Category Archives: Travel

Verde Canyon Railroad

The train runs from Arizona’s first company town, Clarksdale, through slag heaps and on up the most beautiful canyon to the remains of Perkinsville. Bald eagles, deer, not sure quite how much harmony exists but this was most lovely…

Sandwiched between two protected sanctuaries, the Coconino National Forest and the Prescott National Forest, the Railroad runs a rare ribbon where dramatic high desert meets a precious riparian area. Such scenery comprises only 2% of the Arizona landscape.

Since 1912 the train has existed in harmony with the wilderness and its native inhabitants…

Verde Canyon Railroad website

Requiem for bedrock

From one sublime to another, we stopped here early in the morning the day after the Grand Canyon. It was 8 degrees, frozen wind, they unlocked the door for us, the first visitors. We had it to ourselves to recapture our youth.

It’s been sold, and the day before we arrived they had begun moving the figures. Small surprise they started with Betty Rubble, Wilma, the giant Pebbles.

What a loss.

Santa Claus to the Grand Canyon, Route 66

From Kingman we had a quick drive down to Santa Claus…once a colorful old-school developer’s dream, a cashing-in-on-Christmas-to-sell-Real-Estate that didn’t work at all, though it proved immensely popular while it was maintained — Jane Russell maybe threw a party here. Arizona Highways provides a short history here. Robert Heinlein wrote a story in which it featured (‘Cliff and the Calories‘), which is rather hilarious.

The sign read Santa Claus, Arizona. I blinked at it, thinking I was at last seeing a mirage. There was a gas station, all right, but that wasn’t all.

You know what most desert gas stations look like – put together out of odds and ends. Here was a beautiful fairytale cottage with wavy candy stripes in the shingles. It had a broad brick chimney – and Santa Claus was about to climb down the chimney!

Maureen, I said, you’ve overdone this starvation business; now you are out of your head.

Between the station and the cottage were two incredible little dolls’ houses. One was marked Cinderella’s House and Mistress Mary Quite Contrary was making the garden grow. The other one needed no sign; the Three Little Pigs, and Big Bad Wolf was stuck in its chimney.

“Kid stuff!” says Junior, and added, “Hey, Pop, do we eat here? Huh?”

“We just gas up,” answered Daddy. “Find a pebble to chew on. Your mother has declared a hunger strike.”

Mother did not answer and headed toward the cottage. We went inside, a bell bonged, and a sweet contralto voice boomed, “Come in! Dinner is ready!”

The inside was twice as big as the outside and was the prettiest dining room imaginable, fresh, new, and clean. Heavenly odors drifted out of the kitchen. The owner of the voice came out and smiled at us.

We knew who she was because her kitchen apron had “Mrs. Santa Claus” embroidered across it. She made me feel slender, but for her it was perfectly right.

Can you imagine Mrs. Santa Claus being skinny?

“How many are there?” she asked.

“Four,” said Mother, “but – ” Mrs. Santa Claus disappeared into the kitchen.

Mother sat down at a table and picked up a menu. I did likewise and started to drool – here is why:

Minted Fruit Cup Rouge
Pot – au – feu a la Creole
Chicken Velvet Soup
Roast Veal with Fine Herbs
Ham Soufflй
Yankee Pot Roast
Lamb Hawaii
Potatoes Lyonnaise
Riced Potatoes
Sweet Potatoes Maryland
Glazed Onions
Asparagus Tips with Green Peas
Chicory Salad with
Roquefort Dressing
Artichoke Hearts with Avocado
Beets in Aspic
Cheese Straws
Miniature Cinnamon Rolls
Hot Biscuits
Sherry Almond Ice Cream
Rum Pie
Pкches Flambйes Royales
Peppermint Cloud Cake
Devil’s Food Cake
Angel Berry Pie
Coffee Tea Milk
(Our water is trucked fifteen miles;
please help us save it.)

Thank you. Mrs. Santa Claus

It made me dizzy, so I looked out the window. We were still in the middle of the grimmest desert in the world.

Now that almost everything has been stolen, it’s all grim apart from the desert. This trip had several of these moments where it felt like we were just in time.

From there we drove down Route 66. I wish we’d had time to stop in Oatman, in Hackberry, in Valentine — nothing more frustrating than a road trip on a time table, I can’t wait until we are retired. Anyway, we followed the train tracks across the landscape.

Route 66
Route 66

Passed Peach Tree Springs

Peach Tree Springs, Route 66

Back down to the main highway to speed towards the Grand Canyon. There were great dark clouds with beams of light pouring down across the valley.

The Grand Canyon — words can’t describe it. It was Mark’s first time, Last I was here, we drove up to the rim, parked, hiked down the Bright Angel Trail. Despite the government shut down everything was open, but the parking lot was massive and full to overflowing and you have to take a shuttle and…

I felt old, wished for the good old days, wished for half the people and none of the cars. But still. It was wondrous in the snow and with the sun setting through the clouds.

Life breaking through the rocks.

  • Grand Canyon, South Rim
  • Grand Canyon, South Rim
  • Grand Canyon, South Rim
  • Grand Canyon, South Rim
  • Grand Canyon, South Rim
  • Grand Canyon, South Rim
  • Grand Canyon
  • Grand Canyon
  • Grand Canyon
  • Grand Canyon
  • Grand Canyon
  • Grand Canyon
  • Grand Canyon
  • Grand Canyon


Wickenberg to Kingman

A long drive from Tucson but a rather beautiful one, we came up via Gila Bend to bypass Phoenix and they finished the new divided highway — though I wish I had looked for the old road, the beautiful old bridge where you can almost always see pelicans along the river. This is from 2014.

Bridge over the Gila

Ah well, next time. We did stop at the space age lodge for lunch, where I always stop, because it’s got a home made flying saucer and you can’t do better than that.

Wickenberg did not disappoint with its jail tree, its strange figures, it’s old-town feel.

We drove up through the forest of Joshua trees that I never even knew were there, they were stunning and I wish we had had some time to stop. Past Nothing, AZ. Finally landed in Kingman, which I loved.

We stayed at El Trovatore, which was fabulous, not least because of the owners dispensing stories (and route 66 pins!) about the town — the tunnels constructed underneath so that the Chinese population could move about unhindered by curfews and racism (came in handy during prohibition, I was gutted they are not open to see), the marriage of Carole Lombard and Clark Gable (church pictured below), the speeding ticket given to Jean-Claude Van Dam and his two weeks of community service there, the DUI given to Pamela Anderson followed by the indecent exposure charge after her playboy shoot near the local church. D’z Diner, the way a diner should be (though service was agonizingly slow). The hotel itself is marvelous, the first to be built with en suite bathrooms so it’s had its share of famous folk. The fixtures were original, and I can’t believe I didn’t get pics of the incredible showers (black and white tiles, arched entrance into the shower room, with the taps on one wall and shower head on the other!) And of course Andy Devine grew up here in the Beale St Hotel — we watched The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence in his honor. He’s the reason we were here, to see the room dedicated to him in the local museum.

Graz and worlding sf

We were in Graz for the conference, more precisely my partner was keynoting and I was once more along for the ride. Almost all of the talks were brilliant, something I find all too rare. Where the wondrous cities of Lisbon and Covilhã had been the higlight of our earlier trip given the hopefully-soon-forgotten nature of the conference, here the city perhaps suffered just a bit.

Once the seat of the Austrian Habsburg branch, it too is a city of faded imperial memories. It is beautiful and ornate. Like Prague, it contains high buildings along a handful of wide streets, arcades leading back to courtyards–some still with their medieval cobbling–in what I find such a lovely style of urban architecture.

Herrenstrasse, Graz
arcade, Graz
medieval courtyard, Graz

It also has steep roofs and signs warning of falling snow. In the older sections clustered at the base of the hill it is all winding medieval streets (best preserved in Europe they claim, so very hard to photograph) — the city once appeared this way.

The castle was reduced to rubble by Napoleon however, and the city itself expanded far beyond those old walls.

My favourite view, descending from that very hill:

It now has wonderful trams, good buses, a wonderful art museum (more on that later) and we were lucky enough to be there for the Christmas lights and decorations.

But what I will remember most is late nights with friends (nextmornings not so good, but we managed). Our last night there wandering home in a group through still-not-empty streets at 4:30 am, something I haven’t done in ages, so happy to be surrounded by such amazing people. From photography to Scottish literary figures to apocalypse to hilarious stories to obscure punk bands, conversation was of the best and I cannot wait until we are all reconvened again, though we represented many countries and it will never be quite the same. Wouldn’t want it to be, but I hope for a few more such nights.

My favourite non-human things:

The doppelwendeltreppe, a rare double spiral staircase:

Where Kepler once lived.

The city is beautiful.

Lisbon’s Gar do oriente, effective public transport made beautiful

I was blown away by this station, this Gar do Oriente. It brings together the metro with inter-city trains with buses — that alone seems like something more than you can hope for from any station. Yet this station is also so beautiful, and I mean SO BEAUTIFUL. I could have wandered around that place for hours taking pictures, and wished to come back on a day of pure sunshine rather than pouring rain — I might have taken some pictures from the outside then. More of my low-light pictures might have come out. Or in the evening when light would spill very differently through glass panes and around towering concrete columns.

It has a fabulous open air bookshop.

This is essentially the most I could find about it:


Located in Lisbon’s Eastern zone, Oriente Station was designed as an intermodal station to support Expo’98 and was also intended as the city’s main transport interface, integrating metro, train, a road terminal and parking.

The station was designed by the distinguished Spanish architect and engineer, Santiago Calatrava, who is world renowned for his unique style that combines materials such as concrete, glass and steel, achieving visibility for structures that other architects hide.


CP – Comboios de Portugal (Gare do Oriente)

Henry Fielding on his way to Lisbon (including the adventure of a kitten at sea)

I read Henry Fielding’s Journey to Lisbon on a whim before we ourselves traveled to Lisbon, and became ever more annoyed with this wealthy, incredibly crochety old man. I expected better from the author of Tom Jones, the founder of the Bow Street Runners. I yearned only to know of the city I have so looked forward to visiting, but this book is entirely and very tediously about getting there. Forget about that saying that it is not the destination but the journey.

Of travel writing, Fielding says

To make a traveler an agreeable companion to a man of sense, it is necessary, not only that he should have seen much, but that he should have overlooked much of what he hath seen.

I shall lay down only one general rule; which I believe to be of universal truth between relator and hearer, as it is between author and reader; this is, that the latter never forgive any observation of the former which doth not convey some knowledge that they are sensible they could not possibly have attained of themselves.

I suppose the difficulties of traveling as a privileged male in the early 1750s while suffering from gout, asthma and cirhosis of the liver would be entirely new knowledge to me, but surely given his expectations of readership, he has written his rule only to immediately break it.

But this story was most wonderful:

A most tragical incident fell out this day at sea. While the ship was under sail, but making as will appear no great way, a kitten, one of four of the feline inhabitants of the cabin, fell from the window into the water: an alarm was immediately given to the captain, who was then upon deck, and received it with utmost concern and many bitter oaths. He immediately gave orders to the steersman in favor of the poor thing, as he called it; the sails were instantly slackened, and all hands, as the phrase is, employed to recover the poor animal. I was, I own, extremely surprised at all this; less indeed at the captain’s extreme tenderness than at his conceiving any possibility of success; for if puss had had nine thousand instead of nine lives, I concluded they had been all lost. The boatswain, however, had more sanguine hopes, for, having stripped himself of his jacket, breeches, and shirt, he leaped boldly into the water, and to my great astonishment in a few minutes returned to the ship, bearing the motionless animal in his mouth. Nor was this, I observed, a matter of such great difficulty as it appeared to my ignorance, and possibly may seem to that of my fresh-water reader. The kitten was now exposed to air and sun on the deck, where its life, of which it retained no symptoms, was despaired of by all. The captain’s humanity, if I may so call it, did not so totally destroy his philosophy as to make him yield himself up to affliction on this melancholy occasion. Having felt his loss like a man, he resolved to show he could bear it like one; and, having declared he had rather have lost a cask of rum or brandy, betook himself to threshing at backgammon with the Portuguese friar, in which innocent amusement they had passed about two-thirds of their time. But as I have, perhaps, a little too wantonly endeavored to raise the tender passions of my readers in this narrative, I should think myself unpardonable if I concluded it without giving them the satisfaction of hearing that the kitten at last recovered, to the great joy of the good captain, but to the great disappointment of some of the sailors, who asserted that the drowning a cat was the very surest way of raising a favorable wind; a supposition of which, though we have heard several plausible accounts, we will not presume to assign the true original reason.

The other highlight of the voyage, of actual interest to me, was the story of the great shark, who tried to take a side of beef

together with a great iron crook on which it was hung, and by which he was dragged into the ship. I should scarce have mentioned the catching this shark, though so exactly conformable to the rules and practice of voyage-writing, had it not been for a strange circumstance that attended it. This was the recovery of the stolen beef out of the shark’s maw, where it lay unchewed and undigested, and whence, being conveyed into the pot, the flesh, and the thief that had stolen it, joined together in furnishing variety to the ship’s crew.

That is cool.

Fielding definitely includes quite a bit of old-rich-man ranting about the laziness of the poor, particularly sailors, and a bit of political economy. Rich coming from a man waited on hand and foot and continually describing the extreme lengths to which he demands those who serve him go to provide for his own comfort. He was winched in and out of boats, sent for numerous doctors and dentists from numerous towns as they travelled down the Thames, complained endlessly about the quality of food, bedding, service. Was constantly demanding the boat stop so he could buy some more provisions. He writes this:

I at first intended only to convey a hint to those who are alone capable of applying the remedy, though they are the last to whom the notice of those evils would occur, without some such monitor as myself, who am forced to travel about the world in the form of a passenger. I cannot but say I heartily wish our governors would attentively consider this method of fixing the price of labor, and by that means of compelling the poor to work, since the due execution of such powers will, I apprehend, be found the true and only means of making them useful, and of advancing trade from its present visibly declining state to the height to which Sir William Petty, in his Political Arithmetic, thinks it capable of being carried.

As if any decline in trade were the fault of the poor.

I find the early barriers to movement and travel quite interesting — Fielding obviously had no fear he wouldn’t be allowed in to Portugal, but he definitely had to jump some hoops, essentially a quarantine. He writes:

it is here a capital offense to assist any person in going on shore from a foreign vessel before it hath been examined, and every person in it viewed by the magistrates of health, as they are called,

And he gives a sense of the first view of it when approached from the sea.

Wednesday.— Lisbon, before which we now lay at anchor, is said to be built on the same number of hills with old Rome; but these do not all appear to the water; on the contrary, one sees from thence one vast high hill and rock, with buildings arising above one another, and that in so steep and almost perpendicular a manner, that they all seem to have but one foundation. As the houses, convents, churches, &c., are large, and all built with white stone, they look very beautiful at a distance; but as you approach nearer, and find them to want every kind of ornament, all idea of beauty vanishes at once. While I was surveying the prospect of this city, which bears so little resemblance to any other that I have ever seen…

It ends here, with his disgust for this beautiful city, unlike any he has seen before.

About seven in the evening I got into a chaise on shore, and was driven through the nastiest city in the world, though at the same time one of the most populous, to a kind of coffee-house, which is very pleasantly situated on the brow of a hill, about a mile from the city, and hath a very fine prospect of the river Tajo from Lisbon to the sea. Here we regaled ourselves with a good supper, for which we were as well charged as if the bill had been made on the Bath-road, between Newbury and London.

Born 1707, he died in 1754. He wasn’t, in fact, very old at all. When visiting the Pessoa museum we chanced across another English cemetery — much bigger than the one on Vis. It is a reminder built into cenotaphs and monuments of the close trading relationships between England and Portugal in previous ages of empire. We wandered in, as you do. The first thing to meet our eyes was a big sign pointing to Henry Fielding’s tomb, and I suddenly realised that he had died here…

Lisbon

It might have made this a bit more poignant in retrospect, but… no. Really I just love the story of the shark and the kitten. Another memento mori from the cemetary might be in order though.

Lisbon

Dubrovnik

There is in truth something fairly incredible about how this city managed to play such a role in the Mediterranean world. I have a couple of histories that try to tie this world together, to understand the past not in terms of single countries languages cultures, but how they all came together around this great body of water in flows and connections. I love how this undermines the careful separations of cultures and continents that many histories and nationalisms invest so much in.

Agents of Empire by Noel Malcolm did this most beautifully, though I have yet to read Braudel.

Dubrovnik: A History is a little too static for my taste, but it does give a taste of how pivotal a role this city played in the complex relationship between Hapsburg Europe and the Ottoman Empire. As Tanner writes

In contrast to ruined Biograd or ravaged Zadar, Dubrovnik enjoyed a steady growth in prosperity, thanks to the diplomatic dexterity of its merchant rulers as well as their trading skills. Since its foundation in the seventh century, the city had been attacked seriously only once, by the Normans in 1071. Occasionally it was besieged by Bosnian or Serbian warlords who descended from the hinterland, but for the most part Dubrovnik successfully played Bosnians, Croats, Venetians and – later – the Ottomans off each other, periodically ceding sovereignty to one or other of the powers that encircled it without ever surrendering self-government or the right to conduct its own foreign policy.(24

I tried to imagine the conversations that must have happened in these incredible streets, in this jewel of a city.

The many thousands of tourists lined up to walk around the walls, to go up the thronging the streets, made this fairly impossible. There were torrents of Game of Thrones fans. We spent most of the week here trying to go elsewhere. Disappointing.

Of course what Dubrovnik made so clear was the asphyxiating nature of this city for so long. Here the patriciate worked so hard to maintain their purity there was no upward movement at all. Marriage to a ‘commoner’ made of you a commoner as well, and only the patriciate had any say in the running of the city. Venice, for all its faults, at least pried this open to some degree in Split and other cities under its control.

In Split, in contrast with Dubrovnik, the ‘closing’ of the Great Council to commoners in 1334 initiated a series of bitter disputes in which, once the city came under Venetian rule in 1420, the Serenissima itself became involved. The Venetian counts were inclined to promote the interests of the wealthy commoner families (as in Dubrovnik, called ‘citizens’) against those of the nobility, partly because of a genuine sense of equity but also in order to divide and rule. (188)

Harries quotes at length a Venetian count, Marco Barbarigo writing in July, 1568:

Between the men of Split there exists that hatred which prevails in most of the Dalmatian towns. This hatred comes from the fact that the nobles have their own council in which they choose public representatives every three months. These nobles are poor, as far as their fortunes go; but puffed up with empty ambition the citizens, who because of their crafts and trade live much more comfortably… On the other side these [citizens] since they are not allowed to meet and choose some officials, cannot with a peaceful spirit tolerate the privileges which the nobles have on the basis of the old laws of this city.

Harries continues with how this did not happen in Dubrovnik:

The closure of the Ragusan nobility to all but a few foreign entrants for some two centuries–and the closure of its polity to non-aristocrats for almost five–did not have the effect of stirring up similar resentment among the non-noble  inhabitants. After a time, the very impossibility of a commoner joining the patriciate’s ranks probably made for a certain acquiescence and so stability. (189)

Ah, for the days when peace and quiet exploitation could be won through complete domination rather than an almost complete domination. It’s not entirely surprising that the commoners didn’t all hang together to support the patriciate after the great earthquake, nor that their servants seems to have  been positively rude in the face of the nobility’s suffering. As Tanner writes:

By the eighteenth century Dubrovnik was a political and economic fossil. It had been many centuries since the populace had played any part in its government by acclaiming laws outside the palace of the rector (knez), but by the eighteenth century even the vestiges of representative government had been discarded. … In practice all power was concentrated in the Grand Council, which elected the Senate out of its own members. And the Grand Council was entirely composed of nobles who never married out and hardly ever allowed any new blood in. Even within this tiny noble caste marriage was forbidden between the families of the most ancient nobles of all, the Salamanchesi, and the ‘new’ nobles, the Sorbonnesi, who had been created after an awful earthquake in 1667 forced the nobles to let in some new members, to make up for the ones who had been killed. … in the eighteenth century, they began to die out. From about 200 or 300 members in the sixteenth century, the Grand Council was down to between sixty and eighty by the eighteenth century. (Tanner, M. (2001). Croatia : A Nation Forged in War.)

Words fail me there, although the suicide of an entitled class throughits own snobbishness is actually quite poetic. But the earthquake…the earthquake was incredible. This is a description from someone who lived through it:

Suddenly there was a deep rumbling, and a violent blow rocked the city… A large part of the city collapsed. Rocks poured down from Mount Srđ. A thick cloud of dust rose, spreading a pall of darkness over the ruins. the ground shook and large crevasses opened up, swallowing completely some modest dwellings in the suburbs. The city walls swayed before falling back into position. The wells emptied of water, only to be refueled with thick yellow mud, which in turn drained away, leaving them quite dry. From our over the Adriatic there arose a roaring sound similar to continuous cannon fire. The sea withdrew from the harbour entirely and the ships moored there smashed their hulls on the now-exposed rock bed. Several times the tide returned and withdrew again. Flames… (320)

Imagine the tide receding completely.

Dubrovnik

This was from an account by a Dutchman, who was trapped in rubble and gave an improbable story of his servant despairing and only recovering hope when ordered by his master to try harder to escape and bring help.

The earthquake was a turning point indeed, but things had already been unraveling a bit before this. The world was changing, the centre of gravity shifting to the wealth of the New World and the ships of the Spanish, Dutch, English. With the decay of the Ottoman Empire as well, the key strategic bridging role held by Dubrovnik no longer existed. She writes things like

Unfortunately, like the villas to which they were attached, many an orsan has since fallen prey to insensitive road schemes, socialist housing and a mindset unsympathetic to the cultivated, patrician lifestyle of the Ragusan Republic.  (318)

Mindsets like mine. Still, Dubrovnik is very beautiful. Massive walls, narrow winding streets and stairs

Dubrovnik

A saint that always carries the city in his arms.

Dubrovnik

Cats everywhere. Tanks painted in gay colours and a museum of remembrance of the ‘War of Serbian Aggression’ (but never any mention of fascism or WWII). We saw a concert in the Rector’s Palace, it was beautiful indeed to be there in the late evening.

Dubrovnik

We climbed hills (so many hills), had fabulous food, wine of the best. Saw the small archaeology museum, ethnographic museum, the absolutely fabulous natural history museum with its incredible Freddy Mercury homage.

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Its collection of shells.

Dubrovnik

We rode a pirate ship to the islands, saw the great ruined hotels of Kupari, visited the salt flats at Ston. Saw some of the social housing and modernist architecture and liked that very much. Found a gecko our very first day.

Cats of the Dalmatian Coast

There were cats everywhere. I loved that and also…they were all very young, cats do not live long there. Were I myself to live there, I would quickly become the cat lady. But still. It may be Kotor in Montenegro that has a reputation as the city of cats, but the places we stayed all seemed to give it a run for its money.

This post also must include the best picture I have taken in ages:

Vis

Kupari: the sunbathing uncanny

Kupari was an amazing place… luxury hotels built by Tito for the relaxation of military personnel. Shot up and burned out during the war. All four of them. Three are great modernist frames of still structurally-sound concrete. They have been stripped, remain full of rubble and broken glass and you can pick your way up and down stairs. Plants grow exuberant in the courtyards and into the lobbies and corridors. The four hotels sit on a cove, the beach full of local families and tourists. Occasionally some of them wandered up the concrete stairs in chanclas, sunburned bellies pouring over flowered bermuda shorts.

I didn’t blog over our trip, a terrible thing because there is so much we saw, so much that was amazing, so much that I learned. There were also so many cats.

We took a bus down the coast from Dubrovnik, terribly hot humid no windows open standing room only. We got off and walked through a bit of woods and found this. We approached through the trees and the long grass, it felt lonely and abandoned. Empty.

Kupari

Kupari

It used to look like this

Now inside it is uncanny and strange and beautiful.

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

We went on to the next, a great square building around a courtyard burgeoning with life. Through almost every window, an incredible view of the sea:

All Inclusive! My favourite piece of grafitti.

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

I think perhaps these two might have been enough, but there were more to see. We continued. The next building was older, riddled with bullet holes. This is the only place we went, I think, where the conflict felt real.

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

The last building, the most interesting perhaps but I already felt full.

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

Coming to them from the beach full of baked bodies and primary colours felt so much more unreal. We walked from shadows to bright sunlight to shadow again. We found a bar at the end of the sand blasting Beyoncé. It could almost be any beach, though sandy beaches were rare here, and perhaps it is the looming hotels that made these a bit less crowded.

Kupari