A Lewis Carroll 'word-square' sent to me by Peter of South Shields
They should have better things to do in South Shields
They should have better things to do in South Shields
In this blogposting...
*Robinson’s Grand Tour
Now, cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war...
The next AGM will take place at 1100 on Friday 19 February at the cafe in Newcastle Central Library.
After all this time, you will not be surprised to hear that a splendid time is guaranteed for all.
ROBINSON’S GRAND TOUR
For a man of my educated and bookish background, my naturally curious temperament, my mature years and my towering intellect (perm any three of four), I am strangely ill-travelled.
My first rip abroad took place when I was a mere 16 years old. It was a school trip which my mother could seriously not afford and I’m ashamed to say that it was probably wasted on me at the time. It was a coach journey that took in Bruges, Brussels, Cologne, Koblenz, Trier and Luxembourg.
I have discovered since that each of those towns and cities has its own claim to monumental, historical or aesthetic fame - and sometimes, all three - although, as is the way with these things, they were almost completely lost on me at the time.
I can remember a high tower in Bruges, a urinating statue in Brussels, nothing at all about Cologne, an amazing view of two rivers confluencing (?) in Koblenz, a Roman arch in Trier and two disembodied spires in Luxembourg. The rest passed me by completely.
The only mementoes I have of the trip are a few scratchy faded photographs and the clothes-brush which, for some unfathomable reason, I brought back as a gift for my terminally puzzled mother. (In that latter respect, times have not changed. I am the sort of ingrate son who can visit a city as spectacular as, say, Istanbul and bring her back a fridge magnet.)
Needless to say, that school trip did not engender in me a lust for travel (or a lust for anything else, more’s the pity). This is probably just as well. We’re talking 1966 here; most local people of my impeccably working-class background still went on holiday to Crimdon Dene, South Shields or Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. Cheap fares for the millions were decades away.
Having said all that, my next visit to johnny foreigner was truly memorable; indeed, I haven’t forgotten any of it.
My four-day journey by train to Istanbul. It was the prologue to a three-week visit to my brother, who had the very great fortune to be living in that incredible city at the time. My memories of that journey, and of the holiday, are too numerous and detailed to go into here. They are however the subject of my very first travel-writing book: the ill-named On Foot And By Camel Through The Hindu Kush And Beyond, available in the less reputable charity shops and incineration centres.
Less astute readers may wonder where all this is leading. I’m beginning to wonder myself.
It took another ten years for me to pluck up the courage to venture beyond the trusty bulwarks of this sceptr’d isle again. By 1976 I was living in Sheffield (something of a foreign country itself) and had a shiny new boyfriend called Philip. Obviously feeling the need to broaden my ever-narrowing horizons, he suggested we have a holiday on the Greek Islands. Well, not all of them...
It was my first flight and I really was one of those oiks who say ‘look at those people down there - they look like ants!’ But the holiday - which was on Naxos and Paros - was unforgettable and, as you probably know, I’ve been besotted with the Greek Islands ever since.
After that, though, my wanderlust remained resolutely suppressed. Holidays were taken on narrowboats on canals or in log cabins beside Scottish lochs. I’m not complaining, mind you. They were great holidays.
The one unexpected exception occurred in 1998, when my old friend Brian invited me to spend a week or two with him in Kyoto. Yes, that Kyoto. Again, the details of those incredible days are too tedious to recount here but you can read all about my adventures in Japan in my misleadingly named second travel book Through Bolivia With A Kayak And A Cuckoo Clock.
Suddenly, however - and almost certainly prompted by yet another romantic entanglement - there came a flurry of flights to foreign parts. Several Greek Islands - Paxi, Symi, Halki, Crete - were ticked off the to-do list, I re-visited Istanbul (see above) and made my first visits to both Paris and Amsterdam. I have now visited those two startling cities quite often and they are etched forever inside what’s left of my mind. They are almost second homes.
So what, I hear you ask, has any of this got to do with shunting trucks. Well....
My feet are itching once again. I’ve tried douching them in a tincture of aqueous cream and Body Shop Refreshing Peppermint and Tea Tree Foot Scrub but the itch remains. I realised some time ago that there was only one solution to the problem. Namely, to award myself the One Big Early Retirement Present to which I felt I was entitled on that dark and frosty morning when I finally walked out of the stiffly revolving doors of the Pink Palace.
So I’m going to go on a journey.
A big, long, eye-wateringly monumental journey around a sizeable chunk of Europe - my favourite continent, a citizen of which I am enormously proud to be.
My journey will take in mountains and lakes, rivers and fields, villages and towns and cities. I’ll be passing through five countries and some of Europe’s most stunning scenery to visit some of the world’s greatest and most beautiful cities. En route I will greedily be devouring history, myth, art and culture. I’ll be meeting new people, eating new food and doing new things.
And I’ll be doing it all by train!
These days, it’s the only way to travel. All over Europe they’re busy building superfast railway lines and running elegant, streamlined trains on them. (Well, not here, of course, but everywhere else.) I bought Thomas Cook’s European Rail Map and realised - in naive astonishment - that everywhere is connected to everywhere else. From the toe of Italy to the cliff-hugging fjord railways of Norway.
(Did you know there’s a bridge over the sea between Denmark and Sweden? You can go by train from Newcastle to Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo and even St Petersburg.)
Now admit it - you’re jealous, aren’t you? You wish you were doing it, don’t you? You want to come with me, don’t you?
Well, you can. In a way.
It’s taken me several very pleasurable weeks to work out the route I want to take but I’ve finally decided where I’m headed. Thanks to the internet, I even have a good idea about the exact times of the trains I need to catch.
And over the next few blogpostings I’ll be detailing my route and timings and inviting you to join in the fun of planning it all.
If you have any experiences of the places I’ll be visiting, I’ll be keen to hear all about them. If you know of any sights, monuments, galleries, museums, parks and such that you think I might enjoy, tell me about them. The quirkier, the better (naturally).
If you can recommend any hotels or B&Bs, cafes or restaurants, local food and drink, I’ll be delighted to know about them.
Tell me, too, about anything you think I should avoid.
If you want, you can even join in the research. Do what I’ve thoroughly enjoyed doing over the last few weeks. Make yourself a particularly strong mug of coffee, sit yourself in front of your computer and start daydreaming! Find websites that tell you things you think I should know about the places I’ll be visiting and pass the lowdown on to me. After all, I may not have found the website that you’ve come across.
Be warned though. Once you start, it becomes addictive. You’ll be sending me emails saying ‘I know you’re planning to get the 0945 train but I’ve discovered there’s a Museum of Toilet Paper which doesn’t open until 1000. Why not pay it a visit and then get the 1215 train instead?’
At least I hope that’s the kind of email I get!
By the time I set off from Newcastle Central station in March, I hope to be equipped with the means to post blogs on the hoof, as it were. As I go, I should be able to keep you abreast of delights and disappointments, missed trains, jaw-dropping scenery, surprising people and new discoveries - many of which I hope you will have recommended to me in the first place. Isn’t the internet amazing!
So watch this space over the next few days for details of my route. Then, if you’d like to...get to it!
(And a final heartfelt thankyou to Mietek and Neville, who have already sent in some suggestions!)
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