Belfast

Belfast
Belfast, United Kingdom

Belfast, United Kingdom


Steve, the first member of staff I met at the hostel last night, had drawn out and talked through a walking route for Belfast which included all the recommended sights, so today I followed it. Lagan backpackers is close to the Botanic gardens, which house the Ulster museum, so I started there.

Somehow I managed to hit the history section from the rear, so started a bit confused, reading about ww2 then the potato famine, but once I spotted the order had a great wander through time. Much better, sometimes, to start from the end and work quickly to the beginning before covering the whole thing the right way. The section on the Troubles is the highlight-apart from the dinosaur skeleton, perhaps-and very moving, particularly the oral testimonies. I’m not sure where next-solidarity in Poland, troubles in Ireland; perhaps apartheid in SA and reconciliation in Rwanda?

Steve’s Trail took me next to City Hall, with a free tour at 2. Well attended if unexciting, the tour does at least get you behind the scenes, and into the council and function rooms. City hall itself needs little gilding, mind, being a spectacular building. As the guide helpfully explained, there were two types of marble, Italian marble, from Italy, and Greek marble, from Greece. Clarity ensured, but perhaps it has to be due to the unique way in which city hall is funded. From the beauty of City Hall to the new architecture of the Victoria Street shopping centre, which has a great view over the city. Said view is reached by a climb up several stories; if you eschew the lift the stairs are quite doable, though my vertigo could have done without the view out of the side of the stairwell. How the brain manages to tell me I can fall when fully enclosed I don’t know, but it is very good at it.

A wander round by the waterfront took me to the leaning clock, set up to commemorate Queen Victoria and Albert’s visit. The clock leans because it was built on wooden foundations in a reclaimed bog. Just beyond the clock is the Big Fish. The picture says it all; it is a very good, big, fish. Salmon, you know. The River Lagan is being repopulated with fish, though I think the sculpture predates the 200 fish which now move upriver – with the aid of a fish ladder – to spawn.

Browsing the welcome to Belfast section in city hall, I noticed the queens film theatre is near the hostel, and showing ‘Beware Mr Baker’ this weekend, so in the evening I went to learn about the drumming lunatic. He was interviewed on Radio six and sounded genial and entertaining, but has actually spent his career irritating pretty much everyone he has ever worked with, even punching bandmates. Inspired by African music he went to *****ia to explore, ending up playing with their greatest musician, racing in a rally and thereby discovering a lifelong love of Polo. Seriously, rarely has the phrase Rock and Roll seemed so fitting, except he’d argue he’s a Jazz drummer. Recommended, and an eye opener. Even better, Surreyites, he’s bringing a band to Kingston on 5th June, an excuse to go and support him and the Rose theatre.

On the road

On the road
Loughborough, United Kingdom

Loughborough, United Kingdom


In hindsight, I may have dallied in England a little too long. Seeing that sentence suggests I’ve certainly been reading romantic fiction for too long, floweriness pervading my thoughts even as “oh god, a novel about love set around the writing of a novel” runs through my head. (One Summer, Rachel Billington, if you’re curious.)

I had planned a multi stage trip to the midlands and, in bad news for story telling but good news for my sense of smugness, all worked perfectly. For the last few weeks I’ve been clearing out old magazine, book, console and Amiga detritus that is worth a few quid but doing no more than sitting on a shelf. The feeling of clearing space and turning whatever was there into cash, even where that’s just a few pounds, is a combination of brain-clearing and the joy of entrepreneurship. The final step, then, was to drop off my old Amiga 4000 and pick up a couple of hundred quid in cash. Perfect, though I didn’t linger in the town-just turning in to the street, small terraced houses in need of some loving attention, gave me a feeling of decay, and while my buyer was a lovely friendly man, I couldn’t help wondering whether others look at me the way I looked at him. He seemed happy with his lot, divorced and rediscovering a love of amigas, but with single men of a certain age the sense of loss outweighs others. It probably bears no relation to how people feel, but that makes it worse, really-if someone is perfectly happy but others look at them and see only missed opportunities, or (perhaps more accurately) a life that doesn’t fit a pattern they understand, that person may never be able to shape their own image. I’m sure of my direction in life, insofar as I can say I have one, but that doesn’t necessarily define how others see me.

Enough thoughtfulness, radio 4 comedy cleared my head in the next trip, just up the road to Broxtowe country park, Nottingham, where I’d found a 5k. From somewhere I’d got the idea this would be a small event; I’m sure I’d seen last year’s results but this was actually the first running. Nevertheless, after a couple of hours exploring the park and reading-nothing like being in good time for an evening run-the competition had arrived. Barring one youngster in a club vest, it looked like my race. With only 26 of us there was plenty of space on the start line and I put aside my usual desire to tuck in behind the front runners to line up on he front line. Without the youngster. Unusually for me, I took the lead early, yomping up the hill for about 1k before a turn around the park. Frying pan shaped, with the handle about 800m long, this would be a lovely, if gruelling, run on the sunny day we didn’t have, though we ran without rain. After the long run up hill, the course takes two turns around the park proper and though we’d been warned that youths had moved signs, by the time we were running, five marshals were enough to guide us round. The only problem, in fact, was the steep hill down at the end of the lap and taking the grassy side proved a mistake, with me finishing the descent on my knees-gracefully, mind, in front of a marshal. Looking back, I had it won from the start, but you never know when some bandit is hanging fire, and I’m far from being quick enough to hold off a starlet. Still, it was a comfortable win, and the time, 17:57, would have chuffed me massively if I hadn’t spotted that at the 3k marker my watch said 2.8, at 4, 3.8 etc. I can’t think we missed a bit, possibly it was originally measured from the very beginning of the path, rather than where we started. My prize was first pick from the wine bottles, and the honour of a new course record, though you could hyphenate those three words either way and be correct.

A nice detour, though, and my second ever race win-after last year’s Haileybury 10k. Final destination, Hartington, and a YHA for the night. A boob-the Peak District is one of my favourite places, and I really should have allowed longer. The hall itself is also stunning, and Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed there, albeit on the run, so probably not enjoying the scenery overmuch. I had some trouble checking-in-the instruction to go through to the bar was clear, but that the canteen doubled as the bar wasn’t, so the various groups hanging around in library and hallway had time, in between putting children to bed, to watch some twit in shorts-shorts! In this weather!-walking the corridors several times. I was sharing a dorm with a pair who were happy to chat, though-Peter and his grandfather. The latter was happy to talk running, having been a decent 800 and 1500 runner for Notts in his day, while Peter was rightly much more impressed with their 20mile bike ride that day. Out-10miles slightly downhill, and clear. Back-slightly up, into wind and rain.

Summary: racing, yeah.

Creeket

Creeket
London, United Kingdom

London, United Kingdom


Thanks to running club mate Fast Legs, I had a ticket for the second day, first test, NZ v Eng. FL had suggested we’d meet at 10.15, which was a bit early for a new parkrun trip, so I headed back to Ally Pally – a great course, and also a place I could drive to and leave the car for free. I’d run there twice before, but both times were in winter, with their alternate course in action and the conditions muddy and difficult. Totally different in May, with the park green and beautiful, and the ‘official’ course was just a bit more interesting. Having run cross country there as well as two parkruns on the winter course, none of it was new, but some parts run the other way round to XC. And I had a nice progressive run, making my way through the field. On the first lap, after the hill, I caught a youngster on the flat, only for him to run away, so on the second lap I made sure to catch him again. He seemed to flag at that, but it needed only a short vocal encouragement to have him on my tail. I was sure he’d beat me, but still did what I could, deciding that younger legs would be devastating at the end and so raising my pace with 600m or so to go. He stuck to my tail even so, and galloped off – encouragement job done, handshake bonding ensued.

As for Lords, I was there by 10.15. FL, though, has a new girlfriend, and they weren’t there till 11.30. It sounds like a long gap, but with a book to read, the sun in the sky and every tube arrival disgorging a new raft of people to gawk at – Lords’ clientele is particularly good for that – it just flew by.

And on with the cricket. In the end we saw both teams batting, and while England pushed on in the afternoon, a flurry of wickets (it’s always a flurry) meant the game was nicely in the balance at the end of the day. Perfect, and FL’s new girlfriend was new to the whole thing, as was her friend who joined us later, and so we could entertainingly* explain what exactly was going on. We even picked the right time to be exploring the bars, drinking through the end of the tea break and onward, with no wickets falling as Root and Trott produced what was, as it turned out, the match-winning partnership.

*well, you know.

Constitution day

Constitution day
Lodz, Poland

Lodz, Poland


Today is a holiday in Poland, as was Wednesday. Not ideal from a sightseeing point of view perhaps, but I’d aimed for a museum yesterday and left the Jewish cemetery and ghetto for today. The cemetery is a distance away-3 miles, trip advisor says, and I think that’s for crows. My walk was interrupted by exploring the source of loud bangs, possibly a gun salute, which was the constitution day gathering, and one long walk later I was at the cemetery. Which has a wall around it so, left or right? I picked left, went west and the entrance is on the east. I share it in the hope that you might be saved the complete perambulation.

The whole Jewish community of Lodz was lost so many of the graves have obviously had no visitors in some time. I found the one pictured the most touching, but it is an atmospheric place to visit.

As an industrial city that was largely undeveloped till 1820, Lodz has managed to hold on to plenty of green spaces. You’re never more than a km or so from a park, and today I’ve walked through 6, including the survivors’ park, with a memorial to those Poles who saved Jewish lives-star shaped if only I’d realised it in time to photograph it better-and rows of trees of remembrance. The open spaces are cheek by jowl with civilisation, derelict, run-down and new.

Lodz seeing

Lodz seeing
Lodz, Poland

Lodz, Poland


Lodz is described as ‘the Manchester of Poland’ and I can see why. Arriving at Lodz Kaliska was unimpressive, but I then walked across a lovely park to get to the hostel. The parkrun park, I’m fact, so I took a run round it this morning to see if I could work out the route. Mostly, though not the start point, but it’s not a huge park and they can’t hide.

Beyond that is a road with alternating pubs and restaurants, which also seem to alternate states of decay. There’s a university all around the area, with various campuses, but the student numbers haven’t supported the Retro pub, nor the couple of music clubs, which are just as dead and derelict.

Wandering around last night I found myself on Piotrkowska street, the main shopping etc street. Fairly unprepossessing to begin with, but a trip to the tourist info centre today made me look a little more closely, to spot the different architecture and grandness of what once were houses and now shops. They even give you a glossy book on the street, taking you through the more interesting buildings. It’s really a history of who lived there and what style the building is in, so unless you’re a student of 19th century architecture it’s all pretty dry. All in all, then; Manchester. Not without attractions, but it makes you work for them.

Plus it’s raining.

I visited the Museum of Lodz, which is near the shopping centre Manufaktura. Being me, I managed to wander in through the vehicle entrance and take a tour round the gardens before I found the main entrance, but made it in. Exhibits ranged from Lodz art-tick a box for the art of both here and Gdansk-through the development of the city to famous people of Lodz, but the star is the building itself. The main rooms were the residence of manufacturer Izrael Kalmanowicz Poznański, listed as making many objects “as well as spicy products” for those lucky lucky local people. The ballroom and dining room were particularly grand, and a great place for a wedding. I wonder whether the pictured couple in wedding gear had had their wedding previously and were just having photos done. Otherwise it seems odd in the extreme to come see the place in full gear without anyone else, though perhaps only as odd as not having photos when you and guests have the run of the place and don’t have to have your picture taken by tourists, as was the case for them today.

Dinner was at Soplicowo, which I’d spotted the night before. A review of trip advisor’s third rated restaurant suggests good eating is a stranger to the city, and this place bears that out. Nothing terrible, but it’s ornate and fancy in appearance, yet the food was only pretty good. I over ordered, and fed right up.

Back at the budget ‘Boutique Hostel’. Word to the wise – it is cheaper to book without going via Hostelworld, and worth paying the extra for the more up market hotels in the group, or even the Grand. The latter is only three star, yet has the location and exterior of a grand city hotel. Budget boutique place has small cell like rooms if you’ve booked a single, and no frills. Plentiful facilities in the communal areas, a smell of smoke (though less today, so it depends on the other guests) and noisy corridors. Not to mention (and this is related) doors which are impossible to close quietly. It’s perfectly fine, but there are plenty better, and it was a come down from the cosy Riverside hostel in Gdansk.

 

Beer

Beer
Lodz, Poland

Łódź, Poland


When the photo you see here was taken, I didn’t know what was inside. I was hoping for dark beer. I am almost disappointed to report that that’s what I got*. Nothing comical there, then. In other news, Gdansk is much prettier than Lodz, but the weather in the former is crashing down again on Friday while the latter looks like being quite warm. Lodz looks unsettled but the last time I checked, the worst was saved for the night.

*Having drunk the same thing in a restaurant and in a glass and everything, it is in fact a not-quite-yellow beer. Not a dark one.

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