I recently visited Berlin to take another look at the city in which my thriller Blood Summit is set.
My goal was the Reichstag, where much of the novel takes place. It is a sombre building with a tragic history of arson, destruction, occupation and dereliction. In Blood Summit it takes more punishment. Yet on a sunny day it can look quite innocuous:
The lawn in front of the Reichstag suggests accessibility and openness: features of the building which are problematic in “Blood Summit”
I was delighted to meet film maker Sibylle Trost at the Reichstag (click on the link for her website, also available in German). Sibylle, whose documentaries for German TV receive audiences of four million and who also works freelance for companies and others, is a fan of Blood Summit and generously made a top quality video of my first reading from the book, in Vienna in 2018 (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).
Here is Sibylle’s video of me reading the book at the Reichstag.
Sibylle and I are also exploring whether I might do a reading in Berlin next December or January to accompany a tour of the building – a thrilling concept. Watch this space. (more…)
In the city, the heat is oppressive. Yet the evening, in a deck chair under a beach umbrella, is cool. The beer in my hand is icy. All around me, hundreds of people are upending a beer or slurping a cocktail. Open water glistens nearby. What could be better than this?
The Strandbar Herrmann is a regular haunt of mine; is a unique spot in the centre of Vienna; and has charm. So here is a review.
Strandbar Herrmann – the Urania is the domed building in the background
Seven great things about the Strandbar Herrmann:
(i) it is close to town. Vienna has tons of outstanding beach bars next to the Danube, many of which I recommend, but which are a train- or bike-ride out of town. Herrmann is on the Danube Canal, which loops round from the river towards the city. You can walk there from the town centre in 15-25 minutes;
(ii) it’s big and bustling. OK, so I love the Kleines Cafe (click to see all my Vienna cafe reviews – links in bold italics are to other posts on this site). But when you’re having a cooling drink out of doors, a hum of contented (more…)
How beautiful can a footpath be? Austria’s are amongst the best.
I particularly enjoy the country’s system of footpath signs. Over the past three years here I have photographed many of them. I reproduce a selection here.
You may wish to pay attention to:
- nature – many signs are worn or overgrown or both, as wind and weather reclaim them. This is usually a good thing;
- texture: the interplay between sign, tree (or rock) and background is often sublime;
- seasons: some, but not all, footpaths can be enjoyed all-year round.
Each of the following pictures represents a moment of perfection, somewhere in Austria. If you know where, feel free to comment.
This squirrel is urging people to care for nature
Any surface will do for a footpath sign
Would you rather call the “Alpine emergency” or “Euro-emergency” number?
A “change of direction” indicator
More modern signs may also show footpath numbers…
… or combine numerous technologies
So this is footpath 404 or 42 (red and white). But what is the number of the blue and white path?
A superhighway of three separate paths
How many years of tree growth has it taken to cover these signs?
A spring day above the retreating snow line. Paths in every direction
“Schneealm” means “Snow Pasture”
This track-sign is spookily like the Ukrainian (or Lower Austrian) flag
In “Three Men in a Boat”, Jerome K Jerome complains that marble gravestones will not weather, thus robbing them of charm. Weatherproof walking signs would pose similar aesthetic challenges.
I don’t think this is a walking sign but it deserves inclusion
No walking sign here either but a magnificent bouquet of colour
If you are now feeling a strong urge to venture out and go for a walk, do not worry: this is normal
Another beautifully weathered sign (“The Königstetten Section of the Austrian Alpine Club”)
If you have enjoyed this piece you might also enjoy my posts:
- The joy of roaming the English countryside (about the Dales Way, in Yorkshire and Cumbria); and
- How to find your way (about navigating the Pennine Way, from England to Scotland).
P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, you can sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see blue “click here” button) or join my mailing list – I’ll be delighted to give you a free “Hotel Story” to say thanks. Check out the range of writing on this site via my 5 pleasure paths.
‘Where can I find out more about your “Hotel Stories”, featuring the world’s most homicidal hotel manager, Ms N, and her beautiful but naive ally, Tatiana?’ someone asked me the other day.
‘Try my blog,’ I said.
‘Sure,’ she said. ‘But can you be more specific?’
I took a look and realised I had not written a post about my Seven Hotel Stories since May 2018.
Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon
Apologies. I have been a bit busy since May 2018. I have found time to complete two all-new Hotel Stories, entitled Seven Ukrainian Girls and Total Control, but have not yet published them. This is partly because (more…)
I recently visited one of my favourite places on earth, Lundy Island off the north coast of Devon, for the 22nd time.
Lundy Island has superb cloudscapes
Between the arrival of the island ship, the MS Oldenburg, and its departure that evening, I was puzzled to see dozens of people wandering around wearing badges around their necks. They seemed to be enjoying the island immensely, so I put them down to be wise, thoughtful and perceptive. But who were they?
Kgalagadi dawn on road to New Xade, Botswana – Photo S D Turner
Only after they had left did I discover that the visitors were members of the Cloud Appreciation Society, whose slogan is “Uniting cloud lovers around the world”.
Storm clouds brewing in Venice earlier this month
You can read more about the Cloud Appreciation Society at the link, which includes a series of rather good videos about their “Sky Gathering” on Lundy island. But their existence made me think:
(i) why clouds? Why not sunrises or mountains, or other spectacular natural phenomena? Answer: because clouds are, perhaps, taken for granted more than many other aspects of nature’s beauty;
(ii) what kind of person joins a cloud appreciation society? Answer: interesting and interested people. The kind of person who will travel half-way around the world to discover a remote island in the Atlantic;
(iii) what lessons can we learn from this? Answer: keep your eyes open. Appreciate things you are taking for granted, including nature – as set out in my blog How to be happy: 11 simple tools (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).
Russian church, Vienna
Taking note of nature is a fine way to help get things in perspective, and to avoid the trap of getting gloomy about the state of the world – see eg my blog Things are getting worse, right? Wrong. Here’s why.
Clouds in Ghanzi, Botswana – Photo S D Turner
If you adopt this approach, and anyone accuses you of having your head in the clouds, you can reply: ‘Sure. Why not?’
The author hard at work on a new blog in Salzkammergut, Austria
P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, you can follow me on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see blue “click here” button). Or you can join my mailing list – I’ll be delighted to give you a free “Hotel Story” to say thanks. Check out the range of writing on this site via my 5 pleasure paths or check out my Existential – and women category for more blogs on happiness and how to have more of it.
One of my favourite cloud pictures: Kgalagadi (Kalahari) sky, Botswana – Photo S D Turner
Exactly ten years ago, when I was living in Kyiv, I visited Chernobyl for the first time. Following the HBO TV series “Chernobyl”, I thought people might be interested to see what the real place looked like. Here are 25 of my pictures, with captions.
In 2009, 23 years after the catastrophe, the town of Chernobyl itself was still functioning – 4,000 people worked there. The nearby town of Pripyat, a place of 50,000 souls where workers and families were evacuated the day after the explosion, generated the spookiest “ghost town” images.
Comments and shares welcome.
In 2009 there was a small but thriving tourist business taking visitors to Chernobyl from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, around two hours’ drive away. To enter the area of Chernobyl and Pripyat you had to pass through a control point.
The sign at the entry to the town of Chernobyl still proudly displayed its nuclear status. It reminded me of the sign at the entry to Los Alamos, New Mexico, into which I hitch-hiked in 1979 (see my series “The Americans” – links in bold capitals are to other posts on this site) which proclaimed the city as “Birthplace of the Atom”.
In 2009 some vehicles which had been used in the 1986 clean-up operation were still parked in Chernobyl itself. They were marked with radioactivity warning signs. But tourists could no longer visit the main vehicle storage park, which had recently been declared too radioactive for safety (see below).
Our tour included “lunch in the Chernobyl canteen”: actually, pretty tasty but perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea.
The firefighters’ memorial in Chernobyl showed an evocative scene of terrified medics seeking to tend firefighters suffering radiation sickness. Fire crews suffered some of the highest casualties in the initial response to the explosion.
The giant catfish in the cooling ponds at Chernobyl came to the surface in their hundreds when we threw bread in the water. Our guide told us they were big not because of mutation, but because they could live their lives in peace with no-one catching them. Catfish can live 60 years.
In 2009 Chernobyl’s reactor No.4 looked like this – partially encased in a “sarcophagus” of concrete built after the 1986 accident. It has since been enclosed in an additional stainless steel dome, completed in 2019.
The sign at the entry to Pripyat is typical of those built outside Soviet cities of the period – a futuristic, concrete vibe.
The centre of Pripyat was slowly being taken over by nature. Otherwise, things were largely as they were when the city was evacuated on 27 April 1986. You can see the Soviet emblem on the top of the block of flats in this picture.
The interiors of many of the large buildings looked like scenes from a post-apocalyptic disaster movie. The murals next to the staircase are typical of Soviet public buildings.
Most of the damage in these scenes is the work of nature, time, or souvenir hunters (see below).
Trees taking over a gymnasium – note the wall bars.
Some plants can act as biomonitors for radioactivity. The uncertainty about where residual radioactivity might be concentrated is one of the unsettling factors in deciding to visit Chernobyl and Pripyat.
We were shown a store-room filled with old Soviet placards. It is sometimes difficult to know whether such scenes are real or have subsequently been staged to entertain or shock tourists. I would view with caution any pictures of Pripyat or Chernobyl which show dolls, toys or gas-masks – most are staged.
The fun-fair at Pripyat, due to open on 1 May five days after the accident, is one of the most famous sights of the city.
When our guide waved his radiation monitor over this patch of repaired ground near the fun-fair, the reading – audible to all of us – went through the roof. According to the guide, the repair pre-dated the accident. How did this patch become so radioactive – before 1986? Or was the reading somehow staged for our benefit?
I would be interested to see a contemporary picture of these rusty bumper-cars, if they are still there ten years later. I imagine their shock value will decrease as they become more overgrown and rusty. Could anyone be tempted to restore them a bit?
I’d be keen to see an update of this picture of a swimming pool, too. Once, it would have been a fine facility.
An abandoned room full of cots. Again, it is hard to know to what extent such pictures have been staged. The doll on one bed looks like a later addition.
This picture of an abandoned school library gives an impression of the chaos of Pripyat in 2009. The fact that the books are worthless and covered in potentially radioactive dust helps explain why no-one feels much like picking them up. But by then, souvenir hunters and scavengers had already been active across much of Pripyat, despite the risk of residual radiation.
An abandoned school room in Pripyat.
Civil defence posters at a school in Pripyat warn children of the dangers of different threats including air, radiation, and chemical threats and how to respond to warnings. Families are encouraged to teach their children how to put on gas masks.
An abandoned piano in Pripyat.
In this school poster a friendly dwarf is encouraging children to wash their hands, especially before eating.
This picture, taken from a helicopter when I visited the site two years later, in 2011, shows a park for abandoned vehicles. I would be interested to know if anyone has more recent pictures. According to some reports, the vehicles have since disappeared, but what happened to them is not clear.
I hope you enjoyed this post – if you did, please share. You may also like my piece The Russians – Vladivostok – set in 1994.
P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please follow me on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see blue “click here” button). Or you can join my mailing list – I’ll be delighted to give you a free “Hotel Story” to say thanks. Check out the range of writing on this site via my 5 pleasure paths.
What is the funniest book by “Plum” Wodehouse?
I have so far read 14 of the 20 P G Wodehouse Jeeves and Wooster and Blandings Castle volumes of my father’s splendid Folio Society collection (links in bold italics are to other posts on this blog). What joy these books have brought to the world!
But greater experts than I, such as the fabulous fellow WordPress blogger Plumtopia, who specialises in the works of P G Wodehouse, have pointed out that there is much more to “Plum” than Jeeves and Wooster and Blandings, splendid as they are.
So I was delighted to discover recently another Folio Society edition, The Plums of P G Wodehouse.
My Folio Society edition of “The Plums of P.G. Wodehouse” (more…)