Monday, March 28, 2011

The Best Way to See London

Art along the Thames Path
If you read my “Quest for Spring” post last year, you’ll remember that I found precious little spring but I did run into Richard Quest. This year my quest for spring took about five minutes. London’s in bloom this year, everywhere.

Since Lufthansa upped its prices, I’ve been flying into London on easyJet—or as we like to refer to it, SleazyJet—who treats passengers more like cattle than people, but OK. I can’t really complain about the service this time. The staff were friendly. They’re doing better. Moo.

The problem with flying into London with easyJet is that they fly to Gatwick. Lufthansa flies to City Airport, which is just a 20-minute train ride from my flat in the Docklands. The trip from Gatwick to London Bridge to my flat takes over an hour. As I came up out of the Tube at London Bridge, the blue sky and the mild weather gave me an idea.
My favorite view of Canary Wharf
I decided to walk home to Canary Wharf. Yes, I’m barking mad, but I’m a devoted walker. I love walking. I love walking so much I could skip—but that wouldn’t be walking, would it? It turned out to be a leisurely two-hour stroll, but I needed it. Like several of my writing buddies, I’ve been fighting against a certain broadening that accompanies a writer’s sedentary ways. We will win, guys.

With lots to discover and the river to help the orientation-impaired, the Thames Path is a walker’s dream. I’ve said it before, but it bears saying again: The Thames Path is the best way to see London. You’ll love the pubs and the art you find along the way.

Starting from London Bridge, walk west toward the Tate museum where Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds is on display right now. Yeah, the guy has balls to order 20 million porcelain sunflower seeds, dump them on the floor of the Tate and say “Voilà! That’s art, baby.” Still, you have to see it. So here are a few photos.

Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds.

More sunflower seeds--porcelain of course.

And more sunflower seeds.

Get in all the touristy stuff. See The Globe . . .

Willy Shakspear

Go to Vinopolis . . .
I love this museum. Sheesh.

Walk across the footbridge to St. Paul’s Cathedral . . .

The Footbridge to St. Paul's from the Tate

Walk down The Mall and take a few pics of Buckingham Palace.

The Mall

Get it all out of your system.

When you’re tired of all that and you want to see London from a different perspective, start walking east along the Thames on the city side (St. Paul’s, Monument, etc.). The Thames Path will take you through residential neighbourhoods, parks, docks, and promenades. You can take this route all the way to Canary Wharf (and beyond, but I’ve never done it). When you arrive at Canary Wharf, reward yourself by doing a bit of shopping or having a cider in one of the countless pubs. With the Jubilee Line you’ll be back in the city in five minutes.

The Thames Path is a London treasure. I’m always astounded by how many runners use the path. This weekend was exceptionally mild, so there were thousands of people along the Thames. It’s not a pretty river, but the life and art along it certainly are.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), available from Amazon Anything and many other online bookshops.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Madeira -- Evergreen and Glossy

Since I returned from Madeira on Tuesday night, my mother has asked me where Madeira is several times. “Where were you again?”


“I’ve never heard of that. How do you spell that?”

“I’ve told you five times, so I know you’ve heard of the island at least five times. M A D E I R A.”

“What is it again?”

And so it went. And why should she know where or what Madeira is? On my map—the one that hangs over my desk to remind me of my obsession with seeing the entire world—Madeira is a teensie-weensie speck 323 miles off the coast of Morocco. A shield volcano began spitting the archipelago out of the Atlantic Ocean about 70 million years ago. Madeira itself is, however, a spring chicken at a mere 4.6 to 0.7 million years. If it wears sunglasses, you can hardly see its wrinkles.

A popular tourist destination for Europeans, the archipelago of Madeira—the group of islands including Porto Santo, the Desartes Islands, the Savage Islands and of course Madeira itself—is evergreen and glossy year-round.

The island is glossy because it rains a lot. In 2010, Madeira suffered its worst flooding in 100 years. We stayed in the little seaside town of Sao Vicente, just a few meters away from the path of the flooding. The scars are still visible. It rained while we were there, but I guess we can count ourselves lucky that it didn’t rain like it did in 2010 (as you can see in this video with freaky music).

Madeira is stunning. I have absolutely nothing bad to say about the island—which is sad, because I love ranting.

The food was exceptional. We had grilled fish and more grilled fish at very reasonable prices. On Saturday evening, we drove into Funchal, the capital of Madeira, to see the Carnival parade. We left the car in a parking garage near the harbor and enjoyed the parade for a couple of hours. When we returned to the parking garage, we discovered that the building was completely blocked by the parade. To kill time, we popped into a restaurant called Beerhouse on the harbor. I ordered a mixed salad. We weren’t really hungry; we just didn’t know what else to do with the time.

The salad was the craziest mix of fruit and vegetables, beans, ham and cheese that I’ve ever had. And it was great. I wish I’d taken a picture. If you’re in Funchal one day, stop by Beerhouse.

Madeira is known for hiking and wine, two of my favorite things. Unfortunately, on this trip it was too wet to hike (although we saw lots of people doing it, probably the British who don’t know that most people hike in the sun). With all the time we saved by not hiking, we sampled Madeira wine, from dry to medium dry to sweet. I love wine.

I also love hiking, so I’ll be back, Madeira . . . when you’re drier.

I must be off,

PS, Pretty reader!
I've set up a fan page on Facebook. Love me, like me, feel me, but whatever you do fan me. I'm so hot.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Carnival in Berlin?

Ah, clowns. Aren't they funny?
We were supposed to be in Brazil this week, but things sometimes turn out differently from the way you plan. It's a long story that I'm sure you don't . . . what? You want to hear it? Really? You're going to what? Twist my arm until I tell it? OK, everyone gather around and sit cross-legged in a circle, and I'll tell the embarrassing story.

This clown had condoms hanging
from his head and he wasn't funny.
Once upon a time there lived a travel-obsessed couple: Snafu the Synchronized swimming instructor and Christopher, the adorable Travel blogger. They lived in a palace somewhere in Germany and traveled the world ad nauseam.

One evening Snafu decided to book a trip to Brazil last minute, which pleased Christopher of course to no end . . . until the Friday night before Snaf and Chris were supposed to fly to Brazil on Sunday morning.

"What?" Snaf was on the phone in the living room. "But he lives in Germany."

Adorable Christopher was relaxing in the conservatory until these words spiked through him like one of Dracula's impaling rods (yeah, sorry for that image).

The upside-down umbrella technique is
the best for catching candy.
"Nooooooooo," Christopher screamed inwardly (because it was around ten o'clock in the evening and he didn't want to disturb the neighbors). You see, Americans need a visa for Brazil, and Christopher, who is an American and who's been to Brazil several times, KNOWS this.

Long story short, Brazil wilted into Berlin. On an "up" note, we were treated to Berlin's version of Carnival. Most of the kiddies had supermarket bags to catch the candy. I had only my arms.

Take my advice: if you are an adult, do not hold out your hands like a child wanting candy. The guy on the float will take a handful of hard candy and curve-ball it at your face. Trust me. I spent the whole day yearning for candy, protecting my face, yearning for candy, protecting my face.

Carnival in Berlin was brought forward a week so that the dance groups from Cologne--the real home of Carnival in Germany--could take part in the "excitement," but there was very little excitement to be found.

I must be off (to get a visa for Brazil, obrigado),