Nothing much to report from Amsterdam, really. I’ve been sleeping in and wandering the streets since I got here, really. Which is more or less what I was hoping to do. Reading, listening to podcasts, trying to avoid the local food. That sort of thing.
The highlight of my stay so far was the Rijksmuseum. It was closed for renovation for nearly ten years, so the last time I visited was in the 1990s. Back then, it was kind of baffling. A maze of white rooms full of furniture and porcelain, organised chronologically, I suppose, but basically incomprehensible. After the renovation, the furniture and porcelain is still there, of course, but it’s all organised much more clearly and comprehensibly. And there’s a Rijksmuseum app, of course, with any number of guided tours on it, which helped me to find and appreciate the best bits of the collection. Tomorrow, mood permitting, I’ll spend the morning at the Van Gogh Museum.
Just under 12 hours before the announcement of the postal survey result. It happens at midnight here. I’m a bit apprehensive about being alone when the news breaks, to be honest, so I’ll be spending the evening with my own people, at the Spijker Bar in Kerkstraat.
Leaving here on Friday and spending a couple of days in Paris, which is a city I find a bit intimidating. Then off to some new places in Southern France and Italy, I think. I’ll work out the details later.
I’m in Amsterdam now, in a darkened pub, drinking Amstel and typing this post on my phone with a Microsoft foldable keyboard. I’ll upload it when I get back to my hotel.
It’s my fourth time here: apart from Tokyo, this is the foreign city that I’ve spent the most time in. It’s still amazingly familiar. Every street, every square brings back memories.
I plan to keep most of those memories to myself. I came here twice in the 90s with Robert. The first time was the first time I ever came to Europe. Robert and I caught the ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland. We arrived after a sleepless and unpleasant ferry ride, and the first thing we saw was a guy rollerskating beside a canal, freezing his arse off in tiny latex shorts. We immediately decided to stay for a week. The second time, we stayed here for two weeks over Christmas and New Year. It snowed. It was magic.
We were young then, and we had a fantastic time. But that’s all I intend to say. On my way here I walked past the sites of some of our best exploits. I regret nothing.
In 2008, I stayed here by myself for a few days. According to that trip’s travel blog, I basically spent a couple of days wandering the city, drinking beer and only occasionally wandering into a museum or art gallery.
This time I’m staying here for a week, but I have no idea what I’m doing after that. I’ll have to make a decision tomorrow, I think. Southern France, and then straight to Italy, probably. I’ll sit in a café with my computer tomorrow morning and do some proper planning for the next few weeks. Suggestions welcome: feel free to comment on this post.
My last few days in England ended up being terribly busy: I really should have arranged to stay a few days longer. I had a lovely evening in Brighton with Stephen and David. I went to Manchester to meet the inimitable Simon Caterall and to make a pilgrimage to Canal Street. I also met charming friend-of-the-podcast Colin Neal, had dinner with Sarah G, lunch with Peter G, and tea with Angela, Joseph, Alex and Elizabeth, who made me incredibly welcome on my last night in London. And I experienced Southern Rail in a way that will help me to truly appreciate the jokes they make about it on the News Quiz.
Tomorrow: nothing. Reading and chilling. After that, my first visit to the Rijksmuseum since the first time I came to Amsterdam.
Watching: Season 1 of The Good Place. For the third time. And it’s still brilliant.
I’m in a pub just outside Euston Station, waiting for a train to Manchester. I’ve got a bit over an hour to wait; I think I overestimated how long it would take me to get here. The pub doesn’t have wifi — I’ll have to upload this post when I get on the train* — but it does have bitter.
I arrived in London last Thursday morning. Before that, I had flown about 15 hours from Sydney to Dubai, had had about two hours in Dubai Airport, and had flown eight hours from Dubai to London. In first class — did I mention I was flying first class? — you can lie completely flat and sleep, and I so on the way to Dubai, I managed about nine hours of sleep, at about the same time as I would have slept if I had stayed in Sydney. By the time I landed at Gatwick at 6:40 AM, I had been awake for about 12 hours.
A car picked me up at the airport — first class — and drove me to the hotel in Whitechapel. It took about 2½ hours, with the traffic getting heavier and heavier as we approached our destination.
When I got to the hotel, they told me that the room wouldn’t be ready for about 4½ hours. I had wanted a nap and a shower; instead I ended up wandering down to the river and walking to the Embankment.
At just before 11 AM, I found a pub. One of the things I look forward to most in England is the warm, flat beer that clueless Australians used to enjoy mocking. I’m having one now. There was also a burger and chips, predictably terrible, but the beer was fantastic.
Got back to the hotel, waited half an hour, and then went up to the room. I know you’re supposed to try to stay awake until bedtime, and I know that sleeping all day in an exciting foreign city is a terrible waste, but I was asleep by 2:30 PM. I woke briefly at 4:30, and then slept all the way through till 3:30 AM.
As a result, it took me a couple of days to recover from the jetlag. I kept waking up at 1 or 2 or 3 AM. On Saturday, I accidentally slept in until 11:30 AM. Since then, I’ve been fine.
People to do
This Friday, I’m flying to Amsterdam: I’m only spending eight nights in the UK. Turns out, it’s not really going to be enough. There a lot more people to see than I expected.
So far, I’ve had a lovely breakfast at the Wolseley with Peter Griffiths, and a fantastic pub lunch with Peter and his long-time housemate Rebecca. I wandered through the Turner exhibition at Tate Britain with Angela Cartwright, and had afternoon tea with Angela and her family — Joseph, Alex and Elizabeth. I spent a lovely morning having breakfast with my former student Ian Goh. And I caught the train to Brighton to spend the afternoon with Stephen Kennedy and David Smith, followed by a pub roast, followed by beers in various Brighton pubs. I just left Brighton this morning.
(I’ve also uploaded an episode of Bondfinger and an episode of Flight Through Entirety. I wrote some of the show notes in Green Park, where I took the photo at the head of this post.)
Soon I’ll be heading up to Manchester, to make a pilgrimage to Canal Street (Queer As Folk, Cucumber), and to meet Simon Caterall for the first time, after months of fun interaction on Facebook. And when I get back, I’m catching up with Sarah G, and (hopefully) a couple of other people too. As well as catching up with everyone else one more time.
So it’s going to continue to be busy until I leave on Friday. After that, there will be weeks of travelling on my own. Should be fun.
Reading: Zealot, by Reza Aslan. (Saw a video promoting his new book about God. Turns out he’s hot.)
I’m writing this post in the First Class Lounge at Sydney International Airport, just before catching a flight to London. The last time I was here was in 2008, the last time I took long service leave, and I was about to start a month-long trip travelling around Europe by train. I was flying economy, of course, but Calvin had used his point acquisition superpower to get me into this lounge before my flight.
But this trip will be much grander. Calvin has levelled up, and so I’m flying first class. And instead of a month-long trip, it’ll be two months. I’m spending a week in England first, catching up with friends, and then flying to Amsterdam. After that, nothing much has been decided. I want to go back to Sorrento and spend more than a week there, visiting ruins and museums and things, and chilling out and reading and drinking limoncello. But apart from that, I have no concrete plans.
I’m travelling on my own, so this is my diary. I hope you’ll check in with me from time to time. I’ll put up some photos and talk about what I’m up to. Feel free to comment on my posts. I’d love to hear from you. And I’d be very happy to hear your suggestions about places to visit; I’ve really got no idea right now.
My hotel in Rome was right next to Roma Termini, Rome’s biggest railway station. It’s not the most salubrious part of Rome. I wasn’t actually offered drugs, but a tall black man with dark brown teeth tried to sell me a watch once, and later shouted at me and pushed my shoulder when I carelessly trod on his friend’s stock of pirate CDs, which he had laid out on a blanket on the sidewalk. And fair enough too.
The hotel itself wasn’t the most salubrious hotel of the area. Groups of people used to huddle on the front step, to discuss how the drug sales were going, I imagine. And my room wasn’t that great, with its tiled floor and freezing draught and unreliable hot water. I had to yell at the bent and wizened old man at reception to get him to start the pilot light so that I could have hot water for a shave. I felt mildly guilty for several minutes afterwards.
So imagine my surprise when I arrived in Sorrento this afternoon, and found out that the hotel I had booked looked like this:
This is the lounge of the Ulisse Deluxe Hotel. It’s cheaper than my hotel in Rome, but it’s the only hotel I’ve stayed in so far that wouldn’t give Calvin an instant aneurysm. There are sliding glass doors at the entrance and a toaster in the breakfast room. My bathroom even contains a bidet, for God’s sake.
Sorrento itself is lovely and clean and safe. I’ve had a very relaxing evening here. Thank God I didn’t decide to stay in Naples. Tomorrow: Pompeii.
I climbed the Capitoline Hill three times yesterday.
It was sunny, as I said before, and so I wanted to try the Forum again without a camera or an umbrella, to get to know the space better. Or something. I had a nice time. Then I thought I’d climb the Capitoline to see what the museum was like.
It’s beautiful. There are two buildings on either side of a courtyard surrounded by statues; in the middle is an impressive bronze of Marcus Aurelius on a horse. But I didn’t have enough cash on me, and I was hungry by then, so I walked back to the hotel for lunch.
The second time I climbed the Capitoline was to visit the museum. It was extraordinary. I spent a happy time in the basement reading dozens of Latin funerary inscriptions, feeling close to real dead Romans and marvelling at all the spelling mistakes. As for the rest of the museum, I can’t even describe it. Nearly every photograph in every Latin textbook we use at school was taken there. The dying Gaul. Eros and Psyche. That bust of Cicero. Frescoes of great scenes from the historian Livy. The contents of Maecenas’s gardens. Bits of a massive statue of Constantine. That bronze she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus. And a hilarious collection of religious paintings.
I left the museum and went down the stairs to return to my hotel room. There was a huge political rally in the way. There’s an election here next week — every available surface is covered with “Vote Saxon” posters — and so a bunch of wacky left-wingers with flags and balloon were getting in early, I think.
By the time I walked back to the hotel, I was looking forward to a pee, frankly, and thinking about getting my bag and then going back out for dinner. And then I thought about how rarely I leave my hotel without taking my bag. And then I thought about how I hadn’t left my hotel without taking my bag.
The third time I climbed the Capitoline, I was running, frantic, desperate to get my bag back from the museum cloakroom. My bag contained a pad, a jumper, a spare camera battery, a copy of Europe on Less Than Thirty Altairian Dollars a Day and a second-hand copy of Gulliver’s Travels I bought in Nîmes. But I couldn’t do without it. I had caught the metro to the Colosseum and run along the Via dei Fori Imperiali. I knew that the museum wouldn’t close for a few hours; I didn’t know whether they would charge me another 8 euros to get back into the museum.
The Capitoline is steep and tiring, but the security guards let me straight back in. My bag was fine. The happy ending: I had a lovely and hilarious two-course dinner near my hotel reading about Gulliver’s escape from Lilliput. The bowdlerised version I read as a child never had this much pissing in it.
Until I reached Rome, I had been very lucky with the weather. Every day had been sunny, except for one day in London, and one slightly rainy morning in Paris. London was cold, but otherwise it had been very mild — mild enough to wear a T-shirt and jacket, like I would in a Sydney winter.
But the last two days in Rome have been cold, overcast and rainy. Yesterday I went to the Roman forum, for example, and was driven back to the hotel after an hour by the rain. My umbrella had disintegrated overnight, and I was trying to hold it together and operate the camera and not fall in the mud all at the same time. I think some of the photos are at crazy angles as a result.
Anyway, at the hotel I got the waterproof hooded jacket Calvin leant me, and I was good to go. I caught the metro to the Spanish Steps, and had a long afternoon walk. The Spanish Steps, the Piazza del Popolo, the River, the Museum of the Ara Pacis Augustae and the Mausoleum of Augustus, more river, St Peter’s Basilica, that island in the middle of the Tiber and then the Pyramid of Sestius. This last one took me hesitantly off the map, but I had a vague memory of a Piramide Metro Station, which proved to be correct.
The visit to St Peter’s was a spur of the moment thing. I had just intended to walk the length of the river, but I saw the dome in the distance and decided on a visit. It is impressive, isn’t it? I didn’t visit the museum, but I went into an adjacent treasury thing full of chasubles and giant candlesticks and reliquaries (including one containing the skull of St Luke the Evangelist!). And I visited the tombs downstairs, just to make sure John Paul II was still resting comfortably. See how thoughtful I am!
There are lots of photos again: I spent an hour and a quarter uploading and labelling them when I got back that evening. Then more red wine, more pizza by the hectogram and then an early night. I was hobbling by then.
Today it’s beautifully sunny. I’m planning to swing by the Forum again, and then perhaps a park. Or the Vatican Museum. Or the Capitoline Museum. I’ll decide later. It’s my last full day in Rome: I’m catching the train to Sorrento tomorrow.
It rained on and off all day yesterday. In the morning it looked like it would clear up, so I left my umbrella in my hotel room and walked down to the Colosseum. As I approached, a couple of people asked me if I wanted to join a tour group: one inventive young man even suggested that I wouldn’t be allowed in if I didn’t. The queue to get in was long, and by now it had begun to rain hard enough to be annoying, so I took the Metro back to my hotel, grabbed my umbrella, and took the Metro back again. I needn’t have bothered: there had been people selling umbrellas on every street corner, and by the time I got back to the Colosseum, the rain had eased off.
Unlike the Arena in Nîmes, the Colosseum is only a skeleton, but at twice the height, it’s still amazing. I spent an hour there wandering round taking photos, and wincing at the accents of the American tourists. The ticket to the Colosseum entitles you to a visit to the Palatine hill, just across the road, so I decided to go there next.
Last time I was in Rome, I visited the Forum, but this was my first time on the Palatine. I could have done with a map or a guide, really. The hilltop is covered with low walls and gardens and things, and I recognised very little: an enclosed garden, the stadium of Domitian. A few things were labelled, but half-heartedly. The rain started up again, and so I took refuge in the Palatine Museum, which is mostly full of fragments of statues found on top of the hill.
By now it was afternoon. I had had lunch. (Pizza sold by the hectogram. Fantastic.) I decided that I had had enough of ruins and monuments for a bit, and that I wanted to see the river. So I walked down the hill, past the forum and the Arch of Constantine and then past the Circus Maximus, which is now a park. But the ruins and monuments kept on coming.
First, the Bocca della Verità. You know, like in Roman Holiday. Tourists were lining up to take wacky photos of each other with their hands inside the mouth. It didn’t bite any of them. Across the road was that round temple of Vesta I had been wanting to see. And next to that was another temple, completely covered in scaffolding.
I wandered over to the river and took a couple of photos of the Fabrician Bridge. And then I spotted the Portico of Octavia. (What is that? I must look it up.) And then, wandering uphill towards the hotel, I saw a whole block full of ruined temples: the Area Sacra.
And that was when my camera got full. One gigabyte of photos in just under a month. So I abandoned my sightseeing and headed back to the hotel. It took an hour to upload and label the day’s photos; by the time I finished, it was time for a drink and then dinner. It was warm enough to dine outdoors: I treated myself to a two-course menu turistico thing, which came with accordion accompaniment. Then a brief swing past the internet centre to catch up with the iPhone news and then to bed.
Forums today, I think. I’ve emptied the camera, and I’m ready to go.
In case anyone thought I was being an insufferable Mac snob when I said that I was reluctant to use the Windows machines at the internet centres in Rome: my thumb drive thing came back from the internet centre this morning with no less than three separate viruses on it. Let that be a warning to you all!
Keen-eyed readers will have noticed that despite my last post, photos from Rome have started to appear on this blog. How is this possible? Well, some nice young men in a mobile phone store told me that there is almost no wi-fi in Italy, so I swallowed hard and visited an internet centre instead. Fortunately, the one nearest the hotel uses Firefox, which is a bit more secure than the Internet Explorer installations I saw elsewhere. But enough of that.
Yesterday afternoon I went for my first long walk, to make sure I could get to the Forum and Colosseum without getting lost. Of course, they’re not very far from my hotel near the station, but I still had no difficulty finding them. I took some photos, but since it was getting late, I decided not to pay to go inside. There’ll be plenty of time for that later. The area was very familiar from last time, although I don’t remember seeing Trajan’s column or the Circus Maximus before. God, what did I actually do the last time I was here?
Beer and gelato for dinner, then an early night to recover from the previous night’s train journey.
Today it was raining when I woke up, and quite cold, the coldest since London. But I had things to do. In the morning, I visited the Pantheon. Apart from the front, from the outside it is astonishingly hideous. Blunt and brutal. The inside is glorious, of course, although I was appalled by the nerve of the Christian upstarts who put up signs about saints and silence and reverence as if they owned the place.
After that, I stopped by the Trevi fountain just long enough not to have my pockets picked. Then, after an ample lunch, I spent the afternoon in the Museo Nazionale Romano. It’s all ancient Roman stuff, statues and frescoes and mosaics, as well as a display of frescoes from Pompeii which are usually housed in the museum in Naples. I’ve been trying to write about them for about fifteen minutes now, but I can only come up with crap sentences stuffed with adjectives. They were great.
Off to dinner now, followed by some gelato, and then a quick trip to the internet centre to upload this post and my day’s photographs. Tomorrow, the Baths of Diocletian, I think, followed by the Forum and the Colosseum.