A Travellerspoint blog

October 2009

Happy Hallowe'en!


overcast 15 °C

In honour of the ghosties and goblins, some creepy shots I have taken...

Egham, Surrey:





Bunhill Fields, London:




Posted by GregW 04:54 Archived in England Tagged photography Comments (0)

Everybody Take a Day Off and Have a Picnic!

Beautiful weather all over London...

semi-overcast 16 °C

I just went out to get my lunch, and it is an absolutely beautiful day today. Sixteen Celsius, very mild and bright despite a layer of clouds in the sky. Gorgeous day.

Everyone should have the day off today, so we can all be out and enjoying this weather. Everyone could go to their favourite park and have a picnic. Everyone could have a “nice weather day.”


Well, not everyone, obviously, because we would need the train drivers to get us to the picnic grounds, and the tube and bus drivers to get us to the train station. Everyone else, though, should have the day off.

Oh, except for the folks who work at Tesco’s, the grocery store, because I don’t have the stuff for a picnic lunch and would have to pick it up. So the train, tube and bus drivers and Tesco’s employees would have to work, but everyone else should have the day off.

Wait, I’ll like a cold drink when I get to the park, as I imagine everyone would. So any off license, news agent or convenience store near a park will need to stay open and have someone at the cash register. Train, tube and bus drivers, Tesco’s employees and off license cashiers, all report to work. Everyone else, take the day off!

No, just a second. I’ll probably want a pint later in the day from the nearest pub, so the pub landlords will need to be open. Sure, I could get a can of lager from the off license, but I’d prefer my beer in a glass pint. Therefore, the pub will need to be open. Okay, where are we at? Pub landlords, train, tube and bus drivers, off license cashiers and Tesco employees are all at work. Everyone else has a free day.

Oh, hang on! All those people in the park will create a lot of rubbish. We are going to need someone to pick all that rubbish up and clean out the rubbish bins. Park staff will need to be in to do that. Right, train, tube and bus drivers, off license cashiers, Tesco employees, pub landlords and park cleaners - man your posts! The rest of us are going to take a free day.

Though, I don’t really like the idea of all those people in the park at the same time I am. I’d prefer a nice quiet patch of grass. Actually, I guess when it comes right down to it, I really only care if I get the day off. The rest of you I don’t care about. So that’s it – everyone report to work but me.


Hey, here comes my boss. Wonder what she’s about to say?

I need to work overtime tonight? No chance of getting out and enjoying the weather?

No picnic for me today. I suppose it is some consolation that I can see the parking lot of my office from outside my window. It sure looks nice out.

Posted by GregW 05:49 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged preparation Comments (3)

Flashpacker: a Backpacker with a Hotel Loyalty Card

More lavish than a backpacker! More independent than bus tourist! More on dry land than a cruiser! More gravity than a space tourist! The flashpacker - another subdivision of the already divided travel market.

sunny 16 °C

Last week I took the tube down to Piccadilly Circus to pick up a train ticket. The ticket was for a train from Lisbon, Portugal to Salamanca, Spain on the 9th of November. Those of you who read this blog for actual travel stories rather than just my general musing about my domestic life will be happy to hear that I am off travelling again. Sadly, it’ll just be a quick trip - a week long vacation taking in Lisbon, Salamanca and Madrid.

I had booked the train ticket online, but much to my chagrin, I couldn’t arrange to pick up the ticket at the station. The ticket had to be issued physically, which meant having it mailed to me. If you aren’t local to the United Kingdom then you might not know that Royal Mail and her unions have been having a bit of a spat recently, and as such mail to my flat is generally delivered somewhere around two to three weeks after it was originally posted. Had Rail Europe posted me the ticket, it most likely would have arrived at my flat sometime in the middle of the week when I was in Portugal and Spain.

As I needed the ticket prior to that, I arranged to trundle down to the Rail Europe office in London (convenient, that) and pick it up in person. I picked up my ticket and it is now sitting on my bookshelf, underneath my passport, so I don’t forget it.


It is strange, having an actual physical piece of paper that I need to take with me on my trip. The rest of my trip has been booked electronically. Having to actually have a physical ticket for something seems so 2003, when I went to South America and last had to take physical tickets and coupons for items with me.

The internet has changed the way I travel, and probably the way most people travel. In 2003 I lugged around a three inch thick copy of Lonely Planet’s South America On a Shoestring to provide me with city maps, hotel recommendations, travel options and schedules and sight-seeing options. Nowadays I just troll the web for the plethora of tourism board, travel advice and hotel review websites.

Once on the road, things are a lot different than back in 2003 as well. My South American blog entries are pretty light on photos because I had a film camera with me at the time, along with 9 rolls of film. The photos are currently stored in photo albums sitting in my father’s storage locker in Toronto. Someday I’ll get around to scanning them, but for now my images of South America are mostly in my memory and an inaccessible storage locker halfway around the world. Other than my film camera, I didn’t have a single piece of electronics with me.

On my trip to Portugal I will likely be travelling with my digital camera, iPod, USB flash drive, laptop and mobile phone.


On the 11th of November I am planning on taking a train from Salamanca to Madrid. Instead of trolling through the pages of the Lonely Planet to find the train times, I’ll hook into my hotel's free WiFi, look up train schedules online and probably even set up an SMS alert to go to my mobile phone in the event that there are delays on the train lines.

Partly the changes in the way I travelled from 2003 until now are down to the inevitable march of technological improvement. Even the rough-looking Aussie backpackers drinking on the sidewalk outside the Journeys Kings Cross Youth Hostel down the street from me all have mobile phones and digital cameras, or even more likely a mobile phone that is also a camera, mp3 player and GPS system.

Partly the changes can also be traced to the type of trip I am undertaking. Two months backpacking in South America is a different type of trip than jetting down to Iberia for a week away from work.

Mostly though, I think the changes relate to the fact that as I age, I become less and less of a backpacker.

I was recently watching my favourite TV channel - Dave - during one of the few hours of the day when the channel isn’t showing repeats of Top Gear. Instead, they had on stand up comedy from the Apollo Theatre in Hammersmith, where Irish comedian Dara Ó Briain was talking about travelling in Australia with a bunch of 19 year olds.

Speaking to some of the young people in the crowd, he says, “go for the rucksacks for a while, and later on, you stop, you never go back.” He talks about the kids on his Australia trip, in their “rucksack stance - all of the weight up on the shoulders, pushing down on the hips,” talking about how much they “feckin’ love backpacking.” The kids go through their experiences with backpacking - seeing Australia on 13 dollars a day, getting damage to their “lower lumbar regions” and sleeping in dorms with “nine Norwegians who I neither know nor trust.”

At the end of the whole line of backpackers is Dara, with his luggage - a rolling suitcase. “Look, its on wheels, you feckin’ eejits.”

Thanks to Tux In the Backpack for the video of Dara. If you have trouble seeing the video, check it out on YouTube

I know exactly what he means. I am too old and frankly have too much money to bother with hostels anymore. The last time I stayed in a youth hostel was during my ill-fated, sleepless night in Dublin. After that I decided I may as well spend some of these dollars and pounds I am collecting and get a nice hotel with a comfortable bed, air conditioning, a safe (for all these electronic goodies I am carrying nowadays) and free WiFi.

Yes, as I get older, I become less and less of a backpacker and more and more of a flashpacker. A flashpacker is someone who still embodies the “spirit of the backpacker” (whatever the feck that means), but is willing to splash out to have a little more comfort.

I first heard the term flashpacker last summer in an article on Vagabonding. Since then the term has come into normal use, at least among travel writers and marketers. At first I resisted the term, but as it has now entered the general lexicon, I guess I can’t help but admit it.

I’m a flashpacker, and I like my own bathroom.

So in a few weeks time you’ll be able to find me somewhere in Iberia. I’ll still be wandering around looking for good local places to eat, drink and interact with some of the locals, like a good backpacker. I’ll just be doing it with a nice hotel to head back to at the end of the night.

Posted by GregW 09:58 Archived in England Tagged preparation business_travel travel_philosophy Comments (1)

A Silver Rabbit and A Faux Turkey

Pop art and giving thanks far from home.

overcast 15 °C

After walk through the neighbourhoods of Islington on Saturday that lay to the north of my flat, Sunday I walked through the leafier, quieter and poshier neighbourhoods to the south of me - Holborn and Bloomsbury. Former residents include folks like John Maynard Keynes and Charles Dickens. Fictional residents include the Darling family, those whose little children followed one Peter Pan to Neverland. Today, the areas have such notable residents and institutions like Ricky Gervais, De Beers Diamonds and University College London.








I was heading south because I was heading for Covent Garden, a place I normally avoid due to the overwhelming crush of the crowds there.

As a rule, I don’t mind crowds. I like the anonymity of walking through the crowds on a busy business district street, everyone with heads down and walking with a purpose.

Covent Garden is different, though. Covent Garden is full of tourist crowds, people walking slowly and erratically, constantly changing direction or stopping and staring upwards. It totally throws off my pace of movement, and infuriates me endlessly. Bad for the blood pressure.



I put aside my general dislike of the tourist hoards and headed down to Covent Garden to see a giant silver rabbit. The rabbit, created by American artist Jeff Koons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in 2007, has since travelled the world as a floating art piece.





The rabbit is in London as part of the Pop Life: Art in a Material World exhibit at the Tate Modern. The exhibition has been in the news over here because officers from the Obscene Publications Unit of the Metropolitan Police removed one of the works of art prior to the opening, a picture of a picture of a naked 10-year old Brooke Shields.

After spying the rabbit, to escape the crowds I headed over to the Maple Leaf Tavern on nearby Maiden Lane. The pub is a Canadian Bar, and thus I ordered a pint of Canadian-made Sleeman India Pale Ale. I was having a quick Canadian pint before heading home to prep for the day. This past weekend (including today, Monday, which is a holiday back home) is a big deal back in Canada.


It is autumn, and that means in addition to the leaves falling from the trees, Canadians will be falling asleep on the sofa with the Calgary Stampeders against the Montreal Alouettes on the TV.


This weekend, back home in Canada, is Thanksgiving weekend. My British flatmate recently asked me, after I announced it was Thanksgiving this weekend, “you aren’t American, what the hell do you have to be thankful for?”

Besides for the obvious answer implied in the first half of the question itself, Thanksgiving is a harvest festival and back in Canada we are celebrating the bountiful harvest that the majority of Canadians have nothing to do with, and don’t even notice because all our food is flown in from California and Chile.

Never mind, as this is the first Thanksgiving that I haven’t gathered with my family in Toronto since my University days, I decided I would have a mini-Thanksgiving feast for myself.

The traditional Thanksgiving dinner would be a large roasted turkey with stuffing, and mashed potatoes with gravy as a side. A turkey struck me as being overkill, seeing as I was only feeding myself, so I decided to roast a chicken. They are both foul, so I figured it would be fitting.

Because I have more money than culinary skill, I bought a pre-seasoned and stuffed chicken.


As a side, instead of mash, I just baked a potato to have along side. Of course you need a little liquid refreshment as well. I wanted to have a nice Canadian wine (yes, there are Canadian wines), but sadly they are very hard to come by over here, so I went with a Chilean sauvignon blanc instead.





It was yummy, and the best part, just like Thanksgiving back home - Leftovers! Chicken for dinner again this evening.


Happy Thanksgiving to those back home in Canada.


- * - * - *

A final note that today marks the tenth anniversary of the death of my Mother from cancer. I have marked the occasion by thinking of the good times we had together, and also sending out positive thoughts to my family back home.

It is a tradition at Thanksgiving to name what you give thanks for in the past year. So today I have concentrated on giving thanks for the years that I had with my mother.

"I still miss those I loved who are no longer with me but I find I am grateful for having loved them.  The gratitude has finally conquered the loss."
Rita Mae Brown

Posted by GregW 09:50 Archived in England Tagged food Comments (2)

Strolling Islington

It's a nice day for a walk...

sunny 15 °C

Recently I registered with a new medical practice around the corner from my flat. I should have done it back in February when I moved in, but I am a man and thus blissfully (some would say dangerously) unconcerned with matters of health generally. However, I finally got around to registering and was told that I needed to do more exercise. For some reason (perhaps advancing age or expanding waistline), I decided to listen and have actually been attempting to engage in regular exercise.

To meet my exercise requirements, I have been going out for brisk walks. Most days I just huff and puff along, not really taking in too much of my surroundings. Occasionally, though, I slow down the pace a little bit and take a look around. Today, on my partially brisk, partially leisurely walk, I wandered around Islington, which is the borough of London in which I live.

I started by marching up Caledonian Road. Cally Road, as it is known, is where I live. The southern part of the road, from Pentonville Road (near King's Cross) heading up to Caledonian Road tube station is a somewhat gritty street, mostly lined with shops. I don't mind a bit of grit, though, and the shops sure come in handy when I want the Sunday morning paper or need some dry cleaning done. Plus, there is a barber around the corner from me who charges £5 for a hair cut. That's a damn fine deal.


Just to the west of Caledonian Road tube station, off Market Street, is Caledonian Park. The park is built on the former site of the Metropolitan Cattle Market. The Market, in operation from 1855 until the early 1900s, was located on the site due to the proximity of King's Cross rail station, where cattle were offloaded from trains and marched up York Way. Today the only remnants of the cattle market are the clock tower that stood at the centre of the site, and a few pubs around the edges that date back to the period.

The clock tower is a listed building, and is "Baroque influenced." It was designed by J.B. Bunning, architect to the Corporation of the City of London.



In the 1800s, the area stretching from Regent's Canal (just north of King's Cross station) up to Caledonian Park was known Copenhagen Fields. It was across the Copenhagen Fields in 1834 that a demonstration and march took place to show support for a group of men known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs. The Tolpuddle Martyrs had been convicted of trying to organise a trade union, and for that had been sentenced to seven years in Australia.

On April 21st 1834 (175 years ago this year), demonstrators marched pretty much along the route that I had taken to get from my flat to Caledonian Park, starting at what today is Wharfdale Road (just north of my flat) and ending at the park. They would have gathered on the flats by the tower, though the tower wouldn't have been there at the time.



Today there was no union demonstrations in the park, just a couple kids playing in the play area and another boy playing fetch with his dog. Well, half a game of fetch. The boy would throw the stick, the dog would run after it, sit down by the stick and start gnawing on it. Then the boy would throw up his arms and walk over to the dog, wrestle the stick away, and throw it again. The dog would then bound after it, and upon arriving at it, sit down and start chewing the stick again. In this way, the boy and his dog circled the park.

Judging by the black spot on the grass where a scooter had been burnt a few days before and a lot of posters along Market Road warning drivers that they are being captured on CCTV, so they shouldn't kerb crawl, I'm guessing it probably isn't the nicest area at night.




However, things look set to change. Just north of the park is the Market Estate, a council estate that is getting a big face lift. In 2001, after the death of a young boy on the estate due to a faulty security door, the residents of the estate formed the Market Estate Tenants and Residents Association (METRA), which demanded changes. After 8 years, they are getting the changes they wanted, with a redeveloped estate being built. 175 years separate the six Tolpuddle Martyrs from METRA, but the two stories both show how those who band together to make their lives better can effect change.

Ironically, a lot of the drug activity and prostitution in the area is due to the activity being shifted away from the regeneration around King's Cross station. As I said in a previous entry, I'm part of that gentrification of the area, so I guess I am partially to blame for the Market Estate's woes.

Heading east from the Market Estate one gets into Highbury. Highbury is much poshier than the area around Caledonian Road, with lots of nice row houses and the much larger and less-scooter-burnt Highbury Fields park.




Running south from Highbury Fields is Upper Street. It runs parallel to Cally Road, only a few minutes away, but they feel miles apart. While Cally Road is all discount shops, low-end grocers and betting parlours, Upper Street is gastro-pubs, funky little clothing and furniture vendors and fancy restaurants. On Upper Street is Islington Town Hall. Today, as with most Saturdays, folks dressed up in nice clothes were milling about outside taking pictures, guests of weddings taking place in the Town Hall. You don't get many people dressed up for weddings on Caledonian Road.





That was my walk today. Heading north on the working-class, council-estate-surrounded Caledonian Road, and back down the posh and fancy Upper Street. The two roads are never more than a few minutes away from each other, but feel very different. I like having them both close at hand. It allows me to immerse myself in different atmospheres and experiences depending on my mood, all without having to walk too far from home.

Posted by GregW 08:16 Archived in England Tagged foot Comments (0)

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