Mt Blanc Expedition

The Travellers Two are on the road again. This summer we were planning to drive from the UK to Rome to shoot an interview with an amazing photographer, and as we looked at the route we saw that we had to drive through the Alps. And the idea emerged to climb Mt Blanc on the way. We reserved 2 days in Chamonix to go up and down the mountain and then we would be on our way to sunny Italy. But as we started doing our research we realised that it’s not as easy as we initially imagined. Training, diet, altitude preparation, equipment, weather, refuge booking and finding a guide were among the things we needed to consider, research and execute.

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After four months of preparation we are on the outskirts of Chamonix in the beautiful and quiet town of Le Tour. We arrived here on Saturday the 23rd and met with people from Peak Powder, who organised guides for us. At 2 am on Sunday we woke up at the back of our Defender and drove to Geneva airport and flew to Rome where we spent 36 hours, interviewing Milton Gendel, eating pizza, pasta and gelato.

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Milton Gendel’s guest book

We came back to Le Tour at 3am, and after few hours of sleep we were on our way up our first mountain. It was not a great success as we left too late and we got caught in a storm at two and a half thousand metres above sea level, so we had to come back down. Le Buet conquered us, but despite the fact that we didn’t reach the top we did some good training in the snow with crampons.

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View of Mt Blanc from Aiguille du Midi

The next day we went up Aiguille du Midi at 3810m to get a taste of the high altitude. Walking up and down the stairs wasn’t as easy as at sea level, but we did a little bit of training there.

The following morning we met our guide Benji and headed to the Italian side of the Alps. That morning we got to the refuge in the foothills of Gran Paradiso. After a short nap we did some more crampon training, using our ice axes, ropes and harnesses, and organised our pack leaving all but the absolutely essential. At 3:20am we were the first out of the refuge heading up the mountain. After 4 hours and 25 minutes of walking on rocks and snow we got to the top. Four other teams passed us on the way but we still made it in a good time.

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Coming down from Gran Paradiso

There were moments when breathing was very tough and the thoughts of doubt came through our minds. “Why are we doing it? It’s not fun at all. It’s just walking, but really hard and up the hill in not so friendly conditions.” But we kept going, with our toes and fingers starting to get numb we reached the summit, took a photo, which we need to get from Benji, as Louise dropped her phone on the top, and headed down as quickly as possible. Slowly we started taking layers off as the morning sun warmed us up and we were getting lower and lower. I asked Benji “Why do people do it?” and he replied “I don’t know if it’s for the climb itself or the feeling after” but as we came down to the refuge by the parking lot and had lunch, he said “I think this is why people do it.”

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Breakfast at the L’Olimpique

As for today, we needed to get some rest before Mt Blanc so we decided to get a room for a couple of nights at l’Olimpique hotel in Le Tour, which was build for the Olympic Games in 1924. At breakfast we got the message that the weather forecast had changed and we have to move our ascent back by a day. So now we have a couple of days of rest, sending emails and recharging batteries for Mt Blanc. We’ll be leaving at dawn on Monday morning hoping to get to the top by sunrise on Tuesday.

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Admiring the view from Aiguille du Midi

As we started telling people about this idea a couple of months ago it was just a blurry thought without a clear vision, but as we started getting closer to the date we thought of doing it for a cause, something that will keep us going when we feel like stopping. We both work for an organisation that helps the extremely poor in the Philippines get themselves out of their current conditions. ICM focuses on education so the participants can “take the fishing rod themselves and fish, rather than feeding them once.” But as ICM trainers go to the poor communities they find many children that are malnourished. And this is the part that we felt that we wanted to highlight through our expedition. ICM gets tons of free anti-malnutrition food from a few organisations in the US but they have to pay for the shipping to the Philippines. We’ve set quite a steep goal but we’re hoping to raise enough funds to deliver half a million meals to the homes of malnourished children. You can partner with us by donating here, and if you would like to find out more about ICM please check out their website.

Of course we are aware that we could have donated the money that we invested in the expedition directly to ICM, stay at home and make videos of very slim children, with heartbreaking violin music in the background, but that’s what we do outside of our holidays anyway.

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Andrew Thomas on Scat Singing

In May 2015, in the first week of our trip across the US, we had a chance to meet one extraordinary man. His name is Andrew Thomas and he is a jazz trumpet player. We met him through his brother Matthew, who Michal went to college with. Matt told us that Andrew is an interesting character, but we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Andrew charmed us, lured us into his beautiful mind and let us have a glimpse of what he calls his beautiful frustration.

We previously posted an interview with Andrew, but recently we started looking through some files we gathered during our four months journey and came across this video.

February ’16 – Snapshot of life in the Philippines

We recently came back from the Philippines where we were visiting families of the new kids that joined the ICM Choir. We had the chance to visit new communities and take a look at this beautiful country and beautiful people with fresh eyes.

It’s important to remember to stop from time to time, to look up from our mobile phones and take a look at the world around us. Here is a snapshot of life in the Philippines.

You and Me Together

Part Two of the Smithfield Sessions is here!

And, as always, there is a journey to the story behind the music, which I want to take you on.

Think about the most significant person in your life. It may be your spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, a dear friend, a sibling or parent…

Imagine you had never met… and imagine if you met them again today, what would happen.

Strange idea, right? It’s an interesting scenario to think about, and it really makes you think what strikes you about your dearest. What was it that drew you to them? What were your first conversations about?

Would you do it differently?

Today, if you met them again, would your paths still cross in the ways that they did?

My relationship with my husband started in such a chance encounter; I from England, he from Poland, and yet we managed to bump into each other in Hong Kong airport, and pretty much fell in love on the spot. If it hadn’t have been there, and it hadn’t have been then, it would have been almost impossible for us ever to meet again.

So, the idea of us meeting somewhere else at some other time in our life is so unlikely that it is fun to to explore those ‘what if’ questions…

I’m not sure that I believe in the idea of there being one person in the entire world that each of us is destined for. But I do know that the things I prayed for as a young girl are exactly the traits that are found in my husband.

And I would like to think that, under whatever circumstances we met, there always would have been that spark, that chemistry that hit me right in the part of the stomach where the butterflies live, and that we would have ended up together. 

That spark grows. Yes, the butterflies have settled down. And yes, I don’t think and talk about the love of my life every waking moment… but the spark has grown into a steady flame. A flame that is fierce and will fight to protect the one I love. A flame that needs intentional fuel. But a flame that will be sustained as long as we both shall live.

So, thanks for reading this far. Here’s your reward… This is “You and Me Together.”

Enjoy!

Louise

Wild West

Louise’s 2nd July Concert to kick off the 4th July weekend seemed a little ironic – a Brit wishing Texans Happy Independence Day?

But, music is a universal language and the concert connected superbly with the audience. And since we had given ourselves one week to get to Los Angeles from Austin, as soon as the gig was over, we packed up the car and headed into the night.

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West. Wild West, truly!

We had seen some pretty remote parts of the states; the Badlands in the Dakotas, tiny little towns in Minnesota, never-ending fields of farmland in Missouri and Kansas.

But the vast expanses of desert in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California were something even more incredible.

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The Guadalupe Mountains on the Texas and New Mexico border were our introduction to the rugged, wild terrain that continues across the south of the USA. Rich rocks filled with quartz, mountains lions, cacti and forest, snakes and deer – the mountains held a diversity of life thanks to their abundant water supply.

But as we headed further into the desert, the numbers of species fell and soon we were alone with lizards, birds, and bugs. There is nothing like the quiet, the darkness, the heat, the expanse of the desert.

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In towering sand dunes or vast canyons, with the unforgiving sun and no sign of water, it is easy to see how lost and helpless we are under the forces of nature.

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As we approached one of the world’s most stunning features, the great crack in its crust formed by a formidable earthquake, Grand Canyon, we wanted to have a different experience than we had had before – something more than taking that same photo that everyone has.

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So we started hiking down into the canyon. As soon as you start to descend, you start to understand the sheer size of the place. We walked for hours, and had not even got close to the bottom. One can not easily conquer these wild places.

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One of the most fascinating features of the Wild West is the number of abandoned, or almost-abandoned towns that are scattered across the landscape. We came across several mining towns that had fallen into ruin, with their run-down buildings, scrap cars in yards, and mine shafts – some still with undetonated explosives!

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It is amazing to let your imagination create the stories of those who lived here; why they came, how life was, what finally forced them to leave. And for those who have stayed, how do they possibly survive when there is no-one for miles and nothing to build a life around?

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Amazingly, the post office and the railroads are the veins that keep the life blood flowing; connecting and crisscrossing and keeping these tiny towns alive. In the most remote of towns, high in the mountains or deep in the desert, post boxes line the roads and are a welcome sign of life.

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Perhaps the creepiest place that we came across was while we were off-roading in the Mojave desert. We had turned onto tiny dirt tracks, when we crested a hill and found an old trailer; the windows were gone, and it was covered in plastic sheeting.

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Bullet casings and shotgun shells were strewn everywhere, and our minds immediately jumped to Walter White and Breaking Bad! It was a great hideout… shielded from view and protected from the rear by mountains. So either someone there had a score to settle with the coyotes, or the King of the Hill had something else going on…

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But that night, we found a perfect camp of our own. In the middle of nowhere, peaceful, with the brightest stars we have ever seen. It is easy to see why our ancestors worshiped the moon and the stars; these bright oracles bring light in the midst of darkness, and their beauty is astounding!

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As night fell, the howl of coyotes greeted our ears. We made sure the door was firmly locked that night!

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While the days are hot and bright, the nights are usually dark and cool and peaceful. But when storms come, the lightning is awe-inspiring. Driving towards Las Vegas, the air was thick with the smell of electric charge – it looked like “Sin City” was under attack with fierce vengeance! With lightning all around us, in every direction, piercing through the night sky with great cracks of light, once again we felt the force of nature – knowing we were at its mercy and have no power to stop it.

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It is an amazing feeling to be overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty and wildness of our world. It can be uncomfortable, daunting, truly scary. But it is always an enriching, humbling and inspiring experience.

Half Way There

Half way through our journey. Half way through the year.

The half way point is an interesting place to be – you look back just as much as you look forward. It’s the beginning of the end, but right in the middle.

We are almost exactly in the middle of our trip. We have been on the road for nine weeks, and have just over nine weeks until we say goodbye to the Land Rover for a little while. We’ve been to the most Eastern, Southern and Northern points of the continental USA, and still have the Wild Wild West ahead of us.

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And we are almost exactly in the middle of the USA! Although we only have 13 states left to visit, those 13 make up almost half of the country and we will probably double the 11,000 miles that we have put on the odometer.

So, at the half way point we look back at the truly beautiful times: the parks, the people, the concerts and the open roads. And the challenges: the heat, the cold, the bugs, the lack-of-hot-showers!

And we look forward to even more to come: meeting amazing people with their stories, breath-taking views and being inspired creatively.

This is our first long overland expedition, and even though we’re driving through a “first world” country, it’s definitely a learning curve. We’re using this as preparation for future trips in more remote places in the world.

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From Austin, we’re on our way into the desert, mountains and then, if we make it out the other side, back to the ocean!

If you’re enjoying being part of our journey, please click “Follow” on the right of the post, to subscribe to our blog, and connect with us on Facebook and Instagram. We’ll try to keep it fun!

Nashville Diaries

We were just supposed to be in Nashville for a day or two… we had one meeting planned and a couple of potential connections. The meeting turned into a perfect day of music, philosophy and, surprisingly, off-roading…

That evening, with very muddy tyres, we went up to Nashville not knowing where we were going and without plans. But it happened that Glen, an Aussie friend from Hong Kong, was in town at the same time. The person that he was going to meet invited him to an event that night – so we ended up at launch party for Weld; a creative collaborative space for designers, photographers and artists. Never have we seen so many hipsters in one room!

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Catching up with friends at Weld

It was a night of connections – first we were shocked to see two guys we knew from Hong Kong – Nick “the Greek” Georgiou, who had cut his epic beard, and Brady Toops who was now a Reality TV star. And the surprises continued when Michal met not one, but two people from university who he hadn’t seen for over ten years!

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Nick the Greek

Nick the Greek had promised us a tour of Fort Houston, where he works. “The Fort” as it is lovingly referred to, is an old hosiery factory that has been converted into workshop space for woodworkers, mechanics, metal smiths, artists and artisans. (For more on the Fort see our write up here).

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Is Everything In Order?

Inspired by the serious motorbikes that surrounded us, Michal started tinkering with the Land Rover engine. Honestly, the engine had cut out a couple of times previously, so we knew we needed to check it.

The oil was REALLY low. And Michal tried to clean the fuel pump… but it turns out that Michal doesn’t know as much as he thinks he knows about engines, and it’s easier to unscrew something than put it back together.

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Becoming a real man…

So as we were driving away, we realised that the engine didn’t sound right… it was coughing and lurching and was obvious that we weren’t going anywhere!

But thankfully, we had hardly got out of the parking lot, and the motorcycle boys either knew what to do or knew whom to call. And amazingly there was a Land Rover specialist around the corner, who said that he would come over after work to check it out.

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Stuck in Nashville

When the mechanic showed up, he told us that we needed a new lift pump; and because it’s a unique car we needed to order it from a specialist dealer in New York. If we got the fastest shipping it would be here before the weekend…

So we were stuck in Nashville… but, hey… there are worse places to be stuck!

Over the next couple of days, we slowly fell in love with Nashville. The guys at Fort Houston took us under their collective wing, and we were semi-initiated into the Blackbirds Gentlemen’s Motorbike Assembly with the super spicy Hattie B’s chicken and the Fort Houston jersey.

The only problem was, we don’t have a motorbike… we only have a broken down Land Rover… but they didn’t seem to mind ☺

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Nick and Tanner, the Blackbirds

After two days of getting to know the city and the arts community, Friday morning came. After a serious breakfast of biscuits and gravy, we retuned to the Fort hoping that the part would have arrived.

But when we saw that the mail had been delivered and there was nothing for us, and that I still hadn’t received the confirmation email or tracking number from the company, we started to worry… If we didn’t get it today, we would be stuck until after the weekend!

Just then, I got an email saying that there was an incorrect zipcode on the order, and that I needed to call UPS to find out where the parcel was!

I finally got the tracking number, called UPS, and they told me that the shipment had been rerouted and that, even with the new, correct zip code, it wouldn’t be delivered until Monday…

But, Nick the Greek, a.k.a our saviour, got the address, jumped on his Harley and drove for over two hours to pick it up for us… and he even managed to grab us pizza in the process!

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To the rescue!

The mechanic was busy the whole day, and didn’t show up until 7.30pm on Friday night. He is obsessed with Land Rovers, and although he knew them well, he had never actually seen the 300TDi before. He was like a kid in a candy shop! And was very entertaining… we learned a lot that evening, and not just about Land Rovers… Patrick, one of the motorcycle guys stayed with us until 1am to help us finish, before being woken up early by his 2 year old daughter… I don’t think he got much sleep!

With the car fixed, there was a weight off our shoulders, and we should have been on our way. But we were having too much fun, and there was so much creative stuff going on that we had to at least stay for the weekend.

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Louise playing at Nashville’s Art Crawl, Fort Houston

Too many wonderful people and experiences to post about – artists, entrepreneurs, Land Rover lovers, lakes, barbecues, musicians… our souls were enriched and our senses were saturated!

We knew that we had to get back on the road, but put off saying goodbye for as long as we could. We had really found a home in Nashville – people who we admired, were inspired by, saw eye to eye with, laughed and ate and fixed things with.

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Bennett’s Airstream; Born in the N.A.S.H, at Porter Flea

We had been blown away by their hospitality, their generosity, their willingness to help us out and go the extra mile, or 100 miles, for. It’s an amazing feeling to be welcomed in to a community like the one we found at Fort Houston. What they have is truly special. We know we will be back.

After checking the oil one final time, (we had changed it once, and then again by accident!) we finally set off as the sun was setting and the rain stopped pouring.

And as we drove away, we were already trying to figure out how and when we could come back to Nashville. Michal realised the next day that he left his camera charger… I guess we’ll just have to go and get it!

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On the Road Again

Fort Houston

The soldiers line the fort. 

Their chariots await, their armour on the on stands.

The smiths of wood and metal and glass

Fire forth the strong and straight.

Print the banner, raise the flag.

Within the forge

The artisans 

Belong.

Function finds its form.

Unexampled, never seen before.

They’ve no enemy to fight,

No blood to shed,

No tears to draw.

But to draw forth the tangible from light.

Ten thousand dreams to bring to life.

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Guys taking a break behind Fort Houston

Nashville is a city that is rooted in music. It seems that everyone here is, or used to be, a musician or their parents are musicians or promoters or agents or songwriters…

And just like in LA, where every waiter is an actor with their big break just around the corner, in Nashville every waiter is a songwriter… with their big break just around the corner! So I guess we fit right in…

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Erin Murphy, artist.

But, it is not all about music. There is a growing scene of makers and craftspeople and artists and artisans that give Nashville a beautiful home grown, home made, home designed and taken-home identity.

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Our first day at the Fort, with Nick.

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One of their homes is Fort Houston: a 10,000 square foot old hosiery factory that is a living, breathing, sparking space where things are made. Not made digitally, with pixels, binary or code, like so much of our 21st Century world.

But made with sweat, machines, oil, metal, glass, ink, wood, power tools, sound, light, fire.

Falling into this space, tucked behind the railway line, we willingly lost ourselves in the Fort Houston creative atmosphere. A maze of workshops, where you literally trip over tools and can find anything from fine art to a gear wrench, the fort is alive with the sound of makers.

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Ryan, co-founder of Fort Houston, giving us a brief history of everything

Spending a week around its talented craftsmen, we began to see the secret of Fort Houston’s success. It is not ‘perfect’, it was not meticulously set out with a ten year business plan set in stone. It is an evolving creation itself, with artists and mechanics and smiths coming and going, being given the tools that they need and the inspiration around them in the form of people and space, giving back from within themselves, leaving their thumbprint on the walls and floors, and being challenged to create better.

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Atlas Motorworks custom build

Atlas Motorworks and the motorcycle boys are the welcoming committee that spill out into the parking lot. A collection of their own bikes, along with the bikes of their clients, fills the stands.

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Tyson at Knuckle Up Speed Shop

And as you move through their shops with parts and spanners and spare petrol tanks streamed everywhere, you begin the journey towards the print shop. With their headphones on, keeping their movements flowing and rhythmic, these boys work hard and long and their endless print cycles are almost robotic.

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A Woodworker’s Dream

Then there is the woodshop, with its carpet of sawdust and the metalshop with flying sparks and hot, sunburned smiths.

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Sparks will fly

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Layer on layer at the print shop

And dotted here and there, a jewellery maker, a painter or two, a glass blower, and a puppy.

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The newest member of the team.

It’s not a tourist attraction or and exhibit, although they do show work, but if you are ever passing through Nashville, make sure you visit 500 Houston Street, and say hello from The Travellers Two.

St. Augustine, FL

San Augustine, the oldest city in the USA, was founded in 1565. On the northern coast of Florida, the area was first explored by Ponce De Leon over 50 years earlier, of course with his legendary fountain of youth rumoured to be located close by.

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Several attempts by both the French and Spanish took place in the ensuing years to populate the area, but mutiny and pirates made it impossible until 1565, when Menendez landed on the feast day of Saint Augustine. And so it was named.

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The city, with its deep Spanish history, has a wonderfully Mediterranean feel – having just come from old colonial Charleston, we didn’t think that cities in the USA could feel much more European, but San Augustine did.

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And, after several hours of wandering the pretty streets, to make us feel even more at home, we ended up in The Prince of Wales pub!

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