circumstances forced me to stay in the most expensive hotel in geneva ;) . and then they upgraded me to a suite. with a private lift and hidden door. and a view over the lake. in fact it was a bit of a strange arrangement, having a bed in the middle of your living room. but the dining table was useful for laying out sets of drawings to work on. when i got in on the second night they had closed the curtains and put the tv on! what kind of person would close the curtains on that view and watch tv instead?
got home at 11.30pm last night. am not at work today due to exhaustion. yesterday was a bit of a marathon. the rail strike in southeast france lifted for one day only, so i had a quick breakfast and escaped aix-les-bains on the 10am TGV, thinking i'd have lunch in paris. went straight to the gare du nord to check the situation, but the scene there was chaos with stranded travellers from all over europe. no eurostar trains available until wednesday! but there was a train to calais at half past 2, so i got a ticket and got on it. no time for lunch, queues for everything too long. so i had nothing but the remains of my bottle of water.
turns out the train is for calais-frethun, ie the eurotunnel terminal which is miles outside calais. so there are a hundred or so people trying to get to england, on an isolated station. it's sunday afternoon, very few taxis or buses - why?? were they not expecting crowds of people to arrive from paris? station cafe closed - i got a couple of snickers bars from a vending machine [for the high calories!]. after about half an hour a local train arrived which could take us to central calais. then bus to the port - then, amazing! short queue to buy a ferry ticket, and on the 18.50 boat. i headed straight for the restaurant for the first meal since 8am.
dover was a bit of a let-down. rail shuttle bus drops us 200 yards from the station, due to roadworks. long queue for tickets. however the station staff let everybody go on the next train even if they haven't got a ticket. apparently they have been open all night every night through the crisis to deal with the arriving travellers. it's sunday night, no cafe, no vending machines. two hours later i'm back in london - half past ten, but station cafes all closed! i've travelled all day to a 'world city' and i can't even get a cup of coffee at half past ten at night! don't give me that 'but it's sunday' crap.
so today i'm shattered.
saturday, however, was wonderful. here are some photos to show how wonderful it was.
so i flew to geneva wed night for a day of meetings and was supposed to fly back thurs night... not having seen the news, when they said that i wouldn't be able to fly back because of a volcano i thought it was a joke! so i ended up in a hotel in aix-les-bains, because geneva is full and very expensive. the french railways strike on friday meant that i couldn't travel north by rail, but it's pretty nice here. chief problem is that i left all my chargers at home [expecting to be back in 24 hours] so my phones are nearly dead. and i didn't bring my laptop. the loss of connectivity is more disturbing than the lack of clean clothes [which i have partially rectified]!
but the view of the lake and the mountains today was good for my soul. better than an airport floor. tomorrow i'll take the tgv to paris and try to get a ferry at calais. eurostar is booked out into monday.
went to grimsby and cleethorpes a couple of weeks ago for the first proper visit in five years. i wanted to see my wider family somewhere other than at funerals, especially since my aunt's sudden illness and death in the spring. that's my grandmother, father and his sister gone since 2005. i didn't want to blog about my aunt's death at the time. all this has changed the shape of the family considerably, and we're regrouping, so to speak, around a different set of connections. the children of my four cousins are all teenagers now, so there is another layer approaching adulthood. and the latest family addtion is my niece elisabeth, born last week!
as for the photos of grimsby and cleethorpes, there's nowhere deader than a seaside town on a weekday out of season in cold weather. it's easy to produce those empty scenes that i seem to specialise in ;) the traces of my childhood are still around, but fading. places go, or you lose them. it was strange and difficult to pass my grandmother's old house and not be able to walk in like the last and every other time. also hard to pass asda, where my aunt worked for so many years. and even now, my sense of scale for the town is that of a child, and i'm always nonplussed by how much shorter distances are than in my mind. the fact that i think of the old sea wall as curving over my head, gives you some idea.
1. it is ridiculously beautiful, but much of the beauty is diffused across the urban scenery rather than being concentrated into set-pieces. this means that you want to photograph almost everything, and yet the thing that you have in your viewfinder isn't that special by itself. it's the accumulation of small beauties, street after street to wasteful profusion, that counts.
2. conversely, most of the set-piece beauties, like the charles bridge or old town square, are so crowded with tourists and souvenir-sellers that you can't get a decent shot. all the best photos of those places are in books, taken at dawn, taken ten years ago. when i was there, the old town square's best view had a giant screen set up with car advertising so that people could watch the euro 2008 football tournament. the charles bridge has roadworks and scaffolding at one end. much of the cathedral is covered in blue scaffolding [which my photos avoid, hence none of the apse].
3. so i kind of gave up on general photography of the obvious things, and yet i still came back with over 200 photos.
4. the cathedral is one of the most photogenic buildings i have ever encountered, externally at least. inside is disappointing - bald - by comparison, except for the tomb of john of nepomuk. i couldn't get anywhere near the tomb of st. wenceslaus because of the crowds.
5. signs in prague are quirky. symbols are subject to individual, rather whimsical, interpretation. the road-mender doesn't always have high heels, the zebra crossing man is sometimes short and dumpy not at all like michael jackson. in britain the signage system was created by graphic designers to be rational, legible and uniform, so the czech versions look charmingly amateur.
6. the tv tower is a great piece of communist futurism, although it was finished after the revolution. the inside is as functional as a bus shelter, but who's looking?
7. the metro is another great piece of communist futurism - at least the central mid-1970s stations. each station has a diferent colour combination. amazing what can be done if there is no advertising. note also the neat modernist graphics.
not bad for a weekend, i guess, especially when you throw in the drum'n'bass. here's a photo [taken by peter davis, top] of some of the junglists in the tv tower lift [top right is me]. lev [lower left] said it looked like "a future dub group - lunar moon kit four or something" so i added the caption. aiming for the cover of knowledge magazine.
i've been to moscow three times in the last month or so working on a new project, and when i'm here i've been working late night after night, so i've had no energy for blogging. there were no photographs because the work laptop i was carrying, being windows :P was very heavy and i didn't have strength or space to lug my big SLR around as well. so this trip i bought a nikon coolpix s700 to stick in my pocket. it doesn't do a bad job, although i miss the wider angle on my SLR lens - struggling to get the whole church in across the street when i could have easily made it with the SLR - also a factor when shooting videoout the taxi window, although the quality is much higher than my phone - something which isn't apparent in the compressed versions on youtube. [the other challenge of shooting video in moscow is that one is either bouncing along at 50mph or at a complete standstill for ten minutes at a time in a traffic jam between trucks.]
when in moscow one always has to work at a thousand miles an hour, because of the limited trip duration, so i tend to crash mentally and physically when i get home. but it's not all slog though - here's a glamorous moment in the city space bar [stills here]
the view wasn't as good as it could have been, because it was snowing. bar manager bek narzibekov, seen putting the finishing touches to a cocktail and explaining it to the customers, is now recovering after being poisoned, probably by a business rival. the young guy who grins at the camera is my work colleague dimitry, who knew bek when he was one of london's top bartenders/managers.
in the 70s and 80s one of my uncles used to travel behind the iron curtain on business. he sent us postcards, as much for us to see the stamps as anything. i found a few of them over easter - here on flickr. there may be more to follow if i can remember where they are. on one such trip he brought back the tu-144 brochure.
the postcard from north korea strikes me as especially remarkable now - it can't be a common thing to have. my brother noticed that the description is in spanish - why would a north korean postcard have a spanish caption? we presume it's because the only visitors were likely to be from cuba. it's also unusual for stamps to feature aggressively brandished machine guns.