Xinyi nights

Nov 20, 2013 in Taiwan 2013

Xinyi nights

After Keelung we went out for a drink in a random bar in a random tall building in Xinyi. All astronomy conferences end up being an exercise in how to deal with sleep deprivation, as you catch up with old friends, meet new ones, explore the place you’re in and then get up in time for the 9am start of the day’s talks. Last night we’d been to a really cool bar but I’d hit a wall of jetlag at about 1am and actually started to fall asleep in the bar. Tonight I was a little bit less jetlagged and survived until closing time.

Balcony view

Oct 15, 2011 in Chile

Balcony view

I moved into a new flat yesterday. I was perhaps a bit rash, as it was only the second place I looked at, but it was more or less the kind of thing I was looking for and I didn’t want to spend any longer than necessary in my temporary accommodation.

What really persuaded me was the views from the balcony. London is not a high-rise city, and I’d almost always lived in houses while I was there. The one time I lived in a block of flats I was on the first floor. So this flat, up high on the 15th floor, was something new. And it faces east towards the mountains, so the height is worth having.

Cerro San Cristóbal

Oct 02, 2011 in Chile

Cerro San Cristóbal

Cerro San Cristóbal is the highest point inside Santiago and it’s always nice to go up there and see the views of the city surround by the mountains. I went up again, late on a Sunday evening, taking the lazy route to the top on the funicular railway. The place is always crawling with cyclists, and as soon as my bike arrives from Europe I can’t wait to tackle this hill. It’s about 300m from street level to the peak, a bit more of a challenge than my cycle up Highgate Hill used to be.

I like the atmosphere at the top of San Cristóbal. You can hear the noise of the sprawling city but it feels very calm and tranquil. I sat and watched the sun set and the lights of the city come on, then headed back down to the streets.

Stormy weather

Apr 26, 2011 in Canada 2011

Stormy weather

It rained almost continuously the next day. I’d planned to explore some outdoor places, but in the end the rain battered down relentlessly and I spent most of the day in cafes looking for breaks in the weather. I wandered towards the Distillery District, which my guide book said was awesome without really explaining why. But it was quite a way from the centre, and the intermittent deluge drove me into so many places en route that I never made it.

I found a food market, in which there was a spectacular choice of maple syrup. I realised here that what is sold as maple syrup in the UK must almost always be mostly flavouring, or else I was getting severely ripped off here, because the tiniest plastic bottle of the stuff here was as much as a decent sized jar in the UK. I bought some anyway, having been advised by a friend to get hold of the dark stuff that you don’t get anywhere else.

I bought some food and coffee in the market, relieved to have broken my severe Tim Hortons addiction that had blown up over the past few days. And then I walked back towards my hostel for the last time, through the sodden streets and the crowds of umbrellas. A thick fog brewed up and when I got to the airport for my flight home I could hardly see the planes on the runway. The weather matched my mood – a fun spontaneous trip was ending, and in the morning I would be back at work.

Sunday

Apr 24, 2011 in Canada 2011

Sunday

I got up early again the next day, planning to go to Niagara. But I got lost on the way to the subway station, ended up walking all the way to Union Station, and missing the train by five minutes. It was Easter Sunday, and few trains or buses were running. It was raining anyway, so I decided to leave Niagara for the next day. I walked out through the empty streets of Toronto, quiet in the drizzle, and the only people around were homeless, unhinged, or both. I ended up in a Tim Hortons, a place I had never heard of before arriving here but which was on every street corner. Their business is in providing disgustingly sugary snacks. I bought a coffee and a doughnut, and felt slightly nauseous after I’d finished. 20 minutes later I had bizarre cravings for another one. I decided Tim Hortons was a dangerous place and left.

By 11am the streets were getting a little bit busier. I wanted to check out some contemporary art, so I walked a long walk from the centre of the city out to the western districts, where I found the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. A gallery with a coffee-inspired acronym – it had to be good. But it was closed for a new installation to be constructed, so I trudged back into the city.

By now it was hot and sunny again, and I was annoyed not to be at Niagara. I hoped the weather would stay fine the next day.

Toronto Islands

Apr 23, 2011 in Canada 2011

Toronto Islands

I walked down Bay Street and found my way to the ferry terminal. The boat shuttled across to the islands in a few minutes, and in hot sunshine I went walking. I didn’t get very far before I reached a small cafe, so I bought a coffee and sat on a nearby rocky beach, watching high clouds drift over Toronto. I wanted to walk out onto a small headland for a better view, but as I did, a giant Canada Goose suddenly reared up in front of me, flapped his wings and hissed. I backed off, a bit surprised. I waited until he’d calmed down and then tried again, skirting the edge of what I thought might be his territory. But he jumped up again. I thought about braving it and pushing on, but had visions of “Traveller killed in freak goose incident” headlines and decided the views from the beach were OK.

I walked over to the far shore of the islands, and it felt like a very peaceful place compared to the city. It was still early season and most things were closed, so all I could do was relax and watch the green waters of Lake Ontario churning in the wind. On a pier on the outer shore was a sign like you often find in touristy places, indicating the distances from here to various places. It was a bit sparse, though. The only places indicated were Niagara Falls and the North Pole.

I wandered through the islands back to the main ferry terminal and found that the queues for the return boats were immense. It looked like it would take hours to get on board, so I headed to a quieter ferry terminal, two miles away at the other end of the island. It was a long walk and I got there just after a ferry had left. It was an hour until the next one, and there was nothing to do but watch sunbeams over the city until the boat came in.

City Hall

Apr 23, 2011 in Canada 2011

City Hall

The most common way for me to be out and about early in the morning is if I’ve been out all night. But I was suddenly and unexpectedly five time zones west of my usual habitat so I got up at 6am and headed out into the city. The day started grey and drizzly, and I slightly regretted leaving behind London during its hottest April ever. But the clouds started to break up and the sun eventually appeared.

I wandered randomly and ended up at City Hall, which looked to me like a 1960s launchpad. The sun was now hot, and I sat in the shade nearby, pondering my next move. Temperatures now seemed to be soaring, almost to the high standards that I’d left behind in London, so I decided to head out to the Toronto Islands.

CN Tower

Apr 22, 2011 in Canada 2011

CN Tower

On a Thursday evening, I was gripped by a sudden urge to travel. It happens sometimes. I checked out flight prices, but it was Easter weekend and everywhere in Europe was absurdly overpriced. I looked down a list of flight prices, scrolling to ever higher prices in search of somewhere that was even remotely both affordable and interesting. And then I spotted a flight to Canada, for a very reasonable sum, leaving the next morning. Before I even knew what I was doing, I’d gone and bought the tickets.

And so only a matter of hours later I was touching down in Toronto, on a cold overcast April day. I headed into the city with no plan at all. One of the first things I caught sight of was naturally the CN Tower, once the tallest structure in the world and far higher than anything else even in this city full of skyscrapers. I went up and watched night fall over the city.

Foggy morning

Jan 10, 2011 in Luxembourg 2011

Foggy morning

Sunday evening in Luxembourg was far from thrilling. I passed the evening in a cafe, which was not serving much food. I could only get soup, so I had three bowls for my evening meal. I hadn’t done everything there was to do in Luxembourg and I’d have quite liked to see a bit of the countryside, but I felt like my two days here had been more than enough.

In the morning I had to get up at 5am to catch a train back to London. I walked out into the darkness and found the country swathed in thick fog. As I walked back along the Corniche, the lights of the houses on the valley floor shone through and made a nice looking scene.

The train left Luxembourg in darkness, and I fell asleep in a more or less empty carriage. When I woke a couple of hours later, the carriage was full and I was surrounded by commuters heading into Brussels. A grey day was dawning, and rain was falling as I changed trains at Brussels. I got a coffee and pastry from the same cafe I’d been to on the way, and then got the Eurostar back to St. Pancras.

MUDAM

Jan 09, 2011 in Luxembourg 2011

MUDAM

I spent my Sunday afternoon at MUDAM, a new contemporary art gallery on a hill near the European Court of Justice. I walked there via a forest path which climbed steeply from the river bank up to the heights, through the restored Fort Thüngen to the gallery. The building itself is the work of IM Pei with trademark glass pyramids making an odd contrast with the old fortifications nearby.

The museum was quite small but had some quality works of art in it. My favourite was the exhibition of the works of Attila Csörgő. Wild clockwork devices which constructed and deconstructed geometric shapes by pulling strings attached to bits of wood were possibly the most impressive, not least because it was absolutely beyond my comprehension that someone could ever build something like them.

By the time I left the gallery it was dark. I set off back to town via the route I’d come, only to realise after a few hundred metres that it was, of course, completely unlit. I didn’t feel like turning back, so I pushed on using the weedy light from my mobile phone to light the way. The damp corridors of Fort Thüngen were quite spooky in the pitch darkness. I hurried on through to the forest, and then found my way down the trail back to the bottom of the Alzette valley.