Mine Camp

12 Oct

Camping is one of those things “old” people don’t do. Although looking around Australia’s camp grounds you wouldn’t know it. The Gray Nomad tends to drag a hard white shell behind them wherever they go. I however, am not intending to be followed by such a beast. Queensland’s coastal edge, has sand islands. These preclude access to most vehicles. Except high clearance long wheelbase 4WDs. Or the Fat Bike (below).

Moreton Island is just a couple dozen km north east of Brisbane. In all the years I’ve lived here, I’ve never been. So I’ve decided to do a solo one night voyage to her shores. I’ve borrowed a steel bike designed for snow. This beast will hopefully have the same floatation characteristics needed for sandy island tracks. I am a little worried about the salt and sand quickly destroying somebody else’s equipment.

Surly Pugsley

A Fat Bike the only kind of cycle suitable for terrain of sand, snow. In fact probably the steed you want if there is no road before you

I’m told by those in the know, expect to work hard to get around, the sand provides resistance, even when going downhill. 10km/h is what you can expect, along inland tracks. I intend to cross the centre of the island, in fact, most of my pedalling will be though the national park forests.

In fact this is a prelude to a five day Fraser Island journey I plan to do the other side of summer. So this is a shake down for my equipment and me.

I’m a little worried about doing this solo, but its a small island, little traffic, during a weekday outside school holidays. I’ve taken precautions against other humans, so its just nature that I must battle.

I’m kind of looking forward to the solitude. I spend too much time steeped in this modern, connected life. So I’m looking forward to open myself to the minutes and hours that I have with myself. I’m not taking a book, maybe just a notepad, to scribble down my own thoughts.

I intend to travel during the coolest of the day time, and avoid riding in harsh sun or dark night. This will preserve my water.

Wish me luck!


Patonged into Phuket

7 Nov

This marks the end of our renaissance art tour, and the beginning of a week in the tropics. The flights out of France were uneventful, except to say, the French know how to make an airport work. There are heaps of independent terminals dotted all over the runway concourse, and we were easily shunted from check-in to boarding without any appreciable lineup.

Very different experience exiting the international terminal to domestic terminal in Bangkok though, it seemed as if three 747s had landed all at once, and a sea of humanity were descending on the Thai boarder control. A woman in military uniform stamped my passport, all the while chatting to her colleague, who was likewise, furiously stamping. We were then herded into a 747 that was parked at the same international terminal, via the tarmac.

The road between Phuket, international to our hotel in Patong took one hour by car. It was a blur at 120km/h, through town and country, the only appreciable slowdown, was the steep hill entering Patong beach

Arriving at noon, we closed the curtains, and had a couple hours sleep

In the late afternoon, we ventured out to dinner, into the streets of Patong. The guides of this place are short. “Known for its nightlife”. This is code for: Known for tits nightlife. There are chrome poles everywhere, but we were early, most of this type wildlife tourist were still with hangover from the night before.

Caught Wendy’s parents on return to the resort, at check-in, and successfully avoided the first night drinking binge that took place poolside including Wendy’s sister and brother.

The Last Pint

5 Nov

John: A busy last day in London, attempting to fit everything in. A second visit to the British library, so Wendy can become a registered user of the service. She did manage to join, request some anatomy books, then in the dying moments of the day, we came back look at the titles in the reading room with 10 minutes to spare. Unfortunately most were in storage in Yorkshire and 48 hours away.

We hired bikes again today, to get down and uptown, but the experience was patchy. Very few bikes uptown at 11am, they have all been coasted downhill. The return journey was marred by technical issues.

If we had of known ahead of time: A mobile phone app "cycle hire widget" tells us where and how many bike are available. It does many bike hire schemes around the world including Barclays

A second visit to the National Museum. No sculpture here. I have to think hard if we entered any gallery or museum without some statues.

Wendy: We spent five hours all up over two days in the British Museum. It has the best examples of post-Renaissance works, along with the d’Orsay, that we saw on the trip.

Wendy stole a photo of some loose brushwork on a Sargent in the National Portrait gallery, even with the high tech security post on the opposite wall. Watching ever watching those security cameras.

That’s it, no more British Ale. I had a particularly heavily hopped pint near the hotel, before we picked up our bags, to begin our journey towards home. Hopspur, was quite drinkable, and memorable as it was the last. Wendy in her wisdom requested a pint of Guinness thinking it would be different from the Australian variety. Not sharing my red ale, with that tasteless muck. Maybe Guinness tastes better in Ireland.

The return journey through the channel tunnel back to France was uneventful this time, 2h 15m as per the schedule, then it took us almost as long to get from Paris to our airport hotel here at CDG airport. So I calculate an average speed of 250km/h on the Eurostar, I’ll class that as high speed. The tunnel took 20min to negotiate, the train did slow down through there, I estimate based on the distance of the tunnel 50km, about 150km/h.

Alas Poor Fannie

4 Nov

We decided to do the ‘Museum Mile’ today. This included the British Library. The library had great mood and natural lighting, a sprawling internal restaurant and large open foyer areas including purpose built laptop lounge chairs. Reading rooms were off to the side and heavily guarded for people with passes only. The centre of the library housed the multilevel King’s collection encased in glass. The library has over 56 million volumes including off site storage.

We went into a display of early books, a very dimly lit environment and saw some huge hardbound handwritten pre-Gutenberg books. The British library also has a copy of the Magna Carta. There were also pages from one of Leonardo’s notebooks, written in his back to front and right to left style, and many other bibliophile historical curiosities.

British Library from the 2nd floor looking down. The King's collection is to the right of the pillar encased in glass.

Our next stop was the Foundling Museum which John called the ‘fondling’ museum and I had to explain that foundling was a term for orphans. There were some Hogarth pieces there and the highlight was the plasterwork in the courtroom.

A room from the Foundling museum.

Onto the Soane Museum, the most unique house I’ve ever been into. Sir John Soane was an eccentric but talented architect who turned his house into a museum of clutter, but thats not all…he had to buy the neighboring properties to put it all in. Pillars in the dining room, roman rubble hanging on the walls and ceiling, giving the visitor a claustrophobic feeling as they walked through the house. The ceilings tried to fit the Roman dome style roof in, but weren’t nearly tall enough, closer to your suburban house ceiling. There was a 3000 year old Egyptian coffin downstairs, inlayed with a god at the bottom to guide the dead through the afterlife (instructions to the underworld courteously engraved on the sides). The upstairs was painted in a fashionable Turner yellow (a bright mustard colour).

The modest courtyard (perhaps 5 x 5m maximum) at the centre of the house had a piazza monument three stories tall which you could view from many rooms on your journey up through the levels, so close you could almost reach out and touch it. ‘Alas, poor Fanny’ was the epitaph for the family’s lap dog,  scribed onto another courtyard monument. Apparently a room downstairs was dedicated to an imaginary monk called Giovanni. Giovanni’s demolished church ruins were also housed in the courtyard. A lot to fit into that space. Ascending an internal staircase we peered through some glass into another room to see a closet door wide open with a skeleton in it.

Soane bragged that through his architectural inventiveness he could house a gallery of 100 paintings into a 4 x 3m room. And he did. Two walls on opposite sides from eachother opened outwards from the walls, into the room (like you may open up a cupboard), behind that a further two opened out, then a further two, so his guests could be seated while he show off a huge collection, mostly of his architectural drawings.

We popped into the Princess Louise, purportedly one of the last remaining gin houses, but the publican claimed that was only due to the elaborate Victorian interior. We were treated with pressed metal ceilings and very colourful tiles on the floor and walls, and patterned frosted glass and polished wood

Next stop Courtauld gallery which had a lovely sketch exhibition going, and a fine collection of impressionist paintings but there were also some older ones.

Sketch exhibition at the Courtauld gallery

We raced into the National Gallery with two hours to spare and I knew I’d found my Nirvana. Some fantastic paintings there.

On the way back to the hotel, we’d timed it bad for peak hour. The pubs were overflowing with workers. Seems to be the great British past time. With a bit of patience we did manage to have fish and chips and a pie for dinner and a couple of pints pulled by an Aussie from New Farm.

Low Noon Ya

3 Nov

John: Today, no galleries, we would feel the fresh north sea breezes across our cheeks, ride the open plains, and see the countryside; of downtown London. Having sailed through the empty galleries here, we have found ourselves with extra time. So we devoted a day to the streets and parks of London.

Stables below the palace are very medievil in a distinctly english style. This is St James Palace.

Can I say from the outset, I was very disappointed with the result. Our agenda was to see art on this journey, and this is one of three days in four weeks that we haven’t seen any. I’m a bit deflated. Reason being that every city has parks, big buildings, churches, why devote time to this, and miss out on the essence of the culture, which is often found in Museums, Libraries and Galleries.

Plant life have given up on photosynthesis, even if there is warmth and rain, sun is hard to come by

The one thing I did notice in the great outdoors today was how little the sun moved across the sky. We are 51 degrees north here, in the middle of the Fall, and it pretty much seems to be a perpetual 4pm. London is only about 2,000km south of the arctic circle, where in winter time, the sun never rises. Winter here has to be a bleak affair. No wonder every Brit gets a suntan when they come down under.

We were not invited to afternoon tea, but a procession of Toyota Prius cars were carrying those lucky few

We did the usual, Regents park, Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace. All via the city’s cycle hire scheme. We picked up and dropped off half a dozen times, staggering our walking and cycling. We were cold  walking, and warm riding, expending just that little bit more energy on wheels.

Sotheby's the auction house for art, with dealers and gallery shop fronts all around it. Wendy was frightened to enter such shop fronts, it looked like we weren't welcome without an appointment. Some were locked, and a guard stood just inside every front door (on Old Bond St).

We walked home along some of the Monopoly board, St James, Piccadilly, Pall Mall, Bond and Oxford streets. Home to those brands we all know, and own none of. Or own all of them darling.

No bricks in the wall

1 Nov

Wendy: We hired a couple of cycles today and took them to Guildhall gallery, part of the Ward of Cheap, or the London City Council area. John thinks the cycling is fun but it’s a bit hairy to me, mixing it with lorries and taxis. There are some designated cycling areas at the side of the road which disappear when the road narrows. The motorists seem to be OK and don’t beep though, and I’m pretty slow going up the slight inclines!

The Occupy Wall St protest in London, still going, outside St Paul's

Guildhall supposedly has 4500 paintings, we saw about 100 on display.  One could have fired a cannon through the place. Apparently this was the site for the ruins of London’s Roman Amphitheatre, where public executions and gladiatorial combats occurred and in the 1980s they rediscovered the circular walls which had been lost for centuries. In Rome they would have preserved such history, but we didn’t see a trace of it.

The millenium bridge London from the St Paul's side of the Thames

We went past St Paul’s were the protests are, they have established a tent city there. They were just starting to organise a rally when we arrived, so we shouldn’t stick around, lest we be profiled and not able to exit the country.

We wandered over to the Tate Modern, which was pretty busy, there were interactive displays, WIFI and signs of a gallery trying to remain relevant to a younger generation. I know that there are talented artists working today who don’t produce dots and stripes, but they are rarely represented in these places. We stood bewildered in front of a mirror, titled “unfinished painting”….”But it’s just a mirror” John said. We decided that the story accompanying the objects on display was more important than their artistic merit, their intellectual cleverness more important than an emotional connection with the viewer. Call me stuffy and old fashioned, but I failed to be moved by the works here.

This permanent display in the Tate Modern is called "Grate". It invites visitors to stand on it and feel a warm or cool breeze, depending on the time of year they visit.

They have a millennium pedestrian bridge here, a neat cable stayed design, with the cables flaring outward like a pea pod opened wide. This spanned the river between St Paul’s and the Tate Modern.

On to the Tower of London but we milled around outside, not sure whether to go in, and instead, I spent 50p for the privilege of using a toilet. Our tight wallets did not extend to us seeing the crown jewels or a climb up the tower bridge.

The beginnings of the Methodist church. John stands at the place where all his sunday school teachings stem from.

We had some confusing experiences with the bicycle hire and ended up having to walk 5 or so kilometers back to the hotel as we couldn’t hire two bikes at a time, though had been able to in the morning, and had a receipt that was valid for a 24 hour period. But walking ensured we made no wrong turns, and I think I glimpsed traces of the London wall on our walk home.

Cadbury chocolate is very different here, a lot fattier not so “rough as guts, like at home. Looking closely at the ingredents, I see now that its been fortified with an unspecified form of vegetable fat.

Pub again tonight, these are cosy warm affairs, with a real village feel.

Ailing for some Ale (or because of..)

30 Oct

Weather forecast  fine, mostly sunny, but we didn’t see any blue sky all day. I’m beginning to think clear skies really means not foggy. We balked at prices for exhibitions, maps, entry fees and donations. We skipped Westminster abbey, who wants to pay $40AU to get into a church after seeing St Peters. We are however spending more time in the gift shops trying to choose amongst the coffee table books with the best photographs. We will donate via the gift shop, £22 today, who knows, maybe that 10kg book for £150 tomorrow.

Traffic volumes are less today than the weekend, making riding the bike share  a viable proposition. Driving into downtown London costs Britons £9 a day. So pretty much all you see are delivery vans and the weird looking taxi cabs. Roadways are narrow, and heaps of urban renewal is taking place in lieu of the Olympics. Less than a year to go, and the concrete trucks are chasing us everywhere we pedal.

Found my namesake on an aluminum frame

The Tate had very low patronisation compared to the throngs of people we’d become used to in Rome, Florence and Paris. We concluded things are not valued unless there is a charge associated. There were ‘suggested donation’ areas of £4 but we chose to spend £22 on a Waterhouse book instead. The Tate Britain includes modern art. Why is there modern art here when there is a Tate Modern? Especially when there are over a hundred Gainsboroughs in the collection which are mostly in storage.

Sargent after bing inspired by the impressionists

Did a quick whip through the National Portrait Gallery on our way home. Seems the sitter takes the prominent name on the description plaque, the lowly artist gets their name in, in small print at the end. Tour guides are not art connoisseurs, but historians, extolling the illustrious histories of the sitter and their families. Found five Sargents on level one. We will visit again, maybe even to sneak a photograph or two.

Westminster abbey at the end of the boulevard from buckingham palace, nope we are tightarses

Fullers pub now, with free wireless, and some London brewed golden and dark ales. Microbreweries are a common sight, looking for an Adnams Broadside, which constantly wins prizes for best ale. We’ll get one, eventually. Latest Update, we are on our second pint. Oh no too much beer, mmmmm, but tastes so good.

Hav'n beer in little pub