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Buenos Aires......Elegantly Wasted !

...and Quintessentially South American.

sunny 33 °C

The most enduring memory of my two weeks in the Argentinian Capital will always be the quality time I was able to spend with Sandy .... My eldest son , who is currently ensconced in Palermo .... A Bohemian and elegant suburb adjacent to the Ritzy Recoleta (the site of Eva Perons tomb) and to the north west of downtown Buenos Aires.

Like many districts of the city, Palermo is renowned for its night life, with numerous high quality cafes , restaurants and bars..... Perfect I guess in terms of work prospects for a young man with a wealth of expertise in the hospitality industry .
In the same way as myself, but on a much grander scale ,Sandy had been touring around South America ,taking in Chile ,Bolivia ,Uruguay, Columbia, Brazil and Peru along the way.

He has decided to put down some roots ( at least temporarily) in sunny Buenos Aires .....Initially landing a job managing a local American owned bar with the distinctly non Latin name of "The Office"..... and rapidly approaching an eloquence and proficiency with that distinctly Buenos Aires version of the Spanish language spoken by the Portenos (inhabitants of the Port of BA), of which I had been informed and was later to discover entirely accurate during my time in Barcelona.

Living and working in a country is by far the most efficient way to achieve mastery of a language , particularly when you are working in hospitality where you have to speak the local lingo or you will sink without trace. He has also reinforced this practical experience with regular one on one tuition...so good on yer son .

At the time of writing...yes literally today..... it is Sandy's 27th Birthday...and the first on which he has not been able to take advantage of the Australian public holiday.....tough luck mate. He has also just landed a new job in Sales and with a beautiful Argentinian girlfriend by his side and having just joined a local football team things look sweet for my boy. Happy birthday son.

But what of the Argentinian capital? !!

Buenos Aires is a big , arrogant ,dirty sweet blockbuster of a city and the most quintessentially "Latin American " metropolis of those I have visited so far, whilst at the same time maintaining a distinctly European flavour largely on account of the character of its architecture......... but also because the inhabitants consider themselves to be more European than South American in terms of their sophistication relative to their neighbours.

Definitely not for the faint hearted ,B.A is party central.......this city pulsates ,rocks and knocks you for six and with purportedly more night clubs per head of population than any other country on the planet the nocturnal reveller will find more than enough to keep himself occupied during a steamy Buenos Aires night.

Indeed , in much the same way as every other South American town or city I have visited nothing really starts to get going until late in the evening and continues full swing until the early hours. Great training for my Brazilian experience which followed hard on the heels of my time here. It is not unusual for example to see a family with school age children consuming their evening meal at midnight.

I think I said "Steamy" earlier !

The words Buenos Aires have a literal translation of "good Air" and this leaves me a little bemused to say the least......for my general impression during the time I spent in the Argentinian capital was that it was...to say the least...a little "close".
Less generous commentators might characterise the climate here in February as being stupefyingly hot and humid...and heck Id have to agree with them.

So you would think the citizens would be prepared for these particularly hot humid conditions.

This may well be the case with the majority of the populace. However....I was to find to my chagrin that this does not appear to be the case when it comes to the City's Taxi drivers. For a kick off air conditioning appears to be an alien concept in a BA taxi......but probably more annoying was the fact that even though a taxi here is relatively inexpensive in comparison to Australia...there appears to be no guarantee that you are going to arrive at your destination.....and not once...not twice...but three times I was the hapless passenger in a taxi that overheated and broke down midway through my journey. Leaving the taxi driver cursing at his errant vehicle ( a little like the scene in Fawlty Towers where John Cleese gives his broken down mini a "damn good thrashing") and leaving myself stranded and sweatily trying to flag down a replacement. Not an uncommon occurrence I am led to believe.
On the positive side however , the taxi drivers are a font of valuable information when it comes to the most interesting and worthwhile city destinations. Like most Portenos they are inordinately proud of their city .....for example at least four natives informed me of the fact that the Avenida 9 De Julio (Its name commemorates Argentina's Independence Day, July 9, 1816). Is, at 110 metres wide and with nine lanes of traffic in each direction the worlds most expansive city thoroughfare. What they failed to mention is that it also takes at least ten minutes to cross on foot.

At its central point is the notoriously phallic obelisk which provides an excellent reference point for the on foot explorer and marks the centre of the downtown business district.....where the relative strength of the Australian dollar in contrast with the weaker Peso makes for some excellent shopping.Nearby is the quirky and brilliant statue of Don Quixote tilting at windmills.It also runs through the impressive Plaza de La Republica...another must see for the visitor here.

As a general impression I found the people here to be initially cool with foreigners..as if there is a wariness and distrust which then warms to a keen interest.
Given the current situation surrounding the Malvinas/Falklands (more of that later) I was careful to accentuate The Australian side of my dual nationality..."G'Day Mate" rather than "How are you my good man" was definitely the way to go ....and it certainly seems that our jewelled shores are a prized destination for the people here........

As in most cities I have visited I have made good use of the public transport system and whilst the Subte of this city is undoubtedly efficient ,and like Mexico unbelievably cheap it could certainly do with a facelift...much like other areas of the capital.

Having just come from Santiago...a city on the crest of a wave financially and buoyant with the impetus and confidence generated by a healthy economy, the contrasts with BA are quite poignant. In the Chilean capital the burgeoning economy and correspondent civic pride seem to have a cleansing effect ......well in terms of litter and dog droppings ! In Buenos Aires it seems quite normal and accepted to discard whatever disposable item you happen to have whether it be a newspaper, bottle , cigarette or whatever on the street. Sandy made a point that it is so endemic and accepted that you could drop litter at the foot of a policeman and he wouldn't admonish or even bat an eyelid. I elected not to test the theory however.

It does get hot here...and the truth be told occasionally a little bit smelly.....mainly because the canine population.......unlike their Chilean cousins are not as particular as to where they deposit their droppings....or maybe the Portenos are a little more reluctant to take care of them than their cousins in Santiago. Whichever way you choose to look at it....that ...and the inordinate amounts of litter that seem to plague the city are , in my humble opinion ,suggestive of a deeper malaise largely generated by the GFC and the corresponding declinine of the Peso in global financial trading.

Whereas Santiago shines like a new pin Buenos Aires is a noble rusty old sword

One commercial activity however which appears to be flourishing is the "oldest profession".......I could write a whole book about the blatancy of the "Love for Sale" marketing ploys in many of the countries I have visited. In BA whilst it is illegal for the touts to hand out advertising material, every lamppost, telephone box and window lintel is plastered with tear off pictures with telephone numbers and addresses resplendent with an image of some ample Argentinian female derriere ! An interesting fact is that these discarded leaflets represent at least 50 percent of the litter that I mentioned earlier.

Yet somehow, and Im not quite sure of the reason.....this city remains breathtakingly beautiful in most of the areas I was able to visit, for example whilst Graffiti is a widespread...it somehow seems to fit in with the character of the place.....artfully and tastefully contributing to the overall palette.

This is strongly apparent in the fashionable suburb of St Telmo......where I stayed during my time in the city.
The architecture here is amazing. Elegant tasteful and largely Italianate and I spent a whole day exploring the area.

Of particular note is the Plaza Dorrigo, site of the very popular weekend antiques market) and a perfect place to while away an hour or two on a sunny afternoon, nursing a cool drink, whilst being entertained by the exponents of that most famous Buenos Aires art form...The Tango..........which has its roots in the Boca (translated as "mouth"...and in this case of the Rio De La Plata) one of the oldest suburbs of the city and home to the famous Boca Juniors. ( More of my experiences of Argentinian football culture in my next instalment!)

It was on that day that it struck me that, not only St Telmo...but the whole city, has a strong parallel with Keith Richards.......A man whom I admire for his incredible ability to simply survive despite the rigours to which his body has been subject ! Yes I know...bear with me !!

Keith has often been described as being "elegantly wasted"...... a phrase which could have been designed for St Telmo in particular. He also gives the impression that he's stuck in a time warp when he utters words such as "The chicks still dig me man" . That's Buenos Aires....stuck in a time warp......and dreaming of glories past. A little like a champion bullfighter....still wearing the same costume he wore in his early twenties ,resplendent then...but faded and slightly ill fitting as middle age approaches.

Tellingly the most popular and prominent national figures continue to be Eva Peron (Her image looking down across the city from two sides of the tallest building along the Avenida 9 de Julio....and Diego Maradona. Figures from a bygone age and somehow a symbol of the yearning on the part of the 21st century Porteno for a return to days of yore when this port was an elegant prosperous powerhouse.

He certainly carries the swagger that is missing from his Chilean counterpart in Santiago and an elegance that is missing from his Brazilian neighbours but your average inhabitant of BA is seemingly happy to bask in glories past without really knowing how to fix the issues to hand.

As it happens my time in Argentina has coincided with a renewed focus on the part of the Argentinian people on the Malvinas islands...or the Falkland Islands as we British call them...the conflict around which during the early 1980s did much to set in stone the legend of the "Iron lady" Margaret Thatcher. Relations with the Britain since that time have been Lukewarm to say the least... frosty would probably be a more apt description...... Recently tensions have intensified and the Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner has begun to fan the flames of anti British sentiment....rapidly gaining favour and status amongst the people for her own "iron lady" like stance on the Malvinas issue.

In my opinion it's a little like Argentina ruling the Isle of Wight......I don't believe this is about the rights of a few rich Falkland Islanders to remain British (rich enough already)...its about oil.....I say relinquish British rights....let them have their oil and use some of the proceeds to restore an already beautiful city to its earlier glories.

Since the early eighties the Argentinians have taken their revenge on the football field.........noone wants hostilities to extend beyond this benign environment so hopefully diplomacy will win out.

So if you fancy a quick shufty into what its like to live Like a Latino and haven't much time to tour South America... if you like to party hard...you think that sleep is overrated....and you're a lover of succulent Beef....( a friend alerted me to a blog where the author had relished his steak so much he wanted to cut it in half ...take it home and use it as a pillow so he could lick it during the night). Get yourself to Buenos Aires.

Posted by Paul Neary 22:16 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Barcelona.... Ramble on !

You want to build what ?

sunny 27 °C

For me the words "Barcelona" and "Antoni Gaudi" will be forever synonymous. There is no other city on the planet where the architectural signature of a man figures so strongly.
A little research reveals that his personality mirrored closely the eccentricity and quirkiness of his creations.
As a young man he was very much the dandy.....overtly flashy and confident. In his latter years he is reputed to have been the diametrical opposite...often being mistaken for a tramp as he supervised work on his final project the soaring and majestic Sagrada Familia , a structure combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms with a brilliance that is awe inspiring.

The project was commenced in 1863....and was only a quarter completed at the time of his death in 1926.
Construction continues to this day.....interrupted on occasion by the fact that it is entirely funded by public donations. Amazing!!There was also the small matter of the Spanish civil war which held things up a little. Completion is scheduled for 2026....the anniversary of the mans death ...which adds a nice symmetry.

It may say a little about the urgency of the Spanish building trade...but that would be a cruel suggestion !!

I'm no expert on architecture....far from it.......I have seen some magnificent and beautiful buildings during my recent circuit around the planet but I will never forget my first glimpse of Gaudis meisterwerk as I made my way down the Avenida de Gaudi graced at its Northern end by another Gaudi creation. The Hospital de St Paul.
Its hard to describe the intricacy and detail of some of these buildings but ceramics, wrought iron and impossibly curved stonework immediately remind the observer who designed them.

When handing him his degree, Elies Rogent, director of the Barcelona School of architecture is reputed to have said: "We have given this academic title either to a fool or a genius. Time will show."

From my perspective the latter undoubtedly holds true.

But there is more to Barcelona than Antoni Gaudi and If I had arrived in Lisbon with no expectations and no preconceptions of what i might find, then my arrival in Barcelona was disproportionately laden with them.....

Having heard much regarding the resplendent tree lined elegance of Europes favourite boulevarde ,Las Ramblas.Moreover the splendour of The Passage de Gracia stunningly blessed with sublime architecture , including some of Gaudis most intricate and eccentric works ......(as well as one of the finest seafood restaurants at which it has been my pleasure to dine....Fishop....best sushi on the planet) it is hard not expect something special.

Barcelona does not disappoint.

For the on foot explorer the city is an absolute delight....the Tapas is amazing (probably no surprise)....and the coffee ....mmmmm the coffee.......probably edging out Lisbon in the excellence of preperation in most of the cafes I chose to sit and watch the world go by.
The public transport is excellent moreover and the subway ranks highly on my league table of subterranean transportation in the cities I have visited. For the tourist in a hurry the designers were able to cleverly create an awesomely functional metro system delivering one to each point of interest with flawless efficiency.

I have found that travelling on the Subway...Metro...Subte...Underground of whatever city I happen to be in has proven to be an excellent yardstick in an assessment of the particular genetic blueprint and intrinsic style of the people of the city of wherever I happen to be and it struck me whilst travelling on the green line from the north of the city where I was staying at "the Garden Hostel" (Highly recommended).....just how elegant and genetically gifted this race of people is. Its hard not to be intimidated by just how attractive they all seem to be.

Now at the risk alienating some of my British friends!!

When travelling on the Underground in London for example...as I have recently.....one becomes conscious of what a ragged mixed bag of races inhabit my nations capital. Don't get me wrong....Integration and the benefits of a cosmopolitan society is in itself a good thing...but when you fish out the overseas visitors and the expat Europeans the British residue is "chequered" to say the least.....and I can say that because I am indeed British..
Now Im not saying the British are a nation of Ugly Buggers........after all me and Jude Law are both from Blighty........but when in Barcelona its difficult not to be impressed by the talents of the Celestial engineer who seems to have been having a particularly good day when he was putting together the men and women of Barcelona.

Like much of Europe Spain is doing it tough in GFC terms....but it doesn't seem to get them down......and everyone wants to come to Australia....a seeming constant throughout my travels.

Another refreshing thing is that Spain seems remarkably untouched by the outstretched palm of American popular culture...and with the exception of Macdonalds Barcelona is deliciously and determinedly Spanish.

Other "Must sees" for the visitor to Barcelona listed in no particular order.....The Plaza Catalunya...at the opposite end of Las Ramblas to the Port.....the Gothic quarter......The Placa Real (home to the wrought iron lamposts which were Gaudi's first commission for the city). The fountains of Mont Juic (go and see them at night when they are beautifully and artfully illuminated and synchronised with the music).
Barca....probably the best club side on the planet....(I'm so upset my visit didn't coincide with a home game).

Finally...there is a restaurant down by the beach known as the 7 Portes. they serve the best paella in town......but what I liked about it most was the fact that it has been a favourite haunt of many luminaries through the years........if you look closely there are small brass plaques identifying the favoured seats of the likes of Dali and Picasso....and more recently Lou Reed and Yoko Ono.

So there you have it....Barcelona......love it.......get there if you can.

Next stop Blighty !!

.

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Posted by Paul Neary 00:51 Archived in Spain Tagged churches art buildings Comments (0)

Ilha De Santa Catarina-"Far from The Madding Crowd"

Fun in Floripa

sunny 27 °C

Recently voted as Brazils most liveable city, Florianopolis (or Floripa as it is more affectionately known) sits on the mainland side of the bridge that links the city to the magnificent Ilha de Santa Catarina.

An island largely invisible to the rest of the world until recently.

Paul and Tom.....two of my compadres during the rigours of Carnivale had visited the island prior to their Rio Experience and pronounced it variously "Bloody awesome mate" and "a splendid place to visit" being , as they are , from Melbourne and ( a graduate of ) Oxford respectively.

Floripa sits white, splendid and confident on the hillside like a good humoured custodian....keeping a relaxed but watchful eye on the increasing number of visitors to the island.

At a little over a million souls it ranks as Brazils 20th largest city . However its income per capita positions it as one of the Nations wealthiest and with the relaxed beach lifestyle , sweet, Mediterranean style climate and laid back inhabitants...whats not to like ?

The Ilha de Santa Catarina itself lies tethered to the mainland by the bridge leading to Florianopolis and is a popular tourist destination to the south of Brazil . In practical terms a two hour plane ride Via Sao Paulo from Rio. In terms of lifestyle and pressure however the two destinations could not be any further apart. Closer to Montevideo than Rio ,being here one gets the impression of being in an entirely different country. This impression is magnified by the fact that the local inhabitants, largely as a result of a large influx of Northern Europeans over the past Hundred years (mainly from Germany and Poland)....are often different in physical characteristics to the average man or woman in Rio. Mixing of races means that it is not uncommon to see an olive skinned person with Blue eyes........and there are certainly more individuals with Blonde hair !!

This difference is more pronounced in the female than the male. There appears to be a disproportionate number of Tall females....statuesque Amazonian women slimmer and less buxom than their Northern cousins yet no less strikingly beautiful.

The other difference engendered by this European element is that purely and simply...the beer is better ! The cold but unimpressive and bland beer brands of Rio give way to more European styled brews, usually sourced from a series of Boutique breweries in the Locale. It is possible to tour these breweries and sample their wares.......Loney planet recommends this......but Im afraid this will have to wait for my next visit !

I must confess however to enjoying a couple of Steins of a most agreeable Pilsener as I soaked up the peace of inactivity with sand between my toes and the sun dipping red and swollen over the edge of a darkening ocean.

Popular with the locals for many years...it has only been since the late 1970s that international visitors have begun to gradually discover its charms ,which include some majestic scenery ,excellent hiking to Pristine ,remote beaches......Fabulous fresh, delectable seafood and for the surfing enthusiast no less than 22 seperate surf beaches to choose from, and to the North of the island the correspondent Surf culture which render the area not dissimilar to the relaxed ,Bohemian Byron Bay on the East Coast of Australia.

There is also a series of huge sandhills close to Lagao de Concecau down which its is possible ( for the princely sum of Ten Dollars) to snowboard all day if you are a thrill seeker looking for a change from the surf !
Lagao de Concecau in particular is blessed with a number of excellent restaurants (the Sushi is to die for!) cafes and bars and much to my delight a very strong musical culture which made for some memorable evenings.
My favourite was the Brazilian Beatles cover band......regaling a delighted crowd at the "Black Swan" with versions of "I wanna hold your hand" and "Can't buy me love" in a heavy Portuguese accent.....priceless !!

One of the more attractive surf spots is the world renowned Barra De Lagoa....(a good 8km hike over the hills from The Lagoa de Concecau .....a laid back Bohemian town at which I spent the second week of my time On Catarina)......often known as the"Bunny Slope" of Surfing. It is home to world champion Jacqueline Silva and a couple of clicks from Praia Mole which has played host to the WCT Surfing Championships on several occasions . Barra da Lagoa is a quaint fisherman's village but the physical characteristics of the beach make it the perfect place to learn to surf with a small but reliable swell.

It was disappointing , therefore that I only discovered this spot near the end of my stay on the island as I would loved to have had a crack at improving my almost non existent skills in this regard. Skills which would have been useful on my return to the sparkling surf of my home town of Sydney.

The beach is popular here with families and couples as well as surfers and gets quite crowded on the weekend with its string of surf side seafood restaurants and shops selling surf gear and beach clothing (Havaianas....being Brazilian are plentiful and cheap) . For those in search of a wholesome snack the beach stalls selling ice cold coconut water sipped from a freshly opened fruit or piping hot corn on the cob brushed with butter and salt are very popular and inexpensive....which meant that I enjoyed their wares on several occasions.

Beach football....and by football In South America (with the exception of the Argentinian Rugby team) we are referring to the round ball contest..... is very prevalent here and played not only casually but with an organised series of league competitions.
It is amazing to watch the skills of the Brazilian locals as they play the beautiful game on this soft surface and I enjoyed several games with the sun at my back.

There was also a volleyball competition.......yes the Brazilians enjoy their sport ! In fact as a nation the fitness culture is pretty well entrenched. There are a disproportionate number of beautiful bodies here.....and with the male of the species ,more six packs than Dan Murphy!

However there are two sides to this island....whereas the Surf spots of the North are vibrant and buzzing the southern area of the island is the direct opposite.

My modus operandi had been to get as far away from the Carnavale madness as possible and chill out and gather my resources for Lisbon....my next Port of call.

With this in mind I selected Pantano de Sul (A fishing village in the remote southern corner of the island where the most exciting thing to happen in the daily schedule is the return of the fishermen late afternoon with the fruits of their pescatorial prowess) as my destination .

One of the peculiarities about this island is that wherever you want to travel to usually necessitates a change of buses ..and in my case two buses on the day of my arrival from Rio when I was negotiating the 35 km trip from the Floripa airport to Pantano. This is because each town is only serviced by one of three main bus stations on the island. It really gets quite complex to plan a bus trip,particularly as no one seems to speak English here .

The buses have turnstiles as well...so the idea is you pay your fare and negotiate the turnstile....travel to the bus station which services your destination, disembark and await one of the infrequent Charabancs which go there .If you happen to be a fully laden backpacker (complete with recently purchased travel guitar ) you may well , like myself find these turnstiles and bus changes something of a challenge...particularly if ,as was the case with me you are operating under the influence of recent sleep deprivation as a result of your exertions at Carnivale in Rio.

It was after dark when I finally arrived at what I thought was Pantano de Sul..I had actually travelled one stop too far...and found myself...laden with my luggage In the dark streets of an even more remote village than Pantano. I did not realise this until the bus had left ( This being the end of the line and with no guarantee of additional transport that evening).

Someone must have been watching over me as three Young Argentinian men.....staying at a hostel in this village.......stopped their old Ford to ask if I was OK?
When hearing of my destination they very kindly offered to deliver me.......and despite being somewhat imbued with distrust following my Rio experiences I accepted their offer . Five kilometres back down the road these young men had restored my faith in human nature...and being fluent in English (definitely the exception to the rule in this part of the world). They were able to accept my offer of a cold beer the next day to repay them for their kindness.

The beach here is not a surf beach..it is a sheltered bay where small fishing sculls lay at anchor when not in use.......however the outlook is spectacular...the water crystal clear and eminently swimmable and with a westerly aspect and a fabulously photogenic sunset it is a great place to relax, knock off a couple of novels and jog on the beach.Which is essentially what I did for a week!
There is only one public computer in town also..which hardly ever seemed to be available ,which meant that devoid of my currently pilfered I phone I was essentially out of cyber communication for a week........which was a strange feeling...but somehow liberating.

There are several hamlets like this to the South of the Island where the lure of 21st century consumerism has been resisted with vigour,and life here goes on very much as it must have done in the 18th Century. Their determination to escape the evil tentacles of the English language have been equally vigorous and I basically spent a week here gesticulating to get my meaning across....being almost entirely deficient in the Portuguese native tongue.

There is one restaurant in town however, "The Arante", which stands out ..not only because you wouldn't expect to find a restaurant of this stature it in a hamlet so small and remote,nor would you expect cuisine of the quality turned out by the chef,but also because of the nature of the Decor,which is quite unlike anything I have seen before.
Basically every inch of available wall and ceiling space seems to be covered by hand written notes...........over 100,000 notes left by visitors since the early 1970s...when the early surfing visitors...before the days of easy communication ,used to leave notice at this watering hole for their friends, of their expected whereabouts on a given date.

Over the years these notes have become more creative....in all different languages....and it is entertaining to spend an hour simply reading them. In fact a book has been written capturing some of the more remarkable I shall post the link when I track it down.

I added my own humble contribution....left notes for my loved ones if they ever make it to this corner of the world...and whilst they may not have been amongst the most creative they were certainly heart felt.I challenge you to find them !!

So there you have it.....Ilha de Santa Catarina..............a sparkling jewel of a destination ,an island of contrasts and a wonderful place to recuperate and recharge my batteries before my next stop....Portugal !

Posted by Paul Neary 00:07 Archived in Brazil Tagged beaches surfing music solitude sushi Comments (0)

Harle Syke.....The Jewel in the Crown of England's Beauty.

Coming Home

sunny 22 °C

Returning to ones home town at the halfway point of a 100 day circuit around the planet is an entirely different experience to that of a one off visit. Its almost as if the experience of travel sharpens the power to perceive ones surroundings with a greater clarity and a sharpened sense of perspective.....and I regarded the place of my birth through the eyes of a traveller.

During the extremely short planning phase of my journey , my major determination had been to truly experience each and every place I was intending to visit. Including Harle Syke , the village of my birth .

Im not going to say much about the History of the village...except that at one time it was the epicentre of world cotton production....with no less than 11 Mill chimneys thrusting black and proud and belching prosperity into the Lancashire air. Now only two are left...but Queen Street Mill remains a working museum with the old Mill steam engine "Peace" still proudly operational.....driving the shuttles across looms which helped England become the pre eminent textile producer in the 19th and for much of the 20th century. The Prince of Wales opened this museum in the mid Eighties and its well worth a visit.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harle_Syke

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Street_Mill

It is not this industrial heritage which captures my imagination......Nor is it the solid stone terraced houses...once soot blackened...now proudly maintained and neat as ninepins as they gather in rows down the slope from the twin Pubs and the clock tower of Haggate.

It is the countryside surrounding that draws me...and has to be seen to be believed...challenging the rest of the planet in terms of attraction.

I had purchased a book on the subject of travel writing and before I conspired to lose it in Argentina I managed to cover a couple of chapters . The most important communication was that the writer....to truly do justice to his subject , must open all 5 senses to his experience, and allow his intuition to carry him the rest of the way.

What I saw reinforced what I already knew...the village of my birth is and will remain one of the most beautiful destinations on the planet, and whilst this is my third visit in 14 months to Harle Syke....regardless of the season I treasure my visits here . Not only because I get to spend quality time with one of the worlds most beautiful women....my Mum Ruth.... but also because I am able to catch up with the two girls I grew up with...my beloved sisters Jackie and Jillian and their families..always a great pleasure and a privilege ! considering how busy these ladies are .

I love this place.

This is where the whole shooting match began. My formative years were here.....I took my first steps..tickled my first trout......kissed my first kiss...savoured my first pint...kicked my first football into my dads arms...ran my first run.........all within the confines of this fair parish.

My persona developed here and the ghost of the young Paul Neary is never far behind as I bestride the moors breathing deep the sweet sun kissed spring air whilst the young lambs find their feet in the greenest fields you will ever see,fields nourished by the muck which is spread at this time of year ,the fragrance of which hangs characteristically bitter sweet .

He smiles as I shank my golfball down the sloping tree lined Nelson Golf Course fairway where I used to steer my toboggan when the snow kissed the grass......as I pass the house where I began my life's journey..Then as I walk at dusk across the newly refurbished reckory football pitches ( a sloping arena during my school and Harle syke United days) It calls to mind some of my early sporting triumphs .....alongside players of the calibre of Stanworth , Eastwood, Atkinson,Parker, The Hill brothers , Waterworth and Smith. Warriors in arms !

These are the men I grew up with...and I count myself fortunate that most of them remain friends.
Mick Stanworth and his awesome wife Mel have a permanently open door when I return home.......they are even understanding of my pathological fear of locking in plans ahead of time and are happy to accommodate me at a moments notice. My journey has been such a moveable feast this ability is priceless...so thanks once again for your wonderful hospitality when needed!

Every time I return here I make a point of repeating the training run that the old boys of Harle Syke United used to do when we (infrequently) trained on a Tuesday evening. Five miles and a bit from Harle Syke through Haggate...down through Cockden.....up and over the exquisitely green hills through Roggerham gate...tipping my hat to Boulsworth's round ,fat ,bracken covered slopes......over the fringes of Widdop moor...past farm buildings that were old when Captain Cook first sailed into Botany Bay.

Pendle Hill...the shape of the witch clearly visible on her breast in the blue distance on my right as I stretch out my legs down the hill into Worsthorne....close by Edmund Spenser's cottage.......and touch the back wall of the Crooked Billet pub before turning on my heels and back the same way.

I have been running this route since I was 15...some 37 years....( I am pleased to report that my times remain reasonably consistent with those of my late teens).....yet it is not only for the physical benefits of a challenging run that I continue to ply this route. Quite simply it is in my opinion the most beautiful tract of countryside on the planet...and appreciated all the more because of the infrequency of its enjoyment.

It is during these runs that whatever ragged spirituality lurks within me emerges with new vigour and I feel closer to whatever eternal power rests beyond the borders of my comprehension.

There was moreover a quite unintended symmetry in play here as this latest visit corresponds almost exactly with that point in time when I had spent equal periods of my Fifty Two Years in England and Australia . This commands introspection at the very least and with the whole country wearing its best clothes In this beautiful warm spring weather I contemplate what I left behind in 1986 , and what I left behind was great beauty, brilliant people, a wonderful loving family....the friends of my youth (managed to squeeze in a mini school reunion this visit with the class of 76 ! Thanks girls )...the best Beer in the world....Burnley football club.....tripe.....black pudding and my heart.......which lies buried somewhere beneath the split peat sods at the peak of Boulsworth...under a blue Lancashire sky where the Lapwings dip and soar.

England still remains the country of my birth...Im proud to be British......like most countries on the planet it is not without its fiscal and social challenges but its beauty is unmatched and unchanged and will be here long after all of us are gone.

As I write I am within a stones throw of the perfect, turquoise curling surf of one of the finest beaches on the Eastern seaboard of Australia .....The hill on which I am perched clad with the characteristic majestic pines and gums of the region......Parakeets and Kookaburras visit my sun deck.......the sun shines here...... Australia remains in terms of Lifestyle and opportunity the finest destination on the planet and calls my heart with the verve and excitement of a new lover. I have more chapters to write here.

When we were boys Mick Stanworth, Ian Eastwood and I were thick as thieves . Back in those days Harle Syke reeked of the "old Lancashire" and Old "Sykers" Like Metcalfe Atkinson (Met) and Septimus ( I forget his last name...we called him Sep) strode through its Cobbled streets in clogs ,green gaberdine overcoats and Flat caps...a living link to LS Lowries famous Lancashire landscapes.

In slight awe and with a degree of reverence to these icons of our youth we made a boyhood pledge that when we were old men we would don the requisite clogs, caps and overcoats and continue the tradition.

See you in another 25 years boys !! My shout at the Sun inn.

Posted by Paul Neary 16:50 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged home friends countryside family beauty Comments (0)

Bangkok.... Pad Thai , Pomp and Ping Pong

Surfing The Sensory Wave.

sunny 32 °C

I love Thailand.....its capacity to beguile, bewitch and bewilder is boundless...and it does so by force.

Nowhere is this evidenced more fully than in Bangkok...the nations capital.

In much the same way as Mexico City ,the scale of this town is intimidating . 12 million souls packed in to the most populous area of Thailand by far. A sea of good natured humanity borne squarely on the back of a clearly defined national identity and an enduring magnet for tourists worldwide , with good reason.

Indeed,If Cities were earthquakes I would venture to suggest that Bangkok would be a nine on the Richter scale.......such is the explosive impact of its charm and at the risk of be-labouring a metaphor I would venture to suggest that Khao san road...the district where I spent three days prior to my next destination , Kho Samui, is the veritable epicentre of that earthquake.

The word "Khao San" itself translates literally to "milled rice" and is an attribution to the historical role of this street in the rice trade. However, as the 21st century approaches the middle of its second decade the scope of commercial activity has expanded exponentially to encompass a much broader spectrum of frenzied commercial activity and within the space of a couple of blocks, bars, restaurants, hotels , internet cafes, hostels,massage parlours, pharmacies and convenience stores jostle for the visitors attention .....falling over each another in feverish competition with the legions of street traders who work this area in pursuit of the tourist dollar.

This district has long been a favoured destination for the backpacker on a budget and travellers from around the planet converge on Khaosan road with their dreadlocks, sarongs and suntans to regale their fellow travellers with tales of their planetary exploration. Suntanned faces and sun kissed souls exchanging experiences and laughter over a Chang or possibly a Hookah pipe as the tide of business ebbs and flows around them and the steamy sun subsides over the city skyline.

Bangkok.....like New York, Buenos Aires and Rio conducts its business in a round the clock fashion and sleep tends to be a disposable luxury in the face of such energy .

However, when the yearning for slumber overtook the desire to immerse myself into sensory overload I was able to retreat to the excellent Buddy Hotel.....an inexpensive...clean and efficient oasis of calm wherein to recharge my batteries in preparation for another assault on this marvellous city. Thanks Kirsten for this recommendation !

My travels have enabled me to reunite with members of my family dispersed across the globe. Bangkok was no exception, and I was able to spend some late night/ early morning quality time with my nephew Luke ( currently living and working in Bangkok as an English teacher) and his beautiful girlfriend Fern.
In the space of a few hours we were able to explore the more notable and salubrious drinking establishments in the vicinity....and shared a hookah pipe with my nephew and his buddies which experience can be compared to that of smoking apples. In a city of firsts ( or the opportunity to experience them) this followed hard on the heels of my first feed of scorpions earlier that evening.

Fern was able to up skill me in the appropriate recognition of Ladyboys......(Khaosan road is apparently teeming with these individuals of a questionable gender) and I must confess I was completely unable to recognise the subtle differences.I am reliably informed however that the beautiful tall girls ( as opposed to the beautiful shorter girls) were very likely to be trans gender. No wonder some blokes get into trouble in this city !

Luke and Fern , thanks for your kindness. I do hope I can repay your hospitality in Australia soon !!

Serendipity would dictate moreover that immediately adjacent to my hotel was the excellent and delightfully surprising "Brick Bar".
This hostelry showcases local bands specialising in Ska and Reggae.The punters within a writhing mass of humanity...surprisingly devoid of westerners ( I was later informed that this bar is largely frequented by locals).... enjoying the unlikely transposition of Ska and Reggae Rhythms from the Caribbean to Asia which works so well that I was taken aback with the quality and energy of the musicianship. Thoroughly recommended !

Now to matters of a more sporting nature !

Im not a betting man.....but if I were I would definitely be investing a lazy 50 dollars on the Thai womens Table tennis team for Gold at the forthcoming London Olympiad.

Such is the fervour exhibited on the streets of Bangkok for the artistry of the more serious exponents of this craft ,that even the taxi drivers have become swept along on the burgeoning wave of enthusiasm...with at least five or six of their number urging me to attend the evening and late night practise sessions of these seriously gifted sporting virtuosos.....Apparently their legendary skills in the manipulation of the little white hollow ball rival those of Tiger Woods or Roger Federer in various other (less popular in Bangkok) small ball games.

Obviously constant practise does wonders for the hand eye coordination of these champions and their sporting facility spills over into the arena of Darts.

Impressive stuff indeed.

Table tennis is obviously thirsty work moreover.......and another popular skill with the ping pong crew is the ability to open a beer bottle without recourse to a bottle opener. Female multi skilling at its esoteric best and clearly an opportunity for the Chang beer company to harness the fortunes of the team in London and make a killing !

Having said all this however ,whilst I'm all for sporting prowess and correspondent enthusiasm I must confess that neither Ping Pong nor darts have ever been amongst my favourite spectator sports and I politely declined their offers.

Undeterred and without drawing breath these taxi driving sports aficionados then resorted to the seemingly universal taxi driver sales pitch with (seemingly) well heeled male travellers the world over...this being the recommendation to the potential punter of services of a different sportive nature from various professional ladies of the metropolis (and Im talking oldest profession here ladies and gentlemen).

Aha !!......This being more familiar territory...(having spent an inordinate amount of time fending off the more focussed marketing attempts of the
"Love for Sale" brigade in various Latin American countries) I was able to muster a suitably offended "one raised eyebrow" look of disdain and reassure them that in a city full of delights...such as Bangkok undoubtedly is.....my requirements for those particular services from the fairer sex were not on the agenda.

Moving quickly away from the taxi rank I was immediately accosted by the little old lady selling the wrist bands emblazoned variously and salaciously " I love you long time", "Big C**k in Bangkok" and the like and for the equivalent of several ill advisedly spent dollars became the proud owner of several wrist band gifts for my more liberal friends at home and overseas ! Sorted.

One of my favourite things about Thailand (and folks Im by no means a royalist ) is the uncluttered affection, respect and admiration (somehow escaping the tentacles of subjugation) afforded the Royal family by the average Thai citizen.

It is one of the first impressions of the visitor to Thailand.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej ,the Incumbent monarch,has been presiding over the Thai people now for some 66 years boy and man.This makes him the longest serving monarch on the planet by a more than comfortable margin ( besting Good Queen Bess by a full 6 years) .

However the British Monarchy, partly as a result of the buffoonery of some of its members over time seems not to be able to command the wholesale loyalty and affection of the British people.....much less the commonwealth , and whilst some segments of British society undoubtedly support and embrace the monarchy...the majority of us largely ignore and distance ourselves from their number.

In Thailand however the Kings longevity has been paralleled by a universal national love affair with the Thai Monarchy which appears to be an integral part of Thailands National identity.The King and Queens Right Royal countenances beam down from myriad poster hoardings across the city. Every bar and restaurant and private home displays portraits of the monarchy and the health and welfare of these amiable figureheads is paramount.

I like this.....its like a good natured glue that unites a nation....and the visitor would be well advised to acknowledge and respect this tradition.

My time here was all too short and passed like a busy frenzied whirlwind. Next stop the much less busy but equally attractive Koh Samui !

In summary this metropolis is a kaleidoscopic cavalcade of colour , sound and organised chaos . A billion fragments of churning detail clambering over one another to invade the consciousness.
In a previous blog I intimated that the traveller...to truly absorb the travel experience must open all five senses ( and the sixth if he's game)....In Bangkok to open ones senses fully is to open the flood gates to a sensory Tsunami. So travellers take note.......approach the Bangkok experience with the energy, enthusiasm and verve that it so richly deserves and it will repay your endeavours with interest. Enjoy !

Posted by Paul Neary 18:55 Archived in Thailand Tagged colour music madness monarchy Comments (0)

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