Friday, 22 August 2014

No River Runs Through It - Valencia

Town Planning for iconoclasts.Major city is built around a river,said
river repeatedly floods; divert river around city, turn riverbed into
city park.Easy. The Turia river now snakes through Valencia,torrents of
people promenading through miles of tree lined avenues below street
level. There's parks,lakes,picnic areas,cycle lanes,sports areas: and
peace.If you wish to rejoin city life simply ascend the steps at one of
the numerous bridges.
You don't have to be into Modern Architecture to be singularly amazed at the aquatic,organic forms of the City of Arts and Sciences.Stunning.Wander seawards through the city and directly onto the beach,one of the widest and most pleasant I've ever seen.Don't miss out on La Cabanyal though,the last remnants of Valencia's former fishing community.Simple two-storey houses festooned with colourful tiles.Now decidedly impoverished and edgy,yet charming.Seemingly facing gentrification, so see it while you can.Back in the city,peruse the labyrinthine back streets and have a beer in "Monterey" a bar dedicated to 60s Garage/early 70s Psych Rock.Record sleeves and posters abound while spinning vinyl provides your soundtrack,and much to buy in the record cabinets if that's your thing.
Maybe it's a bloke thing but the Toy Soldiers museum is brilliant.Dioramas from ancient warfare to WW1 and ,during my visit, a feature on the Zulu wars.I can only say,"Blimey! There's thousands of 'em!"
An absolute must is to take the 1/2 hour 5 EUR train to the ancient castle system at SAGUNTO (above pic). Huge battlements and entrance gates,like something from a 50s Hollywood epic.Myself and Pacgirl explored for hours,tripping over discarded Roman tombs and engraved monoliths. Cost: Nothing, Pleasure: Immeasurable

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Into Samaria Gorge

Blown away by a program on the Minoans,and simply how advanced they were (think modern housing estate in 1500 BC) I head off to Crete. As it happened I ended up away on the Western side,in the beautiful Venetian city of Chania.This is centred on the Old Town set around the picturesque harbour. Perfect timing as the Euro football tournament is on so matches shown in the bars most nights and thus always folk to chat with. On this trip I seem to fall in with loads of Scandinavians,many good sessions with Swedes & Danes. The daftest night was when I loudly knocked the arm off a female dummy (clad in Greek footy kit) -very embarrassing,with the whole bar turning to look.I fixed her arm back on, and for good measure said sorry and gave her cheek a little caress,-to much laughter! 
Samaria Gorge -and people at base of pic
Samaria Gorge is Europe's longest at 16km,it begins south of Chania in the Lefki Ora (White Mountains). The bus drops you there and then it's a free walk down into the gorge,which narrows from 150 to just 3 metres wide at the bottom.There's a stream,and regular supplies of water which is pretty handy on a 6 hour trek. At the lower stretches you feel like Apaches are gonna pop out from the boulders -it's just that sort of 'Saturday morning Western' terrain.At the end walkers chill out in Agia Roumeli until the boat takes you to Sfakia for return bus trip.I have NEVER seen a sea as blue as the Libyan Sea. A cracking day,and whilst not being one for organised trips, this is a must. 
By chance Viki,a friend from the past,is living in nearby Kalyves so I bus over there, and get given the tour of the hills and stunning Souda Bay. Check out her & Steve's website if you want a bespoke Crete holiday.Well,a million beers,and some village wine later we're putting the world to rights to the soundtrack of Social Distortion just like 23 years had never been. Nice to know that though we've both walked through some shadows, these days are mainly spent in the sunshine.

Friday, 19 October 2012

A Muppet Talks Manhattan

Never trust anyone who tells you skyscrapers can't be beautiful. Like it or not, executed well these are our Parthenon,our Pyramids.Some of these here are over a 100 years old now, the FlatIron building (pic&video) a giant in 1902,now a shrunken aunt in comparison.The Empire State & Chrysler building we all know,but check out The Woolworth or The Ripple  going up now. The Twin Towers are being rebuilt,albeit slightly different,even so it's tremendously sad to stand before them and imagine those terrible moments  
on the day war began.
The buzz of Manhattan is incredible, consumption not required. Just bowl down Madison Avenue or Fifth or Broadway, and soak it up. Head through Wall St and catch the Staten Island ferry which takes you past the Statue of Liberty and costs nothing. Quite a thing to imagine that after days crossing the Atlantic this was an immigrant's first sight to indicate their new life had begun.
Many of the immigrants initially settled around the Lower East Side,so next day I go see Little Italy & Chinatown for a taste of that. I wander up through the more bohemian districts of Greenwich Village & Chelsea to take the High Line,a former freight railway that ran above the streets (you'll know it from countless films).It's now converted into a very pleasant artistic walkway. Central Park is a masterpiece,a park bigger than most city centres: you could lose a few shopping malls in the lake alone! From here I watch a lot of the all day St. Patrick's Day march,nice to see how the various counties of Ireland formed NY brotherhoods.Some went further, like the banners depicting IRA men "Killed on active service 1986"...
Four stops on the subway to my hotel in Queens, to sink a gallon of Guinness in the Irish bars of Sunnyside.No tacky theme pubs here,these are Irish owned concerns and the rebel songs blare forth. I wonder about my English accent,even though my Hibernian blood runs thick enough.I meet a nice Irish/American couple and then stumble out into the New York night,scarcely believing I'm seeing the Empire State building on the way home from the pub!
There's more to Queens than this though,it has the people of the world living on its streets.Block by block, language,faces,food change constantly, but I'm on a Manhattan mission this time and head back to the Museum of New York.It's pretty amazing how they agreed a network street grid which turned some swampland and a few farms into what stands today. A quick scoot off to the New York City Library, it's steps a common meeting place,is free to enter and there's a great exhibition on the life of the poet Shelley.The reading rooms upstairs are something else, carved & painted ceilings fit for a palace.A quick walk across Brooklyn Bridge but no time to explore there,going to save that for next time.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Old Forge Almanac


Nature decreed that much of New York State lies under a green and silver patchwork quilt of forests and lakes. This is the Adirondacks, 6 million sq acres of it, I do have a mountain bike though. One that Gene found in a ditch with one functioning gear, but it proved  invaluable.I'd moved to a motel in Old Forge a very small place bordering several lakes,which at the time were largely frozen.Still beautiful though. Me and ol' one-speeder took ourselves off on many missions, usually just to gaze across the lakes,admire the  wooden clap-board houses nestling in the woods or listen out for wildlife.The roads were mainly clear to ride,but the ground was snow covered and to climb up Bald Mountain proved a little challenging, especially when faced with ice shelves.My biggest worry,much to the amusement of my American friends, was BEARS. It was an uncommonly warm spring and they were coming out of hibernation early, hungry and with their young. Starting my walk up Bald Mtn 2,350 ft, I was constantly stopping, to check out tracks: human,dog,deer -ok ,and relax, listening for movement in the trees-even sniffing the air! It's really not that hard to take yourself back a few centuries and get a feel for the life of indigenous people or frontiersmen. 
At summit of Bald Mountain
I've always hankered to just sit at the bar in real backwoods America,so I wandered into Tony's and took my place amongst the lumberjack shirts and baseball caps.No one batted an eyelid at my accent,and talk went on about work,Obama and the horrendous price of gas (£2.50 a gallon!). There's wild tales of a guy's first car,a Camaro, and it's engine still alive,now installed in a cherry-picker of all things. I chip in with my story of performing a van engine swap, at night, with only a cigarette lighter for illumination to align the clutch.The international language of grease monkeys: my drinks are promptly paid for and am invited across the street to the Tow Bar Inn whereupon I'm introduced to countless people,every drink is bought for me,offers of lifts back to the motel come and go 'til in the end I'm bouncing down the road at 2 am in a pick-up with open pipes,rock music blaring & drinking beer. Yep, Americans are pretty friendly..Second night out ,I'd popped into Greco's for one drink at 4 pm,come one am I'm back in the Tow Bar with a group of guys/girls I met from ONEIDA and made plenty more local friends too. Good job Amy, Greco's vodka- lovin' bar manager, taught me a hangover cure (PediaLyte/Dioralyte in UK). The folk are like the area, wild & wonderful :-)

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Champlain Breakfast

From MONTREAL, Canada to SCHENECTADY, USA is 200 miles. Lake Champlain is 125 miles long and so most of my Amtrak train journey is spent hugging it's shoreline.Never has 6 hours looking out of a window been so interesting! The train's mournful whistle,the clapboard houses, the isolated farms: an American dream held for 30 years now fulfilled. Upon arrival & 2 hr stopover in Schenectady NY, despite the snow,my first Stateside beer is called for and within minutes I'm engaged in great conversation with a top lad called Mark complete with phone photos of his KX125. Taken off to another bar to discuss the merits of side-valve engines,vintage tractor pulls,the local girls.. and all too soon I'm off to UTICA.
I'm met at the station by Gene & Kathy, I'd never met Gene before- just emails and some mail exchanges concerning our mutual ownership of Dalesmans. The bag round Kathy's neck contains a tiny flying squirrel; somewhat unusual, but takes more than that to concern me. We slide through the snow to Wal-Mart get food & beer and head to their abode. It's a trailer in the back of beyond and whilst I do have some bike parts & magazines in my house,these guys are US clutter champions! Anyways,you can get to the fridge,sofa/bed & the toilet so we have some good late nights staying up talking. A trip to the Saranac Brewery was better than expected; interesting,funny and anyone who thinks US beer is only Buttwiper,Coors etc check out their lush range of ales from dark to blond. Free beer too at the end! Through my new friend's kindness I get a tour of the area, ROME, Oriskany battleground,and the peaceful Welsh settlements around Remsen .Sad to say farewell but more of backwoods America awaits. 
Who needs a fancy lakeside retreat?

Friday, 13 January 2012

Kickstart TV Series, Dreams at Teatime

She sits across the table from the 'Antiques Roadshow' expert, this woman in her fifties in middle-aged clothes. As he paws her items for valuation, a wan condescending smile smears across his middle-class face."So,these Sex Pistols posters you've brought in, I shall assume these are from when you were a punk?". Her eyes dart,and a broad Brummie accent retorts, "I STILL AM!"
When I first got the bike bug as a kid,my first passion,my daydreams in school,were trials bikes. Bultaco's,Yamaha TYs,Twinshock Hondas; I wanted one so badly, and things only got worse when the TV trials series "Kickstart" began to be screened. There was now no escape from this obsession, my eyes became saucers as Schrieber,Lejeune and co did battle every summer teatime from 1979 onwards.
Time rolls on and I now have that TY175 I always wanted,and a damn sweet machine it is too.Six months after smashing my knee in India I was out practising on it, all felt OK (even when I fell off !) so I decided to enter a trial. A new club to me, Dales Classic had set up a good course for the 50/60 strong pre 65 and Twinshock riders. Up there on that Derbyshire moor, the contemptuous wind whipping it's way through skin and resolve,I did examine my commitment to motorcycle sport. Nonetheless,I donned the five-quid-plus-postage brand new classic trials coat and ripped over to the easier sections. Some were indeed easy, which I repeatedly "cleaned",( i.e no faults) and others were nightmares,but the most satisfying is the one that's defeated you all day and on that final fourth attempt you sail through balanced & beaming. In no way did I achieve a respectable score, but it was in two figures rather than three, and I don't see many places these days where you can get a 2 hour buzz for £12. 
So,a nice to return to 'competition' and a welcome dig down to my roots.For me and poster lady it's a case of never lose sight of "What Makes You Tick and What Gives You a Kick" .That's my saying for today -and days still a twinkle in the twylight.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Budapest, Rising Up with the Ruin Pub Culture

Lush,and repeated x 1,000
Budapest if you didn't know is Buda on one side of the mighty river Danube which has the palaces and the Old Town up on the hill, and the other side is the main city Pest where I was based. Gloriously wide boulevards lined by stupendous 19th century Secessionist archictecture.You will walk these streets with sore neck and mouth agape, and yet the decades of dirt defiantly cling to give this grandeur a somewhat grimy edge. There are so many things to see as regards to Art,museums & heritage it's untrue.I only managed to do the National museum (£3 for over 2 hours viewing) to which, by luck,featured a special exhibit of my fave photographer Andre Kertesz.However, this is a living,working city which likes to play hard - nothing really comes alive 'til late and keeps on going.With beer between 90p and £1.50 a pint and fags at £1.50 a packet this is one cheap party playground, so don't plan on getting up early for your cultural tourism.
Pest viewed from Buda hill
It has to be said though, that I did witness a fair degree of homelessness & alcoholism.One day a chap stops me, begging,blurting on in Hungarian, so I reply "Bocsanot,Nem Ertem,Angol Vagok" Sorry mate don't understand I'm English.I give him some dosh and he thanks me with the parting shot in English "Who Is Foreign?". Maybe deeper than he intended but yeah,I like that.
Anyways, a further draw to me was Budapest's  Ruin Pub culture. Basically old factories or apartment blocks with courtyards turned into bars with a liberal dose of Art & Music.I soon found out my £17 a night hotel was slap bang in the main Ruin Pub area, so with free Wi-Fi on tap I planned out my mission. Initially I encountered Grandio a Ruin Pub/Cheap hostel with live music,and went down into the cellar to see indie/post-rockers Midas Fall.This venue was like a large underground Nissen Hut,with great acoustics,cheap beer and a superb laid back atmosphere which made for a fine old time.Another night I was out at Gondozo which was cool,artwork everywhere and a Hungarian folk band; nice but I wanted more... so off to Szimpla I went for more upbeat tunes.Walk in,POW! Face cracks into inane grin, visual overdose time, lights,camera,Action! A Ruin Club really: huge bar, 5 rooms downstairs traffic lights,pipes,structures abound,like a mental factory overtaken by the drones or a serious party in Steptoe's Yard. Upstairs more madness,huge bars,collapsing old sofas,valve radios,5 or 6 alcoves for secluded sessions,cocktail bar, food lounge. All the while I'm downstairs watching old 8mm films of Hungarian life,football matches,Szimpla being started in '94 -another projector plays a loop of removal men struggling with a fridge (??!) with a soundtrack of top indie tunes,I ain't smiled so much in years.
Aside from some nights in bars watching footy I finished off the last night by going to Fregatt (Ship) which was an underground rock bar in the style of a Nelson era gundeck. Drinking Zlaty Basant in memory of my former Slovakian neighbours, I was heartily amused by the aural madness of mashups -Sex Pistols v Madonna,Iron Maiden v Frankie and the best fit Pink v Dandy Warhols. Then off to Csaba for "a last pint" well that didn't happen -another great ruin pub -and some good DJs -saw a fine if somewhat late end to the trip.
A beautiful,amazing,crazy city -now get off this page and go to EasyJet or whoever and GO!