Monthly Archives: December 2009

Travel highlights of 2009

Over on Lonely Planet I’ve posted my travel highlights from the past decade. Here, I thought I might run the best bits from 2009 before the year is out. What are yours?

Leaving Zimbabwe on the Victoria Falls Bridge

Feeling the torrents of Victoria Falls on my bare chest. Lacking a rain mac, I whipped off my top and let the surging Zambezi Waters do their worst. One wonder of the world which lived up to the name. While in Zimbabwe I picked up a few $100 Trillion bills, which made for good presents. I gave one to Tony Wheeler, who left in on Jack Kerouac’s grave in Lowell, Massachusetts. Jack gave me my first itchy feet, so this felt quite appropriate.

One hundred trillion dollars - as Dr Evil would say

Riding through the Windhoek (Namibia) rain and rush hour to finish my stage of the Tour d’Afrique, one of the finest adventures of my life.

Like the man himself, Windhoek's Robert Mugabe Avenue goes on forever and induces misery

Eating chips on the Kusttram in Belgium, and getting on Marvin Gaye’s trail in Ostend.

Thor Heyerdahl’s Oslo: the Kon-Tiki discovered, and warming up in the Tiki Bar before walking beautiful Autumnal streets.

Oslo Opera House

I loved being in transit at Changi Airport, and went for a swim at sunset. If only all airports were like this.

A happy picnic lunch at the Gare de Lyon, Paris, then across France by TGV, to a tiny hameau with a river at the end of the road to swim in, and my family to have fun with.

Glasgow, at last. So many highlights, but drinking 1% ginger beer in Monorail Records and communing with the ghosts of the Hi-Hi in Cathkin Park. Then being far too excited to sleep on the Sleeper Train home.

Glasgow's Cathkin Park

London to West Brom: a grand bike-ride

England’s wonderful secrets: a church in an Oxfordshire field, a summer’s evening at a riverside pub in the Norfolk Broads, a man’s face at The Hawthorns as I told him I’d cycled from London, fell running on the West Riding, the London Transport Depot in Acton and Gunnersbury Park.

Here’s to a great 2010. Happy Christmas to everyone who has stopped by this year, and I hope to see you again.

Secret Amsterdam: the Rijksmuseum under wraps

It’s too early to call it even a sneak preview, but my hard hat tour of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam was nothing less than thrilling. The museum closed its doors in 2003 for a complete refurbishment after decades of less-than-sensitive alterations to Pierre Cuyper’s iconic 1903 structure. There is a limited display of the museums masterworks, which happily includes Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and a few paintings on display at the city’s superlative-inducing Schipol Airport. This winter an exhibition of Hendrick Avercamp’s lively paintings of Dutch ice skating in the seventeenth century fits very well with what was a frozen city when I visited. The rest, comprising thousands of priceless works, stays underground.

The Rijksmuseum

If from the outside the Rijksmuseum resembles a building site that’s because it is one. My behind-the-scenes peek involved donning hard-hat and steel-capped shoes and promising not to take pictures. But the Rijksmuseum is a work of art in itself. Cuyper defied convention to produce an ornate and colourful building at odds with the Calvinist restraint dominating Dutch culture at the time. His work is shining through the scaffolding. Each hallway, room, stairway and chamber homages a different architectural style. You walk through a Gothic hall into a room filled with classical columns, then into a mock-medieval monastery. Staircases resemble a fairy castle. Stained glass and column mountings homage in name and image the great artists and buildings of the Netherlands. And underneath it all, a 9m-deep excavation has been designed to ensure that cyclists will be able to pedal their bikes right through the museum. They’ve been able to do this since it opened, we are told, it’s only right that this should continue.

Our guide rushed from room to room, raving about Cuyper’s work and the ambition of the renovation work. The enthusiasm was contagious. By the time the museum reopens in 2013 half a generation of visitors to Amsterdam will have missed out on seeing one of Europe’s finest art houses. Early indications, however,  are it will be worth the wait. And let’s be honest, there are worse places to have to find something else to do than Amsterdam. Take the Hermitage Museum, opened in June to great acclaim and housing a revolving collection from St Petersburg’s legendary palace.

Multi-storey cycle park at Amsterdam Centraal

Here’s my video of the trip.

My Talking Travel podcast with Public Radio International’s ‘The World’

Clark Boyd from PRI, Lonely Planet’s US Travel Editor Robert Reid and myself have recorded a couple of podcasts which we hope will form part of a regular series.

You can find them at Talking Travel with Lonely Planet & The World

And while we’re doing multimedia, here’s a video of me and fellow rider Mara Vorhees on the Tour d’Afrique

Comments welcome!

Kings Cross Underground Station – northern ticket hall opens

Arriving back at St Pancras after an afternoon out giving a talk at a school in Derbyshire I noticed that the escalators leading down from the eastern exit to the concourse and down under Pancras Road were open.

Descending into the Underground station’s new northern ticket hall, freshly opened this week, was a revelation. As anyone who’s tried to buy a ticket on a Saturday morning will testify Kings Cross has needed huge amounts of new space, ticket machines and information booths for years. And now it’s got it. The escalators to the Northern Line (I haven’t explored the other lines yet) bypass the chaos of the old access points completely. The prominent signage to the Regent’s Canal is another nice touch.

It’s slightly disorienting to suddenly have a different set of twists and turns to negotiate. This map from TfL helps make sense of it. Click to enlarge.

London has one terminus (St Pancras) to be proud of, King’s Cross being fast renovated and a tube station for them both that’s finally heading in the right direction. The escalator up from the Piccadilly Line with gaping holes in the roof will not be missed. More from TfL