are about to get a whole lot more expensive…

(At the baths in.. Bath)

Rio de Janeiro

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009


There’s no doubt that Rio’s glory days are behind it. The short story is that in the 60s the capital of Brazil was moved from Rio to a planned city (named Brasilia), and the sudden absence of power and influence led to a decline that, combined with mass migration of rural poor to the urban outskirts (favelas), ended Rio’s days as the exotic holiday destination for Europe’s elite.


The negatives notwithstanding, Rio remains a jaw-dropping place to arrive. The rock formations spanning both the coastline, and densely forested inland, topped with the perennially famous statue “Cristo Redentor” delivers arguably the most amazing urban setting of any city. It truly is “a cidade marvillhosa”.


There’s only a handful of places where you can wander around thinking: “I’m in Rio!”. Well actually, there’s only one. Few cities have real brand recognition, places that are exciting simply in and of themselves; New York, London, Rio are some obvious examples.


We had a nice taste of this when we shared a car from Ilha Grande back to Rio for our final day there, with an English couple who were arriving for the first time. Having spent over a week in Rio already, we weren’t enthused by the skyline shrouded in dreary cloud, but these two got quite excited at what they saw. The could see through the pollution, slums – urban reality – and were captured by the exotic flavors beneath.


It’s disheartening that such a spectacular place can be ground into submission by traffic and congestion. Enormous multi lane highways, often duplicated in parallel, snake alongside Rio’s greatest seaside treasures.

Remarkably though, an extensive and high quality series of cycling infrastructure also skirts the beaches, and connects a number of attractive & tourist friendly places. We spent a great day exploring the extents of the bike paths, despite their proximity to the highways.


I was struck at what a tough climate this place must have in summer; 30 degrees and sunburn was the order of this (mid winter) day. Humidity and extreme heat probably does detract from Rio’s identity as a cycle-friendly city. Although they have just launched a public bike system fittingly named “Samba”. Not available to non-Brazilian credit card holders, of course, much like their infuriating budget air carrier “Gol”.


After a week and a half spent ticking most of the major tourist items (sadly missing out on the helicopter ride) we headed off to nearby Ilha Grande for another taste of tropical island paradise.


Ilha Grande

The place certainly met the paradise expectation if a little lacking in the tropics this time of year. Despite spending most of the time indoors due to rain, I can confirm that this place is the most beautiful and well preserved inhabited island we’ve visited – and bear in mind we’ve visited 15 of them so far on this trip.


Once of the stranger aspects of Ilha is that prices for food, lodging, activities are lower than on the mainland. There’s just two ferries per day traveling here, so it’s a legitimately remote location, and yet you don’t feel like you’re being gouged for the privilege. Unusual.


In fact it’s the first island we’d really like to return to, owing to its abundance of forests, great beaches, hiking trails, 100% car free environment, attractive small scale development, reasonable prices, etc, etc. Not an easy place to get to from, well, just about anywhere in the world where most of the people reading this live.



And so ended our final stop in the Americas. Brazil is a difficult place to summarize, not least because we experienced such a tiny fraction of it. Having been mostly at the end of our tether in Latin America we weren’t especially looking forward to Brazil, attendant as it is with language barriers and serious crime issues.


In hindsight, though, we’re very glad for the experience. It offered a lot of contrast, great food (by the kilo or all you can eat ;-), beautiful people, fascinating language and culture, magic scenery and the exciting bustle of a country on a mission. I wonder how different it will look next time we go.


Footnote: Turns out in Portuguese, the letter “r” has pronunciation equivalent to the letter “h” in English. Imagine discovering the correct pronunciation of such well known nouns as “Hio de Janeiro”, and the football player “Honaldo”.