Sunday, 7 November 2010

Tim Emmett

A fellow trainee here is Tim Emmett, climber extraordinaire, the sort of guy who throws himself off buildings and precipices, uses wing suits, does stunts with tiny parachutes of high-rise structures... he was doing press-ups and pull-ups this morning by the pool, makes my little regime of steps and sit-ups look pretty miniscule. Tant pis. You should definitely check out his website I think it is. Or google him. Another Juice Plus+ devotee of course... he has been eating it for 12 years.
The whole thing is very exciting... whether or not you are involved in this business, you could just take note. It´s all about to kick off... expanding into new territories, an avalanche of new research coming out, sales soaring and the new team structures growing by the thousand. Staying at a multi-millionaire villa tends to consolidate the feeling of excitement and confidence.
The flight home this afternoon is a bit difficult to pin down. Easyjet says it´s distrupted but the details look the same online. We may be staying longer than planned, but if so, good!

Saturday, 6 November 2010


Flight smooth, once again sushi as the onboard meal is brilliant, bought from Boots again though people recommend M&S. How peculiar it is to be whizzing along at 37,000 feet. Everyone acts so normal, reading books, drinking wine, dozing, etc. but it´s so abnormal.
The new Palma airport is gorgeous, last time I was here we were in the old airport and this is a gleaming marble pavillion. We were picked up in Birgit´s Lexus, and so far we have been whisked from one wondrous experience to another. Last night we sat on the terrace and watched the dusk fall as specks of fire cruised across the sky, transforming into aircraft heading into the island. We walked around the rich rich port of Portals, with dozens and dozens of vast white plastic yachts bobbing on their moorings... Three million euros per mooring and the contract lasts only 18 years. It´s all about conspicuous display, but it made me think of small penises, and of course the smart money went into building the jetty and renting out the space.
Supper in a dockside cafe, warmed with a flame inside an awning-clad terrace lined with dead twigs. Ah well, that´s interior design for you.
Today we have been touring round a bit, up to Valdemosso to see George Sands´ and Chopin´s lodgings in the old Charterhouse... stunning place though of course they had a miserable time there. You can still buy or rent an apartment there, with a terrace and garden looking out over an exquisite antique scene - tiny valley with the sound of sheep bells, and birds in the woods, and the fields and terraces with olives.
Then past Deia to Soller, and back through the tunnel to the house and some training.... tea is waiting for me on the terrace and I cannot stay at the desk any longer. More later if I can.
It is warm and sunny and quiet and calm.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Off to Majorca

Lucky me, I'm booked in for some training with one of the top people in my company, so we're flying to her villa in Majorca for the weekend. This time I am trying to take a real minimum of kit to wear...I always end up taking too much.

We had such a warm day yesterday I was very grateful... I find it almost impossible to summon up ideas about warm weather clothing when it's cold outside, but the summery conditions put me in the right mood.

Andrew is dropping me off at Ashford in a few moments and I will meet up with some of the others who are going. The radio has had such interesting programmes this morning: Hislop on Lord Kitchener's Image, then How to live frugally. It's not clear to me whether all my gadding about this year is frugal or not. We have done it on the cheap, I suppose, but it feels very flighty and luxy. I love it!

Monday, 18 October 2010


Travelling as a tourist is like being on a low-carb diet... you take in so much rich-flavoured stuff, so many new details, and it's all intense and complex, so that you long for bland, normal, quiet, peaceful times.

Our last day was a non-stop process of change and mid-level stress, everyone is very tired now. Up early, onto the top deck and freezing winter air and rain to see the ship glide back into Venice. Astonishing. Back down, grab some breakfast in the cafeteria, empty the cabin, put the hand-luggage into a temporary left-luggage place, do the final admin, find somewhere to sit, collect friends who we will travel home with, buy bottles of water, wait, wait, try to hear the announcements which are perfectly audible in Italian and muffle in German, French, Spanish, English etc. Go back and get our hand luggage. Eventually file out, past an embarrassing line-up of token staff - a chef, a waiter, a cabin steward, a waitress, a bar-steward, a customer-services person, a tour guide.... how humiliating, how pointless. They have fixed grins, wave wanly at us. They are from Brazil, India, Colombia, Philipines (worrying about the super-typhoon about to strike their country)...

Through the perfunctory exit gates, find our luggage waiting neatly for us, take it to left luggage, wait in the rain for the free shuttle bus, get to Piazzale Roma, try two different ticket offices for an airport-bus ticket. Lead our little group into the Cannreggia for a coffee and lunch... over that glass bridge, watching the waves punch up and down in the gale. The rubbish bins are stuffed full of broken umbrellas. The thalidomide man (with no body below the hips) is not there this morning as he was last Sunday. We find a coffee (lucky when all the cafes are looking for lunch customers). The owner is Chinese. Then we go out to another place nearby for lunch: pasta with seppia or bolognese, fegato or escalopes, salad, lovely local white wine, and it's all very nice despite being cheap and touristy. We chat to other diners - Americans. Pay, get back to the Ple. Roma, back on the shuttle to the ship terminus, find our left luggage office closed. Try getting in. Upstairs, huge crowds assembling as we did a week ago, waiting to board for their cruise..... ha! what we could tell them!!!!

Go back down, find another way in, get the big bags and back onto the shuttle to Ple. Roma. Then queue for the airport bus. Phew! Twenty minutes takes us to Marco Polo. I manage to scavenge some acorns from under the extraordinary fastigiate oak trees growing by the bus stops... like those Lombardy poplars but oaks.

The plane is delayed. Andrew is searched coming through the security gate and because I distracted him by picking up his case, he loses some cash in the trays. When he goes back they say they put it in the Third World box. Then our doctor friends is fleeced in the shop - they give him change for a 10 euro note when he had handed over a 20. No argument, but I feel better that other people can lose money through not paying attention too. We find somewhere to sit. The sun comes out as we climb the airplane steps.... (it has been raining and cold all day). Someone says, it was waiting till we left. If only we had such influence!!!

We finally get airborne just a few moments late. The whole of Europe is covered with one huge cloud mass a nd we are just above it all the way. I talk to the cabin crew about radiation damage and how our capsules can help. One used to work for an eminent eye surgeon and has heard of John, the consultant in our little group (who just lost 10 euros). The cabin staff are pleased to learn about Juice Plus, and take my leaflets with alacrity. As we leave the plane at Gatwick, an old friend, Elaine Calnan, who is godmother to my daughter, is there - she was sitting just behind us on the flight and we didn't realise.

A friend is there to meet us and bring us home... The house smelled a bit damp when we walked in, boo. But it all looked so calm, and peaceful. Travelling as a tourist is a crazy thing to do, especially in planes. It's easy enough in some ways, miraculous in fact, hurtling through the air or over oceans at great speed and in carefully costed comfort, but it's all stressful and exhausting and there is not enough human contact, or real experience. It can't be right.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Ižmire, Constantinople, Dubrovnik

Izmir and Constantinople

Fantastic harbour, boats skimming past, skyline pricked by minarets and radio masts, so exciting.... the dark skies, cold wind and pouring rain are less inviting. Still we are venturing out in a moment and will have a look at what we can, and I think resolve to come back and see it all another time.

Yesterday we were in Izmir, a place proudly proclaimed as Turkish, but it wasn't so long ago that I read the novel 'Jericho' which starts with the massacre of the Greeks in Smyrna as it then was, and so I find I do not share the sort of touristy-ecstasy about the new democratic republic. though I am glad the people have reclaimed their homeland. And what a story this chunk of the world can tell, from Hittites to Moses, Alexander, St John, Romans, saints, castles, churches, mosques, etc etc. This is a rather rapid and garbled paragraph, sorry – I am really tired!

We opted for a bus excursion to see the house where the Virgin Mary died (in the care of St John), and Ephesus. It turns out the authenticity of the House rests on the vision of a German nun in the 18th century, who had a dream..... surprisingly her description was found to be vry accurate and so bishops and historians and popes etc all said it must be true. The original House had been destroyed by earthquakes and has been rebuilt, in the rather surprising shape of a church. No photography allowed, no speaking, just a non-stop reverent line of pilgrims filing through. Oh well. The source provides delicious water just down the path, a wall holds thousands – millions – of prayers written on paper, the coffee shop does a brisk trade, the loos (our first experience of a real Turkish lav) were disappoingly european in style and not the croucher type, and the whole place is guarded by policemen with automatic machine guns, nice at a holy place, but probably sensible.

Then back into the bus and to the huge site of Ephesus. This is a disappointing place because of the crowds, and the very broken (white marble) pavements which force you to watch your footing all the time and so it is hard to look at the astonishing rubbly remains of this vast Roman city. To my mind Epidavros near Corinth offers a far more peaceful and imaginative account of how things were... archeaologists and historians will hiss at me, but, there it is. Our guide was a nice man, a gentle Muslim evangelist, who gave us an interesting document showing how Jesus and Mary are recorded in the Holy Koran, but his English was execrable and he darted off into the crowds almost as soon as we got into the site, and so we made our own way down. At the end we bought a freshly-pressed pomegranite juice, and some delicious fresh figs, and chicken doner wrap for our lunch, and admired a dark woolly Bactrian camel, and waited for all the rest of the group to join us. The imprecations from the tat vendors are forceful, but my goodness they work hard for their living.

Anyway, overnight we sailed through up the Aegean and through the Dardanelles into the Sea of Marmara and thus into Istanbul..... we tried to see the land on either side as we came through the straits, but it was too dark. And today, in the pouring, drenching, road-flooding rain we set off to explore the city.... amazing place. We needed a ten lira note to buy our tram tickets, but only had a twenty, so I braved torrents of water and deep puddles to get into a bank. The elegant assistant looked at the 20lira note as if it was completely counterfeit... she checked it though a machine a few times, held it up to see through it, looked at me as if I was a leper, took it away to consult her colleagues. They stood and discussed it for about three minutes – it seemed longer – and long enough for such a simple transaction. Eventually and with great pain, apparently, she changed my note for two tens. We got our tram jetons, hopped onto a crowded no 38, and trundled into the city. Mentioning the crowds – although we saw mostly men all day, I must say I never felt anything but very safe, even in the bazaar later on.

First we went to the Basilica Cistern – with all those reused columns and the huge cathedral space created to hold the city's water supply – marvellous, even the solemn fish swimming round in the dark. Medusa's head, seen once upside down and once just as a prop to a column, is a salutary reminder of how a culture can be discarded... the workmen who heaved her into place could not have worried that they might be turned to stone just by looking at her.

Then into the Hagia Sophia – queueing first for what seemed like hours in the rain to get to the ladies' loo first... the disable loo was firmly locked, by the way. Why are public loos built with so few booths for ladies? And why do ladies take so much, so much longer than men....? Well, I know why, but I have yet to meet a female who doesn't loathe queueing to pee. Loathe!

The Hagia Sophia has the advantage (for the time-strapped tourisit) of being both a very ancient church, and a mosque, and a public space. If the cathedral builders of Europe had seen this, in say 1200, or 1300, they'd have fallen down and cried. The height, the width, the holy acoustic, the marvel of it. We wandered around, feeling blessed to be there.

Then we headed for lunch, were tempted into a corner cafe by the sight of two women in traditional dress sittting on the floor in a window cooking pancake things on a curved griddle.... We had delicious food there, a mixed Ordervre (sp!), pancakes filled with spinach or potatoes, and yogurt drink, and tiny delicate honey cakes for a pudding. Yum.

Then we went to the bazaar, crowded, filled with bling and handbags and ceramics and garden lamps and shoes and silk and jeans and crowds and musical instruments and coffee and shawls and towels and napkins and nougat and turkish delight and more of all of it, retail, wholesale, trolley loads of it coming through, and everyone working very hard, and having a great time. Our friends bought their Christmas presents, I bought two pairs of baggy pants and we got a special selection of Turkish Delight vacuum packed to bring home. Tram back, plod through more puddles and rain, fail to get a seat at the internet cafe because all the Indian and Brazlian crew members from our vast ship were queueing up to contact home too.... and here we are now, back in our cabin, filling in time before our wretchedly late supper sitting (8.45pm sit down, eat about 9.45).

We went up on deck to watch our departure from the quay... the light was fading fast and it's quite murky outside, and damp. Coming back inside the ship where it's dry and light, well that is nice but the air is all dry and artificial.... we can hear the engine throbbing somewhere deep below us. The cabin 'TV' has only the ghastly BBC World News, which is still mostly showing only endless loops of happy Chilean miners and their President. We know from our tiny taste of Turkey today how many real things are happening in the world, however small, however insignificant.... and it makes this thumping poverty-stricken endlessly repetitive capitalist blurb which gets pumped out round the globe under the once-hallowed name of the BBC all the more shameful.

Tonight and all tomorrow the ship is heading back to the Adriatic. We get to Dubrovnik for a short stay on Saturday... when I hope to put this offering up onto the blog.

OK - here we are in Dubrovnik, rain held off most of the afternoon, we had a brilliant sunny day on deck yesterday, and a wonderful lunch in the old town just now. >Prety tired, very happy, almost too much to take in now. I found two new custoemrs during this trip - both thrilled to find Juice Plus which they realise will help them with their various problems. I also found new ideas about how to take my business forward, very helpful.

Andrew was v pleased to go up the cable car here, we could see for miles along the coast, fantastic views. Have to get back to the ship pretty soon now, pack and put the cases outside the cabin ready for disembarkation in the morning back in Venice. My God, it has gone so fast. Not sure this blog had as many laughs as I like to put in, but it is a record at any rate. I notice too that my creative juices have flowed every time we came ashore and dried up completely on the ship which is all plastic and bling. The cities we visited are so poignant, working hard to attract tourists, polite about how rude tourists can be, rich with their own history. Strange to think we will be back home tomorrow night.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Storm, Tiredness, Greece

Maybe I attract this bad weather... anyway we had some sort of storm most of yesterday, got very wet in pretty Bari and sailed through grey and grumpy seas all day and most of the night. The ship is so huge you hardly notice it.

The interior of the ship is most like an extended fairground, so although it is large it is also crowded and garish, with eyeball-scorching decor, and barely an inch wasted in terms of money-grabbing opportunities. The bar, the next bar, the chocolate bar, the casino, more bars, shops, art gallery, photo walls, excursion desk, etc. Not that we didn't expect it, but being inside all the time is wearing and the air is all filtered and dried out, so you get thirsty and buy yet more of their bottled and expensive water. I wonder if maybe water is the most profitable thing on the ship. The food is salty too, so guess what.......?

We saw the show before supper, two athletic guys doing impossible balancing acts, balletic but very tough - black leather trousers and a few camp poses, but astonishing strength and a stand-up ovation at the end. One did some Olympic style gym stuff while on a pair of flimsy scarf things hanging from the top of the stage, what Andrew called 'running up a pair of curtains'.

We are still on the late sitting for our evening meal, which means we assemble at 8.45 and eat about about 9.30pm which suits the Italians but all us Northern Europeans are wilting a bit, especially as we get up quite early in order to go on the excursions. Andrew and I did not book up for the trip to Olympia today, we will come back another time, and today we are spending an hour or so in Katakalon, which is a little modern cluster of shops etc on the shore beside the 19th century harbour. The ship sails at 12.30 so there isn't long and we thought we'd prefer fresh air to a coach trip. Another cruise ship is in today, the Saga Ruby, looking small and old-fashioned and rather sweet.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Conference and Embarkation

The Juice Plus conference ran smoothly - an intense experience sitting listening to amplified speech or instant translations on headphones... a bit like being in the UN, I suppose, as we had about 11 nationalities there ranging from Finnish to Mexican. The company is getting more and more excited as the research data piles up in support of eating fruits and vegetables, and the scientists use our Juice Plus capsules for constant data. The ordinary press picks up the stories too, so the background in which we work is visibly changing, in our favour. Anyone reading this who wants to be in at the beginning of a business success better join fast! Ask me for details.

We heard one great story from the company's early days: they wanted the endorsement of a top athlete in America and went for a man known as 'the juice' because of his initials. It was OJ Simpson... they made a video with him, 10,000 copies ready to distribute at their first conference, all the literature printed ready to go out... then the news came in that he had murdered his wife. They were initially told he hadn'tndoneit and it would all be ok, but of course, at the moment he was supposed to be on the conference platform, half the audience left the hall to watch TV as he was led away in handcuffs ..... wearing a Juice Plus teeshirt! Ooops!

Anyway, that was then and this is now. We are the leading company, with more research, more government support, more endorsement than any other food supplement and our directors are understandably excited.

I want to add one shocking detail.. we spent the last morning in Venice for a walkaround and there saw a beggar on the pavement, whose entire body below the hips was not there. He had one arm as a stump, so I think this was a thalidomide victim. He was 'standing' on the pavement, looking as if he was really in a hole in the ground. His work, so to speak, was to beg for alms. I find it hard to get this image of him out of my mind.

Last night we set off on our cruise on the Costa Serena, a huge great box of a ship, nearly 4000 passengers and 1000 crew. It's like a glam holiday camp, all glitter and sparkle. Our cabin is on the inside, ie no porthole. We have been assigned the second sitting for meals, so we ate last night at about 9.30 - too late, and we will try to change to an earlier sitting. Maybe the cafeteria will be a better bet, but last night it was pizza only, for all the kids aboard.

Leaving Venice from the height of the top deck was stupendous... it was a clear sunset evening, so the views were wonderful. Still, I think ships of this size should not be allowed anywhere near the city... Do you remember the Jupiter Ship in the film 2001? It's like that. Dwarfing everything.

We sailed down to Bari during the night, and here is it raining quite hard. We are in a little cafe, with a marvellous boney plain square Norman castle across the road, and the town very plain and ordinary but built of glowing golden-white stone. The pavements and steps are like rivers. Shoes wet. But who cares?

No idea when we can get online again, it is v expensive on the ship like £10 a minute or something. So I hope to post again soon. Please put your comments on here.

Saturday, 9 October 2010


Didn't post yesterday as I was at the Juice Plus conference which was full of wisdom and interesting things.
It finished tonight and I am really tired.
Just had a brilliant meal in a local osteria (cuttlefish risotto, black as black).
We are off tomorrow on our cruise io Istanbul. Posting may be difficult if not impossible for the next few days, but I will try.
I have a marvellous story about OJ Simpson to tell you, so will try to get that up.
Now too tired to say more except that it is exhilarating to be in the company of world-class people, winners, champions, exceptional achievers.
I feel at home with them but of course it is competitive to some extent and I am not sure what I can bring to the table.
Anyway, Venice has proved to be a marvellous place to live and work, and I am feeling so grateful and happy.
PLEASE post your comments for others to read. I have had some emails but of course they are private..... I hope you are enjoying this blog.

Thursday, 7 October 2010


Came back to the flat from the internet cafe and managed to get this to open up! Ha!


Now, all the rich knobs in Venice hated the heat of the swamp and the marsh and the mosquitoes, and they yearned for somewhere cool and with solid ground under their feet for the summer, and once they had collectively conquered the interior region and held it safe from their various enemies, they hit upon the little inland city-port of Vicenza as a place to send their families for the holidays. They built up a gorgeous urban environment with palaces, churches, squares and markets but they had no defence at all when one of their own arrived to tell them how to build, embellish and improve their new palazzi. The architect who set their blood racing was Palladio, who created in Vincenza a series of urban show-off set pieces, and various country villas dotted about on the estates around the town, and these buildings were so beautiful, so correct, so brilliantly modern, so stylish and perfect that they formed the basis for architecture ever since. If you visit Vicenza, nestled into the nearest hills to the Serene City of Venice, you can easily walk round and see most of Palladio's buildings externally, and some internally, with some marvellous signposting and excellent self-guided walk brochurery.

The extraordinary thing is that the first building you go to see (called the Teatro Olimpico) was the last of his designs – he never lived to see it complete. It was commissioned by a body of men who must have been completely extraordinary in themselves – they were (I guess) all rich and powerful, and learned, and took Hercules as their exemplum... nothing could be achieved without work! They called themselves the Accademia and they thought they should spend all their money on anything to do with antiquity – literature, statuary, art and of course architecture. So they asked Palladio to make them a theatre and gave him an awkward little bit of land with an old prison on it... He was already experienced in creating temporary theatre buildings for special events, and had a huge amount of knowledge of the Greek and Roman theatres. Also he was genius at working on difficult sites, and he'd been thinking of what he wanted to achieve with such a commission, so in no time he had knocked up the basic layout... a wooden amphitheatre or 'cavia' of elliptical design, and a proscenium and stage 'scena' of triumphant classical proportion and ornament. There were of course some large elegant entry rooms for the building where the accademicians could meet and listen to music and lectures, but it was the theatre itself which was to blow everyone away. We went in via a 'new' passageway which brings you straight into the side of the auditorium/cavia - and it is a breathtaking experience....

The postcards on sale do not do justice to the experience of seeing this important space – the first covered theatre in the world – I will post my own photos in due course. But the seating is original, the stage wide and close, the 'orchestra' available for seating and the whole space just astonishing. The scena is sort-of based on a Roman triumphal arch with three main entrances and two more at the side. It is decorated with Corinthian columns and dozens of statues... these were originally to have been 'the Virtues' but after Palladio had died, the Accademicians had themselves plastered all over their marvellous theatre. They had to pay for their own statues, and some could only afford recycled ones, so although they were all stoutly male, some do appear to have rather feminine attributes (boobs).

The first performance (in 1580!) was of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, for which the costume designs etc remain. The set was designed by Palladio's rival Scamozzi, who hated him, and shows seven streets leading away from the stage – the city of Thebes in fact. It was such a marvellous design, and so fragile, that it is now regarded as an artwork in its own right and has been left there. It is all absolutely astonishing, especially when you think that London was groping towards a few comparatively temporary wooden theatres at the time, the Globe, the Swan, etc. This Olimpico at Vicenza is still a marvellous working theatre, with a breath-taking stage and orchestra pit, excellent acoustics, terrific history and it must really rank as one of the greatest and most influential buildings in the world. Go and see it!!!

Andrew asks me to record that we had lunch nearby in a little bar which claims to be an osteria and spuncioneria. We don't know what that means, but they serve a terrific menu of polenta or pasta with various fillings of fish, prawns, porcini etc. The address is Pitanta, Contra Santa Lucia, 8, Veneto. Bravo!

We walked round for a few more hours, looking at Palladio's marvellous exciting buildings which still give you a thrill. Vicenza claims him as their own, but recently had to agree that he was actually born in Venice and ran away at the age of 16 to escape an apprenticeship agreement. No-one really knows how or why he died, or much about his life, but his fantastic buildings have led to the town being made a World Heritage Site and it is definitely worth a visit. If you don't already like architecture, then you might start to take an interest when you've been to see all this stuff. We are definitely coming back, to see the villas this time.

We also recommend a quick visit to the town's Natural History and Archaeological Museum which is exemplary if very quiet... however it has some shocking examples of taxidermy, some very very very ancient pots, bones, skulls, etc., some excellent 3-D models of geological formations such as limestone caves, and the biggest fecking stick insect I have ever seen. I had no idea such things existed in Europe and I will walk past hedges with more care in future. This one is evidently called Ph. acanthopus Burmeister and is about as big as a big man's trainer.


Annoyingly, we are not able to get our freebie online service tonight in the apartment, and I hoped to load today's exciting bulletin from a memory stick onto the pc at the internet cafe, but for some reason it doesn't work. The staff are all Indian and presumably speak good technical Italian but not English. So I am stumped for the time being and will try to get our Palladio story up in the morning.

For now I will just say that Vicenza is the city of toilets a la Turque, that is to say, squatters, which are ok if you have been regularly to yoga.

This is a slightly squalid posting, I think, especially when what I want to say is radiantly wonderful about the architecture and amazing life story of Palladio, who one way or another changed all our lives, even though he died in 1581 or thereabouts.

I will have to get my blog updated tomorrow. We had a great day though. My conference starts on Friday (tomorrow) after lunch so that will be the end of my free time in Italy. Two days of work, then onto the cruiseship to chunter round to Istanbul. Then it really will be hard to get the blog done....

Wednesday, 6 October 2010


We just walked back into our apartment at 6.30pm to see a marvellous sunset out across the Veneto plain. In fact the weather has been gorgeous today, like a fine mid-summer day in England. All the Venetians are wearing wool, black leather, thick sweaters, scarves, everything smart but all in grey, black and brown. We on the other hand are wearing light summer clothes, bare arms, basking in the heat.

Today we went out to Torcello, one of the 'remote' islands in the Venice lagoon, partly to see Venice's oldest building (church of St Maria dell'Assunta) founded 685AD and barely altered since, so reaching back into Byzantine history and with some marvellous early mosaics. We knew it would be a complicated journey, requiring three different boats, but actually it was hilarious – the pontoons getting more and more crowded as service after service failed to arrive. No-one really seemed to mind as our morning slipped away.We could easily have gone for a coffee or a stroll and still come back to the same queue. One group were a bit anxious, asking how long it would take them to get to the ospedale, but otherwise a kind of ancient Italian resignation settled over us all, whatever nationality we were.

Eventually we clambered onto a low busboat, and headed out past the station and along the Canale di Cannaregio, missing the Fondamente Nuove and going straight out to Murano. There on advice we waited for the second stop (Pharo), and changed to a ferry going to Burano. There a stolid man on a motorised wheelchair waited in line, and it took lots of heaving and shifting to get him up all the precipitous ramps and steps and onto the boat. Bravo! The third boat took a bit of time to arrive but by then we were in a calm, quiet, natural looking part of the lagoon, with most passengers heading off into the brightly coloured streets of Burano and just a few of us heading for Torcello. It was such a short trip we could have swum, almost. Our path into the island was a plain, modern, brick causeway with wild meadows behind a wire fence, and a solitary beret-wearing accordionist who struck up a jolly medley of songs as we walked past. We passed the Devil's Bridge (ancient and recently restored – no handrail at all!) and two restos, but went on to the church. There a horde of children scrambled and shouted and played under some trees, perhaps on a school outing. We paid our 5 euros and went into the church – well worth all the hassle or fun of getting there, with wildly coloured marble floors, grey marble pillars (some bound in iron to keep them from splitting), and the two stupendous mosaic walls – one with Mother and Child in huge isolated beauty, and facing them a terrific Judgement Day. Here (just as with the Giotto in Padua yesterday) we could see the rich and wicked being tormented and harried by devils and dogs, poked and prodded down into the fires of hell, while on the other side of the design the saintly and good were lifting up their hands in praise – or it looked like they were applauding.

We had thought we would eat at Locanda Cipriano, which was recommended, right by the church and museum, but it seemed empty and expensive so we went back to the Osteria del Ponte Diavolo – where we had a life-memorable lunch in the garden for 28 euros. Fabulous setting, service, atmosphere and food..... a salad, freshly made rolls, a tagliatellini with shrimps, tiny mussels, clams, and herbs, and then a little mould of the local salt cod stuffed with a puttanesca sort of sauce – olives, tomatoes, rich and strong. Perfect perfect meal.

Getting back to Venice meant standing most of the way – but the light was wonderful, the company on the boats amusing, the water as calm as the lake in Regents Park. We disembarked at Fondamente Nuove and wandered around the Cannareggio part of Venice – far less touristy and with real people doing real things. We had an ice-cream and a glass of acqua con gaz by the Rio di Misericordia in the Campo di Mori, watched a guy reloading his lovely Rolleiflex camera, wrote some postcards.

Then back to Piazzale di Roma, onto a bus (no 4 takes us a smarter way home), into the PAM supermarket to get some stuff for a salad tonight, and then into the flat and that sunset. A marvellous day. The sky outside - just 30 mins later – is streaked pink and orange against pale blue. Fantastic.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010



There is a strange quality to the ground in Mestre. I keep noticing small patches on the pavement where there seems to be nothing underneath. These gaps could be where paving slabs have gone, or next to manhole covers... at any rate places where the most recent covering has broken away. There is just a dark space there, a kind of gap. Andrew suggests it's because the place could be built on sand, which would be one explanation. But in any case, it adds a slightly disreputable or unstable element to the place. I have not noticed this effect in other places.

During the night there were times of torrential rain, coming from the south. It woke me every now and then and I got up to close the windows leading to the two little terraces which face over towards Venice. I also heard those mosquitoes again, and each time I put on my small greenish bedside light, I found I could see nothing of them, dead or alive. In this region of Italy, it is possible to gety malaria or West Nile Fever from mosquitoes, as I discovered when I tried to give blood following our last trip here a year ago. I had to wait several months before they would let me donate. I found out, at that time, that my blood group is the very cheerfully named Be Positive group (B+).

So we had breakfast and – checking as well as we could the weather – went to Padua by train. Tickets come from an efficient machine and cost 2.35 euros each, one way. Cheap! At Padua we got a special city ticket and went straight to the chapel with the Giotto frescoes. Getting in is an art form in itself.... All bags of any size have to be checked in.t You get timed tickets (and if you miss your slot you have to pay again for a new one), and you have to gather outside a special air-lock room at least 5 mins before your entry, in groups of 25. There you see a video showing you what's inside, while the air you breathe inside this airlock is acclimatised so as not to damage the precious artworks. Then they let you in and it really is breathtaking.... every square inch covered with radiant images of the lives of Christ and of Mary and to some extent the donor/patron. He is seen kneeling in a prime position right under the Cross, giving his chapel to the Virgin to make up for any shortcomings his father (or he himself) may have clocked up in their careers as bankers and usurers. The blue is pure lapis, the images wonderful, the seven sins and the seven virtues edifying, the framework of all the images made to look like marble... It is a wonderful thing and worth all the hassle. Outside is the remains of an oval Roman amphitheatre, now a garden.

We couldn't see the Mantegna in the church next door because it was shut from 12.30 till 4 or something despite the signs saying it was open all day. The town is lovely, arcaded, full of students, fashionable shops, nooks and crannies, cyclists, trams, cobbles, churches, churches, churches, museums, useful signposts, markets, cafes, etc. The sun shone, we walked. We tried to eat in the open air but were too late and had to go inside... panino for A and salad for me, all good. It's a nice place to stroll around. We couldn't get into the big palace in the middle because it was completely shut... restoration work, which was not mentioned when we bought our day ticket, so that was a shame. It's a stunning building, with the markets around and beneath it, and apparently with a single massive room upstairs on the first floor, full of treasures.

But we wandered through parts of the university, came to the Duomo (cathedral) also shut till 4pm despite being 'open'. That sent us into the Baptistry next door – and Wow! what a treat. A small square nave with a fine circular dome, and again every inch covered with images of the divine Lives.... This surely was the inspiration for the Giotto chapel, but never a word of this one mentioned there! A sign said, take no photos but everyone was snapping away. It is gorgeous.

We walked on, down to the shrine of St Anthony of Padua, with Donatello statuary around and about. This is a marvellous building, with the most marvellous tomb and shrine inside it, full of white marble friezes, false perspective and a steady line of pilgrims walking round it and – laying one hand on the green marble back of the tomb – praying quietly for the health and wellbeing of their friends and family. It is truly lovely, and even to unbelievers like me a place worth going to see. I loved it.

Just as we went into St Anthony's church we had a text from Lucie in London to say her contract at work has been extended to March, something she has been worrying about, so we felt grateful to St Anthony for this benevolence. In the shop through the tranquil cloister, we looked at the serried ranks of models of the saint, and of other demigods. There is a vast amount of stuff for sale there. I liked the many snowstorm St Anthony, of course, but finally decided to buy a special very very tiny piece of cloth, held in a card, which not only had a picture of the saint, but an inscription which explained that this cloth had – very reverently – been brought in contact with the tongue of the saint, this organ having survived absolutely uncorrupted for nearly 800 years, which is a miraculous sign of course. I like the idea of the tongue of this stalwart young Christian from 1200AD or so, being a living wet warm pink organ readily pressed into service against sheets of cloth which can then be cut up into truly miniscule fragments (by nuns, presumably, or orphans), so they can be sold to pilgrims like me.

We admired the grand Donatello statue in the piazza outside the church, got a rather chic icecream for Andrew, waited for a tram and headed back up into the city. We wanted to see inside that Duomo of course, which had been shut earlier. It was another shocker – a huge white empty space, with giant cruciform columns topped with rather Deco-looking Corinthian capitals. Michaelangelo had a hand in the original design of this cathedral but it had some alterations later. Now you could be forgiven for thinking it a North German Protestant church, apart from the smell of incense. The altar steps are modern, like Clarice Cliff in marble – wonderful.

Tired, we came home via that tram and a fast train, picking up some fruit for supper. While I have been writing this Andrew has put some local saltcod and a stuffed aubergine together for supper bought at the Co-op in Venice yesterday. Delicious. It has got dark outside, with a lovely sunset. We have Radio 4 online, which is so much, so hugely much better than BBC TV World, so it is all quiet and calm and we are happy. Tomorrow Verona perhaps, or Trieste, we haven't decided. We wish you were here, too. It is being a lot of fun. Padua would be a great place to stay, convenient for Venice and with great character of its own.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Piranesi and Dinsdale

Venice and Thoughts

We had planned to go to Padua today but a quick check in the guidebooks showed us that several places would be shut because it's Monday, and since Padua is smaller than Venice the effect would be disproportionate. So we switched and went back into Venezia instead.

We walked round to the train station.... I could see my ghostly schoolgirl self hurtling through this place in about 1962, on a schooltrip to Greece by boat-train. Now the station is bigger and modernised, but the old architecture and old concrete is still there. I dimly remember being nudged into excitement as we went through – 'We're nearly there!' Then we went across that magic bit across the lagoon and to my childish mind this was one of the great crossing points of my life up to that time. The ricketty old couchette train glided and almost flew across the still and calm morning sea into the magnificent station, and then we emerged onto those amazing steps and saw water, water where a road would be in any other city. It was stunning then and still is today, when our journey was on the top of a nice modern double-decker train, with ergonomically designed seats and electronic communications. The station at Venice still has huge rippling bronze columns and mosaic ceilings in keeping with its Deco styling. It is really magnificent.

We bought vaporetto tickets (16 euros each for 12 hours use and great value). We nipped into the church beside the station – like a migraine inside, all swirls and nonsense – and then onto a No2 vaporetto to go to San Marco. We hadn't planned to go the long way round – but the waterbus took us first to Tronchetto, and then along the Giudecca Canal, so we saw the sun shining on the Venice's southern face, and took a longer view. At San Marco and hopping ashore, we turned east and wandered along to Arsenale, the huge medieval (and still secret) naval base, where there is at the entrance a fantastic collection of statues of lions of various ages...the symbol of Venice, of course, and here clustered round a marvellous formal iron-fenced portal in gnashing, smiling, superior, wonky, simpering white stone variety. We wandered on, through alleys and squares, over little bridges, peeping into shops and boutiques, listening and watching. We held hands a lot too.

We stopped for a decaf coffee, and used the loo, which the proprietor had to buzz open for us. We saw a lady in a wheelchair passing along sedately enough, but we wondered how far she could actually go before she came to a bridge or more water. Still, she smiled as she went back and forth. We heard a gondolier serenading his passengers... or maybe it was a singer accompanying them as there was accordian music and I guess you can't gondol and play squeezebox at the same time.

We wanted an internet cafe and found one, as you may know, not too far from Santa Maria Formosa, which is in a delightful piazza of complex shape, with fruit stalls and artists, and various palaces and arcades around. Very nice and not too crowded. We posted up yesterday's bulletin and then found lunch – disappointing compared to yesterday's meal but tasty and filling... it was lasagne, and some sort of 'Milanese' escalope but really it could have been shoe-lining. We don't often choose bum places but this wasn't great. It was however full of happy-looking Chinese diners. Venice, it must be said, is full of Australians, West Indians, Chinese and Japanese visitors as well as Russians, Americans and N Europeans.

We went back across the main canal to San Giorgio Maggiore to see the Piranesi exhibition – and WOW! if you haven't had a look at his work then do! He started off in Venice and learned to do etching, then went to Rome in about 1740 and learned engraving and discovered all the antiquities still lying about the place and devoted the rest of his life to studying them and passing on the good news about how they were all built in a series of realistic but also fantastic engravings and designs. Sadly he only managed to see one of his own designs brought to fruition, but modern technology has created (for the first time) items he claimed to have found in various Roman and Pompeii ruins – urns, tripods, altars, etc – and whose whereabouts then and now is a mystery. Here we see lions morphing into crocodiles or columns or griffons or tortoises.

He also made a huge portfolio of fireplace designs... he had beeen friends with Robert Adam with whom he spent happy hours measuring, surveying and drawing ruins - and learned that fireplaces were popular in England – and crucially for his free spirit – realised that there were no fireplaces in antiquity so he was FREE to design them however he wanted.

The exhibition ends with a fascinating coda – a series of photographs commissioned from a modern artist called Gabriele Basilico who was sent round to take pictures of the very same Roman antiquities which Piranesi recorded. The effect is remarkable because a lot of the buildings are almost the very same. Whatever impressions we had that P had fantasised and embellished his views is utterly crushed... the tumbling, wild, phantasmagorical landscapes must have been true and maybe still are. It is odd how very 'externalising' Basilico's photos are... you get all these facades, while Piranesi somehow had a kind of psychological insight into his buildings... With Basilico all you get is the outside, with Piranesi anything might happen, in or out. The attendant in this part of the show was utterly delighted to find we were English. He said “England 64 Nobel prize winners, Italy 6”. Quite.

Back to Piranesi... Especially when looking at his fantastic/imaginary prison designs, I thought he must have been doing drugs of some sort and was pleased to find Coleridge and de Quincy thought the same thing. The gallery also had a literally fantastic video show put together by a French artist called Gregoire Dupond, using the hellish images from the Prison Engravings, and with computer animation taking us on a sort of 3-D journey through the buildings. I also liked very much Piranesi's engineering drawings, which are analyses of how the Romans built their bridges etc – as much stonework UNDER the ground or water as visible above it, if not more. Fascinating.

One of the truly inspiring things about this show is the marriage of the old art with absolutely up-to-the moment modern artistic technology – the video made in France, the 3-D replicas of the urns, tripods, altars and a magnificent fireplace, done by Arte Factum in Madrid in lovely materials (bronze, porphyry, marble, some plated in gold or silver), and so on. And another thought is how fantastically restrained Robert Adam was when he came back to Britain. I grew up visiting Kenwood all through my childhood, and thought the library was a bit of a romp in colour and swaggery, but it's NOTHING compared to what his friend Piranesi dreamed up.

Julian Mannering (in Faversham) has a very lucid way of comparing 'Old France' with 'New France' but the same idea could not really be applied to Venice which is one continous stream of repair, revival, research and renewal. There are modern grotesqueries, including all the tat shops, but also some stupendous and loving work on the buildings and the people themselves seem all of a part with it. They seem to say 'We ARE Venice'. However, nothing, nothing could have prepared us this morning for the sight of a cruise liner nosing its way into the Giudecca Canal heading for the terminal at Tronchetto. It was VAST, towering over everything in the landscape, taller, wider, more massive. Do you remember in Monty Python that huge hedgehog which appeared over the skyscrapers growling out 'Dinsdale, Dinsdale'? This monster ship, like the Starship Enterprise, did a sort of peekaboo act round the corner of the buildings. It was horrible, shocking. 'New Venice' with a vengeance.

Now we are back in the flat, having bought some stuff to make supper – pasta and spinach and garlic. I am thinking back to the middle of last night, when a mosquito woke me up. I was wondering whether it had actually flown all the way up here, ten stories high to the top of this block of flats, or had it come up in the lift? We will never know.

A final thought. As you know I like writing this blog, and have thought of it as 'writing'. But my chosen reading for this trip is Virginia Woolf's 'A Writer's Diary' (been on my shelf for about 40 years and never opened, shame, shame, just like Dorothy Wordsworth's Journals which are rivetting). So now I have to take a smart step backwards and concede fully and completely that this is not writing, it is journalism. Not the same thing at all.

Going to Venice

Sushi turns out to be the ideal snack to take onto the plane for elevenses/brunch... Easy and neat to eat, delicious, filling, nutritious. Buy it in Boots before you head to the departure gate. Costa coffee at Gatwick is fabuloso, don't even think about Pret a Manger where the coffee (last time) was so bitter I actually tried to complain, but the sweet manager was Polish and powerless.

We left England over Cuckmere, fleetingly visible through amazing layers of clouds. France was uneventful though the Rhone looked magnificent and the Alps were paradisical, absolutely stunning with the pale sun shining on their southern slopes and the snow almost incandescently bright.

Venice Marco Polo is so smooth, so efficient. We were out and waiting for our bus in about 20 minutes. I admired a fastigiate oak growing between the concrete platforms of the car/bus access to the side of the airport... every branch turning straight up, so it looked more like a poplar than anything else. Can these grow in England?

We took the local bus into Mestre, the directions from our landlord seemed fine till we got off the bus and descended the spiral staircase as directed... and found ourselves not outside the apartment but in a stinky public carpark with no signage and a nasty atmosphere. We wandered about. A smart old lady told us which way we should go. We found the flats... and waited. Eventually a shambling young man appeared – I typed 'mad' just now instead of 'man', and that would have been right. He spoke very very very quietly. Was almost completely unintelligible, couldn't believe we had no car (though he had sent directions for the bus), took ages to let us into the building, could hardly bear to get into the little lift with us, seemed like something out of Kafka.

But, the apartment is very nice, on the 10th floor of an almost-Deco style block, with a terrace looking out to the north and west, and Venice itself visible from the kitchen window on the other side of the building. It smells a bit of tobacco, which is disappointing, as we had specified non fumato. I didn't want to be left alone with him in the flat, so Andrew stayed with him to be shown the switches etc and I went slightly nervously down into the street to find a bank and money to pay him. That all went ok, and in fact going away from the carpark we had come through, the area improves.

Eventually Fabio went away, and we went out to find the bus across to Venice... there is NOTHING to live with here, no salt or pepper, no washup liquid, no oil, empty empty. Being Sunday there are no shops open round here either, so we hoped to find some basics in the city. Which we did – Andrew remembered there is a brilliant Co-op right by the Piazzale di Roma bus station, where we could choose from wonderful shoppy type things, with locals all around us and no other tourists to be heard.

By then we had wandered, marvelled, sat in a cafe and asked for chocolate (no, only in winter), ice-cream (sorry none left), water (sorry we only have tonic). Never mind, we enjoyed ourselves anyway and liked the foraging sparrows. We walked some more, up this bridge, over that. Here is a prison, here a row of lanes with lots of laundry hanging up, here a proper boatyard and quietness, here a building with magnificent chimneys opening up to huge vents, and here we are back in tourist land. It strikes me that one reason Venice is so attractive is that despite its great sprawling size and colossal engineeing history, it is all rather small-scale. People walking by always look in proper scale next to the buildings and the bridges.... It is intensely human, in fact. In that respect it is like Blenheim Palace, another colosssal work which manages to create a series of small spaces in which you can feel comfortable. This is an aspect of its architecture which I have never seen discussed, but it is a charming and satisfying quality which is rare enough.

We ate eventually in a place offering Sarde in saor (fresh sardines fried and then pickled in mild vinegar), and then Fegato (liver) for Andrew and Seppie (inky cuttlefish) for me. Rich, delicious, filling.

So, the shopping, then catching a bus back to Mestre – speeding across the lagoon to the mainland in the twilight, with Fangio at the wheel apparently. Quick, this is where we get off. Down those spiral stairs and through the carpark again (less scary at night, strangely, because it's lit), up in the tiny lift and here we are. BBC Worldwide on the telly, a fantastic carillon of bells from the startlingly modern church half a mile away, and the roar of traffic outside. 'Who wants to be a millionaire' is pretty much the same in Italian as it is in English except they talk more. I am bushed.

Tomorrow we can breakfast on prickly pears and toast and apricot jam, and cheese. Then walk to the station, catch the local train to Padua, and be Shakespearean. We spotted an internet cafe round the corner earlier on, so I will pop in there in the morning and post this. Annoyingly the flat does not have Wifi, though Fabio said it did, before we left. Still for 380 euros we have this eyrie for a week, clean and quiet, and reasonably conveniently placed near Mestre station. After all, most Venetians live here and not in the shining city.

Loading this onto the blog today (Monday) I want to add this.. that our landlord is like some young professor of astrophysics - unworldly, shambolic, eccentric. But without that blazing intelligence.

Today we are in Venice, not Padua as planned, because there many places are closed on Mondays whereas here most things are open because of the huge tourist industry. It is mild, sunny, peaceful. We found this internet cafe with lots of difficulty.. For future reference there are quite a few around Santa Maria di Formosa, but they mostly shut very promptly at 1pm. This one stays open, thank goodness. We need our lunch now.

Saturday, 2 October 2010


Are you the same as me, loaded with a kind of nameless anxiety which strikes before any trip? I am roaming round the house, ostensibly packing, but not being very effective. Had to go to the shops, several of them, to buy - what? something, anything. On one level, it's practical questions I ask myself: have we got enough shampoo, do we need sunblock? But at another, I know I am worrying about whether I will survive this journey: will I come home again safely. Travelling is hazardous. It is not natural to whizz along at hundreds of miles an hour, 37,000 feet up in the sky. We travel for pleasure, work, education, swank, fashion, consumption, wilfulness. But I believe there is a widespread and smothered fear about it all. Why else do we (the public) rush to the cafeteria on any ferry the moment we're aboard? It's primal fear which does it, pressed down out of sight. The merchants love it of course, and supply us with a huge array of stuff to spend our money on - food, trinkets, gadgets, clothes, accessories, print, more of all of it, almost all unnecessary. It takes our mind off what we're doing, or about to do. All worries about gravity, accidents, incompetence, terror, etc. can be swished gently away. We spend and relax. But only sort of.
So we fly to Venice at dawn....

Thursday, 30 September 2010


Trying out pixelpipe to post to Twitter

Thursday, 26 August 2010


I have twiddled with the settings and I hope you will now be able to comment on my blogs. Please do.

The last day of the holiday - at home

No regrets about getting home early. Slept soundly in own bed. Started reading William Dalrymple (unopened during trip) who says travel writers should write down interesting things they hear from people along the way. I fear that I didn't do this in the Denmark travel accounts, because we spoke to so few people about anything other than the mundane matters of checking in or out of our accommodation. Being in a twosome can isolate you from everyone around you, though there were many moments on this trip when I thought how very nice it was to have a hunky bloke with me (my h).
So, some recollections of people along the way:
the chef in rainy Belgium who gave us free frites as we were his first ever English customers; the helpful girls who opened up the Information office for us at Mol, Flanders, to find us a bed for the night; the very camp young men who sat beside us at dinner that night in the square, only to be joined shortly afterwards by their girlfriends; the Vietnamese man (with no English) selling fresh and smoked fish from a stall in the grounds of a supermarket, who chopped up a delicious eel for us for our picnic - we communicated in smiles and handsignals; Ingse and Thomas at Varde who gave us a bed for the night: Thomas speaks no English and was out playing bridge when we arrived. In the morning he shook hands and then fled to the TV to watch the news, but two days later when we met them again at the party he tolerated a hug and a kiss and seemed pleased to see us again. Their son Nicolai is 40 or so, still living at home, and no-one seems sure quite when he'll move on. Ingse with her lovely inherited things from Falkensteen: the silver, the Royal Copenhagen, the oak furniture and paintings. At the party, seeing John Turtle and Jenny again... he gave me my very first BBC job in Manchester when I started at university, showing me how to use a Uher and sending me out to gather stories from students. He is still 'the same' as he was in 1966, just a bit thinner and with glorious white hair. Meeting Fionan again, who used to hang about at Chris and Bente's in Stockport when I was a studenty-refugee at their house the same time. All the cousins - Claire, Fiona and Helen all very plush and with new men in their lives, looking happy and renewed. The Danish cousins: Louise, John and Emma with their families - all so tall and yet I can see them still as they were when they were little round things, clustered round their mother and good as gold. How wonderful to see a cousinly similarity between John and Nicolai, too. Obediently they let me photograph them together. The contingent from Guernsey, not looking as rich as they must be to live there, but all good at connecting, and looking as happy as larks. Then, out from Espergaerde - the fat young man in the farm shop who said he found his wondrous little flour mill in the barn kitchen: the place is run as an educational establishment for local schools, so they can grow their own food. He and Jamie Oliver would have something in common I think.
In Gentofte, Per and Anne-Margaret in their half-done house, perfect though it is they have plans to continue to improve it. Per laments that the new floor was wrongly laid with a tiny step up instead of a smooth sweep through from sitting room to kitchen: the workmen got it wrong, it was too late and too expensive to do it properly by the time the head man realised, and to Per's bitter disappointment it went down exactly as he did not want it to be. The man never pursued the bill. Outside, Per leaps onto a flat roof to hack away at a huge magnolia, and later tells us he nearly loses his grip and falls, swinging out on the ladder and then gently swinging back to safety. He also has a selection of electric tennis-racquets for killing wasps, which come to our lunch on the terrace on Saturday. His mother hates the wasps but is keen on pruning huge magnolia trees, so she leaves the table and goes after her great tall son to help him in his gymnastic gardening.
Anne-Margaret shows us the cellar or basement of the house, equipped with utility items (freezer, washing machine, etc), and Per's workshop which has tools identical to Andrew's here at home. He finds the basement a bit shallow, but he is 6'5" or something. Then at the front it two lovely well-lit rooms which are meant to be office-space, but (all-too-familiar) these are piled with papers and files and unwanted furniture. I am seeing my own life in front of me in someone else's house, and my resolution to have a proper clearout is strengthened.
On the road again: in Lubeck, being seduced by the waiter into ordering a cooked meal instead of a salad, and then not being able to eat it because of the colossal amount of food on the plate.
In Holland, the billiards players so businesslike and intent, sharp as can be.
I didn't say how I changed my bra as we sped along the Dutch motorways yesterday, stripping down to nothing and then dressing again to get more comfortable, and giggling all the while about the lorry-drivers. In the event, no-one saw, nothing happened, but it was funny all the same.
So, really there wasn't anything momentous about all this, just a series of little vignettes. It was a successful trip, and full of wonders. It gets clearer to me that it's not what happens to you, it's how you react that matters. William Dalrymple is writing about how some things have not changed for thousands of years (a fish cult in Anatolia for instance, which arose as a form of Venus-worship, became Christian, Islamic and is now just a quaint oddity which nonetheless has huge carp in deep pools being fed by visitors and NEVER EATEN). We have been visiting towns and churches which have been lovingly kept or rebuilt after wars, to keep them the same. We saw flour milled on granite stones and in a little electric mill, and we met the farmers whose crops are near-ruined by this prolonged wet August: the harvest is what keeps everyone alive. We have seen thousands and thousands of little farms on the flat lands, some sparkling and some dreary, but all full of families working away doggedly at their task. The villages and towns and cities have their churches and cathedrals, some with runestones and burial mounds in the grounds, some with modern stained glass, some with cafes inside them, and some just quiet. Everywhere now there are the dark faces of new residents, settling in to become Danish or Flemish or German. In the pub at Coevorden is a print on the wall, showing what Holland used to look like: the archetypal wooden windmill with canal, bare trees, watery dykes, muddy fields and tall sky. Holland today has the new windmills, churning electricity out of the air, steadfastly facing into the wind and whirling, whirling. Below them, the bright clean suburbs of red brick spill out over the immaculate fields. Some old mills survive of course, but the old look has gone forever. I feel I have lived to see a really great change, as if Europe has shifted from one era to another almost imperceptibly, day by day, year by year. The new gadgets like iPhones and apps beckon us onward, but underneath the old ways are still functioning. It's just that they look different and slowly that different look will make the old ways seem almost unbelievable. The horses in Holland are now pets, whereas they used to be the engines of life, for work, travel, war, etc. This is all happening faster than we think, and spreading across into Poland, Russia, India, China, Africa too, at last. The mobile phone is transforming everything. But we still need the harvest home.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Coming Home

I was a bit down on Coevorden, but in the event it did us proud, with a copious meal, an interesting display of proper billiards, a clean, dry comfortable bed and a very nice breakfast. OK - it's a town with a sort of hang-dog feel, a bit dusty or down-at-heel, but so what? The old guys playing billiards were terrific.

Our room also had BBC1 on the telly, which turned out to be very useful as we saw the weather forecast... yet another belt of very heavy rain heading up the Channel and due to smother Holland and Belgium for the next two days. We'd been wondering how to spend theses last two days of our holiday but seeing the forecast made it easy to add a new choice to the list: hit Dunquerke and get home tonight. In fact that is what we did, but decided to spend the morning off the motorways and exploring a bit more of inner Holland. Two places in particular were well worth the wait: the lovely national park which fills the middle of the Netherlands (including forests and the Hooge Veluwe, sorry if I have spelled it wrong); and Deventer. This gorgeous little town seems to have very little bombing damage and has in any case been lovingly restored, with its huge Grote church with its romanesque crypt, lovely worn slate memorial stones, and painted vaults in the nave, and also having Holland's oldest stone house. There was a queue of (admittedly middle-age and older) people waiting for that to open at 10am. Stone is so rare, or was so rare, and almost all the buildings are brick. We had a coffee in a smashing place in the 'New' Market (ie mostly 17th? century), with books everywhere and a special barstool arrangement built round the little grand piano. The coffee there is traditionally served with a tiny slab of the local cake, which is fruity and with ginger and other spices.

Then we made it across the lovely open heathland of the national park and eventually reached the motorways. It is hard to know how anyone managed without satnav. Even then it can be quite difficult, frightening even, to negotiate which lane you are meant to be in to get through the huge spaghetti junctions.

We called in at Ede to buy some provisions for a picnic - in a greengrocer we bought red and green plums, and also some fresh salads which were laid out most invitingly in chilled trays. We had our lunch eventually on a hill top covered with wild flowers, overlooking the Neder Rhein. True, it was not far from a recycling plant and there was a steady stream of rubbish lorries behind us on the road, but we had peace, fresh air, the beauteous fields and flowers, the light, a flock of crows messing about in the long grass (were they playing hide and seek?), and friendly cyclists wishing us a good day. A perfect meal, and the rain stayed off too.

I must say, the horses in Holland are marvellous: they look like real pets, and of all kinds too, palominos, tiny ponies, herds with foals, piebald and skewbald groups, solitary mares in little paddocks, long-haired golden things, some carthorses. All in fine fettle, all shining and looking loved. And without the ghastly 'equestrian' mess in the landscape that we seem to acquire. We also saw a few small private pet flocks of deer, a couple of llamas, some large birds (could they have been storks?), and one amazing thing - three black cows in a small field each with a perfect white stripe round the middle. I wish, I wish I had stopped to take a photo of them.

Another unexpected glory was the fact that most of the old windmills in that part of Holland are thatched - ALL OVER! Not just their caps, but the whole structure, sometimes with the date of origin or reconstruction cut out of the reed, or left in relief.

We belted through Belgium, getting past Antwerp before the rush-hour thank god, and thence down to Dunquerke. We queued in the rain. Could we change our booking and come home 26 hours early? Yes, perhaps, but we would have to be quick. We skidded through the customs etc and ran through the puddles into the Cash Ticket office. The girl said yes... and then her computer seemed to lock. The people behind us in the queue were told it was too late, they would have to wait another two hours. But, we did eventually get our ticket, and were nearly the last car aboard.

Unusually, Andrew thought we should eat aboard, which has never really happened before, or not recently, as we usually take a picnic. The meal was disappointing, and we exchanged commiserations with the couple on the next table. They are house-master and house-mistress for the international college of a public school in Dorset, although they live and have their own house in York. They told us about some of their young charges, the children of Russians, Arabs, or Chinese families who can afford to send their young to England to be educated for a year or so. Some of these youngsters arrive speaking no English but manage A* GSCEs in one year. Some have only ever had servants to do for them, and don't know how to dress or look after their clothes. Some have drivers based in London, who they summon when they need anything brought for them. Some say how nice it is to be treated as an ordinary person. Some leave and go on to other schools and then say how they miss having bedtime stories read to them. Some travel unaccompanied from the furthest places on earth, and may not go home again for 18 months even though they are barely 12 or 13.

How lucky I am, we are, to have been born into this time and place. Free to travel, think, write without censorship. With good health, education, enough money to take holidays and go abroad. Able to use the internet, and cars, and phones, and able to see our children grow up healthy and I hope happy. As a female, in the history of the world, this is a truly remarkable thing to have experienced.

On our holiday we saw so many things. I have tried to capture some of them in this blog, but have missed out loads I wanted to say. I will try to scoop those things up within a day or two. I loved my swims in the sea in Denmark, and the churches right across Benelux, Germany and Denmark. I loved the castle at Egeskov with its wonderful toy museum in the huge roof. I loved seeing a red squirrel at |Gentofte. I loved the beautiful flat lands of NW Europe. I loved the granite blocks which have been used so widely to make broad paving and clean streets. I loved the ancient houses, some artificially reconstructed after the wars, which so many generations of people have chosen to live and work in for so long. I loved hearing the different roots of English (in French, Flemish, Dutch, German and Danish) so close together one after another, and I was impressed by how so many people speak English so graciously and so well in all these different communities we saw. I took loads of photos which I will try to inset into this blog to show you some of what I saw... even though the words may have given you something to go on.

Dover, the A2, a police car racing ahead of us in the dark and wet, ringing various family members to say we're back, watching for too much water on the road as the rain plummeted down, thinking about the notorious aquaplaning section of the A2 London-bound by the turning to Chartham Hatch, finding the police-car beside a smashed-up car at that very point when we finally got there, coming into the house, picking up the mail, ferrying things in from the car while the rain hammered down, padding about the house which looks as if we had never been away.... So, home at last. All those things we saw are already slipping away into 'the past'. It feels like a transitional moment, so I have one self still in Denmark, or Germany, or Holland, and one self here, now, back in the 'real' world.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Into Holland

Sorry if this is all reading a bit disjointed... getting tired and also the keyboards are all different. Outside there is a ferocious thunderstorm and pouring rain. We are in just in Holland, in Coevorden. I might be a bit rude about it, but am very pleased we are inside and dry.

I am so glad we went back into Lubeck this morning... there was a nagging feeling we should set off to battle the distance and roadworks, but I wanted to see inside the Dom. In the event I had the wrong church: Lubeck has two ancient brick churches with twin copper-clad spires, and we went into both. They were both reduced to blazing rubble by the British in 1942, and rebuilt in astonishing detail since. Neither is entirely square (ie, the towers lean alarmingly) and both are made of brick. Both have awe-inspiring photos showing what they looked like smashed to pieces and with smoke and flames still rising. The Dom (Cathedral) is all white inside and Romanesque, and the Marienkirche is Gothic and with flamboyant coloured stripes... but each in its own way is completely dazzling. They also have treasures from the middle ages, miraculous rescued from the bombing, or carefully stowed away beforehand. One of the best things about Lubeck is discovering that Hitler didn't like the place. The city had refused to let him campaign there in 1932, and he never forgave them, removing their Hanseatic status, and incorporating the municipality into Prussia. The town is filled with treasures – buildings, passageways, stories, statues, shops, waterways and so much more, and we should all go there.

My reading, as you know, is Alan Bennett. He provides an interesting snippet about Hitler, who apparently only spoke 4 words which were not German: 'Vous etes mon prisonnier'.

Andrew's reading, he reminds me, is Sandi Toksvig who reveals this little item. If you take 111,111,111 and multiply it by 111,111,111 you get 12345678987654321... You will have to put the commas in for yourself, and in fact your domestic calculator may not be able to display the whole number. I did it on my iPhone and could only get it in by swivelling the screen sideways. Heh heh!

Back to today.... An unexpected bit of street theatre was provided in a square in the middle of Lubeck by a workgang laying big marble slabs in the pavement. The slabs were hoisted up like feathers on a little suction pad, which dangled from a generator on the arm of a standard digger.... The suction pad just lifts these huge blocks as if they weighed nothing. The man doing the actual laying just arranged the stones using a piece of string as a baseline, and then tamped them into place with a rubber gavel. Easy!

The drive out of Germany was dogged by prolonged roadworks on the main road, so we made slow progress, but had our picnic on a byway – lovely Danish dark bread, sliced cheese, some herring and beetroot salad, and some fresh Reine Claude greengage plums. Yummy.

We tried and failed to find any megaliths, despite following the wellsigned Megalithic culture route...

And we have ended up tonight in a rather grubby pubby place called the Marktzicht Restaurant in Coevorden, just in Holland. This is a very poor plittle town, reminiscent of Kings Lynn in the old days, with a grand past and a rather hopeless feel today. Maybe a local employer has closed down? There are nodding donkey oil wells nearby, and gasfields. But we feel it's maybe a place where nothing happens, a wasteland in a parallel universe. Our room has one central not very bright light. No loo, but a shower and a tv. Again we have been served an evening meal of huge proportions, but all v acceptable and only 11.5 euros. We decided to eat here because yet another huge black storm overtook us, with thunder and lightning and torrential rain. Again, thank god we are not in a tent. Also, we had walked round the town and seen the other eating options.... a (Jewish?) steak house, a couple of Indian-Chinese places, one or two very plastic fastfood places and everywhere else resolutely shut. It's the sort of place with tumbleweed rolling down the street. Yet it has a lovely old canal port, a beautifully restored Kasteel (now a v smart restaurant), and one or two fine buildings which survive from the middle ages. Downstairs the local billiards team have gathered to play, getting ready for the new season which starts in September. Three balls, no pockets, and some very impressive play even during the warm-up.

So we have left Germany, and Lubeck (the city of marzipan), and are now in pretty Holland. We have to decide our route tomorrow, whether to make for the coast and risk the winds, or stay inland and get down to Belgium that way.

I am really tired because last night, in the Lubeck Ibis, sleep was disturbed by various heavy goods deliviries behind the hotel right outside our window, culminating in a crane-lorry which left its engine running of course while the man went up to inspect the roof. This started at 6am and was still in progress at 8.30 when we went down to breakfast. Our quiet complaint resulted in an apology and a small refund (20 euros, which was the cost of breakfast). The work was being done by an outside contractor, and the hotel management had no control over his timing.....

So, an early night tonight.

Monday, 23 August 2010


Here we are in Lubeck, a Hanseatic cty with marvellous brick architecture dating back to the 13th century, partly modelled on French Romanesque, and becoming a pattern for the whole Baltic region. There are lovely squarish gables rising up on top of windowed facades, all pointing to prosperity among the merchant class, and of course the huge churches to keep in with the almighty. Helpful signs tell you what's what, and mostly point to 1942 when the centre was bombed to bits, so what you see is largely reconstructed. Still, it has a scale and texture designed to charm, and our quick recce this evening before checking into the hotel has been uplifting. We tried to get into the youth hostel but it had no double rooms left. All we could have had was a dormitory bed and my snoring makes that one would get any sleep. Next time we will book in advance.

We had a lovely time in Denmark, staying with Anne-Margaret and Pers in Gentofte (which is a suburb of Copenhagen) so we could meet up with family for a party a little further up the coast. They could not have been better hosts, and we had long and interesting conversations. Talking to them I realised there are lots of apps I ought to have on my phone. Actually that was borne in on me yesterday afternoon when we were at Chris and Bente's eating left-overs from Saturday night's party... this was an afternoon party at Espergaerde, and we were blessed with dry weather, BUT in the distance we could see a HUGE storm spilling out from Copenhagen just 20k to the south, and banking up over the sound to Sweden. One or two people could get a radar fix on all this on their iPhones or whatever... amazing graphics showing the actual places where the lightning was striking. I could load this app onto my iPhone but it would cost a huge amount because I am outside the UK. It really is ridiculous that the charges are so high when you travel abroad. Why does it have to be like this? It is a ripoff and I hope something is done about it.

Chris and Bente's house sits in the most beautiful place imaginable, on a plot of land right on the sea, with a generous garden around it. The view is across to Sweden, about 5 miles away. The light changes every moment, making it almost impossble to tear your eyes away from the view. Chris remodelled the house which I think was originally built in the 1920s, so it has a balcony extending over an open room downstairs. The plannng laws are very tight – he was not allowed to make it one square centimetre bigger than it was before, but luckily he found an old fisherman who said there had always been a shed at the back, and that was enough to make a tiny extension to the footprint – a tower with the bathrooms in it, one on the ground and one on the first floor. The house has a private sandy beach, and yesterday I swam twice – once before, and once after lunch. We were driven out of the water the second time because of a poisonous jellyfish, which looked innocent enough but Martin (Emma's husband) said it was too risky. Another amusement was Chris's numberplate which is easy enough to read: GOODWIN.

Just before we left Gentofte this morning I saw a red squirrel...the first I have ever seen. It had quitte large ears, and its tail bushed and streaming out... It looked like a tiny fox. How lovely. There are no grey squirrels in Denmark.

We had a little walk in Copenhagen on our way south... how gentle and pretty the city is. We also bought stuff for a picnic lunch which we ate at a place called Ore Strand, near Vordingsborg, overlooking the sea at Stor Strommer. It was almost deserted, with soft rain and strong wind forcing us to stay in the car to eat... but we had the waves to watch and wild birds, and afterwards picked ripe rosehips (delicious). There was a small free loo there too, not lit but absolutely clean and with paper. A lovely place.

Denmark's southern reaches are pretty much like what we saw coming across from Jutland... the farms spread over the gentle countryside, but now having talked to so many farmers or their families in the last 48 hours we are grieving for them.. the rain has beaten the harvest fields flat. The rain comes in bursts, never allowing the grain to dry... the harvest-teams rush out, seize any possible moment to get more corn in, but we saw field after field of wet crops, only half-harvested.

The ferry from Rodby to Puttgarten is Scandinavian, the sweetest little service. It set off across the sea almost the moment we came aboard (that was in thrashing rain). But the sea was amazingly calm. Everyone was queueing up for coffee, cakes, chips, handbags, all the usual stuff you find on ferries these days, but it was on a very small scale and rather fun. We were on the Princess Benedict, and saw the sister ship Schleswig-Holstein half way over. Very smart. It's a nice way to get into or out of Denmark. The names of the islands all about are great fun too, like Asbo, Garbo, Harpo, etc... I am making these up, as the roadmap is in the car, but you get the idea.

We are back in the hotel now, having walked up from the city, having been served gargantuan meals in a Kneipe (pub). We left most of it even though it was delicious. Andrew is on the bed reading Sandi Toksvig, whch makes him howl with laughter from time to time. It is so distracting I have to ask him to say what's made him laugh each time, and it usually is very funny.... for instance she tells of some poor bugger who was in life struck by lightning not once but several times and when he finally succumbed, his tomb was then also struck by lightning and demolished. I am reading Alan Bennett which is melancholy but also v funny. I am glad A has also removed the duvet from its cover as it's all far too hot. What weird weather this is.

Lucie texted to say she tried to leave a comment on the blog but it wouldn't let her. What a shame. I have been missing all your comments, and I have no idea why it's not working. Damned system!

I am now going to try to get this loaded online... have to get through the Ibis password system which may take a bit of doing on this fiddly little Asus pc. More when I can manage it. I think we are touring Lubeck tomorrow morning, then heading for north Holland.

Sunday, 22 August 2010


Today Sunday (22nd) it's raining again, but the forecast is for a dry day with more rain tonight. Yesterday after a wonderful night's sleep in Gentofte, Anne-Margaret took us in to a see a food fair at Norre Bros, an area which has been rundown but is coming up again. Two bus rides brought us to the district, but very little sing of a food fair... Eventually we found a few stalls selling sheeps wool, home-made hand creme and shampoo, some nice little potatos, artisan bread and cheese. It was very noticable how many young families and little children there were around. We had a coffee and observed a police bus, lying in wait for any trouble which might attend the Gay Pride march which was due to pass through later on. We also spotted a childrens' playground consisting of a crashed aeroplane, with a slide inside the fuselage. There were some wrecked boats a little further on, slewed crazily into place on the concrete. Nice.
Home to prepare for the big party... shower, hairdo, etc. The drive up to Espaergaerde is absolutely stunning, an old beach road probably thousands of years old but now naturally enough filled with pretty houses and smart hotels and spas. The view across the water to Sweden is breathtaking. This must be one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
Chris and Bente's house sits about 20 clicks up from Copenhagen, almost into Helsingor (Hamlet's Elsinore), right on the beach with a broad garden around it and a deck on the first floor so that when you are inside you might almost be on a ship. It is divine.
They got ready, we piled various necessary things into the cars and headed to the party place, with Chris leading the way but getting lost. The party was in an old farmhouse (Egegaarden = Oak Farm), and was a great great success. People gathered from all over Denmark and the UK and Ireland... One I had not seen for 45 years... Fionon (sp?) who used to work with Chris at UMIST. He, like a few others there, had been sailing.. Denmark must be a marvellous place to sail with so many islands and almost no tide. At least, very good with good weather... there was a horrible sailing accident in the last few days, with 6 Danes in a boat which overturned in the storms.. 4 missing, one swam 7 miles to get help. His face, and the one he pulled to safety on an island, have been on the front pages of the newspapers for the last few days. Not reading Danish we had not realised what the story was.
We drank, ate, sang, hurrahed in the Danish style, danced, heard speeches, picked up broken glass from the floor, had long conversations with long-lost buddies.... it was all lovely. The only people missing were the farmers who had seized the chance of a relatively dry day to work. They have had a terrible time, with so much rain and now frantically seizing any chance to bring the crops in.
My cousin Emma leads a terrific band, and they gave us set after set, real cool music. I also loved hearing Bente's friend Marianne singing.. she is half Inuit and comes from Greenland. A wonderful deep voice.
Today we are going back to Chris and Bente's house for lunch (left-overs) and more talk. I tried to record some of the funny songs last night so maybe we can listen to those.
One very good thing was being able to talk to John, who faces more surgery for cancer this week, but was looking fantastic and talking very openly about things. I am glad he is taking Juice Plus... I thought he might have stopped but he tells me he is taking it every day.
Do tell your mates about this blog... I want more followers!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Fyn and Sjaelland

We spent yesterday crossing Denmark from west to east, starting with a pilgrimage to Tratholt, a shrine to Arne Jacobsen and with a chair museum. This turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, being expensive, not fully open (exhibition spaces cleared out between shows), and with few English explanations. The cafe space is glorious and the coffee and fruitslice with cream was delicious. We saw one very interesting show, the work of a Danish artist called Clausen, who trained in Weimar between the wars with a lovely passionate ability to draw the human figure, and some splendid shining portraits, before she moved on to flatter images, looking like Leger, and also making posters. She lived from 1899 to the age of 87, smoking a pipe and looking like trouble, according to her photos.

I also enjoyed a special temporary exhibition of white plastic buckets laid out on the floor of one salon, to catch the drips during this period of torrential rain. The buckets also were hung from the ceiling and if the staff had put a label up saying 'Rainy Season' or some such, people would have regarded it as art, I have no doubt.

The setting of the Tratholt museum is spectacular, on a calm sealoch, and on the lower road (which turns out not to be the way in, but a little satnav trick), there is a wonderful array of houses built by those who can afford it. These are a wonderful thing to see, and I wished I had a video camera to show them all, for there are dozens and dozens, reminiscent of the Belgian suburbs, but here an expression of affluence and satisfaction.

We crossed into Fyn, regretting the low grey light for it might take blue skies and sunshine to illuminate the real character of this flat gentle farmland. Every farm has its flagpole with the long Danish standard flying. We were able (with some help by phone from our friends) to locate Egeskov Castle, which was not shown on our map but is near a place called Kvaerndrup. This is a medieval brick and moated castle in private ownership and something of a Woburn.. opened to the public in the 60s, and with a gorgeous interior, a huge collection of cars and motorbikes, enormous gardens, and a museum dedicated to the Danish company Fahlk which offers firefighting and rescue services in many European countries. It has a terrific collection of ambulances etc and an interesting history during the Nazi period, when the company helped the resistance and did a fair amount of people-smuggling or rescuing on its own account, the water-tanks of the fire-engines actually containing secret compartments. There is also a very pretty windmill where we had a picnic lunch and regretted it was not open to the public as we are now out of the holiday period. I love the ancient granite hand-milling stones they have there, just like the ones we saw being worked at Nymandebag on Jutland.

Eventually we reached Copenhagen to meet with our friends, have a marvellous suppper, drink too much wine and fall into bed.

Friday, 20 August 2010


(We have just reached Copenhagen, and able at last to post yesterday's blog....)

We had a great time with Bente's sister, and left after breakfast, with instructions about where to go and what to see. This kind of lead has always proved to be of first class value. We went up the coast to Nymindegab, a nothing-looking place with grassy dunes and small houses, a bit like the back of Camber, or Leysdown on Sheppey. But a strange black near-pyramid building invited us to stop and there we found a marvellous little local museum, home of the local carpenter Larsen and his family between the wars, and stuffed with all kinds of treasures. There is art, 19th century and later, depicting local people, and with some slightly squirm-making commentary about blond giants and racial types. There is a whole sperm whale, in skeleton, with detailed explanations about this marvellous creature and its life (only 500,000 left btw). There is a terrific reconstruction of an Iron Age burial, showing a woman clothed in brilliant blue robes (woad). Her male companion had a similar grave but it was robbed out. The archeologists wring their hands over modern deep ploughing preparatory to forestry work... in a few seconds, a machine can crunch through the fragile burials, which for a long time were both cremation urns and inhumations. A 17th century pastor was executed as a witch. Outside we can see the sunken vegetable garden of the Larsen family, and see Iron Age cookery in progress... a soup cooked in a pot on a hearth, with barley and apples smelling delicious. Children use large stones to grind corn and love it. In the shop you can buy amber, and see how the last Ice Age scultped Denmarks' coast and gentle hills.

Then within half a mile we leave the village and enter a fabulous ancient landscape of the fjord with its dunes, absolutely beautiful, with space for the civil guard to practice warfare, cyclists to whizz along in safety away from the road, little houses mostly with thatched roofs, and the entire area managed for calm, and a completely natural unspoiled feel. This alone is worth coming to see. It is wonderful.

Then we turned back to cross Jutland, most of which is like the countryside around Thetford. We pickn icked by a stream with cattle grazing nearby, and herons flying in the nearby trees. I was stung by a wasp which I felt was bad luck as I was at that moment absolutely revelling and worshipping the beauty of nature, so I thought I didn't deserve it.

We went on, to Jelling, called the baptismal place of Denmark because here Harold Bluetooth dug up the corpse of his father Gorm the Old and had him reburied in a church which was dedicated to Gorm and Gorm's wife Thyra. All this is recorded on two huge granite stones, in runes (are these boulders left over from the Ice Age? probably). The church is plain outside and stunningly modern inside, and sits between two huge pagan burial mounds, and is surrounded by a lovely churchyard where all the plots have box hedging and topiary to make it friendly.

It is worth noting that the farms in central Jutland have a definitely French look to them, with a courtyard arrangement, and I suppose that dates from the time of Bernadotte, when Napoleon really had conquered all of Europe apart from England. The rationalising ideas he instigated, to make things the same, including the layout of farms, the timing of meals, etc. can be detected everywhere on the continent, but not in England, where we still worship the haphazard, the local, the eccentric.

Our next call was Kolding, pronounced more like Cooling.... where an enormous brick castle towers over the town and port, but during the Napoleonic period (1808) someone just let it catch on fire, and of course the night watchman had gone off home early, and the man in charge of the firewatch had gone home ill, and the local guys were all snug at home ,and the moat had ice on it so they couldn't get to the water..... so, it just more or less burned down. The huge tower was partly held up with timber props in the ceiling of the great hall, and when those burned through, the tower crashed down and smashed the hall, the chapel, the apartments..... what a mess. Recently the Danes came up with a whizz method of restoration, (not re-creation), with laminated columns supporting a new roof and inserted floors, and all the outer walls exposed and left as they were. It is a museum for silver and porcelain (Danish culture), and is a really exciting place to walk round, with circular staircases, towers, modern steel walkways, stunning exhibits, etc etc.

We did not have time to get to our other recommended place today, the chair museum (Arne Jacobsen), so we have booked into the excellent youth hostel for the night, and will see that tomorrow. Youth Hostels are excellent value if you are ok with very basic facilities. We have our own 'family' room with two sets of bunks and a lovely big shower room. We will cook our supper int eh communal kitchen, and have the breakfast provided in the morning. All for about 65 quid (can't find the pound sign, sorry).

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


Just a short report today. We drove about 600kms from Munster in Westfalia, to Varde which is north of Esbjerg.We are staying with Ingse, the sister of my aunt by marrige. These two women look and sound very alike. I have known my aunt pretty well for 45 years and only met Ingse a few times, but feel I have known her a long time. Her house is filled with furniture and pictures and photos from their old family farm, some of those things I have known all my life too, so it is like being at home. Danish antiques have a wonderful elegant style and spacious presence, and this whole family are very knowledgeable about all these things. We learned over supper how the best Royal Copenhagen porcelain should have tiny holes pierced round the edge, and we were shown how this slowly changed over time to small painted marks and then just a plain blue line.

Breakfast in the Ibis in Munster was ok. The décor was execrable. The best thing was a huge mangled cactus by the window. I also liked going in the car lift again, which brought us up from the basement to the pavement as smoothly as if we were in a dentist's chair. Great. Very amusing watching a blonde woman in a huge Volvo trying to manoeuvre her way into the lift ahead of us. She would have qualified for those wonderful 'Woman parking' clips on Youtube, taking about 30 goes to end up the wrong way round.

Our journey from western Germany up past Hamburg and through the flat lands of Schleswig-Holstein was marked by savage rainstorms which came and went from time to time, making the motorway into a waterski track for a while, or a blinding slushing onslaught of spray from lorries. Then it would fade away to nothing, dryness even. Prolonged roadworks kept things frustratingly slow when the weather conditions encouraged a faster pace. We didn't go into Hamelin after all, maybe we can do that on the way home.

Picnic lunch with smoked eel and black bread in some tiny plush llttle village, and then up and on and on and on, and eventually into Denmark. We called in to the fabulous antique town of Toemden with its elaborate doors and marvellous facades. Feasted on hot chocolate and cream cakes. Everyone speaks good English....

Then finally through the empty farmlands to Varde. We noticed a lot of car showrooms, a big change from 10 years ago, when the whole politik was steadfastly against cars and in favour of bus, train and bike. It looks like that old idea is being challenged now. We can't, by the way, think of a single Danish make of car.

Tomorrow, we go to Jelling to see the archaeology and the runestones, and to Fyn to see some castles and if the weather holds, find a campsite. All good so far. Very tired.