Rome – Day 2 – Splendid Isolation

Continuing with the Warren Zevon reference, as I am wont to do.  If it’s OK for Hank Moody and the producers of Californication, it’s certainly okay for me.

I want to live alone in the desert
I want to be like Georgia O’Keefe
I want to live on the Upper East Side
And never go down in the street

Splendid Isolation
I don’t need no one
Splendid Isolation. 

‘Splendid Isolation’ is one of my favourite Zevon songs.  Up until today, I had not really thought about why.  But it was the song that immediately sprang to mind after posting the Part 1 blog on Rome.  You work it out……

So reflecting last night on my day, I resolved to find things that would not make me feel closed in.  A quick look at the tourist map and a big swatch of green stood out – the Villa Borghese and its parklands.  So that was to be my target.

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Piazza del Popolo, viewed from Pincio.

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Across to St Peter’s Basilica, again from Pincio.

A quick drive to an area near Baldo degli Ubaldi tube station and would you believe the same free carpark space I used yesterday was still free.  A quick tube ride to Flaminio station near the Piazza del Popolo, and then a walk straight to the park via the Pincio section below the park. DSC_5992

Aaaaah.  Peaceful, with relatively few people.  Not isolation in its truest form, but comparatively so.

Buying a frozen lemon drink, I let out a very satisfied aaaaaaah, and got an immediate response from a couple approaching the same vendor.  They spoke to me in English and we had a lovely chat.  Newlyweds in their early 30s, from Worcester and about to move to Isle of Wight for a better lifestyle for their 3 girls.  Delightful people, and not a selfie-stick on them.  Interestingly, they were looking for much the same experience, having quickly tired of the thronging crowds.

I felt better after hearing that, as I feared I was becoming misanthropic.  🙂

One thing I did not do is pay to enter anything obviously connected to the Catholic Church.  It owns about 60% of landholding in Rome, last time I chased the stats.  I was raised a Catholic, but my questioning mind never allowed me to comfortably accept the whole ‘faith’ thing.  I’m an empirical person.  I want facts and data.
Along the way I think The Church also let many of its constituents down – it failed to maintain a progressive approach, and became mired in its own form of fundamentalism.  It’s attitude to women in the face of the Sexual Revolution being a case in point.
And a period of time in a Catholic high school did not give me reason to develop positive feelings towards The Church.

Now, the new bloke, Pope Francis, he may well drag The Church kicking and screaming into the 21st Century, but it won’t be without a fight.  My jury is still out.  Thankfully, I don’t plan on burning the people who disagree with my opinions…….  Well, not right now, anyway.

So I am morally opposed to going to anything connected with The Church.
No Vatican Tour for me, or the Vatican Museum.
No St Peter’s Basilica.

Apart from Villa Borghese I went to the Museo Leonardo da Vinci, which had some interactive models that were fun to use, and some very interesting displays in general.  At 10 EU maybe a little pricey but I liked it enough to buy a tee-shirt as well.

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Interactive. Great to see the kids working out how the machines work, how to reset the ratchets, etc.

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Early tool for tapping threads. Really clever.

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At the furthest extreme of the park I found the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna.  8.50 EU.  What a gem!  Quiet, with few people, unlike the crazy Galleries in Paris, and some damn fine art.  Note that it’s worth enlarging these images and seeing the depth of detail.  Bella’s work is luscious, and the Tommassi and Corcos paintings show incredible levels of detail and it certainly lifted my heart to behold these lovely things.  I suppose Lonely Planet and similar sites will eventually put this place on the ‘Top 10 Undiscovered Treasures of Italy’ or something similar, and the place will go to hell in a handbasket fairly quickly as the selfie-stick brigade take over.  LOL.

And I found a new artist to love, Giacomo Balla.  Sorry if some of the shots aren’t square, but it was hard sometimes to get a decent shot because of other displays.
A couple from Bella, first up.  Great colour.

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I also found this Angelo Tommasi painting titled ‘The Immigrants’.  Given what’s happening across the Mediterranean, including Italy, the placement of this large canvas near the entrance was not, I believe, accidental.  And it is beautiful. Sorry about the bad angle, best I could do.

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As is this sculpture from Umberto Boccioni.

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And this one, ‘Sogni’, from Vittorio Corcos in 1896.

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A Gustav Klimt, from 1905.  Apart from the glorious use of colour, the topic will interest my daughter Ellen, who is a midwife.

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And here’s some random shots.  There was so much really good art here it was wonderful.  Mission achieved, I had a great Day 2.  Redemption!

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Part of a larger piece, this is about 1.5 sections of about 16. Massive. They are nails, and the effect is mesmerising, particularly as every change of angle brings a change of light.

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Random Jackson Pollock….

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Rome, part 1 – Ain’t That Pretty At All

“I’ve been to Paris
And it ain’t that pretty at all
I’ve been to Rome
Guess what?  It ain’t that pretty at all.
I’d like to go back to Paris someday and visit the Louvre Museum
Get a good running start and hurl myself at the wall
Going to hurl myself against the wall
‘Cause I’d rather feel bad than feel nothing at all
And it ain’t that pretty at all
Ain’t that pretty at all.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3n9aivoGtAQ

When the late, the very great, the King of Song Noir, Warren Zevon penned ‘Ain’t That Pretty At All’, I doubt he contemplated being referenced in a travel blog.  I have seen Zevon perform twice, and both times were a privilege.  Have a listen to ‘Poor Poor Pitiful Me’ from the Learning to Flinch live album, and you can hear me (at front of stage) exhorting Zevon to “go for it” in the frenzied intro.  I loved that man and his music, so we cannot pass without a Zevon reference.  I also love The Pixies, so their live version of the Zevon song is worth the link (above).

Now Zevon’s somewhat disaffected, to say the least, opinions of Paris and Rome may give you pause to disagree, but I agree.  And then again I don’t.  Let me explain, at least in regard to Rome.

At the risk of being accused of heresy, and being burned at the stake, after my first day in it, I must confess I didn’t much care for Rome. It was crowded, it is dirty and strewn with trash.

There are other deep-rooted reasons for my discontent, forged deep down in my psyche for reasons I can’t explain.  I feel really claustrophobic in big cities.  I don’t feel the same way in subways or caves or closed in places, so it’s got something to do with the weight of humanity I feel around me.

So the first day involved vast masses of humanity, and I ended the day footsore from the walking, and misanthropic from the crowds.

I visited the Fontani di Trevi, and it was screened off and covered with scaffolding.  Strike 1.

I went to the Colosseum and I looked at the infinite queue, and the masses of people on the visible parts.  Nope, not into that.  Strike 2.

Everywhere were selfie-sticked people of every generation hell-bent on getting the iconic photo to put on their Facebook or Instagram account, without ever realising that the most iconic photos are the ones WITHOUT them in it.  Because the architecture that has stood the test of a thousand years is what it is all about.  It’s not about those who want to inflate their naturally tiny lives by attaching them to an object of great significance.  Strike 3.  As I wrote in one of my songs, “This Minor World”:

And in the comfort of this minor world,
The flags of our tiny lives unfurl,
To mark the passing of the day.
Small fools are we, but it’s our way.

Anyway, I returned to my hotel and slept the sleep of the dead.  12 hours.  It’s clear I was knackered.  I guess 3 and a half months on the road has to take its toll eventually. Not to mention all the kilometres I covered wandering back-alleys and sidestreets in the search for redemptive experiences.

So before I went to bed I set myself a target.  Day 2 was going to be better.  I would find oceans of calm amidst the babbling crowds.  If Ellen could find it on her Day 2 in Rome, maybe so could I.
Check out the next blog to see how it turned out.  In the meantime, here’s some photos.  Cue the seething humanity……

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And some shots where I have managed to exclude the madding crowd.

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The faded Italian flag outside the Carabinieri HQ, and the relatively modern facade contrasted with the ancient building behind it.

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Old Fort section.

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Colosseum, see what I mean about the crowds perched up there…..

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Steps leading up to Carabinieri HQ.

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Random street scene.

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Carcassonne, besieged

Like the medieval Cathars, laid to siege and slaughtered for not submitting to Catholicism, I too have been laid to siege…..

The trip to Carcassonne started badly.
In Barcelona, I went to pay my hotel bill and my card was not accepted. Plenty of money in the account, and I had not exceeded my daily limit as far as I could see.
Luckily I had almost the full amount in cash. But it left me stony broke. I stopped at a bank in the first village and tried my card. No luck. Hit the CashPassport account, but only 175 Euros left in it so withdrew forty to keep me going.

More good fortune, I had filled up on the way to Barcelona so had about 450 kms of diesel in the tank. So I didn’t have to find the cash for fuel.
Arrived hungry, with about 100 kms of fuel left in the tank. Checked the bank, still not working. Checked my bank account and no indications that any secure emails left for me re cancellation of the card or whatever.
Next step is a WhatsApp message and subsequent email to Ellen re cash passport. I needed her help as I could not do it from my end due to security restrictions from my bank that are tied to using confirmations via SMS. And the mobile phone number they have for SMS confirmations is my Australian number, not the one I’m using in Europe. Transferred some money to her account so she can do it from her end for me, with a few details provided by email.
So my first day in Carcassonne is piled high with stress. I dare not spend too much on food or other items (like a badly needed toothbrush), as I don’t know how long this issue is going to stretch out for, and the timezone difference means I cannot even ring the bank in Australia to work out what is going on.

My initial impressions of Carcassonne….
Full of tourists, many of them loud and self-absorbed. No, that’s not my style. The old town and the exterior of the Medieval City is very pretty, but the rest of it looks pretty down at heel. Like a lot of towns in Europe that are focused on tourism, the focus appears to be on the tourism site, rather than maintaining a more attractive civic feel.
That’s a polite way of saying that, apart from the tourism site, the city fathers need to work harder to make the whole Carcassonne experience a better one. As it turns out, tours of the main part of the Medieval City are free, and thereby hangs the problem. A small fee to tour the city could be charged and rolled back into some broader beautification, without too much public backlash, I would have thought.

So I hit the bed very late, after a day of abject worry. After an ‘interesting’ night, it is now 3pm and I am sitting in the hotel bar eating olives (something I never ate until I came to Europe) and consuming a very large glass of Affligem beer. And feeling a lot better about the world.

To explain, let’s roll the clock back 11 hours to 4am. After a fitful sleep of about four hours I awoke with a crippling pain in my lower back and pelvis. Had this a couple of times before in periods of acute stress.
I login to hotel WiFi which is a bit patchy and seems to drop you out after inactivity. Multiple messages from Ellen and she has done a transfer onto my CashPassport card for me. That’s one thing off the list and at least gives me a strategy if the Visa doesn’t pan out. She tells me that bank weren’t helpful as she is not account/cardholder. But she has given me a direct number to call, as the 132585 number doesn’t work from OS. I’d already tried it without success, which had only further elevated the stress levels.

So I call them. At first I get a trainee who is not a lot of help. So I ask for someone more experienced. It’s then I get Kirsty, and things take a turn for the better. She is switched on, understands the situation, says she gets very much the same symptoms when she gets stressed, and works towards a solution. I have been with these guys since 1977 in fact. So I reckon I deserve a good outcome.

Step one is that they open the card briefly so I can get to the local ATM and get EU500 out. Another item ticked. It turns out my card has somehow been skimmed, and there have been some bogus charges from a USA merchant. So Visa blocked the card. I will write to Visa about the process, as I think there are some obvious improvements that could be implemented. Like if the transaction fails, tell the person WHY, in their native language. That shortens the timeline to a solution. Do it at the ATM or Merchant transaction, and provide the international support numbers etc on the printout.

Anyhow, the short answer is an emergency card will be issued and delivered to my destination hotel tomorrow. I won’t be able to use it in ATMs, but I will be able to use it to keep booking accommodation for the Italian leg and thereafter.
There’s a lesson here, folks. If you travel, have a couple of debit cards. One that you use until things go pear-shaped, and then another you can use thereafter to get you out of a hole. If you don’t have a second card for your account, and are planning to travel, DO IT NOW. It will be a great insurance bet, and saves the $350 emergency card issue fee from Visa.

I can’t tell you how having no money and no access to it is an incredibly isolating and confronting experience when you are a world away from home. I know that’s a very first world problem, but it was MY first world problem, and it was scary.

This has been an incredibly stressful experience, but if you keep your cool and work all the options, something generally pans out.
As Nietzsche wrote, “that which does not kill you makes you stronger”.
And the lower back and pelvis pain has gone……..

Some photos of the medieval castle and cemetery to leaven the story.

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Coming from Adelaide, just had to take this snap

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Malaga and The Costa del Sol – The Last Resort

Dear readers, you know I am fond of a musical pop culture reference, so I cannot go past Messrs Henley and Frey, of The Eagles, for their epic close to the Hotel California album. In “The Last Resort”, reflecting on mankind’s inherent ability to screw up that which we value most, the refrain goes minor to reflect the sadness when Henley sings:
“You call some place Paradise, kiss it goodbye”.

So it is with what once must have been a majestic and profoundly beautiful piece of the world, with occasional towns and villages scattered across it, this piece of Spain that looks over the Mediterranean.
And now it is one long strip pf motels, hotels, hostels, bodegas, housing and commerce.

I’m here, staying in a motel, but only because it allows me to go to Morocco from here. So I have to fess up to being part of the problem………

Malaga ain’t a pretty place, and it’s no less pretty than most of what I saw along the coast as I made my way here. I compare this with Arcachon in France and, well, there is just no comparison. Arcachon looks to have a much better control over development, and as a result wins hands down as a destination I would choose. Malaga has a nice cathedral and fortress, and some nice old architecture, and some delightful verandahs and gates and doors, but most of it is dwarfed by high-rise development. Good development balances scale and existing amenity. That clearly hasn’t happened here.

On the upside, I got to swim in the Mediterranean for the first time.

I also got to have a truly mediocre seafood paella at a packed local restaurant. I went there hoping the crowd indicated quality. A few scraps of seafood, including one prawn and one tiny langoustine, both so dry they must have come from a previously cooked meal, and one mussel. Boy was I wrong about the quality. After asking for the bill, the waiter also didn’t arrive for 15 minutes. I had to go to the bar to get things sorted. The bar guy made the mistake of asking how my paella was. I didn’t so much complain, as tell him it was so-so, and nowhere near the quality of a paella from Lisbon in Portugal. (“No es bueno como la paella que tenía en Lisboa. El marisco no era fresco”.)
I hope that pricked his Spanish pride despite my imperfect Spanish.

So I am, as I write, lounging by the pool, making use of my ASUS tablet PC I bought in London, and about to have a cerveza grande and a snack. It’s 2.15pm and before noon it had hit 38 Celsius. I’m a bit nervous as I have to be up early-ish tomorrow to meet the tour bus taking me to depart to Morocco. I have to leave most of my luggage in the hands of the hotel as well as my car, as I am staying here on the day I return. Morocco is an overnight bag and a backpack only.

So, dear readers, any of you very few have an alternative viewpoints to offer? Let me know. Maybe I’m just in the wrong place and the wrong headspace?????

Assen and the Dutch TT

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Pedro making an appearance with the MotoGP ticket and the train ticket.

Assen has been hosting motorcycle racing for 85 years. The circuit in its current form is less than a decade old, having been shortened and remodelled to suit the demands of modern GP racing. Any discussion on whether the new layout is better or worse is pointless, as the changes have been made and are permanent.
Assen is known as ‘The Cathedral’ among the fans, testament to its place in the motorsport calendar. And deservedly so. They put on a magical show, both at the circuit and in he town. This event must bring in tens of millions to the circuit organisers, the motels for over a hundred kilometres around the circuit, the stallholders selling team and MotoGP merchandise, the food vans, and the pubs and restaurants. It’s big business

I stayed in Aduard, at a chain motel. It is a few kilometres from Groningen, 30 or so kilometres to the north of Assen. The motel was good, the room was modern and the en-suite was good and the Wi-Fi was excellent. And the pilsener over the bar was good as well – I know, I had plenty over my three night stay.

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David Robertson, Andy Charlton and Not-on-Facebook Dave Good lads and dedicated riders.

Getting to Assen was a doddle – a 400 metre walk to the bus stop, and a 5 euro ride on the 35 or 39 route into Groningen Central station. 15 minutes later I had my 11 euro return train ticket for the trip to Assen Central, and a little while later I was on the shuttle bus to the track, another 5 euros for the return trip. Tip for travellers, if you are going to Friday practice and qualifying as well as Saturday (race day), buy the Friday and Saturday shuttle tickets at the same time, saves queuing on race day. So all up to get there and back each day cost 26 euros. Beats the hell out of driving and parking, and of course no drinking as the area is heavily policed during TT week.

 

On the train I met some mad blokes from UK, Andy and the two Daves. With me tacking on that made three Daves plus Andy. Good blokes, and we ended up having good fun over the next two days. I suspect there will be some catching up at a GP somewhere, sometime. Oh the magic of a social media savvy world.
Practice day was fun as we wandered a bit, bought plenty of merchandise, tried to eat healthily, and went to seats we wouldn’t be allowed to access on race day.

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Street sculpture of a motorcycle, being put to good use by the young feller.

Then we headed into Assen on the shuttle and partook of some of the drinking and more merriment. Cue the biggest order of spare-ribs I have ever had – 2 full rib sections, with some nice sweet chilli sauce, and a number of beers. The delivery of my meal brought great mirth.  The waiter dropped the meat, picked it up and put it back on the plate and asked if I still wanted it.  True!  I was gobsmacked, and apparently the look on my face was worth the price of the meal at least, and my response was swift and appropriate.  I had to leave the boys and dash off to the train, and let them get up to more mischief, as I had to get to Groningen before the last bus to Aduard. Mission accomplished and showered and into bed a little after midnight.
We had been lucky with the weather, as it had threatened to rain on the Friday and the Saturday, but both days had periods of cloud interspersed with periods of full sun, so we did all right as far as spectating goes. I was busy dispensing SPF30 sun screen to the knuckleheads – said with affection – that I had hooked up with, because in a typically British way they just hadn’t expected the sun to turn up. We saw some people on Friday looking horribly sunburnt after a day in the low 20s…….

 

Race Day – this is the day when the flag drops, and the bullshit stops, as they say in the classic motorsport journals.
A quick reprise of my Friday trip to the circuit, made more remarkable by the size of the Saturday crowd. I thought Assen on Friday was busy, but Saturday looked what I imagine Grand Central Station must look like at rush hour. Major crowds, and some seriously good looking women clad in leather……now I ask you, what more could a man want???

With me talent spotting for Dave Robertson, and vice versa, we formed a formidable alliance, and I doubt that any 8/10 or above female missed our attention.
But I digress, for there was racing to be seen. Despite that fact that my original seat booking at Strubben had been screwed up somehow, and I was offered an “excellent alternative” seat, what I got was, let’s be clear, A SHIT SEAT. More on this later as I have not yet had time to give full vent to the ticketing organisation about my dissatisfaction.
Let me explain. You buy a seat at Strubben to watch the action at the end of the main straight, plus the tight infield section that follows. So when you get a seat 2/3 the way down the main straight that has a far view of the end of the straight and NO VIEW of the infield, you have a mind to be mightily fucked off. And I was (and still am), dear reader, mightily fucked off.  As a result, I have many photos of very small bikes starting the entry to the infield section.  Do I have any decent photos of the infield action?  NO! So no worthwhile memories to have enlarged and printed and put up on my wall.  Are you getting a feel of general disaffection with a certain ticketing organisation????  I hope the executives of the organisation in question book a trip to Greenland sometime, and end up on a slow boat to Patagonia.  It will serve them right.
Aaaaaah, that feels better.  A good venting always works wonders.
But let us get to race day. Danny Kent carried way more corner speed at the section of the bottom of the main straight and infield (that i could see) and appeared to have better turn in. And he won. The best talent does win out in Moto3, although last year’s championship result might not support that opinion. Go look it up.

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See the people in the distance. That’s where I was supposed to be sitting.

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This is the ticketing company’s idea of a “good view of the pitboxes”. Yeah, it would be, without all the effing awnings and other crap.

 

Moto2 is my least favourite class, dominated by chassis manufacturers all running a spec Honda engine. Yet it provided some very entertaining racing. My tip, the crazily talented M. Zarco won through in the end. This guy is seriously good.
In the main game a certain V. Rossi managed to win, despite a ludicrous lunge by Marc Marquez on the last corner and an even more ludicrous protest over the result. My dear brother Martyn, known for his colourful and delightful turn of phrase, would describe Marquez’s protest as being the actions of a “crack-smoking lunatic”. Hard to argue, Marty. I’m no Rossi Apologisti, but he won it fair and square. As I have moved to comment before, in the days of Stoner and Rossi, Valentino may not be the fastest rider, but he’s the best racer. Nothing has changed in that regard and though my affection for Valentino has diminished over the years with some of his stupid mind games, particularly his ludicrous misrepresentations of Sete Gibernau in the Italian press, he’s relentless and indefatigable on race day.
So Assen, so long on my bucket list, delivered in spades.
Not only did the racing and even in general deliver, notwithstanding the shit tickets, but I also met some truly fun guys who I hope to host in Oz at some time in the future. The 2 Daves, and Andy, were great fun and we have been engaged in regular Facebook dialogue about our various adventures since. These guys like to ride. My kinda guys………and so on balance the Assen TT was a plus. I still want my money back for the shit tickets, mind you.
And I would be remiss to note that my interest in motorcycles started back in about 1964. My late uncle Cyril, he of the sidecars and fast British bikes, used to get these almanacs from the UK that covered Isle of Man TT racing and the GP circus such as it was back then. Tales of derring-do about Geoff Duke, the urbane Mike Hailwood, the glamorous Ago, John Surtees and Phil Read filled my imaginings. The Isle of Man dream started back then over 50 years ago, too, for the very same reason. And then my late brother Peter Michael Burne – Pedro – gave me a BSA 650 Gold Flash in bits when I was about 13 (1967), and told me that if I could put it back together and get it running, I could have it. From those formative influences my lifelong interest in motorcycles has remained. I know Pedro and Cyril would have really enjoyed the Isle of Man and the Assen TT events.

Wherever you are, raise a glass of beer (for Cyril) and a glass of good red for Pedro, and drink their health. I know I am. I know I have more than once already.

 

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Oh, Vienna

Midge Ure of Ultravox sang, on their anthemic hit, “Vienna”:

“This means nothing to me,
This means nothing to me,
Oh, Vienna”

Now I have no idea what the hell he was on about but it’s still a good song from the New Romantics era of pop music.

In the end, after an horrendous trip from Munich, where at one stage it took two and a half hours to travel ten kilometres (ie 4kmh or 2.5mph) and a 4 hour trip turned into one spanning 9am to 5pm, I was almost ready to turn tail and give up on Vienna.  I’m so glad I did not.

So Friday was a shit day.  You get them. Every shit day gives you pause to enjoy the good ones, and the day that followed was a cracker.

I was up early and attended to various administrative issues over the internet.  The hostel/hotel internet was slow, but at least it worked.  I won’t talk about the hotel near the Nurburgring yet………

Then I was off on the tram into the local underground – “U” – station at Konang, and 20 minutes later I was jumping off at the terminus at Reumannplasse.

I wandered the nearby markets, bought half a kilo of cherries for a 2.50 euro snack and then wandered for a while.  Then I caught the U back to Karlsplaz to go to the Museumquartier.  I had planned to go to the traditional art museum – The Ludwig – and the new art museum known as the Mumak.  I wandered farther than I should have, courtesy of google maps.  About 2 kilometres in hot sun and 34 degrees C.
Tip #1 for the weary traveller: When you see a young woman in a hurry to get off the train on her way to work, and she’s wearing a tee-shirt for the place you want to go to (Wien Museum), don’t go to the terminus.  Get off and follow her to her work, it saves a lot of trouble, even if she gets jumpy about her uninvited companion.  Could save a lot of navigation issues.  🙂
Tip #2 for the weary traveller: Turn off your GPS in the city.  It’s more trouble than it is worth.  Mine had me jumping all over the map like Spiderman on a mission.  Let it navigate by WiFi connections, it’s only then I got a reliable route to the Museumquartier.  Clearly the buildings screw up the GPS triangulation at walking speed.

So the Ludwig and the MUMOK cost me about 18 euros with my over 60s discount.

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MUMOK, as viewed from the picture window in the Vienna Museum.

And the Ludwig was way more interesting than Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.  Less of the stuffy conservatism of the Old Masters and more art that interested me.  Don’t get me wrong, there was still the stuffy dreariness and dark, miserable colours of so much that characterises the Old Masters, but there was also plenty of independent styles and bright, chromatic colours, and some really, really interesting painting using great light and the full colour palette.

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Old Masters, without the gloomy color, courtesy of Waldmuller and Hormann respectively

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The MUMAK rocked.  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.  There was plenty of Andy Warhol on one of the floors.  Not my cup of tea, I think he’s a pretentious fraud who has relied on the bad printing technology of the time to produce his ‘art’.  Roy Lichtenstein, on the other hand, is pop art ‘verité.  Some great works there, as you can see.  The building itself is quite interesting and the exposed workings of the lifts, for example, really fit in with the pressed steel walkways and general ‘tech’ nature of the structure.

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This by Egon Scheile. Stunning work.

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The one and only, ladeeeeeees and gentlemen, the inimitable, the king, the man who makes Andy Warhol look like a slavish copyist, yes it’s Roy Lichtenstein. (cue applause)

 

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Egon Scheile. One of my favourites.

Then off to the MUMAK café for a delightful carrot cupcake with lemony icing, a cappuccino and a gorgeous and refreshing non-alcoholic drink they call a ‘Hugo Limo’– who’d have thunk it, a refreshing non-alcoholic drink.  Bubbly mineral water, lime juice, some chopped up limes and a swag of mint leaves.  Add some ice and give it a stir.  It’s gonna be on my summer list, I know that much.  I’ve been reminded that it’s like a ‘Virgin Mojito’, but I think the soda water better complements the drink than still water or tonic water.

In between arriving at the terminus and all the wandering, I had some great coffee at two separate locations, a delightful eisskaffee at another one, and a large and tasty pinot grigio as well.

Suffice to say the day went well.  But it wasn’t done, by any means.

Back to my hotel, where the delightful bar staff in the beer garden set me up with a large G&T, and then I headed off down to the Danube for some boating.  I hope you like the photos as I chilled out on the water.

Back to the hotel and a number of G&T’s later, plus a ham and cheese toasted sandwich, and I am writing this blog entry after going for a swim in the Danube to complete my day.

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Life is tough boating on, and swimming in, the Donau (Danube)

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What a great day.  Thanks, Vienna, you definitely mean something to me.

Cumbria – diamonds and camellias

As my trip took me many places, most times staying no more than one night in any accommodation, some places were good, but don’t rate a mention.

That cannot be said for Stafford House, at Greystoke in Cumbria.  Yes, Greystoke, as in Edgar Rice Burroughs and the writing of Tarzan.  The stately home is 400 metres up the road, but sadly not open to the public.  Still looks rather fine from outside the gates, don’t you think.  ERB was related to the Howard family which has owned Greystoke Castle for generations.

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Stafford House is what the English call a ‘folly’ – a building constructed primarily for decoration – and so this building looks, as we Aussies would say, “pretty flash”.  It is also very nice inside, with exposed oak beams of suitable age and character.  It is also beautifully appointed, and has many silver awards to its name on the B&B scene, only missing out on the gold level because the bedrooms don’t have en-suite bathrooms.  What tosh, I say.  This place has more character and quality than any B&B I have stayed in, by the length of the main straight at Royal Ascot, en-suite bathrooms or not.

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Casting an literary pretensions to the wind, I will start with a but……

But however much character the building may have, and the luxury of the appointments, which include:

  • huge rooms,
  • big, fluffy towels (swoon),
  • terry towelling bath robes (even bigger swoon),
  • more quality hair and skin care products than I have ever seen in a bathroom,
  • a delightful dining room that is comparably appointed, and
  • a garden to die for,

the real treat is the people running this establishment.

Hazel Knight and Ian Corri are, without a doubt gold standard people.  I know that the world is full of wonderful people, but that doesn’t mean that when we meet them we shouldn’t shout it to the top, as Paul Weller used to sing in his Style Council days.

Let me lay out the scenario:

  1. Traveller arrives from Sheffield.
  2. Meets the very sociable Hazel, a ‘pocket rocket’ with a penchant for motorcycles, including MotoGP and the Isle of Man TT.  Instant rapport.
  3. Mentions her partner Ian is working on restoration of a camellia, azalea, rhododendron and begonia garden at Grassmere.  I mention how much I loooooove camellias.
  4. Ian turns up, we have a chat for a while and next thing I am whisked off to Grassmere, a half-hour drive away, in Ian’s 4WD and then treated to a comprehensive tour of the garden.
  5. Then Ian whisks me off for a speedy trip back and drops me at the local pub with 10 minutes to go before the kitchen closes, where I have a wonderful and generously proportioned meal of lamb chops with seasonal roast vegetables.
  6. Then a quick walk to Stafford House, some more socialising with them, and then off the dreamland in one of the very comfy single beds in my ginormous room.

So I was treated so well, I had already resolved to change my booking for my southbound leg after leaving Islay and heading to Manchester, and stay with them on the way down.

And then I had breakfast.  Double swoon.  All I can say is, have the poached eggs and make sure you have the tomatoes.  Not grilled, no!  Cherry tomatoes still on the vine, basted with olive oil and baked in the oven.  Fresh country eggs.  It’s been a couple of decades at least since I raved about a breakfast.

So take a tour of my experience, and enjoy the garden of Grassmere.  And by the way, the grounds of Stafford House are to die for, as well.

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Where I come from we’d kill for water this plentiful, not to mention the idyllic beauty.

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Lovely blue rhododendron.

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A Cobra Lily growing in Ian’s lovely garden. Harry Potter aficionados my recognise the flower’s similarity to a Muggle of the same type……

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Caledonia and a spiritual change

Let’s be clear, we don’t have a Scottish bone in our bodies, the Burne family.  We are Irish on my father’s side.  Celts to be sure, but not Scots.

So why is it that as I ran up the main motorway to Edinburgh, and saw that massive Blue and White sign telling me I was entering Scotland, I felt some sort of spiritual shift?  I’m not imagining it.  I felt it.  Entering Scotland I felt massively different.  I don’t know if it is the romantic vision courtesy of old movies, or reading about Bonnie Prince Charlie and Robert the Bruce, or the historically distorted blue and white iconography of a Mel Gibson movie.  Or was it the lure of the home of single malt whiskies? I can’t break it down to a single cause, even though some of my IT background gave me good skills in Root Cause Analysis.  But I felt it for sure.DSC_0691

I always loved Glaswegian Frankie Miller’s version of the old classic song “Caledonia“.  Go to the link.  Fans of blues vocals won’t be disappointed.  As a matter of fact, I pretty much love everything Frankie does.  The late, great gravel voice, Joe Cocker, loved his voice too.  No small endorsement. Caledonia is of course the romantic name for Scotland.

But I didn’t get to see Glasgow – my itinerary was driven by a need to get to as many distilleries as possible, and savour the products, and make purchases as driven by the palate.  But I did get to Edinburgh.

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Oh, glory me.  No wonder my daughter, the much more travelled Ellen Burne, she of the far superior blog site Travelling the World Solowants to live in Edinburgh at some time.

I went to the Edinburgh Castle, which was packed with teenage European tourists clearly on school trips.  I tried to scale Arthur’s Peak – also crammed with more teenage European tourists – but had to give up half way as my troublesome right knee started to fail on me.  It took me twice as long to get down due to the loose and rocky surface, and I suffered for days afterwards, even after invoking assistance from the great God Ibuprofen.  None of the suffering can mute the pleasure of Edinburgh. I hope the pictures do it justice – I tried to get some unusual angles that don’t fit the travel brochure mould, like the one below showing the view anyone wanting to lay siege to Edinburgh Castle would have to contemplate.  And of course any bridges, timber structures and stonework that caught my eye.

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Tha’s a wee bit steep, there, Jimmie!

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Now, get that climb inta ye, with a mace and a pike on yon back, and see if ye don’t come tumblin’ doon!

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A view from my failed climb of Arthur’s Seat. I fear I have brought the need for a knee replacement forward by no small amount…

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Those who have seen my Macchu Pichu photos will no doubt remember my obsession with taking photographs through ancient windows.

From Edinburgh I headed to Perth, staying at The Bankfoot Inn, a little way out of the city, in a town named (not surprisingly) Bankfoot.  A cramped single room, but great company from both sides of the bar downstairs, and good food as well.

From Perth I travelled The Old Military road through the highlands to Aberdeen, via Blairgowrie.  These roads present challenges to any driver – there are often long stretches only one car wide, with little bulges every few hundred metres to allow cars to either slow or stop to make way for oncoming traffic, or overtake slow vehicles (when the drivers finally check their rear vision mirrors and pull over).  The roads wind continually, and constantly change elevation, so you can crest a rise at 40mph (70kmh) and find you are unexpectedly taking off.  Very Streets of San Francisco, albeit at slower speeds.  Anything less than 100% concentration could see one over an embankment and rolling down a steep gully, or having a confrontation with a bus or lorry.  Guess which one wins against my little Peugeot 208?!

This stretch of road provided the first opportunity to taste and sample some single malt Scotch whisky, although I did taste some single malt Welsh whisky at Penderyn, in the Brecon Beacons in Wales.  I bought a couple of bottles so providing shipping back to Australia works out OK, colleague Michael B and I should be able to provide some tasting summaries once I arrive back in Oz.

I’ll get to describing the distilleries in a later post, in the meantime enjoy some of the scenery from The Highlands.

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A mottled glen. Note the clear Scottish sky.

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A stray, lonely cloud on this lonely planet. Note the snow on the distant peak.

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Later the weather came in…..

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Harsh winters and a lack of upkeep means there are many ruins about the highlands, but not many as pretty as this.

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Is that the bonded warehouse of a distillery?? Hmmm.

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A ruined kirk I spied up a side road, and had to investigate. Cemetery was locked-off, but the old headstones looked very ancient.

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As you can see I had a good run with the weather.

 

The Load Out – how corporitisation steals our souls

On Jackson Browne’s excellent live album Running On Empty, the song “The Load Out” bemoans that:

“We’ve got to drive all night,
And do a show in Chicago,
Or Detroit, I don’t know,
We do so many shows in a row,
And these towns all look the same.”

Travelling across southern England, I was struck by the same feeling I had in Kuala Lumpur and Charles de Gaulle airports  – the shopping landscape is dominated by the powerful brands, where if you took out the localised place names,  you would scarcely know what town (or airport) you are in.  In many UK towns it’s Tesco at one end, Sainsburys down the other and a whole pile of small shops,  like KFC and Maccas and Dominos, and Virgin, and so on.

I guess people depend to some degree on certainty, and recognisable brands with established service standards provide that psychological security blanket, but at the same time it seems to me that it stifles the individuality and character that makes you want to visit one town over another.

 

Consequently, I found nothing to like about Southampton or Brighton early in my trip.  Seaside towns looking like they needed a lick of paint and a bit of real individuality, like the Manchester story (which I will write about in a later blog) where there is clearly money being spent on a clear plan for reinvention and reinvigoration. That clear plan could be had with a quick trip to Manchester, or a quick trip up the M25 and onto the M4 to have a look at why Bath is such an attractive tourism destination. There won’t be any photos of these seaside places, their drab sameness saddened me.

 

Bath, on the other hand, delighted me.  Shop after shop screaming individuality and character.  Boutique retailing at its very best. The city fathers have clearly worked out what defines Bath, and held their ground against the corporates that would have every one of their stores built from the same brick and colour palette, and floor plan if they could swing it. More power to them.

 

Hence, there are many photos of Bath, which aside from its genuine charm has a great round housing and office precinct (a circus), wonderful street sculptures and buildings that scream character.  Enjoy.  I know I did.

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A lovely old bridge. I love old stonework and timberwork. Bridges for some reason really interest me.

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Looking down on the weir area as the River Avon wends its way through the city, from the roadway which was built up from riverbank level around AD700. Bath was first laid out c AD60 by the Romans who formalised the use of the curative hot springs.

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Bath Circus, designed by John Wood the Elder in the mid 1700’s, consisting or three segments forming a circle.

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Note the beautiful columns and the palisade of wrought iron railings. Gorgeous.

English Hedgerows – let’s talk more about risk

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Never let it be said that I can’t put a good hex on myself.

I am speaking now of my prior post on risk.

On May 7 I navigated to the Chunnel terminal, and had a lovely discussion with a UK customs lady about the itinerary she asked to peruse.  Pedro’s name came up in the context of my bucket list, and she seemed genuinely interested in my brief backgrounder.

Then from Dover I traveled to the Sevenoaks area, within a raspy exhaust note of the famous Brands Hatch circuit. The road to the lovely Nine Acres B&B is extremely narrow, yet handled more than a few small trucks.  It turns out that these trucks use the road illegally, as it has a 6’6″ vehicle width limit, but it’s hard for them to resist, as it’s a quick short cut to the circuit.

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Even quicker if you happened to sideswipe a certain little Peugeot 208 named Clemence…..and then shoot through.

Fortunately the damage was only cosmetic, apart from the right hand rear door handle being rendered inoperative and the mirror-based indicator having been mangled.  But Clemmie is otherwise OK after this violation.

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With the relevant authorities and insurers notified, we have proceeded to post another 3,500 miles in the following month…that is 6,000 kilometres in current Aussie parlance.

And for the benefit of those following this blog it has been silent due to some limitations inherent in Android platforms when it comes to anything close to useful cut and paste facilities, but more of that on later blog posts.  I now have some suitable hardware and am back on track.

Expect some more posts to follow relatively quickly.