The Climber waved me goodbye from the glass and chrome Berlin Hauptbahnhof and off I zoomed on a comfortable German train. Unfortunately the comfort only lasted about 20 minutes until someone came to sit in my seat. It turns out that there is a step in the booking process where you are supposed to secure an actual seat number and we’d somehow missed that. So, true to form, I rode the rest of the way sickly curled up in a ball in front of the toilet compartment. I did so calling showers of blessings on my genius self for having booked a night at the Sheraton at Frankfurt Airport. I struggled off the train and into the waiting arms of a proper hotel complete with fluffy bed, big clean bath and room service. If I felt miserably sick at least I was clean, well slept and miserably sick.
The flight was fairly uneventful. My tummy hurt most of the way: I got fairly good at ignoring it (yay for mediative breathing techniques) but was extremely pleased to eventually land (after bunny hops through the Middle East and Perth) in Adelaide. It was really wonderful to see my Mum, her husband (the Bicycle Bandit) and an Aunty and cousin who had come to get me. Honestly though, I was pretty glum about the trip ending and kept thinking that I wasn’t really sick or in enough pain to warrant missing out on India.
In a classic case of getting what you foolishly wish for, by the second night at home my tummy pain was starting to become a little overwhelming. It wasn’t particularly excruciating, it was just that I was so tired and weak that I couldn’t bully/meditate myself into not feeling it any more. At about 10pm we decided that, to be on the safe side, we should head to the hospital. The Bicycle Bandit was quite sure that I had appendicitis because of where the pain was (he had it himself…that being the entirety of his medical training). Mum thought that was unlikely – how could the German hospital have missed something so obvious for four whole days?
We had the usual sign in thing and the waiting with the ill and weird (and both). I got given some kind of totally awesome painkiller and from that point on everything got kind of fuzzy.
I do recall getting to lie down in a bed (yay!) and my mumsie sitting with me for ages. A few different doctors came and went and I had to give my medical history fifty times. They had fun with my German hospital discharge summary and Google Translate. Eventually it seemed like nothing more would happen that night and so Mum went home and left me to snooze between painkillers.
Those nice little tablets more or less wiped out the whole of the next day as well. The only thing I clearly remember is that at about 2am the following night a nice surgeon came to tell me that she was pretty sure that I had appendicitis. 1 to Bicycle Bandit, 0 to Naila Hospital. She wanted me to sign some forms and then she would operate – “In the morning?”, “No, now. You should probably call your Mum”. Uh oh.
So off they wheeled me to the surgical prep area. Getting my contacts out proved to be something of a drama, as did finding a contact lens case (or perhaps I was focussing on the solvable issues…ha ha). And then into the big white room with the machine that goes ‘ping’ and doctors and nurses in scrubs and the needle and the count down and I’m feeling so heavy and blink.. blink.. blink.
I woke up in an enormous post op room, just two nurses and me. The conversation was kind of weird; I kept floating in and out of it. I could hear what they were saying and knew when it was my turn to respond but I couldn’t get the thoughts and words together quickly enough to say anything. I’d blub blub down into the cool water of not-listening then make another effort to swim up to the conversation, realise it was my turn to say something and maybe get something out or float down again to try next time. I suspect I wasn’t exactly a scintillating conversationalist. They’re probably used to that.
Eventually I must have been wheeled up to the ward. The nurse told me not to worry about overdosing on the painkillers because the machine (you click a little thing and drugs go into your veins) had a safety thing on it. I distinctly recall thinking “That consideration did not even enter my mind…click.click.click”.
The surgeons and their student sidekicks came to say hello and poke me a few times. I discovered that my innards now lacked both an appendix and 17 cm of large intestine. I also discovered that the appendix had completely perforated (i.e. exploded/disintegrated) and there was a crazy infection. This meant that when they got to making the second incision for the proposed laparoscopic surgery they held their scalpels up in horror and said “By Jove! This is revolting and I can’t see a thing! Let’s get out the big knife and open her up navel to pubis: yeeha!” (I paraphrase). It turns out that hacking (or even delicately cutting, with enviable precision) through your stomach muscles, down to your organs, isn’t totally great for said muscles which are, in their turn, quite useful for rolling over, sitting, standing etc. On the bright side, I hadn’t died of septicaemia (when the infection gets into your blood stream and kills you in a couple of presumably very unpleasant days) because a phlegmon had formed and walled off the infection. A phlegmon is basically a big ball of infected pus and disgustingness. Yay for phlegie!
At the time though, I wasn’t terribly interested in all this butcher-shop talk. My primary concern was trying to stay drugged and asleep so it would all go away. This wasn’t always possible and I have vivid memories of being agonisingly lifted and wheeled places in the middle of the night, on a number of occasions, because something was terribly wrong. I actually can’t remember what exactly was wrong but the pain was intense. Being gently bumped felt like someone stomping on me with jackboots and being lifted from my bed onto the table was totally excruciating – every very nerve ending screaming. At some point I managed to get vomit/random liquid on my lungs (charming, I know) and so a rugby team of nurses shoved a rather large tube down my throat to my lungs. My little eyes were bugging out of my face and I was thinking “this is seriously not happening, seriously this is not happening”.
And where was the Climber during all of this, you ask? Trying to get into Berghain and clubbing in Berlin. Damn him.
My Daddy came for a visit though, which was lovely. I knew I looked pretty awful when he took one look and his eyes got all glassy and teary – and I didn’t even have the tube in anymore! At least I felt justified in feeling crap (my line of reasoning being that if I look terrible enough to make my Dad cry I truly deserve to be in hospital). And of course my darling Mum was there every day to cluck cluck over her little chick. They were awesome.
Little by little I started to get better and the number of bibs and bobs sticking into me reduced in number and ferocity. First the ghastly throat tube, then the catheter, then this patch of needles, then that. I had my first shower (possibly the best five steps of my life), I had my first poop (a thrilling event for all involved as it was proof that they’d stuck the right bits back together rather than accidentally wiring the colon to the heart or something dreadful like that). Best of all, the Climber had managed to get to Sweden and sell the van and was trying to book a flight – yay!
It turned out though that I had also somehow acquired a resilient kind of bacteria (not exactly a ‘super bug’ but kind of the same idea). The upside was my own room (which sadly, I couldn’t really care less about at the time).
After a couple of weeks of fun and games in hospital I was able to eat custard. Actually I couldn’t eat the hospital custard, which was vomitus even if you didn’t already feel like vomiting, but proper Heinz baby custard which my wonderful mother promptly bought a case of once she worked out that I’d eat it. I had also walked the four steps to the toilet, used it, and walked back to bed all by myself. At this point the hospital decided that as I wasn’t actively trying to die I was probably ready to go home. Today. Mother wasn’t at all convinced and tried to discuss her concerns with the nurse. Unfortunately the nurse on duty was the only grumpy and mean person we had met in the entire hospital. So I went home.
My poor mum had to do more or less everything for me – from helping me to the toilet to washing me to bringing me cut up bits of Splices (the only food in the world that was vaguely non-vomit inducing). Mum’s are ridiculously awesome (well, mine is).
Annoyingly my stupid wound got infected after a few days and so back to the hospital we went (riding in cars was not at all fun). The surgeon and the consultant had a poke around and decided that they should open up the wound again and drain it. Being that cutting into scar tissue doesn’t hurt (there are no nerve endings or something) they were merrily slicing away WHILE I WAS TOTALLY AWAKE AND COULD SEE WHAT THEY WERE DOING!!! Fortunately there was a halfway sensible nurse there who patted me on the head and told me I was a brave girl.
The recovery process was long and rather boring. I had daily antibiotic IV treatments and nursing visits to dress my wound. It took about a month to be able to walk to the corner of the street and back. The only highlights were the Endone prescription (otherwise known as ‘hillbilly heroin’) and the giant hug of love I was enveloped in the whole time by my family, friends and my darling climber. My people are so amazing they make me cry. Thank you xx
On a quiet morning in the dappled light of the pine forest, the Climber and I made our way through the raspberries (nibbling quite a few on the way) to a little crag in the Frankenjura. It’s a very pretty spot, tall trees above and a springy carpet of pine needles below. The rock was a bit damp from the light overnight rain but not wet.
The Climber did a few laps on some of the harder stuff (easy for him) and I tested out my lead head with a few 5a+’s. I felt awesome! Sure it’s easy climbing (the jugs were big enough for wildflowers to grown in) but it felt so good to not be vomitusly terrified. I ended the day tired but terribly pleased with my effort and ready to crank it up a notch the next day. The think the Climber was pretty chuffed that I was finally enjoying leading.
Unfortunately, in the night I started to feel a little bit sick. By morning I was proper sick – complete with almost uncontrollable vomiting and frantic hole digging. Yuck. The Climber was certain that this was caused by the raspberries from the day before and was sure that if only I ate enough bananas I would soon be cured. I have no idea where he gets these ideas. After two days of this we decided that we should probably visit a chemist as it wasn’t getting better by itself. I took the stuff he gave us and miserably returned to the forest to see if there was any improvement.
I was quite conscious of the fact that I had six days before my flight to Kathmandu (on my way to Rishikesh) and I was damned if I was going to let some stupid tummy bug stop me finally getting to India. So I demanded that David drive us to Berlin, so that I could be sure that I was in place to get my flight to Paris (the first leg of the trip).
We started driving and got about a quarter of the way before something about my slumped figure indicated to the Climber that the time had come to detour to the nearest hospital. Apparently ‘I’m FINE!’ becomes less convincing when you haven’t stopped vomiting in four days. We were, at this juncture, in the absolute middle of German no-where and the closest hospital was in Naila. Haven’t heard of it? Don’t worry. You’re not missing much.*
At the hospital we were directed to the waiting room where the nurses quickly decided I was a diabolical germ menace and so we were promptly seen to by a doctor. Well, I think he was a doctor. Curiously, despite the fact that every second person you meet in Germany speaks more or less fluent English, absolutely no one (expect for one Indian doctor) spoke English at Naila hospital. It was rather lucky that the Climber speaks German.
In any event, I was taken to an isolation room, where I was to spend the next four days. By ‘isolation’ I mean that I wasn’t supposed to leave but everyone else came in at will, some bothering with the gowns and masks, most not.
In what my mother-in-law assures me is typical German hospital fashion (she should know, she was a nurse there), the nurses didn’t feel it was at all necessary for me to have access to a shower, and in fact refused to let me across the hall to one. Now, I felt rather sick, but you have to feel quite deathly to not care about having not showered in a week and being covered in your own bodily fluids. So, after enduring the filth for three long hospital days, I dragged myself to the bathroom sink determined not to leave until I passed out or washed myself properly. Totes didn’t pass out.
On the first day the hospital didn’t bother with food – just a cracker or two and the drip. That was fine with me. The second day it must have been decreed that I should try some light food. I would have thought that a few more crackers and perhaps a bit of dry toast would be in order but obviously I think quite differently to the German health authorities. Wurst Salat (a number of different sausages chopped up and stirred together with some diabolical approximation of mayonnaise) is not a dish I would recommend to anyone and I would strongly attempt to dissuade anyone who feels even the slightest bit unwell from smelling it, let alone consuming it.
I continued to feel horridly unwell and so it was proposed that an endoscopy and colonoscopy be undertaken. Oh joy. I had managed pretty well until the second jug of the pooping mixture started to take effect and then I burst into tears of exhaustion and frustration. Meanwhile, the Climber was fighting his own battle against the hospital accounts woman: Das Boarface. She was of the opinion that the Climber ought to go directly to an ATM, withdraw several thousand Euros and deliver these to her and then he could make a claim on our insurance when we returned home. He was of the opinion that she should accept the guarantee being offered by the insurer. This was complicated by the fact that the insurer’s contact was in Spain and their German agent, based in Greece, was on holiday and that they hadn’t any other staff who could speak German. Das Boarface was unwilling to accept an officially translated letter and couldn’t get her head around the idea that the insurance procedures for medical expenses are quite different to those for a lost handbag.
Four days after arriving in Naila I still felt wretched and was also now quite puffy from all the saline (when you poked my skin it was kind of squishy, like a waterbed). Nevertheless, the doctors decided that my ‘levels’, whatever these might be, were sufficiently reduced to release me. I was strongly encouraged to not rebook my flight to Kathmandu but instead stay in Europe or return to Australia.
I couldn’t actually stay in Europe as my visa was going to expire in three days and so, at my mother’s insistence, I booked myself tickets from Berlin to Adelaide. The Climber decided to drive the van back to Sweden to sell it and then meet me in Australia.
And so we headed to Berlin.
In consideration of my being sick we’d decided to splurge on indoor plumbing and booked into a cheap and cute little hotel in an old apartment building near Kreuzberg. It was very comfortable but I didn’t really sleep either night because I had absolutely awful stabbing stomach pains. The Climber demanded that I eat more bananas.
In the two days we were there I managed a few gentle strolls around the area. We visited an old crossing of the Wall where there was a very moving memorial to Peter Fechter, who at 18 became the first person to die trying to cross to the West. We also had a bit of a poke around Kreuzberg itself, admiring the street art and having a look at a few of the fun little shops and bars. Feeling weak and tired, I made the most of the green space of the Prinzessinnengarten, a lovely little community garden. There were tables set up under the trees and we spent a morning and an afternoon quietly talking, cuddling, trying to read German newspapers and enjoying the soft light of a European summer. It wasn’t the raging party weekend I’d planned to finish the trip with, but it was very sweet.
*actually, one damned interesting thing did happen near Naila, once.
In the Frankenjura (or, Franconian Switzerland, if you will) the state of bucolic bliss is occasionally interrupted with grunts and squeals. You would be forgiven for wondering what had upset the wild boar, but in fact this is the ritual call of the ascending (or rapidly descending) sport climber.
The last time we visited we had stayed in Egloffstein, which is a gorgeous little village, complete with tiny castle. As we had the van, this trip we stayed in forests and tucked away meadows. I love the area, it is just so incredibly pretty: there are sweet little farms, fields of ripening wheat and barley, lowing fat cattle, dripping fruit trees, forests of beech, steep valleys and spires of rock.
There is a ridiculous amount of rock to choose from in the Frankenjura and there are grades to suit all levels. The Climber enjoyed the cave at Wolfsberg (which was handy because we needed to visit the mechanic there anyway) and I loved all the easy grades around Barnfels. In Barnfels village we made a lovely friend, who offered us water (German villages lack the village drinking fountains that are ubiquitous throughout France and Spain). The crag at Wolfstein had something for both of us. Kuhlochfelsen was beautifully situated in a forest of tall beeches and had some harder routes that the Climber approved of. We visited a bunch of other crags but I’ve forgotten the names of them (!). The climbing is usually on sharpish pocketty limestone (no tufas here) and single pitch sport climbs are the norm. Belaying is awesome because you are almost always standing on flat ground with nice soft leaf litter and plenty of shade (although, having said that, you need extra layers even on sunny days because of the shade).
Of course Frankenjura isn’t just about the climbing, it’s also home to some quirky customs and lovely people. We were passing through one little village and saw that they were erecting a Maibaum (which was a bit odd, considering it was July). Of course we decided to stop and watch their efforts and have a delicious German beer in the little festival area. Their Maibaum was basically an enormous pine tree that had been stripped off all of its branches, save about 6 feet worth at the top – a little Christmas tree perched on a big stick. It was decorated by three hanging rings, encircling the trunk. Sadly, the top part (the Christmas tree bit) had half snapped off and was dangling dramatically on the half hoisted Maibaum. An elderly man, wearing a proper Bavarian hat, filled us in on the action. The top part had been insufficiently reinforced having suffered a crack in the felling process and had, predictably enough, snapped. He was deeply unimpressed by the shoddy workmanship of the youth of today but seemed resigned to the shame that would fall upon the village when these young fools completely failed to erect the Maibaum.
The young men (well, young-ish) weren’t having a bar of it and called in reinforcements. A gigantic front loader crawled its way over from the far meadow and was greeted enthusiastically. After much discussion, and a complete disregard for occupational health and safety, one of the men jumped into the bucket with a chainsaw attached to a pole (not just sticky-taped on, it’s a proper attachment for pruning trees). He was hoisted into the air and bravely sawed away until the Christmas tree crashed to the ground. It did look quite a bit like cheating. In any event, they were then able to continue the process of hoisting the Maibaum upright using the traditional long poles. Our elderly friend was hugely amused.
After leaving Ceuse, we headed to Milan for a lovely few days with one of the Climber’s sisters, Miss Moneypenny the accountant. While waiting for her we stayed in the carpark of a suburban Burger King, which was actually a lot more comfortable than it sounds. Nevertheless we were quite pleased to move into the comparative luxury of an AirB&B apartment. Toilets! Showers! Standing room!
Our little city break was mostly taken up with strolling around the centre of town. The area is perfect for peramulation – so many wonderful buildings, so many fashionable people, so many amusingly indiscrete tourists. I also stopped by the stylist I raved about last year and got my hair cut. It was absolutely wonderful, again. You really ought to visit if you’re in Milan dahhhrling.
The Duomo annoyed me by refusing entry (my arms were bare). Why can’t they have robe thingies like most major mosques do? I also got pooped on by a bird, which really didn’t help my mood. I almost didn’t go in the next day because I was still annoyed. I can be so delightfully childish sometimes.
While the Duomo was obviously impressive, I much preferred our trip out to MA*GA which is a contemporary gallery in the City of Gallerate (a suburb of Milan). The exhibition was drawn from the collection and had some really interesting work, especially the sculptures. We had a lovely little picnic in a nearby park afterwards. When we returned to the van (parked at the gallery) we discovered that the empty carpark had been turned into a cricket field. Apparently there are a lot of Pakistani immigrants in Milan (predominantly single young men) and they don’t have anywhere to play cricket, so they use the car park. The Climber was thrilled to be invited to join in and spent the rest of the afternoon playing while Miss Moneypenny and I had cups of tea and played the uke.
We also had an excursion out to Lake Como. We had a very enjoyable banana mash fight on the train.
I didn’t see George at Como, but the Climber is handsome enough anyway so I just gazed at him adoringly. I also saved some gazing for the lake itself, which is quite romantic. Elegant 18th century buildings sun themselves between the water’s edge and the mountain’s feet and unhurried pleasure seekers stroll the promenades. We found a lovely little private beach/pool sort of place and the three of us spent most of the day on sun loungers pretending to be famous.
After waving goodbye to Miss Moneypenny we headed to the Dolomites. Unfortunately rain had by then set in in northern Italy. We nevertheless spent a couple of days pleasantly mooching in the mountains, enjoying the gorgeous scenery: jagged silhouettes glimpsed between clouds and occasional impressive vistas down into valleys dotted with doll’s houses. I stocked up on good quality pasta and amusing gnocchi type things.
We made an executive decision to head north to Germany, to try and escape the rain (which I know sounds quite odd). We were starting to run out of time – my visa was expiring in four weeks and I had a flight to Kathmandu booked out of Paris via Berlin.
I like boats. There is something about sailing away into the (literal) sunset that just seems so right. It’s even better when you’ve sailed away (a little sadly) from Corsican paradise and you end up in a tiny, rambling Provençal village bowered with flowers, holding hands with your lover and waiting for delightful friends.
We were meeting the French Chef and the Irish Yogini, a sunshine-y couple I had met in Nepal on my yoga course. We were to stay in their family summer house. If you just let your mind wander to the subject of honey coloured homes in Provence, bathed in the lavender light of the long twilight and you’ve probably got an excellent idea of their place.
That first evening we were whisked away to dine with a gregarious bunch of friends – all laughter and waving hands and glasses of pastis and fields of dripping cherry trees. Over the next few days we entered into the summer lifestyle – late rising, delicious breakfasts, short walks through fragrant fields to the local matriarch’s pool and long luxurious meals under a generous tree. There were World Cup games, tipple in hand and me slightly confused about what was going on, games of Patonque (my new favourite summer sport), excursions to achingly scenic medieval villages and monasteries (my god! the lavender fields!) and even a few yoga practices in the cool of the morning or afternoon. The light was golden and mellow and perfect.
We were left far too relaxed to bother much with climbing, though we did though take a day trip to Buoux.
Buoux is in a very pretty little valley – a small stream runs along the valley floor and cliffs rise up on both sides. The walk-in is quite short but the crag seems to have fallen from favour and thus the tracks are getting a little overgrown. Navigating without a guidebook can be a bit tricky and one should be careful not to accidentally lead one’s wife up a ten metre vertical scramble, unless one has a plan for getting her back down again.
Other than the polish, the climbing was reported to be very good and the view was charming. We probably would have spent a few more days there except that we had some delicious french food and a pool to return to.
In the fullness of time we did eventually tear ourselves away from the Chef and the Yogini to head to Ceuse. Unfortunately, by the time we got to this legendary crag the Climber had managed to pick up a disgusting bug and wasn’t in much shape to climb. Nevertheless we spent two days there and he got to touch the rock and say hi to a few Spanish climbers who had also come up.
Ceuse is a big horseshoe of cliff, thrust up from the surrounding low hills. From the campground or the carpark (we stayed in the campground for the fun of having hot showers) it is about an hour walk uphill to the crag. I was dreading this as I’d envisaged a revolting climber style path scrambling it’s way up a slippery hill. However, up until the last 200 meters or so, the walk-in is along a properly marked and reasonably maintained walker’s trail and so, although steep, it is quite easy going. The scenery as you ascend and at the crag is lovely. Green rolling hills, with mountains off in the distance and trees and ferns and wildflowers at your feet. Very romantic, if you like your romance tinted with the odour of sweat, climbing chalk and shoes…