A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: GregW

Modern Day Frost Fair

Skating at Somerset House

overcast 5 °C

Back in centuries past, when the winters in London were colder than they are now, and the River Thames less contained and fast flowing, the River would on occasion freeze over. When the river would freeze over, frost fairs were held on the frozen water. These fairs involved "sleds, sliding with skeetes, a bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cooks, tipling and other lewd places, so that it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph, or carnival on the water," as described by writer John Evelyn.

The last frost fair was held in 1814. Milder winters, along with embankments being built along the banks of the river and the new London Bridge allowing the water to flow faster through its larger arches meant the river has not frozen over since.

Rink and Tree, skating at Somerset House

Rink and Tree, skating at Somerset House

However, there still are opportunities to enjoy a touch of the frost fair in London. Each year Somerset House gives over a large portion of its courtyard to an outdoor ice rink. I went recently with a bunch of co-workers for an hour of ice skating.

Rink with ghostly skaters, skating at Somerset House

Rink with ghostly skaters, skating at Somerset House


Rink at Skate, skating at Somerset House

Rink at Skate, skating at Somerset House

As a Canadian, I learned to ice skate at an early age. I wasn't ever really very good at it, though, and as compared to other Canadians, am a weak skater.

The great thing about skating in the UK is that most of them haven't ever been on skates, and are quite poor. Whereas on a Canadian rink, I look like a rank amateur, on an English rink I am in the top 10%! It's a real ego boost. I would recommend it for any Canadian living in the UK.

Greg Gliding, skating at Somerset House

Greg Gliding, skating at Somerset House


Greg coming in low, skating at Somerset House

Greg coming in low, skating at Somerset House

Not to say I'm by any means perfect. I did fall once, trying to stop a little to fancily in front of my coworkers. Bit of a wet leg after that... Oops.

After falling, a bit of a wet leg, skating at Somerset House

After falling, a bit of a wet leg, skating at Somerset House

But for the most part I did well on the ice. And it was fun to get out.

Action shot, me skating away, skating at Somerset House

Action shot, me skating away, skating at Somerset House

I think I'll go again this year. It is a good workout, quite fun, and at £15 for an hour, cheaper than the gym.

Posted by GregW 06:30 Archived in England Tagged events Comments (3)

Achtung, Europa

overcast 12 °C

I have been listening to a lot of Achtung Baby era U2 recently. It all started back when U2 played Glastonbury in the summer, and I sat on my sofa (slightly drunk) watching the set on the BBC. No doubt as a way to plug the masses of re-releases in honour of the 20th anniversary of that album, the band played a number of their Achtung Baby songs, much in the same way they played them back during their massive Zoo TV tour. That triggered me to start listening again to Achtung Baby, as well as the related albums I had - including Zoo Europa, an excellent bootleg from their 1993 Zoo TV concert in Dublin.

Over the past few weeks, U2 has released a number of different versions and cover versions of the songs of Achtung Baby. Today, I sat around listening to the "Kindergarten" versions of all the songs on the album, plus a version of covers of the songs on the album called "(Ǎhk-to͝ong Bay-bi) Covered."

Achtung_Baby.png
Image from Wikipedia

Recently, though, I have turned off the music and on the TV so I can watch the coverage of the austerity measure debate in Italy. This is expected to trigger the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minister, who has held the office for 9 years over three separate periods.

Berlusconi's leaving office is just the latest in the ongoing financial crisis that is gripping the Eurozone, the larger EU and the world as a whole. The European Union and Eurozone is attempting to resolve these issues and save the Euro and the currency union, but more and more commentaries are saying that at least some of the Eurozone members will have to leave the currency union. Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, has said any members leaving could lead to the complete disintegration of the European Union as a whole. Germany, as the strongest economy in the Eurozone, is being pressed to put in trillions of Euros to save the entire project. Germany, however, is balking at pouring too much money into saving the Mediterranean economies.

Uncertainty is about the only certainty at this point, but some change in the EU and the Eurozone seems likely. No one would be surprised to see some significant changes in the Eurozone or EU borders over the next year, and a shrinking of the Eurozone seems highly possible.

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It is a very different picture that I had when I first got here. Just three years ago, despite the economic troubles which were gripping the banks at the time, I was quite excited about the continuing integration in Europe. In a blog entry at the time, I wrote:

I will admit that one of the reasons I moved out of Canada was to be part of something larger. I wanted to be part of the international community, be part of something that was happening. Europe seemed to be that place.

As I left North America, Canada and the USA seem to be closing themselves off, fortifying themselves against the outside world and even dividing themselves into smaller bits internally - red vs. blue states, north vs. south, Quebec vs. the rest of Canada, east vs. west, Northern Ontario vs. Southern Ontario.

Europe is coming together. The European Union is growing, the coming together of nations to form a larger community, an international meeting place. Despite setback with the recent Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty to give the EU more powers, proponents of the EU want to continue to build the union, stronger and larger.

Ummm... Then again, perhaps not.

Three years, and all change. Now it appears Europe is slowly rending itself apart, and while it doesn't appear that things have changed in the USA, Canada's economy is strong and it, among other emerging economies like China, India and Brazil, were asked if they would lend additional support to the Eurozone. Canada, along with the others, offered "support," but no clear new money.

Achtung Baby was recorded (in part) in October 1990 in Berlin. The band had gone to Berlin to find some sort of inspiration on the eve of German reunification. The European Economic Community morphed into the European Union just a few years later, and in 1999 the Euro entered the financial markets.

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I remember going to buy Achtung Baby in 1991. At the time I was in university, and had remembered watching the European wall fall, the reunification ceremonies for Germany on TV and the ongoing "end of history" events as Europe - formerly a continent torn in two by political divisions - was coming together. Achtung Baby formed the soundtrack of my watching the ongoing European integration from afar, as they signed the Maastricht Treaty and became a more integrated union.

Now, 20 years later, its re-release is forming the soundtrack of my watching Europe potentially fall apart, this time from much closer than my university in Canada. I watch now not just as someone interested in world politics, but someone whose job depends in part on the ability for companies within Europe to buy my services.

It is strange and beautiful music for strange, strange times.

Posted by GregW 08:56 Archived in England Tagged migration_experiences Comments (0)

Photos from Florence

The spoils from site-seeing during a Florence, Italy long weekend

sunny 17 °C

Florence is in Italy, and people go there to ... eat Eggs Florentine, and ... err, um, look at Florins. And, see stuff... Ah, I don't know.

I went down to Florence for a long weekend because my Dad was passing through. We had a great weekend catching up, and I did a little bit of sight-seeing on the side. It was all a little last minute (for various reasons), so I did no research into Florence before going, and really can't be bothered now that I am back. So unlike my past blogs where I at least try and impart some knowledge about the place, I am going to skip it this time.

Just look at the pretty pictures.

Dome on Duomo

Dome on Duomo


Duomo Facade and Tower

Duomo Facade and Tower


Duomo at sunset

Duomo at sunset


Close up Statue Duomo Square

Close up Statue Duomo Square


Fancy Italian Cops

Fancy Italian Cops


Opa

Opa


Our Father on Duomo

Our Father on Duomo


Santa Maria Novella

Santa Maria Novella


Rooftops of Florence

Rooftops of Florence


Panini and Vino

Panini and Vino


curving Streets of Florence

curving Streets of Florence


Little red fiat, Streets of Florence

Little red fiat, Streets of Florence


Tortured Souls Duomo

Tortured Souls Duomo


What you lookin at?

What you lookin at?


Little yellow birdie, Streets of Florence

Little yellow birdie, Streets of Florence


Cross in Sun

Cross in Sun

Actually, I knew one thing about Florence before going. You could find this guy there... and he is everywhere!

David in Shadow

David in Shadow


David on the wall

David on the wall

Thanks for reading my travel blog photo essay on Florence.

Photo essays - the last refuge of the lazy blogger.

Posted by GregW 06:25 Archived in Italy Tagged photography Comments (1)

I may not be from here, but I know where you are going.

Today, on my way home from work I had two (2) people ask me directions to some obscure place, and in both cases, I was able to direct them. One asked for directions to the Walkabout pub near Temple tube station, and the second to The Grand near Clapham Junction. In both cases, I was able to point them in the right direction. (Granted, both were bars, so perhaps I was at an advantage.)

I am always quite proud, as an immigrant, to be able to provide accurate directions.

Depsite my recent attempts to develop a more transatlantic accent (Judy, Judy, Judy), there is no doubt I still sound Canadian. I wonder sometimes what people think when they hear a foreign accent giving directions in London. Do they trust me? Do they abandon my pronouncement and ask the next person they see?

I hope they trust me, because I was two for two tonight.

Posted by GregW 12:45 Comments (0)

My Life at Gatwick

A short little experience of the life of Tom Hanks in The Terminal.

semi-overcast 15 °C

When you travel a lot, you get into a routine. I used to be able to pack in 10 minutes, walk out the door and never forget a thing. I stopped travelling frequently for business a few years ago. In my mind, though, I can still pack in 10 minutes. However, without the routine, I am forgetting things. Sometimes it is little things - toothpaste, a baggy for my liquids, sun glasses. Recently, though, I had a biggest issue yet. I got the airport and forgot my passport.

I was flying to Florence for a short break. I packed a bag, took some Euros, and even managed to print off the address and directions to my hotel. The next day I headed for the airport. 45 minutes and a train ride later, I was standing in line the Meridiana desk, looking at the folks ahead of me. They pulled out their passports, and I was suddenly gripped by an absolutely horrific thought. My passport was sitting on my dresser back in Battersea.

Panicking, I got a cab which cost me £70 to take me home and back to Gatwick. When it was clear I wouldn't make it back from my 9:45 flight, I got on the phone and rebooked an 11:25 flight. That cost me an additional £170. Before booking, I asked the driver if I could make an 11:25. "No problem," he said.

Problem - traffic. Arrived at Gatwick at 11:00 and the flight had closed. No amount of pleading could get them to switch their opinion. I even pulled out, "My poor 83 year old father is waiting for me in Florence." Sympathy from the folks at Easyjet, but basically got the stiff arm of "rules is rules."

Thoroughly confuddled, I finally booked the third flight of the day, costing me £230. It didn't leave until 19:55, meaning I had more than eight hours to kill before my next flight.

My immediate concern was getting in touch with my Dad and letting him know I wasn't going to be in Florence by 1 PM. I called home to Toronto, and fired off emails to numerous people in both Italy, England and Canada. It was a tense hour, but I was finally able to get in touch with my father at the hotel. Crisis averted, I finally relaxed for the first time in four hours. I looked at my watch - it was just before noon in London.

At that point, I decided to settle in and hang out for my eight hour wait. I couldn't check in for another six hours, so I was relegated to the amusements before security. They consisted, in the North terminal of Gatwick, of a pub, an arcade, a few shops and some seats with a TV on the BBC news.

Pub_and_Resting.jpg
Gatwick_Lounge.jpg
Chillin_at.._the_TV.jpg

So there I was, a pseudo Tom Hanks from the movie The Terminal, trapped in an airport and having to make his life there. I bought a copy of the Economist and pulled out a copy of a Gresham thriller that I had in my bad. I watched some TV, did some shopping, played some video games and had a meal and a few pints in the pub.

It was dull. I wouldn't recommend spending over 8 hours in Gatwick. It wasn't awful, but it was without any joy at all. Simply functional.

It wasn't until 6 PM, when I went to check in for my flight, that I finally realised I could have gotten on the train, spend 45 minutes on the train and spent most the day at home - or wandering around London or even hanging out in Brighton by the sea-side. The four hours of panic in booking, re-booking and re-re-booking flights, as well as trying to inform my father, had taken it all out of me. I had turned off my brain and hadn't even thought that I had 8 hours to get out the airport and get back to London.

It is, ultimately, more proof that perhaps I am losing my knack at travel. When I used to do it every week, I would have never forgotten anything, certainly not something as important as my passport. And missing a flight - or even two - I would have figured out a way to get to Florence quicker, or at least how to take advantage of a long layover.

I don't know how to feel about the series of mistakes I made that day in arranging travel. Part of me feels somewhat sad that I have lost my knack of travelling. And the other part, I am a little bit happy that I have settled enough in London that I no longer have that knack of travelling.

After so many years of consulting and travelling, it's almost like I am becoming a normal human being.

Posted by GregW 13:36 Archived in England Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

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