I awoke with tired legs from the last couple of days walking round and dodging the throngs of christmas shoppers. It was one of those dull grey flat days that I had been expecting for the entire trip, Id been lucky with the weather so far. Luckily enough this was the day Id picked to go calling on clients and most were organised for mid to late afternoon when it would be getting dark anyway. So to compensate for the late start, the dull crappy day I thought I’d sample some of the local cuisine (yet again). When I’d stayed in London before everthing was horrendously expensive, I thought this trip would be no different. I’d ordered an oyster card in advance and loaded it up with the equivalent of day rates for the trip. Its not hard to believe that after only 2 and a half days in London, the transport costs had exceeded the entire hong kong trip!
The hotel had a couple of ‘greasy spoon’ type cafes across the road so I thought Id give them ago. Id chosen to stay between cricklewood and kilburn as Id wanted to sample a bit of non-tourist London. One of my aunts had lived up near Tottenham for a while so was keen to get out and about with ‘locals’. The ‘locals’ in the cafe consisted mostly of Irish and Polish men, the type of guys who would be usually working on building sites at this time of day if it wasnt for the recession.
The fry up would have choked 2 horses, never mind one, and cost about 7 quid and I genuinely thought I wouldnt eat anything else for a week. Prompting the later in the day well worn phrase of ‘no, I’m not hungry, but I could eat something’ that became the passphrase for my Canada/US trip last year.
Spending most of the morning in and out of the London transport system you get the feeling of how it has seemed to have grown organically rather than someone actually sitting down and designing it. It may have been designed, indeed it wasnt until I was 21 that I realised that Northern Ireland busses and railways actually had a timetable rather than just turning up and waiting for the next one.
Glad I wasnt taking many photos today as the train broke down, tube line was closed, roadworks for the busses and I only had 200 quid cash on me so couldnt take a taxi into town.
I could have been a one off but in my 4 month sojourn in London I decided Id try out this commuting lark for a week to see if I could hack it. My girlfriend at the time was living in Felixstowe so Id get the 6:30am train to Ipswich with the supposed connection to London Liverpool street which would put me at my desk by 8:50am. Well thats the theory… I dont think I was at my desk before 9:15am any morning. Im sure things have improved but at the time I worked with a guy who had a similar commute, he saw his kids only at the weekends despite living in the same house. He would be out of the house in the morning before they got up and back home long after they went to bed. I know its necessary but what sort of a life is that, not one for me really.
So I ask again, how on earth are they going to carry off the Olympics? Im only adding these lines in to wind English people up, every time theres an Olympics or World Cup or any major event, a lot of the pre-event publicity is on how much of a shambles it is going to be.
Reminds me of sitting in an internet cafe in Tokyo during the 2002 world cup. A number of US journalist were giving one of the fifa officials earache about all the problems they were having and one said ‘we told you about these problems yesterday’, to which the very polite official said ‘no sir, the problems you told us about yesterday have been fixed, these are new problems’. I suspect that wont be the case in London
As well as spending the vast majority of the morning in various states of waiting for parts of london transport to arrive I thought Id head over to Harrods and have a look round at how the other half lives. There had been an edtiorial in the papers about how Knightsbridge and Kensington had some of the most expensive parking in the world. I can well believe it as one of the houses I walked past cost more to rent per month than my whole house originally cost me!
I took a walk past One Hyde Park and joined the window shoppers outside the McLaren shop, some of the most expensive real estate in the world. I felt I didnt have enough money to even stand on the street outside! Across the road is Harvey Nichols and I’ve never been there, billed as the young persons Harrods I’ll have to have a look the next time Im over as I needed to get across town for various meetings. Just as I walked down the side, one of the security personnel asked me to move on. Well I was moving on, just not quick enough obviously and I wondered what was up. He said he thought I was paparazzi and Lady GaGa was about to come out and they’d been asked to clear the pavement. I laughed saying Id photographed her before but was heading on anyway. Oh PS mate, your building is on fire….
In between meetings I managed to get to the Imperial War Museum and their Don McCullin exhibition. I only had a quick look round, not enough to do it justice. Definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
I had a few follow up meetings on my last full day but during the free time the weather did work out for me again.
The phone apps Id mentioned in my last post did work wonders for highlighting some of the current events and I made a detour down to the South Bank for the chocolate food festival. No purchases here but wandering round the smell of cooking chocolate was enough!
It might seem odd but in the whole time Ive been coming to London I cant remember ever going anywhere near Buckingham Palace. Probably one of the must sees, if for nothing else than to say you have seen it. Its one of those weird places where tourists gather and just stand and stare. I watched loads of people just staring through the gates and I wondered if they thought the Queen would just pop out and say hello. Its not as if they just stopped, took a photo and cleared off, it took me about 15 mins to walk past the area and most of the people who were there when I arrived were still there and still staring through the railings. Would hate to see if if there was something on!
I enjoyed my trip to London, maybe I needed that break away from it to go back and appreciate it as one of the outstanding tourist cities instead of just a place to work ridiculous hours. I certainly saw more of it in my 4 days here than I did in the whole 4 months of working there. It was good to go back and wander round some of the old haunts and have a look round some new places. I’ll certainly be planning a return sometime in 2012, but maybe not anywhere near the Olympics
It had been almost 14 years since I last stayed in London. Well not strictly true I had spent a few nights in London since then but part of a medivac journey doesnt really count
London is one of those places I love to visit but would hate to live there. 16 years ago I spent about 4 months working in the west end of London. It involved working there 5 days a week and returning home to weekends which really meant getting in late on a Friday night, doing the washing and drying clothes on the Saturday and then packing for a Sunday night flight to be at my desk for 9am on the Monday. Not much of a life really and sounded a lot more glamourous than it actually was. After a month or so I tried to work 12 hour days monday to weds so I could get home earlier and when the offer of a permanent job came, I was never so glad to turn a job down in my life. Yes I spent time in some great hotels and got the opportunity to eat in some great restaurants but after a while all you want to do is go back to your hotel room and get room service and watch tv.
So I spent some time away from London but would always get over sometime during December, if for nothing else than to take a wander round Harrods and splash out a little.
Id organised this trip to go over and do some quick coffee meetings with some of my London clients. Its odd but I worked for a client in London for over 4 years and it was a good relationship with the client but we never met once in that period and I realised that this was the norm with my current clients so thought Id make an effort to press the flesh. I know I was probably asking too much to get the chance to go round and do some stock photos as it would be totally weather dependent and booked a month in advance it was pretty much a see how it is when you get there trip. If all else failed I’d go to a few exhibitions and I might even do some tourist stuff.
The way the flights worked out Id arrive after dark in London and had pretty much the first evening to myself. The question was then do I take in a show, go for a wander, go to the cinema, veg out in the hotel or… …well to cut a long story short I ended up at Chelsea for a champions league game. A great chance to get some quick street food which looking back on it I wish I’d missed. Not long after returning from Hong Kong where the street food there had sort of spoiled me So when I couldnt decide if the bap had more bread than the sausage I knew Id made the wrong choice!
Still the game was a good result for Chelsea and when the great Fernando Torres was introduced at 80 odd minutes it was time for me to leave and get a quick train home. Turned out to be a great move on my part, with delays, breakdowns and so on it took over an hour to get across London. How on earth are they going to hold the Olympics?
When I worked in London one of my bosses was one of those typical London bosses, when he invites you out for Lunch, it is of the liquid variety. I learned this to my cost one Friday afternoon when I went out with him and a load of the senior managers. After 4 pints I couldnt remember what my name was but I do remember the whole pub laughing when I kept saying ‘no seriously lads, what are we having to eat’. I have no idea how I ended up back in Belfast that evening. The guys had always said that if I was ever in London looking a pint at 6am that I should get myself down to Smithfield Market. Under the market theres a pub called the cock and as long as you order breakfast you can get drink as well. Now as a light drinker the pint didnt really interest me but rather the opportunity to get a fryup that would choke a horse and be made up of every meat under the sun. I waited 14 years for that fry and can I say it was worth the wait. I would thoroughly recommend it and get yourself down to the Smithfield Meat Market (London City Markets) if you ever get a chance. If you are a social networking afficionado (I occasionally use twitter and use facebook for family and friends) then please dont send a message to everyone you know saying that you are enjoying a breakfast at the cock. Innocent enough until some so called friends leave the ‘breakfast at’ part out of their requoting. Sigh!
Seeing as it was such a ridiculous time in the am and the sun was just coming up I headed down over the river for some early morning city views. Going past St Pauls I got a first glimpse of the Occupy London protest and the ‘ring of steel’ around the London Stock Exchange. Lets be honest I remember some of the rings of steel thrown up here in Northern Ireland,so a few crash barriers and fat lads in dayglo jackets doesnt constitute a ring of steel London.
I do have to say it was an absolutely beautiful morning and whilst cold was probably one of the best Ive ever seen there. I would have mostly stayed there in the summer when at times the heat is oppressive, I remember coming out of an air conditioned office one day for lunch only to stay in the revolving door and go and get crisps and cola from the vending machine.
I spent most of the morning wandering in and around the City hoping to set upon some bankers and give them what for but they must have all been sitting in their office, banking, or something like that.
I had a fair idea of the types of photos I wanted so took a wander up around Westminster and in and around Whitehall. It was a good opportunity to try out some of the travel technology Id first tried at my path to enlightenment in Hong Kong. I had downloaded a london transport app, a tube map, walking and guided tour apps and was using google maps to navigate. Despite having an engineering degree and a masters in electronics this felt very weird. Id always travelled everywhere with a map and found it strange to be standing in Trafalgar Square and then finding the nearest highest ranked pub lunch within 100 yards. Sure enough my facebook and tripadvisor friends didnt let me down and I ended up in the excellent porter house just off covent garden. Of course only after Id sat down and ordered did I realise it was an Irish pub and just across the street from Rules where Id unsuccessfully tried to book a lunch.
I then made almost a fatal mistake, I decided to go for wander up round Regent Street and then Oxford Street in late evening a couple of weeks before Christmas. Only the previous weekend the police had closed Oxford Street because there were just too many people in it for safety.
Im sure it was nowhere near that now but John Lewis is an odd place to sit and have your dinner, like a bad comedy sketch Id tried to get in somewhere to sit down and made the mistake of trying to navigate through shops when I found myself outside the John Lewis Cafe. With the glories of trip planners, sat nav, tube maps I worked out that it would be a hundred yard dash to Regent Street tube station and then only one change to my hotel.
Ok so I’ll admit it Im chicken and I bottled out and went back to the hotel to watch the football on tv. Theres only so many shopping crowds you can brave before it takes its toll and if its this bad now, whats it going to be like come the 2012 Olympics?
The time on this trip is really flying in, Canada Day marked the end of my third week on the road and also the start of my final week away. Its an odd sort of feeling as Canada has proved so far to be the same only different. What I mean is that there are a lot of familiar things yet they can all be done differently. Yet again I find out that companies I thought were Belfast/NI only are global – my first incarnation of this was when I was a kid and was surprised to see England had Woolworth shops!
The trip has taken a lot out of me, the rest days are becoming more frequent and we are back in the land of the mosquito bites!
Trying to learn from my experiences in Argentina I went down to the Saskatoon Jazz Festival with enough chemicals to mark me out as a target for WMD inspectors. Saskatoon is a great place but Ive only seen it in the summer and trust me I probably wouldnt want to see it in winter. Its like the place hibernates for 6 months of the year then explodes into colour, sound, taste and everything else that has been hidden away. The whole town seems to want to experience all life has to offer before the Winter sets in again. It makes it an interesting and lively place. Its where my official residence is during my stay in Canada (in case the border officials are reading) but the place Ive probably spent the least time in.
All too soon we would have to leave again for the Winnipeg folk festival for the guts of a week although we did get to see Canada Day out in the park and afterwards with friends and family.
Having worked for a Canadian company in a previous life I did know about Canada Day so was interested to see how people celebrated it. I had a hog in a bap and an elephants ear. All quite traditional so Im told.
As was the barbecue in a bag. It looked revolting, you open a packet of doritos (silver foil bag naturally – other nacho chips may be available) and pour in some meat and cheese and add a spoon. You then add in some hot sauce which apparently goes with everything and then just shovel it into your gub as you walk around. Im sure somebody somewhere will have a proper description of how to serve and eat but thats it in a nutshell.
I had once spent Independence Day in the USA, I went to Disneyworld where a hurricane hit. It was almost empty apart from a few kids who had bought bodyboard type things and were then surfing down main street. I then made the mistake of going to watch the film Independence Day on Independence Day, in America. A lot less laughing during the film than when I saw it again back home but definitely more whooping and hollering. A hell of a lot more calls of ‘Go Marines’ and ‘USA, USA, USA’ etc. To be honest after the film I wanted to get the hell away from there before they got out into the car park and started shooting up into the sky.
We had briefly considered packing up the gear from the Diefenbacker park stage and just hitting the road for the 9 hour drive to Winnipeg but saw sense and planned to get up early in the morning and head East. We had difficulty with the early in the morning bit as well.
I once turned down a trip to Canada as the way work schedule worked out I would have to drive pretty much across country from Calgary to Toronto and figured that would take 2 weeks and I only had 10 days. The way we have been driving, it would have been about 2 days! The roads here have to be driven to be believed. Long, straight, flat and bugger all people here. The danger would be falling asleep so it was 9 hours of almost arse numbing tedium to Winnipeg interspersed with splash and dash stops, sometimes petrol as well and of course, food.
The air around Winnipeg was full of the most beautiful dragonflies I had ever seen. These were the full size, real deal. Clouds of them shimmering blue in the lovely warm evening light.
Pity we were going through said clouds at about 80mph.
Winnipeg has the reputation of being one of the most dangerous cities in Canada. Although thats all relative and there are dangerous spots. One thing I would say though is that if Id only seen Toronto and Winnipeg on this trip Id probably have classified Canada as been there and done that. I now see why a lot of the city dwellers aspire to a prairie life and call it the real Canada. Im very lucky to have experienced this and hope to do so again and maybe travel up North and or into the Rockies on the next trip.
Back to Winnipeg, we got in at a late hour and as I hadnt booked the accommodation I didnt know what I was in for. We were all put in a student house belonging to the University of Winnipeg. Not too bad as accommodation goes if you ignore the smoke alarms sitting on the chair, the mousetraps in the corner of the room, the no air conditioning, 40 odd degree heat and the one working shower between 10 rooms carry on. OK on the second day we had two working showers.
So important wee travelling tip, if staying in a hostel/campsite whatever get your shower at night. Another caveat to that, dont do what I did in a Geneva campsite by paying for a shower token, turning the shower on, getting the temperature just right, turning the shower off, getting bollock naked then jumping in and turning what can only be described as skin stripping ice old water. Sometimes the dont waste water environmental message has to be overlooked!
One other issue with the festival was that no photos during the workshops so I was again free to wander about the place during the day.
The pancake house down in the Forks area was highly recommended so we went down for breakfast on the Sunday morning. Id highly recommend it if you are there
At this point I was left on my own and would like to apologise profusely to the city and people of Belfast Northern Ireland. I ranted earlier about how nothing is open in Belfast on a sunday but Winnipeg this sunday morning made Belfast look like Metropolis. To be fair though it was the sunday of the Canada Day weekend and there was no-one here. And when I say no-one I really mean no-one, I felt like I was Will Smith in I Am Legend at times, wandering around with nobody else here. Canada is closed, come back tomorrow.
As usual when we arrived the sun was shining and not a cloud in the sky, now its dull and overcast and useless for tourist type photos. Thats been the problem this whole trip, what I had planned to do and what I actually have done have never overlapped. I thought climate change was only an issue with Northern Ireland ‘summers’, I see its now a reality everywhere.
So wandering round with only dull skies to photograph I just happened to walk past the Winnipeg Goldeneyes baseball ground so thought Id take a look in. Id always wanted to see a live baseball game but never had the opportunity. Similarly with NBA (the previous lockout was on when I had the chance) and the NFL (teams playing away). This time I was 20 mins late but because of the rain which hadnt started falling yet, the game was delayed. Its funny you laugh when you hear that nobody plays here in the rain, thats because in Ireland we get lovely light soft rain most of the time, today in July there were thunderstorms with hailstones the size of marbles. Ok maybe the rain is slightly different here.
Which was much in evidence due to the flooding mentioned earlier in the trip and even here where the two rivers meet the steps just went down into brown muddy fast flowing rivers and some 10 feet above the riverside walkway.
I paid my 10 bucks and rushed up to my seat to get the hot dog that seems to go with ballgames.
Then the rain came down, and my God did it rain. An hour later we were ready to start. An hour after that I realised we had started. An hour after that when the blue skies returned I thought my legs would never work again.
Dont get me wrong, for 10 bucks you can sit all day in the sun, drink cold beer, eat hot dogs and fill in stat sheets that look like world cup wall planners but its definitely up there with cricket in the arse numbingly tedious sports category.
2 hours in and we were a third the way through. I love to get a bargain and on an hourly rate this would be hard to beat but only 4 runs had been scored. I decided Id seen enough baseball when I yearned for the 9 hour driving tedium! Afterwards in the next 3 hours between the two teams they managed to score another run. This wasnt Major League Baseball and perhaps Im being a little unfair as with a few mates and a few beers or the kids and a picnic it wouldnt be a bad day out but I think I’ve been there and done that for baseball.
The weather had cleared up so I wandered back to the house taking a few tourism type photos on the way back. With the soaking I got from sitting down on the ball park seats, it was easy to hide the sweat stains in the arse of my shorts in 35C heat. Pity it took me 3 hours and 2 coffee shops to get back to the house and they had dry seats. Note to self to ditch the light grey shorts which have dark grey patches looking like Id pissed myself every time the temperature goes above 25C.
I was a bit of a sorry state the next day, Id obviously been bitten by mosquitos the day before at some point and my leg had taken a bad reaction to a couple of the bites. One in particular had grown to a blister about an inch in diameter and definitely needed treatment. I decided it would be another rest day so a bit of shopping in and around the house and some tidying up some loose ends from home on the net. It was back to my good mate Tim Hortons place for breakfast and I thought Id call into the local drug store for some cotton wool etc to dress the blister once Id burst it.
As usual I picked the line with the person who couldnt understand what the 3 for 2 offer meant, the person with the stuff with no barcodes on it, the person who couldnt remember their debit card pin and the old lady with 14 tins of catfood and a huge bag of margarita mix. No seriously you couldnt make this shit up.
All I had was a 99 cent bag of cotton wool balls FFS. My mood wasnt lightened when the girl on the till asked if I was part of the over 55 discount scheme. I suppose I should have said yes and got my discount but it took all my strength to just say the word ‘No’ and not try to beat her to death with my cotton wool balls.
At least the nuclear alert status had been removed and the people had returned to the streets, as had the heat and the thunderstorms so I spent the rest of the day wondering if I could move rooms and just put me and my stuff in the massive fridges in the kitchen. They were only filled with beer and pizza anyway!
If Im totally honest I dont do mornings. Well I’ll rephrase that, I dont do mornings without a strong coffee. Ive sort of detoxed on this trip slightly as most of the coffee on this trip could only be classified as a cup of hot brown. So being back in Canada and with Tim Hortons so close I thought Id go out and get breakfast there. We were staying across the road from the University of Winnipeg and as the storms had cleared and the old building was beautifully lit this morning I thought I’d go take a pic of it and then cross the road to my mate Tims for breakfast.
So took the photos, looked right, no traffic, took half a step forward and the wind from the bus wing mirror racing past blew my sunglasses down my nose. Id made it almost a month being careful to look both ways to be almost wiped out a couple of days before coming home. It really was a wake up call in all senses of the phrase. Go and sit down, have a coffee and just wait until you are more alert (which could really take a while).
If you havent travelled with this intensity before its one of the signs that you either rest up for a week or go home. Ive well documented my issues with my bad leg and at times you just have to sit down or take time out as you can be a danger to yourself. Even when I was fit and healthy – I would add good looking but thats a lie, I only had surgery on my leg, not my face there were times you had to just rest up. Ive done the being operated on away from home thing and its not pleasant, it wasnt pleasant for me and it wasnt fair on the people with me. So scrap the plans for spending the day and night taking photos and just see where the day takes me.
Well first of all it took me to Tim Hortons…
Not far away from the University is the Manitoba Legislature building, its a nice enough building with nice grounds from the outside but last night Id stayed up with a couple of the local musicians who were of French Canadian origin who filled me in on a bit of the history of the area and told me to go check it out and the grounds.
I wandered into the building and was met by two huge security guards armed to the teeth and wearing flak jackets. First thought was ‘well thats the end of the trip’ but like everyone else Ive met in Canada they were very pleasant and got me to sign in to the visitors book as I was from somewhere that had to be spelt out Just in time for the guided tour as well, plus it was cool inside and by now baking outside.
After the previous nights conversation I headed over to the French quarter and in parts it was just like walking into France. The streetnames, some of the businesses had only french names, the hotel de ville and a lot of other stuff. Canada so far had been a mix of home, england, scotland, north america and to some extent indigenous people. Here was a whole lot of French thrown into the mix. Im beginning to like this place more and more, maybe in the French quarter I can get some great bread and nice coffee!
The guys last night had said to me to check out the grounds of the Cathedral as one of them had ancestors who were the original white settlers in Canada, French ‘Voyageurs’ who transported the furs and eventually settled here. Their graves are still marked in the graveyard
Then it was back to work taking some photos at the Folk Festival meetings. Again the people here were falling over themselves to help out, something I wish a lot of people back in Ireland and the UK would take note of.
Not a lot else happened later on, apart from a final night party and session back at the house after the show. The folk there asked if we had the like of this in Ireland – food, drink, singing, musicians.. I said we did but theres usually a casket in the middle of the room!
A great nights craic was had by all oh and I happened to sing (despite my best protestations – they were the the musicians and singers – I just had a couple) in front of a multiple JUNO winner…
…I felt her pain.
At least the following morning all the showers were fixed and so it was a 9 hour road trip back home.
Id say nothing much happened but we did make a 90 km detour just for a milkshake – not quite real rock and roll but one day we’ll do the whole entourage thing and make a point of this sort of extravagance
We had one of those ‘oh shit, cops’ moments that makes you hit the brakes even though you arent speeding…. maybe I should say, maybe if you werent just doing a bit over the speed limit because you took a 90km detour just to have a milkshake. We did say 8pm for dinner didnt we? It wasnt as big a bowel relaxing moment as the off ramp in North Dakota. Nothing in my mirrors for miles then all of a sudden the rear and side view mirrors filled with white mustang flashing its lights at me. I was about to utter ‘will you look at this wa……’ when the blues and twos came on. I’ll not say my heart stopped but it wasnt far off. In the end he just wanted me out of the way, his donuts were probably on order or something to be going that speed.
Oh and a life ambition, hanging out of the window of the car, sorry if law enforcement officers are reading, I didnt really undo my seatbelt and hang out of the passenger window to take a photo of a Canadian Pacific train… What was I saying earlier about being careful when travelling?
Theres something about the 8 year old boy in you that when a train almost a mile long blows its horn and rings its bell when it sees you being a buck eejit hanging out of a window that makes it all worthwhile.
Sure where would you get it?
..I love shopping in the USA, I havent been ‘medium’ size in nearly 15 years….
..Non-Dairy creamer – like really? WTF is that? Its just slightly less toxic watercolour paint..
…continental breakfasts – now heres a thing – Ive always understood continental breakfasts to mean two things, firstly the continent is Europe and secondly its a minimal non-cooked breakfast.
Mostly its coffee and a croissant/pastry and possible maybe a slice of bread with a slice of ham/salami and cheese and even at a push a cold hard boiled egg.
Now I appreciate that North America is also a continent and perhaps thats what the ‘continental’ refers to but lets face it, bacon, scrambled eggs, mushroom stew or something, biscuit (fecking bun!), pastry, cereal, pancakes, gravy (never seen white gravy in my life before now) and shitloads of other stuff does not really constitute the worlds definition of a continental breakfast. Full dinner for a roomfull of people perhaps but continental breakfast for one? Saunter!
Meanwhile the food tour continues and although Im going on an enforced diet from now on its primarily to try to limit calorie intake to below 10 thousand per day. Oh and I might just introduce alcohol while Im at it.
My first night in Nashville was sort of a recovery exercise, I planned to take it easy and unpack in the hotel, write my previous blog and then go to bed early for the evening.
So after the blog writing I just thought Id go down and have a look at what the hotel bar looked like….
…I left at just after one after spending an evening with an aircrew from Atlanta. It was slightly disconcerting that this was their stopover and they were flying out the next day after a few whiskeys in the hotel bar but then again its not my flight and I’m sure they will be fine. I cant really go into the conversation much because my head really hurt the next day but that was probably the long journey but in case it wasnt watch out for the Yazoo dark ale in Tennessee. I did leave the aircrew with one legacy though, as I left there was a chorus of ‘Ah for fuck sake, dry your eyes!’ I might have said this once or twice in conversations about the price of gas (petrol) and other things. I just hope that if some person on a plane the next day complains about their non-dairy creamer not being skinny or tall or any of that shite that they get told to ‘Ah for fuck sake, dry your eyes!’ The world will be a better place.
Ive resisted the temptation to join the redneck nation by not buying a pair of cowboy boots or cowboy hat. I have to say though I do quite fancy a cowboy hat, if only for a laugh but the price of Stetsons and so on would make you cry. 200 odd quid for an off the shelf pair of cowboy boots and starting at half that for hats that dont look like they were bought in a joke shop.
Besides which the hats come in boxes which would need a plane by themselves. I know I could wear the hat home but lets face it, I look a big enough dick walking through airports with enough camera gear to run a small press office never mind sticking a bloody cowboy hat on. Besides theres a slim chance I might meet someone who knows me and outside the social wearing the cowboy hat as a joke scenario…
We headed out the first evening to a place called the station inn, which is apparently quite good..
So good it was booked up and we didnt even get to the door. There is something about a place that tells you to feck away off, they are busy by using a paper plate stuck to the door. Thats the type of informality I’m getting to like around here.
It was a lovely evening and unfortunately probably the last good one for the trip to Nashville its been grey skies and thunderstorms the whole week, which pretty much rules out a lot of photography so I’ll just have to keep eating…
In the car park of the station Inn we bumped into Vince Gill. Id now idea who Vince Gill was but apparently its a big deal….
It was then time for ice cream – why? Well when isnt it time for ice cream?
I thought Id go for a wander downtown in Nashville and see if there were any hop on hop off tours available. There were but you had to hop off and on at the same spot and the busses were an hour apart. They only ran from 10-4 with I think 8 stops. Which fecking genius worked that out? I booked myself on the tour to the Jack Daniels factory on thurs instead. Which reminds me I must read internet reviews in future before booking anything else!
For the rest of the afternoon it really did chuck it down, more of a singing in the rain than an all shook up.
You know the way people tell you stories of their travels and the further it gets from the trip the more exaggerated things become? Well apart from me who exaggerates it to start with. Id just like to add on the record that everything anyone tells you about jacks BBQ on Broadway in Nashville is true.
Unbelieveable food, tender slow cooked bbq’d meat falling off the bone and without doubt apart from a BBQ I had in Canada the best meat dinner Ive ever had in North America. If you only get to eat out in one place in Nashville, make sure its Jacks.
After jacks we went to the famous legends corner honky tonk bar and there was a guy called Matt Mason playing here. He has just won Country Music Television’s next superstar competition. Id never heard of it but apparently its a big deal…
We tried to make bookings for the Station Inn the following night for some famous show or other and halfway through the booking answering machine message I got facebook messages to not book it.
Now I grew up listening to all sorts of music, Ive all sorts of music on my portable mp3 player (mr Jobs doesnt sponsor me so I wont advertise him either) as well as my non i-whatever phone. From classical to rave, rock, pop, irish trad, irish contemporary, african, country and western and so on. Every sunday morning it was Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Elvis etc on the radiogram.
And I knew what the Grand Old Opry was as a lot of the live recordings were from there (and San Quentin ) I knew it wasnt the modern building before me but rather a black and white version of the old building in town.
At this point I’ll add a bit about the net reviews of the Grand Ole Opry calling it redneck central. Well it is and it isnt. I was spectacularly unimpressed with a lot of the cheap ‘buy my album and latest song for our troops’ shite from the first few performers. I hate that, wheeling out injured soldiers and the like saying they are heroes. Dont get me wrong I think anyone that dons a uniform and puts their life and limbs on the line in the name of their country should be looked after for life if they get hurt and if they are killed their families should be well looked after.
If you are going to dedicate stuff to wounded soldiers then give them all the fecking money, they need it more than you do. Not 10% or any other such crap, continue with your convictions.
Similarly theres a hell of a lot more innocent civilians lying dead and injured in squalor in far flung places due to actions of said military, but few people care about them, and they wont further anyones career.
The second half of the bill was just pure entertainment. I dont care who you are or what type of music you like but good music is good music.
Jeannie Seely had the place in stiches and despite being over 90 years of age Little Jimmy Dickens rocked the place.
The final act was a guy called Rodney Atkins who had some issues with his mikes and all that but still had the place roaring. Hes quite well known and although Id never heard of his stuff, its apparently a big deal…
Just a word to stave off any potential ligitation, the photos of the performers at the Grand Ole Opry are for illustration and blog purposes only, they are not for resale or intended to be offered for sale. That should satisfy the lawyers and PR people – although they were all quite nice and at least allow personal/blog use.
If I havent pee’d enough people off with the slight politics talk, I’ll now go on to religion seeing as Im on a roll… …Other than back home I have never seen as many churches, anywhere (ok possible exception of Rome but they are predominantly one religion). Its big business here and I mean big business. The bat building (AT&T) is only 1/3 full yet the religious ministries buildings are expanding. Drive out into the country and its seriously like driving through Northern Ireland, you are falling over churches.
I was told another ‘must see’ was the Loretta Lynn ranch and we drove like lunatics to get to the ranch for the last tour of the day at 4pm. Its a bit weird in all honesty, theres a reconstruction of her daddys old wooden home to show the poor beginnings. In reality I wouldnt mind living there as its bigger than my house! Yep a coal miners daughter was a hard life, no doubt about that but until the early 80s we were still crapping in an outside yard toilet and no central heating or running hot water.
Our tour guide had all the charisma of an England football team manager and glossed over certain bits (or just couldnt be arsed – which is more likely) but if you have an interest, its certainly worth a visit. Particularly to see the community that exists there now, theres a camping park, playground, communal grounds and a bike racetrack.
By this stage having raced out our stomachs thought our throats had been cut so instead of the bland pseudo motorway service station food we had been eating we stopped off at a wee mexican roadside diner.
Without doubt the best mexican food I have ever had and this coming from a guy who gave serious thought to opening a mexican restaurant in Belfast. A fail on the pics of the food but I was soo hungry I didnt bother, just a quick grab shot of the outside afterwards. Guess we might have to stop there again on the way out of Nashville tomorrow…
…another quick stop on the way back was to the Hickory Hollow Mall. It was advertised as being huge but its partly closed and a lot of the shops are shut, looks like the recession has hit it hard and a few tumbleweeds wouldnt have been out of place, just like some of the centres back home.
It did have the biggest American flag I have ever seen in my life though. Wonder if its just up for the upcoming 4th July celebrations or if its a permanent feature. The americans do love their flag everywhere.
Today it was off to the Jack Daniels distillery. Id booked a tour to take me there, to another distillery and a quick trip to Lynchburg town square for a bit of shopping (or lunch in my case). I missed breakfast as it was an early start and was worried Id be completely paralytic by lunchtime due to the whiskey sampling…
Only later in online blogs and reports did I notice that the distillery is in a dry county, so they arent allowed to serve you samples. Like seriously, WTF? Come to Jacks famous distillery and have some lemonade? It was nice lemonade but come on, if you are selling bottles of stuff that is only available here, then at least allow us to sample them somewhere. FFS! Like seriously, catch a fecking grip. Thats not on and a serious pisser to any whiskey fan. Then again to be fair any serious whiskey fan isnt going to touch most of it with a barge pole. Maybe its a marketing ploy, you have to wait until you get home to find out its dark pish in a bottle.
The tour was interesting because I was there but nothing I didnt know from 30 miles up the road in Bushmills. Im sure some of the residents of Bushmills would like it to be a dry county but at least there to get to taste versions before they do the hard sell on you. Even in the town of lynchburg they can only sell you the empty bottles. The town is just a square and they were setting up for their frontier day so it wasnt much to write home about. I wandered off through the rest of the town and got talking to the local sheriff. Well as usual I was going to get my collar felt and talked myself out of it We had previously agreed to spend the rest of the time at the town and skip the second distillery – if they werent in a dry county Id feel even more short changed than I do now. The ‘entertainment’ on the bus consisted of episodes of the Beverly Hillbillies and some other black and white show – andy something or other.
That was it really, slept on the bus on the way back and really pissed off that I now feel obliged to give a tip when I’d paid 45 dollars for a fecking bus ride oh and the 7 hour trip included the hotel pick up and drop off times as well which were an hour either way. Im glad I went but Id not really advise anyone to do it unless they were a real JD fan and one of the local busses would be quicker and a hell of a lot cheaper.
Right its getting to the stage where the immortal words of one of my friends comes to mind ‘lets get the f*ck out of dodge’. Close enough but maybe theres enough time for one more ice cream or maybe those cowboy boots after all. Tomorrows overnight and start of the journey back north should be interesing. In the last week one of the towns we travelled through has been evacuated due to flooding and tomorrows overnight could be in one of the US’s most dangerous cities. And no its not dodge city!
..its been 4 weeks since my last blog post.
What can I say, I’ve been busy! Firstly, the world cup has been on. I’d love to say its been a classic but it hasnt. England overachieved (again). Honestly guys, you arent as good as you think you are.
The French self destructed and went out in the first round – sorry have to snigger at that one.
At the time of writing, we have just had the quarter finals and finally the tournament has sprung to life, teams actually trying to win games instead of not losing them. Argentina were taught a lesson in football by Germany, Brazil outplayed, Paraguay only just beaten by a lacklustre Spanish side.
I remember standing on three countries corner in January (Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay) and thinking in the last couple of weeks that all three places would be going completely daft and surely at least one of those would make the final. Nope.
At the minute its very hard to see past Germany. No worries about dodgy offsides, ball going over the line cameras, vuvuzelas…
… nope scoring 4 goals a game will sort it out for you. (thats probably the kiss of death for them).
So what else have I been up to – oh yes, bought a boat, more on that in a later post (if I havent drowned).
Its been a busy time with ‘normal’ photo work as opposed to stock photography. Ive been involved in a number of dance photography projects as well as general tourism PR photography for one of the local tourist agencies – maybe more on that in a later post.
The Dance projects are interesting. One was to document all the work that a particular organisation does, from teaching to performances to providing working and conference facilities. It was a long project with a lot of quite interesting aspects but again more on this later as the photos are still embargoed until the new projects launch.
Once again I had the opportunity to work with local company Maiden Voyage. They are currently producing two portable dance productions to incorporate into various aspects of the community and the upcoming cultural life of the City.
The pieces are designed to be portable so that they can be performed anywhere and everywhere in limited space and on the fly as well as incorporated into larger productions and street or internal displays.
This provides a challenge both to the production teams and in terms of PR photography given the vagaries of the Northern Ireland weather. The crew just love it when the drizzle starts and I shout for them to continue as it puts a nice sheen on the roadway!
The first piece is entitled ‘Bubblegum’ and choreographed by Omar Gordon with dancers Ryan O’Neill and Fania Grigoriou. The piece is inspired by the idea of sharing our space and embracing the differences. As this was the first piece to be completed the venue choices for the photography had to really be something linked to the cultural aspects of the city.
The official description is ‘Set in an intricate self-made world of barriers and conceived with the idea of sharing a space and embracing our differences, BUBBLEGUM is an exploration of mania’s, idiosyncrasies and two comic characters attraction to each other.’ Thats pretty much the brief.
Maiden Voyage is based in the Cathedral Arts Quarter of the City so the first set of photos was to be in and around there coupled with a later set featuring the River Lagan which everyone from Belfast would recognise.
Sounds like a plan…
Of course to ensure clean backgrounds, quiet streets, good light and uninterrupted staging of a couple of run throughs of the piece, we would really need to be ready to go for about 8am on a Sunday morning. Sorry, we thought you said meet at 8am sunday. Yes I did, see you there.
As with everything tied up with deadlines, the weather was the key and we had an hour of good weather window to get the shots. As Id never seen the complete piece before we did a run through then I ran around like a maniac getting the angles for the PR photos. Even at this ungodly hour of a sunday morning there were some brave tourist souls who didnt realise that Belfast doesnt open to after midday on a Sunday! I hate staging Dance photos, I avoid it at all costs so for me its a case of running through the piece once, marking my spots then maybe one or two more runthroughs before isolating small sections for repeats. I let the dancers get on with it, they are the experts and minimal intervention from me except the odd stop and repeat that bit sort of thing. Its also important to get the choreographers input, listening to what they are trying to achieve and blending that with the options available in an essentially uncontrolled environment (that big yellow for sale sign wasnt there yesterday) and also producing images that can be used for PR purposes, that have impact, meaning and appeal visually to a range of audiences, not just those involved with Dance.
I can set a dozen images down and I know which ones the dancers, choreographers will like, the ones I like, the ones that are good for PR, the ones that will get published and the ones that will stick in peoples minds. Rarely do all of those intersect.
The final two shots selected try to accommodate all that, one in Hill Street and one on raised ground at the Lagan with the Harland and Wolff shipyards in the background.
The second piece ‘Dream a Little Dream’ choreographed by Suzannah McCreight with dancers Ryan O’Neill and Jen Thornton was a different prospect, both technically and aestetically. The official description of the piece ‘Tired of everyday life, a couple embark on a red carpet fantasy as they try out a celebrity existence invoking an era of old Hollywood glamour.’ For someone who also specialised in red carpet photos, how hard could it be?
Well tell that to the Northern Ireland weather.
We initially wanted to contrast the first shots with the idea of the pieces being extremely portable so we came up with a few ideas for primarily big sky outdoor locations. Our first choice was McArts fort on the top of Cavehill with the city spread out below, another early morning shot and second choice as the likes of Stormont with a final idea of some truly red carpet shots at dusk some evening with the city lights twinkling in the background. We had a deadline for the photos so just had to wait for a weather window.
That left us with some more river dusk shots but the only weather window was at the same time as the local maritime festival so that was a no-goer as well.
Back to the drawing board and we decided for this set of PR pictures to focus in on the red carpet aspect of the piece and shoot it again in Cathedral Quarter but this time surrounded by the modern architecture and clean buildings and lines of the urban renewal section of the quarter. This contrasts with the old cobbled streets of Hill Street and the river which the city grew up around.
On reflection it suited the piece more to have this as the background given that the couple in the piece were trying to get away from everyday life and develop a new modern existence with a stylised view of an old era.
As a consequence of having to wait for weather windows we ended up putting on the first public performances of the piece. It was Sunday afternoon by the time the weather cleared for a Monday deadline. At first passers by asked if someone famous was coming along due to the red carpets and the photographer and videographers with multi light setups but everyone that passed by stopped to watch at least one of the run-throughs. Playing havoc with window reflections, but hey, how hard can this photography thing really be?
Sorry, did you really think I was going to make it through an entire month in Argentina without one ‘Dont Cry for me’ quote. Well today it happened before we took the city bus tour. As we queued for the buenosairesbus.com tour the suntan cream was running into my eyes and one of my friends said ‘Dont Cry’ to which the reply was ‘for me Argentina’. Sad I know but there you go.
So I finally made it down into the centre of Buenos Aires. The city bus tour looked like a good option if I was going to try and avoid being mugged, robbed, beaten up, raped, shot, stabbed and dumped in a skip.
As Ive mentioned previously I had a whole shot list of photo ideas that I wanted to do but talking to my friends here in the current climate it would probably at best end up with me coming home several kilos of camera equipment lighter and at worst several kilos of body parts lighter.
Going round on the tour bus Im not saying that my friends were being overly cautious but based more on travelling between tourist areas than the tourist areas themselves.
The bus is one of those hop-on hop-off affairs and it takes about 3 and a half hours to do the circuit, we had all day and it was dull and overcast in the morning. Typical, the day I’m fit and well enough to go out and do a major photo session its the first real overcast day we’ve had. Of course the weather forecast for the rest of my stay in BA is thunderstorms so manana doesnt really quite cut it
So the plan was to be completely sad and stay on the bus for the first circuit and see if the weather improved. This involved no more effort than sticking the elbow out of the side of the bus and lying back. Of course sticking the elbow out of the side of the bus was precisely how I got a perfect triangle of peeling tan on my left elbow. by now of course this is now redder and deeper but thats another story.
The first thing I noticed about our newly arrived open top bus was that it wasnt open topped. There had been some rain the day before and people got wet and complained and tried to get their money back. The bus company had then put the bolt on rooves on. Great to stop you getting wet, rubbish if you want to sit at the top of the bus and look all around you. To those people who complained about getting wet in the rain on an open topped bus I can probably guess your nationality, but sure come to Belfast, our open top busses have a forcefield that deflects rain so you can see all around you in the worst weather. Just remember its pay in advance and absolutely no refunds and dont beleive everything you read on the internet.
So of course I managed to pick the wrong side of the bus, the row with no working headphones and even if they were the speakers behind me blasting out the spanish tour information would have drowned them out anyway. No-one thought to think that the high volume setting might need to come down a bit now theres a roof on.
But still very little to see in the dull grey light anyway and even less to photograph.
After about 3 or 4 stops of the hop on hop off tour no-one had hopped on or hopped off. I thought we were going to be the only saddos doing this but it turned out that the scare stories had indeed pervaded all of the visiting society who deemed it safer just to sit on this bright yellow bus. For those reading and if you are ever in the same situation, the left hand side of the bus is best, probably about 2 or 3 rows from the loudspeakers at the back. Judging by the number of tree branches crashing off the roof a crash helmet wouldnt be a bad idea, but definitely sunglasses. Thats todays health and safety announcement over.
I love watching people and I had a real treat on this trip, in front of me was a tourist couple, German, who sat over two rows of two seats, both at the window side one behind the other. For most of the trip they sat with their backpacks on the spare seats beside them. People would come up to the top deck to look for free seats and they both would ruffle about in their bag to take up as much space as possible. You rarely see such coordination outside of the synchronised swimming in the Olympics. The old man in front had a wee point and shoot camera with a big screen so it would be rude of me not to look at what he was shooting. All I can say is dirty old man. Every time we stopped he would use the high vantage point to zoom down on some really good looking tanned womans cleavage and take a photo. Im describing this in great detail for research purposes only. I dont know if his wife was aware, didnt know, didnt care whatever but firstly I thought what a sleaze, secondly I thought I really should have brought my point and shoot (to blend in and be safe you understand, not to look down womens cleavage). Anyway at one point in the tour outside Recoleta these two stunningly beautiful tall blonde women came up to the top of the bus and had a look round for seats (either German or Scandinavian or similar). The old guy couldnt lift his bag off the seat quick enough, Im sure he was verging on hernia territory he moved that quickly. But they took one look and moved down the bus. Following them up the stairs were two huge black guys and our hero couldnt get the bag down in time before one took up residence beside him. I must have seemed a right idiot laughing away to myself.
Driving round on the bus we got to see pretty much all the tourist sites and spots, in complete contrast to my previous experience, BA is a beautiful city, full of wide avenues, mixtures of old colonial buildings, modern architecture, european with a hint of not. The commercial area is pretty much the same as any commercial area in any big city in the world and down here it was the first I’d seen of multinationals and billboard type advertising. Again little to separate the place from most other world cities.
Its the quirky nature of some places, the old decaying buildings, the former rich family palaces who when they fell on hard times sold out to foreign governments so there is an area filled with some of the best looking embassies in the world.
Its not really a walk around city as a lot of it is very spread out (as the 3 and a half hour bus tour with only 12 stops) would tell you, but there are areas that it looked like it would be very safe to walk around. Its a strange mix, one of the locals told me theres no real middle class, just rich and poor and this certainly seems to be borne out travelling round. The bus tour mainly goes through rich areas but down around La Boca it goes through areas the police had told me not to walk through. Of course these are the areas with the friendliest people, waving and smiling at the people on the bus.
The weather was picking up as we finished our first circuit so we decided to stay on the bus and go round again and get off at Recoleta, famous for us primarily as the area containing the Recoleta cemetary and the tomb of Evita Peron. The bus stops outside the tourist office and theres a half hour wait before it continues so we chatted and I decided to get off the bus, get some photos of the nearby Plaza De Mayo before we set off. Of course the driver and guide had nicked off for a mate and a smoke so we were locked in, something they dont tell you so be warned
So at this point I have a confession to make, well not a confession of sorts but more an explanation of how we work. I love getting all the tourist literature from a place and going through all the photos and comparing whats in the brochures to whats actually there. For example, if I want to photograph a place in Ireland at dawn I would scout out the location, pick a good morning with relevant clouds, pick area, pick spot, get there well before dawn, get photos, come home, review etc etc. This might take 2 or 3 goes due to changing weather conditions, some moron has parked a white van in the wrong spot or any multitude of things. So the finished images could have taken weeks of research and maybe a couple of years to get the right sort of conditions.
None of which you are going to see speeding past in a big yellow bus. You might but its highly doubtful. Its like the city tour, coming mid summer isnt going to be a good idea, going over midday isnt a good idea, certain buildings will look better in the morning, or evening or in the case of the Theatro Colon, in May when they take the scaffolding down! Im glad there isnt a trade descriptions act for tourism or Id be permanently in court.
‘Your honour, exhibit A, the Giants Causeway’
‘Your honour, exhibit B, what we saw, mist’
So bearing that in mind and taking a more realistic view of the descriptions of Recoleta cemetary I went forearmed.
I have to say though, it lived up to every single description. The cemetary is for the rich and famous of Argentina, its described as a city of the dead, with streets, walkways, ornate buildings. No-one is buried underground (at least that I could tell) and the whole place is a show of wealth and status, even when you are dead. Every word is true, Ive never seen the like of it before. Well organised and laid out, the equivalent of coffin multistoreys in some cases. Glass doors with small rooms with coffins neatly stacked and laid out. It seems strange for someone used to burying people in the ground or burning them to see them laid out in a small living room type environment. Some coffins hundreds of years old, in most cases perfectly preserved. In some tombs the marble has broken and bits of coffin sticking out here or there adds to the slightly eerie feeling when you find an avenue not populated by tourists. We spent time wandering around and avoided the headlong rush to Evitas tomb. One of my friends has a family burial plot there that they have never seen and we found it. A distant relative was a general in the army and judging by the size of the tomb was very well off indeed and very well thought of judging by the number of plaques.
Wandering back I just kept an eye out for a queue of tourists and sure enough found evitas tomb. In relative terms it is quite modest compared to some there but probably the most famous for non-Argentinians.
There is a busy market on the hill on the way up to the cemetary, something they dont show you in the tourist brochures of the walls Its a place selling all sorts of tourist tat but notorious for pickpockets so watch out.
That pretty much sums up the bus tour of BA for me, lots of nice looking places but little in the way of real interest for me. I could have got on and off and did a lot more tourist shots of buildings rather than just drive bys but unlike other cities I do get bad vibes from acting the tourist here. Ideally Id like to take time over things hanging around waiting for decent or the ‘right’ light to photograph things, take pictures of local people doing local things and generally experiencing the life of the place but with a camera and lens worth more than most people make here in a year, the gulf in society, the massive and unpublished inflation and similarly underplayed unemployment figures I have to realise that I would like to go home in one piece. For me thats the saddest thing about being here, a beautiful city but I suspect there isnt much income from tourism to justify the extra spend making people feel safer. Travel forums are full of stories of tourists being victims of crime and yes the internet gives a voice to the dozen or so people affected, thats not to diminish their plights but there are perhaps thousands that nothing has happened to. Im not a normal tourist though, I carry a lot of expensive equipment, I have two cellphones with me, both of which have never left my room in the apartment. I have a ‘cheap’ swatch watch that has never been on my wrist since the airport, I cant wear half my travel clothes as they would signal me out as a target. Its something I feel stronger here, again perhaps my friends are being overcautious but as with the kidney stones incident it will be them left to pick up the pieces and I have to bow to their judgement, they are the people who live here and are on the ground day in day out.
There are some beautiful photos of Buenos Aires out there, Id come with loads of ideas of how to do them my way but sadly thats not going to be the case, Im sure things will improve here, just as probably things at home might worsen. A friend of mine travelled round the world 10 years ago and has some beautiful photos of places you would never consider travelling to today. Similarly places he couldnt go then have become must sees now.
Things will change, cruise ships regularly dock in Belfast now, something not considered just 10 years ago.
I have to say though, if you do get the bus tour and you only decide to hop on and hop off once, do it at Recoleta. It is probably one of the most unique places I’ve ever visited and I say that about very few places I’ve been.
Speaking of which, its nearly time to pack to head to Iguazu Falls. Ive just checked the weather forecast for Wednesday and they have a ‘feels like’ value. In Belfast its normally something like 2C but feels like -5C. For Iguazu its 39C feels like 56C. Poke me with a stick and tell me when I’m done.
Well it finally had to happen. I managed to drag myself away from photographing beautiful women and drinking cheap beer to get my ass down into Buenos Aires.
It was time to get the camera out, dodge the muggers and thieves and get down to photographing the tourist spots.
But first another cup of coffee.
Then a look at the thermometer which surely must be wrong.
Then a look outside up into direct sunlight that would make a gremlin shriek.
So after two hours of faffing around further it was decided that no it wasnt going to get any cooler and we had a 3 hour window of good light to get at least some tourist shots under my belt.
When I came here I had two A4 pages of shots I wanted to take. I showed this to my hosts who did a lot of tutting, pointing, and sharp intakes of breath only before seen in the world of automobile mechanics.
It was decided that if I want to get home in approximately the same number of pieces I came in I’d better limit myself to all the other photos of Buenos Aires there are on the net.
It became apparent that there are only certain pictures from certain angles for a reason, firstly few tourists seem to come here and those that do are only stopping off for a day or two on the way to Antarctica or Patagonia or some other remote reason.
Thats a shame and then again it isnt. As people have offered by email I’ve long since lost hope of my chances of getting a job with the Argentinian tourist board. I like to think of myself as fairly streetwise having grown up in the lower falls area of Belfast during the height of the troubles but I keep reminding myself, you dont know _here_.
Thats what I have local guides for and for those of you thinking of travelling to places like BA this is well worth the investment. I say investment as its not really an expense. A local guide can give you a flavour no disney like cruise ship day pass can ever do.
Be sensible, dont wear jewelry, expensive watches, dont walk around with designer clothes on (fake or otherwise), take a minimum of stuff out with you, keep a photocopy of your passport somewhere. Always bear in mind that most crime is opportunist, no matter what country you are in. Dont take strange cabs, I had two young women jump in my car in Belfast one night and ask me to take them home because they couldnt afford a taxi. If I wasnt acting like their big brother I wonder what the hell they were thinking of. One lived up a dark road just outside Belfast and got me to drop them off there. Height of stupidity. But they were drunk, on a work night out and had spent their last few quid on a kebab rather than a bus or taxi.
It also sounds heartless but try to distance yourself from obvious targets as you might get caught in the crossfire.
Getting back to today the plan was to go to La Boca, walk to Caminito then walk round the shoreline to Puerto Madero. Sounds simple enough. Then why are tour busses dropping people off at the Boca stadium door, picking them up there then driving them the couple of blocks to Caminito? As my guide said, well it may just be a short distance between here and there but the muggers know that tourists will be walking that way so take your pictures, put your camera in your bag and then we walk down.
I stopped to get a picture of a local cop who was standing on the ‘border’ street corner giving out advice. He posed for a picture and asked me to make sure I captioned it with the word ‘underpaid’, so I will. We walked a block (about 100m) away from the Boca shops and had lunch, a steady stream of the odd one or two tourists walked past looking obviously like tourists and covering their cameras round their necks with their hands. Yes from my experience of Northern Ireland I highly doubt that will stop a bullet.
So on to Caminito and to be honest as a lot of the locals here describe it its the disneyworld version of BA. A couple of brightly painted houses, street cafes that even Michael Schumacher couldnt weave his way through and a few handicrafts stalls. We even had a Maradona lookalike to get photos with. Poor guy must have ate a lot of pies to get that physique.
I was more interested in the old areas that Caminito had been refurbished from, lots of old colonial and crumbling architecture, old bridges and cranes undergoing refurbishment. Real town planning or lack of in all its glory. As with any waterfront each building tells a part of the history and one leads to another telling the story of the area.
Then I got stopped by the police.
At first I thought it was something to do with no photos in the port area, there was a sign saying argentine naval prefecture or something like that so thought it must be something military. When my guides translated it as, your friend will not make it through this area alive, not with those trainers, we decided to get the bus to Puerto Madero.
On the bus through what can only truly be described as a slum it was obvious that our maps didnt tell the whole story, from tourist traps of Caminito to 3rd world in less than 300 yards. It was that stark.
Dont get me wrong when you live in that type of poverty and I remember similar stuff growing up, you really cant blame people for taking the only routes open to them. It is good to sit in an ivory tower and say I wouldnt do this or I wouldnt do that, you never know what you will do until you are in that situation. If your family havent eaten for 3 days and some dumbass tourist walks past with something that will feed your family for a month, then dont say what you would do in that situation until you are actually there.
As the saying goes, ‘Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes’, which reminds me I better put both pairs of Nikes back in the bag and buy something local.
As we got off the bus at Puerto Madero there was the sight of two cops in a wee hut which now I come to recognise as the boundaries of safe areas. We stay in a relatively safe area, the shops dont have grills on the windows and at busy times theres an armed cop every 100 metres or so. In the other areas they seem to be just left to get on with it.
Puerto Madero is a testament to new money, like a lot of other previously neglected cities it is full of gleaming new buildings, lovely walkways by the water, new bridges, cafes, expensive shops, a nice place to be. For me though I could be any modern city. The Santiago Calatrava bridge has its double in Dublin and to be honest it reminded me a lot of the regeneration of Dublins docks. The layouts were similar, right up to the masted ship sitting next to the Calatrava bridge. Maybe he thought no-one would find out.
Dear people of Buenos Aires,
I’ve designed you a new bridge that represents two people doing the Tango.
‘Santiago, Dublin have been on the phone asking where their new bridge design is’
‘Quick give me the Buenos Aires one’ quick scribble ‘Here that will do’
Dear people of Dublin,
I’ve designed you a new bridge that represents the Irish harp.
Well ok maybe a slight exaggeration but judge for yourselves.
So where does the take the boy out of Belfast come in?
Well at the start of the journey we visited the home of Boca Juniors. Argentinas best club ever (so I’m told). As I was completely unattached in the Argentine football world I am now a Boca fan.
So the stadium tour had to be done. Due to my love of football and having been in or toured a lot of the worlds great stadiums this really was the highlight of the day for me. Getting in and around the stadium, seeing the terracing, long since gone from UK football, the sparse nature of the visiting dressing room to the plush surroundings of the home dressing room with accompanying underground 5 a side warm up pitch. Just what you want to see, opposition – sod them!
On the tour the tour guide said she would split the couple of hundred people up into two groups, the spanish speakers and the english ones. So we were left in a group of about 9 and asked where we were from. Poland, England, Ireland, Scotland, France. We were then asked what teams we supported, which of course in my case is Liverpool (for my sins). As they went from Warsaw to Middlesborough to Norwich, the scottish guy in front of me said ‘Rangers’. Now, I dont follow Scottish football but something deep down in me wanted to scream ‘Celtic’. I did think better of it as to come halfway round the world to start a sectarian fight would only leave the muggers very confused.
So you can take the boy out of Belfast but you cant take Belfast out of the boy.
Sorry its been a while since the last blog but Ive been a bit out of touch.
Its a week now since I landed in Buenos Aires and just when I think Im getting used to the heat it just gets hotter. Between the day I left Belfast and out and about yesterday in downtown BA there was almost a 50 degrees centigrade difference.
First impressions of BA was that it was hot, damn hot. That was followed by, hot, hot and sticky, hot, overcast yet hot, hot and damp, hot. My poor wee pale blue irish skin now has a peeling patch on my right elbow where I put it out the bus window on the way in from the airport.
It wasnt long before I was food for the mosquitos either. You have to love nature, mosquitos hit the veins each and every time, something that any NHS doctor would be proud of. I know I know a lot of people will be screaming at me saying I should have used insect repellent, I did, just not the right one. Im now using a local formula that belongs somewhere in the arsenal of North Korea.
Buenos Aires is an amazing place for a pseudo city boy like me. I say pseudo because Im a city slicker, a townie, someone who has grown up and lived in and around Belfast. Belfast is a city. Well it is and it isnt. Buenos Aires IS a CITY. We all went to the park the other day, we needed a 20 min train ride and an hour on the bus and still hadnt left Buenos Aires. The bus from the airport was about an hour to here and we took another bus ride in the same direction for another hour the other day and was still in the city.
Now Ive been in cities with similar populations, Cairo, London, New York, Tokyo but they have all had geographical features like rivers or hills or something to break them up. BA is just one big city. Unlike other places I´ve been too it is all up. Not New York up where you have sections of the city going up but the whole place is apartment blocks and medium tall rise buildings. Well as far as I can make out so far. Whilst Tokyo is more blade runner, this place is more gotham city.
Ive been in other cities that proclaim to be 24 hour, sure in Belfast you might get the odd 24 hour garage or supermarket but this place really is 24 hours.
The last week has been pretty much trying to get used to the heat and the pace of life here. Clothes are out in the laundry at the mo, not that I didnt bring enough clothes, I did. I didnt bring enough clothes that wouldnt get me killed! Crime is rife here, theres no getting around it, with nightly news making Belfast during the troubles look like tellytubby land. On the way back from the park we missed our bus change stop so got off at the next stop and walk back one stop (which was at least a mile). Now normally that would be bad enough (I have a bad right leg and walking a mile is usually enough to see me visit an Accident and Emergency ward) but not walking a mile would have had the same consequences. The place we were walking through was ´colourful´to say the least, no street lights, broken pavements, small low rise buildings, those with windows not boarded up were barred and razor wire. If I didnt know better I´d call it a shanty town. At one point one of my friends said to me ´Man, those Nike trainers of yours will get us all killed´. Charming. So the next day it was ´dont wear that, nor that, nor that, nor that, dont wear any of those.´ Even stuff which is cheap back home is likely to end up bloodstained being worn by someone else.
Sooooo lets just say that the photo list that I had prepared in advance for BA is a hell of a lot shorter now having looked at my ideas and the places I wanted to go. I did wonder why such a huge city has a limited photo coverage. Until they make that 22 megapixel camera that attaches to your optic nerve, its probably gonna stay that way.
On the positive side Ive had two good model shoots so far with a few more to come, basic scenarios I´ve wanted to do in the likes of Belfast for a while but waiting 9 months for the sun to shine for 2 consecutive days was long enough to wait.
Whilst here I had planned some traveling ‘in country’ but havent managed to get that sorted yet, nothing is ever as easy as it seems on the web here. Will post more on that later.
The first night I arrived here we went up onto the roof terrace, 13 odd floors up its an amazing sight, just buildings as far as the eye can see in all directions, pretty flat too, just people, civilisation etc etc etc. No lights on the roof but enough light to be getting on with just with the reflected city light bouncing off the clouds. Straight back down in the lift for the camera and some night city shots I´d been interested in taking but never found the right place, now I have. (photos to follow). I’ll also arrange a model shoot up there before I go home.
Last night the local weather forecast was predicting a storm, thunder, lightning hail the size of tennis balls and the like. Naturally it seemed like the best place to observe this was from the roof terrace, rather than just look at it out the window 12 floors below. What a sight, I´ve never seen a storm like it, I´d seen a big lightning storm in the Alps a long time ago which at first appeared just like a fireworks display but last night the lightning was going left, right, down, around, across, everything. Real storm weather, the 10 or 20 degree sudden drop in temperature, rain that gives you a headache it hits you that hard and that change in atmosphere that scares the life out of you now, never mind a couple of thousand years ago when people thought the gods were angry. The gods were indeed angry last night although according to my mate nothing like as angry as they were one time last year.
doing the old one one thousand trick (sound travels at roughly one kilometre every 3 seconds so if you count between lightning strikes and thunder claps you know roughly how far away it is and if its getting closer or going further away) was interesting until there was one I didnt get to say the one part. So less than 100 metres away lightning hit a rooftop and I could probably tell you which one it was. At this point in time it did then become apparent that standing in the rain on top of a 13 storey building drinking beer out of a metal cup wasnt exactly the greatest decision I had ever made.
In Spanish the word for storm is ´Tormenta´to be honest I couldnt describe what I saw last night as any different.