Posts filed under 'Global Gossip 2008'
Dressed for Christmas: not all goods are as well wrapped as the amaryllis.
There’s a lot of life on show in Amsterdam shop windows. Claire summed it up with a phrase I wish I had thought of. On her first night she went for a stroll and returned wide eyed at goods on offer in local shops. “Just popped out for a satsuma and a sex toy.”
I think it must be difficult to write a good pocket guide to Amsterdam. I soon ditched my Time Out shortlist guide which assumed I would focus on the red light district taking in cannabis and sex museums on the way. Claire’s Lonely Planet offered a selection of sights better suited to women of a certain age exploring the city while their menfolk attend a conference. And good places to eat and drink in the evening.
We spent happy hours exploring shops, cafes and galleries along the narrow canals radiating from the Dam. For a laugh, though, we went via the Erotic Museum so we could say we had seen the bike operated dildo mentioned in Time Out. Somehow by the time we got there it didn’t seem so funny.
The red light district, straggling through beautiful old buildings leaning precariously over canals, presents the most peculiar contradictions of Amsterdam. Right beside the Oude Kerk, the oldest church in the city, promising an organ recital on Sunday afternoon, women of very uncertain age offer their charms in a window display that I find both sinister and sad. Not least because many of them don’t look much younger than me. (When I tell Bobby this a few days later he chokes on the malteser he has just swallowed.)
This is a tourist attraction the city would like to lose, along with cannabis and stag and hen nights. Or so one civil servant told us over dinner. Crime comes with drugs and prostitution, he said.
Yet most of us agreed that Amsterdam is the more exciting for the quirky juxtaposition of human enterprise: sex, chocolate, cheese, cannabis, culture, art and fashion cheek by jowl in almost every street. This is a buzzing real-life city, not a charming museum like Bruges. And everyone we spoke to in shops and galleries seemed so friendly and welcoming. Maybe, given that fruity whiff in the air, they are all slightly stoned.
One odd thing. When I tried to take Ray to buy tickets for the organ recital on our last day we couldn’t find any mention of it at the Oude Kerk door. But the women were still on duty in the windows.
We did make it to Fran’s favourite cafe, Vertigo, during a break in the snowstorm.
By the way, the best thing I can say for the Ibis, an odd monster straddling the Central Station, is that it is close to the centre. So close, the bed in our first room was no more than a couple of metres from the railway track; I swear I could read the headlines in the newspapers of passengers travelling to work. We changed rooms and thought of changing hotels too but there was so much to see in Amsterdam it hardly seemed worth the effort. Next time we will book somewhere else.
PS. I’ve just looked at the Oude Kerk website and there was an organ concert that day. It would have been ideal for a snowy afternoon. What a pity we missed it.
one of the better views from the Ibis
December 2nd, 2008
Sun in the south of France: getting here was almost as much fun.
It was raining when we reached Paris but I didn’t mind. After Scotland’s cold apology for summer it was warm, welcoming rain and within minutes of getting off our Eurostar we were clinking glasses of wine in Terminus Nord. If we had come by plane we would still be trying to get out of the airport; instead we are sitting down to a three course meal before catching the next train. So comfortable it is tempting to stay but we are only half way on a 1200 mile journey towards the Spanish border and the best could be yet to come.
This is the way to travel. I had a book in my bag (Alice Walker’s You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down) but no real intention of opening it. After months of hacking away at the word face all I really wanted to do was look out of the window and watch the miles glide by: buddleia and graffiti marking the way in and out of stations; fields and trees blurring into a soothing green line as the train picked up speed again.
I have no idea how much CO2 we saved by travelling on a train, I simply enjoyed every minute of not being on a plane; none of that nonsense of taking your shoes off coming through security, none of that mind-numbing trek through shopping malls. There are plenty of shops at the new St Pancras Eurostar terminal but they don’t feel as if they are the point of the place.
Ray and I were rediscovering a more human way of travelling, enjoying the journey almost as much as the destination
Perhaps I am perverse, waiting on a station platform is not everyone’s idea of fun, but we were on holiday and Ray had built in stops along the way. To see Jean and David in Oxfordshire we took a detour via Didcot, to visit John and Sue’s amazing adventure in France we got off our comfortable SNCF train at Gourdon. In this small town near Cahors there are lively demonstrations against plans to close the station and all power to the protests!
One of the views that inspired Charles Rennie MacIntosh but you have to get out of the car to see it.
After a week of gentle meandering we reached the Mediterranean where the sun shone on Collioure. Ironically, having travelled all the way by public transport, the one thing we didn’t like about our destination was the constant stream of cars in and out of this otherwise delightful old-fashioned family resort where musicians play every night in a different square.
But by day Collioure is congested. The town car park is permanently full and there are cars parked on every verge and spare patch of ground. Walking along the busy road from our tiny apartment down to the harbour Ray and I saw cars pull up briefly so tourists could snap the views that inspired Matisse, Derain and our own Charles Rennie MacIntosh. Sometimes they didn’t even bother to get out of the car. If I was mayor I would ban the buggers.
Collioure is beautiful but it could learn from Dubrovnik and Venice: old towns are much more beautiful when you can walk round at a leisurely pace without the noise and smell of traffic.
Rant over. We would go back to Collioure but would look for an apartment in one of the narrow old streets away from cars. And we would definitely go by train. All in all, I reckon we covered 2,500 miles on 11 trains. Plus one tube, two metros, one RER suburban train and one coach – to see Betty in Glinton on the way home we took a Sunday diversion to Peterborough and, of course, UK railways seize up at weekends.
I will now ask Ray for prices and railway booking details…
Almost home: Glinton was our last stop on the return journey to Edinburgh
July 18th, 2008
There’s irony for you. A text from Ray this morning, he’s due to chair a seminar in Brussels on sustainable industry but the whole area is sealed by riot police with water canon against French, Italian and Spanish fishermen demanding cheap fuel. “Our audience may not get through the barriers.” While Ray retreats to the green peace of Brussels Botanic Gardens I text him a request for pictures of the riots and they arrive on my screen within minutes.
It will take a brave politician to tell this lot that it is a good thing that cheap fuel is a thing. High energy costs are the only incentive we have to start living within our ecological means. You rarely hear anyone in power making the case for sustainable living with real passion and conviction. But Gordon Brown made a surprisingly encouraging attempt when he faced the erstwhile green Cameron in parliament today. For once I thought he had the advantage over the posh boy.
Could Brown become the new green? Let’s hope so. While the rich world moans about the price of oil the poor world starves.
June 4th, 2008
Welcome to the first Global Gossip of 2008. I’ve been pestering Dougal for this for ages but he had work to do in Brazil. And Glasgow. As if that was any excuse. Anyway well worth the wait to see why Dougal Perman thinks we should choose Indonesia for a holiday (and remember, for some it’s destination of choice for weddings too). Photographs by Andrea McCarthy of My Talking Dog (see more on Flickr)
“Taxi? For tomorrow?”
A line of men sitting on the pavement try to entice us to rent their cab. There are many taxi drivers here in Ubud, a beautiful world heritage village in the centre of Bali, Indonesia. But not many tourists.
Indonesia is one of the most beautiful, interesting and exciting places on earth yet people don’t visit in the same numbers as they do in Thailand, Malaysia, or Vietnam. In two weeks travelling around Bali, Java and Sumatra, I saw incredible places and met wonderful people. I just wish, for the country’s sake, more tourists would come.
Waiting for sunrise on Mount Bromo, not as lonely as it looks
Despite tens of thousands of islands in the archipelago, Indonesia is well set up to accommodate tourists. Hopping islands by plane or boat is inexpensive and on land, buses or taxis can take you wherever you want to go. In cities the becak bicycle taxis are very cheap and good fun. There are so many taxi and becak drivers that competition is high and prices low. You have to haggle but there are so few tourists drivers have very little to do all day and they are happy to wait around to take travellers from one place to the next. In Jogjakarta, three young guys took us from street stall for dinner to a bar then a club, waiting several hours in-between each trip. If you don’t want to take a becak the best response is “jelang jelang, aja” which means “just walking around.” This is a common reply and acceptable pastime.
Private enterprise is everywhere. In towns and cities, hawkers sell almost everything from food to counterfeit goods but they can be surprisingly trusting. On the commercial stretch of Kuta beach, Andrea decided to get her nails done. Three ladies pounced on her and did nails, eyebrows and feet too, refusing to take “no” for an answer. She didn’t have enough change to pay for this mini makeover so waited patiently for Paddy and I to get back from the DVD store with more money. Meanwhile the ladies moved on to work on someone else, trusting her to find them when she could pay.
I did spot one gap in the market: no one was selling batteries.
On top of Mount Bromo, an active volcano best viewed at sunrise, I was amazed by the variety of things to buy. Following a very early morning jeep journey to the summit, we found stalls selling hot drinks, soup and snacks, warm clothes, waterproofs and souvenirs. Up on the viewing hill, which provides a great view of the smoking mouth of the volcano as the sun comes up, people wove between the spectators selling disposable cameras, film, hats and other bits and pieces. I did spot one gap in the market, though: no one was selling batteries, which would have been very useful. An opportunity there.
After we had photographed the sunrise, one man approached me with his camera. He was a teacher and was with his history class. I thought he wanted me to take a photo of him with his students but instead found they wanted to snap Andrea, Paddy and me. Amused, we agreed and then the paparazzi ensued: teacher, students and families all took turns to pose with us. Paddy told us that he’s been in remote tribal villages and seen pictures of random Westeners on the walls. Tourists – a novelty here – are welcomed and appreciated everywhere. And everybody smiles, almost all the time.
Dougal surrounded by new friends
The people are amazing: hospitable, kind and genuinely interested in meeting visitors. “Welcome to Indonesia!” one old man greeted us, bowing slightly, as we passed by in the front seat of a becak in Jogja. On the same journey, another passer by asked our driver where we were going. “The bird market”, he informed the passer by. “Ah,” he replied, “enjoy!”
Internal tourism is relatively healthy as people explore their incredible country on holiday. In Bali we encountered lots of Australians, Italians and Japanese, who all visit fairly often. But hardly any tourists visit Aceh, in North Sumatra, the area worst hit by the 2004 tsunami.
Paddy is working in social development and conflict resolution projects in areas like Aceh, where although peace agreements have been made between rebels and rulers, fighting can break out at any time. Although the area is politically unstable it is a fascinating place. Seeing the lasting effects of the tsunami and efforts to rebuild communities near Banda Aceh was moving and inspiring.
Risks, threats and dangers are responsible for declining tourism to Indonesia over the past ten years. The tsunami, like the Bali bombing, cannot be forgotten. Yet none of these reasons should deter people from visiting an incredible country. Terrorism can occur anywhere – we have all been aware of increasing activity in the West since 2001. Natural disasters can happen anywhere too. (An earthquake shook books of shelves in Rugby last week).
In places such as Vietnam or Thailand, many travellers seek out “unspoilt” areas to feel they are getting “off the beaten track”. While I usually seek the solace of solo sightseeing, I was so impressed by the beauty of the people and their culture and moved by the country waiting for the tourists who don’t come, that I would urge everybody to consider Indonesia as a holiday destination. I am lucky enough to be going back soon for Paddy’s wedding [that's Paddy on the left]. I can’t wait!
Mount Bromo, Monkey Sanctuary, and sunset over Ubud
Next time you are picking a holiday, check out Indonesia. There’s loads to see and do, people are welcoming, the land is fascinating, travel, accommodation, food and drink are all cheap and until people overcome their reservations and begin to visit again in more significant numbers, you’ll never have to wait long for a taxi!
Dougal is programme director of new media production company Inner Ear Ltd
March 4th, 2008