A Travellerspoint blog

Cote d'Azur

Exploring Monaco, Nice and Menton

all seasons in one day 26 °C
View Europe 2007 on snchall's travel map.

Driving the Cote d'Azur - 2 May

Driving from Cannes to Menton (on the Italian border) can be completed in two or three different ways. Autobarn - 30 minutes, Freeway - 1 hour, every single little cove, bay, marina, avenue and lookout - 4.5 hours +. Our choice should by now be obviouse to all of you.

Arriving in Menton we had brought with us a pair of numb bums, fresh stocks of tea, tomatos and pasta, around 200 extra photos and glorious recollections of the amazing coastline. Our days to come were solely dedicated to exploring the coast, in particular the seaside principality of Monaco, Nice and our local refuge, Menton.

To add to our excitement, Camilla had selected a campsite high on the hill overlooking Menton and the mediterranean.

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Day 1 - Monaco - 3 May

There are a few good reasons to either visit or live in Monaco. The benefits of a tax haven, a casino which is known to lose, a castle and real live prince, and a grand prix circuit that closes down the entire country each year.

Our exploration of this enormous country (less than two square kilometres) began at the casino.

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'WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU ARE NOT OPEN AT 10am IN THE MORNING'. Aghast at how they could make any money at all we stormed off around the perfectly manicured gardens complete with scaffolding, holes and workmen setting up for grand prix to the tourist office. 'WHAT DO YOU MEAN I CANT DRIVE FAST AROUND THE RACETRACK!' Aghast we took their advice and our issues to the palace.

Glamourous living is one thing, then there is being the ruling family of Monaco. Like being the boss of a roast chicken shop there are only 20,000 citizens to keep happy, heaps of Casino income (who knows how) and tourist dollars everywhere. The castle holds a commanding view in all directions over the little empire below. It seemed fitting from this position that we gorge on delicious pastries for a while.

Changing of the guards was our first induction into the formalities of being in a principality. With the throngs of other tourists we clustered around the entrance to the palace to see a parade of fluffy headed muskiteers (alright guardspersons). A marching band and a couple of dozen salutes later and it was time for us to make a bee line to the visitors entrance.

Our visit to the palace grand apartments was guided by an english audiotour which proved both interesting and comical. At one point it was clear that the author of the dialogue was trying to impress the 'Family' with comments such as 'resplendant, divine, exquisite...' and most memorably a single request; 'don't be distracted by the splendour of the throne room and forget to press the green button'. Disappointed to not have seen the royal toilet around the corner we were only marginally distracted by the Palace Throne and thankfully remembered to press the green button just in time for more haughty taughty commentary.

Lunch in a principality is a difficult choice but at last we decided to turn down the personal invitation of the Prince and order a couple of mouthwatering woodfired pizzas. On our way back to the car we stopped off at the post office to get a post card sent home then out onto the promatory for a closer look at the Museo Oceanigraphique. Feeling that the palace was sufficient entertainment for today we did not go into the museum, instead we grasped the handrails tight in the gale forced winds to appreciate this great building.

Time to find out how Monaco looks from the track. The most exciting part about our one hot lap of the grand prix circuit was Steve making formula one car noise as he approached and departed every turn. We don't need to go into detail about the pitch he could reach at the end of the straight so let us just say it was hilarious.

Our betting budget set (AUD$20 - hey big spenders) we strode confidently through the sea of Bentleys, Ferraris, Jaguars and Rolls Royce to stand bewildered at the door. Our entire betting budget would be blown if we paid the 20 euro entry fee (probably in place to ensure they don't go broke again). The casino is a beautiful building so we admired the architecture, watched a few hundred tourists eagerly fork out their daily betting budgets from a distance.

Driving back through the stunning towns along the coast we huddled under the ramparts at Menton for a warm brew. As the rain teased with splatters of gusto we stood firm and felt all the better for it.

Day 2 - Nice - 4 May

The capital city of the Maritime Coast in the south of France is around 1 hours winding drive past road works and buses from Menton. We started late (which basically means we are even more enthusiastic about life if that is possible) only to find out that having a car is a real burden. Unfortunately, the 'beast' needs more than just apple cores and grass to keep it going. As we rounded the Port East into Nice the red petrol light had been on for a good 10 kms.

Finally we snaked our way into a parking station, ran for the toilets (30 centimes), put on our wet weather gear and strode off persistant in our quest to see Nice. 5 minutes later and the wet weather gear came off, our waiter came over to take our order and we sat watching the rain over the rims of our teacups. Adventurous we may be but silly we are not.

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Rewarding our diligence the sun came out and lit up the wet pavement, market umbrellas and rocks on the beach. Nice is gorgeous but not our first choice for lying on the beach sunbaking as it is made up of some of Europe's finest skimming rocks. As the waves break they drag pebbles down the bank rattling, and air pops below the surface which sounds like clinking of chains. Very peaceful, add some dolphin sounds and a few waterfalls and you have a relaxation cd to market.

Our walking tour of Nice was more of an amble through the historic streets and stretched as far as the headland overlooking the busy East Port. It is great seeing the maritime activity such as Nice where the large passenger ferries to Corsica depart.

On our way back across the coast to Menton we stopped overlooking a bay for gourmet cafe Hall style sandwiches (Blue Cheese, Avocado and Salami). Tucked neatly inside the bay where two cruiseships actively ferrying passengers to the shore. The smaller of the two was a glamourous yesteryear model while the Galaxy 2 liner (almost as big as Queen Mary) sat proud.

A short 2km detour (totally on purpose) took us into Italy and back again.

Goodbyes are always difficult, first Loustic now the Beast. It was not clear how affectionate we had become towards Toyotas little baby until we were trudging (and puffing) up the 317 stairs to our campsite on the hill.

Day 3 - Menton - 5 May

It has become apparent that there are luxury items we take for granted in Australia. The following list has been composed for your review:

[/list]LUXURY ITEMS WE CRAVE
[*]STEAK (big red juicy slabs of medium well bbq meat)
[*]Peanut Butter - AUD$10 per 400grm jar seems a little steep
[*]Pillows, queen sized bed
[*]English written and spoken language
[*]Wardrobe consisting of more than 4 items
[*]Washing machine, dryer and iron
[*]Free internet
[*]Hair dryer / straightener (Steve is very upset)
[*]Butter, sweet delectable butter
[*]Shower and taps that don't need to be pushed every 2 seconds
[*]Eating at a table with chairs

Today was a thong day. Please note there are only 4 thongs between us and they only go on our feet. We are in need of rest and relaxation so the reference above has become law within the team to ensure the toes do not permanent mold to the shape of our boots.

On Thong Day we spent a large proportion of time on lunch, sitting drinking tea, internet and general louping around. Thankfully the luxury items list was addressed. We ate in a seat twice, wow, consumed a whole stick of butter between us and cooked up bangers (that is as close to steak as we can justify) and mash.

Since we had time up our sleeves we wrote up the following tally for our own reference throughout the trip but thought you might enjoy a giggle. At the end you may realise that independant travel (the only way to go) is not all roses.

TALLY OF BITS AND PIECES (as of 12 May)

[*]CUPS OF TEA - 110 cups (55 boil and mash) in 30 days
[*]ACCOMMODATION - 27 Nights Camping, 19 Hotel, 7 Friends
[*]TRANSPORT (Main Legs) - 3 Planes, 13 Trains, 8 Buses, 5 Metro Systems, 1 donkey, 7 days car (France 450km, Italy 2km), 1 small tourist train, Hiked 84 kms and counting (does not include approximately 10km/p day sightseeing), Kayak 6km
[*]MEALS (Self Catered) - 33 cooked and numerous cold
[*]BAGUETTES - greater than 100
[*]ESCARGOT - 2 meals
[*]NAUGHTY PASTRY TREATS - we will never tell
[*]ICE CREAM - 8 times (just hit Italy so keep an eye on this one)
[*]MACDONALDS - 1 snack (big mac), 2x icecream, 3 toilet breaks
[*]DOG POO - 1 known step in (Steve)
[*]INJURIES - Steve: finger cut from 'knife of death', foot cut from climbing rocks barefoot in Verdon Gorge, Hayfever every second day - Camilla: sore foot/almost blister from hiking 28km in one day, rolled ankle down stairs in Florence
[*]LOADS OF WASHING - 1 (not a typo)
[*]WARDROBE MALFUNCTIONS - Steve, whole cut in jumper and since discarded, set fire to sleeve of softshell; Camilla, cut out of wet weather jacket due to zipper catching
[*]LONELY PLANET - Steve used it as a mallet to put in tent pegs, hence large hole in the back cover (Camilla suitably not impressed)
[*]LEFT BEHIND - shampoo in Cannes, floss in Marseille, compass in Moustiers
[*]MONEY FOUND - 1.50 euros (score)

As you can see we had plenty of time to navel gaze. Menton is a fabulous base for exploring the Cote d'Azur, heaps less crowded than the bigger neighbours and interesting in its own right. Although we opted for the car on both our excursions it would be easy (if not easier) to use the regular bus or train service to any of the famous destinations. To top off a great few days worth of holiday we had the most commanding view from the embassy, a great luxury that could not be topped.

Posted by snchall 06:38 Archived in France Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Cannes

Cote d'Azur Movie Magic

storm 16 °C
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Our day begins with a drive of around 30kms through the winding valley of Verdon before snaking our way down to the Cote d'Azur planned for midday. On route it was necessary to have breakfast as we had not yet eaten and let the poor little stove stretch its legs for a cup of tea.

Hiding from the wind in an open valley would ordinarily be difficult had it not been for a small forgotten church standing out in the field. Leaning against the cold rock wall with the wind whistling past our shoulder we devoured around 3000 kjoules of nutella, bananas and bread (purchased by the kilo). Admiring our little 'beast' we remarked what a great experience it has been to make our own way through this exciting landscape.

Cannes - 1 May

What a great way to start the month Camilla will roll over the half way to fifty mark. Approach Cannes in a car from the north is like driving into the 1960s Surfers Paradise, Queensland. Similarly, the inhabitants of Cannes also look like they were in their prime in this era.

Doing the classic beach cruise up the esplanade in the 'beast' we felt a million cents. A quick glance up from the beachfront scene proved helpful as we simultaneously found the tourist information bureau and the last parking spot on the Cote d'Azur.

Our campsite was easily found only minutes from the action. We erected the Chateau (now known as the Embassy due to religious flying of the Aussie flag) between 4 (probably dozen) gigantic motor homes. If we could be seen from space in our tent already, it would be even easier now that we are bordered by big white satellites.

As if we have not yet learnt our lesson about French and their holidays (always applicable to the public transport system) we learnt quickly that the bus to Cannes was not running. Sucking up the strength to drive off aimlessly in a crowded resort town we found yet another convenient parking spot only a moments walk to the first of a series of marinas and the strip.

The taste of asphalt is not all that appealing yet it was difficult to drag our tongues off the pavement looking at the series of megayachts, classic sailing vessels and power mansions. In chorus we sang 'yep I'd probably be happy with that one but would get sick and tired of landing the leare jet on the jacuzzi, what a stupid design - no I would prefer the helipad to be painted pink to match my shoes... nausiating really. Really, it is a little disturbing seeing so much wealth (Example: two Ferraris under covers by the marina with personal security guard...) all sitting in Cannes unused.

A Tour and lesson 101 - French Kiss, The Movie

Starring Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline the movie French Kiss is one of those classics that due to our marriage is now an integral part of our trip. Camilla spontaneously recites various quotes and has often gasped at random places around France which are recognisable should you watch the movie more than a 1000 times.

Cannes is the location of the movie finale where 'Kate' and 'Luke' figure it out and fall in love. If you think that gives away the ending and you are upset, it is definitely time you hired every single romantic comedy with Meg Ryan in it and realise it was inevitable.

First Stop - Carlton Hotel

Classy, rediculously beautiful and with a price tag to match. Kate finds her cheating rat of a fiancé dining with his younger girlfriend and winds up crawling through the corridors of the foyer covered in cake. We didn't have any cake but the rest of the scene was reenacted as closely as possible.

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Second Stop - Cartier Shopfront

Kate exchanges the necklace Luke gave her for her life savings to the cops because they knew Luke stole it. Are you keeping up with this??? Camilla is currently sitting in front of the computer unable to explain the intricacies of the storyline sufficiently to transpose onto the blog, therefore please see the movie. Cartier was unfortunately closed today as they are probably off funding the bbq for the bus drivers, so we just stood outside instead.

Third Stop - Park and Marina

Luke finds out that Kate gave him her life savings instead of him being arrested by the cops...? We ate ice cream as they did and kissed a little bit too (because we wanted to, not just because they did in the movie) while overlooking the marina. A lovely day in Cannes and a great place to explore in the sun.

Back at the embassy we ate like movie stars with an assorted tomato pasta (including tomato and pasta) followed by cold showers (not our choice) and a sniffiling night due to the pollen.

Day 2 - A productive day in the rain

Waking up refreshed to a glorious sunny day was planned. Instead we enjoyed the heaviest downpour and clapping great thunderstorm all night, dulled down by the noise of the freeway behind the site which was not heard previously as you well know there were not any busses.

What to do in the rain? With no clean clothes left and depleating supplies of tomato, pasta and cooking gas we headed straight to the laundramat. Please note that all washing to date has been completed by hand, therefore under the 'luxury items or entertainment' budget there is now journalled two loads of washing and drying. Almost $25 and 2 hours later having sat in our swimmers in the cold we left hugging a warm dry bag of sweeeeeet clothing. Ahh the high life.

So how do you dry thick brown locks of hair in a downpour without a hairdryer. Drag husband to camping store, indicate there is no time limit to browse, promise lunch of roast chicken once hair is dry. Easy.

Our day in the rain passed with plenty of laughs. Although we had planned two nights in Cannes, as the sun started peaking through we decided it was time to leave the cold showers and noisy freeway for greener pastures immediately. Twenty minutes later and we were in the car heading for the famous drive along the Cote d'Azur.

Posted by snchall 05:55 Archived in France Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Castellane

Exit the Verdon

storm 18 °C
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Basecamp shift down the Valley

Leaving La Palud with the favourite sandwich ingrediants procured we headed out of town to Point Sublime to watch climbers on the cliff face. Incredible that people actually challenge themselves to this extreme.

Our view down the Gorge overwhelmingly reminds us that gravity is against us and that hand rails are there for a reason. Sitting at a specially chosen venue on the side of the road (read - Camilla saw a gravel patch big enough for the car, 2metres square) we had a late breakfast of baguette, nutella, lavendar honey and without question a cup of tea. On this stretch of road it is impossible to not be blown away with the sight of huge mountains and green valleys. Amazing what a drop of rain and decent snow melts can do to the earth.

Setting up tent at a new destination has become very routine. Within 10 minutes a dry safe haven can be erected anywhere and sleeping gear laid out. By the time we had camp sorted we both had a funny feeling that the car was not being well utilised. Typically in Australia the average holiday drive would involve hours of dry straight road to mull through. Here we have moved down the valley bombarded with glorious views an entire 40 kilometres with photo stops.

Castellane - 30 April

Castellane is a small town with again (cut and paste) 'winding narrow streets, gorgeous squares, little fountains, and a chapel on a big rock'. If it is there you should climb it, that is the motto for all hardened and exhausted backpackers feeling lazy from the use of a car. Driving around the corner before the climb we set up a picnic in the river bed on dry rocks and commenced with smoked salmon (firtst time since Australia), cheese and avocado - Camilla's favourite. Our standoff with the sprinkles of rain lasted only a few minutes before we retreated to the campsite.

Had we listened to our feet and legs prior to climbing Le Roc, or taken a quick glance at the looming black (BLACK) clouds overhead we may have opted for a second cup of tea before departure. Following the map in our Verdon Gorge walking book it was exclaimed that an essential element of this adventure was to diligently follow the itinerary. Within minutes Steve had us following other tourists up the short cut. The lesson learnt here was that communicating any variations to Camilla is far more important than the shortcut.

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On arrival at the top, and realisation that we missed walking through the historic centre of town, we found ourselves tired and needing to rest. At that precise moment the black clouds let out a bellowing clap of thunder that rolled through the valley and around the peaks promptly followed by our good friend, rain. The slippery descent did not encourage us to detour off the shortcut back even though the 9th century ruins in the fields were only metres away. Safely at the bottom we walked past a very welcoming French pizzaria which lured us back for dinner.

NOTE TO VALUED READERS: We really appreciate the feedback so far that you are enjoying the blog as we are putting it together. If you have any recommendations or wish for us to include any other details let us know. Also, as we now have 4 subscibers which has helped to increase our photo download limit from 25 to 100 megabytes which is extremely useful as last month we ran out of space. Best wishes to all and stay safe.

Posted by snchall 06:37 Archived in France Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

La Palud sur Verdon

Into the deepest gorge in Europe

sunny 24 °C
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The Verdon Gorge - 29 April

Reluctantly we left Moustiers in the 'Beast' aptly named given that our car is a two door, 1.3 litre Toyota Echo with the power and carrying capacity only marginally greater than a 5 year old donkey.

The Verdon Gorge spills its crystal clear aquamarine river out into the vast Lake Saint Croix. At the portal of the gorge two huge cliffs each well over 500 metres beacon you to explore within like doors on a patisserie. Tired of walking, and reading maps, we opted for a yellow submarine shaped like a two person kayak.

Paddlying below the bridge and past numerous tourist spectators we entered (with the hoards of other frontier explorers). Collossal is not a big enough word to describe the overhanging cliffs up to 700 metres high as we paddle below in the equivalent of a couple of hundred plastic bags melted together.

Other tourist 'explorers' chose various flotation devices including the traditional canoe, foot powered paddle catermarans (with or without waterslide and sun bed) and even electric speedboats (1 or possibly 2 knots at a stretch). It was not long until we reached the cascades not far past the most obvious example we have seen of continental upheaval. The limestone and marble rock was layered at almost 45 degrees giving a true feeling of earths power.

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As it became shallower we saw the river stones glide below. Coming in and out of the sunlight we rounded a corner to be faced with a series of massive tumbling and turbulent rapids gushing through the bolders. The previous description is scare the mums talk for easily managable ripples in the water. Our final obstacle seperated team Hall in opinion as Steve gushed with enthusiam regarding our ability to conquer the final upstream rapid. Camilla waited patiently and boatless, giggling quietly into the video camera as Steve failed to even make a stab at the trickle through the rocks.

A lovely afternoon was spent exploring the banks at this narrow neck of the gorge. Lunch was polished off rapidly (punn intended) before our down stream float back to the lake. Some areas of the river are like sitting on a big fish tank with huge trout swimming below. We were thankful that our day commenced and concluded when it did as we saw other paddlers struggling with the wind and current working with us through the gorge.

Our resting point for tonight was a leisurely 30 minute drive to cover around 10 kilometres of the most hairraisingly winding and beautiful roads glued to the side of the gorge. Looking down at the water from the heights gave us a further appreciation of where we were only moments before and how fantastic it is to find places only a few thousand tourists known about.

La Palud sur Verdon is one of those gorgeous yet forgettable country towns in the south of France overrun by walkers, climbers, hikers, campers, cavers, cayoners, cyclists and two little Aussies. Our campsight was originally bypassed without compromise by a now exhausted Steve (guess who did a few strokes of paddling more) only to be returned to once the voice of reason (a.k.a The Wife) made the observation that there is probably a reason why it is busy. Low and behold our tent looked out over the valley for 30 kilometres towards 1,700 metre high mountain framing the town as night fell. A hot shower didn't go astray either.

Posted by snchall 06:08 Archived in France Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Moustiers Saint Marie

Off the beaten track completely!

sunny 25 °C
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Travel Drama - the first real setback overcome

Hong Kong, Paris, Rome, London, Le Puy en Velay... - are destinations already on the itenarary. The Verdon Gorge however is one of those special places which in hindsight could not be missed.

To get from Marseille to the closest town to the Grand Canyon de Verdon we caught a bus to Aix en Provence where, while waiting on the platform, we informed the parents by SMS of our intentions to go out of range. Moments later and we received a phone call from Mike (Steve's Dad) gleefully informing us whilst panting heavily that he had just reached the top of a long steep section of the Great Wall of China!

Having already gone off the beaten track previously with our friend Loustic the Donkey we were full of confidence if not a little cocky. Arriving in Manosque??? we chased down the bus station for a conection to Moustiers Saint Marie (with no real idea what was even there). The very helpful bus attendant was incredibly disorganised and even after changing her mind a dozen times regarding the practicality of our request finally confirmed it was possible to leave this afternoon. Repeating back her English confirmation in French seemed to be the logical safeguard to be satisfied she was giving us the right information. With 7 hours to ourselves before the bus it was time to explore Manosque (read - find pastries and internet).

Having caught up with our blog, photo and video compilations and full of good food we arrived promptly half an hour early at the bus station. By 10 minutes past the confirmed time of departure Steve ventured in to enquire after the reason for delay. A more astute attendant gave an almost indignant 'you have to be kidding you crazy tourist, there is no hope on earth of getting there via bus today'. Please excuse the slight paraphrasing but the simple 'no, it is school holidays - there are no buses for 5 days' sounded the same to us.

Deliberation ensued, moreso it could be observed by any outsider that we were entirely dumbfounded with our situation and therefore resorted to pulling faces at passing traffic. Finally a solution, spend more money!

Only metres away a beacon of hope 'EUROPCAR'. 'Bonjour, Je voudrais une petit voiture maintenant' (Hello, I would like a small car now). A small after hours penalty, signing off of a 900 euro waiver and the upgrade for Loustic the Donkey was secured. Now for finding the correct door to get in and drive...

Like hesitant baby steps we got to our feet on the wrong side of the road and ended up completely lost in the small, small town of Manosque. By the way, Manosque should you choose to visit is actually lovely with a walled city section, lovely courtyards and pear slushy worth every centime.

Chanting 'right, right, right, right' Camilla kept us on the correct side of the road all the way to Moustiers, a measly 30 kilometres. What a sight to drive in late afternoon with the sun going down in the rear view as we drove through purple lavendar and yellow canola fields. Winding around the cliffside we passed numerous country stone houses before approaching the 700 metre high cliffs of the Verdon range. Perched precariously between two mountains in a narrow ravine was Moustiers. Score!

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Campsight living is great, pay 10 euros for the best view of town. The only shortfall today really was that halfway through our showers the lights got turned off. Lucky we know where everything is.

Moustiers Saint Marie - 28 April

Waking early at the sight of a dark cliff face silhouetted by the sun rising behind we shivered in the morning mist with muesli in hand and fallen pollen covering the ground. Our plan for today seemed simple, enjoy all that this section of the Verdon National Park has to offer with a short 12 km hike through the hills and ravines surrounding Moutiers.

We thought we were off to a good start, topographical maps in hand, compass, sufficient water for a couple of days, snacks and determination. Having found the yellow way markers indicated on the map and in the dialogue we set forth on the climb through olive groves at the commencement of this round trip hike. WIthin 4 kilometres we realised that the map was not matching the waymarkers as expected. We pushed on feeling that if the markers continue then we are on a known route and can retrace our steps if required. Well, that was required!

We were beaten to the peak of Le Castillon at 988 metres only by a glider being towed by a tug high above our heads then soaring off through the valley. Confident we were on the right peak it was definitely time to put the map reading skills to the test and find the return route back to base. With all the diligence and determination in the world it was left undiscovered. The sheer frustration, and admittedly the element of concern we decided to retrace our steps. The only casualties on the trip were our egos and a compass deemed totally unrealiable.

It wasn't until the clarity afforded by a hot cup of tea that we relooked at the cursed map to find that our mistake was within feet of our departure point. Whilst following the route diligently, it became apparent that our way had only covered the return path. In retrospect it was probably the more picturesque of the two ways as it passed close to town. The feeling of being lost even though our destination was reached has taught us a valuable lesson which relates directly with life goals. Sometimes it is not just about being successful at reaching the goal but knowing how you got there, when is a safe time to bail, calculating the risks, admitting mistakes, feeling safe and confident and always know your way home.

A early evening walk through town as the lights were coming on et our spirits soaring once more. Moustiers is nestled between the gap in two huge mountains and split by cascading waterfalls. Tucked within the rock is a slippery stone staircase leading almost 80 metres above the town to a dark chappel built on the ruins of an ancient equivalent. Viewing the narrow winding streets from such a height makes you wonder how they built such an intricate laborynth.

Posted by snchall 05:23 Archived in France Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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