Saturday 2 July 2016

antication or computer says no

Though am I certain that more frequent- (and more sadly, first-time) fliers have far worst horror stories with far more invested and every once and a while we all need the rough reminder why it is that we have a splendid little caravan to ramble about in and have mostly forsaken the air-carriers for what they are (great-attractors of dormant Icelandic volcanos and terrorism), it was really sobering to experience one’s weekend holiday plans so transformed into their opposite.
Albeit air-travel might only be about reassurance (since there’s little else outside of the engine-room and shipyard that one can do) and the industry ought to attract such people with a native talent for customer-service, or at minimum—deflection, I cannot really blame the ground crew, since their silence and distain were clearly products of the received kind, fearful of losing their jobs if they went off script, it was extremely challenging not to be in the here and now when information was withheld about incremental flight delays until it was too late to find alternative transportation on one’s own.
This crowded and copy-cat market of discount providers has brought a lot of amateurs to the field, and I do assign blame to the business model whose overhead is on the knife’s edge and any cost-cutting measure, opacity and intimidation being foremost because they’re free, will be deployed. Admitting culpability is an expensive prospect, though the rioting mob of declined vacationers both coming and going either for business or pleasure whose simple request were rebuffed was incorrigible. Security was called in as angry fliers breached the counter and took pictures of the staff, distracting them while another captured what was on their computer screens. No goon-squad dispersed the lingering throngs but the host airport did not do much to correct the conduct of this under-performer. I would recommend doing research in one’s carrier’s track-record except that these issues are far too common-place, whether it be a discounter or a private jet. This was the first time that security-theatre was not the most harrowing part of flying, and for the privilege of being born aloft, for the time it took, we well could have driven there. Besides the employees themselves, I feel especially sorry for those who couldn’t have.

Tuesday 17 May 2016

alta-vista or happy-campers

Caravaning in England and locating a place to rest and recharge for the next day’s adventures always presented surprises. On the whole, we were afforded some breathtaking views without even the need for craning one’s neck and the pricing structure—for the off-season—was fairly reasonable.

Many of the campgrounds we found were on the periphery of working farms, like the one pictured above in the rolling pastures outside of Lewes in East Sussex, which reminded me of the old Windows OS start-up screen or this other terrace near Boscastle in Cornwall. There were friendly warnings to visitors not to disturb the livestock, and brilliantly, one pitch near Glastonbury did not allow children and was incredibly peaceful.

Sunday 10 April 2016


Since 1917, Canada has sought to incorporate the Crown suzerainty of the Turks and the Caicos Islands in the Caribbean as its southerly province in order that the expansive nation be able to offer its residents the full-spectrum of tourism-opportunities without leaving the country, as TYWKIWDBI informs. When devolution has occurred in the past, it is not without precedent, like Australia or New Zealand administering even farther removed UK possessions in the Pacific, that such associations can be arranged. Previous polling as shown enthusiasm on both sides, and although the long, unusual quest has been going on for almost a century, the matter is on the docket for discussion for this weekend’s plenary party talks of Canada’s new government. I wonder if we will have anything new to report on this front soon.

Saturday 26 March 2016

pneumatic danube

The much vaunted hyper-loop looks like it have its ground-breaking ceremony soon, but not shuttling passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco, in California as originally envisioned, but on a circuit along the Danube (Donau) from Koลกice to Bratislava, Slovakia, to Vienna (Wien) and on to Budapest, Hungary. Driving, the journey would take around eight hours, but passengers aboard the hyper-loop trains would complete this route in just under an hour. That would be a pretty keen way to explore the region and be home again in the evening.

Monday 14 March 2016

the dubliners

In anticipation of Saint Patrick’s Day, Kuriositas treats us to a fine whistle-stop tour through Dublin to visit the statues and public monuments that people the capital. As fond and committed city commissioners are for honouring local sons and daughters, residents are just as keen to bestow affectionate monikers on these silent neighbours. Read more about the “Tart with the Cart” or the “Hags with Bags” and other choice nicknames for the street urchins of Dublin and sight-see during your next visit with native knowledge.

Friday 11 March 2016

steeple bumpstead and chignal smeally

The always marvellous Nag on the Lake poses the question why many British toponyms are so odd, eliciting sniggering or a blush but also some really fascinating history of occupation, migration and conquest.
A Sunday drive through the Midlands connecting Wednesbury, Newton Burgoland and Ashby-de-la-Zouch also conveys one through ages from the Celts, the Romans, the arrival of the Scandinavians, through to Norman times. Despite all the diverse influences and upheavals, these place names are retain a certain Englishness whether or not original rooted in that language, which is just as adaptive and with the same pedigree. Many others, of course, are later Anglicisations of places on the peripheries of the isle. I recall when we were travelling in County Cork passing through a fine and picturesque village called in Irish Bรฉal รtha Leice (meaning the flat stone at the mouth of the bay) which was unfortunately transliterated as Ballylickey on the road signs. There is also a fun, interactive map that gives select etymologies of England’s town and villages.

Thursday 11 February 2016


Messy Nessy Chic furnishes us with an update on the anticipated maiden voyage of the Titanic II in 2018, a meticulous replica of the original announced by an ambitious Australian mining tycoon first back in 2012, on the centenary of the cruise-liner’s tragic sinking. The project has suffered some setbacks, and one does have to wonder about the wisdom or folly of tempting fate and declaiming another unsinkable behemoth, but the berthing and christening are being planned and the attention to detail in below deck is absolutely astounding. Please sure to visit the link for a large gallery of images of the new cabins, dining halls, gymnasia and grand reception area in comparison to the original historic photographs.

Monday 25 January 2016

flight deck

Forty years ago this week, the maiden voyages of the sleek, supersonic jet liner, Concorde a joint Franco-British collaboration, took place, continuing for twenty-seven years before the fleet was retired. The combination of low fuel prices and industries still slowly being decommissioned as Europe transitioned into its Cold War identity made the time just right for this sort of venture—which sounds like fun and familiar times, four decades on.
The decision to ground the planes and put them on almost taxidermical display so one can wonder and be nostalgic over having never been whisked across the ocean at twice the speed of sound always strikes me as an affront to progress—no matter how elite and exclusive that the manifest tended to be, and was driven in part to the 9/11 Terror Attacks that drained all the romance out of jet-setting and also to the development of higher capacity freighters to shuttle more and more passengers to their destinations, teethed on high-overhead and unchecked competition. Maybe it’s even more retrograde to try to recapture past accomplish, though the technical achievement (at least for something that is commercially available) was never repeated, and though although new break-through in รฆro-space but it would behove one to remember that cruise-goers (or soldiers’ of fortune) are not the heroes that astronauts are, and while space-tourism might be driven by individual investment and could very well lead to innovations in efficiency, that enterprise—purely a commercial venture—also strikes me as giving up the ghost. Like for Concorde, there’s no separate flag-ship and we’re all just classed in different ways—through cordons and charters that might make the flying experience marginally less traumatic for a few but generally, democratically bad all around. What do you think? Can you believe it’s been forty years since the inaugural flight?

Monday 28 December 2015

point nemo

Mental Floss features an interesting article on a collection of the most remote human settlements. I always enjoy perusing such profiles of remote and lonely places and despite the forlorn familiarity, it’s always fun to learn more.
The list’s ostensibly top of the pole of inaccessibility is Tristan da Cunha—which is far closer to South Africa than the Island of Saint Helena, where Napoleon spent his exile, that it’s administratively coupled with—the British having bought the archipelago from Dutch Cape, first evicting a trio of American squatters who claimed the Refreshment Islands as their own, of Good Hope so the French might not use it as a staging platform for a rescue operation. Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, the main village, was evacuated in the early 1960s when a volcanic eruption threatened to engulf the whole island, and when residents returned to find a city-limits sign installed on a path leading into town, I recall reading once, there was a minor clamour over this bureaucratic insistence, as no one happen there without great determination.

Sunday 27 December 2015


over-extended: the Swiss will vote to effectively ban banks from creating money by lending more than they have in reserve

noch einen koffer: chilling contingency plans to destroy East Berlin in the event the Cold War turned hot

superlatives: the top fifteen Colossal vignettes of the year

360°: Slate has a whole uplifting calendar of daily goodness for the past year

port-of-call: these giant, wanton cruise ships look like Star Destroyers trawling the canals of Venice

Tuesday 22 December 2015


like genghis khan bathed in sherbet: the unlikely mantis shrimp is one of our favourite animals too

en voyage pathologique: a select handful of the throngs of tourists visiting the City of Light come down with the Paris Syndrome when it fails to live up to their expectations

jingle-jangle: mid-eighties Alpine White song was a strong forerunning carol in the assault on Christmas

axial precession: the December solstice falls on the twenty-second this year—plus nine bonus facts

life-savers: the marketing and minting of mints

Tuesday 15 December 2015

les archives de la planรจte

Inspired by the candid images captured by his own personal photographer while on holiday, philanthropist and banker Albert Kahn resolved to commission his own personal Instagram as a goodwill missive to the whole world. Kahn set out with his crack-team of photographers, canvasing more than fifty countries from 1909 until 1929—when the Wall Street Stock Market Crash confounded the line of funding for this project—and amassed a collection of over seventy-two thousand photos, colourised using the latest processing technology. This amazing gallery curated by Dangerous Minds features Paris in 1914—just on the cusp of the Great War. I want to find more of Kahn’s archives to see what snapshot impressions are yet to be rediscovered.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

viennese sandbox: secessionist

Whilst in Vienna, H and I of course paid our respects at what’s described as a temple to Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) design. The Secession Building is not a museum on the interior, as we discovered after being confronted with a gallery of quite nice but incongruous exhibition of grainy photographs of rippling water and stars—though I suppose appropriate for celebrating the centennial of Einstein’s big and world-changing ideas, but rather as a hall for embracing the avant-garde as the founding artists had done.
The space was mostly empty and we had to wonder if this mop-head wasn’t in fact art or a decoy for one to make one’s own.
Descending to the basement, we discovered the Beethoven Frieze (EN/DE), created by Gustav Klimt, which was really a transfixing sight to behold with all its receding references: an interpretation of the composer’s Ninth Symphony (also known as Ode to Joy with lyrics by Friedrich Schiller), scored by Richard Wagner and performed by Max Klinger, in statuary-form.
The fresco itself also was executed only as a temporary decoration for a 1903 showing of contemporary artists, but was preserved by a collector with foresight and carefully prised off the wall upstairs before being installed in its permanent home. The Muse of Poetry looks like she’s consulting a tablet computer and does not want to be bothered (photography was not allowed and monitored, which made the experience all the more holy—down a rabbit hole of allegory) and stands in between an angelic choir and the monstrous giant Typhล“us, the gorilla creature, attended by his Gorgon daughters—all elements in the struggle of the tone poem that became a national hymn.
The frieze ends with a knight in shining armour having doffed his protection and embracing his damsel in distress, illustrating the final stanza of “this kiss to the whole world,” diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt. Outside we spied one of the ubiquitous pedestrian crossing signs that Vienna installed to celebrate its inclusive victory in the Eurovision song contest—depicting the freedom to love whomever.

Monday 30 November 2015

viennese sandbox: hofburg and treasury

H and I wandered through the gardens and the courtyards of the massive campus of the Hofburg of central Vienna—the wintering residence of the Hapsburg dynasty. Built up since 1279 and with a dizzying array of attractions vying for attention, we knew unfortunately we needed to be selective and could only see so much in a limited amount of time, ever a precious commodity. We passed several wings and chose one of the ten museums housed in the sprawling complex, the Imperial Treasury, Der Kaiserliche Schatzkammer. Though depleted notably over the centuries to finance wars with Prussia, the collection of secular and ecclesiastical treasures comprised some astounding rarities and the trappings of empire and ceremony. There were many other iconic and bizarre items in a maze of galleries, like this bassinette for the infant heir-apparent, a key cabinet for the sarcophagi of the emperor’s entombed in the city (there’s a certainly a tangible fascination with remembrance, death and the macabre associated with Vienna, and a jewelled hat that is metonymy for the Kingdom of Hungary.  The artefacts and wardrobe of state was expansive and dazzling but the core of the consignment is the imperial regalia (die Reichskleinodien). These manifestations of spiritual and temporal power were kept in Nuremburg until around 1800 when the Napoleonic Wars saw the dissolution of the Holy and Roman Empire of the Germans when they were sent to Vienna for safe-keeping.

The Hapsburgs never returned the treasure, however—which includes what is purportedly the Spear of Destiny (das Heilige Lanze) of centurion Longinus, who witnessed the Crucifixion and confirmed the Messiah was dead, and used in enthronement rites at least since the time of the Merovingians and was probably among the souvenirs that Constantine’s mother picked up in the Holy Land.
With the annexation of Austria by the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler did not plunder Vienna’s treasury but did specifically repatriate those symbols of state, believing the relic to be a powerful talisman and rightfully belonged back in Nuremburg, which Hitler styled as the spiritual centre of Germany. During the bombing campaign of Nuremburg, the regalia was found by the US Army and expatriated by General Patton once again to Vienna where they have remained since. Legendary matters of course have a tendency to snowball but there are some strange coincidences associated with that historical vestige.
Late in the afternoon, we returned to the Hofburg by way of the Opera to see it fully illuminated and the Christmas Village (Weihnachtsdorf) bustling on the grounds.
It was a cheerful atmosphere and put us in a right proper mood—what with the fear-mongering against public gatherings enunciated in Germany and the Pope’s comment (while they were erecting the tree in Saint Peter’s square) that Christmas is a charade in a world of hate and violence. There was no snow or carolling yet but plenty of festive feelings to go around.

Saturday 31 October 2015

trial trench and taphonomy

Via the always interesting and never boring The Browser, comes an announcement of an Indiana Jones-style hunt for the tomb and (looted treasure) of Alaric I under the waters of the river Busento flowing through the town of Cosenza (an army of mourners apparently dammed and diverted the river in order to give Alaric a proper burial) in southern Italy, where the victorious Alaric suddenly and unexpectedly died.

This king of the Visigoths, once enlisted as a mercenary fighter for the Roman cause, famously and fateful sacked the city of Rome in 410 AD, although the Western capital had already been strategically removed to the more easily defensible Milan, which Alaric had attacked as well—prompting an even more shameful retreat to the inaccessible swamps of Ravenna where the court could circle its wagons. The legend of the lost tomb with its funeral goods—or hidden horde of plunder and ransom monies paid for the barbarians to go off and attack someone else, after the mythos of the Nibelungen and the Rheingold (Himmler’s Ahnenerbe programme investigated here as well)—has been firmly ensconced in local lore since the last siege of ancient Rome (which was not as wantonly destructive nor as violent as portrayed in the popular imagination), but now the government and institutions of higher education have thrown their support behind a serious and concerted excavation—previously, Rome had misgivings about celebrating the figure that oversaw its downfall, though historically, this region was one of the last, loyal holdouts for the successor Byzantium Empire in the West. Sceptical reactions are probably merited in the face of promoting the tourist industry, but it will interesting nonetheless to see if this venture unearths any artefacts and contributes to the heritage of Calabria.

Tuesday 27 October 2015


My furnished workweek apartment has scattered shelves of mostly decorative books lining the room—some visually striking vintage paperbacks, the 1937 definitive edition of a German encyclopedia that’s an interesting snapshot but the selection is mostly of the harlequin and coffee-table (perhaps also the load-bearing) variety.
Dusting the shelves, however, I was surprised to see a title that I hadn’t noticed beforehand, Graf Luckner’s Seeteufel erobert Amerika (the Sea-Devil raids America) published in 1955. A few weeks ago, I first heard of the amazing but mostly forgotten adventures and exploits of gentleman-raider Felix Graf von Luckner. After the wars, the gracious and big-spirited Luckner was reunited was many of his hostages and toured America to great acclaim, recounting his conquests and even ripping telephone books asunder with his bare hands. I will read through the book and suppose that finding a copy just under my nose is testimony to the fame and celebrity that deserves further inspection—happily revived by the curious story-tellers at Futility Closet.

Saturday 24 October 2015

sentimental journey

Once Protestantism took hold in large swathes of northern Europe, particularly in England, the pilgrimage undertaken to exotic lands fell out of fashion, people of means needed to articulate another rite of passage that would fulfil this lost outlet. Almost immediately, the notion of the Grand Tour was invented as an authoritative substitute, since one could claim instant superiority in matters of taste and worldliness over one’s neighbours for having seen the masterpieces of the continent first-hand and having even brought back some art as souvenirs.

Though such deportment would have been non- permissible beforehand on the Camino de Santiago, such gap year trips were also seen as not only edifying but also the chance to discretely work whatever hot-blooded passions (associated already with Mediterranean climes) that might need to be exorcised to avoid any scenes at home. The odd and singular aspect of these sojourns was that the itinerary was squarely planted in Catholic lands, which were considered the subversive enemy for the reformed countries of the north—almost as if the most popular tourist-destination for Americans during the Cold War was Stalingrad, immersed in the culture of an ideological nemesis. Many Britons and others felt it was unpatriotic to indulge the sights of the south, but a domestic tourism industry was not developed until the French Revolution made travel impossible, and the Low Countries as well as Scotland and the fjords of Norway were discovered by people who had not previous ventured outside the capitals. After matters had settled down a bit and travel to Southern Europe was again possible, people complained of the changed character of tourism—there were just too many of them and one could hardly be enraptured by art and architecture in a pulsing, pushing crowd of sight-seers. The elite among the holiday-makers began turning away from these cultural enlightening itineraries in response and began to focus on natural destinations, like the beaches and mountains, leaving the cities and museums for the masses.

Sunday 27 September 2015

day-trip: bonn

As H was away this weekend for a conference in Berlin, I thought it would be fitting for me to take a trip to the other Federal City (Bundesstadt), Bonn, former capital of West Germany, to scout out the area. Before coming to Bonn, on the Rhine’s southern reaches of megalopolis of the industrialised Ruhrgebiet and surrounded by the Siebengebirge—the seven verdant peaks with picturesque valleys, I stopped in the vineyard village of Kรถnigswinter and climbed the first ascent of the Drachenfels, the dragon cliffs.
There was a funicular train or donkeys for hire for journey but I passed those to try the steep hike myself. It was very beautiful with the Post Tower of Bonn’s skyline already visible and a host of castles and fortifications hewn out of the mountain-face but on this day, I only wanted to make it to the first station and hold off on exploring the whole trail until we could see it to together. Having learned about this strange attraction quite by accident and then having planned this little trip, I could not skip a visit to the bizarre, Art Nouveau temple to composer and myth-maker Richard Wagner, the Nibelungenhalle, dedicated in 1913 by a devoted fan-club on what would have been Wagner’s hundredth birthday. The interior included a lot of documentation apologising for the “Swastika” motif—explaining it was ancient Germanic rune and had a series of murals of the saga of the Ring Cycle.
The woman at the counter turned on the music after I had come in—being the first visitor, I suppose, and there were a lot of random, non-contiguous artefacts present that made me think of the curating work in the museum of the Colossus of Prora which was a lot of fun to try to unravel but I suppose sadly it’s not there any longer since there converting the Nazi resort to luxury apartments. After viewing this altar, one was to walk down through an artificial grotto (which was a little a frightening because it was not illuminated although one could see the way out ahead, one had to trust that the path was manmade and free of obstacles) that led to a small garden and then quite inexplicable to a good old-fashioned roadside reptile farm, with lots of anacondas and pythons curled up and rest and a couple of lively crocodiles.
I walked back down to the Drachenfels base camp and proceeded on to the main attraction, Bonn, only a few kilometres away. Bonn was chosen to be the capital for symbolic reasons, a small city and not the nearby Kรถln or Frankfurt or Hamburg that might have seemed more reasonable, because Berlin, east and west, was enshrined as the true capital and the situation was understood as only temporary.
Had a larger, more prominent city been created as the West German Hauptstadt, then Berlin might have lost its rightful place, though the temporary situation lasted for over four decades. Also the industrial heft of the Ruhr region and its natural resources was a point of contention just after the war. I enjoyed a very nice stroll along the Rhein and up and down the length of Adenauer Allee, the once and present corridor of power and governance, with six federal offices still stationed along this boulevard and venue also to the representative second residence of the Chancellor and cabinet.
The route paralleling the river, begins with the castle since turned into a university and concludes with a United Nations campus housing nineteen institutions. In between were the former residences of the chancellery, which were disappointingly inaccessible it seemed—although I was excepting to be able to traipse through the rumpus-room, I did think I might see the bungalow up close and not through a fence with bales of razor-wire. I also passed the zoological museum that hosted the Bundesrat and Bundestag for the first few years of the provisional government.
A stuffed giraffe and other taxidermical creations were witness to proceedings as they could not be removed from the gallery without being decapitated. Despite not having access to the halls of power, it was nonetheless, an interesting experience to reflect on everything that had transpired on this one street. Aside from the secular, recent history, I was surprised to learn of Bonn’s religious connections and significance as the seat of the archdiocese and did not have the wherewithal to explore the old town too much—there was some festival that rendered the market-square pretty hectic and crowded—but it did of course seem worthy of further investigation, with Beethoven’s home, its Roman origins and fortification and many corporate headquarters as a sign of homesteading in the former capital as prognosis for what’s yet to come.

Monday 21 September 2015

mountain high, valley-valley low

One of these days, we ought to sit down and plot all the routes we’ve taken to cross the Alps, as each time has seemed different and unique and taking the Splรผngen Pass was certainly a memorable first. Not navigable during Winter, the roads took a zig-zag ascent up the steep mountain face, whose sharp curves were populated with serene looking cows that gazed at the passing cars unbothered by blind-corners and hairpin-turns.
The sentry-station at the summit was unmanned and seemed long-abandoned though not in ruin and lay at a nice geographical pocket of flatness to admire the peaks of the Bergamont Alps. We descended into the estuary of Lake Como, fed by the run-off waters of River Mera to return to a comfortable and picturesque campsite near the village of Sorico. I learnt that this terminus of the mountain range represents the easiest point for migratory animals to ford the Alps and there were scores of exotic birds to be seen at this cross-roads of African and Asian pathways.
I also learnt that the River Mera was named in honour of a wandering monk who roamed the hill tops over Sorico and venerated as a sort of miraculous rain-maker in times of drought for Lake Como below. Perhaps Hermit Mera was a little over-zealous at the moment as the deluge was unrelenting and the forecast did not bode any better. As a result, we decided to respectfully depart for sunnier weather on Lake Garda.

Sunday 20 September 2015

lake garda or watership down

After returning to Lake Como turned out to be rather a wash (more on this later), H and I decamped to the shores of Lake Garda (Gardasee, Lago di Garda and known in antiquity as Benaco where Roman forces defeated the Alamanni confederation—whose name is lent to the French and Spanish exonyms for Germany although Deutschland is Germania in Italian).
We chose a nice site on a south-western peninsula of the lake called Manerba del Garda—pleasantly peopled but not over-crowded since high-season was over but yet not too cold for a dip in the water. This region in general has been a sheltered one—eons before the tourist crunch, due to its climate and is the most northerly clime for citrus orchards, particularly lemon trees but not neglecting wine and olives, and the fact that many structures have foundations that reach into pre-history and neolithic times is probably a reliable indicator of the weather. The silhouette of La Rocca greeted us every morning, framed dramatically by welling clouds and though perhaps not the highest cliff on the lake, it was certainly the closest.
The old town centre rising up on a hill more inland was something to behold as well, but what we found to be the most delightful accent to the peninsula demarcating just one protected cove was the Isola San Biagio.
Separated from the main beach by barely a shin’s depth of water, one could walk to the little island along a path of pebbles to discover (though privately-owned, entrance just seemed to be not brining in outside beverages or dogs and maybe a visit to the snack-bar) free range bunnies (conigli). They were everywhere—tame and underfoot like the growing flock of ducks that visited every morning just in time for breakfast.
The rabbits appeared among the tents later on as well. Perhaps this reserve had origins as stock for a private hunt—which happily does not seem to be customary any longer, but makes me think rather on the origins of Manerba, which is believed to have been founded round a grove sacred to the goddess Minerva—the patroness of the hunt and harvest and other virtues besides. This Etruscan avatar of Athena overlaps what is properly the bailiwick of Artemis but there was a lot of cross-over for champions and I wonder if the keeping of bunnies did not reach back that far and into mythology as well.