Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bondi the supermodelmute

Today I was interviewed about my travels with Bondi for a Norwegian newspaper, Dagbladet. Bondi - "I don't get off the floor for less than 50 ginger biscuits" - was photographed with me in several locations around Ealing.

During the interview I was asked if I knew of any other dogs who were as well-travelled as Bondi. I admitted that I didn't, but I had been inspired partly by John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley: In Search of America, published in 1961. Charley also inspired Bruce Fogle, who toured the US in Travels with Macy, a book we discovered while I was in Paris last year. I've also read a little of Two Feet, Four Paws about a woman who walked her dog around the entire coastline of Britain. [Postscript: it occurs to me that my first and probably greatest influence was the fictional tales of Tintin & Snowy, the intrepid young reporter taking his dog in all his travels.]

Some research turned up details of Owney, who saw the world in the care of the US Postal Service until his death in 1897. He's now on display in the Smithsonian museum. Some other "noble dogs" whose lives have been memorialised in the USA are noted in this virtual mausoleum.

Various dogs active in war-time, often smuggled back to another country, are listed in Wikipedia's catalog of famous dogs. A toy dog Woefje the Airport Dog, is also making the rounds of various airports about the globe.

There is certainly a lot of circum-Europe or North America travel by folks in motor-homes who take their dogs with them everywhere, but Owney is the only dog I can identify with major multi-continental experience.

In order of travel, Bondi has been to the following countries on 3 continents:
  • USA (born in Seattle; travelled around Olympic Peninsula, Puget Sound; visited Portland, Oregon)
  • Canada (Vancouver, Whistler, Victoria)
  • Australia (Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart and points between)
  • England (almost everywhere + walked Hadrian's Wall + Capital Ring)
  • Scotland (good coverage + walked Great Glen Way)
  • Wales (good coverage)
  • France (Paris, Nice, south & west coasts, Angers, Cherbourg)
  • Belgium
  • Netherlands (Amsterdam)
  • Germany (Heidelberg)
  • Switzerland (Lucerne)
  • Italy (Genoa)
  • Monaco (Monte Carlo)
  • Spain (Pamplona, Salamanca, San Sebastian, Segovia, Avila, Bilbao)
  • Ireland (most of coastline)
  • Northern Ireland (all of coastline)
After the next journey we'll add:
  • Croatia
  • Slovenia
  • Slovakia
  • Hungary
  • Austria
  • Czech Republic
  • Poland
  • Lithuania
  • Latvia
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • Sweden
  • Norway
  • Denmark
  • Luxembourg
  • + additional cities in Switzerland (Geneva), Italy (many + Sicily), Germany (many), Belgium (Ghent & Brussels probably).

    Tuesday, January 30, 2007

    Europe 2007

    Now that I have my mapping software under control, I've made a travel time estimate for the journey at 114 days, or about 3 1/2 months.

    The two countries I'll be spending the most time in are Italy (20 days) and Norway (20+ days). The 2500km coast run in Norway from Vardø to Bergen is equivalent to Sydney-Cairns (Australia), or Seattle-San Diego and half way back. The entire round trip will be equivalent to driving from London to Sydney (as the crow flies).

    The boxed KIRUNA label on the above map shows where I'll be on Sunday for the Ice Hotel.

    I've clipped off a visit to Kaliningrad, the Russian seaport on the Baltic, because of the complications of getting a Russian visa. That's a shame, as this city, formerly known as Königsberg, has a long and interesting history. Not only home to Immanual Kant, it has a strong connection to mathematics: Christian Goldbach and David Hilbert were both born there, and Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler solved the famous Seven Bridges of Königsberg problem.

    Trivial bridge problems aside, in addition to two English Channel crossings, I have to sort out ferries between:
    • Villa San Giovanni - Messina (Sicily), Italy (30 mins) OR Naples - Palermo (overnight)
    • Bari, Italy - Dubrovnik, Croatia (9hrs, overnight)*
    • Tallinn, Estonia - Helsinki, Finland (2-3 hrs)
    • Vaasa, Finland - Umeå, Sweden (3-4 hrs)
    *I've just discovered that this ferry only runs once per week until April, which means either sliding dates before it, or possibly skipping Dubrovnik, as the next available ferry route up the Italian coast is Ancona - Split and requires another 600km+ of driving.

    Sunday, January 28, 2007

    Upcoming months

    Post #500: I've just made a stab at a route for our final assault on the continent over upcoming months. Much fine-tuning to be done, and of course the route will evolve further once we're on the road, adapting to circumstance and opportunity.

    Assuming around 8 hours/day of driving, the route above adds up to about 25 days of travel. Distance is ~9750 miles / 15665 km.

    Two destinations are called out because of family ties (through my father's mother) - Malmö in Sweden, and some villages southwest of Magdeburg in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. These are my only ancestral lines outside of the British Isles, each leading to South Australia in the mid-19th century.

    I'd love to hear of any suggestions for tuning the route, picturesque byways, and pet-friendly accommodation suggestions.

    Back in the British Isles, my other want-to-see-and-do items are:
    • Orkneys and Shetlands
    • Edinburgh Festival
    • at least one more long walk, perhaps Pembrokeshire Coast Path (186 miles/299km), or Offa's Dyke (177 miles/285km).
    • Ireland: Limerick, Tipperary, Kilkenny, Waterford & Wexford counties, and maybe a return to Dingle.
    I'd also like to manage Iceland, Greenland and the Spitsbergen islands, but these would have to be done sans Bondi, not just because of cost of flights, but because there are no transport arrangements for animals with these destinations.

    Friday, January 26, 2007

    Capital Ring: Woolwich to Grove Park

    After yesterday's snows, today's sunshine made getting out and about all the more urgent. It's over a month since we made any progress on our walk around London's Capital Ring so I thought it was time to get the final 6 segments out of the way.

    We got back out to Woolwich Dockland station around 1pm after 4 tube/rail connections, and started our walk through Maryon and Maryon Wilson Parks where Antonioni's film Blow-Up was filmed. Remnants of snow lingered still from an additional night's fall in the south-east. After these parks and Woolwich Common, we reached Shooter's Hill, whose summit is one of the highest points of London.

    At Severndroog Castle (above), a curious triangular tower falling prey to vandalism, we were at the highest point of the entire Capital Ring.

    Later we passed Eltham Palace, a favourite country residence of the English monarchy in centuries past.

    Somewhere near Mottringham Station, I lost track of the path, confused by overlapping sections with another path, and missing or vandalised signs. I asked for directions a couple of times, but after we got sent further out of our way I despaired how little many Londoners know of their neighbourhood. We eventually staggered into Grove Park station around 4.45pm.

    Writer E. Nesbit ( The Railway Children, 5 Children & It, The Phoenix and the Carpet) lived in this area for many years.

    Today's walk was 2 segments of the walk, listed as 10 miles. With 25 miles still to walk, we will probably have to do that over 3 days.

    While walking today, I listened to podcasts of Rick Kleffel's interviews with writers Charlie Stross, Dan Simmons, Richard Morgan and Gregory 'Wicked' Maguire. I particularly commend the Stross interview and the section on how he develops some of his ideas from the economics of a world he is creating. The Morgan and Maguire interviews were similarly enlightening.

    Wednesday, January 24, 2007

    When men were all asleep the snow came flying,

    Woke up to snow this morning, the first we've seen since Xmas 2005.

    The blog is now more or less up to date in respect of both the recent jaunt to Pembrokeshire in Wales, and the backlog of transfers of content from the Homeward blog that ran from May-Nov 2005. Everything should be here and searchable on this site, although I note that I wasn't posting so many photos when I started el Loco & el Lobo. After completing the transfers, I now have almost 500 blog entries in total from just over 600 days of travelling.

    A kiss for woman who saved a lion . . .

    Tuesday, January 23, 2007

    Silly web stuff

    A new genealogy site, MyHeritage has a face recognition demo that allows you to upload a photo and compare it to its library of celebrity photos.

    Monday, January 22, 2007

    The Venerable Vi

    Auntie Vi, outside Ye Olde Worlde Cafe

    On this, my final full day in Pembrokeshire, James and Alison took me down onto the Castlemartin Peninsula.

    James and Alison succumb to dreadful antipodean paparazzo

    The Stackpole Estate in Bosherston has some famous lily ponds formed by damming three limestone valleys. We walked around some of these to reach Broadhaven Beach.

    As we approached the first of several low-slung narrow bridges across the water, Bondi misjudged a mat of floating leaves and other matter adjacent to it, stepped out and plunged into the cold water.

    Church Rock at Broadhaven Beach

    After our walk I was taken to visit local icon "Auntie" Vi Weston, who has run Ye Olde Worlde Cafe since before WWII. Like the Venerable Bede at Jarrow who digested the world through his reading and interrogation of travellers from all over the Roman Empire, Vi makes tea for visitors in her Bosherston cafe and absorbs the world through her customers, the scores of girls who have worked the tables over summer, and her TV. Still very alert and busy at 85, she asked that Bondi be brought into the tea-room so that both hound and human could be inspected and questioned. "He's been to 16 countries! Marvellous. Marvellous."

    Vi has asked me to send on some photos of her with Bondi*. Unfortunately I couldn't get him to smile during the photos as he was so intent on the doggie treats I was using to entice him into a position in the cramped space of the cafe interior.

    Bosherston, Tea Gardens c1955

    We drove back via Freshwater West Beach and along the top of the Castlemartin Peninsula, looking across Milford to the awful Texaco plant which looks as much like one of Blake's "satanic mills" as anything I've seen on these shores. It's such a pity that it blights such a beautiful area. Some 400 years ago, traveller William Camden wrote in his Britannia:
    From hence runneth the shore along not many miles continuate, but at length the land shrinketh backe on both sides giving place unto the sea, which, encroching upon it a great way, maketh the haven which the Englishmen call Milford haven, than which there is not another in all Europe more noble or safer, such variety it hath of nouked bayes, and so many coves and creekes for harbour of ships, wherewith the bankes are on every side indented, and, that I may use the Poets words,

    The sea disarmed heere of winds, within high banke and hill
    Enclosed is, and learnes thereby to be both calme and still.

    *I'm a little wary after the last time I sent on a photo to someone of her vintage. In the early 80s when I was a physics student, I sometimes encountered Prof Julius Sumner Miller in the corridors of the Physics Building and we would have short but memorable (to me) exchanges. I had watched the professor on TV as a young child, and he was undoubtedly an influence on my educational direction. When our third year Physics class photo was taken, I was wearing a tee-shirt with a photo of the Prof demonstrating Hero's Engine. This came to the attention of Ray, one of the lab assistants, who had set up the experimental apparatus for the TV program. He said that the Professor was back in the US, ill in bed and that seeing this photo would cheer him up, and so asked if he minded having a copy sent to him. I acquiesced, and heard no more of it until some time later when I discovered that the Professor had died, and I had visions of him being (fatally) appalled after receiving this photo of a woolly haired young Aussie.

    Sunday, January 21, 2007

    Between Wdig and a hard place to pronounce

    Thursday's storm was the worst the UK has endured in 17 years. Today's being the worst in two days, it hampered the efforts of Alison & James to show me around some more of Pembrokeshire. I'm very grateful for their efforts here as navigating some parts of Wales makes one feel as if you've entered the dangerous end of the scrabble board. I'd survived Wdig but what would happen if I had to go to Eglwyswrw?

    We started with a walk around the grounds of Carew Castle, only the most recent of many buildings on this site, the remains of an Iron Age fort having been found here. There's also a tidal mill sitting above a causeway which we crossed on our walk.

    From there we went up to the Preseli Hills in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park between Fishguard and Cardigan. Stone was taken from here to build Stonehenge. Today we were less hardy than our Iron Age forbears, and were quickly deterred by keen winds and boggy ground, shuttling on to the nearby seaside village of Newport (not the much larger Newport near Cardiff). Apparently home to trendy BBC types, there's a pleasant cafe by the water which sheltered us for lunch. Although there a number of dogs around, the cafe didn't have anywhere to leash them outside. I had to sit Bondi on an embankment and drop the end of the leash under a slab of slate. He sat on that embankment, staring at me through the cafe window, only turning aside occasionally to inspect passing canines or to acknowledge human fans.

    Back in Pembroke, Alison chained me to the piano (hardly an unwilling prisoner) while she concocted some fabulous dessert. Both Alison and James had worked out that by asking me an open-ended question ("What happened in History? ... and then?" "What's all this about DNA?") I would end up babbling through a meal without consuming anything.

    Saturday, January 20, 2007

    Fishguard & St David's

    DSC03571-74 panorama [ice]DSC03576-77 panorama [ice]

    Today's touring was around the north coast of Pembrokeshire, concentrating on Fishguard and St David's. Fishguard is only 27 miles from Pembroke, but such a distance in Wales generally requires about an hour to traverse.

    Dylan Thomas was inspired by his stay in New Quay, not far up the coast from Fishguard, to create a play for voices: Under Milk Wood. The fictionalised town was Llareggub (read it backwards) printed as Llaregyb to mollify sensitive audiences. A number of recordings* have been made of the play, most notably with the participation of Richard Burton, who also appeared in the 1972 film version. That film, also starring Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O'Toole, was shot in Lower Fishguard, where Bondi and I found ourselves this very cool morning.

    *I'm most familiar with George Martin's 1988 recording, featuring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, sung contributions from Tom Jones, Bonnie Tyler, Mary Hopkin and Geraint Evans, and music settings by Mark Knopfler and Elton John.

    All the spouses are honking like geese and the babies singing opera DSC03575 DSC03570 
    All the spouses are honking like geese and the babies singing opera

    The narrow harbour, lined with simple cottages, and framed by high headlands, immediately reminded me of the Basque port of Pasajes to the east of San Sebastian, which Bondi and I had visited in 2005.

    DSC03590 DSC03585
    High upon the headland overlooking Lower Fishguard is the fort which repelled the last invasion of mainland Britain in 1797. The invasion force, consisting mainly of conscripted French prisoners, under the leadership of an American colonel were seen off by the combination of a single cannon shot, and (as legend has it) by the distant sight of Welsh women dressed up in national costume, appearing to be British soldiers. The ridiculousness of the event is probably only surpassed in recent history by the Anglo-American Pig War

    Driving southwest out of Fishguard, I saw a sign for Ocean Lab, which I remembered from a tourist flyer advertising Ollie the Octopus. Hoping to find an aquarium facility, I was disappointed to find a cafe/giftshop with a room out the back housing some hands-on exhibits based on a cartoon picture of an octopus. I wondered if there was a message in the display panel that described an octopus' 1,920 suckers...

    Stone circle behind the tourist information centre. Stone circle behind the tourist information centre.
    The next planned stop is St David's, often referred to as Britain's smallest city, and not because it scrapes the lower dimensions of a city population or extent. It was granted city status in 1995 by Queen Elizabeth II because of its cathedral, built on the site of a 6th century monastery.

    St David's Cathedral, Wales (1) St David's Cathedral, Wales (2)
    Pope Calixtus 11 (1119-24) decreed that two pilgrimages to St David's were equivalent to one to Rome, although this has not had the flow on effect of inducing louche youngmen to lounge around outside the cathedral grounds on vespas while downing espresso. Fortunately the new refectory offers attractive luncheon and coffee choices that might attract pilgrims from elsewhere in the county.

    DSC03595 Queen's pew cushions
    20070119 Wales - Fishguard ~ St David's
    The St David's refectory also hosts displays of local art. At this time it was handwoven pictures by Riitta Sinkonnen Davies, a Finnish-born textile artist living and working outside Haverfordwest.

    St Justinian lifeboat station We pulled in briefly at the St Justinian lifeboat station on the coast. The storm that had erupted over the last day and swept across the country doing much damage was a little troubling when standing on the narrow coastal path overlooking this bay. Not much actual damage seemed to have occurred in Pembrokeshire, as cousin Alison said "anything that was going to blow down had done so centuries ago".
    DSC03617  DSC03627
    Our return journey took us back to the coast again at Newgale beach, which is guarded from high tides by a long pebble wall. Today it was being lashed by wind and water. At the time I was listening to a performance of Berlioz' Corsair overture which was a suitably swashbuckling accompaniment.

    Rounded off the day with dinner at Alison & James', with conversation lasting until at least midnight.

    Friday, January 19, 2007

    Tenby, celebrating 450 years of equality

    By the time we reached the nearby seaside resort of Tenby this morning, the gale was gusting
    70mph, verging on Force 10. Alison called me to invite us to stay at her place through the remainder of my stay, which was most welcome, but postponed it till the weekend as I felt guilty about checking out of our B&B before completing most of our booked nights.

    Even under cloud and beaten by the Atlantic's exhalations, Tenby is ridiculously picturesque. Low tide had revealed a vast expanse of beach, with eddies of sand skimming along its length like the spirits of the freshly shipwrecked racing for safe harbour.Standing outside the museum on one headland, the sun appeared for the first time, as the gale had finally managed to budge some of the dismal cloud.

    I dropped into the information centre for the Pembrokeshire Coast Park and got some tips on walking the 186mile coast path from one of the rangers. I saw a short film 'Wendy's Walk' about a partially sighted woman who walked the path over the course of July 2005 - the same time as Bondi and I walked the Great Glen Way.

    Tenby was home to Welsh mathematician Robert Recorde, who introduced the "=" sign in 1557.
    to auoide the tediouse repetition of these woordes: is equalle to : I will sette as I doe often in woorke use, a paire of paralleles, or Gemowe [i.e. "twin"] lines of one lengthe, thus: =, bicause noe .2. thynges, can be moare equalle

    Since the day was half done, and Tenby was clearly in out-of-season mode, I drove us on to Narbeth for lunch, and then Haverfordwest (nothing to see). Our last stop for the day was at Neyland on the north side of Milford Haven, where leading engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel positioned the beginning of the South Wales Railway.

    During my two days' of driving I listened to all 4 CDs of Clive James reading his fourth volume of unreliable memoirs "North Face of Soho".