Category Archives: travel

Stork tall!

The White Stork Project intends to re-introduce the species to England — six hundred and odd years after the last stork was cooked, stewed, slaughtered or otherwise dealt with by the stork-loving English.

I’m all in favour. Up to a point — and we’ll come to that.

My first sight of ‘wild’ storks was in Poland, visiting the horrors of Birkenau. And that’s, somehow, uplifting.

Then we had some days in Faro, in the Algarve. We kept walking round this traffic island, slap in the centre of town, none too far from the harbour — and therefore slap in the way of any route to scenic bars. On the top of the streetlight was a storks’ nest. Near the traffic island was a hotel, with a roof-top bar, and a downward view on the stork’s nest. All for the price of a beer.

There are other storks in Faro — several prefer the odour of sanctity and swoop in, and away from places like the Cathedral, the Sé de Faro. They should charge for the photo-opportunity.

But our Faro storks are those on the traffic island: secular, popular and truly urban.

I look forward to renewing their acquaintance.

Is there a … ahem! … downside?

Just don’t hang around directly below a stork.


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There are some things worse than not being allowed to travel

I’ve just had an on-line exchange over Venice. We shared, to different degrees, our disappointment about the city. I found myself complaining it is somewhere between a gorgeous, but decaying museum piece, and the greatest tourist rip-off on the continent. Which is why I never miss the annual Donna Leon novels, which expose each of its many corruptions. I notice she has now migrated to Switzerland.

A few things spoil Venice for me:

  • the Automobile Club of Venice that confronts one at the car park that is Piazzale Roma — I mean, really?
  • the fact that I once found the perfect bar in Cannaregio. No matter how often I subsequently tried, it was lost and gone forever.
  • the disappointment that is Harry’s Bar.
  • one day, walking one of the canals, I passed an open and very pungent cess-pit. Out of the stygian depth emerged a black frogman figure, dripping in total waterproof. Since when the Venetian sewage system has crept into my darkest nightmares.
  • and then there are the two Ghettos, still with the gates to be locked at curfew, and the memorial to the 205 (or should that be 246+?) victims of the Nazi round-ups.

Only to be visited in winter. Our Pert Young Piece advises Americans off the cruise-liners their newly-bought wellies will fill,  flip-flops work better, when sloshing through Acqua Alta.

I’m not saying Venice is my greatest disappointment — though Venetians persist in their millennium-long pursuit of everybody else’s money. The city undoubtedly has many worthy attractions, and all best seen on a misty day out-of-season. As always, its best delights are the cheaper ones — the vaporetti rides down the Grand Canal, or to Murano (above), Burano — both quieter, more domestic than overpopulated San Marco, out to the Lido, back to the Airport, that come as optional extras once you’ve bought the ACTV weekly ticket. Not quite the free ride of the Staten Island Ferry, which has to be one of the great pluses of any NYC trip.

Cyprus, March 2020

Before the great immurement began, we had a fortnight in Cyprus: that must have been the second prize. Same as Madeira: a week, ten days is quite enough.

Even then, a long afternoon by Paphos harbour, eating pizzas and drinking local wine, with temperatures around 20 degrees, and people-watching ain’t too bad. There’s one particular restaurant on Nicosia’s Ledra Street which looks eminently pass-by-able, but has a delightful secluded courtyard. And when you emerge, replete, turn right and head for the Green Line: one feels almost at home, 1980s Belfast with as much barbed wire and a better climate.

SNCF, Spring 2019

The previous year, early Spring, we headed down to Bordeaux and shuttled back to Paris and Eurostar by stopping trains on a grand cathedral crawl  — Bordeaux, Tours, a swing through the Loire, Orléans, Chartres — you get the idea. That last was to make good on one of my grand disappointments: decades earlier, my first visit to Chartres. We made it, only to find in August — superb as the windows always are — Sunday Mass involved one guy twanging an acoustic guitar.
As a result we were in Notre-Dame a month before the fire. There may be a pattern here: the day before we flew back from JFK we decided a trip up the World Trade Centre could wait to another time. That would have been August 2001.
Earlier in France
One summer we dumped the elder daughters on Granny, and took ourselves off to France. As one does.
We headed west off the ferry (those were the days before Eurotunel) and headed for Le Mans in constant drenching rain.  From there south in search of sun. We hadn’t intended to head that far down to A26 and the N10, but the downpour was unrelenting. A hotel  in Angoulême provided a overnight stay, and a very welcome one — except we had left the window open, and were woken in the early hours by mosquitos. z-z-Z -ouch! A rolled-up newspaper made for mass insecticide. Morning broke — and daylight showed walls splattered with bloodstains. Continental breakfast, pay the bill, and a quick get-away.

It was still wetting down, and we were now past Périgueux. Every cloud, etc. Then we come over the rise of a hill, short of Le Bugue, The sun broke through. Just then we were about to pass (and wisely chose not to) a small hostelry, festooned with those trailing geraniums that I envy, but can never get to grow. Souls were placated by a long, leisurely lunch with crisp white wine.

If Utah didn’t exist, would anyone invent it?

At the top of my disappointments list would have to be the Great State of Utah. The cuisine is appalling. If the Almighty had intended functioning alcoholics to travel he wouldn’t have put all those sights and sites so far apart and in Utah. ‘News’ amounts to CNN and USA Today. Even when we escaped, into Arizona, we were still a-cursed: we put up in a hotel which happened to be in the Navajo lands, and so was ‘dry’. Root-beer features strongly in my list of hates: far, far more unpleasant than the celery soda my son-in-law recommended at Katz’s on East Houston.

Somehow on that trip we drove a stretch of Route 666 — now, to spoil the fun, renumbered US 491. My memory is the road-markers perforated with bullet holes and the astounding road-side quantities of rusting beer cans.

Other groans and griefs: a check-list

I caught a dose of ‘flu — once back home, it put me in hospital overnight— at the festival of Santa Lucia in Siracusa (the Lady in my Life got a tick infection).

Daughters returned from India and Egypt, both with ‘interesting’ stomach complaints that gave the NHS doctors new material for Lancet pieces. ‘Oh! We haven’t seen this before!’ Oddly enough, the infestation Little Brother found in his carpet-underlay evinced a similar response.

EasyJet from Barcelona dumped us at Luton at 2 a.m., when we were supposed to be arriving at Stansted at 10 pm (and the car was, but of course, at Stansted).

The salt-nodules of the Dead Sea shred the flesh (grandson’s one-word appreciation on the Treasury at Petra: ‘Indy‘).

Every time but once, when I paid respects at Yeats’s grave, the Atlantic Ocean belting in horizontally on a force eight. A visit to Lissadell House sticks in the mind mainly for the etched glass window, the stuffed bear, and proof positive the architect, Francis Goodwin, would have served his reputation better had he stuck to town halls and gaols. However, there’s a small giggle to be had, turning off the N15 towards Lissadell, and the board announcing ‘Yeats United FC: next home game’: clearly no great awareness of WBY’s sporting abilities and interests.

As for Irish weather, there was the  English canal-boat operator who was prepared to have a base on the Shannon, provided ‘they build a roof over it’.

Most London gastro-pubs are best appreciated while they are closed.

Most minor museums, and all specialist ones — ethnological ones in particular — should be studiously avoided.

French supermarket wine is, in practice, generally overpriced, and — at the prices I can afford — not the quality of the imported stuff the French scorn.

Las Vegas is the pits.

The New York Metro is a mobile slum; and any major US airport with multiple terminals is ‘confuse-a-cat week’.

And yet … and yet … now I can’t go anywhere for the foreseeable future, I miss it.

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Filed under air travel., travel, United States, WB Yeats, weather

Enough to make teeth grind

The combination of boredom and readily-available click-bait should be categorised as crime-against-the-person.

Here’s one:


In what way was modern Serbia ever the centre of the Roman empire? The area was never a single Roman province. The Serbs didn’t show up until the back end of the first millennium — and, by then, Dalmatia was where the Eastern Empire ground to a stop against the Western Empire.

Far more emperors sprang from modern Italy — and emperors came out of the Balkans because that was where the frontier fighting was, and so the breeding-ground of upwardly-mobile generals.

Constantine gave his name to Constantinople (11 May AD330), but its antecedent, Byzantium, had been around for the previous millennium. Byzantium, after all, had been paying fifteen talents to the Athenian treasury since Darius was seen off. That implies a place of some wealth and importance, which then revolted from Athenian control in 440BC and again in 411BC.

But the real annoyance in that clip above is cultural appropriation of Philip Jackson’s statue of Constantine. It actually stands by the south transept of York Minster.

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Filed under History, travel, York

Plodding along: Great Journeys #1

This was prompted by Alphonse , on, posting Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s map.  It is ‘son of Codding abouton the same channel:


The hero of this hour ought to be David Ingram. But let me start with the begetter of that map (and a chance for rude raspberries all round) …

(Sir) Humphrey Gilbert
After Eton and Oxford, Humph was at a loose-end. Fortunately his aunt was Katherine ‘Kat’ Ashley, the Princess Elizabeth’s governess at Hatfield. The family connection brought Gilbert into the household. That would be around 1554-5. In 1558 the Princess Elizabeth ascended the throne, and Kat Ashby became First Lady of the Bedchamber. Gilbert was again twiddling his fingers, so did what every idling toff does, and buzzed off to the Inns of Court to become a lawyer.

That achieved, Gilbert took to a bit of soldiering, with the Newhaven expedition (1562-3), to assist the Huguenots of France. He received a good reference from the commanding officer, the earl of Warwick.

More significantly, in 1562 Gilbert was at Le Havre with:

  • Richard Eden (translator of several Spanish writings on naval voyages) and
  • Thomas ‘the Lusty’ Stukley (a double-, if not triple-agent, who had served in France, and had come up with a plan to plant Florida).
Through these associates, Gilbert met with:
All of which set Gilbert to musing, if the Frogs could do it, why not the bold and doughty English.
Around this time the Muscovy Company (which had ambitions for a North-East passage to the Far East), was running into problems. The Russians were none too happy about a one-sided arrangement (which looked like frustrating a land route to the Far East), and Stephen Borough‘s attempts to find a way around the Artic route had run into the ice.
The alternative was to find  a North-West Passage. This appealed to Humphrey Gilbert (that Cartier connection), so he started drafting his proposal in Discourse of a Discoverie for a New Passage to Cataia (though this wouldn’t be published for another decade).

The Irish business

A bit of ‘time out’ is necessary here.

The revolt of Shane O’Neill was giving Lord Deputy Sir Henry Sidney severe conniptions, so our Humphrey was off to aid and assist.

Once O’Neill had been assassinated, Gilbert put his mind to plantations, particularly a plan with Sir Warham St Leger to settle Munster. Gilbert then found himself colonel, and military governor of Munster, suppressing the rising of James fitz Maurice Fitzgerald. This is where Gilbert earns his rightful place in the recital of MOPEry. Thomas Churchyard’s A general rehearsall of warres recorded, approvingly, Gilbert’s way of winning hearts and minds:

His manner was that the heads of all those (of what sort soever they were) which were killed in the day, should be cut off from their bodies, and brought to the place where he encamped at night, and should there be laid on the ground, by each side of the way leading to his own tent, so that none could come unto his tent for any cause, but commonly he must pass through a lane of heads, which he used ad terrorem, the dead feeling nothing the more pains thereby, and yet did it bring great terror to the people, when they saw the heads of their dead fathers, brothers, children, kinsfolk and friends, lie on the ground before their faces, as they came to speak with the said colonel.​

The Lord Deputy knighted Gilbert for that service. A beneficial marriage to a landed Kentish heiress, Anne Ager, or Aucher ensued.

Allow me to get back on track, by leaping a few years.

By 1577-78 Gilbert was using his Court friends to launch schemes to annoy the King of Spayne. He aimed to destroy the Spanish and Portuguese fishing fleets working the Newfoundland Banks, and he received Letters Patent to search out and possess remote heathen and barbarous landes.

His first attempt, setting out in November 1578 came adrift. He fell out with his co-mate, Henry Knollys (another dodgy bloke), who promptly tried to get advantage. The result was Gilbert back in port with a bedraggled expedition within months. Gilbert was then instructed to use his ships to patrol the Munster coast: he ‘forgot’ to pay his sailors, who upped-and-offed with two of his vessels, making another hole in Anne Ager’s marriage portion.

By late 1582 Gilbert had put together a speculative proposition for a second effort. On 11 June 1583 his five ships (one of which was The Golden Hind) left Plymouth, Gilbert waved his Letters Patent at the Spanish and Portuguese fishing fleets, and reached St John’s on 3 August. Gilbert then claimed the harbour and two hundred leagues in all directions for Queen Elizabeth.

Three weeks later Gilbert with three ships headed south (there is some evidence that Gilbert had always set his eyes on the Caribbean). One of his ships was wrecked, and the remaining two crews had had enough, and decided to return home. On 9 September Gilbert was caught in an Atlantic storm, and was lost at sea. End of that story.

The amazing Ingram
The above account, however rudimentary, suggests several attractions for the Newfoundland venture:

  • English settlements in the New World were a fashionable topic in Elizabethan England. The all-purpose Dr John Dee was a particular propagandist;
  • the Newfoundland Banks, and the cod, were a very promising resource;
  • it was off the beaten track for the Spanish, so less chance of small English ships being caught by a massive Hispanic galleon (see below for that eventuality);
  • the French were already on the spot, and poking a rough stick at that lot was ever good english practice;
  • St John’s (latitude 47°33′) is close to a rhumb line from the west of Britain (Bristol is 51°45′). Until John Harrison had his chronometers working (and that’s two centuries after Gilbert & co.), longitude was problematic.

There was one more factor, which brings me back to the extraordinary story of Barking-boy David Ingram.  Were his traveller’s tale not verified by others, this could be another wild fantasy. There’s a far more detailed essay, by Charlton Ogburn, here.

Ingram had been with John Hawkins and Francis Drake in scourging the Spanish trade in the Caribbean. Hawkins took his six vessels to revictual at San Juan de Ulúa (think Veracruz). Alas! The annual flotilla, thirteen great ships, dropped in soon after, with the new Viceroy of Mexico, Don Martín Enríquez de Almanza, on board. Despite initial negotiations, Martín suddenly broke any agreement, and a one-sided battle ensued. Only two of Hawkins’s ships escaped.

Heavily overburdened, Hawkins unloaded the excess ‘self-loading freight’ on the Texas coast. This group aimed to head north. Ingram and two companions, named as Brown and Twyde, apparently hiked all the way to Cape Breton. Which, if true, would be the earliest exploration of the Atlantic coast.

That’s all in 1568. Only in 1582 was Ingram was interrogated by Sir Francis Walsingham (Elizabeth’s ‘M’) and Sir George Peckham (that’s the Gilbert link). Much of Ingram’s story, which was published in 1583, stretches the imagination, and Ogburn’s essay treats it as Walsingham’s propaganda. John Toohey for The Public Domain Review was able to find parallels, and is far more positive than the sceptical Ogburn. Hakluyt included Ingam’s tale in his first edition (1589), but not the second (1598) — which might be taken as dismissive.

I’ll stake a claim to David Ingram as ‘Impossible Journey #1’.

I welcome others to suggest stories that beat it. But I have a couple already in mind.

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Filed under History, Ireland, travel

Yesterday’s lunch: the Durham Ox, Crayke

The Lady-in-my-Life, #2 Daughter and I lunched in this cosy corner of the Bar at the Durham Ox:

Ignore the candle: this was lunch. Do note the carved panel, with the fox-and-geese fable.

Check out the number 40 timetable for a perfect illustration of how Tory austerity has denuded rural areas of any kind of public transport. As a consequence here we have an excellent village pub, in a delightful setting, with no access except for motorists. Breaks one’s heart.

That said, the view from the car-park, southwards across the Vale of York, is worth the trip in itself:


  • Ordnance Survey Landranger map 100: Malton & Pickering.
  • Grid Reference: SE 56205 70514


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Filed under pubs, travel, Yorkshire

A skeleton argument

Spot the word that had me puzzled:

And here it is, from the Oxford English Dictionary, no less:

Etymology: Of uncertain origin; perhaps shortened < skeleton n.
In New York: a homeless person or derelict, esp. one who sleeps in the subway system.
To which we can add — since Montauk Harbor is some 110 miles, and three hours on the Long Island Railroad from Grand Central — this term has travelled a bit from its origin.The OED gives five citations, all specific to the vocabulary of the NYPD and New York’s Finest.
Oh, and The Dock is well worth the visit. Manspreading, mansplaining, and general chauvinism part of the “atmosphere”.

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Filed under New York City, Oxford English Dictionary, pubs, travel

Sunday, 10th September, 2017

Business of the day:

Home, James! And don’t spare the InterCity 125!

But first, breakfast at Monkeynuts. Because that’s what we do on such occasions. The breakfast plate (not the veggie option, thank you!) and two mugs of latte.

Then the 91 down to King’s Cross. Since it’s Sunday morning, that’s a whizz all the way.

Hang around for Virgin East Coast to flag up the platform number. A scamble through to platform 3. It’s the Inverness train, so it’s a diesel 125, not the electric jobs. On the other hand, it’s first stop York, and nominally a shade off two hours. Plus those refurbished Mark 3 coaches are still as good as it comes (the Mark 4s seem to have more cramped seating and less leg-room).

There’s a bit of hanging around in the north midlands, but else it’s Warp Speed, and we arrive almost on time — and that’s not the norm for a weekend service.

The York Citaro bendy-bus from the station to the top of our road: barely a hundred yards and we’re in the house.

And that’s it.

Carte du jour:

As above for Monkeynuts.

Tea from our own pot. The daughter and grand-sons paid an overnight visit and left milk in the fridge. But also, we find, clothes in the washing-machine.

The lightest of evening meals.

Beers of the day:

Give it a rest! Tea and Adam’s Ale (with orange cordial).

Quotes of the day:

Almost anything from Andrew Rawnsley’s Observer column, but his last bit seems portentous:

It is one of the paradoxes of minority governments that they can be both acutely vulnerable and remarkably durable. They are easy to wound, but much harder to kill. This could be a long fight.

Those of us who lived thought the examples Rawnsley cites (Callaghan’s long years’ journeys into the Thatcherite night, and the dark extended tea-time of John Major’s soul-less trek) would recognise that. This time, though, it could be even worse.

Rawnsley must be read alongside the opposite, editorial page. The two go together like stewed rhubarb and custard:

Britain has a Tory problem and, as the clock ticks, it is growing critical. The irresponsible behaviour of many Conservatives at this fraught juncture in the country’s affairs is nothing less than a national disgrace. How can May and her senior colleagues hope to negotiate an orderly exit from the EU when, leaking and briefing against each other, they cannot agree on handling even the most basic issues? How dare David Davis, the Brexit minister, repeatedly try to mislead parliament and the public with his patronising, faux-cheery accounts of the Brussels negotiations, claiming falsely that useful progress is being made? Such breathtaking disingenuousness echoes last year’s mendacious Leave campaign. It is equally objectionable.

By what twisted reasoning do Liam Fox, Jacob Rees-Mogg and fellow hard-Brexit Tories claim a mandate for foisting their extremist minority views on the majority of voters? Whether or not they backed Brexit 15 months ago, most people rightly fear a 2019 cliff-edge meltdown damaging livelihoods, incomes and their children’s and grand-children’s futures. Fox, minister for trade deals sans trade deals, embarrassed Britain, his hosts and himself during a recent visit to Japan by accusing the EU commission of blackmail. It was an ill-judged jibe that said more about the chaos characterising the government’s ineffectual stance than it did about Brussels.

Grief! We live in benighted, squalid, little country!

Ear-worm of the day:

In the RV1 bus last evening, coming back over Waterloo Bridge, with a bright sun lowering up the river. Trum-twiddle-trum-twiddle-trum-trum:

What else?


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Filed under Andrew Rawnsley, Kinks, London, Observer, politics, travel