Category Archives: Travel

Sat on my arse in Frankfurt.

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Guzzling ethanol and listening to deadmau5 in my chav trainers. And that’s Frankfurt.

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Edinburgh – summer in the city.

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The great junction of Leith Walk/Elm Row/London Road in all its splendour.

Such rotten images would ideally be on the front cover of Edinburgh Festival Fringe pamphlets. If you’re going to market a city at least be honest and leave the propaganda at the door. This is the reality of summer in Auld Reekie, and to paraphrase Rocky Balboa – it ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. Someone took a shit in that roundabout a few years ago; it didn’t make the evening news. Sad.

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Siberian airspace during the USSR.

I thought an 11-hour, 6,000-mile flight from London to Tokyo was hell on earth, a suspended furnace of ghastly smells and even worse movies. On such claustrophobic ventures I do enjoy unearthing the laptop for a disaster-themed bonanza – Flight (2012) with the inimitable Denzel, Air Force One (1997), and an Air Crash Investigation bumper pack. If you’re going to reek worse than durian in a hobo’s socks, you’re going to be subjected to terrifying plane crash fun.

A wee peek into the Cold War glory days of grim and we find an 11-hour trip today the relative Shangri-La of a plane journey. For obvious reasons, the communist paradise of the Gulag restricted its airspace, with only Soviet planes allowed to fly above the Soviet Union. The solution was for Western airlines to traverse the Arctic, stop at Anchorage, and then proceed to Tokyo. This sub-zero town in Alaska was for a semi-epoch the transport hub for travel to Asia. With the fall of the Soviet Union it is now once again a backwater, the perfect milieu for the very bleak Christopher Nolan movie Insomnia (2002).

Today, Russia wields enormous power through its control over the Siberian flight corridor, and the country chooses which airlines have access (with great cost to the airline). Post World Cup this summer, one of the greatest fears of commercial airlines is that escalating tensions (some might say warfare, this proxy or cyber) between Russia and the West will usher in another airspace ban, with passengers once more forced to city-hop en route to their desired destination. The nineties and noughties – 9/11 aside – just might turn out to be the Golden Age of flying.

We don’t want shit like this happening again:

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The hotel is a cave – Join the Club (The Sopranos).

The most famous ‘hotel movie’ The Shining (1980) is your archetypal man-goes-nuts-in-a-secluded-dwelling picture, but it’s more of a supernaturally themed flick than one in which the collective predilection for accommodation alienation is expressed.

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The Overlook Hotel.

The trailblazing TV series The Sopranos (1999-2007) may be famed for its stark violence and deadly black humour, but it had in some of its more audacious episodes an outlandish preoccupation with the metaphysical. Issues of mental health and modern existential malaise permeate its edges, these usually expressed through dream sequences, and Tony’s bouts of extreme depression and anxiety often the MacGuffin for major mid-season game-changers.

When Uncle Junior shoots Tony, the latter (on a hospital bed lingering between life and death) takes us through the most ridiculous, and eventually moving episode of the entire show. As shamelessly evil as this glib character is, one can’t help but feel empathy for what might have been. Moreover, ‘Join the Club’ is one of the few uses of location in any TV series (or film) to manifest a psychological feeling, the flashing lights in the distance a beacon of a world he can’t reach but just sorely wishes to. This is the hotel as total isolation, as if Tony were Robinson Crusoe in a sleek 21st century inn.

The episode reminded me of one night at a Stansted Airport hotel en route to Ljubljana, Slovenia. The check-in process consisted of typing a code into a Skynet vending machine. The only person I saw was a 6:00 a.m. cleaner doing her thing. Perhaps it was because I was on a twilight motorway, the highlights passing cars and a 24/7 Shell garage, that the situation had a Michael Mann feel to it. As I hit the hay in this cold, faux high-tech room, I wondered the drama were it my destiny to depart in a midnight layover servicing a budget airlines hub.

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A stone’s throw from Stansted Airport.

Ah, the deserted hostel bar in Riga, Latvia. I sat on my hoop here guzzling a bottle of amaretto. I believe I spent the best part of the day defragging the laptop. Not a sentient being in sight, but I wasn’t bothered.

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Gathering my thoughts about Black Balsam in Riga.

When you travel solo feelings are amplified – joy, elation, depression, loneliness. It’s whether one can handle the solitude or not, the autonomy of it all. The no-man’s-land moments have always retained more relevance to me than a riotous party or a bonkers pub crawl. I find the memories more lasting, as if a deep meditation had occurred.

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Lord Baltimore Hotel, Baltimore.

N.B. Michelangelo Antonioni should have shot a trilogy of films entirely within a hotel (The Ritz Trilogy).

Further reading:

http://viralscape.com/abandoned-hotels/

http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/pleasures-sadness

 

 

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The Ultra Long Range A350 XWB.

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The cutting-edge Beast is here, and will soon smash records and traverse the 9,521 miles between Singapore and New York with Singapore Airlines. To think that commercial air travel isn’t even one hundred years old yet; this is only the beginning.

Further reading:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/news/airbus-a350-ulr-xwb-first-flight/

http://www.traveller.com.au/worlds-longest-flight-airbus-ultra-long-range-a350-xwb-takes-to-the-sky-for-the-first-time-h0z5ls

 

 

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Biblical Gorgie – Edinburgh’s lofty testimonial.

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Moses would have creamed his toga (is that what they wore or was it a Roman invention?) at such scenes. When the Red Sea was split into a peak John Woo movie did the bloke (Mr. Moses) ever witness a sky like this? Gorgie is an Old Testament in the present. I believe this scenic occasion was a riotous football game. History repeats itself and all that.

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Gorgie, Edinburgh – the Dickensian aspect.

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Gorgie Road in April – spring doesn’t exist here (and never will). Gorgie is the dark side of Dickens, but with an inordinate volume of shitty cars, manky kebabs, and unwashed tracksuits. The pubs are usually okay if you leave before sundown. Nothing else to see here.

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The Beast from the East – Edinburgh.

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Snow is hell. As Scots, you’d think we would be able to cope with the scenario but evidently not. The whole country is static, with bewildered cattle stocking up trolleys with bread and milk.

Anyway, sometimes there are serene scenes. It looks lovely out there.

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On the sauce in Salzburg and Munich.

Back to Salzburg and Munich again for a double-headed session. To think the birthplace of Mozart and Doppler was now the temporary milieu of beer-compromised attempts to retrieve a Snickers bar from a dilapidated vending machine at 4:16 a.m.

 

Salzburg is a place with many bars, sadly few ATMs (seeking a Geldautomat is depressing), and with a most varied supply of charming newsagents, which appears to my primary interest these days. Somewhere down the line vistas ceased to be of fascination. I couldn’t find a Lidl, though. Gutted.

 

The salient memory of Munich was feigning a limp in order to use a disabled toilet, and attempting to escape the city for the airport. There was “something wrong with the tracks,” they kept barking at me in the station. I don’t think I’ve ever been on so many trains to get to one destination, and so drained of vitamins throughout. I thought I was going to die on that plane home from an overdose of fatigue and amaretto. But I didn’t.  Good times.

 

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Henry Worsley – the modern-day Shackleton.

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I didn’t know a thing about this bloke and his quite bonkers accomplishments until I stumbled upon a ‘long-read’ New Yorker article, ‘The White Darkness‘. By the end of the piece I was flabbergasted, drained (from the warm confines of my living room), and in awe of the feats accomplished.

Worsley’s travails on Antarctica mirrored those of Ernest Shackleton a century ago. In 2008 he led an expedition through the Transantarctic Mountains, 100 years after Shackleton’s Nimrod misadventure. And in 2011 he redid Roald Amundsen’s 1912 journey to the South Pole.

Worsley’s final mission was to complete his journey unaided (and without a kite to help drag his supply sled) across Antarctica in 80 days. He somehow managed 913 miles in 69 days, but had to radio for assistance with only 30 miles to completing Shackleton’s unfinished Endurance trek. Airlifted to Chile, he died on 24 January, 2016.

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Be it scaling Everest or circumnavigating the globe on a yacht, feats of human endurance – failures or not – have something of the Homeric in them. It’s an Icarus kind of deal.

Further reading:

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/02/12/the-white-darkness

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/this-is-the-side-of-antarctic-explorer-henry-worsley-that-the-media-shies-away-from-a6845381.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/12121935/Lieutenant-Colonel-Henry-Worsley-obituary.html

https://www.coolantarctica.com/Antarctica%20fact%20file/History/Shackleton-Endurance-Trans-Antarctic_expedition.php

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