Tag Archives: travel

Sofia’s Cityscapes

Not much time to write about Sofia — not much time for anything at all. But it is a city I quite loved. Incredibly layered, much of the past gone it’s true, but the incredible Roman ruins of Serdica lie beneath it all, swathes of it opened up to view here and there across the centre city in often unlikely places.

The Greek inscription on the first city walls of Serdica, carved over the North and West gates of the city, reads:

Good luck!

The greatest and divine emporers, Ceasars Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Agustus, Germanicus, Sarmaticus, Father of the Fatherland, Greatest Pontiff and Lucius Aurelius Commodus, Germanicus, Sarmaticus, Father of the Fatherland, Leader of the Youth, gave to the city of the Serds a fortress walls when the Governor of the porvince of Thrace was Aselius Aemilianus, Envoy of the Emporer, Propraetore, appointed as governor of that same province.

Above sits a great mix of eras between and around the great communist boulevards and massive state buildings. I was reading Owen Hatherly, and so much of what he wrote about Warsaw, Berlin and all cities not Sofia still held true here. I am not sure how much I am still fascinated by this architecture, like everything else any promise of the early soviets crushed by a ponderous Stalinism…but probably still fascinated. It carves through the older city, yet leaves so much on either side completely untouched.

This city is full of life, grit, graffiti, architecture of many periods and styles, colour, noise, good public transportation (but confusing), delicious food.

While I might not have entirely agreed with the decision to quarantine ‘socialist’ art in the city’s outskirts, I confess did quite love seeing everything in one place.

And its special ode to Lenin.

The other monument to this era is, of course, housing. It’s own post.

Covilhã

A far-away from the centre and mountain town, university town, town built around the manufacturing of wool. Its picturesque buildings tumble down hills along narrow twisting streets, offer incredible views across valleys filled with the ruins of old factories. It has built public elevators and funiculars. It is storied with ancient castle walls, labour organizing, and now woolfest, which has brought the town some of my favourite street art. It seems safer to love these incredible works without reservation here unlike Lisbon, where gentrification and the financialisation of real estate through luxury flats and air bnb creeps across that amazing city. Once an art of rebellion, grafitti has become marketable in many places, but perhaps not here. It can just be loved.

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)

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.

History of Croatia in Maps

We are going to Croatia today! Dubrovnik for a week and then Split, and a conference on… I’m not sure.

Gravity assist is a slingshot move, when one object uses the gravity of another to propel itself out of orbit. This concept from space travel, first used with the Mariner 10 probe in 1974, functions as a metaphor for escaping the constraints of the present to create change for the future. The conference, to be held by the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Split, Croatia, 14-15 September, 2018, aims to examine strategies for challenging the limitations of the present in order to escape from them.

I’ve been at RGS all this week, I presented a paper on rural homelessness in Wales, I spoke about how austerity is tearing its way through people’s lives and concreting itself into the landscape and service provision. This is why I do not have a paper for Split, which is really Mark’s bag of course, but it would have been fun to think about this. I will enjoy being there and seeing old friends again, but mostly I look forward to exploring a new space and place and have, of course, been reading a great deal. I read a short book on the history as it was all I could find in our library, it was all right. I most loved the maps that trace this much-contested area over time, and they are presented in order here. From Tanner, M. (2001). Croatia : A Nation Forged in War. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Nuremberg – Nürnberg

Nazi memorabilia, brothels where women stood in windows above their names, local people who, it felt, rather hated us…they certainly hated my poor attempts at German.

But also moments of the sublime.

St Egidien…we walked past and heard the most beautiful music and just sidled in the great doors and sat to listen to a rehearsal.

Nuremberg

An older man who was brilliant but a young woman who was truly one of the best I’ve heard, singing there in a white t-shirt and cut-offs. Not Bach, but of the period I think. We could have, should have, lit a candle to the angel of history in the back.

Nuremberg

And then there was the fairly brilliant bar Mata Hari (tiny basement bar, regulars, DJ playing 70s vinyl and loving every minute of the music, a German whiskey)

Nuremberg

Albrecht Dürer‘s house — quite beautiful, from a time when this was a vibrant centre of politics, trade and culture, one in which Dürer chose to stay rather than be lured away to Venice. He lived here just below the castle, in front of one of the main entrances to the city:

Nuremberg

The rooms are full of light — at least the day that we were there. Beautiful rooms.

Nuremberg

Not so beautiful, perhaps, how he and these rooms were reinvented to the greater glory of Nuremberg and Germany. A lot feels reinvented here for those reasons somehow, though I loved the sausages and the dark wood paneling and the wine — and wished I could still drink beer. The Golden Postern was delicious and friendly, couldn’t really say the same for anywhere else.

Mark giving a lecture and doing a class at the University in Erlangen, and we deciding to stay in Nuremberg. It is a beautiful town to be honest, and one where life can be lived with grace I think — wide pavements, well maintained buildings of flats, lots of colour that I love. Lots of timber construction, a vibrant market in the centre, brilliant public transport. Also a number of people rough sleeping. Addictions — though they felt of a different kind than those so familiar in Manchester or London.

Statues that were bewildering:

Nuremberg

Some terrifying (though I confess I rather liked the latter)

Nuremberg
Nuremberg

Yet I think we will not be going back to Bavaria, at least not to stay.

It didn’t leave me with the physical sick to the stomach feeling of Bayreuth — the visit to Cosima Wagner’s Wahnfried and Winfred Wagner’s home next door, where Adolf Hitler felt at home, sneaking in after dark in the days after the 1923 failed putsch and then openly feted after his rise to power.

But this was ‘The most German of German Cities’, a centre of Hitler’s support and where they planned to build the massive and monumental Nazi Party Rally Grounds.

A map of what would have been, had not World War started and been lost:

There is a museum in part, it was alright. The building for party rallies still looms monumental, sitting at one end of the two-kilometer road for marches and parades:

Nuremberg

I read Speer’s autobiography many years ago when he writes about designing this, the great outdoor rally grounds with the massive banners, the use of floodlights to create the cathedral effect. It is almost down to foundations now, called the zepplin grounds because a zepplin once landed here in happier days.

It made me happy to see this there though:

Nuremberg

Most of this complex still serves as just another park.

This is also the city where Kaspar Hauser appeared on 26 May 1828, claiming to have been held prisoner, rumours ran rife of his parentage, especially after he was stabbed and killed.

Nuremberg

The castle was interesting, the transport museum — I loved seeing the train carriages of Bismarck:

Nuremberg - Bismarck's train

And Ludwig II, I love trains and these were absolutely brilliant.

Nuremberg - Ludwig II's train
Nuremberg - Ludwig II's train

I’m glad to have seen all this, also more happy than usual to be home.

Days at the Triangle L Ranch, Oracle

The Triangle L Ranch — our getaway for a few glorious days in Oracle, AZ.

A dirt road off of the 77, a sign of welcome:

Triangle L

The company was quite sparkling, the breakfasts absurdly varied and delicious (I mean, we had our first but not our last taste of clafoutis), everything wonderful. Our casita — the guest house, in a rare ray of sunshine:

Triangle L

I got no pictures that did justice the small but quite exquisite main room, but the sleeping porch came out all right — the perfect place to escape the summer night’s heat.

Triangle L

On the side table sat a couple of books on local history, and of course I read one of them. Annie’s Guests: Tales From a Frontier Hotel by Barbara Marriott. It mostly looked at Oracle’s Mountain View Hotel, built and run by Annie (Box) and William Curley Neals, who were both of mixed Cherokee, African American and English ancestry — a fascinating discovery, and one I shall write about more. But there was a chapter on William Bloodgood Trowbridge who once owned this ranch, so I shall start there.

He came from East Coast money, and arrived in Oracle on what seems a most slender whim — when hunting with friends on the other side of the country they became fed up with their luck and headed out west without even going home for a change of clothes first.  Money, like I said. He decided to stay on a while, and returned regularly (staying at the Mountain View of course). When it came up for sale, he bought the Triangle L in 1924. It had been built for Mrs Westry Ladd, another woman of East Coast money whose family had built the Baldwin locomotive engine. This began its life as a place of privilege with its wooden floors covered with Navajo rugs and comfortable antique furniture.– but it feels a surprisingly modest, comfortable and welcoming one.

Most of the chapter, however, is about Trowbridge’s rather tawdry love affair — I am a bit more judgmental than the author I am afraid. It seemed Trowbridge had some kind of understanding with the daughter who with her mother managed the ranch — when he broke that informal engagement to marry a Miss Smith from Edinburgh, he moved them to another ranch in the area. The marriage did not appear to be a happy one, and he commenced an affair with a woman named Margaret in Tucson. While he burned the letters he received from her, she failed to burn his. They are a rather depressing look into a relationship where you really hope she was just in it for the money — Trowbridge, despite all protestations of love clearly had no intention of leaving his wife. His parsimony is often hinted at, and in fact he asks Margaret to keep an accounting of her expenses and the money he gives her so he can review it. It all goes wrong, he is blackmailed by the family, the wife finds out (though she seems to have known much all along).

Not very interesting but for the fact that somehow, some way, the packet of his letters to Margaret were found in the disused well on the ranch itself — I imagine it must be this well, right next to our temporary home.

Triangle L

Behind it you can see the main house — I realise I failed to take a good picture to give a sense of the whole, there is a wonderful old picture on the website, though this view is just as you enter:

I did get a few pictures from inside, though they fail to do it justice. It is a perfect kind of house to my mind: thick adobe walls, wood floors, dark stained vigas and wood ceilings. What Marriot called the 360 degree fireplace, with three openings all leading to a central chimney shaft. From the dining room

Triangle L

Triangle L

The sitting room:

Triangle L

A most wonderful enormous screened living room/sleeping area/porch:

Triangle L

In addition to the extraordinary breakfasts to be enjoyed in the main house, the ranch also now serves as host to artists’ workshops, a wonderful little gift shop and  a very large sculpture garden, primarily showcasing constructions of salvaged metal and glass, but plenty of other recycled materials here too:

Triangle L

Triangle L

Triangle L

Triangle L

This maze had music set off by motion detectors — some rabbits had triggered it while we were still some ways away, making it all a bit creepier than it should have been…

Triangle L

Pictures did not do this bird justice, nor its pair across the path with plumage of old shovels, I loved them both:

Triangle L

As I did these robots (most robots I confess):

Triangle L

This made quite an impact

Triangle L

Music Tree!

Triangle L

A beautiful new take on bottle trees:

Triangle L

Sabretooth tiger.

Triangle L

Triangle L

The country surrounding the Triangle L — hidden gullies and rocks of granite, dusk falling:

Triangle L

The old corral:

Triangle L

A wonderful place to stay and explore the surrounding country — Oracle, Buffalo Bill Cody’s mining claims, beautiful hikes through country teeming with wildlife and the most wonderful views, the Biosphere 2. All coming up.

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Cumbres & Toltec Railroad, Chama to Antonito

The Cumbres & Toltec Railroad is amazing, a narrow three-foot gauge railroad along which the steam engines of yore still ride…Built in 1880 by the Rio Grande to serve the silver mines in the San Juan mountains. As we all know, the Sherman Act of 1893 destroyed the silver industry for a good long time, but this train line kept slowly going until the 1960s. This piece of the track was saved by a handful of wonderful people working to preserve this awesomeness, it was secured in 1970 by New Mexico and Colorado working together, and is now run by a commission and a friend group.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

I love how trains inspire the utmost love and devotion, brings groups of people to selflessly work together to keep them going despite all odds. People also stood by the side of roads and RV parks to wave at the train, a couple of cars followed us down I-17. A number of cars pulled off the road to take pictures of the train.

For me, though, this particular train had a slightly different glamour. I am not a proper fan girl of many, but James Garner is one. James Garner as Maverick? Especially. For some reason I climbed up onto this train and suddenly felt myself close, very close. It didn’t even take that much imagination to ignore everyone else. I stood at the end staring at the mountains and wished I had a cigar. It was grand. I didn’t even mind the constant shower of grit.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

We climbed high up into the mountains, then back down to high-desert plateau. We saw deer, chipmunks, prairie dogs, antelope. Unbelievably beautiful.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

We even spouted rainbows.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Even more special, is that me and mum first took this trip with my Dad and my Godmother Clare when I was about 2 years old.

(I have skipped a day, yesterday we drove through rainbows but I was just too tired to think and write, and there is more to write! But it will be made part of this history)

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