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May 4, 2004

Europe By Dog

I slept on a bench in Frankfurt airport for a couple of hours and then went to meet Carita on the 05:38 from Hamburg, which I hoped she'd caught after getting the ferry from Finland. Her phone wasn't working in Germany, so, with no way to contact her I just had to hope for the best. Somehow, however, we missed each other on the platform and it was only when I was walking out of the station that I bumped into her and Ira upstairs. Glad to have found them, we caught a train into Frankfurt centre, had some breakfast, argued with a very fastidious guy on the ticket counter, then boarded a train to Mannheim. It was morning rush hour and the trains were busy, but thankfully having a Rottweiler with you always seems to guarantee you a fair amount of space. We changed trains and continued onto Basel on the border with Switzerland. There we messed up a bit, getting off at the German town of Basel rather than the one slightly further on in Switzerland and missing our connecting train to Bern, but it didn't really matter.

By now, Carita had been travelling for 36 hours since leaving Finland with very little sleep and we were both beginning to feel exhausted. We had to keep on moving, however, as it was Friday and the last ferry to Ibiza for three days was leaving Barcelona on the Saturday night. Basel turned out to be a bit of a nightmare; the station didn't seem to have any signs to direct you to the ticket office, it appeared to be designed like a concrete nuclear bunker and the luggage trolleys didn't take euros so we had to carry all of our bags around the station trying to find out where to buy onward tickets to France. By the time we found the right office we were just in time to miss the next train and so we sat downstairs in the subterranean atmosphere, eating McDonalds at hugely inflated Swiss prices until finally, hours later, the train to Geneva pulled in.

The journey through Switzerland was, however, stunning as the train sped through valleys that looked like they were straight from a chocolate advert, past Swiss cottages, snow-capped mountains, and finally Lake Geneva. Ira, meanwhile, was busy terrorising everyone in the train - refusing to let people past to go to the toilet and demanding all the food that anyone was carrying. Somewhat terrified, most of them paid up. In Geneva, we had another change and happily got onto our last train of the day to Lyon. We had been hoping to keep on going and take the sleeper across France until we found out that because we were travelling with a dog we were obliged to take an entire sleeping compartment in France, costing 400-500 euros. So instead we booked into an Ibis Hotel close to the railway station in Lyon, had a walk around some of the town, then crashed out for the night.

The following morning we made an early start and headed to the train station. It was bad news, however, as they told us the only train going to Barcelona that day arrived there at 2150 - and the ferry to Ibiza left at 2300! Not only that, but taking dogs on trains in Spain was illegal. It looked like we would have to figure out another way to do the last section of the trip. Undeterred though, we headed off to Arcachon, which was at least in the right direction, hopeful that something would work out. Just as we were about to board the train though, I noticed that they hadn't sold me a ticket for the trip so I rushed back down to the booking office, jumped the queue, bought a ticket, and managed to get back in time to jump on the train.

Arcachon seemed to be a better start to the day. Not only was it's TGV station shiny and new, but it had luggage trolleys (the first we'd found in a French station), and the girl in the ticket office seemed more than happy to sell us a ticket on the evening train from Perpignan to Barcelona for Ira (oblivious to the regulations undoubtedly!). We then jumped on and off a series of trains until we got to Perpignan where we sat, waited, got ripped off for two beers, and waited some more. Eventually it was time to leave, the train rolled off, and we caught our first sight of the Mediterranean. We passed flamingos wading in the lagoons by the coast as we approached the Pyrenees and finally the Spanish border. Spanish officials boarded the train, asked to see our passports, but don't even look inside them. The train then sat still for what seemed like an eternity until finally it slowly continued towards Barcelona. We worked out that we were running about fifteen minutes late, and our hopes of managing to catch the ferry began to fade.

At last Barcelona appeared and we rushed out of the train, through the station, and out into the street. Desperately, we tried to find a taxi but it was Saturday night and none of them would stop. We stood in the street for what seemed like an eternity, watching the little time we had to catch the ferry tick away, and thinking that we'd never get a taxi in time. Finally, however, one of them stopped for us, we piled the bags into the boot, Ira onto the back seat, and jumped in. We got to the ferry terminal at 22:20, and the ferry was due to leave at 23:00. We didn't know if the ticket office was still open, but Carita rushed in to try to buy them while I took care of the luggage. Amazingly, they were open and we got tickets and headed for the ferry. On the way, another passenger told us that the ferry went from the third floor and we spent valuable minutes searching for the upper floors that didn't exist before we realised that she was spaced out.

Delighted, we boarded the ferry, glad that we didn't have to wait in Barcelona for three days until the next one, and happy to be almost there. After a stop in Palma the next morning, it was lunchtime by the time we got into Ibiza. There we caught another ferry over to Formentera, and finally, finally, got back to Zamindar, 12 trains and 2 ferries since I'd met Carita in Frankfurt 56 hours before.

May 6, 2004

Back Onboard

Ira seems to be settling down onboard the confines of the boat pretty well and enjoying all of her new experiences - chasing seagulls and lizards, trying to breathe underwater, and getting used to all the noises and movements of living onboard. It's also nice to have a dog around again as it's years since I last had one.

We were all quite knackered by the time we finally got to Formentera. Everything onboard Zamindar seems to be fine, thankfully, and although her camera hadn't been sending me pictures for the last few weeks, it seems to have just been a software crash and after a reset it's working fine again. We warped the boat around so that her stern is now into the dock and Ira can easily jump on and off - sorting up all the lines really felt like doing hard physical work after taking it easy for months. The weather was pretty awful for the first few days after we arrived, with gale force winds and driving rain but it seems to be improving now.

May 9, 2004

Signs of Summer

Gradually, Formentera is beginning to come to life with the first signs of the summer season. Whereas, when we arrived here a week ago most places were closed and the island was deserted, day by day shops and cafes are opening up, the day trip boats are running again, the buses and ferries are back on full timetables, and the first tourists of the season are turning up. The marina's getting busier as well, though it'll be another month or so until most of the cruising boats and superyachts turn up. We're not sure whether all of this makes us happy or not - the island did feel a bit like a ghost town but it was wonderful to have all the beaches to ourselves and already we've had the first British tourists standing on the dock staring into the boat watching us, but at least there's a bigger choice of bars.

May 12, 2004

Mediterranean Spring

The weather here has been truly appalling over the last few days. A front appeared over the Balearics and treated us to cold, torrential rain and gale force winds. Thankfully, we're still in Formentera marina so we don't have to worry about dragging anchors and the boat going off sailing on it's own but still it was unpleasant enough that our drinks were sliding off the table and the boat was jumping in her berth. Hopefully, the summer weather will appear soon.

May 14, 2004

Mexican UFO Video

In the first government backed recording of its kind, Mexico's Defence Department has released a video of 11 unidentified flying objects filmed by one of their air force jets. The jets were on anti-drug trafficking reconnaissance at the time, proving yet again that where there's drugs, there's ufo's.

full story on Wired

May 19, 2004

Mallorca Revisited

I'm sitting having a beer in a harbourside bar in Palma waiting to meet (Belgian) Chris. I left Carita looking after Zamindar and Ira on Formentera and caught the evening ferry over to Mallorca - much faster and easier than sailing over!

I haven't seen Chris, who I used to sail with, for five years, and his boat is in Mallorca now so I'm really looking forward to catching up with him again.

May 20, 2004

Porto Cristo

Chris picked me up from Palma in a lovely Mercedes and I spent last night on his boat in Porto Cristo, which happens to be one of the dullest places in the whole of the Balearics. After sitting around talking most of the night we eventually passed out and we spent most of today drinking coffee until finally graduating to beer.

May 24, 2004

Natural Selection

I'm back in tranquil Formentera now after my visit to the madness of Mallorca. It seemed to be much more hectic than when I had the boat there a couple of years ago - more people, fatter tourists, and much more stressful than Ibiza. It was good to see Chris though. He had his boat broken into in Portocolom during the winter, apparently by someone from another boat as lots of things, including his sails, were stolen. But apart from that he seems to be doing pretty well and has spent most of the last years sailing around with the drug dealers and arms smugglers of Central America.

There wasn't much to do in Porto Cristo so we started drinking too early, and, naturally, went on to drink too much. I don't remember getting back to the boat. The next day I woke up suffering one of Satan's own hangovers. I spent the day in Palma, which I had missed as it's a lovely city, but the hoardes of tourists everywhere combined with the beggars (some allegedly now coming down from Germany) and my hangover made me wish I was back on the beach in Formentera.

There's only one ferry a day between the islands and they run at the strangest of times. The one from Ibiza gets into Palma so late at night that it's impossible to rent a car, and the return trip to Ibiza leaves about 0700 in the morning. Chris kindly got up very early and drove me into Palma so that I could catch it, though even at that time the roads in Mallorca were busy as the Germans rushed to get the best places on the beach.

I squeezed onto the ferry through all the pushing and shoving critically stressed tourists, found a seat, and tried to get some sleep. A deaf old woman sat behind me and shouted incessantly to her friend the entire way to Ibiza, her companion never managing to get a word in, whilst I tried to drown out her drones listening to my ipod.

In yet another example of the world bending to accommodate stupid people rather than allowing natural selection, you're no longer able to go out on deck in case you fall over the side. The sea was totally calm but even still all the exterior doors were locked while the ship was at sea, forcing everyone to mill around endlessly inside fighting for window space - all so that the occasional idiot doesn't go for a swim! Personally, I think it's time to get rid of regulations like that - get rid of the safety fences springing up on top of cliffs and the barriers on street corners to stop stupid people from running out and killing themselves everywhere. Life is supposed to have risks, not be governed by some nanny society that tells us all what is and isn't safe to do.

May 26, 2004


It was a lovely, calm evening so we took the dinghy for a ride down Playa Illetes, a long, thin strip of land with beaches on either side that stretches for miles northwards towards Ibiza. Formentera has suddenly come alive with tourists over the last week or so but most of them had by now, thankfully, left the beaches for the day so we dropped the dinghy anchor into the clear, blue water and sat chatting, enjoying a beer and the last light of dusk.

By the time we turned around and went back to the marina it was dark and we flew past all boats anchored outside the town and into the harbour with Carita driving at full speed. We'd only just tied up and were walking off the pontoon to take Ira for a walk when a Guardia Civil car pulled up and two officers rushed out past us, heading for Zamindar. Realising that we might have pissed someone off by coming into the harbour a bit too fast (3 knot speed limit) we decided not to hang around and took Ira off for a long walk while the police walked up and down the pontoon trying to find the offending dinghy.

May 27, 2004

Rent a Wreck

We rented a car today and went off to explore the full extent of Formentera's 17km of roads. It wasn't long before we reached the far side of the island. The eastern end of Formentera is covered with pine trees and rises dramatically to almost 200 metres above the rest of the island, which is essentially flat and sandy. There we stopped off at El Mirador, a bar with one of the best views in the Balearics, which looks out across the whole island and over to Ibiza.

After some caffeine to sharpen our senses we went off to find a viewpoint that was marked at the end of a road near the highest point on the map. The road, however, quickly degenerated into a potholed forest track which we bounced along until the rental car felt like it was about to fall apart. Later I realised that the red lines on the map were in fact footpaths, not roads, and that we'd yet again wrecked another rental car by driving it down a mountain

May 30, 2004

Formentera Nightlife

It's our last weekend having a berth in Formentera marina as it expires in the next day or two and so we went out to Casa Paco, one of the bars in town, last night. Although tourist season is now well and truly under way, few of them seem to make it into Sabina at night and so the bar turned out to be deserted with only about ten locals milling around trying to dance flamenco to the house music the dj was playing. So it wasn't long before we left, came back to Zamindar, and continued drinking here until early in the morning - and suffered for it today.

May 31, 2004

Cala Porroig

After a busy day cleaning the boat up and taking advantage of the last time we'll have unlimited fresh water and power for a while, we slipped our lines and sailed over to Ibiza. Tonight we're anchored in a lovely, horseshoe shaped bay on the south coast called Cala Porroig and we plan to continue sailing tomorrow.