Lille; A short break.

Thursday 26 January 2023 – Lille, France

It was cold in Lille, much colder than London, the shock of the cold cutting through my open jacket as I got off the train. We stopped in the almost empty concrete wind tunnel that is Lille Europe Station to don the scarves and hats we pocketed when we got on the tube in Leytonstone almost four hours earlier. Eleanor wore gloves, I was map reading on my phone as we walked  the 20 or so minutes to the guest house.

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It was Tuesday morning, Europe is in the grip of an air pattern generated by storms in America, the sky is a solid even block of grey and there’s a firm but gentle breeze that feels like it could cut through lead, its sharp. The light is weird, and would remain so until Thursday morning when the rain comes. Though we are six hours early the guest house owner shows us to our room and we can dump our bags; I change into a warmer jumper, then we head back out to explore Lille. Neither of us has been here before so everything is new. Other than some recommended places to visit over the next couple of days we have no plan. The best way to travel somewhere different; slow and at the whim of fancy.

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We’ve come to Lille for a short break to celebrate the 25 of January, when, 10 years ago I met Eleanor for the first time over a drink or three in Camden’s famous rock and roll pub, the Hawley Arms. They’ve been a very happy 10 years and life without her would be a lot less bright. We chose Lille as it’s easy and quick to get to on the train, it’s not in the UK and we want to travel in Europe more than we have and as I said earlier, we’ve not been here before, so there’s plenty to explore.

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We spent Tuesday afternoon walking aimlessly around the old town, a lot of the shops were closed, early in a winter week I guess. nothing seemed permanently shutdown or derelict mind, a healthy sign for the city. I have the camera with me though didn’t take a huge amount of photos.

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Lille is in northern France, close to the Belgian border and architecturally is a mix of French and Flemish, a lot of the old houses would not be out of place if they were picked up and dropped into Ghent or Bruges. I like the mix of styles.

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There are lots of churches; including a Notre Dame. The touches are so gothic (it is a famous gothic cathedral), but also a touch Gaudi-esque; though he was Spanish.

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One of the things I like about European towns, and it does seem to be unique to mainland Europe rather than UK, London at least, is big old double doors, either as an entrance to a courtyard or direct into a house. I particularly like them when they are faded, grubby and time worn.

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I also found the narrowest building ever, none of those doors would have worked here.

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We had an amazing run of finding great places to go for a drink or an evening meal during our short European break in September and I pleased to say that luck stayed with us on this trip as well. I found Soultrain bar online, I was looking for an ‘alternative’ bad and one that was preferably a few minutes walk from the guest house. Soultrain met those requirements and lived to up to expectations; the food was basic bar sharing plates, We were the oldest people there but we loved the vibe, and the cocktails and the bar staff were great. I didn’t think a bar playing (mainly) French hip-hop, though not too loudly, would be my sort of place, but it was. Thanks internet. This was only our second drink, honest.

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Anniversary night was Wednesday; Eleanor had been recommended a small local bistro by a friend of a friend who lives in Lille and made a reservation before we left London. I booked the guest house based on its close proximity to the bistro. Bistrot Brigand is small, maybe a dozen tables, the music was soul/funk/jazz, and like Soultrain the night before, it was unobtrusive. The food was fabulous, combinations of things we hadn’t eaten before, mainly vegetarian, which seems unusual in Lille, and the staff were brilliant; this is a small inner suburban bistro, not a tourist place, and we were welcomed even though we have little French.

There was no rush on Wednesday, breakfast in the guest house; coffee, cheese, bread, fruit and pastries, more coffee. It was cold again, grey, low clouds, we wrapped up and walked to the nearby Metro station and caught a train to nearby Roubaix, near the border with Belgium. Our destination is La Piscine museum of art and industry, recommended to us by my cousin’s wife who is from Lille; she recommended a few places to us. The gallery was the day time highlight of the three days, not so much for its art, there was little that wowed me specifically, it’s the building that is the real highlight of the show.

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The gallery first opened in Roubaix in 1835 with an emphasis on textiles, a key industry in the city. Like many museums and galleries across France and western Europe it was closed during the Second World War and the artworks secure elsewhere. What is somewhat ironic is the gallery had just finished an exhibition of textiles by the great Victorian socialist and craftsman William Morris, who’s home and now museum is a five minute walk from our old house in Walthamstow. You can take the girl out of Walthamstow…

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The museum had trouble finding a new base until 1990 when the city council agreed the 1932 municipal swimming pool building, closed in 1985, would make a good home for the collections. No-one who has visited since it reopened could argue that this was not an inspired, if very brave decision. The place looks fabulous and I particularly liked the way the old dressing cubicles are being used to show works. The tiling is beautiful stupidly I didn’t take photos of the tiling. I did take a photo of this bath though.

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We had lunch and for me a very nice 4 Euro glass of red wine in a nearby café, then took in the town square before catching the tube back to central Lille.

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An afternoon nap was in order, but it was slightly too early so we wandered about the old town a bit more. I finally found a few narrow streets with not too many cars in to take some photos. I love these cobbled lanes as much as I hate there being cars in my photos.

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I was a bit gutted that the book, record and print  market wasn’t properly open on either of the days was walked through it.

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This is a holiday, so we picked up a bottle of cheap wine before climbing the three flights of stairs to our room then slobbing on the bed with books for a couple of hours before dinner. Note to self, next time you go to France take a cork screw as virtually no wine comes in a screw top bottle.

Thursday, today, our last day, dawned wet, though much warmer than the last two days. We’d planned to walk to a nearby market for a look, and maybe pick up some cheese to take home, but decided in the end to just hang out in the guest house room, enjoy another leisurely breakfast then walk to the station when the rain abated; stopping for a decent coffee on the way.

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I’d booked us seats on the 13:35, time for a last walk, if we’d wanted to get wet, though early enough for us to be back home by mid-afternoon, leaving time to unpack and get ready for work the next day (Boo hiss).

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It was a very enjoyable 10th anniversary trip and I’m looking forward to more visits to Europe this year and of course 10 more years plus with the lovely Eleanor. xx

Amsterdam

Wednesday 21 September 2022 – Amsterdam, Holland.

Amsterdam. The final city in our three city whistle-stop holiday, which sadly was all over far too quickly; both the holiday and our stay in this wonderful city of canals and cobbled streets.

I deliberately chose to go to Amsterdam on a Monday rather than over a weekend, I’m not a party person and the thought of a city full of stag-dos and hen parties was horrifying. I want some semblance of peace and quiet while I holiday and don’t want to be lumped in with the louder drunken English tourist.

All our inter-city travel has been via train, it’s long been my favourite form of travel. Headphones on and gazing out the window as we move through the world is one of the true joys of travelling. I like to take photos through the window as we go, mostly unsuccessfully; a lot of attempts went into a virtual bin to get a couple that I liked. The countryside is mostly flat and rural, I was looking for olde worlde windmills but didn’t see anything other than large modern wind turbines; though there is a beauty in those as well; I’m glad I don’t live near them though.

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We loved Amsterdam, as in Brussels and Gent we stayed outside the centre but within easy walking distance; though we really didn’t do much in the centre, a quick walk through and that was it. We missed all of the central city attractions, mostly deliberately. I’m not that sort of tourist.

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We walked past Rembrandt’s house, I knocked, though he wasn’t in.

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The view from our hotel room in the Jordaan.

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We spent most of our time walking around the canals that fringe the centre of town. Canal side walking was such a joy, just like Gent the inner suburbs were dominated by cyclists and pedestrians. There were cars, but few and they all seemed to give way to those not in tin boxes, it was quite civilised. I don’t recall the constant blaring of horns at any minor inconvenience caused by someone cycling slowly up a cobbled single lane road. The Heineken sign is above the door of my favourite bar of the whole trip.

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One of things that I found very amusing was the number of (often white) vans parked on bridges, I have so many photos with unexpected and unwanted vans in them.

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I took a lot of photos of canals and bridges. Did you expect anything else?

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There were some great houses here, though not all of them were straight. I like the variety of residential architecture in the different European towns and cities I’ve visited over the years; different weather and environmental conditions has led to a different style of building. This makes urban walking so much more interesting.

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I loved these tiny cars, there were a lot of them about, some powered by cranky old petrol engines that sound like they’re held together with gaffer tape and ancient congealed grease and street dust, the newer ones are electric and silent; neither seem to move very fast. I’ve not seen these anywhere else.

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As in Gent and Brussels we found a number of quite chilled cafes and bars (not the ‘special’ kind’) to hang out in, mostly out of the main tourist areas. There was a bar round the corner from the hotel that I spent a couple of hours in over a couple of small beers while I read my book and listened to the dub reggae they were playing. It was the local bar I dream of having where I live but have never found. I guess everything looks better through the rose-tinted glasses of a holiday. On our last night we found a whisky bar that had a nice range of whisky based cocktails, we stayed for a couple; the music was good and they place felt nice; admittedly there weren’t many other customers. Like the gin bar in Gent on our first night this place also had ladderlike stairs going to the toilet, not a place for cocktail wobbly legs.

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When we planned the trip we intended to visit the world renown Rijksmuseum art gallery, but wow, it’s expensive!

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We decided we would visit the MOCO Modern Art museum instead, it was a bit cheaper and was focused on street and pop art rather than the classics. Amongst the Banksy and Warhols they were exhibiting a couple of Stik paintings, the kind of thing you normally see painted on city walls.

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MOCO was in the same precinct as the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, another nice part of Amsterdam about 30 minutes from where we were staying.  There were quite a few people here, probably the largest volume of other tourists we’ve seen. A lot of accents and languages being spoken around the coffee and waffle cart tables.  It was nice and I miss that sort of thing quite a lot; I find a joy in being amongst strangers, who have all come to somewhere else to gather a drink coffee. Of course I don’t talk to them, that would be madness.

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All too soon it was time to head back home; a week away was enough to refresh, and enough for a taste of the low countries, but I left wanting more; which is a good thing. Like most other places I’ve visited, I would willingly come back.

The train back to London was really busy and I really should have checked out seats before we left, our view was, um, limited. At least we were near the bar.

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Brussels, Belgium, where I turn 60.

Monday 19 September 2022 – Brussels, Belgium.

I was 60 on Saturday 17 September, a milestone that pretty much snuck up on me. I don’t feel 60, it sounds old and most of the time I don’t feel old; I feel like a young 59. This trip was primarily to celebrate my birthday and I wanted to, and should have, spend more time on planning it. I’m good at planning holidays and get almost as much pleasure from the planning as I do from trip.

I struggled with organising this trip, possibly due to being too busy, but I mainly think it’s a Covid hangover; a lack of trust that we will actually be able to go mixed with a nervousness about being in crowds again and not being in the mood to ‘have fun’. I had a few attempts at making a trip work but couldn’t get time, location and budget to fit. In the end I just thought ‘fuck it, let’s go to Brussels’. I chose Brussels as it isn’t Berlin or Amsterdam, Rome or Paris; it’s not a city you go to celebrate something and it’s the centre of the ‘hated’ EU. It sounded perfect, and I don’t hate the EU by the way. I would rejoin tomorrow if it was my choice.

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We arrived in Brussels after two great days in Gent on Friday afternoon, it wasn’t raining then, it saved that for my birthday. Not that rain put us off roaming the streets to check a place out. As with Gent we stayed a little off the beaten track in what seemed to be a largely residential area in the suburb of Ixelles, a thirty minute walk from the old centre and a similar distance from the EU Parliament sector. It was a great spot, close to some good places to eat; a critical consideration when I book a holiday. We had three great meals in Ixelles, all different; including a very nice birthday dinner I had booked before we left London.

We enjoyed Brussels; of course it’s a big city, and it isn’t particularly touristy though it has a number of interesting attractions. I took a few photos, as you would expect.

On Saturday, we took a walk into the centre, it rained off and on during the morning, getting quite heavy at times. It didn’t put us off too much; it also kept the crowds down.

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We took a break from the drizzle over beer and cider in a small  bar before visiting the Magritte Museum, an adjunct to the art gallery. I quite like some of his work; especially his later ‘apple’ series.

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There is a bit of art around the place, both modern street and the more traditional sculpture, including Brussels number one tourist attraction, the Manneken Pis fountain.

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I especially liked this terrible statue of Jacques Brel.

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We went into a couple of churches, one had the most amazing modern abstract stained glass windows, which is very difficult to see in this photo.

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I was really surprised to find a Phlegm painting in the city; one of my favourite British street artists.

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We spent Sunday walking to and then around the European Parliament area and up to the Parc du Cinquantenaire and the Triumphal Arc. The walk through the lovely old cobbled streets of Ixelles towards the EU Centre was so quiet and pleasant and we wondered at the absence of cars and the abundance of pedestrians and families on bikes.

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It was not till we were in the centre that we realised it was Brussels annual car free day… It explained a lot, we thought this bit of Brussels was just like this all the time; a dream for me is a mostly car free city.

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Sadly the Royal Court of Justice was covered in scaffold.

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I want trams back in London.

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Gent, Belgium.

Friday 16 September 2022 – Gent, Belgium.

There won’t be a lot of text in this, nor the following couple of posts, though there are quite a few photos in all three. Gent, Brussels and Amsterdam are photogenic in their different ways.

We loved Gent, I think we possibly could have done with one more day, though we saw most of the things we planned on seeing. The main thing we missed was the ‘Adoration of the Lamb’ altarpiece in St Bavo’s Cathedral. Something for next time; I like to think we will go back one day, it is a place to return to.

Gent is a medieval town surrounded by canals, very similar to the more classically beautiful Bruges. Gent had the edge for me as it has a student population and is a little more ‘grunge’ than Bruges; there is street art and some graffiti and student type bars with decent music. It’s not just a tourist town, though tourism must be one of its primary income sources, it’s a lived in and loved place. For an ancient town it is young and it felt right.

Some highlights.
Gin.

Le Alchemist. We popped in because it was raining and stayed for two very nice, and expensive, glasses of gin and tonic each. They had a nice range of different gins and tonics, the music was great and we were the only customers for a while; it was mid-afternoon. The steps to the bathroom were not for the faint hearted; nor the drunk.

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t’Druepelkott. A number of people advised us to visit this tiny canal side bar in the tourist area, and all those people were right. What a place! The (I assume) cigar smoking owner only serves hots of flavoured gin, poured into a large or small shot with a shaky hand. The glass is filled to brim and you have to sip from top before lifting it from the bar to take back to your seat. 70s and 80s funk sound tracked our couple of drinks and it is up there with the top moments of the trip.

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The food was great as well, vegan food is common, we found a couple of places that were 100% vegan; it’s not overly cheap, but it was very nice and we ate well.

Walking.

Gent is an easy town to walk and cycle, there were definitely fewer cars than most other places. The narrow and cobbled streets twist and turn and cross the canals that edge the town. We walked a lot, an awful lot. It’s the only way to see and feel this place.

I took a lot of photos. Castles, cathedrals, wonky ancient houses and street art from throughout the ages, who could ask for more?

Street art. 

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Castles and cathedrals.

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Streets and canals.

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S.M.A.K. The museum of contemporary art is lovely gallery with a great exhibition featuring some small works by Derek Jarman part made from items found around his Dungeness Beach home. As a recent Jarman convert these were the first pieces of his I had seen up close.

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A 60th birthday treat to Gent, Brussels and Amsterdam.

Wednesday 23 September 2022 – Gent, Brussels and Amsterdam.

Theoretically there’ll be individual blog posts with photos from all three places, though I can’t promise anything as I’m not enjoying the blog that much anymore. I feel it’s time is done, so we will have to see how it goes over the next few weeks. This could be the last one for a while, but then again it might not who knows.

I’m in a small neighbourhood bar a short way off the beaten track in Amsterdam as I type these first words into the laptop I’ve been lugging around for a week and not used until now. I like this bar, it’s small and dark, other than the Heineken the tap beer is all new to me so there is plenty of choice and the music playing at a sociable volume is some obscure (to me anyway) reggae. It’s all quite conducive to scribbling a few notes. In fact we haven’t been into a bad bar in the three cities we’ve visited on this, my 60 birthday trip away and the first time we’ve been to Europe since July 2018 when we last visited Valencia, a situation we have to change this coming year. I love and miss Europe, especially places off the beaten track like this small backstreet bar. Experience says bars in Europe are different to bars in the English speaking world, and different in a good way.

I spent far too much time to work out an affordable and sensible break for my birthday, initially trying to link a stay in a town to a concert by a band I liked. Nothing really made economic or time sense so I stopped trying and chose a simple train based trip to three towns in close proximity (read cheap) to England. I’ve not been to Gent (Ghent) or Brussels and last visited in Amsterdam almost exactly 35 years ago, very close to my 25 birthday. Eleanor’s experience of these places closely mirrors mine; she’s been to Amsterdam but not Gent or Brussels.

It’s now a number of days later and we’re back in London, Eleanor’s house sale and purchase is getting close to being finalised and we had a good weekend down at my flat. Work has been as busy as you would expect after two weeks away and I’m just getting my head back into writing a bit more of this post. Thankfully all the photo editing is done. I still stand by my earlier thought of winding the blog writing down, but aim to at least upload some of the edited photos I took in each city. There isn’t a lot of point in taking photos if they just stay on a hard drive in a dark drawer somewhere. Anyway….

It was a fabulous, awesome, wonderful holiday. It was so nice to be out of the UK for a few days and to spend that time in three great cities. We had nothing planned, other than the train back to London and a birthday meal in a restaurant in Brussels. We could do what we wanted, when we wanted; perfect.

It’s impossible to name a particular highlight and there is no way I can nominate one city over each of the others, I liked them all. So, here are some overall impressions and things I learned.

Cities with lots of cycling and walking and fewer cars are so much more pleasant than cities dominated by cars. In all three places non-car based transport was king.
I like trams.
Lots of young people smoke cigarettes in NW Europe; there was very little vaping going on. I was surprised.
The music in all the bars we went into was way better than most bars in London and Auckland.
The gin in Gent is lovely, as were the bars we drank gin in.
Every bar we visited I felt like I could rock up on my own, order a small beer and read a book in a corner on my own and the other customers would not make me feel like I was weird.
Canals are awesome.
Walking 20,000 + steps a day seven days in a row is tiring; though not walking up steps meant my knee survived the trip.
Neither Gent nor Brussels are dead flat.
Brussels had a car free day on the Sunday and I loved it.
Everyone speaks English; my constant shame is not speaking another language.
Good coffee can easily be found everywhere.
Excellent vegan food is easy to find.
The trains in Europe are cheaper than the UK by a long way.
In Amsterdam vans park on canal bridges.
I still love castles and cathedrals and cobbled street and anything that is a bit old.
I still love mainland Europe a lot and feel I’ve wasted years not coming here as much as I should have.

A favourite photo from each city; not for the quality of the photo, just for the memories.

Gent
Gravensteen Castle and the lovely Le Alchemist, a gin bar over the road from the castle that we nipped into as it was raining.

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Brussels
Car free Sunday

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Amsterdam
Vans parked on photogenic bridges over equally photogenic canals.

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Europe 1987 – Part three.

The plan to do a two-part post seems to have been completely blown out of the water, though this will be the final in the Europe 1987 series. My diary suggests the journey was more action packed the further south we travelled, or maybe I just wrote more. The diary is certainly a lot more verbose in the latter entries, perhaps this was due to me spending more time on my own? Sadly, it appears that the more I wrote the fewer photos I took; most of the photos I have left were taken early in the trip.

We take up the journey on 28 October 1987, soon after crossing the border into Greece from Yugoslavia, after what seems to have been a couple of miserable days; with poor weather, a lack of places to camp and hard driving on busy and winding mountain roads not making us the happiest of campers.

It turned out Northern Greece was a continuation of the Southern Yugoslavia experience. It was cold, it was wet, it was very deprived and there were few places to camp. I note that one night we slept in the van in a field and were surrounded by feral dogs in the morning. I have no photos from that period. I noted in my diary that we were almost killed on the road somewhere between the border and Thessalonica. I was driving and barrelling along about 50 miles an hour when someone pulled out of a side road in front of me, forcing me to swerve off the road into the dirt and back onto the road again. It was very scary and the closest we came to dying. I can still visualise the car coming out of nowhere, me wrenching the wheel to the right, hitting the dusty bank, then wrenching left and back on the road again. I cannot visualise the swearing, though I suspect some bad bad things were said.

Thessalonica was effectively closed as a senior government official was visiting, there were armed police and soldiers everywhere, including tanks on the main roads. We didn’t stay, but found a campground somewhere between the city and the Turkish border, and blessed relief, there were hot showers. It had been a long time between showers and sometimes it is the little things that make all the difference.

After two days driving across Greece we entered Turkey. I noted in my diary that there was loud cannon fire near the border and a lot of soldiers on manoeuvres on the Turkish side, though the border crossing was straightforward. Turkey was my second favourite country after Germany; and the polar opposite of tidy, clean and organised West Germany. I seem to enjoy the really tidy and strict countries like Singapore AND the mad, loose and scruffy countries like Cambodia and Laos. It is the in between I dislike more than anything.

I only saw a fraction of Turkey, just Istanbul and down to Bodrum on the coast, and it was the country I wanted to return to the most when I got back to New Zealand. In the main it was very friendly, the people were open and generous, the food cheap, tasty and plentiful and I liked it very much.

We arrived in Istanbul during rush hour on a Friday night. The roads were complete madness, five lanes of cars on a three lane road, honking and yelling, cars all over the shop. I noted that I loved it, the Kiwi driver in me looking for a challenge. We had no maps or guidebooks for Istanbul and Turkey so just drove toward the centre of town looking for signs pointing to campgrounds or hostels. Driving down a one way street we saw the ‘True Blue Souvenir’ shop with a small Aussie flag painted on the front. I stopped the van so Sam and Trudy could run back to the shop to ask for advice on places to stay, they came back with Simon and Typhun from the shop (No idea of the spelling of his name). They told us we could park and camp outside of their shop for a small fee, it had 24 hour security (armed policeman outside the station two doors up) and we could nip into a nearby hotel to use the loo and sinks. It sounded perfect to us, so much better than fields and wild dogs.

Simon said he would direct us to the shop, and jumped in the van. We drove round the corner onto a rammed three lane highway, approaching a roundabout Simon jumped out of the car, walked into the middle of the road and stopped all the traffic so I could cross the three lanes. He then move the barrier blocking the road entrance to the Blue Mosque, and we drove through its car park, across the front of this glorious building and out the other side. To cap it off we drove up the one way street the wrong way, past the police station, parking outside the shop. I wasn’t sure whether to laughing my head off at the madness of it all, or be fearful of spending 10 years in a Turkish prison. Once parked and not arrested, I chose the first option. Welcome to Istanbul!

Nov 1987 Istanbul Campsite

We spent three days in Istanbul, parked up outside the shop, other vans joined us and it was largely a lot of fun. I loved Istanbul, the old town, the mosques and the market were all highlights, as was being shown around by our hosts, eating in local cafes and drinking copious quantities of apple tea and brutally strong coffee. I am surprised I have so few photos.

Nov 1987 Blue Mosque Istanbul

Typhun and Simon.

Nov 1987 Soluman and Typhun Istanbul

Hubbly Bubbly cafe.

Nov 1987 Istanbul with Typhun

I noted in my diary that there was a bus strike in Turkey, and I could not get back to London for a few days, so after a short, interrupted phone call I agreed with Deana that I would carry on to the coast and then get a ferry to Athens and bus it from there. I could not afford to fly. So, on 2 November we carried on south, taking two days to get to Selcuk.

My diary says ‘I liked Selcuk’. We spent the best part of four days here, the most we spent in any small town. The first night was spent sleeping in the van outside the public toilets with a bunch of other van tourists. The second night we stayed in a guest house as it had been six days again without a shower. I noted it was nice to sleep in a proper bed. I also noted that I lost my wallet, but didn’t think it had been stolen and thankfully it didn’t have all my cards in it, and only a small amount of cash.

Nov 1987 Selcuk Turkey

We hung out with quite a bunch of people, including a Kiwi hitch hiker Pete who stayed with us to Bodrum. The main reason for coming to Selcuk was to visit the ancient Roman ruins of Ephesus, made famous in the book, ‘The Bible’. We arrived in town too late to visit on the first day, and the second day it rained for the first time in eight months (the Phil holiday curse). We finally made it there on day three. Pete had a guide book which was really handy.

Nov 1987 Ephesus

These were my first proper ancient ruins, none of this 1000 year old stuff like you get in the UK, these were 2000 years old. Proper ancient, and what I had been really wanting to see, the legacy from my childhood neighbours. I really liked exploring Ephesus, I liked the fact that nothing was fenced off and I could roam all over. I liked it that I didn’t accidently destroy something which I almost did when visiting the Roluos Group of temples in Cambodia. I liked that I could sit on the old toilet and read my book. I would love a pair of Doc Marten boot that look that worn in now!

Nov 1987 Ephesus Turkey

The next day we carried on south stopping at some even older ruins, the Greek ruins of the Temple to Athena in Priene, these ruins are from 1000BC. Wow, 3000 years old! Fabulous. There was no one there except us and while not as extensive as Ephesus they were still mighty impressive, and we had a bit of fun with mock sacrifices on the alter. Not that the ancient Greeks did human sacrifices!

Nov 1987 Greek ruins of Priene Turkey

Nov 1987 Priene Turkey

As we were leaving Priene Trudy realised she had been short changed that morning by the bank in Selcuk when changing Japanese Yen for Turkish Lira, by two zeros, a not unsubstantial sum. We shot back to Selcuk just in time, arriving before the bank closed. The bank knew they had made a mistake and there were no issues in getting the extra money. We spent the night parked outside the toilets again and went to our favourite cafe for lamb stuffed peppers and beer. The next morning I almost got busted by the toilet cleaner who arrived while I was still in there after climbing over the wall, I made a rapid exit the same way. He knew and stood there glaring at us until we drove off.

The next morning we drove south again, this time making it to the port town of Bodrum, and my final destination. It was Trudy’s birthday and my last night in the van with the Grieve sisters. We had cake and wine, and most of us were sick, we were all tired. It was not the bestest of nights to say goodbye.

I see a couple of dogs came to farewell me as well. 

Nov 1987 Bodrum Turkey

Goodbye Turkey. kiss kiss.

Nov 1987 Bodrum Fort from the Ferry

Early the following morning I was on the ferry to the Greek Island of Kos, where I stayed for a few hours before getting on another, overnight ferry to Athens. I slept on the hard metal deck with a load of other tourists.  Arriving in Athens I discovered there were still strikes and I had to wait three days for a bus to London.

I was not very excited by this and this was reflected in my negative feelings for Athens and my predicament. I only have a couple of photos from the three days I spent in an ancient and interesting city, and that is of the Acropolis. I didn’t even like that as it was behind a fence, there was construction going on and there were loads of people all around. My diary also says a lot of the museums were closed due to strike action, and the ones that were open were too expensive. I must have been pretty broke by then. I seemed to have spent a lot time hanging around in a youth hostel, talking and eating.

Nov 1987 The Parthenon Athens

Eventually I got a ferry to Brindisi in Italy and then a bus which took three days to get to London. I arrived back on the 14 November 1987. Apparently I smelt and looked terrible after three days on a smoke filled bus.

Not long after I arrived back Deana and I flew to Australia where we stayed for three months with her family on the Gold Coast before flying on to New Zealand in February 1988 where I stayed for the next 23 years. Which loops back to the start of this blog in 2011.

I very much enjoyed that trip, I didn’t see anywhere near as much as I would have liked, but it opened my eyes to the world and the possibilities of travelling and seeing things differently. There is a great world out there and I deplore the views of the narrow minded nationalists that want to shut borders and blindfold our young to the possibilities that should be available to them. I cannot wait to get back on the road again and would love to ‘do Europe’ one more time. Maybe with more showers.

The photos posted in these four blogs are from an album I put together after the trip and are all I have left of the between 250 and 350 I took over the ten weeks. I know I used 12 rolls of film and am sure these would have been a mix of 24 and 36 shot rolls. The other photos would have been tossed out when I sold the house in 2011 and had a massive cull of my possessions.

The diary is going in the bin now. It is time to declutter just a little bit more. As LP Hartley most famously wrote ‘The past is another country’, but it is one I have visited.

Europe 1987 – Part two

Berlin, oh Berlin. Outside of the photos my memory from staying there is pretty much completely blank now. All I remember is that it was an absolute highlight of the 10 weeks I was in Europe; apart from the incident with the drunk, and my diary doesn’t help fill in gaps. Berlin is one of those cities; along with New York, London and Dunedin that is implicitly linked in my mind with good music; Bowie, Lou Reed, Eno, Killing Joke, Nick Cave, Neubaten, all have recorded or lived there. A number of my favourite novels have been set in Berlin, and that thrill of East meets West, of mystery and intrigue was one of its key attractions and I was very much looking forward to visiting, and am equally looking forward to going back.

Oct 1987 The Wall and East Berlin

Before we continue it is important to remind that this October 1987; the Wall was still up and the East was very definitely a foreign country. West Berlin was an island surrounded by East Germany, and according to my notes there was a 300km drive north of the border, crossing. I don’t mention any hassle or delay getting into East Germany, just that we drove straight to Berlin.

Over the entire trip we shared the driving, with each of us having a full day behind the wheel. I don’t recall any hassles on the road apart from almost being killed in Greece, just the regular occurrences of getting lost and massive traffic jams. One thing that has stayed with me is we only had 7 cassettes. Maybe we only had 7 cassettes that the others liked, I can’t believe I didn’t have some of my own music. In my diary I frequently reference lying in bed listening to music on my Walkman and I wouldn’t have listened to those tapes. I remember we had The Angels, Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits, The Long Ryders but not the other four, though they would be a similar style I am sure. I think the driver got to chose what cassette was in the machine on their day behind the wheel. 

I don’t remember a huge amount of what we did in Berlin, we spent some time in the lovely Tiergarten, where one of my favourite photos of the trip was taken, with the others throwing leaves in the air and me standing watching. I am ever amused when I see photos of myself from 30 plus years ago and see that my dress has not changed at all.

Oct 1987 Tiergarten West Berlin

We entered and exited East Berlin through the famous Checkpoint Charlie; you have to return to the west via the checkpoint you entered. My notes say it took us 90 minutes to get across, you have to exchange 25 German marks for the same amount of East German ost marks, though the currency of the East is worthless and you cannot take any back to the West. Apart from food there is not much to spend money on.

Oct 1987 Border Crossing Berlin

It was a weird place, obviously at the time it was an authoritarian communist state and very different to the freewheeling west, and I imagine it looks a lot different now. The area near the border, the unpainted and unapproachable eastern side of the wall was bomb sites and rubble, left clear or cleared after the wall went up in ’61 as a visible boundary zone.

Oct 1987 East Berlin

I had someone take a photo of us in front of the wall on the eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate.

Oct 1987 Brandenberg Gate West Berlin

I liked East Berlin though, I noted the people were friendly and it was cheap, that the food was low quality and there was little to do other than walk, visit museums and eat. We bought sausage.

Oct 1987 Wurst seller East Berlin

Oct 1987 East Berlin 1

Now knowing she was pregnant Deana decided to go back to London; travelling in a crowded van, sleeping in a tent on roadsides and eating cheaply and simply, I won’t say dodgily, but… these were not ideal conditions to be carrying your first child. I imagine the rest of us were also drinking a lot as well, so probably not ideal van-mates. I know we, or I, certainly drank more after she had left as it is mentioned on numerous occasions later in my travel diary. As Deana had already travelled Europe and I hadn’t we agreed that I could spend a couple of weeks in the van and see a bit more before returning to London. Deana caught a train back from Berlin, and apart from being late had a successful trip.

It was our last night together, we had all eaten in the centre of Berlin and Deana had to wait for the train which was leaving quite late in the evening. We bought a bottle of wine and found a bench the Kaiser William Memorial Church to sit and drink it. Not long before we were finishing a drunk guy came up to us slurring away in German, he grabbed the almost empty bottle that was standing on the ground in front of us. Someone, I think it was Trudy jumped up and gave him a mouthful, and he retaliated by taking a swing at my head with the bottle, I was still seated. He missed with his swing so threw the bottle at us, his throw missed too and the bottle smashed on the ground. Fortunately, he staggered off on his way and gave us no further trouble. It was a bizarre and unsettling experience, and thankfully, the only threatening event in all of my travels. The others got the train back to the campsite on the outskirts of the city and Deana and I waited for the London train, with me eventually deserting my pregnant wife in a McDonalds in Berlin’s central main train station so I could get the last train back to the campground. She was more capable than me to be fair.

The next day the five of us left Berlin and headed south, towards the sun. We didn’t do a lot on the way, this was the road travelled when we went north and a couple of days later we crossed into Austria. Stopping for a while in Salzburg, though it was too crowded to stay so we just carried on, and into Yugoslavia.

Oct 1987 Salzburg

My memory of Yugoslavia is not a positive one; there was no specific incident, just lots of little ones and we also a load of hassle, it was my least favourite country. Like East Germany Yugoslavia was a communist state, though not as authoritarian as the former. It was the poorest country we visited, and the first time I had seen genuine poverty; half built houses, car chassis being towed by donkeys, rubbish strewn roadsides, little choice of food and small towns with gas stations with no petrol.  Though this was less the case near the Dalmatian Coast where we spent the most time.

At the border crossing all the cars and vans were parked, empty of belongings while bags and vehicles were being searched. Once we had passports stamped and visas bought we went back to the van and unloaded it onto the car park, then waited for the border police to come and check us out; we waited, and waited and waited. Eventually we loaded everything back in again, waited a bit more then drove off. Nothing happened.

Our first night in Yugoslavia was spent in a campground in the Julian Mountains, it snowed and I was very cold in the tent. We headed to the coast the next day.

Nov 1987 - Julien Alps Yugoslavia

It took us two days to get to Split on the Dalmatian coast, I note that we were very worried about running out of petrol on occasion as a lot of gas stations had no gas and that we had trouble buying food to cook, though eating out was cheap and easy. I had calamari for the first time and it was the best calamari I had for years after.

It is illegal to free-camp in Yugoslavia, so we found a campground near Split, above the Adriatic Sea and stayed for three days, the weather was glorious and we needed the break. Days to clean and do maintenance on the van, air sleeping bags and do a load of washing. 

Nov 1987 Split

I remember enjoying swimming and eating and not going anywhere, however it was not really that much of a happy experience. The girls were constantly being harassed by the men, on one occasion as we walked to the beach, a guy in a small group put his hands in his shorts pulled his package out and waved it at the girls. We took to carrying sticks with us to the beach.

Nov 1987 Split Campsite

One afternoon while walking through the old town our washing was stolen off the line, so the next day we left, carrying on southward. Andrea left us in Split, taking the train back to Munich for a flight back to London as her two weeks were up. That left just me and three sisters.

Nov 1987 Split Marketplace

Our next stop was Dubrovnik. I really liked the old town, though noted that the surrounding areas were really dirty with loads of rubbish everywhere. We could not find a campsite that was open so ended up driving into a closed one and staying the night there. I drank most of a bottle of vodka in the van and was woken up in the very early hours of the morning by the police, sleeping on the ground outside my tent. Thankfully nothing further happened apart from me crawling back in the tent and going back to sleep.

Nov 1987 Dubrovnik

The next day I was driving and failed to take a corner on a greasy bit of road, fortunately I overran into a small car park and didn’t hit anything, or more importantly, anybody. Someone else wisely took over the driving. We drove down to Ulcinj, and could not find anywhere open to camp, it was the 24 October so I guess the tourist season was mostly over. We drove down the very long beach, eventually finding an area of forest near the end. It was really dark, the road was terrible and quite deserted so we decided to park and stay the night, it was the first night I slept in the van and not the tent. In the morning we discovered we almost on the border with Albania and there were land mine warning signs off the side of the road. I am glad we didn’t wander far from the van.

Nov 1987 Ulcinj Yugoslavia

The next four days were spent continuing to drive southward towards Greece. I have one photo from that period, a woman walking a goat on a lonely highway as we drove up and down windy mountain roads.

Nov 1987 Woman walking goat

My diary suggests we drove, illegally camping a couple of times, that the south was poor and I drank a lot; not while driving obviously.  There was one further incident. I think we were in Macedonia, we were not far from the Greek border anyway. We were stopped by a police patrol. The police took our passports and then demanded an instant fine as we were speeding. We were driving a heavily loaded ancient VW Combi, there was no way we were speeding, but at least one of them was carrying a machine gun, and we wanted our passports back. We handed over the about £40 and the cops left us alone.  Police corruption at its finest.

On the 28 October we drove across the border into northern Greece, and it felt like with some relief.

The final part will be up soon.

 

Europe 1987. Part one

Interestingly or not, (it was interesting to me), when I picked up my 1980s diaries from London a few days ago I didn’t take any time to read them. I just brought the box back with me to St Leonards, found the diary that covered my European trip, packed the rest away and took them back to London a week later. I had fully expected to spend some reminiscing time flicking through them and looking for youthful highlights, much as I have always done when I dig them out for whatever weird reason, (usually looking up a concert date) which is then forgotten while I reminisce . Maybe I have finally moved on from the 80s?

The notebook that has my European trip starts in September 1987 and runs through to the birth of my daughter in May 1988, covering time spent in London, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The handwriting is often terrible, in places it is verging on unreadable, and the content is not Pulitzer winning either. I definitely did not babble as much as I do in this blog. What it provided was dates, place names and sometimes context to go with the photos I took. There was very little sentimentality, though I have only read half the story so far.

The trip started, as do so many of the things I do, with me being bored and disliking work. Though to be fair, I have fond memories of van driving for DHL in the 80s, at least I wasn’t driving a desk like I have been doing since. My memory, supported by the sketchy notes in the diary, was that we were both sick of living in London, working dead endish jobs and not having any money. Deana, my Australian wife, had been living there significantly longer than me and wanted to head back south to somewhere less manic and a lot warmer.

Trudi (I stayed with Trudi when I was in Sri Lanka in 2013) and Sam, are two of three sisters of an Aussie friend of Deana, were staying with us in our one bedroom flat while they were waited for the third sister, Mandy, to arrive in London. The three sisters had bought a green VW Combi van and were off to travel Europe for as long as they could until the cash ran out. Somehow we contrived to get ourselves invited along and all of a sudden we were quitting jobs, organising our affairs, buying a tent and packing to go travelling. I had never done anything like this before, though Deana had previousy back-packed around Europe, with Tracy, the fourth of the sisters.

On 14 September 1987 we were up at 4:00 to drive from our flat in Richmond to Dover for the 6:30 am ferry to Calais. My first experience of driving the left-hand drive van was driving off the ferry and into France, something I fortunately did not screw up. I am not sure what, plan we had that day, I don’t think we had any plan for the trip, apart from picking up a friend of the sisters in Munich on 9 October who was joining us for a couple of weeks. Six people in a van sounds about right. As well as not having a plan I am also not sure what we had in the way of maps, I know we had a big Europe road atlas, and have convinced myself that was probably it; obviously no GPS or Google Maps in those days. Not having a plan meant not having a map was less of a worry; and unlike hitching or bussing around at least in a van you can doss pretty much anywhere and getting lost is less of a concern.

We hit France and turned left, ending up in Bruges in Belgium. It was the last I saw of France until visiting Paris in 2012. I loved Bruges, I mean I just totally and utterly fell in love with it, a similar experience to when Eleanor and I stayed there in 2015. I shot almost two rolls of film on the Canon AE-1 just in Bruges, out of a total of 12 for the whole 10 weeks. I pretty much loved all the ancient towns we passed through; the centuries of history in the streets and roads of Europe. Yes, New Zealand has a millennia of history, but there is not much that you can walk around, look at, touch or even climb on, and that is what I want. 


The first night, tent up and everything is clean and tidy.

We spent two days in Bruges before heading east to Antwerp and then into Holland. I had my birthday breakfast in Arnhem National Park, one of the few places I clearly remember from the trip.it stuck in my mind for two reasons; one, they had bicycles that you could just pick up for free and then ride them from destination to destination inside the park, I had never seen that before, or since. Secondly, there was an art museum in the park and the gallery had proper famous artists; Picasso, Van Gogh etc etc. I had never seen original work by famous artists before, it was thrilling and it was in a park!

September 17 was my 25 birthday and we had cake in the van in a campground outside of Amsterdam. I look thrilled in the photo, though this is my default photo face and I am probably smiling. I remember leaving my only pair of lightweight shoes on the roof of the van, but that memory only occurred when I was looking for them a few hundred miles later on. I was left with a pair of Doc Marten boots and a pair of jandals/flip flops.

The next few days were spent driving northwest up through Holland and into Germany, following the coast some of the way. For most of the next few weeks, when outside of the big cities we slept in roadside lay-bys, Deana and I pitching the tent on any patch of grass we could find. Free camping where possible and using public toilets (usually clean) as bathrooms. I noted at one stage in Switzerland, we had gone 9 days without a shower; the things you do when you are young, relatively free and short of money. My diary notes that just outside Hamburg one of the windscreen wipers fell off. I also noted that I bought a replacement a few days later but did not fit it until we were in Switzerland, it can’t have been on the drivers side.

Holland.

A lake outside Bremen, Germany.

Hamburg.

I noted that though it was getting cold, we headed north into Denmark, I suspect to get some Scandi experience before it got to cold, I also noted it cost too much to take the ferry over to Copenhagen so we went to Odense on 23 September, where we broke a brake line, which I replaced. I had wisely packed some tools.

I have no recollection of why we drove down to Ristinge, but we did get to cross one of those amazing Danish bridges, in this case the Rudkobing Bridge.

We camped for one night on the beach near Ristinge, found it too cold, so back-tracked all the way back to Germany. looking for some last vestiges of summer.

I have no recollection of why we chose to go to the places we visited, Ristinge ? there is nothing there, I hadn’t heard of it before we went, and until I read my diary I hadn’t heard of it since. I wonder if we had some sort of guide book, but don’t remember anything, I guess we must have. We passed though Hamlyn, Hannover, Rothenberg and Wurzburg on the way to Munich. I noted on the 27th that Deana thought she might be pregnant, so a letter was written to Andrea, the woman who was meeting us in Munich in a couple of weeks time to bring a pregnancy test kit.

Hamlyn.

Hannover.

Wurzburg.

Rothenberg.

Munich. End of September, early October. A right of passage for all antipodeans who happen to be in this part of the world at that time. Oktoberfest. We were not planning on going, it is a massive money trap, but hey, we were in the neighbourhood, and we ended up staying in a campground for three nights while we looked around Munich, and partook in the various beer related activities. We didn’t drink too much, it is really expensive! We talked to a number of Kiwis/Aussies in the campground who had blow their travelling money on a week in Munich. The allure of those large steins was obviously too much for them. Me, I was more interested in seeing things than beer drinking.

Leaving Munich on the 2 October we drove round, possibly via a few circles; the Bavarian Alps, which I loved; into Austria, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, breaking down and getting towed to a garage for repairs in Lucerne. We visited some absolutely amazing, beautiful places and this area was one of the highlights of my trip. I noted at the end that Germany and Turkey were my favourite countries.

Oberammergau.

Crossing the Alps into Austria.

Bern.

Broken down and towed away.

Lucerne. While we were hanging out by the side of the lake, two Swiss girls came down and invited all five of us up to their flat for dinner which was massively appreciated.

Konstanz. A number of the older buildings in this part of Germany have murals, often religious, painted on the outside, I had never seen this before and thought it was just stunning.  One of the many reasons I loved Bavaria.

Hohenschwangau Castle from the fabulous Neuschwanstein (Disneyland) Castle. What a location, I would love to go back here and spend a few days exploring the mountains, the lakes and these amazing buildings.

We picked up the final member of our touring party, Andrea, at Munich airport on 9 October and drove back out of town; aiming for a straight run to Berlin. Our first overnight stop was in a roadside rest area just outside Nuremberg. The following morning Deana used the pregnancy test kit which Andrea had remembered to bring. After waiting the required time wrapped in a sleeping bag next to a rubbish bin by the side of an Autobahn she confirmed she was pregnant. Boom, life changer. It was fortunate that we had already booked flights to Australia for November, at least we had some sort of plan.

To celebrate we drove for most of the day then illegally camped right near the border with East Germany.

Part two coming once it has been written.

Fear of the Walking Dead.

Sunday 01 July 2018 – Xelardo, Lliria, Valencia, Spain.

Acting innocent, trying to blend, look like a local or a regular visitor, someone possibly walking, in my case, an imaginary dog, I wait for the lone car to pass down this quiet, dusty road. As soon as it is out of sight, with pounding heart and sweat pouring (it is Spain and really hot) I scramble through the hole in the fence and into a scene from The Walking Dead.

Welcome to Camping Aguas de Lliria. Contentiously and rapidly abandoned in 2009, the site is a ghostly reminder of what was a large campground with some permanent residents. I am not sure how long it was open but this website suggests it was running for at least 15 years before the council at, very short notice, closed it down for supposedly not having a permit when it was originally built, locking residents and holiday makers out.

On reading the website I was shocked to see the place had been closed for so long. There is lots of rubbish and some vandalism, but nothing that says almost 10 years have passed. Perhaps its isolation and the dry weather has allowed for some level of preservation? We will see.

Before venturing to the campground I wanted to check the abandoned house I visited last year. There was an old stuffed chair in one of its three rooms and I hoped it was still lurking, lumpen, in the corner. I approached cautiously again, a little nervous. I didn’t want to run into the owner. I now know this is private property and being semi-rural the likelihood is no one speaks English. My Spanish is worse than poor, even the words I do know come out sounding mangled, dulled by my flat New Zealand accent. Unintelligible.

Approaching, I saw a stuffed chair outside the front door, someone had tried to burn it, stuffing had been ripped, but it had been resilient to their attempts. I was pleased, this was not the end I wanted for my chair. I wanted a long slow gradual decay, perhaps to be found by future generations, still lurking, lumpen in its corner.

Passing inside the door, over broken glass and other detritus I discovered the outside chair must have been the twin of mine, for there mine was still lurking, still lumpy and tatty; but mostly complete. Unburnt, unmoved, still dignified. Still in the corner where I first found it.

People have been here since I last came, there is more damage to the interior, more rubbish on the ground, dead fires, empty and smashed bottles. Signs of small parties, youthful nights, exuberance and stupidity. Sometimes I miss those days.

I start to head in the direction of the campsite, discovering I am not too far from a road, and a house. A car comes down the road and stops. I am standing on the edge of a ploughed field, sort of behind a small scrubby tree, a man gets out of the car, though just walks to, and then in to, the driveway of the house. Phew. I beat a hasty retreat, back over the slight ridge, past the house and up a small rocky trail to some old gates that I know, from last year, lead to land that is open and used by locals to walk their dogs.

I feel more certain of my legitimacy and stop to take some photos of the grass and these weird little plants that I like the look of, but have no idea what they are called.

Soon I am walking down the road, along the fence line of the campsite, looking for entry points; maybe rapid exit points if needed later. I find a way in, a gap big enough to get through quickly. Just as I approach, a car comes down the road. I start to walk purposefully, innocently, waving to the driver as he passes, slowing immediately he is gone. I wait till the car is out of sight, then turn back and quickly enter into the campground, into a scene from The Walking Dead, thankfully without the flesh eating zombies.

It immediately feels strange, as if crossing through that chain link fence has crossed me into another less joyful dimension. It ‘feels’ quiet, deserted. Both are good things, hopefully reality will match the feeling and I will not come across anyone or anything that presents a danger.

I get the camera out of my bag, I have bought the old 5d with a 50mm lens, nothing fancy, no big heavy lenses and nothing that would get caught on the fence if I have to make a hurried exit. There is a surprisingly large amount of stuff, the result of the rapid departure of the people who lived here.

There has been some vandalism, though I am surprised at the condition after nine or so years of desertion, there are even some windows that have not been smashed. Though there is a ton of rubbish strewn about.

I can see people have dossed/camped or hidden away here over the years, small fire pits are scattered here and there. I am guessing the council or the original owners used to sweep through here in the early days. Numerous holes in the fence have been repaired, but more have been made and I spotted three or four as I walked down the road, keeping an eye on escape points.

I am still a bit nervous, I worry about wild dogs, and wilder people. The image of disturbed zombies does not leave my mind. I know these things do not exist, but…

I do not wander too far in, I am not that courageous. The place is massive, far bigger than it looks from outside, a large portion has been burnt down, though none of the fixed dwellings look fire damaged. There is some irony to be found.

After thirty minutes of quiet skulking I decide to leave. Heading back to the hole I came in, I walk up the road to the chained entrance. Stopping to take a photo through the gate. A final reminder that my fears a zombie apocalypse had occurred as I crossed dimensions were not entirely unfounded. It was good to be back in the real world again. I think.

Was this the best paella?

Tuesday July 3 2018 – Valencia, Spain.

This is my fourth, and Eleanor’s third visit to Valencia, staying with friends Paula and Paul in their holiday home on the edge of Lliria, a small town at the far end of one of the Metro lines. We are all here for three nights, with not a lot planned apart from lunch on Sunday with an old work mate. My idea for this trip was to relax, drink cheap lager and wine in and round the pool, eat some food and do some planning, photo editing and writing. I also wanted to make a sneaky visit to the abandoned camp ground nearby.

In hindsight I think the trip was pretty good, but in the immediate aftermath I considered it a bit of a failure. I didn’t really achieve any planning, photo editing or do much writing. That was probably good, I needed to make some time to relax. The reason for the lack of photo editing was the cable for the portable hard drive that contains all my photos disappeared somewhere between security at Stansted Airport and the arrival hall in Valencia. To say I was pissed off would be an understatement. It did remind me that I HAVE to do a backup of that drive when I get home and have a replacement cable…

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Sunday we met ex-work-mate, Fran, for lunch. Fran is Valencian, returning from London earlier this year. He has long recommended Casa Carmela for the best paella in town and was keen to introduce us to it, and we were keen to accept the offer.

It is a scorcher of a day, 30 degrees plus, with the clearest sky and not a breath of breeze to speak of. A lot of Valencians were hitting the beach, and it was a very crowded tram ride from the station to the sea front; but so nice to travel by tram rather than car or foot.

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We arrived early and took the opportunity to walk along the beach front, Casa Carmela being at the far end of the beach from the tram stop. The beach was very busy, I should have bought swimming gear with me, I cannot remember the last time I was in the sea, I miss it.

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The walk along the promenade is nice, too hot to be thoroughly enjoyable. Being able to stop for a very cold San Miguel at the far end was a fine reward and made walking in the heat almost bearable. Stupidly (or arrogantly) I did not put any sun screen on my face before we left and I could feel my skin tightening and burning as we walked. There was not a lot of shade till the beach bar. Lesson possibly learned.

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Lunch at Casa Carmela was everything I had been led to believe. We had an extraordinary local white wine and the bbqed squid was just exceptional, I have never had squid that nice, nor expect to again, unless we come back. However, we were there for the paella, not the squid nor the wine, and we were not let down. The seafood paella was massive, unbelievably we all ate till bursting, yet there was still some left at the end. It was as good as Fran had said.

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There was a tiny, tiny space left after the paella, even the dessert stomach had been used up. Fran suggested a cafe bombon to wrap up the perfect Valencian meal. Cafe Bombon originated in Valencia and is a European version of coffee found all over SE Asia, a shot of espresso mixed with sweetened condensed milk. I absolutely loved this drink on my travels in Asia and did not know existed in Europe. It was perfect and a fine end to a very enjoyable feasting experience.

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After lunch we piled into Fran’s car and he took us to a  nearby horcheta bar, horcheta is a non-alcoholic drink made from tiger nut and is a regional speciality. I have had it before and it is very nice, like a mildly sweet milk shake, and over ice was very welcome on such a hot day. The bar had the TV on and a good crowd there for the Spain v Russia world cup game, the other reason for going there. Surprisingly, and sadly Spain lost, so it was a quiet crowd that left after the game.

Late that afternoon I went on a small tour of discovery in the abandoned campground I came across last time we visited. Camping Aguas De Lliria was shut down by the council in 2009 and my next post I will explore it and the nearby fields more closely.

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The following day we did not do much, lots of reading, some eating, swimming, lounging etc.

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Perhaps some watching of football on the telly. The sunset was verging, on but was not quite, spectacular.

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I have seen spectacular here before, and good as this sunset was, it was not up to that standard.

Tuesday was all about packing, cleaning, waiting for a delayed flight back to London and then home.

The answer was yes, that was the best paella….