My Real Travel Blogs


The real deal

Travel writers are rather like politicians, although they don’t lie quite as often, they tend to write just what will please their editors.  Every once in a while a politician, usually after he has retired or has lost his seat will publish a book which professes to open Pandora’s box and tell the truth, unfortunately the new revelations are more to sell the book than to tell the truth.  My blogs have no kiss and tell revelations, I just have no longer to please my paymaster, these are my personal notes on how I really saw some of my destinations.

Wonderful, wonderful, Kobenhavn

For the next of my hereto unpublished mini- travelogues for the delectation of my friends; today we go to Denmark.  I have a number of Danish friends and have visited many times.  One of the main attractions I find is that although they speak a peculiar “Harf’n’harf’n’harf “lingo among themselves they all speak far better English than what I do.  What is more everyone understands what I am saying; I don’t even have to shout.

Copenhagen is a gorgeous city filled with beautiful people, but has two over-hyped and most disappointing attractions that most people will have heard of before arriving. The first ‘attraction’ this wonderful city has, is this statue dedicated to the famous fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen in 1837. The Little Mermaid statue, as you’ll read in your guidebook, was unveiled in 1913 and is most famous among locals for all the times her head and arms have been sawn off by vandals.

Your expectations will naturally build as you take the surprisingly long and out-of-the-way walk along the harbour, and your only real clue that you are getting close is the crowd of bewildered tourists assembled who are taking their own photos and asking each other, “This is what we walked all the way out here for?”

The Little Mermaid statue is about 4-feet tall and looks more like an ad for bad posture than a city’s proudest landmark. It was built by the owner of the Carlsberg brewery and is not quite original.  She has sat on her boulder since August 23, 1913, but has had a very turbulent life, with at least eight vandalism attacks. She has been dowsed in paint numerous times, had her right arm amputated, been decapitated three times, and even pushed from her rock in 2003. Fortunately, the sculptor made a mold so the Little Mermaid’s “parts” have been reattached from the original mold.

We then read about the Tivoli Gardens, the most famous and the greatest attraction in Scandinavia and one of the world’s best known amusement parks.  However it is also the most expensive with a charge of around £10 entrance fee and every ride costing a little over £2 it’s not the place to go if you have a lot of kids.  It is also renowned for being jam-packed with people queuing for cheesy rides.  I cannot vouch either way because no-one mentioned that it is only open between April and September.  I read about the gardens being lit up at night-time with 120,000 lights and the evenings come to a close with a spectacular firework display.  One day I must go when it isn’t shut.

The city itself is truly a wonderful city and I love it; but take my advice, you can give the Tivoli Gardens a miss along with the Little Mermaid.

Right, that takes care of the Viking marauders with their silly horned hats, “Skål”.  Now who can I upset next?  The world is a book–and those who do not travel read only a page.

We’re off to see the Wizard . . . . . . .  . .



Travel that broadens the behind

I can think of a travel brochure that broadens the behind, it’s called a Cruise Brochure.  They say that travel broadens the mind but I think that travelling on a Cruise Ship just broadens the behind.

O.K. a Cruise Liner may put on half a dozen lectures, force feeding culture to the masses with classical civilisations and the history of mankind etc. but travelling universities they ain’t.  These lecture rooms are laid on to give a bit of interest to overfed passengers whilst they rest their bloated, sun-burned bodies in a cool air-conditioned theatre, between meals.

When the Liner anchors offshore and crew members help the more adventurous passengers out of their sun loungers, where they have been relaxing after a vast lunch, down the accommodation ladder to sit their fat bottoms on comfortable seats in the ferry boats and then ashore to be helped into a comfortable air-conditioned coach seat, where they can relax as they are taken to view the volcano at Etna or Stromboli (no its Thursday so it must be Vesuvius) from a safe distance.

They then retrace their steps until safely back on board to their cabin to change in time for dinner.  What a dinner? “More larks tongues or perhaps a few slices of roast swan, Madame?”  I don’t pen this as a travel writer but as someone who was fattened regularly on the great Cape Liners and even once on the greatest of the Queens, (I also met a few of them ducky), the Queen Mary crossing the Atlantic.  My goodness! I got so sick of eating Italian Truffle shavings and caviar; even now I cannot look a foie gras in the belly.  I even prefer the humble crab to a lobster.

My job as an Extra, Extra, Junior fourth officer was to put my good training as a ship’s navigator to good use by showing the rich, over weight and over fed passengers around the ship, flirt with their trophy wives and then join them at their dining table to dine right royally.  Heigh Ho! It’s a hard life at sea.

It was a long time ago and both the Cape Liners and the Atlantic Liners carried richer and fatter passengers than modern day cruise liners but the recipe is the same.  Ask any ship’s steward and he will tell you that most of the sea-sickness is due more to over indulgence than to motion.

The Roman’s had a good idea when they set aside a room next to the dining area which they named a “vomitorium” so that they could binge and purge, “excuse me while I throw up, but tell the waiter chappie, that I’ll have another crepe suzette when I get back”.

 Lie back and relax, pass the gin old boy, the sun is over the yard arm somewhere on one of the oceans.  I bet that when Freddy Mercury sang of Fat Bottomed Girls he had met them on a cruise ship.

Weigh hey and up she rises!  I’m off to see the Wizard . . . . .


Spanish Practices

Bad News – Good News – Bad News – Good News

First the bad news, has anyone been to Spain recently and seen the prices?  I love Barcelona and felt a stroll down La Rambla coming on.  It was a good job that it was only a stroll because anything more than window shopping was out of the question.  The price of a cup of coffee in La Boqueria Market brought on a nose bleed and for once I couldn’t blame Gordon’s “This is not a recession” and the dreadful exchange rate.  As for eating out at a restaurant, suffice to say that I no longer felt hungry after reading the prices on the menu in the window.

The first bit of good news, I took my own advice from a piece of travel commentary I wrote some years back on travelling safely.  I left most of my cash in my hotel room along with most of my plastic and took a bit of spending money and one credit card in my wallet with me.

I decided to pay another visit to Gaudi’s creation, (still called his work in progress, years after he shuffled of this mortal coil).  I made my way to the Metro and headed for the Sagrada Famila.

More bad news, I know that I am old but I am still built like a brick outhouse, an ex Rugger Bugger and former member of the Special Boat Squadron.  I wouldn’t pick a fight with me!  But here we go; I am wandering along thinking how clean the Metro looks compared with the London Underground.  I get on the escalator at my destination and on getting to the top, I was shoved in the back and I fell forward on to the ground.  In the melee that followed after being helped to my feet, I discovered that my wallet complete with my “Mugger’s Money” had gone from my back pocket.  I went completely off Gaudi’s gems and the same for Museu Picasso.  I had to walk back to the hotel because I didn’t have any money for a Metro ticket let alone a taxi.  Barcelona! I’ve even gone off Freddy Mercury and Monserat Caballe.

Even more bad news, I got back to my room at the hotel and discovered that the safe was wide open and the cleaners had been in to make up the bed.

Finally some GOOD NEWS my cash in GB Pounds and Euros together with three credit cards, a debit card and my passport were placed neatly on the bed where I had left them.  My flight ticket was in the open safe.  The lovely cleaners had moved the cash to make up the bed and neatly replaced it where this silly near senile old fool had left them.  Barcelona! Barcelona! Could you hear me singing?

Perhaps I shouldn’t be allowed out on my own. . . . . . . . . . . I’m off to see the Wizard.



Snakes, spiders, crocodiles, sharks and drunken white males

I have been robbed at the point of a machete in Demerara; mugged in Barcelona; caught up with rampaging Millwall football fans in Peterborough and bar fights in Mexico and Gibraltar; had my pocket picked in Singapore, Cape Town and Sierra Leone.

I have been scared nearly to death when a hooded cobra hissed and said Boo at me on Table Mountain; nearly run-over by deadly drivers on every continent and had run-ins with bears, moose, elk and even a water buffalo on roads all over the world however………..  Nothing will convince me that Australia is not the most dangerous travel destination going.  Believe me Africa is for pussy cats by comparison.
It’s been said very reasonably that ‘just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean everyone isn’t out to get you’ – well, for anyone with even a slight persecution complex, travel in Australia is loaded with the worst nature has to offer as every reptile, insect and mammal is out to get you.  I won’t even have a go at their foul mouthed bully of a Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd who I include in my title.
Forget travel insurance, the creatures below won’t leave you alive long enough to make a claim.

1. Sharks
Jaws ruined the ocean for anyone with a delicate nature (I know that was in America but I bet the bloody thing has a second home on the Barrier Reef and has claimed expenses on it). The big, beautiful blue was instantly transformed into a blood bath just waiting to happen. The paranoid traveller has only to put his head under the water in Australia to hear cello music and if he’s snorkelling, then the sight of his own flipper is liable to appear as a fin and give him a heart attack anyway.  I’ve seen a couple of surf-boards with huge bite marks displayed which really gave one confidence.  I shall not mention the beach bums with huge chunks of arms and legs missing in case you are of a delicate disposition.

2. Box Jelly Fish
In most places around the world, jellyfish represent a nuisance, a pest to swimmers whose stings can leave nasty welts that suggest a tendency for S&M. In Australia, however, the box jellyfish kills. It’s that lethal. In fact, in Northern Australia no one enters the ocean at all at certain times of year when the box jellyfish cruise by.

3. Crocodiles
Unless you’re travelling with Mick Dundee, the traveller in Australia needs to think twice before washing his face in even the most innocent stream. Just because it looks like a log doesn’t mean it is.
And to top it all, Australia has saltwater crocodiles so you’re not even safe from them in the sea. That’s just not playing fair.

4. The Funnel-Web Spider
Wouldn’t you know it but the world’s most poisonous spider likes to hang out just under the toilet seat, waiting to sink its fangs into your backside. Get bitten by one of these tiny arachnids and you’re history unless you get anti-venom pronto. If you’re living in Australia and you see any webs in the shape of a funnel, move apartment.

5. Snakes
Tiger snakes, brown snakes, death adders, mulga snakes, king brown snakes and, of course, sea snakes – the ocean being the favourite place that Australia tries to kill you. Australia has over 100 venomous snakes and 12 are lethal.
Of course some experts say that snakes are not out to get you but the Bible tells us differently.

6. Dingos
Camp around settlements in the desert and don’t be surprised if you wake to the sound of growling. While the authentic dingo is a softy, many have bred with wild dogs and they come at the traveller in vicious, rabid packs.

7. Bull ants
There you are, enjoying a sunset or gazing out at the psychedelic colours of a tea tree lake and the next thing you know a guerrilla squad of bull ants have charged your feet, hands, anything they can and are biting for all they’re worth. These b*stards even jump you as you’re walking along.

8. Kangaroos
O.K., everyone knows kangaroos are cute, thanks to Winnie the Pooh and our lovely Kangapuss.  But corne across one in a dark alley after a night of refreshment and you’ll be meeting a heavyweight thug with attitude. In addition, they deliberately try to crash into cars as they charge along at 30mph, far worse than any moose, elk or even water buffalo.  In fact a typical Aussie.

9. Poisonous Cane Toads
Cane toads were introduced in a ludicrously disastrous effort to control the cane beetle. Now there are around 100 million poisonous cane toads in Australia and they’re moving in on the cities. Nor is the milky white toxin even psychedelic so forget about licking them.

10. Australian Drunks
Of course, no creature is to be feared quite so much as the beer-swilling Australian who suddenly decides that you’re ‘up yourself’ and it’s up to him to teach you a lesson. These aggressive mammals hang out in bars and street corners and their habitat is often littered with discarded ‘tinnies’ of Foster Beer.  Smile, hail a taxi and don’t whatever you do, make eye contact; they are far worse than their equivalent, the American redneck.  As for the Sheila’s; Oh My God!

Incidentally have you any idea why our colonial cousins in the Australian army were known as “Diggers”?   It was not as told in polite company derived from the fact that a lot of them came from a gold-mining background; it was in fact from camping in the outback where a man would walk a distance from the camp with a shovel under his arm, “going to dig a dunny”; or in more refined society, to dig a hole in which to poop.  No worries!

If you agree with none of this, and believe that Australia is not the most dangerous place on earth, especially if you are not bound for the outback; just go for a stroll in Kings Cross, Sydney.  Council-run brothels, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, sexual abuse, underage prostitution, paedophiles, pornography, street kids and rent boys.  Patpong, the Reeperbahn, the Pigalle, Kabukichō, none of them can hold a candle to Kings Cross.  Picture if you will; Crocodile Dundee looking at the red light district in Amsterdam and saying “That’s not a Dunny” and pointing to Kings Cross and saying “Now that is a Dunny”.

G’day mates, right who’s next . . . . . . . .?.   We’re off to see the Wizard.



Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa, men have named you……………………

The guide books tell you – Leonardo da Vinci painted a smiling woman during the 16th Century, and somehow the Mona Lisa has become the planet’s most famous piece of art, though very few can explain why. Still, the thing is housed in the magnificent Louvre, which is certainly one of the highlights of a city teaming with highlights, so it’s impossible not to include it on the itinerary of your first Paris trip, right? You’ll finally see what all the fuss is about when you witness this gorgeous canvas in person, because no copy or photograph could possibly do it proper justice.

Welcome to the Louvre, in all of its sprawling maze-like glory. “Okay, I know my guidebook tells me it would take at least 500 years to actually spend a minute with each work of art here, but at the very least I’ve got to see the Mona Lisa (and probably the Venus de Milo as well).” When you finally get close to the room she helps decorate, you’ll know it by the carnival-like crowds and atmosphere. Squeeze into the actual room, and with enough brute force and determination, you might be able to elbow your way through the mass of bodies to take your own snapshot of Lisa herself, along with the wrists and viewfinder screens of at least a dozen other people in front of you struggling for the same terrible photograph. Got the shot? Good, now get out of here before you faint.

I bet that you thought that the French smell strongly of garlic well let me tell you, they don’t.  When they are that close they stink of stale sweat, flavoured with garlic, of sausages made from tripe and flavoured with garlic, of stale duck fat, flavoured with garlic.  Their clothes reek of Gitanes and Gaulloises cigarettes, flavoured with garlic.  In the press of bodies in the Louvre you could spot the English, Japanese and American tourists a mile away.  They were the ones holding their hands in front of their mouths trying to filter the air as they take it in turn to breathe.

Please don’t get me wrong, I love Paris and not just in the springtime but I will give Musée du Louvre a miss in future.  I enjoyed Le frog flushed away and I treat the old Entente Cordiale with a slight suspicion so I make a point of visiting in August when the residents have nearly all migrated South with their buckets and spades.

Allons enfants de la Patrie,Le jour de gloire est arrivé !  Right, that takes care of the French who can I upset next?


Hey you no shoutta atta my Queen

I have often told you that my political leanings are slightly to the right of Margaret Thatcher and next to Attila the Hun. A visit to Italy nearly (not quite) changed my perspective.

This blog was provoked by the performance of the Italian President at the recent G20 summit which brought back a few memories of military on the streets, violent racist cops and the most corrupt government in Western Europe, most guidebooks never show this side of Italy.

Getting off the train at Milano Centrale, I avoided the junkies and pickpockets that inhabit the station like rats and made my way over towards the airport bus. It was raining heavily outside the train station though and I was glad to see the enterprising Bangladeshis were selling umbrellas for 5 Euros. I only managed to buy one just in time before they were forced to split by the arrival of a police car and… an army jeep.

The scene of unofficial street merchants running from the cops is repeated all over the world and I’ve long given up wondering if the authorities would prefer if they became thieves or drug dealers instead. But police harassment is one thing; army on the streets is quite another and the rise in armed cops and soldiers on the street blows a chill right-wing wind.

It’s been half a year now since Berlusconi came back to power in Italy uniting right-wing and neo-fascist forces behind him. Mention Berlusconi’s name to most thinking Italians and they’ll either roll their eyes, shake their heads or let loose a furious flow of expletives. Owning half the TV channels in Italy and in control of the others, he makes sure that the average Italian home sees little else than propaganda and starlets in mini-skirts hopping around aging, worse-for-the-wear male presenters.

He’s also tied in with the various Italian mafias and only managed to avoid court proceedings for the umpteenth time by delaying the charges for so long with legal tactics that the statute of limitations kicked in. In fact, there’s scarcely a bad thing you could say about a politician that doesn’t apply to Berlusconi and some of my Italian friends never stopped frothing about him. Which is possibly why he won the last election as everyone was too busy hating him to suggest an alternative.

Silvio Berlusconi has an extensive record of criminal trial and allegations, including mafia collusion, false accounting, tax fraud, corruption and bribery of police officers and judges. Berlusconi has been tried in Italian courts in 12 cases. In all of them, but one, he was either acquitted by a court of first instance or on appeal, or when proceedings came to a halt because the statute of limitations had expired or because of changes in the law, in some cases promoted by his very government.

Therefore he has a clear record up to now. Berlusconi claimed that “this is a manifest judicial persecution, which I am proud to resist, and the fact that my resistance and sacrifice will give the Italians a fairer and efficient judicial system makes me even more proud”.

Berlusconi has always been able to afford top lawyers, for example Nicolas Sarkozy was one of his French top advocates.  British Cabinet Minister Tessa Jowell’s estranged tax lawyer husband David Mills has been sentenced to four and a half years in prison for accepting bribes from Berlusconi. Some of his former prosecutors are members of the parliamentary opposition. Some of his attorneys are also Members of Parliament. In 2008, Berlusconi passed a law allowing him immunity from prosecution.  Sounds a bit like the U.K.

“So if he’s such an @shole, why do people still vote for him?” I often asked. The exasperated reply was inevitable:  “He’s a billionaire. People think that if they vote for him then they’ll get to be rich, too.”

It would seem a dumb answer if I hadn’t heard it so many times. Tied into corruption, surrounded by model bimbos while preaching family values, Berlusconi leads the kind of life that many Italians dream of. Tired of the utopian promises of the bickering Italian Left, Berlusconi’s message is so much clearer: if you’re rich and powerful you don’t have to give a dead horse’s head about anyone else.

For the immigrant Africans it means police beatings, deportation and the continued exploitation of those just off the boat will only get worse. The TV news hype up the dangers of rape and murder by the immigrants, the police beat those who hesitate to show their papers and the Mafia take new arrivals to work in the fields for a handful of Euros a day.

Berlusconi’s chums, The Northern League, continue to push for the separation of North and South Italy, where unemployment and corruption choke most economic activity to a minimum. An exception is Napoli where power has effectively been surrendered to the Camorra, the local mafia, whose reign of terror has killed over 3000 in the last ten years. With free run of the port and unregulated factories producing fake designer clothes so good you can’t tell the difference, there’s a fair chance they made something in your wardrobe.

Not exactly the Italy of renaissance art, pizza and anaemic catwalk models that fills the guidebooks.  It’s still a great country, though, filled with kind, funny people who enjoy life and who are ready to help the traveller. Like so many other places in the world, they just have a rotten government.

I’ll be back to visit next year God willing and until then; maybe God will hear the collective Italian prayer for Berlusconi to develop just a little trouble with his prostate.

On second thoughts, having just read what I have just written for all to see, perhaps I ought to wait for a change of government………….I’m off to see the wizard


Living next door to Alice . . .  . . . . .

At the risk of upsetting my Australian friends, (yes I still have one or two) yet again, I am going to have a bit of a rant about the ‘Ocker’ Tourist Trade, up there in Northern Territory.

Once, not so long ago if you wanted to go to see Uluru, as it now should be called, one had to fly to Alice Springs, which is about 400 kilometres away.  That’s about 248 miles in real money.  Since changing the name of Ayer’s Rock to Uluru it has become so alluring that it now has its own airport at Yulara which is the resort beside the Ayer’s Rock.  It is now so popular that it is the Piccadilly Circus of the outback hosting some 400,000 people each year.

A tourist company Voyages which describes itself as a unique Australian travel company offering unique holiday experiences in some of Australia’s most remote and breathtaking locations.  It’s unique because it has grabbed the monopoly offering various tourist packages of tours and accommodation calling them exotic names such as ‘Desert Awakening’.  Don’t that just get your juices going?  You get off the plane and your @rse belongs to Voyages.

I stayed at one of their hotels, a Youth Hostel cum Motel called Pioneer Outback – The breeze block structure of the cabins had a certain je ne sais quoi about them that had the feel of a Kenyan army barrack block about them and the rest is equally unpleasant with a mixture of pool tables, nasty bars and vending machines.  The bars and tour desk are manned by youngsters who all had the same abrasive efficiency that London Pub goers have come to know and abhor.

There is NOTHING to do there but visit the Rock, using ‘of course’ the extortionate, Voyages transport, manned by as equally abrasive and abhorrent tour guides as those who work in the bars.  They are probably the same guys wearing a different hat.  You know cheap labour, on the grounds that if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.

We rise at 0430 hours to go on the sun-rise trip and rattled along the dusty road to the ‘viewing point’:  In line with the barrack like accommodation, Voyages actually tell you where to stand to take your photographs.  I could think of a few drill instructors who could have made a better fist of it that the said abrasive and abhorrent guides but it went something like this; Right get fell in there you ‘orrible people, ‘old hup your digital camera  at h’arms length, ‘old it, ‘old it, on the count of free, one, two free, click.  Arms down.  Right now repeat the operation hup, one, two free, click.  Right you ‘ave free minutes so you can take all the photos you need.  You will then take free paces to the rear, form two ranks and move orf to the right, so that the 200 of your comrades can also take advantage of this special place to take their photos, in your own time GO.

Special? Special for voyages perhaps.  No, granted it is a very special place, it is beautiful and quite magical the way that the sandstone changes colour almost imperceptibly as the sun comes up and in the afternoon sunlight it is magnificent with the startling blue of the sky setting off the dusty red of the rock.  As you wander around there are moments of absolute peace and tranquillity in the gullies; perfection.  Apart that is from Voyages charging for everything in their monopoly like a raging bull.

There are also a lot of weird notices around the place about how the local Aborigine tribe requires you to behave; you couldn’t climb on it; women couldn’t go there etc. etc.  Far from being some deep mystical reverence decided by general consensus, it had the smell of a committee, you know like the European Union decisions, who when deciding to design a horse finished up with a camel.
What has happened to all of those ball-breaking Sheila’s? No women? No worries cobber!

I’ve been going to Australia since the 1950s and I love it and the people.  I’ve spent most of my visits with the ‘banana benders in Queensland) and quite rightly when some drongo Pom has a go at Godzone they tend to get a bit up themselves; but I’m not having a go at the people nor at the Aboriginal people getting their rights; if they want to call their sacred rock, Uluru, well good on them.  I’m just not sure that the whole shooting match isn’t being undermined by the money-grabbers in the same way that in this country the green, global warming thing has become an exploited band wagon to make me pay more money.

I get equally fazed when I go to Canada and get my head bitten off for talking of Red Indians, they are to be called Native Americans and don’t you forget it.  I think that if were a member of that tribe I would be proud to be called a Sioux, Apache or Comanche but a Native American?

My Canadian chums are all very proper about it but then treat the Native Americans with disdain rather like we treat our Travellers, Romanies, Gypsies, or Pikeys, (whoops that’s me in trouble again).

We get back to Yulara in time for a feast of Kangaroo Burger YUK!  If they were as delicious as every celebrity chef would have it, they would be an endangered species by now, instead of overrunning the country. . . . . .   In the bar we were ‘entertained’ by a tortuous didgeridoo sequence by some scruffy hippy blowing down a long wooden tube giving it the old Hubba-boomba.

Yulara , I thought was a dump with attitude, a geo-political twist.  A place riven with political unease, a toxic mixture of condescension to ‘spiritual’ natives driven by post colonial angst combined with high commerce and insincere deference to tradition, which in most cases is probably false.  To use the Aussie vernacular “Christ what a bloody rip off!”

It’s no wonder to me that the ‘Ockerboys and girls on a gap year come “walkabout” go to see where their ‘rellies’ came from in the old country.

“G’day Mates”.  Once a Jolly Swagman . . . . . . . I’m off to see the Wizard. . . . . .



In God they trust – it says so on the dollar bill…

The United States is a country that challenges the world traveler to adjust to its scale. Little slumdog children in India are told tales that its streets are paved in gold. Cartoon books the world over mock the culture’s lack of refinement. Newspapers around the world speculate on the effects of the American administration. Incredible landscapes, hidden throughout the vast continental mass, counterpoise the endless parade of Wal-Marts and McDonalds. While every preconception one has about the “U S of A” is valid, the challenge to the traveler is to accept this country for its gems. And here the gems are the brightest and largest, as Americans will tell you, ‘We’re number one!’

America, doubtlessly, is the first world and yet a visit to Katrina-devastated New Orleans or to the jaggedly backwards Appalachia makes one wonder whether the term first world even has any meaning. In this land of the free you had better not drink until you reach 21 years of age. The richest nation in the world does not provide its citizens affordable health care, and it has the highest proportion of lawyers and jailed criminals per capita.

All the things are the best in America, but money does all the talking. The poor backpacker, scrounging to try and see this country on the cheap, is likely to be treated like something the dog left on the pavement. But for those with pluck, a thick skin, or a little money saved the United States opens her doors.

For such a large country, America has an appallingly monotonic cultural from east to west thanks mostly to national television. A few places, however, are like separate countries themselves – namely California and Texas. The east coast, boasting a sprawling mega-metropolis from Boston to Washington, carries a sense of urgency in the atmosphere and there is no doubt something always going on in the city. The south with its Bible belt states like Alabama and Mississippi slow down the pace a lot and race hangs heavy in the air. Along the Pacific a new braver breed of a people, with no history to speak of, cling to their mountain bikes or Louis Vuiton handbags depending on their personal market-influenced consumer choice.

Somewhere buried in all of this, perhaps invisible to the naked eye, is the heartbeat of a fresh continent that existed here even before the Natives came tens of thousands of years ago. Martin Luther King Jr.  This is the land of Walt Whitman’s plaintive singing, the land where technological marvels continually spring up in unlikely places and the country of highways carry such solitude that Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac canonized them.

The struggle for equality continues in the United States, too, and for every Bush and Nixon you have a John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. to impart some hope. Echoes of the spirit of the ’60s can be heard, a time in history as powerful as any.  We haven’t decided yet where Obama fits in but there is hope.

Yes the United States has much to offer for the traveler to see and attempt to understand. The vistas of the Grand Canyon are as mysterious as Mona Lisa’s smile, the city of Las Vegas that rose out of the desert is so artificial and enveloping, Los Angeles destroys pedestrians, the Great Plains are as flat as a pancake literally. The list could go on indefinitely. Hated for its imperialism and ignorance, America is still a great country and worth a traveler’s time.  Just do it when Brown the Clown is finished screwing our economy and you can visit with at least a few shillings in your pocket.

You will hear stories of stories of rude U.S. Customs and Immigration officials and long queues as you attempt to get into the country; then when they eventually get in it seems as though everyone there with a menial job is an illegal immigrant.  I am always puzzled as to how they got in but honestly things haven’t changed simply because of 9/11.

In the mid-1950s I was a deck apprentice on a cargo boat when we sailed into San Pedro, California.  I was a well brought up English lad whose politics have not changed lot over the years and would put me slightly to the right of Attila the Hun.

I was just 16 years old and I was subjected to the most bullying type of grilling imaginable, by an immigration official before being allowed to go ashore.  Incidentally the ship had already called at Tampa, Florida and Houston, Texas where I had gone ashore without any problems, and my documents were stamped as such.  I was asked no less than 5 times whether I was or had ever been a member of the Australian Labour Party even though he had all of my documentation in front of him and could see that at that time I had never visited Australia.

I was a very frightened boy by the time that this cross-examination had ended and he had signed my papers to allow me to visit the land of the free.  I have told this tale many times since, you see the name of this officious, sorry I mean official, U.S. Immigration Officer was one Herman Hoestetter.

Obviously that proud, All-American boy thought that he was employed by the Witch-finder General, Senator Joe McCarthy.  What did the Moody Blues tell us? Nothing changes and nothing stays the same and life is still a simple game.

Right who shall I upset next?  I’m off to see the Wizard . . . . . . .



‘He who climbs Mount Fuji once is a wise man………………….

‘He who climbs Mount Fuji once is a wise man; he who climbs it twice is a fool’. That is a famous saying in Japan.  I went twice.

This article isn’t a very descriptive piece for a travel writer.  My excuse is that I was only a kid and how do you describe the indescribable?

Hiroshima City has now been rebuilt and is famous for its wonderful Peace Park, full of flowering cherry trees, a memorial to those who died

I was 10 years old when my Uncle Jack returned home.  He weighed just over 5 stones and looked like a living skeleton with huge dark eyes.  Not a bit like the hard man who had gone to fight with the Beds and Herts Regiment; he had spent his war as a slave prisoner of the Japanese working on the Burma Railway also known as the Death Railway.  You could say that I jumped at the chance to go to view the spot where our allies had kicked the butts of the “yellow devils”.  So I went to Hiroshima as a tourist feeling quite Gung Ho . . . . . . . . and of course I’d seen the films . . . . . . .

From the Halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli;
We fight our country’s battles in the air, on land, and sea;
First to fight for right and freedom and to keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title of United States Marines

I saw the sound of silence; I saw a flattened city covered in white dust; I saw the shapes of human shadows, burned as a negative flash and left for eternity on one of the few walls left standing.  Utter, utter devastation.  No-one spoke on the bus which took us back to our ship from the spot where 70,000 souls had been taught a lesson in my name.  Where a further 100,000 died over the following five years from the effects of that terrible bomb.

I awoke the following morning after a troubled sleep to find that I had developed a high temperature and a sore throat, compounded by a painful cold sore on my upper lip.  I was convinced that I had radiation sickness.  I hadn’t of course, I was just sixteen and I had just had my first lesson . . . . . . . . Man’s inhumanity to man.



Barcelona, Barcelona, Viva I had this perfect dream.

Today I lift the lid on what is probably my favourite city, Barcelona the capital of Catalonia and the second largest city in Spain.

I didn’t get off on best footing when I went to see the famous cathedral the Sagrada Famiglia because I was mugged as I was making my way there by a gang of three Eastern Europeans and lost my wallet, a lot of cash and my credit cards. I spent several hours at a Police Station and finished up not going until the following day.

When I finally arrived I was quite blown away by the sight before me.  The exterior of this famous under-construction cathedral is every bit as astonishingly beautiful as you can imagine. In case you aren’t familiar with it, this bizarre cathedral was designed by noted Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi, and construction began in 1882. The building is supposedly being funded solely by donations, which helps explain why it’s still very incomplete over 125 years later, and isn’t due to be finished for 20 or so more years, if ever at all.

So you walk around it once or twice, and take note of the jaw-dropping shape and playful details all around, and you pay the €11 to get in to finally see the inside and take it all in. Walk through the doors, and you are suddenly reminded that they weren’t kidding about this ‘under construction’ thing, as you are now surveying an active building site, with workers and heavy equipment to match.  You feel that admission should only be allowed to those wearing a hard hat.  Certainly in Britain where the Elf’n’Safety monsters run riot, it wouldn’t be allowed.  But heck this is Spain and the very fact that that you can cock a snoot at “The Regulators” makes it nearly acceptable but it really is very unpleasant and dangerous.

Your admission fee also includes an informative museum in the basement, but it doesn’t include the €2.50 you’ll have to pay to ride the elevator to near the top, where you can get good views of Greater Barcelona and the unfinished roof. The queue for the elevator is always very long, which was recently made worse now that they closed the claustrophobic spiral staircases previously available for the more impatient and athletic visitors.

To sum up the building is both bizarre and stunning at the same time.  I came away convinced that Gaudi was as mad as a box of frogs but it was worth the journey; the underground railway (Metro) runs from the top end of the most fascinating street in the whole of Spain, Las Ramblas; and then the Metro will take you all the way to the cathedral.  Walk along Las Ramblas; and then enjoy a wander around the market (Mercat de la Boqueria) which is also a special place;

Spend your time in the magical surroundings of the Cathedral soaking up the atmosphere but avoid the temptation to go inside.  It’s expensive and horrible and it is likely to be that way for many, many years.  I think that I felt more ripped off by paying to go inside than when the muggers took my wallet.
Whatever you do in Barcelona, keep tight hold of your wallet or purse and remember what your mother taught you, keep your hand on your halfpenny.



Ahh!  . . . . . . . Venice. . . . with apologies to Bisto!

I once was given an assignment by the Editor of a glossy, wedding magazine.  To write a travel article on the romantic city of Venice; so like Caesar, I Veni, Vidi, Vici Venice.  I gave him what he wanted and he paid me handsomely.  This isn’t the romantic twaddle that I sold him.  This is the Venice that I really saw. . . . . . . . .
I arrived in Venice in the late afternoon.  It was several years since I had last been there, but Venice changes very little and when it does the differences are barely perceptible.  When you walk out of the station and see the Grand Canal in front of you the impact is still exhilarating. Still sublime, no matter how many times you have been there.  And the smell is still the same – a tang of the sea mixed with undertones of fetid water, rank sewage and diesel fumes from the motor boats.  The walk to my hotel, a small pensione was the usual Venetian obstacle course of tourists and dog dirt.

I left my bags in my room and walked to the Grand Canal and stood for a moment on the Academia Bridge.  Venice has always been a chiaroscuro city, a place where light and dark change suddenly and unexpectedly.  One moment it seems dilapidated and tawdry, the next the sunlight alters and you catch a glimpse of a beauty that makes your heart miss a beat.  From the bridge the surface at one moment looks oily and brown and suddenly has the sheen of shot silk.  The exposed banks of mud along the edges can have the appearance of the expensive unguent women apply to their wrinkles rather than the poisonous slime it really is.

I walked further along and peered through a wrought iron gate, I could see and hear water lapping against the walls of a beautiful but somewhat dilapidated building.  Even in the gloomy light it was possible to make out the scum on the surface of the water, a thick layer of kitchen scraps and other rubbish which had been dumped there over the years and not been flushed away by the action of the tides.  I was certain that I could also hear the patter of the feet of rats.  I wandered to St. Marks Square for a drink before dinner.  It’s what all tourists do, but somehow in Venice it’s the only place for an aperitif.

The city is so cramped, its open spaces so small and so few in number that the Piazza alone gives any relief from the suffocating claustrophobia.  Only in St. Marks can you really see the sky, only there can you savour the exquisite atmosphere of the Venetian dusk, the shadows stretching out across the foot- worn stones, the water by the Piazzella iridescent  as a sheet of Mother-of-pearl.  Here it was reasonably easy to write some romantic guff for the magazine for starry-eyed brides.

In fact when you get to the square you find it brimming over with foreigners, unscrupulous street sellers and overfed pigeons which splatter droppings on your head as you fight your way through the throng.  In history the Venetians had a reputation for savage cruelty.  The two men who made the fantastic zodiacal clock in the Piazza were officially blinded to prevent them from making another for somebody else.  Traitors were buried alive head first and other terrible tortures in the state dungeons sent shivers throughout the civilised world.  

This tradition still carries on to this day; in a modified form in St. Marks Square, not in the garrotte, or the rack of yore but infinitely more subtle and pitiless in the form of half a dozen cafe orchestras each competing with the others and the sounds reverberate around the surrounding building, assaulting your ears from every direction. . . . . . Can’t think of more romantic surrounings for a wedding. . . Honest!


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