Tag Archives: Travel

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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Bilbao Baggins.

Bilbao was a laugh. Ah, to go back to a time without bills and responsibilities, when the only struggle was choosing which rancid alcopop to shove down your trousers in a supermarket (in my experience security guards can’t run more than 50 yards without crumbling into a wheezing heap).13882428_10157389370085691_1176700627100006367_n

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The Boeing 314 Clipper.

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Look at this madness. A bygone age, passengers on Boeing’s 314 Clipper were graced with sleeping compartments, lounges, changing rooms, and a bridal suite (De Lux Compartment) for trans-Atlantic travel. Some of the images of the time (1930s and ’40s) appear ‘pre-history’, as if this is how all air travel should be; we were denied it by economics and the rather vexing religious cuckoo.

The Emirates A380 business class experience is the closest parallel to that luxury flying boat; think Patrick Bateman from Dubai to Sydney with all the mod cons. What’s missing, however, is … well, look at that photo of the Clipper interior – it’s pure shameless decadence at 13,000 feet, but without the sandals and hoodies. Every Master of the Universe is suited and booted.

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When I make my millions from pulling off the most daring robbery (don’t tell anyone) since the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft, I’ll be flying from airport to airport on one of these Emirates bad boys, a bottle of £20,000 champagne and the Mighty Ducks movies to accompany my victory laps. I won’t be visiting places; the airports will suffice.

Further reading/viewing:

https://www.flyingboatmuseum.com/boeing-314-clipper-flying-boat/

http://www.businessinsider.com/photos-the-luxurious-boeing-314-clipper-2013-8?IR=T

http://www.boeing.com/history/products/model-314-clipper.page

https://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/hawaii-by-air/online/pan-am-clippers/what-was-it-like-to-fly.cfm

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Medieval globetrotters.

Concerning us riff raff in the Middle Ages, I pictured some plonker of my age birthed in a ditch and travelling in a lifetime no further than 30 miles from that manky hole in the ground. That was my preconception of life as a shackled-up member of the peasantry.

The thing is they *did* travel – it was an arduous, unforgiving task fraught with more dangers than a Saw movie, but there were, as recent research has illustrated, plenty of people who embraced the unknown and left their ‘shitholes’ simply for the pleasures of the destination, the exhilaration of seeing new things. The Canterbury Tales were ‘real life’.

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I’ve yet to see a film forensically shed light upon the dangers and pitfalls of travelling in the Middle Ages – how it was done, the ordeal of the whole escapade. Imagine plodding hundreds, even thousands, of miles in heavily armed groups to reduce the dangers, the only knowledge of your destination that of hearsay, not a single image preparing you for the place.

Cinema needs a cracker about a penniless tradesman slogging it solo across all manner of mayhem, ‘Edmund’ from a Lancashire hovel on his epic mission to Florence. Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (2005) is the only flick in recent memory that with verisimilitude depicts some snippet of the gruelling nature of travel back in the dark days, this the late 12th century of the crusade and the crucifix.

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I have this image of your stock member of the rabble doing anything to escape his lot (‘Nastybrutish and short‘), the grasping of even the most remote of opportunities, a former serf, now peasant, off exploring sans the protection of his noble.

I’ve met so many folk in Edinburgh who simply have no interest in seeing the world. It’s not their oyster; it’s an irrelevance. The sense of haughtiness applies even at the micro level – “Why would I want to sample Aldi when I have a Lidl on my doorstep?” Today’s by-choice non-travellers are a carbon copy of our image of the medieval peasantry. Either through poverty – a simple economic inability to explore – or through a self-cocooning belief that other places don’t belong to them, a large swathe of our populace travel proportionally less than their medieval counterparts. I don’t get it. Perhaps staying put it just easier and that’s the only explanation for it.

The dangers of travel are immeasurably less than in, say, 1418, yet the fears of tragic happenstance metastasise in the mind – pervasive news media can really pump the fear. It could be you on that AWOL Malaysia Airlines flight.

In a digital world which comes to you, there is less need to seek out the exotic. Video games and virtual reality are the modern-day pilgrimage, Amazon and eBay the trip into town.

Further reading:

http://www.historyextra.com/article/culture/medieval-tourism-pilgrimages-and-tourist-destinations

http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195396584/obo-9780195396584-0102.xml

http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/sacredtexts/luttrellpsalter.html

http://www.historyextra.com/feature/medieval/10-dangers-medieval-period

https://www.amazon.com/Trade-Travel-Exploration-Middle-Ages/dp/0815320035

 

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Christmas Day in Oslo.

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Christmas brings back the nostalgia, and I do most cherish those memories from the good ol’ days – stuffing my cheeks with selection boxes whilst wailing “Woof” at Buzz’s girlfriend. Xmas is a childhood signifier, the throwback event to an uncomplicated time when the most strenuous task was grabbing forty winks on Christmas Eve.

One recent Christmas Day stays with me, though. Alone in Oslo circa 2013, it was a day of, if not self-discovery, then a serene, surreal solitude (accidental alliteration).

I was reminded of that line in Heat (1995) when De Niro’s character ventures, “I am alone, I am not lonely.” That was Oslo for me: I simply walked the barely inhabited streets apropos of nothing, uttering not a word to anyone, feeling myself an invisible, pointless wanderer passing through the geography. I did nothing, and liberating it was. I’ve not had a jaunt like that since. I recommend Oslo – anonymous, pallid, flat – as the place for it. Maybe it’s livelier in the summer.

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Berlin and Szczecin booze crawl.

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Back to Berlin again for the fourth time. I’ve seen every Lonely Planet tourist site to death in the Grey City so these days reserve my curiosities to the bars and the incredible possibilities of the late-night U-Bahn adventure. I did glimpse the Brandenburg Gate from a taxi but was too busy reading an article on The Telegraph website about Jupp Heynckes and his Bayern Munich resurgence to take any extended interest. When I first set eyes upon that Prussian landmark I thought it a wonder to behold; now I’m not even bothered it exists. Weird.

What I lionise about Berlin is its seeming randomness and that it’s embraced by the locals (one presumes) as just another quirk on the city grid. It’s one of the reasons I never make a plan or an itinerary. Going for an ad hoc five-minute nap on a concrete pallet outside the Fernsehturm TV Tower was never on the agenda, but then neither was venturing out that evening. Berlin, may the Flying Spaghetti Monster bless you.

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Szczecin, Poland.

This town has little to offer. If Berlin was the party, Szczecin was the crypt. I got the sense that it’s just a memory of a place, residue from a forgotten age. It’s decent for a pint but architecturally has all the appeal of a urinal concocted from toilet paper. This is the only photograph I took, a shot of my two travel companians walking on the pavement, such was the boredom of the topography. You’d be better off drinking in your living room whilst watching daytime television than entering this wasteland.

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Bus oddities.

We took the bus to the Szczecin hovel. It was your usual journey peppered with beer, energy drinks, trance music, and a gruesome shit in an appropriately depraved toilet designed for midgets. The return mission was sadly characterised by a Vladimir Putin doppelgänger in the seat in front who demanded our ears for a two-hour monologue about the trials and travails of his life. Reeking from a single beer, he burst out laughing at our most innocuous observations on Szczecin, and upon our arrival back in Central Bus Station ZOB asked us to wait with him awhile to discuss the comparative footballing merits of Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller. Odd bloke. Escaping him was a convenient metaphor.

 

 

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Boozing in Ljubljana.

I was watching The Beach (2000) again the other day and this quote by Leonardo DiCaprio’s character struck a note: ”I just feel like everyone tries to do something different, but you always wind up doing the same damn thing.’

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It’s true. Everywhere I go I gravitate towards the usual treats I enjoy back home – it’s like rote learning. Why explore the nooks and crannies of the local community when you can do the same thing you do in Edinburgh? Guinness galore. I couldn’t even be arsed inspecting that castle thing because I was too busy drinking and reading the internet.

Good times.

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Bantz on the Orient Express.

As long as Europe has a pulse there will be the Orient Express. It’s the essential connect to the not entirely apocryphal ‘glory days’ of continental travel. My bucket list includes doing the Orient in a Farage pinstripe, though this travelogue without a ghastly murder on the train. There’s something about the combination of stunning landscapes and sordid intrigue that ensures Agatha Christie’s classic is still being revisited some 80 years after the book’s first edition (1934).

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Anyway, an excellent piece of writing here in The Telegraph ahead of Sir Kenneth Branagh’s November release:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/rail-journeys/orient-express-mystery-and-history/

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Budapest Metro is an underground sketch comedy from hell.

In late January and early February 2011 I spent eight days in Budapest. I hated the city and almost everything about it – it was just replete with scum who would literally do anything for a dollar. On every other street corner you had a hustler or a beggar or an alleged drug dealer peddling Daz washing powder as if it were cocaine fit for Hunter S. Thompson in his prime. The highlight was a Tesco and a ‘cinema hostel’ I stuck around at for the banter, i.e., alcohol and movies. I still meet up with (now) close pals I made on that trip, and we are all in agreement that the metro was, as Alex DeLarge would put it, a real horror show.

306453_10150797955890691_1579151984_nI’d never until that trip seen such shamelessly corrupt ‘authority figures’ as I did their ticket inspectors. They’d swagger around in packs – they reminded me of the Toon Patrol weasels from Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) – the ugliest, shortest, most unshaven specimens you’ll ever witness wearing a uniform. If it were the early 1940s they’d be volunteering for a stint in a death camp. Weirdly, so many of them were the spitting image of Georgy Zhukov. I took about 25 metro journeys during my time on the Danube, and on each occasion was privy to these mutants harassing half the train. I had the impression most of them were mentally compromised individuals on work experience. If you’re expecting commuters to be deferential, though, at least try and look like you’ve not just crawled out of bed.

 

Anyway, there is a film about them called Kontroll (2003), and it essentially sums up these plonkers, with a bit of magical realism thrown in. I saw it the other day and it impresses. Budapest Metro is apparently the oldest electrified subway network on the continent … which is just great. I’d have the staff replaced by robots.

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The movie is good, though, and better than the real thing (a common occurrence).

Further reading/viewing:

https://welovebudapest.com/en/2015/11/10/kontroll-issues-budapests-public-transport-ticket-inspectors/

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/kontroll-2005

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Cargo ship cruising.

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We’re all familiar with the cruise ship; if one of the luxurious vessels hasn’t been sampled chances are we know someone who has like Magellan on champers wined and dined on the ocean. Less familiar as a method of travel is the cargo ship (or freighter). It’s a romantic pursuit, the lone traveller chilling in the shipping lanes, kicking back in a wee cabin with nothing but a salty meal and a classic novel (there are no casinos and restaurants on these vessels). It costs a fortune, though some have found ways to circumvent the hefty price through pulling the journalism card (“I’ll blog about your boat”). It’s also dangerous, or so the movie Captain Phillips (2013) informs me.

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And it’s also time consuming. Apparently, it takes a day of sea travel to cover the same distance as an hour of that on a plane. The cargo ship semi-stowaway must therefore cherish the downtime. If I had the cash I’d give this a go. I’m sure some grandiose thoughts and ideas would arrive from staring at all of that sea. It’s the journey not the destination ….

Further reading/viewing:

http://www.freighterexpeditions.com.au/cargo-ship-travel-things-you-should-know

https://www.gonomad.com/1560-freighter-travel-faqs

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/cruises/articles/cruising-around-the-world-on-container-ships/

 

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