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12 December Swiss Apls

Expect the unexpected!

Swiss Apls in cloudBeing a successful international jewellery designer is as much about being seated safely at my work bench as the drama and danger associated with the sourcing of materials for my jewellery pieces. As every design is an individual ‘one only’ piece, it demands very specific, unusual, and in many cases rare components which must be sourced from wherever they can be located – and mostly in far away countries. When my husband Wally and I go on such treasure hunts it is certainly never dull, easy, or safe. Such trips normally take six to nine weeks; can cover numerous countries by hire car (mostly) and can be as stressful as going into labour in a traffic jam.

At times we can be searching into the late evening for a bed to sleep in for the night (preferring to stop at a place we like or suits us for business reasons – or sometimes where we have to stop for the night!) A few times we have been close to missing out on a room altogether if we were in a place where we needed to stay longer (as we don’t like to be tied down to pre-booked hotels). When in Europe, anxious, late evening ring-arounds from the car, when all hotels are full, is so tiring. In Asia we just book safe hotels. When the phone runs out of credit – it’s into the traffic and knocking or ringing on hotel doors into the night. So far we have not had to sleep in the car! Parking is a big problem (in places such as Nîmes, France – an old Roman city with small, narrow streets only built for horse and rider or pedestrians and medieval, small walled towns or cities such as San Gimignano, Siena or Florence). At times Wally is moved on by angry motorists or police, which can create a ‘lost person’ situation, as finding our way back to each other can be very stressful.

Losing important items is a minute by minute problem. While travelling ‘risk management’ can at times be crisis driven. We can never take enough precautions and still occasionally lose items. One of my friends (an experienced international gem dealer of more than three decades, left a whole parcel of diamonds behind in his hotel that had sunk into the folds of a sofa). Of course the hotel’s cleaning lady never found them! In another example: Wally left his most important’ body’ carry bag on the bonnet of our car in an underground car park for so long – yet it was not seen by passers-bye. I still become nauseous thinking about it. Critically important documents, passports, cash, cards, phones, GPS, medication, etc. were in that bag. Once (I am told as I don’t remember this) I left my wallet packed in an outdoor garden restaurant on a chair overnight, got it back, but only because the owners were honest and found it before any one else. On another occasion Wally went into panic mode searching franticly for our high quality GPS we used for the hire car. We turned ourselves inside out, looked everywhere, except on the table right in front of where my ‘husband…’ grrr! had been sitting.

Swiss CowsDriving in foreign countries (where one is unused to the terrain and on the opposite side of the road of what we are used to) is an added issue. Getting lost (for any number of reasons such as language, or a GPS set on ‘shortest possible difference’ and end up on a mountain goat-track behind St. Tropez) is a daily danger because the end-result can be that the driver finds himself on an expressway going the wrong way. My husband’s best trick was performed in Rome. He inadvertently … grrr! exited a car park via the entry tunnel. I closed my eyes and held my breath for the ten-seconds it took to drive down the winding narrow single lane car-width tunnel. What would have happened if another car had been coming up the tunnel at the same time as we were going down? OMG! Another day was hell. Driving in the Milan area is just ghastly, in fact terrifying. It is so traumatic I cannot write about it, suffice to say we escaped with our lives on three occasions. Once Wally did a three point turn to urgently avoid entering a line of toll gates that would have sent us in the opposite direction. We only just turned around in time to avoid a wall of trucks coming at us head-on with their air-horns blaring at us in terrifying anger. Our little car loaded to the roof was being hunted out of the way. Like an escaping rabbit, we made an undignified leap over a low barrier of concrete lane dividers, and bounced, careering onto the correct road, and much to our relief in the right direction.

Many narrow roads (the old road going over the Swiss Alps) left me almost hyper-ventilating (even though I am an experienced traveller in dangerous places). These incidents occurred in mountain country and are so narrow one of the two cars meeting head on would require one car to back up for some distance. The road edges are deadly with no protection, deep gutters, sharp rocks and huge potholes are lurking just waiting for a tired driver to make mistake. The bends are so sharp and so narrow and create an anxiety attack when fast-moving, light trucks greet you on the blind and sharp bends. For my husband who was driving in these conditions (and on the inner side of the road) – he could not see down the dreadful sheer drops thousands of feet/metres to the deadly, rocky bottom. We were told that 2,000 motor-cyclists a year lose their lives on this road (that seems to be no longer maintained in preference to the new highway below).

Personal security is always concerning as some areas cannot be avoided. Bad looking people, normally in small packs, can at time be confronting, especially when you get lost or make your way back to the car, or can only find accommodation in seedy areas. My husband’s broken nose, bald head and a defiant eye provides ‘think twice’ time by such ‘riff-raff’ allowing us sufficient time to pass by safely.

Rolling Swiss hillsWally, my darling husband, or Packhorse as he calls himself has the awful duty of carrying luggage, numerous plastic bags, and backpacks from our car to and from our rooms, on a daily basis. I attend to the booking in and out which is time consuming. Many hotels in small (or old) towns don’t have lifts and many can have no less than three very long, steep, narrow and winding flights of stairs.

Fatigue is enemy number one. We often need to pull over on the side of expressways or rural roads for a power nap. We normally don’t get to bed until and 1am and are up at 6 am, or if I am lucky I can sleep in to 7 am. Even with such an early start we are not on the road until 10am earliest. This is a subject best left alone.

No matter how much effort is put in before and during travelling, communication assets and systems are mostly ‘stuffed’ around. Both I Phones are out of action almost immediately and will require new passwords when we get home. If we purchased an international phone card in London on arrival at Heathrow, Vodafone was still whacking us four pounds a day after we arrived home even though the phone has not made or received one call. Most of the time we can only receive emails on our Mac laptop, and sending requires additional high costs to stay at expensive hotels which have negotiated special deals with the major intel service providers. Our Australian service provider ‘Big Pond’ locked us out of our account as there had been a stuff up with passwords, and Vimeo, our web provider for movies has a mystery block in place. We now use ‘You Tube’ which is also creating function issues.

So there you have a few examples of our challenges, all in all however, we are have a great time. As we are moving about so quickly and extensively, one must expect many daily challenges. Now I must go as I have yet to publish this blog and inspect my purchase for the day, an antique bone cigarette holder… so rare, so beautiful and so specific for my necklace in progress.

Dr Jane and husband Packhorse

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