Saturday, 25 March 2023

Moody: the works

A list of links to all my non-tech writings:


Glanglish - all 
with audio versions

Travel writings


Introduction to Moody's Black Notebook Travels

I have two great regrets in my life.  One is eating a chicken sandwich in Varanasi, shortly before flying to Kathmandu.  This gave me the worst food poisoning I have ever experienced, nearly killed me, and meant that I missed a unique opportunity to visit Lhasa before it was turned into a Chinese Disneyland.  The other regret involves three Inter-rail trips that I made in 1979, 1980 and 1981.  They were extraordinarily rich in sights and experiences.  Stupidly, though, I did not keep a travel diary at that time, so all I have are vague, if important, memories of what I saw, thought and felt.

At least I was able to learn from these two huge blunders.  Afterwards, I no longer ate chicken sandwiches in exotic lands, and I kept travel diaries for all my major trips.  The latter took the form of black notebooks, bought from Ryman's, in two formats: one small enough to fit in a pocket, and another, slightly larger, that I kept in the travel bag I used for longer journeys. 

I now have dozens of these notebooks sitting behind me, filled with my illegible scrawl.  I have been meaning to turn them into digital texts for some years, and to bring them into the 21st century, but have never got around to it until now.  I am not transcribing them in any set order, but will place links to them below, as they go online, ordered chronologically.  There is no overall plan, no overall significance.  They are just what they are: quick thoughts jotted down in black notebooks, captured moments of a specific time and place.

1986 India I: Delhi, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri
1986 India II: Kashmir
1986 India III: Jaipur, Udaipur
1987 Italy
1991 Donegal - new post

1991 Donegal

1.4.91 Killybegs, Donegal

Sail Inn, Killybegs.  Nice too after a fraught day.  But a victory – over myself – not sulking, flying into sullen rage etc. - talked myself out of it – by talking.  Now in the bar, having ordered smoked eel and turbot for me.  Turbot with chili sauce – excellent delicate flavour – “very feminine” we agreed, compared to eh “masculine” halibut.  Home-made orange cheesecake after – total around I£40.  

Great place – out beyond Donegal – which looked tacky, full of holidaying yobs (patronising, moi?)  Out beyond Bruckless (where I am now).  Busy port – real boats there, lit up like mini Xmas trees: that sense of voyaging, of futurity (reminds me of Naxos, sitting on the harbourside, drinking ouzo – which I hate, then a typically Greek meal and wine…)

Deserted town (Easter Monday, after all), mercifully the Sail inn lights are on – and what a port in a storm (foul weather – typically Irish – and typical that I put on my spex…)  Through to the bar – walls covered with pix of Hollywood movie stars – old, faded images and advertising for films.  But not just one or two naff attempts – all the walls, covered in the stuff.  Nice demure waitress, loud birthday (?) party of large Irish women, and broken, red-faced men. 
Lovely view from the restaurant alongside – the harbour in the rain through the window, the room itself quiet.  Good food, great value.  A good end to a dodgy day.

In the drawing room, having had a coffee kindly offered here.  Anne gone to bed. Me left with the sizzling and spitting log fire – lovely smell in the air – reminds me of Lake Dal, and the houseboats.  Very quiet, very peaceful.  More about today, tomorrow – so to speak…

2.4.91 Bruckless House

7.45am waiting for brekkers (typically my watch battery has just gone…) The house name, parenthetically, derived from “Badger’s den” – Brock, that is…  So, after a fine night’s sleep – though the air was cold, the thick eiderdown was sumptuous – broken a couple of times towards dawn by baying dogs, and the crowing cock – I am ready for today in all its pewter-skyed greyness. I can now see the sea out the front, very still, very, well, grey.  A fine situation.

Yesterday: flight OK except that I am at the back of the non-smoking section – that is next to a smoking row – bastard.  Flight short, food nugatory.  To Shannon, pick up car (Corsaro? - new, 600 miles), into Ennis to Queen’s H
otel, where I wait for two and a half hours.  Because, yes, it turns out that Sister Anne is at another hotel, the main one of the town.  Luckily I eventually check these others out.  Stupid me: must give better rendezvous.

Then a race up to Donegal.  Countryside very green, very wet, air thick with rain.  Great for overtaking all the cautious drivers.  My spirits revive as we talk along the way.  Anne in good form, very happy – tired – and excited by her forthcoming trip to California – Oakland, San Francisco, to be precise.

Up through Sligo – which I barely saw, then past a cloudy Ben BulbenYeatsland – first glimpse of the sea – the Atlantic, which always raises my spirit – then having booked two rooms here, we look for somewhere to eat.  Donegal itself, pretty scrappy, so taking a chance, out to Sail Inn.  As above, great.

But then back to Bruckless for a near fruitless search for this place.  I phone – the phone dies on me – I phone again, get “directions” – end up down this mud track, with shadowy shape of a house – eventually I stagger in through the rain and ask – miraculously it is.  Worth searching for – a nice, homely sort of place.  Word-processed history by current owner – a few typos…  Read “The Field” – amazing rants about anti-hunting lobby… Terrible tracking.  The clock outside booms wonderfully – 8am – brekkers – the sound full of crazy overtones – like a gothic horror film.

Breakfast with four krauts – yes, we speak Deutsch.  Then out along to Killybegs, grey morning, rain again, but at Glencolumbkille the sun breaks through, hitting the white sea horses full on.  The sea powerful here, the sand a curious dark brown.  Lovely headland to the north,  St. Columbkille.  

Then towards Ardara, rocks glistening in the hills like diamonds on green velvet.  Glengesh Pass (Anne drawing), a great scoop down to Ardara.  Hillsides bright green on the north, sun showing texture to the south.  Sun hot on my neck, lovely pale blue sky.  Barely a car around.  Not actually Glengesh, but before it.  Through Ardara then out along the coast road to Narin.  Idyllic.  Huge, windswept beach, miles long, flat, hard, clean sand, only two other people there.  An island and various spits of land (one with ruins).  Water like turquoise glass, waves roaring in.  High sandbanks at the back of the beach.  Glorious.

Then up the N56, turning right along R252, then left to Churchill.  Magic road through boggy wilderness beauty.  No purples à la Lakes, all russets and browns.  Very narrow road – reminds me of New Zealand for some reason.  Also Hardknott Pass.  But glorious too, the hills rearing up around us, the lakes, tarns etc.  Then along to here, the Glenveagh National Park.  In the restaurant – covered in growing grass.  Anne drawing again, me with the words.  Sun blazing down.  Did someone say “Selig”…?

By bus to the Castle on the Loch.  Fine, steep garden – lots of garden statues – fairly corny, but sanctified y time – Natures always beautifies, whereas Man so often subtracts.  Then we walk through to the viewpoint.  Stunning image – which Anne is drawing on the spot, so I must try to describe (cold – can’t hold pen…)

A gateway – two stone banks, grey doors with lion mask knockers.  This frames a path, straight, down to the water, turbulent, with angry white horses (cf. The Edda…)  And in the middle, framed by it all, one tree, perfect imperfect Nature.  The wind strong, the sun clear, the sky cloudy and blue jumbled up.

Down to the sat by the Lough.  Staggering in its raw, harmonious beauty.  Pines to my right, d’Annunzio, a valley far ahead, pure Lakes.  But the clarity of the ridge opposite is uniquely Donegal on a spring day in the sun.  The spume on the lake driven into long lines of natural spittle, like veins of silica in granite.  A great herd of clouds thunders in.  To my right, through the pines, water met by golden straw-coloured grass on the fell, caught by the sun.  

Along to the Bloody Foreland headland – through rain, to be greeted by brilliant stone-hard sunshine.  I always seem to be going north along the coast with Anne.  In the north-west corner: below us, the sea like cream, bands of it flooding in.  A lone house, three chimneys, two windows, 50 yards from the sea, then two others nearby.  To the south west, low-backed islands vanish into the haze.  The sea granite-grey.  Further back a stream so rich in colour, it looked like coffee.  Through Gortahork, then Dunfanaghy.

3.4.91 Rathmullan 

Both rather dull.  At Falcarragh, I ring the hotel in Rathmullan – Fort Royal – and book two rooms.  Then inland, across to Kilmacrenan for tea and scones in a half echt, half ersatz cottage – reminds me of the The Maltings at Snape – their tea room by the road, all wood and darkness.  Then through the flattening countryside to Rathmullan – beautiful location, alongside Lough Swilly.  Book table at Waterside Restaurant. 

Long walk along huge strand here – couple of miles long, perhaps.  Sand incredibly smooth – the absence of large waves in this tidal lough means few sand ridges.  Lovely firm texture with slight “give”.  Sun strong, low in the sky through the trees, wind keen.  The breakers a constant litany.

Hotel a fine old Georgian (?) place, nicely done up, very cosy.  A thousands daffodils in front of the hotel, a sea of yellow, plus a grand old tree – dunno what (die Schmach) – but looking like a baobab upside down…

Then along to the restaurant.  Lovely situation, hanging out over the water.  But a couple of disappointments.  I wanted oysters: apparently these are kept in beds outside the restaurant – and couldn’t be reached because of “spring high tide” non è vero...  Then we couldn’t sit by the window “because Rathmullen town council were eating/meeting here, and we [the hotel] have a planning application for ten luxury houses before them…”.  Se non è vero...  The starter a little uninspired (warm fruits de mer), the sole nice but small.  The apple crumble from a jar – but the Stilton in port good.  A nice dry Graves to complement.  I was about to go for a walk (at 7.30pm).  Good job I didn’t: the heavens have opened quite suddenly again.  

So, with the exception of Northern Ireland, I’ve done this land pretty much.  So where will I buy my country retreat?  I think it has to be Keel on Achill Island.  There felt like the end of Europe (it’s not, quite).  There was stunningly beautiful: huge, unspoilt beach, low houses clustered round it.  Huge cliffs rearing up either side.  Unspoilt, untouched land to the north.  Probably only two hours’ drive (at worst) from Shannon.  One day perhaps…

What a day…  Driving most of it.  To Donegal, Sligo, Galway.  Rain then sun, constantly repeated.  Ben Bulben majestic, its folds like the skin of a whale.  Big mistake: (a) me (I) was trying for a restaurant in a cave at Ballyvaughan (b) no comfort stop, meaning bladder bursting time.  Poor Anne: my driving became more and more desperate, down tiny country lanes. Alas, I missed the brilliant scenery here.  I was conscious only of pain…

Finally get to Ballyvaughan – saw sign for the Aillwee Cave: 4 miles.  Outside the town: one mile.  Then half a mile – each time, a further tease.  Then, within striking distance, what do I see, but precisely what my worst fear was: a flooded road.  I had had visions of the car stalling in the middle of nowhere; here was my chance.  Luckily a bloke said it was OK – and funnily enough, I trusted him.  And it was.  But no toilets in sight – had recourse to desperate measures.

Went up to the cave – restaurant nugatory, deeply tacking – stuffed with bleedin’ toy bears, god knows why.  We not.  To Gregans Castle, lovely Georgian House – who served us lunch.  Alas, time was running out.  I had home-made soup – mushroom – reminds me of an earlier time.  Interesting and impressive: they offered to tell a JCB outside to shut up if I wanted.  Fine view of The Burren – amazing rocks (I was reading a book about the geomorphology of Ireland at the hotel in Rathmullen).  Then a fairly rapid drive to here, arriving 4.55pm – one hour to spare.  

In the lounge now – surrounded by US Airborne Services in their desert camouflages – plus lots of scruffily-dressed Russians (from where? To where? - I noticed an Aeroflot desk in the hall).  Strange study in contrasts...

Thursday, 16 March 2023

2023 Bilbao


By the cathedral in the old town.  The smell of drains, and a light rain falling.  A characteristic feature of the houses in this district is the glassed-in balconies – like Turkey and Georgia.  Strange to see them here.

Up early today – 5am – then along to the station to take the train to Gatwick.  Which as delayed, and made things more of a rush than usual.  Flight left late but arrived early – only just over 90 minutes.  Bilbao is near, geographically, but so far culturally, linguistically – which is why I am here, albeit for a flying three-day visit.  To see a place I have heard so much of, with its wonderful, mystifying singleton language.

To the River Nervión, by the huge Erribera merkatua, supposedly the largest covered market in Europe.  Makes me think back to Tashkent and the Chorsu building, and forward to the great central Asian markets I hope to see soon in Dushanbe and Khujand.  The church of St Anthony with its wonderfully uneven blocks of stone, the old bridge nearby. The main market has closed for the day, but the smell of fresh fish smacks you in the face as you enter.  One side full of bars and cafés, most offering the local pintxos – Basque tapas.

A walk along the river, shadowed by trams and (electric) buses, to the Teatro Arriaga.  Alas, at the moment there is only Hansel and Gretel playing, which I have no desire to sit through, even for the sake of seeing the interior.  The outside is enough – over the top French empire style [Wikipedia says "neo-baroque"].

Arriaga is a fascinating figure. Often called the Spanish Mozart, he was more the Spanish Schubert – he only lived 20 years (1806-1826), and coincides with Schubert, not Mozart.  Pretty much forgotten immediately after his death, that has had the happy consequence that the only editions of his works that survive are modern, and freely downloadable.  Sad that we’ve lost quite a few works, but the string quartets plus Overture Opus 20 give a hint of what he could do – and could have done.

On the metro to Indautxu – mostly to validate my 72-hour city pass – only 20 euros.  Metro modern, but with a design quirk: you enter above the two tracks, then descend stairs to the platform you want.  Curious to see the trains under you, with only a low wall.  Signage in the carriages not very good – Barcelona’s far better.  But very cheap – 80 cents with an oyster-type card used by most.

North to the Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park, domainted by the looming and rather incongruous Iberdrola Tower – all 40 floors of it.  The park reminded me of the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont made from a quarry in Paris – similarly slopping.  Indeed, much of Bilbao is hilly – part of its charm.

Now sitting in La Baguerie, a modest little café near Moyúa, which is the centre of the modern part of the city – and where the bus for the airport departs from.  Feels like Saturday, with lots of people out shopping, especially ladies of a certain age.  Nearby the incredible Txabarri Palace – a kind of Basque gothic.  Also nearby the gleaming Iglesia de San José de la Montaña – which is particularly striking when viewed with the Ibendrola Tower in the background.

Back in the old town, which really bustling.  To the Plaza Barria (New Square), which is like a small version of the Plaça Reial in Barcelona – complete with palm trees.  Lots of children here, in contrast to the wrinklies I saw out shopping.  Strong wind getting up, but warm – temperature around 21°C
, compared with London’s miserable 7°C…

Back to room to recover, then out into the seething streets – lots of people out drinking, eating.  Great atmosphere.  Along to the nearby Café Lago – I’m too tired to wander far.  Has good reviews and indeed has great buzz.  One thing that surprises me: no one has switched to English when I try to communicate – badly – in Spanish.  Also, I can’t say I’ve heard any Basque, but maybe I’m not attuned to it significantly.  First glass of txakoli – the local white Basque wine.  Very slightly fizzy, but not too much. Nice.

After supper, out along the river towards the Guggenheim.  Lots of people out – and broad embankments just made for walking.  Past the bridge that looks amazingly like the one in Bratislava.  The on to the huge shapes of the road bridge by the Guggenheim, the Guggenheim itself, and the Iberdrola skyscraper.  The Guggenheim not lit up as I expected, but glorious nonetheless.  Then back to the hotel with the tram, getting off at Arriaga.  Walking back through the narrow streets of the old town, there are so many people out drinking and eating pintxos that the level of noise was that of a small, crowded pub.  Lovely end to a great day.

(The cathedral bell strikes ten...)


On the tram to the Guggenheim.  Such a civilised way to travel.  Ripping them out in the UK was such a stupid move…  A grey day, with rain threatened for most of it – typical for Bilbao, apparently.  Outside the Guggenheim, under intermittent rain.  Cloudy, but bright.  The Iberdrola Tower stands sternly nearby.

Inside.  Standing at the centre of the huge Richard Serra artworks – an enormous spiral of metal – surprisingly claustrophobic as you go round and round – perhaps because the walls are so high, and inward-leaning.  And the fact that there is no quick way out.  The long, undulating ones feel like tiny canyons, and remind me of that feeling created watching the film 127 hours… This gallery is amazing because it is so big – you rarely get to experience space in this way, and the artworks articulate that space brilliantly.  Great demonstration of that: I got lost – or rather lost my sense of orientation, and walked back to the entrance thinking it was the end.

A huge Jenny Holzer installation, with nine illuminated strips rising in a giddying fashion.  All in Basque.  Now Spanish.  Very weird effect of the floor sinking… perhaps because the texts move in perfect sync.  One side is in Basque, the other in Spanish.  One blue, one red.  Both hypnotic.  Oh, now in English…

Climbing the stairs, the interior looks like a modern version of one of Piranesi’s prisons – all odd angles, stairs, windows, metal.

In Room 202, a witty four photos by Thomas Struth – Audience 06, showing tourists staring at something in Florence – they look up, so a statue maybe.  Nice to see the watchers watched.  They look posed, but aren’t…

In the upper galleries, “classical” Abstract Expressionism.  Amazing sculpture by Chillida – whom I knew of, but not as a Basque.  A huge, brain-shaped rock, richly veined like cheese, pierced by perfectly smooth square openings, in three dimensions.  Wonderful.  As I climbed up here, looking down, the Guggenheim suddenly felt like La Sagrada Familia.  Interesting echoes.

My feet begin to hurt.

On the way out, popped in to the temporary Miró exhibition – his Paris years.  Lots of good stuff; also lots of meh stuff…  Quite busy here now.

On the tram, straight to Ribera, then into the market for pintxos and wine.  Market open – that fish smell… Great atmosphere here in the food section.  Out to find alcohol – not for now, but to take back.  The light txokali, of course, plus a Navarran/Basque liquor, Patxaran, made with sloes. BM Supermercado well stocked.

Then past Arriaga Theatre, over the bridge and the along the main shopping street – 
Gran Vía de Don Diego López de Haro – Bilbao’s Oxford Street/Champs Elysee.  Past Moyúa, along Ercilla Kalea – pedestrianised, reminds me of the similar street in Barcelona near La Sagrada (Avenue de Gaudi). Past the Pompidou Centre-like Bizkaia Plaza to here, the very odd Azkuna Zentroa Alhóndiga Bilbao.  Famous for its weird squat columns.  Currently sporting a huge red sun in close up, flames shooting out, projected on to a huge screen hung over a large empty enclosed space.  Always terrifying to think that’s what the sun is doing…  Wandering around, just noticed that there is a swimming pool – above us, with vague human forms visible as they pass over the translucent floor panels.  Spooky…

In the evening, off to the 
Euskalduna concert hall.  Easy – tram all the way.  So I go to Arriaga, the tram comes, we all get on – and the driver tells us all to get out.  It goes no further today, not clear why.  So along to the metro, up to Deustu.  Down to the river, over the bridge – which reminds me strongly of Bratislava – past the huge rusty iron wall of the concert hall – they do love their iron here, one reason Serra was able to go big on it.  Sitting by the bar in the slightly fresh wind, going in soon.

The concert hall has a really interesting design.  Basically, it’s a huge steel box inside the outer steel box.  Internally, it is covered in a rich golden-brown wood.  Unusually, the side seats are in pews – big sections enclosed on all sides.  I’m at the front of one, since I thought I’d have more leg room, but not with this huge wall I won’t… Fab view, though.  Lots of old people here – well, my age.  Not many young ‘uns.

Programme began with George WalkerLyric for Strings.  Very strong double basses – maybe all that wood.  Performance slightly spoiled by two noises.  First, just before the conductor began, a man blew his nose very sonorously.  Then, during the quieter passages could be heard squeaky voices coming from the headphones of the two camera operators – of which there were at least five in total.  People started moving to get away from it…

After the Walker, Adams’s Dr Atomic Symphony.  I’d only listened to this a couple of times, before, and this performance was much more convincing.  Perhaps because the conductor was a young (black) USian, Roderick Cox.  Worked for me…  Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances good too – bass and brass really belting it out.

After the concert, the rain was bucketing down.  But – miracle – people were waiting at the tram stop, suggesting that trams existed.  And they did, so tram to Arriaga for me, back to my room – and to bed.


To the Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao.  Early rain giving way to broken clouds and sun.  The museum is free.  Nice mixture of old and new.  Van Dyck Lamentation of dead Christ – great study in downward sloping diagonals.  A roomful of dark Goya prints “A rain of bulls”…  Interesting that there are no explanations in English – only Basque and Spanish.  Nice Ribera of San Sebastian cured by holy women.  Striking how many people around here look like figures from a Ribera painting…  Upstairs to a room with two Ruisdaels – one print, one pic.  I haven’t seen his stuff for years.  Still love it.  The painting a wood at dusk – very romantic – no figures, just twisted and broken trees, the usual pond.  Very atmospheric, very moody, dare I say…

Fab Orazio Gentileschi – Lot and his daughters – Lot in red, the daughters in yellow and blue, lots of pink flesh – legs, arms, and breasts – the ladies exploding out of their dresses.  Strong upward diagonal.  Painted in London, apparently.  A sad, tiny figure of Lot’s wife, turned into a microscopic pillar of salt as punishment for turning around to look at the burning city of Sodom.

A room with a horrible twisted gob of meat in the corner – yes, a Francis Bacon.  I avoid looking at it in order to preserve my mental health…  A very unusual Zurbaran, of St Catherine of Alexandria, looking very stern, and yet childlike too.  An interesting work by Xabier Morras, showing the Underground station exit in Holborn.  1969, with suitably old car models.  Number plate DLP 126C – I wonder who was in the car when that photo was taken. Where were they going, what were they doing?  Now that moment has been caught in art, whatever it was…

A video explains the massive buildings works underway outside: they are adding a huge new wing.  At least I think that’s what the video said: it was all in Basque when I saw it, so I had to grab the few words I knew there…  Down to the river, sitting by the Guggenheim, its huge canopy before me.  Lots of people out, lots of dogs.  Weather clearing.

After lunch, on the metro to Areeta metro station down by the sea – quite a long journey, but easy.  Going to see Vizcaya Bridge, the weird gondola contraption there.  From the metro down to the river, where I see the huge gantry spanning it.  For some reason best known to the Basques/Spaniards, the overhead walkway is closed from 2pm to 4pm (lunch for the lift person?).  So I take the gondola for 50 cents.  Short, sweet, and rather surreal.

Then walk out to here, under the mini lighthouse.  Lots of motor boats in the harbour, smell of the sea.  Reminds me of a similarly long, hot walk out to the harbour in Valencia some years back.  Not  much to see here, just the opposite bank, and the sea to my left.  Not many boats moving.

Since the lift man clearly won’t come back early, no walk across the gantry fro me.  To Moyúa for a quick coffee and bun before trying to find the Artxanda Funicular.  Which was not easy, and led me through various insalubrious parts of Bilbao – I knew this from the quantity of dog poo everywhere: in “nice” areas, people pick it up and put it in dinky little bags.  Not here.

Finally I find the funicular station, where I was able to use my 72-hour city card.  Trip only a minute or so, view good.  In fact, the park at the top looks exactly like the one in Bratislava – sans castle.  Overcast now, but still pleasantly warm.

A lone raptor floats over the city – looks big.  Reminds me of the eagles flying of the Caucasus when I was up by Gergeti church

From here I can pick out the landmarks I know: the cathedral, Arriaga theatre, the bridges, Guggenheim, Ibedrola Tower, the concert hall of last night.  Not bad work for three days…

Back in the hotel.  At 7pm a deranged carillon emerges from the nearby cathedral.  Truly demented, rather wonderful.  


Up early for the trip to the airport.  Out in search of breakfast.  I love walking through old cities before everyone else is up.  Here reminds me of Venice, which I once took a stroll in at 6am when I was on a press trip there. To the Plaza Barria, the Café
 Bar Bilbao, one of the few places open at this time.  The wind is rising: the palm trees shake dramatically.

As ever, I arrive at the airport far too early, unable to check in.  In fact, checking in was not part of the plan: my ticket is hand luggage only.  It was when I was packing the two bottles of Basque alcohol – the txakoli and Patxaran – that I realised I can’t take these through security.  Various alternatives run through my mind – drinking them now? – tricky, no corkscrew – giving them to the maid?  In the end, I went online and added the case as hold luggage.  Not perfect, but doable.  My fear was partly that I wouldn’t find equivalents in duty free (and looks like I was right).

An amusing social experiment at the check in.  The departure board said desks 23 and 24 could be used, and a few people were already queuing for 23, so I went to 24.  But as more people arrived, they saw many queuing for 23, and only me for 24, so joined 23, making it longer, evidently assuming that I had made a mistake.  I had a choice: stick it out in 24, and risk being forced to go to the back of 23, shamefacedly – or join 23 now.  I decided that if they gave two desks, there would be two desks.  And so it proved, happily.  But quite a tense few minutes there…

My one regret for this trip is that I heard so little Basque spoken.  In fact, the only occasions when I heard more than the odd sentence was in the announcement at the start of the concert yesterday, which told us to switch our phones off.  It’s true that practically every public sign – and even most ads – use both languages.  But it’s sad that more people don’t take pride in and use their amazing linguistic heritage.

Monday, 6 February 2023

2023 Paris


Sitting in the Bastille Opera, watching Tristan und Isolde – on a TV screen…  We got here early, at just after 6pm, since the performance was starting at 7pm.  Except it wasn’t – it started at the crazy time of 6pm.  And they weren’t letting in anyone until the interval…

I seem cursed with Tristan: the first (and only) time I saw it at the Royal Opera House, Jon Vickers was Tristan.  Brilliant...except that before the start of the 3rd act, he decided he had a sore throat, and wasn’t going to sing any further.  One man in the audience cried out “money back” after the announcement, and before we went straight to the Liebestod, with a stand-in (lie-in) sprawled on the ground as Isolde sang over him.

Tonight’s performance was the main reason for this quick visit to Paris, but fortunately we’ve done much else besides.  Arriving with the super-convenient Eurostar – one of my favourite ways to travel – Thursday afternoon, we walked around the Bastille area, where our rented flat was located.  I don’t know this part too well, so it was good to see this different slice of Paris.  Lots of fine sandstone buildings, broad boulevards with high apartments on either side – often six storeys high.

On Friday, to the Musée national des arts asiatiques Guimet.  Shockingly, this is the first time I’d been here.  Clearly, a really fine collection, with some masterpieces from various Asian cultures.  But a bit of a labyrinth – I found it hard to create any kind of thread moving through it.  We’d come partly for the special exhibition of Afghan art.  Which turned out to be fabrics.  Nice enough, but nothing special.  Some of the videos in the exhibition were – because of the stunning landscapes of Band-e-Amir (I think, searching for them afterwards online), used as backgrounds.  This was reinforced when, on the way out, we discovered another Afghan exhibition – about French archaeological excavations there.  Again, some stunning pix of glinting azure tiles and towers, including the amazing Minaret of Jam.  Pity that it’s unlikely I’ll ever get to see them first-hand.

In the afternoon, to the Musée de Cluny. Another one that I’d somehow failed to visit before.  To be fair, this was closed for restoration the times I did try.  Ultimately, I found the relentless medieval art a little oppressive and – dare I say it? - boring.  Some stuff not bad, but really so circumscribed in its range.

In the evening, a meal with friends in a Peruvian restaurant near Bastille.  Interesting flavours, but painfully small portions – and hideously expensive.  The sum involved was particularly obscene because nearby our flat there is a homeless bloke that we have to pass every day.  The contrast between the meal and the man was painful.

Today, to Place des Vosges, and Victor Hugo’s house.  Or rather a reconstruction of it.  Place des Vosges has always been one of my favourite spots in the city – so balanced, civilised, so French.  Hugo’s house had plenty of good stuff.  I was struck by a painting of Hugo and his son.  Particularly the tight grip that Hugo had of his son, as if preventing him from fleeing.  Very weird, disturbing.

The along to Musée Cognacq-Jay, concentrating on art of the eighteenth century – lot of young ladies with fashionable grey hair, and carelessly-exposed bosoms.  Soft porn for aristocrats.  Best pix were two Canalettos, one that I didn’t recognise, of the canal of Santa Chiara, with unusual blind brick walls – not something you see much of in Venice.

Then later to here, where I now sit watching a rather static production of Tristan und Isolde – the singers sitting on a bench, while above them are projected “relevant” images – of a stormy sea that could be Cornwall, and also a man and a woman – Tristan and Isolde, I presume – taking their clothes off – all of them.  Afterwards, lots of water splashing around, so I supposed this was some kind of ritual cleansing.  As far as I can tell from the tinny sound of the TV, tonight's singers are quite good.  I’ll be interested to hear them in the flesh when they deign to let us in…

Despite this little mishap, it’s always good to be back in Paris – and it’s very much “back.  It’s the only city that feels the equivalent of London – like some parallel world instantiation – different in details, but the same overall.  Been using the metro extensively – so much cheaper than the Tube, and more convenient in that the stations are closer together.  But it is, I have to concede, dirtier and stinkier than London’s…  Lots of cyclists here thanks to the Green mayor, Anne Hidalgo.  French drivers still bonkers.

I have noticed – too late – that there an exhibition of Uzbek art at the Louvre, but I don’t think we’ll be able to fit it in before we go back tomorrow.  Still, saw plenty last year.  I hope that I make it back to the region in the summer as planned.  I’m a bit concerned that we have learned nothing from Covid, and are about to go through a bird flu pandemic – it already seems to be jumping between species, and yet it isn’t even on governments’ radar.  We shall see…


This Eurostar lounge in 
Gare du Nord always feels like a bridgehead of the UK – probably because it only goes to London, and thus, in some sense, is already part of it...

A gentle morning with friends in the 19th, including a walk around Parc des Buttes-Chaumont.  Unusual because of its extremely steep gradients – and because it is completely artificial, built in a stone quarry (hence the gradients).  Reminds me that this is one big difference with London, which has hundreds of parks, big and small, whereas Paris has far fewer in the centre.  

Last night was, well, interesting.  After waiting an hour and a half in the bar area, we were allowed in, for Act II of the opera.  Which basically consists of Tristan and Isolde saying “I love you” for an hour, followed by King Mark saying “I’m really sad you betrayed me” to Tristan, followed by ten seconds of Tristan running on to Melot’s sword (bizarrely, a couple of outstretched fingers in this production…).

After the second interval, I finally heard Act III of Tristan und Isolde live – undoubtedly my favourite bit.  The opening chords, deep in the bass – Bb minor, with an added G resolving upwards – followed by violins climbing up and up into the musical stratosphere – get me every time.  But hearing it live is something else: no hi-fi can quite capture the low graininess of the opening chord on the strings, or the soaring, glittering ascent of the violins.

After that, the wonderfully plangent cor anglais – always makes me think of Sibelius’ “Swan of Tuonela”, doubtless inspired by Tristan and the sounds of Act III's opening.  Then we have Tristan dying for an hour, followed by the big tune – “Mild und leise” in which Isolde dies slightly more quickly.  The staging again very static, the projected images again involving lots of water, culminating in a reasonable transfiguration and ascension with the upward stream of drops.  The end – audience goes mad in the annoying way they do.  We leave.  To be fair, the voices were pretty good – especially Isolde and Kurwenal.  Tristan was good too, but the effect rather spoilt by his bantam-like body – all belly and no legs – which was embarrassing when supine, which he was for most of Act III.

But opera is such a crazy experience anyway – and Wagner even more so.  Thousands of people sit almost motionless for four hours, watching this improbable Tristan and slightly more probable Isolde, singing this lush version of an old tale.  In many way, this incredible coming-together – of ancient Celtic, romantic German and contemporary Parisian – was the most touching aspect of the evening.  It underlined to me why the Musée Guimet and the Musée de Cluny had left me cold: they lacked this incredible complexity and richness.  Similarly, the Canalettos in the Musée Cognacq-Jay spoke to me because they were Venice and “Walks with Lorenzetti” and all that these imply and touch on for my life.

This Paris trip – perhaps my tenth – re-affirms how important the central points of European culture are for me, and how familiar they feel when I encounter them.  And for that I am grateful…

Thursday, 26 January 2023

2023 Barcelona


Sitting in the splendid cathedral in the Gothic Quarter.  The wild, interlocking arches look like something out of Piranesi.  Lots of chapels filled with gilded polyptychs.  The Gothic area looks like Venice without the canals.  Lots of high buildings squeezing narrow alleyways beneath.  Glorious day, cold but sunny.  Cloisters complete with geese.  Bells boom.

In the Plaça del Rei.  Strange construction in one corner with rows of empty arches, the Mirador del Rei Martí – reminds me of the 
Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana in Rome, as used in Greenaway's “Belly of an Architect”.  Already a few guided tour groups.  Must be hell in summer.

Good to be back in this civilised city.  The third time for me – once, 40 years ago, when I came here on my Interrailing.  Don’t remember much of that, except the then rather run-down Gothic area.  Now it is all splendidly restored, like everywhere in the city.  The second time was just before Covid struck, when I gave a talk to LIBER, the library association, in the Maritime Museum.  Managed to see the great Picasso Museum – still remember his amazing variations on “Las Meninas”.

Flew in yesterday evening – just one hour 40 minutes from Gatwick.  Picked up by taxi, efficiently, to our flat near Entença.  Strange design in what were probably warehouses, nicely converted with lots of exposed brickwork.  Went out for a meal in C
afé Bassy, very near.  Felt almost exactly the same as the little café in Rue Dauphine.  Big portions, good Rioja, from a freshly opened bottle.  Neither of us could remember the Spanish word for “glass” (copa).  Very interesting to see Catalan signs everywhere, but more Spanish spoken, I think.  (The service in the cathedral was in Catalan).  On the way back, bought fab strawberries, grapes and apples from a fruttivendola – local produce, presumably.  Good quality.

This morning, by metro to here.  Modern, clean, efficient – and very extensive.  Unlike London or Paris, the metro is more of a mesh.  Very good value – paid 11 euros for 10 trips – less than a quid each.  Eating churros, decent coffee.

Now in Els Quatre Gats.  Rather nice, even if a famous tourist hotspot.  Quiet, only half the tables occupied, suitably cool jazz playing.  Lovely tiles, ceramics, paintings, photos (black and white).  Strange bowls on the wall with chunks missing of the rim: not broken, because the pattern stops.  Clearly functional… Food OK, nothing special, but ambience good.

At the airport yesterday, and a first for me.  Seeking to avoid the usual queue, we went to one side as directed, to scan our passports automatically.  So far, so normal.  But the scanning unit also wanted our fingerprints.  Needless to say, this failed abysmally, and took two or three minutes to sort.  So much for automation…

Sitting on the steps by the port, the sun low in the sky in front of us.  Obscenely big motor cruisers before us, a monstrous cruise liner in the distance.  The thin wires of the Telefèric del Port visible with the cars passing now and then.  Wind strong, quite cold.  Lots of people out, taking their passeggiata.  

Before, went along to MACBA, the big white museum of modern art.  Looks like Centre Pompidou, but with only its white underwear on.  Didn’t go in, because I have Bilbao and the Guggenheim in a month or so.

Waiting for the  Telefèric lift – queue not too bad.  Reminds me of Bratislava…  Slow and beautiful slide across the harbour, Barcelona laid out like a map.  Reminds me of Hong Kong, although much less elevation in the buildings.  Sagrada Familia dominates the scene.

When we arrive at the other station, on Montjuic, the wind had risen, and the temperature fell as a result.  But the view great – almost identical to that from Bratislava castle, although the details were obviously different.  The problem was how to get down to the nearby metro Paral·lel.  After wandering around for a while, we came across a taxi, and took it down to the metro, which proved further away than it seemed on the map.  On the way back, got on the train going the wrong way – I claim the signage was misleading…

Barcelona confirms itself as a great, flourishing city.  Lots to see and do, and everything working well.  London is obviously a greater city, but it is far more unequal, with evident dysfunctions.  Still, Barcelona is clearly a fab place to visit, as it has been for many years.


Sitting in Santa Maria del Mar: fabulous. Soaring columns, raw stone, very spacious.  Mottled rock makes the view incredibly varied, adds to sense of something built, block by block.

Up to another glorious day, then on the metro to Diagonal.  Streets quiet, even more impressive because Passeig de Gràcia is pedestrianised in the middle, with traffic creeping by shamefacedly.  To La Pedrera, first of an intensely Gaudiesque day for us.  Fairly restrained for Gaudí, only the ironwork of the balconies out of control.  Unlike Casa Batlló – totally bonkers, with frightening Venetian masks on the balconies, weird alien eyes behind.  The roof even more insane. The other buildings in this fine boulevard are inventive with their crowns and pepperpots.  The street feels like Champs-Élysées with better architecture.  Down past Plaça de Catalunya, then walking towards here through the Gothic quarter.  The amazing Antic Theatre – equally crazy.  Clearly something in the air here.  The backstreets remind me strongly of Venice again…

Amazing the columns by the altar of Santa Maria del Mar: eight thin pillars holding up the roof.  Bare for two thirds, then fluting up to the centre.  All sturdy octagonal pillars, with tiny, barely pointed arches between them at the top.

On the metro, to La Sagrada.  Already booked ticket for 2.30pm, plus trip up Passion tower.  So until then, along to Granier café nearby. Honest little place, basic fare.  Better than nearby La Sagrada, with its huge heaving crowds.  Madness.  Dread to think how it is in peak season.  Looked in estate agents, prices here very cheap (compared to London…).  But more generally, things are cheap here – food etc.  Very liveable as a city.

On the  Telefèric yesterday, the curve of the beach emerged clearly.  Another remarkable aspect of Barcelona – it has a good beach nearby.  I can’t think of another major city that has all the facilities of Barcelona, and a beach, plus the ancient quarter.  San Francisco has the first two, but not the last.  And here, the mountains are not far away, either…  A city that has everything…

Back past La Sagrada – you forget just how massive it is, how it looms over everything.  And the main tower is still unfinished – it will be so tall…. Up along the Avenida de Gaudí – lovely pedestrianised area, full of people out in the sun.  Strangely, reminds me of Armenia, Vazgan Sargsyan Street leading to the main Republic Square in Yerevan.  Up to Sant Pau – not quite Gaudi, but extravagant.  The old hospital being converted to galleries – even more of them, in a city already well endowed.  Another reason to return.

In La Sagrada.  Insane levels of security – full airport scans of clothes and person.  Inside, impressively high nave, with jagged angels on high, tree-like branches on top of the columns.  Gaudy (sic) colours stream through the stained glass windows – oranges, reds, greens, blues, geometric shapes that probably represent something.  The altar unimpressive – the canopy over the crucifix looks like a circus big top.  Indeed, the whole place is close to tipping over into the vulgar.  Perhaps the external view is best to dwell on…

Up the tower.  Views OK, nice to see the other towers being built.  But the overall feel is still that it is the view from outside that will impress, not the interior, once everything is finished.  Even the outside is spoilt (IMHO) by the words built on the surface of the building – they look like ads.  Descending inside the tower was a good reminder of the reality of heights, all-too hidden by lifts.  The 400 steps down the spiral staircase went on for ever; the central void that went from top to bottom – no guard rail – was quite stunning.

Perhaps the most telling moment was at 3pm, when the bells struck: four times for on the hour, three for the time itself.  At least the bells were good.  Nope: as we moved through the tower, we saw there were no bells, only loudspeakers.  It was all recorded…

A long walk along Passeig de Sant Joan to the Arc de Triomf – which looked rather Indian to my eyes.  Then on the metro to here, the Plaça Reial, for a drink in perhaps the most civilised square here.  The sun still visible on the eastern side, illuminating the tops of the palm trees...

Sunday, 20 November 2022

2022 Bratislava


Sitting in the Františkánske námestie next to the main square, with the Jesuit Church to my right.  Still early, few people around – but not quite as dead as Stavanger.  Arrived 11pm last night, on 11/11, in room 11 of Beigli Hotel, very central.  Car picked me up at the airport after a full flight (Ryanair) from an incomprehensibly busy Stansted… Driving in, the roads looked modern and immaculate: the EU has been good to Slovakia.

My hotel in Baštová ulica, the narrowest street here.  Going west, towards the castle, surprising number of derelict buildings.  Very typically middle European – baroque buildings, paved squares, no grass.  Sun shining, showing the city to best effect.

Down to the Hviezdoslavovo námestie, by the national theatre.  A red tram rumbles by – Bratislava is a city wise enough to have trams.  Both this and the other main square rather spoilt by the tacky little kiosks that are being installed for the Xmas fairs here soon.  Golden leaves everywhere on the ground – autumn in full swing.  Seems to suit Bratislava…

By the DanubeThe. Danube.  To my left the Old Bridge, and the Apollo Bridge, to my right the UFO tower where I hope to go.  Being here makes me think of other Danubes – in Vienna, in Budapest – and other rivers such as the one in Riga - the Daugava
.  Sun is reflected on the waters, blindingly – and inevitably makes me think of Luxor, Karnak, and Ra

The wind whipping along the Danube's banks.  Leaves piled up against the stone balustrade.  A few runners out.  And who can blame them? - a morning run along the Danube – what's not to like…?  

Up on the observation platform of the UFO tower by the Danube.  Best views of Bratislava, especially on a sunny day like today.  A band of fog/smoke rolls down behind the castle.  On the horizon to the north, the radio tower – reminds me of Tbilisi.  To my right, the new skyscraper of Eurovea – not too intrusive.  The Apollo Bridge clearly visible.  Out to the east, huge chimneys belching smoke/steam, surrounded by the miasma of their own making.  South, a forest of Soviet-style flats – looks like Hong Kong, but without the insane density or ambition.

Disturbingly, the tower shakes slightly from time to time.  As did that crazy youth hostel I stayed in – Vienna, I think – which was located in a church bell tower.  Smog is beginning to form – Bratislava has this problem like bigger cities.  Although from up here, the city is bigger than I expected, and clearly growing, not least in the business area to the east.  I have to say the castle looks sad: it has lost its lustre and gleam, and needs re-painting…  The odd, long barge plies the Danube. 

Back across the vaguely shaking bridge, then east along the Danube, searching for Moyzes Hall, where there is a concert tonight at 7pm of contemporary music.  Took me ridiculously long time to find it, just before the old bridge.  Then up Štúrová to the Hummel Museum.  Not to see the museum, but to buy a ticket for the concert (10 euros).  To Hlavné námestie, also spoilt by Xmas booths (empty).  More people around – at least 30. Noticeable how many smoke here…

In the Koliba Kamzik restaurant.  Ironically, this is part of the Hotel Perugia, which I nearly chose to stay in.  More central, but Hotel Beigli looked better overall.  Very heavy pork menu – and I really don't want to eat such intelligent creatures.  So after 
(less intelligent) rooster soup, I chose (less intelligent) duck pierogies, with a glass of Slovenian red – Frankovka modrá.  Vaguely rustic ambience in the restaurant, came recommended by the Bradt Travel guide, another excellent tome in this series.

For dessert, a conventional strudel, but accompanied by the infamous Tatratea – actually a highly alcoholic liqueur – but only the weak one – 44%, not the "outlaw" version, which is 72%.  Pretty much like other strong liqueurs of this kind.

Time for some culture.  To the Central European House of Photography – 5 euros.  Interesting photos of old Slovakia – 1930s – 1990s – by Milos Dohnanyi.  Black and white, evocative.  Striking portraits by Antonín Kratochvíl – of the famous and not so famous.  Blurred, superposed, craggy, indistinct.  Always interesting to see famous faces – and faces famous for being famous – in this new light.  For example Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, John le Carré, David Bowie, Ray Liotta.  I love these photography galleries – they are always so minimalist – white walls, polished floors – to highlight the concentrated images.

Past the palace where Liszt played – Leopold de Pauli Palace.  Just a plaque on the wall now… Nearby another palace, the Pálffy Palace, where the 6-year-old Mozart played.  Plaque on the wall of a "juice shop".  Looking for Zoya Gallery – and failing to find it.  To St Martin's Cathedral – gothic, with a choir that looks quite English.  Spiky, over the top pulpit in dark wood.  Otherwise clean, light stone, whitewashed walls, modern organ.

Finally found Zoya – you just have to head towards the Armenian consulate…  Nice pix by Erik Johansson – Swedish – trompe l'oeil.  Obvious – like people installing the moon, a watermill on the edge of a waterfall made of fields, a Meteora/Avatar-like town in the sky, its supports scraped away by diggers.  Not deep, but entertaining.  Clever photography.  More direct is "Man and Winter" of Ragnar Axelsson.  Icelandic, and it shows.  Lots of huskies, and amazing pic of Inuit hunter with his harpoon.  

A roomful of curious bird photos – Sanna Kannisto, Finnish, but working at Lake Baikal.  The birds look dead or posed – and are the latter, in a portable studio, before being released again after being caught. Weird, but pretty in a way.  Another Finn – Pentti Sammallahti – pure photography – images, black and white, that are complete in themselves.  All of them have one animal or more.

To the Johann Pálffy Palace.  Downstairs to Celtic minting in a dark cube, with underfloor exhibits.  More modern stuff – short videos, disturbing pix, installations.  Then upstairs to a display of gothic panel painting.  Then, unexpectedly, to the famous book-lined walkway of death: clever use of mirrors makes it look like a narrow pathway between infinite rows of books – clever and run.  Up again to some absurdist pix – legs sticking out of houses heads in walls.  Erwin Wurm – another floor of his stuff right at the top of the palace.  A little of it goes a long way…  Great gallery, though.

Since I am going to the concert at 7pm, I need to eat early, on the way.  I find myself in Urban House, down with the cool kids, waiting for my Beyond Burger.  Be interesting to compare it with the Impossible Burger I had in Hong Kong a few years back…  Walking here, I found the main streets buzzing – people out on the pavements, eating, drinking, smoking.  Has a good feel to the city, very liveable.  Obviously very similar to Prague, but not nearly so touristic.  Also more walkable – much more compact – quite like Yerevan in that respect.

Now in the Moyzes Hall, after a brisk walk from the restaurant.  Beautiful Art Deco hall, all gilt, garlands and geometrics.  Small chamber orchestra, nearly outnumbering the audience, currently at about 50.  I saw a TV/radio van outside, so I presume this is either being broadcast live, or recorded.  I'm sitting just behind the sound desk.

First piece by Peter Zagar (2022), quite melodious, uses full orchestra well.  Very tonal now. Reminds me of Gavin Bryars.  Second piece by Marek Piaček – three songs, amplified voice.  Bit
Nymanish melodically, also sounds influenced by musicals – in the best way.  Rhythmically quite varied.  Overall, though it meanders, musically at least – since I can't understand a word, it's hard to say how well the music serves the texts.  Harmonic changes very reminiscent of some Nyman.  Final piece of first half Ľubomír Burgr – combines some rather crude electronic sounds with Pärt-like arpeggios on the violin.  Doesn't work for me…


To the castle, wreathed in mists.  No one about, except a few dog walkers.  Near the main facade, an incredible, ornate, cast iron gate – with a huge drop the other side.  Equestrian statue of Svatopluk.  Cold, damp morning, but that seems to suit this place.  The castle looks better in this vague, looming form.  My hands freezing – I can barely write… 

Interior courtyard nothing special.  Inside the History Museum of the castle.  Big and – the main thing – warm.  A room about the reconstruction of the castle, which burned down, and was in ruins for many years.  Took lift to the basement, weird feeling of descending who knows where.  In fact, when I got there – nothing.  Nearby, stairs marked "Celts in Slovakia" – I descend – nothing again.

Along to a huge gleaming staircase in white and gold, looks newly restored.  A chapel, with a modern organ, looking very Finnish.  Alongside, a large Assumption of the Virgin Mary by Anton Schmidt (1762-63).  Impressive for its size, if nothing else.  Around the walls, 14 rather murky representations of the stations of the cross.

Up a gleaming white staircase.  Very minimalist – looks almost 30s Italian Fascism in style.  To an exhibition of Martin Benka (1888-1971).  Slovak modernist.  Some nice neo-impressionist landscape à la Sisley.  Early works.  Later pix more pared down, Kandinsky colours, Cézanne 
forms of mountains.  Final phase Soviet realism of strong men and beautiful women, mostly peasants, heart of the nation etc.  His travel pix more varied – good ones of the Adriatic, blue seas, pines and cypresses.  A musician too, who painted – and made – cubist violins.

Opposite, an exhibition about Slovak life in the 20th century – photos, videos, recordings.  Soviet world and its circumventions.  In the cafe – devoid of people, devoid of food bar a rather crusty cake (nope) – risking a cappuccino, which is unlikely to be good, but hey…  Outside, fog still not lifting.  Being inside a castle is a good place to be…  Coffee not too bad – and hot – plus "free" caramel biscuit.

The castle's museums are better than I expected – just as well given the rather miserable weather.  I did the right thing making the most of the fine sunshine yesterday.  In the background, chants of perennially angry Slovak students demanding who knows what – freedom, probably – in a time capsule of captured rebellion.  Judging by contemporary Slovakia, I'd say they got it.  It's a very pleasant, highly functional society now.  Safe, too.  What more could one ask?

To the Romans in Slovakia  - huge exhibition.  Facsimile of an amazing map: Tabula Peutingeriana – itself a copy of a Roman map… One part marked "Colchi".  Excellent exhibition – shows how much Roman stuff has been found this region – and how much we know, in detail – and how much more there must be under the earth.

Now in the castle gardens, which are delightfully autumnal.  St Martin's Cathedral in front, the castle behind.  The morning fog slowly lifting, the sun breaking through occasionally.  Should be nice this afternoon.  St Martin's chimes 12.  Not heard many bells here, so makes a nice change.  There's another church sounding, contrapuntally with the cathedral.  Now a carillon, plus a low bell under it all.  Wonderful: "Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco…"  Incredible random symphony of bells, lovely cross rhythms.  Now dying away; a lone bell sounds…

Clever public seating here: the backs of the seats form a platform you can sit on standing up.  Doubles the seating capability in a compact way.  More people around now – 100s, out on a Sunday stroll.  Quite a few tourists – Italians, Spaniards, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Brits, Irish.  A camera crew recording to my right – such a palaver.

In the Hradná restaurant – convenient, prices not too bad.  Nice modern interior; warm.  Eating beetroot starter, cheese dumplings for the main.  This place starting to bubble – as I've just posted on Mastodon about Mastodon…  One strange thing here and elsewhere – the napkins are almost diaphanous – is there a paper shortage or something?  The sun pours through the windows, illuminating the few remaining leaves on the trees outside.

After lunch, out to understand transport.  First, find a tram stop for #1, which goes to the main station.  A little way away from the hotel, but not too bad.  Road is a typical central European tram road – reminds me of Riga, when I was looking for – and found – that Georgian restaurant, and I also travelled by tram.  Those long, broad streets.  Then to find a ticket machine: done, but they only take coins.  So to the Tourist Office near Hummel's house, who explain where the nearest machine is that takes credit cards.  Then to here, the Primate's Palace – historically important, and also the site of a remarkable discovery: tapestries from the UK (Mortlake).  No pix allowed, alas…

Decent portrait of Maria Teresa; Francis I looking weird in his get up, Bratislava and St Martin's in the distance.  Mozart's mate, Joseph II, quite a characterful face.  Tapestry of Hero and Leander – a putto looks on, and appears in another, smaller tapestry – copy and paste…  A Guercino, Abraham and the angel.  Nice moody pic of Bratislava from the north.  Lots of ignorable pix of peasants, dogs, cows etc.  Amazing view down into the chapel from a glassed-in balcony.  Odd from this perspective.

In the Hummel Museum, where he was born 14/11/1778 – nearly his birthday today.  His piano trios  noodling nicely in the background.  One room with two square pianos, plus a harmonium.  The other room with an Érard grand.
 Reminds me of Pushkin's house in Chișinău... The rooms so small, but cosy.

To the National Gallery, most of which is closed as they prepare their renovated wing.  On the first floor, a wonderful installation that consists of thousands of books on shelves, arranged alphabetically – but all in Slovak, which I can't really read.  A few people sit on comfy sofas, reading.  I wonder where all these books came from.  Oh, yes, at one end, there is also a horse – stuffed, I presume.  Not sure why…  Quite a few books in German, in fact, but no other language that I can see…

Now in an installation about "The Bridge", which is what the newer part of the gallery is apparently called.  Interactive – press a key – currently there is a cow on the screen, with The Bridge's characteristic gantries moving past.  Seems to be a decapitated cow, from which blood is pouring – complete with trickling sound effects.  Hmmm…  Let's try another button.

Moving through a shattered brick wall, darkness broken by a candle.  Gypsy music grows louder...a woman sings in Slovak (I think).  Another candle, on a round table, with a high-heel shoe on it.  That's it.  Now the architecture button.  Moving through The Bridge – blurred, the sound of water dripping, and light reflecting on the surface of a body of water…  We approach a blind wall at the end… Which is the end.  Probably enough for me, even though there are four more buttons…

From the SNG, along the Danube, to the Old Bridge.  Wonderful effect created by the lit girders.  Boats on the river, moored and moving.  Pinkish glow to the west, behind the UFO tower.  To the east, the Apollo Bridge more delicate.  Shoals of fish suddenly rising like a local rainstorm on the water's surface.  A gentle slapping sounds mingles with the thunder of a passing tram on the bridge.

Yesterday I made the mistake of not taking a coffee and bun in the afternoon, and a headache as result.  Today, no such mistake – here I am in Pollito – a cheesecake shop in Laurinská
.  Nice vibe.  Nice cheesecake…

To Nedbalka Gallery.  Fourth floor – late romantic – lovely stuff by Ladislav Mednyansky – great Tatra landscape – amazing view of what looks like fjord with craggy mountains on both sides of a lake (called "The Tarn").  Another painter with the splendid name of Edmund Gwerk.  Down to the third floor – where I see my old mate Martin Benka – quite a few.  Lots of others painting those stern peasants.  Also sub-Picasso Blue period/pneumatic phases.  Second floor – Galanda group.  Mostly derivative stuff – I saw Léger, Braque, Modigliani, Bacon, Hockney…  But overall a good showing of Slovak modern art and great gallery design with the opening on each floor – a bit like the New York Guggenheim.  

To the first floor – again, obvious influences – Rothko, de Kooning, Freud.  One rather disturbing pic: "Proximity of Time" – by Michal Jakabčic.  Shows two figures with big heads and tiny eyes, nose and mouth starting up at the sky while a third head emerges from light green earth, on which there is a triple-headed bird, and two other animals – one in a vase.  Striking.  To the ground floor – brand new stuff, quite a lot of photo realism, or approximations thereto.  I particularly liked "Frozen in Time" by Juraj Duris, which shows some kind of boat/ship on the wet floor of a warehouse.  No explanation, but striking.  Definitely one of the best galleries in Bratislava.

Since the restaurant I was looking for – Wolker on Biela – seems not to exist, I opted for U nás dobre nearby – on Michalská – bit bright inside, but has plenty of Slovak dishes.  I ordered the turkey (chrumkavé morčacie) with sheep's cheese, since they too are less intelligent than pigs, which I really really do not want to eat.  That's awkward, because Slovak cuisine is basically pig…  Also ordered a glass of the white and flowery Müller-Thurgau – bit fruity for me, but I wanted to try it to complement the Frankovka modrá I had (red) yesterday – which was really good.  Finished off with the cherry pierogi – devastatingly sweet, apparently sprinkled with cigarette ash.  But good.


Mondays in Bratislava seem to be like Mondays in Stavanger: practically every museum is closed.  So a morning of walking – and of churches, which are open.  Mostly: I went to look at the Poor Clares church: closed.  Now in the Capuchin Church: lots of baroque paintings and woodwork, architecture uninspired.  

Not having much luck.  The superb Holy Trinity Church: closed.  The Brothers of Mercy church: open – but locked inside with a huge grille.  On the floor, a homeless man snores in the warmth.  Beautiful baroque altar, bubbling and undulating wildly.  The pedestrian street Poštová rather nice.  To the Blue Church, which is...rather shockingly light blue, everything, with Art Nouveau curlicues on the outside and inside.  Closed, alas, but worth seeing from the outside.

Interesting: just seen the tram driver get out and use a big metal stick to change the points – I wondered how that was done…

Sitting by the National Theatre, trams thundering by as usual.  Leaves still falling, but will soon all be gone.  Blue sky, fresh wind.  

Incredible, two restaurants I tried were closed, and another non-existent.  Must be the Stavanger curse.

On tram #1 – very smart and modern – announcements in Slovak and English…  This is one long carriage; the older ones have separate parts.  On bus #61… Despite the fact that driver wouldn't let me on the bus, which said "leaving in 3 minutes"… Turns out it was leaving to move around to the actual stop, where lots of people were waiting.  Interesting ride out here – 20 minutes through the suburbs of Bratislava.  Looking smart and modern, usual shops and shopping centres – little sign of the Soviet world, unlike in Georgia or Armenia, say.

Airport, too, spanking new, big, efficient.  Bought some of the lethal Slovakian liqueur – Tatratea (52% alcohol), an apricot liqueur, and Carpathian brandy...