Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Rome on foot

July 8th, 2010

This summer I spent 4 days in Rome in June. As with vacations in general, I did quite a lot of walking. At times it seemed like more than just "a lot", so I traced my walking on a map so that I could figure out how much "a lot" really is. It turns out that you can cover pretty much all the sights in Rome on foot, they're not that far apart. A walk would take anything from 1.5h to 2.5h. It turns out I would cover up to about 13km in that time. In three and a half days (also took a half day trip to Ostia Antica) I did about 40km of walking.

rome_on_foot

The timeless Riviera

August 6th, 2009

summer_vacation_2009_flags

The beauty of the camping vacation is the enduring feeling of being on site. Air travel is very insular that way, I feel like I'm in the same place right up until I get off the plane, but when you're on the road it's a whole different feeling and more authentic in a sense. It's tiresome if you have to go far to get there, but once you cross the border into where you're going there is a real sense of expectation that gradually bears out. And you can stop anywhere you want along the way.

summer_vacation_route_2009

Locations of interest:

  • Wien (classical concert)
  • Verona (late night outdoor opera)
    Camping right near Lago di Garda - a summer camping hotspot
  • La Spezia (all day visit to the pictoresque villages in Cinque Terre national park)
  • Genova (city walk and a visit to Europe's largest aquarium/oceanography museum)
  • San Remo (walk along the promenade and swimming at the beach)
  • Monaco (city walk, swimming at the beach)
  • Nice (walk along the promenade, swimming)
  • Cannes (walk along the promenade)
  • Ramatuelle by St. Tropez
    Camping at the unbeatable Les Tournels
  • St. Tropez (city walk)
  • Marseille (city walk)
    Camping in Aix-en-Provence - a nice town in itself
  • Les Baux-de-Provence (a splendid ancient castle)
  • Orange (the best preserved Roman theater in Europe)
  • Geneve (CERN museum, city walk)
  • Lausanne (city walk)
  • Bern (Einestein museum)
  • Zurich (natural earth museum and a robotics museum)
  • Munich (Deutches museum - world's largest museum of science and technology)

And that's a way to spend three weeks.

The appeal of London

November 22nd, 2008

London, it's a wonderful city. The culture, the entertainment, the architecture. Historical and contemporary at once. Everyone and everything is there.

Oh sure, initial impressions can be disappointing. The drab landmarks of postcard tourism.. the baroque London Bridge, the utterly pointless Tower of London, the entirely forgettable Buckingham Palace, the simplistically named Big Ben, the gaudy Westminster Abbey. Next to Rome or Paris they look almost barbaric, like the Stone Henge next to the Eiffel Tower. But I cannot for a second imagine that someone could come away from London without absorbing the magic and the culture inherent to it. There's something for everyone to love.

The most striking thing about London to outward appearances is the architecture. There is no shortage of classical buildings, but then there is none of modernity either. Soho, Picadilly, Westminster for a bite of classical; St. Paul's, Queen Victoria, Cornhill for the modern. But you don't have to chase it down, architecture is everywhere and the urbanism is top class, it all fits no matter what it is.

Walking around the wide streets there is that feeling of a real metropolis. The streets are buzzing, both motorized traffic and pedestrian. And they do not fall asleep after dark, there are always people. For that warm and cuddly city feeling Oxford Street is a good bet. When you're ready to take a load off, look for a Starbucks (they're everywhere). Then walk across the street to Caffè Nero, a cozy café chain without the fast food atmosphere.

If you're after shopping there is a huge Borders off Oxford Circus, 4 storeys of bookstore. Be there at 9am and you have the whole thing to yourself! And it's well worth it. Books have always been cheaper in England. You can walk out with two shopping bags for the price of a sports jersey or some silly fashion item.

London's subway system is unique and something of a contradiction. When you look at the map you notice that the stations cover the city very laboriously, it's obviously a huge network. But then you enter the underground and everything is so cramp, the passage ways are narrow, there's little space above your head, the platforms are about 4m wide, and the trains themselves are no different, only wide enough for 3 seats and a passage - less than a bus. So why is a network so vast, designed to transport so many people so cramped? And still, the trains run with such regularity that you're never actually obstructed or stalled, it's very efficient. The maximum waiting time in zone 1 is 3 minutes in the daytime.

State instituted paranoia

The one thing that everyone knows about London and Britain nowadays is that it's a surveillance society. I didn't actually take any pictures myself, but I bet I could cover every last site of interest just with the pictures taken for me and of me in every location. I'm not sure whom I have to call to recoup those photos, though. It's no exaggeration, there really is a camera everywhere, and often, several.

All of this for my protection, naturally. The subway is already entirely covered in cameras, but you'll still see signs reading "for your protection we are installing more cameras". Ditto in the commercial realm, the same cameras wrapped in tinted glass (so as to be less obvious) greet you in a café as the ones you see in the street.

London feels like a pretty safe place if it wasn't for the police crawling everywhere. I don't know about you, but seeing a police unit doesn't make me feel particularly safe. Presumably they are on scene to stop, intervene, apprehend, pursue and I don't want to get stuck with a ticket for crossing the street at my own choosing just because the restless cops feel they have to justify their presence somehow.

State instituted paranoia is on show. There's a warning sign on everything to alert you to the magnificent danger. Walking down Horse Guards Road in Westminster I saw an entirely unremarkable statue surrounded by a fence on all sides, with a plaque stating that it would be a criminal act to climb the fence. This kind of thing is systemic, there is so much distrust and hostility in the announcements and signage. A security circus.

The thing is though, I don't think the public is buying it. They are tolerating it, because it hasn't impacted their lives much, but London doesn't strike me as a society in anxiety or panic, far from it. London was the site of a bombing since the era of paranoia ensued, fair enough, but is the solution to that not police work rather than a paranoia epidemic? The public seems to think so. Terrorism is shamelessly used for political currency, as is the current trend. In the same area there's a monument to the Bali bombing victims. Not that Bali was unimportant, but how many other people have died tragically through various other causes in the same period, starting with the civilian casualties caused by the Iraq invasion (concentrate on the territories under British control, say), ending with the armed conflict du jour on the African continent? No political gain from that, so let's not dwell on those shall we.

Left is right, except when it's not

It is so typical of the British to be different. Not different in a useful way, just arbitrarily so. It might be illusions of grandeur over the long lost empire. One of those differences is driving on the other side of the road. Britain is part of a small minority of countries that drive on the left. To what end? Cars have to be built special for those markets. Traffic rules cannot be made universal worldwide. And for what? There is no trade-off to make, it's completely inconsequential which side you take. The only justification is "it must be this way because it's always been this way", which is a popular non-argument.

To the extent that motorized traffic works smoothly on the "left system", it also affects pedestrians. And in London there are some very clear signs that the left system isn't all that smooth. For starters, there's printing on the street at every pedestrian crossing, "look left", "look right", to tell us where the traffic is coming from. I've never seen this anywhere else, and it wouldn't be necessary if people understood how the traffic works.

You would expect that if the Brits are dedicated to the left system then everything would work accordingly. But it doesn't. When you're walking down the street on the right hand side, sometimes you're against the stream, sometimes with it. In the subway, where they have instructions for everything, they often have partitions in the middle of a walkway. In some places the sign says "keep left", in others "keep right". When you get to the escalator, you're supposed to stand on the right, and walk on the left, in blatant contradiction to the left system. The escalators themselves are flimsy on it, sometimes the one going up is on the right, sometimes it's on the left. Sometimes you're coming out of a walkway on the right and crossing over to the escalator on the left, clashing with the people coming down and switching to the right.

coast to coast

September 7th, 2008

So you wanna drive coast to coast huh? That's what people say anyway, "oh how romantic, all those small towns, the landscapes".

Some people have a dream of driving in the US. I guess they relish an exciting drive across the Bible Belt and then desert country.

According to Google, you can do New York-LA in a day and 17 hours, provided you pick the shortest (and fastest?) roads and drive non-stop.

What about coast to coast somewhere closer to home? Every summer a bunch of tourists pack into their cars and drive up to the north or Norway for a relaxing road trip on our narrow and windy roads.

The scale here is 1:2.


I had to put in two extra pins on the map, or Google would send me into Sweden. But there's your Lindesnes-Nordkapp connection.

It turns out the East-West coast span of the US isn't even twice as wide as our North-South run, and you can do it in roughly the same amount of time.

So basically if you've done North-South in Norway you've done more than half the distance across the US. Doesn't sound that impressive at all anymore, does it?

Ps. In the Netherlands you can do Maastricht-Groningen in 3 hours, it's like a paper route.

Easter skiing in Åre

March 21st, 2008

Skiing over Easter is something of a tradition and the Swedish resort Åre is the ideal place for it. It is not only the largest and most popular resort in Sweden, drawing in people from all over the country, you'll also spot skiers from Norway, Finland, Estonia, even Russia.

This year's trip was blessed with excellent weather, which always makes a big difference in the mountains. Here's a bunch of pictures from the resort (hosted on deviantart).












There's also a short clip of me skiing down the slopes (hosted on youtube).

Now that's a way to spend Easter!