Tag Archives: Travel

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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Titanic: Part II.

The unsinkable ship, iceberg right ahead, Jack and Rose, Billy Zane, Celine Dion, John Jacob Astor, brandies and cigars before the descent. RMS Titanic is the most often told, popularly celebrated of all maritime disasters, continuing to fascinate new generations through the sheer fatalism of its first and only voyage. Now weve got this replica cruise in the works. 3458-titanic-ii

Why bother reading history when you can live it, or even remake it? Its like we have to go one better and prove that were smarter than our doomed ancestry. Whats next? A Hindenburg re-enactment? The Challenger shuttle Mark II? I might start doing Omaha Beach tributes at Portobello. If you book it they will come.

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Further reading:

http://www.chesterchronicle.co.uk/whats-on/whats-on-news/titanic-replica-ship-clive-palmer-10903118

http://www.titanic2ship.com/

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United  ̶A̶i̶r̶l̶i̶n̶e̶s̶ Shambles

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This whole United Airlines calamity is I feel best summed up by the above hoot of a meme.

Just to recap, planes are hell. Many passengers stink – it’s like being plonked next to a skunk. Another hefty minority clearly struggle to match a ticket and seat number, and another fifth are extremely loud creatures. It’s a microcosm of society. Anyway, you are all packed together as tinned sardines, doing anything to drown out the image of your flying machine plummeting into a mountain. Some watch movies to escape these thoughts, others try and have a sly wank in the bog. My own wee personal technique is to guzzle alcohol like it’s my last day on the planet. It works.

And now, as if air travel wasn’t bad enough, we now have to put up with the crew (or airline ‘authorities’) turning on the passengers. Brilliant. Ever get the feeling you’re living in some kind of comedy sketch show?

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