The Whitby and the Whitby

I’ve just come back from my first holiday outside the house since 2019, namely a week in Whitby, Yorkshire.

Unexpectedly, Whitby turns out to be very much like the overlapping cities in China Mieville’s novel The City and the City (Wikipedia link if you haven’t read it and want a quick summary). In that you are either Here For A Seaside Holiday, or you are a Goth. And people from both groups walk in the same spaces, go to the same attractions, eat at the same restaurants, and yet do not acknowledge each other’s existence.

This insight brought to you after the umpteenth time of being blanked by a citizen of Ul Seaside, since apparently I live in Gothzel, and to see me would cause them to commit Breach.

This is also not a matter of self-assigning necessarily, nor is it possible to belong to both Whitby simultaneously. I expected to be able to speak with the citizens of Ul Seaside at least when I was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, but it seems that if those jeans are purple and the T-shirt depicts Dolores Abernathy from the television series Westworld, you are too Goth for Ul Seaside and are immediately consigned to Gothzel.

There seems to be one time when it’s legitimately possible to do this (apart from if you’re a shopkeeper, who seem to be able to sell to anyone), and that’s when you’re admiring someone’s dog. You can cross over and say “who’s a lovely Staffie then?” But after that it’s back to your Whitby, and stay there.

Tiny Travelling Tales: About St George

23 April is St George’s Day. He’s patron saint of a ridiculous number of places, only one of them England, and, having been born in what is now Turkey, the veneration of him by White supremacist English people seems a little ironic.

My last trip abroad was to Athens in 2019, and I fled the UK with Brexit and nationalism and all the usual appeals to St George ringing in my ears.

After a few days of exploring classical ruins, I woke up one morning feeling the strain of all the walking and hill-climbing I’d been doing. Checking the guidebook, I opted to visit Mount Lycabettus, the highest hill in Athens, because various sources assured me there was a funicular railway up and down, so I wouldn’t have to walk.

One-third of the way up Mount Lycabettus, I began to question the existence of this funicular railway.

Halfway up Mount Lycabettus, I discovered the site where Google Maps said it ought to be, and questioned its existence further.

Two-thirds of the way up, I looked up to the top, said to myself, “should I just say I’ve made a good effort at it and go down right now?”

I could see there was a chapel at the top, so I said to myself, “If I can make it to that chapel, I’ll buy an ikon of its patron saint there.”

One-third of the mountain later, I hauled myself on to the plaza, sweating and exhausted and sore of limb, and went over to the chapel to find out who the patron saint was.

It was St George.

And yes, I bought an ikon. Not just to mark the achievement and to support the upkeep of the chapel, but as a nice reminder that he transcends his nationalist following to link the English, whether they like it or not, to Europe and beyond.


Tiny Travelling Tales: Where Not To Go For Ramadan

I’ve visited majority Muslim countries during Ramadan four times now, and, generally speaking, would recommend it.

The standout experience was undoubtedly Istanbul. On my first day, on my first visit to the city, I was walking around the Blue Mosque around four-thirty and noticing that the lawn outside was filling up with families with picnic cloths and baskets, and a small market of food sellers were stealthily firing up their grills. The moment the call to prayer went out at five, a huge cheer went up and, shortly thereafter, everyone set to work.

Other visits, in Izmir and in Singapore, were rather more low-key, but still entertaining. Singapore is a city of multiple religions and one where everybody loves a party, so Ramadan is a time when it becomes harder than usual to book a restaurant, but it’s even more than usually worth it if you do. Izmir had special holiday bread loaves, fireworks at sundown, and a team of young people who would walk through the streets at 5 AM banging a drum to let everyone know the party was over and it was time to go back to fasting.

The one exception in my experience? Surprisingly, Cairo.

I’d booked a trip deliberately during Ramadan of 2010, based on my positive experiences in other majority-Muslim countries, and Cairo’s reputation as a cosmopolitan, cheerful city.

And the place closed the shutters for Ramadan.

Although it’s tempting to put it down to this being 2010, less than six months before the revolution kicked off, the reaction of local people was that this was normal. Everything shut for Ramadan; this was just what one did.

On the positive side, the Coptic establishments all opened up in the evenings, which led to some very exciting culinary experiences, including the best Hongkongnese food made by a non-Hongkongnese that I’ve ever had, and the discovery that Egypt, one of the inventors of beer nine thousand years ago, has definitely kept up the brewing tradition in the meantime.

But if I get to travel during Ramadan again, I’m going to Istanbul.

Tiny Travel Tales: The Globetrotting Suitcase

One summer, I arrived in Milan to discover that I’d travelled to Milan Malpensa Airport and my suitcase to Milan Linate Airport. The case could not be transported across town from the one to the other because it had not been checked out. As I had, however, passed through security, I could not go to Milan Linate and physically retrieve my bag. So close, and yet separated by an invisible, intangible barrier, no less powerful because it did not actually exist.

On the one hand: disaster! I was meant to attend a conference at STA Bocconi the next day, and had only a T-shirt and jeans to do it in. On the other: even on a budget, there is no better place to need to do emergency clothes shopping than the fashion capital of Italy, and therefore the world.

In the end, the airline returned it to my address in Oxford, via Moscow and Helsinki (according to the stickers on the bag). Since I had spent the week alternating between trying to get a job at a busy Academy conference, and trying to sleep in a residence room that overlooked a busy street, I think my suitcase had a better time than I did.

And the suit I panic-bought at a discount fashion emporium down the road from STA Bocconi is still hanging in my closet, emerging periodically for formal-dress occasions.

Time Travelling to Disneyworld

I’ve been on leave from work this week, which has meant I’ve been looking for fun travel-substitutes to do while in lockdown. And my main activity has been a time-travelling visit to Disneyworld.

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What does that mean? It means, I’m watching ride-through videos from Disneyland Florida and the EPCOT Center. But the catch is, I’m only watching vintage videos from rides which are either no longer in operation, or have changed substantially from their original conception.

If this is something you’d like to do too, I’ve compiled a little tour of the best ride-throughs I’ve been able to find (will update if I can find better), plus some useful documentaries and sites on the history of Disney theme parks that I’ve picked up along the way.

Disneyworld

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

Snow White’s Scary Adventure

Mr Toad’s Wild Ride (this one’s USP was that you get a slightly different ride on each track, unlike other dual-track rides; the linked video goes through each multiple times).

America Sings

Original Space Mountain post-show, The Home of Future Living (straight ride-through here) (compilation here)

EPCOT Center

Journey Into Imagination

Captain EO

Horizons (straight ride-through, with a little bit of documentary footage; ride-through without the documentary, but lower quality, here)

Horizons (extended ride-through complied from multiple sources)

Universe of Energy (straight ride-through; poor visibility warning but this is literally the only copy of the original version of the pre-show and ride I could find)

Universe of Energy (extended ride-through complied from multiple sources)

Kitchen Kabaret

El Rio del Tiempo

Maelstrom

And to conclude your day, the IllumiNations fireworks show from 1991….

 

Background Stuff

Martin’s Tributes to Universe of Energy and Horizons (with background and history as well as ride-throughs)

The Mesa Verde Times (behind the scenes on Horizons)

Defunctland

 
Now, go stand in a shower with the heat on full blast, eating an overpriced hot dog and drinking a Pepsi, and buy a T-shirt with mouse ears or the CommuniCore on it or a stuffed toy of Figment, and your visit to Florida in the 1980s will be complete.

Universite de Paris-Est in the Twenty-First Century: A Photoessay

I’m currently adjusting gradually back to life in 2020, but one of the things I did over the December/January break was to make a collaborative visit with colleagues at Universite de Paris (shortly to become Gustave Eiffel University). The campus architecture is simply amazing, and I want to share the highlights:

The Cats of Foca (2013)

For the season of love, some beautiful Turkish cats, from the equally beautiful seaside town of Foca. The local shop-owners, restauranteurs and fishermen all collectively look out for the cats (at least the ones who aren’t in a long-term living relationship with a  household), and the vets do pro bono work if one of them is sick or injured.

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A Tale of Holiday Aviation

Christmas 1997, in the days before online check-in, airport and airline apps, and mobile phones cheap enough for a student to afford. Yes, this is relevant. Bear with me.

I was preparing to spend the holiday with my parents in Toronto. I’d booked a relatively inexpensive flight; I’d learned the best and cheapest way to get to Heathrow from Oxford (the Heathrow Express coach– this has not been a paid advertisement); I’d filled my rucksack with clothes, presents, and library books (I had a degree to get); and had tickets to fly out of Terminal One. I was getting ready to go when one of my flatmates stuck his head around the door.

“Have you heard the news today?”

Well, no. I didn’t have a television or a working radio, and I’d been too busy packing to look on the Internet.

Which was when I discovered that this was the day when a deep-fryer caught light at a Heathrow branch of Burger King, leading to the Great Terminal One Fire. Firefighters had been at it all night, and it was still ongoing.

The BBC was recommending that travellers contact their airlines. I rang up Air Canada, but the lines were busy. I tried again, and again, as the clock ticked closer to the point at which I’d have to leave if I was going to catch the bus. With no mobile phone, in the end I decided to just go to Heathrow and risk it.

Upon arrival, I got a front-row perspective on how aviation authorities handle emergencies.

In the first place, all flights had been redirected to other terminals. All North American and some Middle Eastern flights were now running out of beautiful, brand new Terminal Four, and I couldn’t quite believe my luck in getting to see what was then a huge attraction for anyone who likes airports.

(Yes, that’s me, in case you haven’t guessed. No apologies for that.)

But the queues for check-in were gigantic. And that was just for check-in. I shuddered to think what awaited passengers once they got into Security.

I asked one of the attendants what I should do. “Join the queue,” she told me, so I did.

A few minutes later, I heard a boarding call go through for a flight to New York.

Immediately, the attendants swung into action, running down the queues, shouting, “New York! Anyone travelling [flight redacted] to New York?” If someone indicated this was so, they were immediately yanked out of the queue and hustled to the front, where they were speedily processed and rushed through Security.

So it was all going to be OK then. I relaxed.

Sure enough, when I was about two-thirds of the way up the queue, a call came for my flight. An attendant snagged me, dragged me to the front, and I was processed, stamped, and throwing my bags through the X-ray machine in minutes.

I made the flight with a quarter-hour to spare.

So I did make it home for Christmas after all, thanks to quick thinking and efficient emergency operations. And I got to do it through Terminal Four.

I’m going to be taking a posting break over Christmas, obviously. See you in the New Year!