Monday, December 31, 2007
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Galata Tower by evening
This tower played a large part in keeping Constantinople safe for so many centuries as it has superb views in all directions In 1453 it was in the hands of the Genoese
Today there is a lift which takes you to the top where you can admiore the views and also treat yourself to an expensive lunch or dinner with belly dancers
Outr most expensive beers were the 11 lire ones we had on teh first day Some poeople we met at our hotel here - the Troya Hotel - pais 40 dollars for beers last night where they were entertained by Russian and Ukrainian prostitutes!
Here we are on the ‘ferribot’ back to Istanbul after three very interesting and rewarding days in Bursa. We have seen almost every single mosque and sultan’s tomb to be seen in Bursa and have photographed them as well. I will have no idea which is which by the time I come to upload them. Walking around Bursa is mostly a very pleasant experience, although the hills can be quite steep. However, many roads seem to run along the contours of the city so they tend to be quite windy, but not too taxing. The great thing about windy streets is that there is always another surprise around the corner and always an incentive just to keep going.
The hillsides of Bursa are very steep and in a very short time they rise to over 2,000 metres up towards Mount Uludag over 2,800 meters high, just to the south of the city. In the meantime, back in Bursa, the hillsides have been settled with very attractive wooden framed houses, often with bits sticking out over the road (not suer what they are called but they are very Ottoman and can be seen all over the ex-Ottoman Empire). Anyway, many of them are plastered and painted, each house a different colour, so it is possible to go from ochre to pink to green to yellow to white to light blue back to green and then to blood red, from one house to the next. Very attractive and picturesque, especially as many of them are in a certain state of disrepair, which always makes for a more intereting photograph. I expect I will be adding many such photos to flickr in the coming days.
While not exactly exhibiting poverty here in Bursa, there is obviously something very picturesque about crumbling old buildings, layers of paint peeling off, cats running around, grasses growing up between the cobble stones, the crooked lines of the houses, the narrow streets, the local shops, old people wandering around or peering out of the windows, old grape vines running up the walls, the patchwork of colours and so on. Modern developments, with their straight lines, their planned streets, their concrete constructions, the wide avenues, places for parking, properly laid out pavements, glass fronts to shops and so on, have none of this. It is sometimes wondered why tourists come to a modern country like Turkey and insist on taking photos of anything and everything which is old, while the locals are so happy with their modern shopping centres, their spacious flats with all modern conveniences, their glass-fronted towered offices and their new roads. All very well if you need to or want to live there, but really no good for photographs.
Anyway, apart from a trip up to Mount Olympos, this is what we were doing for the past two adys, wandering along these multi-coloured tumbledown streets going from one mosque to the other and visiting the tombs of most of the heroes of Fred’s book on 1453, including Osman I, who gave his name to the Ottomans and their empire, Orhan Gazi (the Ferocious) who founded the Gazi ( a group of fearsome warriors committed to spreading the word of Islam) and in 1326 took Bursa for the Turks and Murat II, the father of Mehmet, the one who finally took Constantinople in 1453 plus a whole laod of other famous sons of Bursa. The tombs are mainly housed in very pleasing hexagonal brick contructions, most with domes, set in gardens outside a mosque.
Yesterday, we decided to leave town and head for the snow up above Bursa. We eventually understood that a cable car ran from the east of town right up the mountain and this sounded a lot more fun than a one-and-a-half hour dolmus (minibus) ride up. The cable car took us up first 1,000 meters to 1,200 meters and then another cable car took is a further 400 meters to 1,600, whereupon a minibus awaited us to take us up to the ski resort a further 400 meters up, the city below looking very small from our lofty position, albeit, with very little wind the past few days, the views were a bit smoggy.
So there we were at Uludag ski resort, surrounded by bright white snow in the morning sunlight, views up to the top of Uludag and across the pistes. Great, but with neither of us intending to go ski-ing (my knees are too weak) or tobogganing – Fred was not keen – what is there to do? Sitting down for a coffee would have cost a fortune and the people up on the mountain were those typical sun-tanned posh people with too much money. An hour on a ‘snowped’ – a motorbike on skis was offered to us for € 90 an hour. The bloody thing would have been lethal in our hands, either for us or for passersby, so we turned down the invitation. So it was decided to go back down the mountain after we had had a look around and taken a few pics, the bazaars, mosques and backstreets of Bursa holding more interest to us than being ripped off in the snow. There was no minibus in sight to take us back to the cable car and we could have been waiting until early afternoon to catch one and a taxi offered to take us the 5 or 6 kms down for € 25, about three or four times the normal price, so we piled into a crowded dolmus and within an hour we were back in the centre of Bursa and it was only just past mid-day. Excellent!
Today, we spent going down to the west of town to investigate the thermal baths area, but apart from some other monuments and museums it was all rather disappointing over there. Neither of us really fancied a swim in the thermal baths, especially at the tourist prices they were charging and the skin on my back is still irritable after my scrub and massage of two days ago. Disappointingly, our Kurdish market on the east side of town was closed, it being Friday. Funnly enough almost every shop and market stall in the rest of town seemed to be open today, so a bit frustrating that we could not see our friends or re-stock on those excellent almonds.
Oh well, the confectioner’s shop was open so we bought some mini Turkish delights and some more chocolate coated candied orange – what a delicious combination each like a mini jaffa cake. Mmmm.. the chocolate coated almonds which we also bought were not so successful and we have to conclude that almonds and dark chocolate are not a great combination.
Otherwise, we wandered through more backstreets and followed the (still massive) walls of the city around, where they have still survived. I had a shave and asked the moustachioed barber to leave my moustache in place. It looks terrible, but I will leave it as it is for a few days.
And here we are at the other side of the Marmara Sea, with the floodlit Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia in front of us as we slow down and enter the port.. In the meantime, Fred has been reading about a naval battle which was held exactly here over 550 years ago. Living history. Time to look for a new hotel… and this time in the Taksim area, hoping that the city has not quite filled yet in preparation for the New Year celebrations. Oh… and with a strong wiond today, it feels very cold.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Fred sells Turkcell - what we did yesterday and why we like Turkey
The early start on Boxing Day was to catch the ferry across the Sea of Marmara to get to Bursa. So far so good, a taxi took us to the ferry terminal the other side of the Blue Mosque, where we had to put our luggage through the x-ray system but fortunately did not have to strip, like when flying out of England these days. A very fast ferry traveled the distance over a very calm sea, while the sun rose to the left of us. At the other end we had to catch a bus, which was over full and this brought us through the industrial areas before arriving in Bursa proper, or at least the start of the high speed tram. The problem now was knowing where to get off and we tried to compare the names in our guidebooks to the names of the stops and decided to get off at Osman Gazi, the second from last stop, where almost half of the tram emptied. This looked promising, until we came to ground level and found ourselves in a very unlikely area, surrounded by very shabby looking shops, quite near a motorway. It seemed we were close to where we wanted to be but exactly there. In fact, all of a sudden, being in Bursa did not seem such a good idea. It was horrible here!
Still, I decided to go off and look for a hotel where we could at least dump our bags. The very posh looking Almira Hotel, again another one highly rated on the internet was the other side of the motorway along with a couple of other hotels, but none of them looked that promising so I carried on looking at this side of the motorway, eventually finding a place which had rooms for € 30 a night, promising… until the owner took me upstairs to see the rooms. Maybe it was the sight of an infirm old man on the first floor or the smell of antiseptic, but I suddenly had the feeling that I was entering an asylum and when he finally showed me a room on the fifth floor (no lift), which was both small and untidy, my body language had made it clear to him that I was no longer interested.
Where to go now? The chap in the Istanbul hotel had mentioned the Hotel Anatolia to Fred, whereas the guidebooks from the 1980’s both had good words about Artic Hotel. So we found a taxi driver who decided to take us to the Anatolia. A wrong move. It was a long journey out to Cekirge on the western side, near the thermal springs, quite posh but again not in the centre where we wanted to be. It looked expensive from the outside, in a pretentious modern 1970’s sort of way and when we saw them with their rates advertised in US Dollars, we already knew we didn’t want to stay here. The prices made up our minds as well. So, a scout around for other hotels in the area brought us no result,. So it was back into another taxi to take us to the Artic Hotel and, sure enough, we found ourselves going into a the very attractive historical city centre, pulling up at a hotel right opposite the large Ulu Cami (Mosque). Perfect! It had taken time getting there, but we were all right in the end. The price is reasonable, the hotel nothing too fancy, the rooms far too hot, but it was in the perfect location and the staff were very friendly… and so began our day in Bursa. They even had a very informative guidebook to Bursa which they gave us.
We had a wonderful time getting to know Bursa, visiting the main mosques, wandering around the markets and finding our way to the great Hans, large double storied courtyards, surrounded by shops selling one thing or another, the most impressive being the Koza Han where they sold silk. In the middle of the courtyard, there were tables and chairs where you could sit in the warm sunshine and sip tea or coffee. The Hans were connected by narrow shopping streets, which resembled the bazaars and souks of Aleppo and Damascus and it had a very Arab feel to it, especially when we went past all the goldsmiths shops. We were just recognizing some of the fabrics from Aleppo (really quite dreary colours) when all of a sudden, we were surprised to see two fully dressed Father Christmases trying to entice women with cloaks and scarves to buy such fabrics. How wonderful!
After the very large Ulu Cami, the most famous mosque in Bursa is the Green Mosque or Yasil Cami, which most Turks reckon is the most beautiful mosque in the country. Built in 1412, it is apparently the first mosque in a truly Ottoman style, without Persian or Selcuk influence and, sure enough, it was a incredinly beautiful building, both inside and outside. Not too big and not too small, but perfectly formed, the mosque is built from a light/white coloured stone into which a number of panels have been carved and subtly tiled with green tiles from nearby Iznik. Inside, the tiles are much more prominent, whole walls of green and blue, with a red carpet underneath. All very simple and beautifully proportioned. Well worth a visit.
Outside, there was the Green Mausoleum, which the guidebooks tell us has a wonderful interior, but like so many places, it was closed for restoration, so we could only admire the beautiful tile-work, a greeny turquoise of the six sided tomb from the outside. A pity.
But to make up for that, we came across a market street, full of market traders from what looked to be Kurdih origins, judged by the dark handsome good looks. The produce they were selling looked a picture too and they were all very friendly, offering us their fruit to taste. We bought a kilo of the most delicious mandarins and later two half-pounds of almonds. It was like the best Italian winter markets but better. Maybe less rucola, but plenty of lettuce and other green leaves as well as winter root vegetables, colourful pumpkins, very long spring onions, carrots, ‘taters, pears and quinces and so on. Every stall was a feast for the eye. As I said to Fred, if we had markets like this near us I would do the shopping a lot more often…
Nest stop, the hotel, as it gets dark early here, by 5 it is almost dark. Fred went off for a snooze and I went to the local hammam for a scrubdown and a stiff massage by a very strong hairy Turk with an appropriately large tummy, who fortunately didn’t want to pull my legs and arms out of my body as they had in Istanbul all those years ago, and I came out feeling very clean and refreshed.
Now the business of looking for dinner in a new town. The backstreets near the hotel had a few lokantesis, serving kebabs and the like but were all alcohol free and that was not exactly what we were looking for. So, we were very surprised to see, in the street opposite the hammam, a number of restaurants with beer signs outside. Usually, it is not that easy. So, we chose the restaurant with the Efes sign and walked in and wondered if we had not accidently found the local gay bar. It was obviously less a restaurant than a bar, the food being served seemingly, with the sole aim of getting a licence. It was all very dark and cavernous inside and through the shadows we. could see tables of (again) dark and handsome good looking men, sitting around, with large glasses of beer in front of them, smoking. The large videoscreens showing a very handsome actor, also contributed to the feeling of being in a gay bar.
Anyway, the beers came, served by the handsome young waiter, not the bald one with a 1970’s moustache and a pot belly and we decided to have a look at the menu. Apart from the ‘Brains Salad’ found by Fred, the menu lacked interest and although we could have eaten some very tasty looking chips, we decided we would look elsewhere for dinner. A waste of time, as it happened, as the locantas were already closed and we just ended up in a similar, but less gay joint further up the road, where we had to endure Tuborg*, instead of Efes. Actually, after the police raid, where they checked the ID’s of everyone there, apart form us, the dinner was OK… some very spicey kofte with salad.
So, it was back to our first ‘restaurant’, which was not a gay bar, for a final beer, while I went off to the internet café to try to upload some photos and the blog which I had previously written on my laptop in the hotel (after the hammam and before dinner). We came back to the hotel thinking how much we were enjoying Bursa and how it happens that we always enjoy ourselves in Turkey. It is not just that the men are so handsome, or that the people are generally very warm and friendly, but it is also the opportunity to discover one town or city after the other, which invariably has a rich history, with many old monuments, combined with a lively centre full of colourful markets, bars, tea gardens, coffee houses and always the sense of the unexpected. And, ın addıtıon, we can often do thıs and hardly see another tourist in sıght, something we greatly appreciate.
Winter sun in the Koza (silk) Han in Bursa
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
The day before, Christmas Eve was like our first day, a day given to walking long distances around areas of Istanbul we had not discovered before. We started following the tracks of the old Roman Road which crosses from the Golden Horn down to the Sea of Marmara. It used to be 6 meters wide and be lined with columns. Now it is almost all given over to markets and narrow shopping streets, starting off with the famous herb and spice market and then, surprisngly changing theme, into an area where you could buy Christmas trees, Christmas decorations and Father Christmas figures, all probably made in China. It felt like I was back in Hanoi, where we saw many similar shops selling the same products. It is an interesting thing to remember that Father Christmas came to us through the Saint Nicolas figure exported to America by the Dutch and that this Saint Nicolas was originally a bishop in Myra, which is now a town on the south coast of Turkey. And here are the modern Turks, almost all Muslims, or nominally Muslims, importing the American Father Christmas figure through garish plastic creations made in China!
Anyway, this Roman Road took us past the famous Bazaar (which somehow we almost always seem to manage to avoid on our visits to Istanbul) and down to an area near the Marmara Coast which had obviously been colonized by Armenians as there were a number of churches down there, all rather empty, most of them surrounded by walls (to keep out the Muslims hordes) and all rather sad. No Christmas cheer at all. In fact the whole neighbourhood looked very down at heel, in need to money for renovations, as had happened a little further east in the Sultanahmet area (which is now a tourist and backpacker haunt, where we normally stay).
It was a long way to our next destination, the old wall of Istanbul, a wall built by the Byzantines to keep out the invaders and which only fell in 1453, due to some serious negligence and bad strategic thinking on behalf of the rulers, and the invention by the Ottomans of a ‘super gun’ – a massive cast iron cannon. It was actually invented by a Hungarian who was working for the Byzantines, but those Byzantines did not and could not pay what he wanted, so he sold the technology to the Ottomans. We know this because Fred is reading ‘Constantinople, The Last Great Siege 1453’ by Robert Crowley, which was a Christmas present given to him by Diana and the boys. Good one!
Christmas ın Turkey
We celebrated Christmas in Turkey but although there were plenty of Turks, there was not a single turkey to be seen. A Thai restaurant advertised a special Christmas menu but the only special thing about it was the price. Lots of fish, so no good for Fred and there were plenty of other places to eat… even though we did end up in a fish restaurant being served by a young chap who insisted he came from Kingston, Jamaica even though his colleague told us he was from Diyarbakir.
Before that we had entered into the Christmas spirit by having a few drinks with a couple of friends down one of the back alleys off the Istikal Caddesi. We came to this street one afternoon in 1991 and all we saw were shops, and shopping not really being our thing we had avoided the area mostly. However, last year when meeting up with another friend in the area, we discovered a few side streets with cosy little cafes, seating outside ion cushions, fairy lights and so on. We came back here the first evening we arrived and were a little shocked to be charges € 7 for each beer we drunk, so it wasn’t going to be the top of places to go.
However, on Christmas Eve, we decided to go to a gay bar which was advertised in the local Time Out magazine as being the sort of place two overweight middle aged gay men might want to go and sure enough it was! However, the point of this is that we finally, after 16 years of coming to Istanbul, found the beating throb of the famous Istanbul night life. All sorts of clubs and bars and cafes and restaurants and so on, down a whole warren of little streets. And the best thing about the place we found yesterday was that the beers were only € 2.40 each (for the same 50 cl size).
The gay bar has a Turkish name, but its English translation is One Way and when we were approached by three charming young men on entering we thought it might be one way to the brothel…. But no such thing… they were just the friendly bar staff and for the first half an hour there were more staff than punters, but later on, as we were getting to the tired stage it started getting busier. We are told that on Fridays and Saturdays it is so busy there is hardly anywhere to move. Whether this is a good or a bad thing remains to be seen…
Anyway, back to Christmas morning, a normal work day for the locals, even the local Christians as they keep to the original date of Christmas, being 6th January, the date the Western Church celebrates Epifany (Bafana). Due to our late night the night before, we were up a little late and with the hotel catering almost exclusively to western clientele, it would have been nice to have been greeted by a Merry Christmas by the staff or in the hotel newspaper, but we were not. So we had our normal bowl of Turkish yoghurt, mixed with fruit, to which we add honey from a honeycomb, hazelnuts, walnuts, muesli, figs in syrup and slices of quince, for a wonderfully healthy start to the day.
After two days on the western side of the Golden Horn, we thought we would take to the water and cross to the Asian side, taking a ferry to Kadikoy, where there was supposed to be a big market. We didn’t find it and we were not so impressed so we quickly caught a bus up to Uskudar, which was a lot more to our taste. Some impressive mosques, a quaint market, busy piazzas and wonderful views back to Taksim area. We pottered around here, having lunch, taking photos and visiting the mosques, before taking another ferry back to the European side… where we ended up along Istikal Caddesi meeting our friends in a posh coffee and ice cream salon opposite the Lyceum, which seems to serve as a general meeting point for people.
Not exactly the best day we had had sightseeing-wise, but it ended up OK amongst the backstreets off Istikal and we could say we enjoyed our Christmas Day. Just a little sting in the tail, in that when we arrived back at the hotel they told us that the ferry to Bursa would leave at 7.30 in the morning, which meant we would have to have an early start. A good thing we were already back at the hotel before 11.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
Sunday, December 23, 2007
And then we were in...
Today we walked to the areas of Fener and Balat, as recommended to me by a Turkish friend. Sure enough, they were a rich source of photos. Run down neighbourhoods wıth lots of tumbledown wooden houses, washıng hangıng over the streets and some quıte conservatıve-looıng relıgıous people, ıncludıng a faır smatterıng of women ın black, as can be seen below.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
And now we are in...
On the plane now, flying over eastern Europe, on our way to Istanbul, for an eight day Christmas holiday. No family Christmas this year. For the people below us, it will be a white Christmas, as most of Europe seems to be under snow. Amsterdam was very white when we left, not so much because of snow, we have a bit of iced drizzle yesterday but because the damp air was freezing and turning all the trees white, a process which I had seen the day before on my way up from Paris and also at the office. It only started yesterday in Amsterdam and with the maximum temperature only minus 4, the freezing continued all day and the city became whiter and whiter. I can’t remember really noticing this phenomenon before.
The pity is that we chose today rather than tomorrow to fly to Istanbul. This because the day started with bright sunshine and it would have been absolutely spectacular to see and photograph all these white trees everywhere. This and the fact that we not only have the final instalment of the latest BBC version of Oliver Twist but also the final of Strictly Come Dancing. Matt and Alesha are both in the final and I am not too bothered really who wins, but I would prefer Alesha to do it as she has been consistently the best dancer. I must say that she does miss the ‘wow’ factor, unlike Matt who wow-ed us with his Samba and his waltz. Anyway, after two years of sportsmen winning, it’d be nice for a half-black woman to win. Apparently, only white people win these voted-for-by-the-viewers shows and it would be nice for this to change.
My sister Diana did not want to watch Oliver Twist because it was directed by an Eastenders writer, or something like that. Well, I am not sure why that should count against the show. I think they have done a really good job of bringing the book to life and making it seem very exciting, gripping even. The music, which is a bit loud and a bit modern, could be seen as being intrusive, but I think it just adds to the excitement.
I had read in an internet review that our hotel, which is rated as number 1 hotel in Istanbul on www.tripadvisor.com that you can pick up the normal BBC channels there. I do not exactly believe this, but it would be very odd for us to spend our first evening in Istanbul glued to the television. We’ll see. Anyway, the Sirkeci Konak hotel looks to be a very nice one, with lots of facilities, including a swimming pool and Turkish baths and I am hoping it will be worth the money we are spending on it.
During our trip, we would like to go to Bursa, a largish, but apparently very beautiful city just south of Istanbul, the other side of the Marmara Sea, not too far from the ski slopes of Mt Uludag. Would be nice to visit the mountains as well, if just for a day trip. We have been to Istanbul about four times before and have always used it as a place to start off a trip around other parts of Turkey rather than visit the city on its own merits, with the consequence that every time we come we tend to do the same things and see the same monuments and so on. Now we have more time, we will try to investigate some of the less obvious places and neighbourhoods. Hopefully, we will find a nice church to watch a Christmas service on Christmas Day, although I believe it is just a normal working day. The Muslims, in the meantime, will just have finished their second Eid holiday, making it a festive season all round.
Fred has his Dorley Kindersley guide to Istanbul, full of photos and three-dimensional plans of mosques and churches and so on. I have a book we took with us the first time we went to Turkey (in 1991), namely Turkey – The Independent Traveller, by Daniel Farson, a whimsical, personal guide, written by someone with a particular passion for Turkey and moreover someone who can impart his enthusiasm to the reader. It is because of this book that we first made it to Bodrum and later the Datça peninsular, as well as visiting Behramkale/Assos and Ayvalik during our first visit.
Almost getting ready to land, a little bit late, at 14.00 so we hope we can get to the hotel before sunset (at 16.35, although nowadays the days are getting longer!). The weather promises to be fine today and to remain so. The BBC weather had kept showing rain, whilst yahoo weather was showing better conditions but now they are both showing sun, with some light clouds and maximum temperatures of about 6 or 7 degrees. We will be lucky if it does not rain, so let’s hope we are lucky! In the meantime, it seems that the big thaw in Holland will start already this afternoon an dno-one is expecting a white Christmas anymore. I have a feeling they might be pleasantly surprised…
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Young Hamer woman
The African photos had to be moderated = CENSORED but my flickr site is now deemed to be 'safe'.
Thanks to everyone who has given their support, but its flickr's site and they make the rules... at least here on blogspot we are, so far, allowed to display what we like... even talk about what we like. So, google... I hope you keep it that way...
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Greetings from Paris
Arrived here earlier today with the Thalys. A wonderful trip in first class
through a white frozan landscape, speeding through the flatlands of
northern France. Excellent, excellent service and two breakfasts, a pain au
chocolat and endless coffee. A trip to remember.
Even the audit meeting here went well, no fights, no arguments and no
And now i am off to meet up with a turkish friend who is over here
studying. This time I WILL get my dinner! Tomorrow back to Rotterdam.
Au revoir, Charles
The Sparkling Diamond of Africa
A week ago this photo was averaging 100 views a day on flickr. It comes up very highly on a yahoo search for 'Africa'.
Since they censored my account, it is down to less than 10 a day.
I have finally received a response flickr as follows:
Hello, (not even using my name)
There is still a good amount of content in your photostream
that needs to be moderated if you would like your account
classified as "safe".
The "safe" area of the Flickr site must be free of all
frontal/rear nudity, sexual suggestive content, thong/butt
Feel free to write back in for a re-review of your account
status after you have made the necessary changes.
Should I be ashamed of this photo? Does some irty mind see a sexual suggestive content? Should National Geographic magazine be put on the top shelf? What kind of world are the 'thought police' of flickr living on?
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Daffodils in December - it shouldn't be like this
Whether it is caused by human-induced climate change or genetic manipulation... it should not be like this. We don't want to see Daffodils flowering until March. GIVE US BACK OUR SEASONS.
At least, we are finally having some frosts and experiencing some proper winter weather. The sun shone all day and it was beautiful, just turning much colder once the sun went down... time for gloves and scarves. Let's hope we finally get a proper winter this year.
In the meantime, we have had to cut down the honeysuckle which was growing at the back of the house and which ahsd been allowed to creep up the spiral staircase and envelope itself around the upstairs balcony, this because the bbalconies are having to be restored. There was a lot of honeysuckle and it made a very big pile in the garden. What to do about it? Fred suggested cutting it all up and putting it all into bags whilst I thought it might be easier to burn. I had long fantasised about having a bonfire at the back of the house and gere was my chance, It was a cold and grey day and no-one would really have their windows open. However, once the fire started going, it gave off a lot of smoke and in the shortest of time, we had people standing outside on the street wondering what was going on, and people coming around the back to do the same. I wasn't wanting to cause much of a stir, so had to give up just as we were getting started. I am going to leave the honeysuckle out on the paving stones and wioat for it to disintegrate and compost as it is.
We've changed the safety level of your photostream to "moderate".
As per our Community Guidelines, content like that in your account is not considered "safe" for everyone to view. You may or may not be aware that Flickr has a Safe Search system. When people browse or search on Flickr, they can filter what they see based on a safety level that they are comfortable with - either Safe Search is on, set to
moderate, or off. In order for Safe Search to work, we relying on *you* to filter your content appropriately. As you upload stuff to Flickr, you need to make sure that you're applying appropriate filters (safe, moderate or restricted) and telling us what sort of content it is
(photos, screenshots, art & illustration). If you don't apply filters correctly, there's a very good chance another member will let us know - in fact that's why we've taken action today. (No need to be upset - it's every member's right to let us know if they ever feel uncomfortable. Yours too.)
We want Flickr to be a place that everyone can enjoy. That means making sure that potentially offensive content is filtered from public, safe areas of the site. If you read our Community Guidelines, you'll see the key points are: play nice, upload photos that you have taken yourself, and respect the fact that there are millions of people visiting
Flickr who may not see the world the same way you do.
Use your common sense about whether or not your content is suitable for a global, public audience. If the answer is no, you need to filter it from public view. You should also know that if we receive another report about your content or conduct, it's very likely we'll terminate your account.
So, please take a moment to find out how to work with safety levels, use 'em, and everybody's happy!
The long and the short of it, is that probably some frustrated American Christian has complained about some photos of naked people in Africa. It means that if you click onto any of the photos on this blog, you can no longer get onto flickr unless you, yourself are logged in and have your safe search filter switched off. Censorship. It feels very uncomfortable.
Anyway, I have self-censored some of the photos which I think might be 'risky' and asked flickr to switch me back to safe again. We'll see what happens...
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
A slower form of transport
On the home stretch now, in the Thalys going very slowly through Belgium. Travelling in premier class, this time with food and drink but since last time, the food has changed from a meal into a snack. A pity because I told Fred that he would not have to prepare dinner for me as I would have eaten on the train. Eaten, yes, but only a couple of (tiny) filled rolls. In the meantime, I have a bottle of sour tasting lukewarm Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. No nonsense here about local organic food. One thing I still cannot understand is how my journey from London to Paris on Sunday could be carbon neutral, as surely we were using energy and I am sure that energy did not come from a wind turbine… and then what about all the administration involved with running Eurostar, heating the offices and paying for the company cars of the staff, all of which should be taken into account? Oh well, it was a truly great experience, unlike this current one.
Still, the carbon neutral and local/organic sales pitch is a good one as rail travelers are encouraged to feel smug about not using their cars or lumbering onto a plane, so are probably very sensitive to this marketing pitch.
Given that the Eurostar is consistently late (and it has every time I have taken it), should they not be required to change the advertised timetable? I just asked the charming waiter, Vince, why we are only getting snacks when last time we had two dinners, he told me they had changed the timetable so we are too late for lunch and too early for dinner. Given that we will not get into Amsterdam until at least 19.45 and it takes time to get home from there, it is getting on to be well past dinner time. Oh well…. More profit for the owners, I suppose.
Just so you know, I am now eating ‘Stickletti’ which is brought to us by a company called ‘Chio’. They contain lots of E’s, possibly some peanuts and wheat flour and are made in Egypt. Not organic or local!
I have also been told that when we pick up a delay in Belgium, as happens every time, we get behind a local train in Holland. This local train has priority, it seems, over a premium price international train, with the result that our delay becomes compounded. Must be something to do with someone’s bonus scheme, as it doesn’t really make sense for anyone else.
So… I survived Paris, but not without a soon-to-be-ex-colleague breaking down in tears in front of me. She rashly handed in her resignation recently, having been supposedly harassed by her boss, and now regrets it slightly. A pity I can’t do anything about it… although… maybe I can… I doubt it though.
I spent too long last night working to provide answers to some apparently urgent questions from America last night to enjoy a good meal, so ended up having a Lebanese Shish Tawouk – Chicken Kebab – simple and cheap – but delicious. And now, the very charming Vince has come round and offered me more rolls and wraps – even though I look anything but underfed!!! I have put my Stickletti in the bin… the best place for them, I think.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Ending up the weekend
After the booze-laden trip in Eruostar, I am now on a dry TGV train from Grenoble to Paris. It’s a journey of 600 kms (more than Amsterdam-Paris) being completed in just three hours. The train is tilting all over the place now and seems to be running exceptionally fast, as if in a race. I am in first class again, but no sign of a cup of coffee or tea, let alone a glass of champagne. Oh well, I will have to make up for it when I arrive in Paris. No Istanbul Grill restaurant for me this evening, I think.
Mission accomplished in Grenoble, I performed the monthly reporting for our company down there, a job I had to do as our previous accountant left (forcibly) last week. I met a new chap who can take over from next month, so I will probably be back again in January, where the snow cover might be a bit lower. I did not get to see much of the mountains as they were covered by cloud, although they opened up a little bit this morning to reveal a bright sun shining on the white peaks high to the east/south east of the town.
Nobody in our office in Grenoble really speaks English, so I was forced to speak French, as my mind dug back to my schoolboy days, where we learned to read and write but not to speak. I did OK, even though most sentences ended up being almost all the same. The bigger problem was understanding anyone said back to me. It was the intonation which I understood better than any words which were said. Still, I felt quite proud of myself. On the one hand, I think my company must be very pleased to have me, as apart from being a top-class accountant (ha ha!), I also know my languages. On the other hand, there is a part of me which appreciates the opportunity my job is giving me to, say, improve my French. Maybe I will take one of those CD courses, like Rosetta Stone (which are advertised everywhere – anyone with any idea of whether or not they are any good?), which I can follow in the times when I am sitting in the train with only my laptop and my blackberry for company.
Foodwise, it was a mixed bag. My two (female) colleagues took me to an old ramshackle building which looked like a cross between a castle and a prison for lunch yesterday. It doubled up as a restaurant, karaoke bar and night club. Very seedy. Anyway, nothing to complain about the meal… some cheap cuts of beef (which are so common in France) served with some spicey ve-ge-ta-bels and noo-dels, followed by a delicious fromage blanc with home-made raspberry sauce. Mmmmm…. Dinner was back at the hotel stuck between the motorway and the industrial estate, the main course being roasted duck (a bit fatty under the skin – not sure it is the best choice for Christmas dinner, Mum), followed by chocolate mousse. It was a buffet service and you could help yourself to as much as you like. How to stop going back for more chocolate mousse? I tell you, it is very difficult.
Paris beckons in just over 20 minutes. I have a hotel to find and two heavy bags and it may be raining. Not the best prospect. And… I have to find a place with internet connection as there is some (not much, just a little) work to be done this evening. I will be on the 15.25 train back to Amsterdam tomorrow, to be back home, finally after a week, by 8’ish… then possibly back to Paris next week…
And, there we were at the Marc Almond concert on Saturday evening…and he is starting off just as he began in Amsterdam (and Shepherds Bush before that) with Stardom Road and These My Dreams Are Yours, Your Aura and so on and it seems like we are in for a repeat until… he starts singing Fun City and London Boys and then, even better… he sings UGLY HEAD. Wow! That classic from 1984, from the days when I first met Fred, off the Vermin in Ermine album…. Oooohhh… I bet your life … that you’re sick and tired …. of all those eat-in take-out throw-up pizza bars… I’ll provide the full lyrics another time…
But a curious thing… just as Amsterdam was marked by all those people using their mobile phones to take photographs and make videos of Marc (all destined, no doubt for You Tube), the IndigO2 arena was remarkable for the lack of movement amongst the crowd. Its as if they had come to bury Marc not celebrate his wonderful music. It did not stop me from jumping up and down and banging my head and throwing my arms into the air…. But there was only about one other chap doing the same amongst the whole 2,000 crowd there. Maybe they are all introverts. Who knows?
Marc was on stage for the best part of three very very enjoyable hours, although he did leave the stage once in the middle of Tears Run Rings, looking very sick, poor chap. He was off for about five bewildering minutes but remarkably came back, as strong as ever and gave us song after song after song. He had cancelled Stockholm the previous week and has probably been overdoing it but now he can, hopefully, relax and recharge his batteries. We are very lucky he is still with us and even luckier that he remains drawn to the stage and the adulation of his fans.
The night ended up in south London at Barcode in Vauxhall, part of a complex of spacious gay venues under some railway arches, all of which were teeming with urban gays, of all nationalities. We liked Barcode in Soho, especiallyt for the friendly and efficient bar staff and charming clientele and this was a whole lot bigger, more modern and, to be honest, a little impersonal. Still, it was great sharing a few beers with Dean and Paul, our friends from Norwich (and Barnsley!!!), the girls having decided not to join us after all.
The night bus taking us home decided to make a mad rush for the very crowded West End – at four in the morning, it was teeming with people – from Victoria rather than proceeding alongside Hyde Park to bring us to Paddington and we ended up with a longer than expected walk from Notting Hill Gate an hour later. The blackbirds were singing (more than a month too early) and we saw two bold foxes outside Fiona’s house, but best of all there was a note on the front door to say she was sleeping on the sofa and was letting us sleep in her bed… what a perfect end to a long and enjoyable day.
Monday, December 10, 2007
A happy Thomas
Sunday, December 09, 2007
A long weekend with the family
Been away from the blog for a while, spending the last few days with the family at Fiona’s house in west London. Fred and I were due to come over to see Marc Almond at the IndigO2, a concert hall at the Millennium Dome on Saturday. This gave Mum the idea of coming up to London to see us as we will not see each other for Christmas and Mum has not seen Fred for quite a while (since last Christmas, in fact). With all of us here, Diana decided to come down as well, with her two sons so we could all celebrate a sort-of early Christmas together. The fact that there were eight of us and only two beds in a cramped basement apartment was something we would have to sort out nearer the time.
As it happened, we decided we would go and see Lucy and David on Thursday evening, staying the night, before going over to Fiona’s on Friday. Mum would leave on Saturday, so it was only Friday which was to prove tricky. Hotels, at over 100 pounds a night, even around Paddington, was not really an option. So, this meant three people sharing one bed. Two another, James and myself on settees and Fred, valiantly, on the floor. Still, the money we saved on a hotel was much better used as a contribution to a very nice dinner we all had at the Bumpkin restaurant (English organic country foods) around the corner from Fiona’s house.
Before that, Mum had arranged for us to go to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, where we would go skating on an artificial ice rink and then go on a Big Wheel. On Thursday, it rained all day and this was the expectation for the whole weekend, so not the best prospects for skating in the outdoors. However, a storm came through on Thursday night, which kept us awake in Lucy’s converted loft, but this blew away the clouds and we had a lovely sunny day on Friday to enjoy the delights of London.
It was great fun getting onto the ice again, although Fred, Diana, Fiona and myself were a generation older than anyone else on the ice. Harry was going onto the ice for the first time, whereas James was an old hand, Thomas, brave but a bit uncertain. Mum was taking the photos from the side, some of which worked out very well. I remembered that as children for a special Christmas treat we would be taken up to London to go ice skating at the indoor rink at Queensway, the other side of Hyde Park. This must have been over 30 years ago now. I also remember quite well falling very heavily a couple fo times on the ice, bumping my head so badly that I was almost knocked out. Not such a happy memory. Still, Thomas and Harry were slipping up on their backsides without any problems, while we older ones skated safely enough not to risk a fall. Poor James managed to get himself a nose bleed without bumping into anyone or anything and I still don’t exactly know the reason why.
After the skating we walked around the German Christmas market (my third in just over a week after Birmingham and Stockholm), this time helping ourselves to a German hot dog (very long red or white sausages) whilst Harry went off to meet Father Christmas. The sun was getting lower in the sky by now, so a good time to get a ride in the big wheel, with high views across Hyde Park to the skyscrapers and landmarks across London, a big orange sun, shining across from the south west. Perfect. Despite the mild temperatures, our visit to Winter Wonderland, with the family really did impart a Christmas spirit. Very good.
Time then to enter Oxford Street at the northern end of Hyde Park to join in the Christmas shoppers in the annual scrum along England’s most famous, but almost always disappointing shopping street. James had walked around London on his own for most of the previous day and wanted to show us some of the things he would quite like to buy, including a very nice, but thin, fake leather jacket from Burtons. I thought that as he was due to go to Camden Market the next day, maybe he should wait with making a purchase. A pity because as it turned out, Camden Market was rubbish and when he went back to Burtons to buy this jacket, his size had already sold out. Typical.
We eventually made it down to Regent Street to see the famous and, again, disappointing lights, having a look at the shop window displays, where Selfridges and House of Fraser’s stood out as being by far the best. I am not sure I like the modern shop décor. There is a lot of black everywhere, offset by some purpley glitter and sparkle. What happened to the clean white lines and wooden floors of the 1990’s? The lighted paper chains criss-crossing Carnaby Street were joyful and original but, in general, the efforts were not very good. The 1970’s may have been dreadfully depressing times to live through, economically speaking, but at least they did Christmas well. None better, it seems, than 1973 when Slade were Number One with Merry Christmas Everybody and Wizzard hung at Number Four with I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday. It has been a little bit downhill every year since then. And, now in 2007, we can routinely expect the winner of X-Factor to be the Christmas Number One, this having been the case the last 2-3 years, apparently.
So… that was Friday and now it is Sunday and I am on the Eurostar on its way from St Pancras International to Paris. I left at 17.30 and am due to be in Paris at 19.45 (UK time). Diana, James and Harry are on a train going the other way, to Sheffield. They can expect to arrive there at 21.15, a full one-and-a-half hours later than I get to Paris. This is aprtly because I am now on the very very fast high speed link to Paris, which was opened just about four weeks ago, whilst Diana and co have to make do with a ‘weekend’ timetable which has doubled the amount of time she would normally expect to take to travel between the two cities. Not that she always takes the train, she often drives, but with blocked motorways, the high price of petrol, family discounts on trains and the congestion charge have put her onto public transport. Great! Just a pity they can’t offer a better service.
Nothing to complain about my service here (traveling in Business Plus class) where I changed my ticket at the last minute, am on a ‘carbon-neutral’journey, where I am to be served locally-sourced, seasonal, organic meat and vegetables, to be followed by a Fairtrade tea or coffee. I will choose the roast chicken with bread sauce, cranberry ‘jus’, roast potatoes and winter root vegetables – pronounced ve-ge-ta-bels, in a very French way…
We left London so increadibly quickly, first through a tunnel, then through the north-eastern side of London, past the Dartford Bridge over the very wide Thames and now, after about half an hour we are already about to enter the channel tunnel. How wonderfully amazing! If only they had got their act together in Belgium and Holland with the link from Amsterdam to Brussels. Oh well… I have covered this enough times on this blog. I suppose the only gripe about the whole experience is to do with the silly airport style security measures one is subjected to before getting into the train.
And then there is St Pancras International station, opened recently by The Queen, restored to its former Victorian glory. As I mentioned to Diana, there was no money for this sort of thing in the 1970’s… They have done a really good job and renovating the old station, cleaning all its red brick walls and limestone arches and painting the vast iron struts supporting the impressive roof. But this would not be a blog if there was not a gripe and my gripe is that the vast open spaces of St Pancras have been crammed full with shops and commercial outlets, such that the public walkways are unnecessarily overcrowded. I am sure there are experts who advise on this sort of thing – the maximization of commercial exploitation of public spaces. No doubt this is how such restoration projects can be financed, but it is a pity that it so often seems to be overdone.
Anyway… dinner has arrived so I better turn my attention to the delicious meal which has just been presented to me…
… well that was dinner and very nice it was, too. Only not everything could have been locally grown seasonal food as that would not explain the delicious green peas and French beans in the salad. Oh well. We are now well into France and have just over a half an hour to go before arriving at Gare du Nord. We stopped at Calais, where a few passengers joined us, including a fey looking young man sitting diagonally opposite who is reading Proust’s Sodom et Gomorroah II... tres intellectuel… ooh la la!
So there we were at St Pancras, saying goodbye to Diana, James and Harry who were to catch their slow train to Sheffield from there, looking vat all the crowded thoroughfares on the ground floor. The place is not yet quite finished and they have done a great job there.
Before that, it was Saturday, a day when it rained cats and dogs all day. Fred was to accompany James to Camden Market, while I was to watch Thomas in his football trials. Mum was due to leave and Fiona was to work at her shop. She did, and despite it being one of the last shopping days before Christmas, hardly anyone (apart from family) came into the shop, let alone buy anything. I joined Fred and James as they set off along the Regent Canal from Golborne Road in the direction to Camden, getting as far as Little Venice and Maida Vale before turning back to catch a bus back to where I could watch Thomas. It poured with rain and I did not have an umbrella. I was well protected in my thick jacket but after a while it did become quite unpleasant. I eventually caught a couple of number 6 buses and a very delayed 316 bus to arrive almost outside Fiona’s shop, where Mum was standing outside under the covers having a fag. Thomas came back from his football practice, but then without his tracksuit bottoms and his mobile phone and, running a bit late for his football trials, I was dispatched to recover said valuables, which I did eventually after the intervention of a kindly football manager who had found Tom’s things and put them into safekeeping. How silly could Thomas be to leave these things behind, I was thinking to myself until I realized that this was also typical Charles behaviour.
I found Thomas at the park, playing for the yellow team against the reds, in the mud with the rain teeming down. Such are the conditions in which English youth frequently have to train and hone their footballing skills. However, given that the Wembley turf on which they recently lost 2-3 to Croatia looked so much like that on which Thomas was playing, there is even less reason to excuse that abject failure.
Thomas played well enough up front in attack but was often frustrated by the wily defenders who invariably took the ball from him. Tom was encouraged by his trainer to play the ball around to his fellow teammates a bit more. This was a higher standard of football than what he normally experiences and whereas in lower leagues he could often get past defenders using his skills, this will not be the case anymore as he progresses through the higher levels of the game. He came back very muddy.
In the meantime, I was told by the trainer that I should not, must not take photos of Thomas playing football. He had sent out parental consent forms to the parents of each child but had not received any replies and without those signed forms, he could be in trouble from any parent who objected to their son being photographed by anyone. N the meantime, you cannot walk down any street or alleyway in England without a security camera secretly filming you without your knowledge or permission.
Back at home later, we were treated to a delicious cheese soufflé by Diana, while watching Strictly Come Dancing, where Matt di Angelo went to pieces and Letitia Dean got far too many points for just trying. Alesha is suffering a bit for always being top-of-the-class and Gethin is taking advantage of that by being marked up more on his improvement than what he actually does. He is still a long way off the standard set last year by Mark Ramprakash, in my opinion. I am still rooting for Alesha.
Fred and I were in a bit of a hurry to get out of the house after the last dance as we had a date in the old Millennium Dome, namely with Marc Almond, performing his Christmas concert at the IndigO2, the very reason for being in London in the first place. The publicity had told us it was a 20 minute ride on the Jubilee line from Bond Street, and that was just four stops on from Notting Hill Gate and, sure enough, it was a very quick and easy journey, despite what Mum had read in the papers about access being very difficult. TAKE public transport, must be the answer.
The Jubilee line is very modern and efficient and it brought us to an icon of the new millennium, the great dome, with its lighted struts. The full wonder of the dome could not really be appreciated from the short distance from the tube exit to the front doors, but it was all very modern and architecturally wonderful. But as soon as we entered, it became like a modern shopping centre, with food halls and shops and crowded spaces. The IndigO2 space was off to the left and I collected my tickets, finding only one ticket to my amazement as I had obviously forgotten to order a ticket for Fred. A good thing Marc wasn’t sold out!!!
To be honest, it was not really a Marc Almond venue. When you have seen him in converted churches and old intimate theatres, music halls and Belgian squares, to find him in a high-tech venue such as this, one moreover which was built as an afterthought to the main concert arena (where Take That were playing last night) felt a bit off. No queues of fans waiting to be the first to get near the stage, little feeling of exclusiveness, it felt more like consumption, as if we were here for a big burger or a branded multi-national coffee or designer T shirts.
Oh well, we found our friends Dino and Paul and Yvonne and Ange and even Rosemary from myspace. There was Niall from Ireland, and the tall Germans, Eleanor, and Sharon from flickr and assorted other familiar faces from the world of Marc Almond. Eventually, we would run into the Brighton lesbians, Julia and so, which was nice as I could not easily understand why they would not be there.
And then there was Marc… the fabulous Marc Almond, dressed as ever in black, his hair now dyed black and always with those beady eyes and that cheeky smile. So reassuring that there is forever Marc, even more so since his motorcycle accident of three years ago. However cool one might be about seeing him yet again, it is always a wonderful moment when he takes to the stage, the small man in the bright lights and starts singing and the magic comes all over us once again.
Arrived in Paris, checked into Hotel St Quentin, near Gare du Nord, rady for an earlyish night before a 06.38 train journey to Grenoble tomorrow morning... more about Marc later...
Thursday, December 06, 2007
(05.12.2007 - 18.06.1961)/2 = 11.09.1984
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
A couple fo good days in Stockholm
At the end of two days meetings here in Stockholm. I had to stand up and make a little presentation of my objectives for the coming year at the start of the meeting on Monday morning. This was before the big bosses arrived from the UK and the US. After this, the country managers made their comments and, to be honest, there was quite a high degree of negativity, which I found quite disappointing.
However, the big boys came in and they all re-iterated the points which I was trying to make (although they ahd not seen my points). Finance is often regarded as an irritation or a necessary evils by many 'business people', but I got a good deal of back from these senior managers, which was very comforting. Still, there were a couple of country managers who stil refused to look me in the eye. Very childish.
The evenings have been good, albeit with far too much to eat and drink. Yesterday we went to a restaurant on a cliff overlooking the city where we started off with champagne, then Christmas beer, with schnaps, then beer with madeira and then some more and some more. Ooops... I don't think the schnaps really agreed with me and I woke up with a burning sensation down my throat.
Tonight it was a pizeria with beer followed by wine, followed by more beer at the hotel.
Very nice to be chatting to my colleagues in an informal setting, particularly a Scotsman/Glaswegian who is based in Dubai and an Italian with a Glaswegian accent who is based in Milan. I hope to be visiting their offices in the new year... as well as the South African office, to which I have received an invitation.
Not sure how quickly I will be scoming back here though... hmmm...
Sunday, December 02, 2007
A winter break in Stockholm
I am back in Stockholm, this time for a major managers' meeting, which take place on Monday and Tuesday. This eveing we went out for drinks and dinner, although most of teh others will turn up tomorrow.
I arrived with a very bad cold and there was nothing I wanted to do more yesterday than to go to sleep all daty, but I had to catch my (cheap) flight over here. Left the Amsterdam sunshine to rain and wind and darkness over here. A nice warm hotel room and a comfortable bed and BBC World and I stayed in most of the evening, apart from a fish dinner (with incredibly slow - but Scandinavian) service.
Felt a whole lot better today and the sun was out so I went out with the camera to take some photos. Strange to be here again without Fred, but he was enjoying a nice cosy weekend at home.
Here are a few Russian women wearing fur. In Amsterdam there are many posters with the message 'Fur is Murder', much like 'Meat is Murder'. Is there much of a difference between meat and fur?