Newsletter Number Five - March, 2003

Well sports fans, this edition of my travellers tales sees me experiencing some culture, Cologne and the Catalunya countryside (well almost).

The end of January saw the 32nd Rotterdam International Film Festival showcasing an eclectic mix of; let's just say interesting movies. From the selection of world movies, most of which had English subtitles, I chose a trio of Australian movies. This year the festival screened a number of movies and shorts under the banner of "Tracking Tomorrow" which showcased Austr alian Aboriginal film makers and themes. The popularity of these films was such that I was unable to get a ticket for an evening or weekend session of Rabbit Proof Fence. Instead I saw Radiance directed by Rachel Perkins and starring the wonderful trio of Rachael Maza, Deborah Mailman (Kelly from Secret Life of Us) and Trisha Morton-Thomas. I had more than a few pangs for home when the movie finished with Christine Anu singing 'My Island Home' on Australia Day. Some one find me a Fosters

The following weekend I saw the Rolf de Heer movie "The Tracker" starring Gary Sweet, David Gulpilil and Damon Gameau. The film examines the relationships and power play between a group of four men. Three are led across Australia by an Aboriginal Tracker (Gulpilil) in the hunt for a black man accused of murdering a white woman. The year is 1922, and indigenous people of Australia have no rights. If caught, the man will be assumed guilty, and hanged for his crime. The Tracker leads The Fanatic (Gary Sweet), The Follower (Da mon Gameau) and The Veteran (Grant Page) through some of Australia's most harsh and beautiful countryside . The Fanatic has no hesitation in using violence to achieve his goal of bringing the black man to justice. The film studies the four men, their attitu des to life, their responses to certain actions, and most importantly, their reactions to each other. If you get a chance to see the film, do yourself a favour as Bill Collins used to say.

During February the world also moved closer to another war. As many of you will be aware I live opposite the US embassy. They have trebled their police protection and have a riot tank parked out the front; only during business hours though - no violent protests on weekends please. Ironically the French embassy is across the road but I am sure they are not sharing afternoon tea in the local cafe at the moment.

Welokom bij Deutchland

For the 1st time I entered German territory with a weekend trip to Cologne - insert pun about Europeans and odour here! The ICE train trip of about 3hours from Den Haag (via Utrecht if you ever do the trip) was extremely comfortable and as on expects of the Germans efficient. One of my travelling companions for part of the journey was a 6-month Labrador who fell asleep on my feet. Cologne (or K÷ln) was one of the German cities bombed during the war; hence it lacks the charm of many other European cities. It's claim to fame is the cathedral that dominates the city skyline and makes an easy landmark for those travelling on foot. Scaffolding covers a large section of the fašade as the city cleans the blackened stonework - with a single toothbrush.

The attraction of note that I visited was more of the sinful nature; no not what some of you are thinking - the Chocolate Museum. This museum leads you through the history of ch ocolate, the manufacturing process, marketing as well as the debate of the ethics of cocoa production in developing countries. And yes there is the opportunity to taste the culmination of what has been teasing your taste buds during 3 floors of displays. Warning: 3 year olds sucking chocolate coated wafers are lethal weapons as they usually end up with chocolate smeared from ear to ear and fingers to elbow! Love it!

Spanish Get Away

Click here to see my pictures from Barcelona Part of this report is being penned whilst I sit having dinner in La Tramoia on Cant Gran Via, Barcelona - the city famous for the 1992 Olympics and an inspiration to Freddy Mercury. On whim I took 7 days leave spending four in Barcelona and two in Madrid. The seventh day was a 6 hour train ride between the two cities. Although a long journey it made for a nice change from having to deal with airports. The real challenge of this trip was finding accommodation in Barcelona as it was the Carnival. The friendly folk at the local tourist office found me a small room in the centre of town at a nice ho tel. The room was large enough to swing only a stunted kitten.

Barcelona is a wonderful city, easy to travel around and with plenty to see. Two highlights for me were a visit to the Joan Miro gallery and discovering the modernisme architect Antonio Gaudi. I have added some pictures of both in the gallery pages. One activity that every tourist should undertake at least once (if not more) is a walk down the famous La Rambla. At first I thought Barcelona was hosting a human statue convention which coincided with a symposium on portrait sketching. It really is an amazing street that needs to be experienced, not just seen. It is also where the purloiners of pockets and scammers ply their trade. Despite all the warnings people still get sucked into trying to guess under which matchbox is the pea. For interest watch the pea, not the box! You can also see a gathering of 'she who wears scarves and too many dresses' attempt to guilt you into handing over money to feed their very large new born baby. There is plenty more to this wonderful city and am sure that if I have the chance I will be back.

A Gaudi House in Barcelona

Some of the art work of Joan Miro

Anti war banners were visible
throughout the city.

A family photo as they headed for the Carnival Parade

As I mentioned above the weekend was Carnival which added a nice surprise to the trip. The parade on Saturday night was a lot of fun to watch with a large number of kids and famil ies involved. Whilst in no way to the same extent of a spectacle as Rio, there was a strong local community feel to the parade with a number of political overtones. These included the sinking of the Perseverance as well as the war in Iraq: No A La Guerra was a common sight around the city.

With a blister on toe and weary feet I headed to Madrid. Seven hours later and only half an hour late I arrived at Madrid Charmartin station. One nice aspect of having taken the train was that it gave me a chance to see some of the Spanish countryside. The train route followed the coast south and then cut inland through a series of small farm holding which yes were growing olives. We continued through a number of rocky cuttings and some more mountainous terrain. Whilst nothing that holds you attention for seven hours, not much can really, it was I believe a nice relaxing way to travel. My first impression of Madrid was that it was like other big cities but everyone is speaking Spanish. Bright lights, noisy, too many car s and a lack of city planning with road works on every second corner. Three hours later I could not have been more wrong. People in Madrid actually smile back at you in the streets and seem happy. With clear blue skies and temps of 20 degrees in March why would they not be?

With only 2 days in the city there is no chance of seeing everything and avoid the need to stress therapy at the end of it all. I limited myself to the Museo Del Prado, one of Europe's largest galleries. I must admit that after seeing my 12th depiction of the crucifixion and umpteenth portrait of the not too good looking Fillip the II, III or V I had had enough.. In order to see as much of the city as I could I rode the Madrid Vista, an open top bus with three separate routes. I have placed some happy snaps in the gallery. Both Barcelona and Madrid are cities for night owls. Unlike the Hague where Horlicks and fluffy slippers are considered trendy after dark, these cities play hard and party very late, dinner at 10pm is not unusual and hardly ever will you hear that kitchen is closed. By the time I was due to leave Spain I had over dosed on tapas, sangria and Spanish wine. Not a bad way to end a few days holiday I say!

Plaza Mayor with a wonderfully painted facade.

The main post office. Also known as the Cathederal to Saint Communication

Parque del Retiro

The Prado Museum

But Wait, That Is Not All...

Over the last few months I have also ventured back to Paris for a few days to see some of the sites that I missed on my original visit. Although a little on the cold side it was a wonderful trip.It truely is a city that you can easily fall in love with. If you click on the pics below they will open a larger version. It was also a wonderful opportunity to see friends again like Pierre.

Replica of Foucault's Pendulum

Avenue des Champs-Elyses

And finally I spent a wonderful weekend in Chudleigh with my Uncle and his family whom I had not seen for quite a few months.

And so the sun sets on another edition of my travelling tales. To all you senoras and senores I bid you adios amigos. Keep the emails coming as I too enjoy reading what each of you has been up to..



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