Articles tagged with "city"
I went to Rio’s other extraordinarily famous viewpoint, Pão de Açúcar. I climbed Morro da Urca and then got a cable car up to the top to see the sun set and the city look incredible once again.
By the time it was getting properly dark, there were only a few people left. Raccoons were beginning to appear, looking for scraps of food. I got the last bus down and walked back to where I was staying in Botafogo.
The day after the Pedra da Gavea climb, I went to Corcovado. I was tempted to climb that as well, but I kept reading about robberies on the trail and in the end I decided just to get the bus up. Tiredness from the day before may also have been a factor.
So I got the bus up, getting charged the high season fare even though I was the only passenger, because supposedly it was the school holidays. And it was pretty crowded up the top. But as the sun set and the views got better and better, it got quieter and more peaceful.
After the conference in Australia, I headed for New Zealand, to visit my friends John and Juliet who’d moved there at the same time as I’d moved to Chile in 2011. We took a drive around Auckland on the evening I arrived.
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 start of the next 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.
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 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.
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 waiting for breaks in the weather.
I found a food market, in which there was a spectacular choice of maple syrup. What is sold as maple syrup in the UK must 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 big 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.
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.
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.
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 like some kind of alien launchpad. Temperatures were now soaring, almost to the high standards that I’d left behind in London, so I decided to head out to the Toronto Islands.
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. I went up and watched night fall over the city.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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 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.
Picturesque as it was, Luxembourg was not a great place for a solo traveller. The demographic here was pretty different to the one I inhabit, and I wandered the streets for a while seeing few signs of fun nightlife but plenty of expensive restaurants. Not wanting to spend large quantities of Euros on my evening meal, I ended up getting a crêpe from a cafe, and then spending the evening walking around the high parts of town and watching night fall.
I’d kind of been to Luxembourg before, passing through at the age of six on the way from the UK to Switzerland on my first ever trip outside the UK. But it occurred to me that I had absolutely no idea what the place was like, would not recognise a picture of the place if I saw one, and yet it was only 300 miles away and very easy to get to.
So I bought some Eurostar tickets and went there. A high speed journey took me to grey rainy Brussels in less than two hours. I got a coffee and pastry for breakfast in Midi station, then got on the much slower train to Luxembourg. The clouds cleared and the sun was shining as we passed through the snowy forests of the Ardennes.
I can’t imagine ever getting bored of arriving in a place I’ve never been to before, especially one so close to home but so completely obscure to me. I was in a good mood as I walked out of the station and into the city. I walked randomly towards the centre, crossed a soaring bridge over the Pétrusse valley, and then found myself on the Corniche, a narrow road along a cliff edge over the Alzette valley. I was wondering why I’d never, to the best of my recollection, seen even a single photo of this town. Later, as the sun was setting, I went to the ruined fortifications of the city and headed up to some viewpoints as the lights were coming on.
I spent a few days in La Laguna. Last time I’d been here it had been cold, wet and misty, but this time it was sunny and quite warm. I stayed in the centre of town and walked each day down to the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, where the meeting was being held. I liked the town and thought I’d probably quite like to live here one day.
I saw a sign one morning advertising a demonstration for independence for the Canary Islands. I was disappointed to find I’d missed it by a few days – I’d have loved to see what the independence movement was like. If they ever do secede from Spain it will be nice to have a new country to visit.
I went to the Canary Islands for a meeting. I keep on trying to go there by boat seeing as every airline I fly with there seems to be in some way appalling or incompetent. But I had no time and I was flying again.
My flight was very early. Somehow it often seems to me that it’s a better idea to stay up all night than to get just a few hours of sleep, so I went out, got back late, packed up and then headed for Heathrow. It seemed like a good idea at the time but I was unbelievably tired by the time I got to the airport not long before sunrise.
Everyone except me was flying back home from Santiago’s airport. I am prepared to go to great lengths to avoid flying with Ryanair, and so I’d booked a slightly more expensive flight from A Coruña. It at least gave me a chance to see another place, so I headed out after I’d said goodbye to everyone.
A Coruña is much bigger than Santiago, and seemed much less touristy. One very cool thing about it is that it’s surrounded by the sea and has beaches right in the city centre. I went and sat one one for a while.
I walked on to the main square, but I’d spent too long on the beach and I didn’t have time to make use of the cafes here. I got the bus to the airport, and even though my flight was then delayed by several hours, I did not regret continuing my Ryanair boycott.
I have had many good times in Santiago de Compostela. This time I was going with a group of friends to celebrate an imminent wedding. We spent three days there, making good use of all the tiny bars in the historic city centre in the nights, and the cafes in the Praza da Quintana in the following mornings.
I finished my lap and went to the harbour for a while. There were lots of cafes near the water’s edge, overlooking all the decadent playboy’s yachts. I picked one and sat down. There was no menu and no prices, but I decided I was going to have a coffee by the harbour in Monaco regardless of expense. I was actually quite disappointed when it was only €1.70.
I bought some lunch and sat by the sea eating it. Monaco was all action, with traffic pounding around the narrow streets. I went into a Casino supermarket and bought some Monegasque chocolate and wine, and then headed back to Nice to catch the train to Narbonne. My microstates tour was over, and now the only countries in Europe that I still needed to visit were Andorra and San Marino.
Crossing Switzerland by train in a day was easy. My journey to Geneva required me to change at Buchs, Sargans and Zürich. At each stop, the gap between the trains was exactly enough for me to find the platform and go to it – neither more nor less. I watched the beautiful countryside sweeping past from the comfort of air-conditioned trains.
From Geneva I caught a TGV to Nice, and spent a night there, in a hot airless hostel. I walked down to the beach in the humid night and sat on the shores of the Mediterranean. I’d already come a long way from Vienna, and I was only half way to my destination.
In the morning, I got a train along the coast to Monaco. I didn’t really have any plans at all to fill the few hours I had before I needed to catch a train to Narbonne. I emerged from the cavernous station to find myself in the extraordinarily familiar surroundings of Saint-Devote, the first corner of the grand prix circuit. It was really strange to be somewhere where I recognised everything, and had seen everything from many different angles, many times over the years, without ever having been there. There was only one thing for a grand prix fan to do at this point. I headed out for a lap.
The more I walked, the more I decided I really, really wanted to see a grand prix live here. The narrowness of the streets, and the steepness of the climbs and descents, was so much more dramatic in the flesh than it ever looked on television. Cars were having trouble overtaking buses, so how Formula One cars could ever do any overtaking was beyond me. I walked up the hill to the Casino, down through the Mirabeau and round the fantastic Loewes Hairpin. I thought of all the awesome races that had passed here, and looked at the marks they’d left on the kerbs.
I carried on, under the tunnel, and up towards the left-hander at Tabac. There is a chicane here called the Swimming Pool, so I’m not sure why I was actually surprised to see a swimming pool. I think they cover it over during the GP weekend so I’d always imagined it was some former landmark. But now I passed by it, nearing the end of my lap. I rounded the Rascasse and then headed into the final straight. I would definitely have to come back here to watch a grand prix.
I didn’t have much time to spare in Vienna. I was giving the penultimate talk of the conference, so I spent the whole week preparing it and stressing about it. I went for a walk one afternoon when there were no conference sessions and wandered randomly around Vienna.
I went to Vienna for a conference. After an early flight and almost no sleep, I was exhausted when I got there, and I headed for a hostel and slept for a while. In the evening I got up and explored the city, randomly wandering the streets. It was hot and humid, and I stopped often for drinks and snacks.
In the evening, as I walked back to the hostel, I felt a sudden thud on my shoulder. I looked around, and found myself face to face with a grasshopper of terrifying size. Where he had come from, I don’t know, but I recoiled in horror, the confusion of the situation only getting worse as I realised you can’t recoil very far from your own shoulder. I slapped frantically and twitched across the pavement, getting rid of the beast but attracting confused looks from a passer-by.
I walked back to the hostel in the midnight daylight. The next day, it rained heavily all day, and I sat in a cafe watching the rain batter on the window and drinking coffee until I got tunnel vision.
The next day it was nicer. I walked across the bridge from Tromsøya to the mainland, and got the cable car up the hill to Storsteinen. It was a short ride up, and it wasn’t cheap. Nothing is in Norway. But it was worth it. There weren’t too many people around, and the views over the city and the mountains were pretty incredible.
I got to Tromsø at 10pm. It was raining heavily and yet daylight. I got a bus into the city, and I wasn’t quite sure when we’d arrived in the centre. The driver said to me “This is it, you’re here – you’re in the middle of nowhere!”. Fantastic, I said, that’s exactly where I want to be. I got off and walked around. It had stopped raining, and it was surreal that it was daylight and yet almost 11pm. I found the bus stop I needed to go to the hostel I was staying at, a couple of miles outside town.
I checked in, and then went for a walk. The rain clouds were spent now, and were disappearing rapidly. As it approached midnight, only their last dregs remained as wisps of white in a clear blue sky. The sun was low in the sky, but at the stroke of midnight it was still sitting clear of the horizon over the mountains of Kvaløya to the north. There was not even a hint of sunset red in the sky. It hung steady for a while, moving neither up nor down. By 1am it was on its way up again. It was another Arctic day.
My trip to Norway in 2002 had been so awesome that for years I’d been reluctant to think about going back. The chances were it wouldn’t be as good as the last time and maybe it would even be disappointing. But then one day I felt like going to the Arctic Circle, and flights to Tromsø were affordable.
So I flew to Oslo, and got a train into the city. I walked up Karl Johans Gate feeling nostalgic, passing familiar places and remembering good times. I walked down to the harbour and looked out to sea in the light drizzle. But before I could get too nostalgic it was time to go. I had to get a train to Rygge, to catch my flight to the Arctic.
While we were in Paris, the Villette Sonique music festival was on, and the last night’s star attraction was Joanna Newsom. I’d heard her music before, recommended to me with great enthusiasm by two of my friends, but I was not a fan. In fact, I thought it was unbelievably awful and I planned never to listen to it again.
But my friends in Paris wanted to go, and I reluctantly bought a ticket. And as it happened, the gig entirely changed my opinion. She was supported by Roy Harper, who looked pretty messed up and rambled vaguely between songs. But his music was pretty good, with just his voice, a guitar and a delay pedal.
And then Joanna Newsom came on stage. The audience were in raptures right from the start, which put me off a bit, but her voice didn’t sound as weird as it had done on the songs I’d heard before. It was one of those gigs where you start off quite liking it, and as the show progresses you realise it’s something quite special, where the musician is on supreme form and the audience is ever more impressed. By the encore I was clapping almost as enthusiastically as the rest of them.
We went to the Pompidou centre and saw some modern art. It was another classic Paris thing to do that I hadn’t done before. We also, being scientists keen to communicate what we do, joined in at Paris’s first “Science Corner”, where people from various disciplines set up stands on the plaza in front of the centre, offering the public the chance to ask us anything they wanted to. Not speaking French obviously made it a bit difficult for those of us from the UK, but none the less we got plenty of interest. There were some press people there and articles later appeared in a few newspapers.
It had been a long time since I’d been to Paris properly. I’d passed through on my way to Barcelona a couple of months ago, but now, two friends of mine were living here, so I got a eurostar early one Saturday morning to go and visit them.
We visited Notre Dame. I’d been there before but only to the inside. We decided to go up to the roof. It was a May bank holiday weekend so this involved spending a long time in a queue, creeping slowly across the square in front of the cathedral. It looked like it was going to rain heavily, and I was hoping it would so that some less enthusiastic queuers might go away and do something else, but it didn’t.
Eventually we made it up to the heights. By coincidence it was ten years to the day since my first visit to Paris, when I’d arrived utterly broke after a trip across Europe to celebrate the end of my degree. I thought then that I had just left UCL forever. I wondered what I would have made of it then, if someone told me I’d actually have got a job there, ten years on.
I flew from Iceland to Glasgow, slightly weirdly going via Manchester. Absurd security regulations meant that we had to leave the plane, go through security, and then reboard. The tub of skyr that I’d bought just before boarding my plane in Reykjavík could not be taken through security in Manchester, nor left on the plane, so it had to be chucked.
I was in Glasgow for the National Astronomy Meeting. I had bad memories of the city, having had a very stressful time here after NAM two years earlier when my ferry from Ireland was late. I had missed the night train to London, had to stay in an unpleasant hostel and then buy a new ticket in the morning at great expense. Apart from that I’d passed through a few times before, but never stopped. I now had a week to see if the city deserved the bad image I had of it.
I considered going to some talks on the first day of the conference, but I’d spent all night on an Icelandic volcano and in the end, tiredness won. Fortunately I got a bit more out of the subsequent days, presented some of my own work in Glasgow University’s Bute Hall, talked to a lot of astronomers, and generally enjoyed the Glasgow vibe. It was sunny and warm. By the time I came to leave, I’d almost forgotten just how unpleasant it had been to find myself on Central Station just after the last train had gone.
Eight months ago, I’d stood outside Keflavík airport and seen the snow-capped cone of Snæfell, 70 miles away across Faxaflói. It was a clear sign, telling me that I would certainly return to Iceland. I felt that very strongly but I never expected to come back so soon. While I was in Belgrade I’d heard that a volcano had started erupting in the Fimmvörðuháls pass, close to where I’d been hiking. It was an impressive and easily accessible eruption. I couldn’t believe it had happened so soon after I was there and I felt annoyed that I wouldn’t see it. But then, the thought occurred to me that there was no reason why I shouldn’t go and see it. One Monday morning, with the eruption still going on, I decided to go back. I booked a flight for the Friday, and then spent an agonising four days hoping that the eruption wouldn’t stop, that the weather would be OK, and that I’d be able to see the eruption.
And so for the third time I got a late flight from Heathrow to Keflavík. I saw the northern lights from the plane window, the first time I’d seen them since my first trip to Iceland, and then I got a sudden, breathtaking glimpse of something red and pulsating far below. It could surely only be the volcano. By the time I’d grabbed my camera it had disappeared from view. I became furiously impatient as we slowly descended into Keflavík.
I got the usual bus into town, and felt an extreme sense of deja vu as I walked towards the city hostel. Last summer it had still been light and warm as I walked in to the city at midnight; this time the bus broke down on the way and we had to transfer to another one in a howling gale in the darkness. I got to the hostel and booked myself some transport to the volcano for the next afternoon.
The next day I walked around the city again. It was grim and rainy, and the signs didn’t look good. My trip for the afternoon was uncertain, and I couldn’t even book a trip for the Sunday. The forecast was for severe weather, and no-one was planning on making any trips. Eventually, I found one company who said they would consider doing a trip and I left them my number. I revisited a few of my favourite Reykjavík sights, and then spent the afternoon in a cafe where I ordered so many espressos that eventually they let me make my own. I was properly blazing when I heard the bad news that the trip to the volcano for the afternoon was cancelled. All my hopes were now on Sunday.
I’d heard about the Font Màgica last time I was here. It sounded a bit cheesy and I wasn’t too keen on visiting, but on the other hand it was up on Montjuïc and I thought there might be some good views over the city. So we all went up there, arriving just as the show started.
To my surprise I was quite impressed. The timing was good, with the sun having set and the sky darkening as the water shone in rainbows of colour. The number of people there made it difficult to see the show that well, but it was better than I’d expected. And after it was over we walked up to the front of the Palau Nacional and looked out over the city as the crowds dispersed.
A week and a half after I got back from Belgrade, I was on the road again. My paper on Herschel results was submitted, my long month of hell was over, and I walked along to St. Pancras to get a train to Barcelona. I was going there with some friends to celebrate a 30th birthday, and it turned out to be cheaper to travel overland. So I got the Eurostar to Paris, pausing briefly at Gare du Nord. Last time, I was on my way back from Beijing, and after thousands of miles of travel across Asia with no problem, disaster had struck just 200 miles from home in a farce of missed trains and lost tickets. I held tightly on to my Barcelona ticket, crossed town to Gare d’Austerlitz and got a train to Portbou.
We crossed France during the night. In the morning we were in the far south, and I saw a full moon setting over the Pyrenees at Perpignan. Not long after that the train arrived at Portbou, where I had about 20 seconds to find the Barcelona train, otherwise I’d have to wait for two hours for the next one. I made it, jumping on board just before the doors closed. Then I slept all the way to Barcelona Sants.
I met up with my friends and went exploring. In my tired post-night train state this involved a lot of stopping and relaxing in cafes. We ended up in the Jardines de la Ciudadela, and relaxed by the lakes and fountains there for a while.
Gig time came. We headed across the river, back through the wide streets of Novi Beograd, at first just us and then later joining ever increasing crowds of people on their way to the massive arena. It was going to be awesome.
We had two spare tickets. Someone at the hostel had put us in touch with someone they knew who was looking for a ticket. We’d spoken to this person, Nikola, on the phone, and he’d offered us 1000 dinar each for the tickets. Face value was 3000 so we decided we’d try to sell them at the venue and see if we got some more. When we were outside, with huge throngs of Balkan metallers swirling around, I slightly wondered if I should have taken Nikola’s offer. I’ve never managed to tout tickets successfully even in London, so trying to cut deals in Serbia was not going to be easy.
In the end we sorted things out pretty quickly. There were plenty of people asking for tickets, and my only mistake was picking someone who was pretty wired and didn’t speak English. We had a haphazard negotiation, a brief tussle when he tried to take the tickets from me without letting go of his cash, a short misunderstanding when he thought I was also selling my own ticket, and then the deal was sorted. We headed in before anyone else tried to forcibly buy our tickets from us.
The Lisbon crowd had been quite well managed, but here it was boisterous, and the security was heavy handed. The entrance to the cheap part of the arena was overcrowded, and it took us a long time to get in. At one point the security had started shoving people around, and I thought it was going to get violent. Luckily the moment passed, and we made it in. We missed all of Combichrist’s set, but I’d seen a bit of them in Lisbon and I thought they were really, really poor, so I was not upset.
The gig was pretty much as awesome as the Lisbon show had been. The explosions were all well-timed this time, and I could see that it was all running smoothly. The only slight disappointments were that they didn’t play “Liebe ist für alle da” or “Seemann“, which had both been awesome in Lisbon. But it was still an incredible show. We were close enough to the front to get pretty hot from all the flamethrowers, and we weren’t even in the “Fan Pit”, the front third of the floor where tickets had been twice as expensive.
After the show we poured back out onto the streets of Novi Beograd. The next morning Sam got a train to Budapest for a few more days of travelling. I flew home, to another few days of 15 hour stints in the office. But it had definitely been worth coming.
We went to the Sveti Sava cathedral. On another beautiful spring day, the parks in front of the cathedral had a nice vibe.
Later as it got dark we headed towards the centre of the city. We passed the parliament buildings and the presidential residence, and I stopped to take a photo. As I took a long exposure, a smartly dressed guy who was walking by approached. He didn’t look happy. He demanded to see our passports. My first thought was that it was some kind of scam and I was going to walk away, but then he showed me a police badge. I showed him my passport, holding onto it carefully in case he was just trying to steal it. He asked us things in very broken English, the gist of which was that he wanted to know what we were doing. He didn’t speak very much English, and we did not speak any Serbian, so he just shouted at us a bit. He seemed bothered by the way I was taking photos, which he seemed to be saying was not legitimately touristic. Still, in the end it was just a few unpleasant minutes and then he walked off. I’d never got any vibe of ex-dictatorship on my previous visit here, but this was definitely that.
The next day we walked past the same place and noticed a prominent sign saying “No photography”.
Early the next morning we headed down to the station to catch the train to Belgrade. I slept most of the way, waking only to see endless flat green fields occasionally. Last time I’d crossed a border into Serbia, the guard had been remarkably jovial considering it had been 2am. This time, it was the middle of a beautiful spring day but the man who stamped our passports was definitely not happy. He looked at my battered document with some disgust, but stamped us in eventually.
We got to Belgrade in the early afternoon and checked into a hostel. At first it seemed incredibly welcoming and cool. Over the next few days, though, we’d find that the Swedish owner was pretty weird, vaguely racist and generally a bit unpleasant to be around. Still, they made me a coffee and that made me happy, and it was good to be back in Serbia.
We headed over to the Belgrade Arena to pick up our tickets. Last time, I’d only crossed the Sava briefly, to go to a club on a boat, so I hadn’t seen Novi Beograd at all. Under clear blue skies I really liked it. It was quite quiet, and we stopped for coffees and snacks at cafes along the way to the stadium. We got hold of our tickets with no problems, and it was nice to actually have one this time. Negotiating my way past layers of security in Lisbon when my ticket never arrived had been challenging enough; I was glad I wouldn’t have to do the same in Serbia.
After seeing Rammstein in Berlin, I’d waited five years before getting a chance to see them again in Lisbon. The Lisbon gig was so awesome that as soon as I got back to London I decided to go and see them again. Having seen the first night of the tour, it only seemed right, in the end, to see the last night as well, and so I bought tickets to see them in Belgrade. I’d loved the city when I’d been there before, so I thought it would be great to go back and see a gig there.
Later, it turned out this hadn’t been such a good idea. The gig turned out to be in the middle of the busiest and most stressful month of my professional career, as I tried to understand and interpret data from the Herschel Space Observatory, in time for a deadline for publishing the results of the end of March. Taking a Thursday and Friday off in the middle of this was not the wisest move. I considered not going, but in the end I decided I’d just have to live with working some even longer hours either side of the trip. I’d regret it too much if I didn’t go.
There were going to be four of us going, but two pulled out at the last minute, so it was just me and Sam who met up at Luton airport brutally early on the Thursday morning to fly to Zagreb. Our tastes in music are very different. They have just one overlap, and that is Rammstein. Sam hadn’t seen them before but he couldn’t have been looking forward to it any more than I was. We’d decided to go to Zagreb first as the flights were a bit cheaper and it would be nice to see another city.
I’d been here before, in the middle of winter seven years ago. I’d only spent a day in Zagreb then, and I’d been horribly tired after getting a night train from Trieste. I was horribly tired again, but this time it was a fantastic warm sunny day. We walked up to the upper town, and took in the view from near the Lotrščak Tower.
Back in Santiago it was a beautiful summery day. I had only an afternoon and a morning before heading back to Europe. News from home was that it was the coldest winter for years, and London was in chaos as a few inches of snow caused mass panic. Meanwhile I sat in the Plaza de Armas, enjoying the summer. An eccentric old man sat down next to me and started chatting. It was good to practice my Spanish, and at first the conversation was quite sensible, but later it became more surreal and confusing. When I could no longer understand what he was saying, I got up and left.
My trip ended badly. I got ill on my last night, and felt horrific the next morning. I felt so bad that I thought I might not make it to the airport, but I decided to give it a go. I threw on my pack and staggered out into the heat of the day. I managed to walk in the wrong direction for a few minutes, turned around wearily and shuffled along to the Alameda. As I reached it I felt horrific again, and ended up having to throw up in a bin. Two passing tramps asked me if I was OK, then asked me for some money. I wasn’t feeling charitable and I think I told them to piss off and leave me alone, or something like that. I sat down, took some deep breaths, and then found the airport bus.
At the airport I could hardly stand up, and I slumped against the check-in desk, pale and shaking. I thought I probably looked like I was a heavy drugs user on a major withdrawal, and wondered if I’d have problems at security, but I got through. And whatever was wrong with me passed within a few hours. By the time we landed in Europe I was feeling pretty OK again. I thought I was hearing things when the pilot said it was -8°C in Paris, but sadly I was totally compos mentis and it really was 40°C colder than it had been when I got on the plane. The short hop back to London took us over a countryside under deep snow. It was a brutal transition.
Just a few miles north of Arica was the border with Peru. Colectivos plied the route, leaving from near where I was staying. I’d planned to spend three days in Parque Nacional Lauca, but was thwarted by arriving on a weekend and could only spend one day there, so I had time to spare and decided to spend an afternoon in Peru.
I got to Tacna in the early afternoon. I passed through the long distance bus station, saw buses going to Cuzco, Arequipa, Lima and other places, and felt outrageously tempted to abandon my flight home and disappear into Peru for a while instead. Touts shouted destinations at me, assuming I was on my way to somewhere. But I decided to be sensible, and carried on into town.
Tacna was astonishingly different from Arica. The difference of 20 miles made an appalling difference to the lives and chances of people on one side of the border compared to the other. Arica was a bit grubby and noticeably poorer than places further south, but Tacna was far, far worse off. Every time I sat down I was surrounded by shoe-shine children, desperately trying to make a little bit of money. If they’d only been born a little bit further south they might have had a childhood. It seemed horrifically arbitrary and depressing.
It was grey and overcast when I arrived, but later the sun came out, and Tacna’s cathedral looked quite nice in the evening light. As it got dark I thought I’d better head back to Chile. I walked back to the bus station and got in a taxi. The border crossing was most of the journey, and I didn’t make things easy for myself by misplacing my entry card, which I’d only got few hours earlier. I rummaged in every corner of my backpack, embarrassed to be causing delays. The border guard muttered something about me being a stoner, which I thought was a little bit harsh. He said I could pay 9 soles if I couldn’t find it, but luckily I did, and got out of Peru without further incident. We passed through customs, and a Peruvian girl pointed out that one of the pockets of my backpack was open. We started chatting and she was a bit put out that I’d spent only one day in Peru. I told her about my previous trip where I’d travelled the whole length of the country, and that placated her. She was from Tacna but had lived in Cuzco and we chatted about places there.
And then my taxi was ready to head off. I got back in and crossed finally into Chile. As we approached Arica I saw a sign that said “Santiago 2085”. I was quite glad I’d booked a flight and would not have to cover that in a 36 hour bus journey.
I was sad to leave Iquique, but I didn’t have much time left now before my flight home, and I still wanted to make it up to the very top of Chile. I got a bus to Arica, the northernmost town in the country.
Arica wasn’t as cool as Iquique, but I still liked it a lot. It was a lot more run-down looking, with low houses sprawling over a huge area. The hostel I stayed in was quite a way out of the centre, so I walked miles during my few days here. The first day I was there was a Sunday, which was a shame because it meant all the travel agents were closed, and my plan to spend three days in Parque Nacional Lauca was impossible. So instead I wandered around the city, eventually finding my way up El Morro, a huge headland which towers over the centre. I got there as the sun was setting, and climbed up it for some amazing views of the Pacific sunset. In the other direction, looking east I could see two giant snow-capped mountains, so far away they were only just barely visible on the horizon.
I watched the sunset and then watched the city lights come on. I was so close to Peru here that I decided I couldn’t leave without a quick look across the border.
I got a bus to Iquique. It was a great journey through the desert to Antofagasta, and then up the coast. A stunning moonrise over the Andes felt like a sign that this was a good direction to be heading in.
It was New Year’s Eve, and I had a few things to sort out. I needed to buy a flight from Arica to Santiago, if I was going to make it up there and still get back in time for my flight home; I needed a new bag because mine was falling apart; and I needed an FC Iquique football top. I had a great Spanish day and accomplished all my tasks with a minimum of misunderstanding.
I went for a walk on the beach. I kept on getting into random conversations – someone from Santiago visiting the north for the first time, and enjoying the weather, a local who told me there would be fireworks later on, and a very, very drunk guy who was more or less totally incomprehensible. The vibe was good. I sat down in the sand to watch the sun set on 2009, and then went back to the hostel for a new year party.
2010 was a good few hours old before I got up to see what it was like. I hung out in the hostel for a while, brewing Turkish coffees. Eventually I got hungry, and headed out to see what was going on in town. Almost nothing was going on – the streets were deserted and the shops were shut, but eventually I found a shop that was open, and bought some food. Then I went to the beach, which was where everyone was. I wandered through the crowds and found a small patch of sand to sit down on.