A tale of two Škodas

Skoda TudorIn the 1950s, around 1954, my father bought a second-hand Škoda Tudor Coupe, cream-colored with a black top, just like this one. It was a superb little car and simple to maintain — Dad did it all himself.

Škoda declined during the Communist rule of Czechoslovakia, but is now is once more making superb vehicles. This week, James and I bought one, a Škoda Karoq LE 1.5 TSI Auto.

Karoq

On not travelling at Christmas

Don’t blame the system or the season for travel chaos. “Stay put. Hypermobility is now the opium of the people, an obsession that wrecks communities and planet. There are no free trips.” So writes (22 Dec 09) Simon Jenkins, responding to complaints by snow- and ice-bound European travellers.

My solution to winter travel chaos? Don’t travel. Stay indoors. Build a fire. Live and shop within walking distance of civilisation. Associate with neighbours. See distant relatives some other time of the year.

In geographically large countries like Australia, Canada, the US and China, moving across country is not just a local move, it’s a migration. When my forebears migrated from the UK to Australia and New Zealand, they expected never to return. The most recent such migrant was grandmother in 1921. She subsequently visited England just once, by sea, of course. The journey was expensive and took months. Most long-distance journeys now take mere hours and are more affordable. But they remain costly.

Above all, do not complain if you insist on laying siege to motorways, stations and airports and the weather or the labour force let you down, as they do every year. It is not their fault, it is yours for being there. Of all human activities that bring out the selfish in mankind, nothing compares with travel. […] I am a free and independent spirit innocently enjoying the right to roam; you are a travel-mad lemming who thinks he has a God-given right to tarmac, train or plane just when I am there. Get out of my way. […] Traveling does as much damage to the earth’s atmosphere as all other domestic activities put together. Yet powered movement is a craving no government is willing to curb. Hypermobility is the totem of personal liberty. […] Meanwhile the government pursues a policy of closing such local institutions as primary schools, cottage hospitals and post offices and encouraging out of town shopping and rural housing estates. All lead to an increase in the need for motor travel. If a hospital visit requires a drive of 50 rather than five miles, the NHS does not pay but someone does; indeed everyone does.

Having just returned from overseas it would be hypocritical in the extreme for me to condemn all travel. Yet it’s wise to try to live, work and socialise in the same neighbourhood. It’s not essential to travel just to be with people to no great purpose. Now is the first time in my life when I have been within walking distance of my local church, and of shops, markets and services adequate to my needs.

As the geographer, John Adams, points out, mobility may seem “liberating and empowering for individuals”, but it also destroys the propinquity essential to more efficient living and to community and civic cohesion. Like the internet, which paradoxically appears to boost travel by making it more efficient, hypermobility has replaced real neighbourhoods with pseudo ones.
People rush anywhere that delivers a new experience, from a weekend break to a global warming conference. Hypermobility is the opium of the people. It panders to instant gratification while dulling a sense of community.

Yes and no. Some ‘pseudo’ neighbourhoods are real communities. The members of our small church come from an area about 60km across, yet they are very much a family.

Since hypermobility both dilutes a sense of place and (mostly) increases carbon emissions, governments should be charged with curbing or at least not promoting it. This means planning the town and country so as to minimise the need for ever longer journeys. It means rationing travel capacity by congestion or by price. Since governments are scared of price, most choose to ration by congestion. Summer and winter “road and rail chaos” is the result, with blame conveniently attaching to operators. Everybody thinks it is cars, trains and planes that cause gridlock—when in reality it is people. There is no absolute right to roam. There is no free trip. We must initiate the rebirth of domestic space.

Just so. There is no right to travel, it’s a costly privilege.

Cocooned in time

betjemanHe wrote forty year ago, but Betjeman’s impression of intercontinental air travel remains contemporary.

Cocooned in time, at this inhuman height,
The packaged food tastes neutrally of clay,
We never seem to catch the running day
But travel on in everlasting night
With all the chic accoutrements of flight:
Lotions and essences in neat array
And yet another plastic cup and tray.
“Thank you so much. Oh no, I’m quite all right”.

At home in Cornwall hurrying autumn skies
Leave Bray Hill barren, Stepper jutting bare,
And hold the moon above the sea-wet sand.
The very last of late September dies
In frosty silence and the hills declare
How vast the sky is, looked at from the land.
— “Back from Australia” from A nip in the air (1974) by John Betjeman

On not being plant blind

usa190

Natalie Angier praised plants in an elegant piece in the International Herald Tribune (17 Apr 07).

Show somebody a painting of a verdant, botanically explicit forest with three elk grazing in the middle and ask what the picture is about, and the average viewer will answer, “Three elk grazing.” … What you’re unlikely to hear is anything akin to, “It’s a classic temperate mix of maple, birch and beech trees, and here’s a spectacular basswood and, whoa, an American elm that shows no sign of fungal infestation and, oh yeah, three elk and a blue jay.”

According to Peter H. Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, many of us suffer from an insidious condition called “plant blindness.” We barely notice plants, can rarely identify them and find them incomparably inert. Do you think that you will ever see a coma as vegetative as a tree? “Animals are much more vivid to the average person than plants are,” Raven said, “and some people aren’t even sure that plants are alive.”

In the northern Spring, the article urges us to “venture outside and check out the world through nature’s rose-colored glasses-and the daffodil, cherry blossom, dogwood and lupine ones, too. If this view doesn’t move you, you’re pushing up daisies. Angier goes on to describe how plants are the basis of “virtually all life on earth”. “The most important chemical reaction on earth is photosynthesis,”

You don’t need much encouragement to notice plants from where I sit. Our courtyard, tended by James, is crammed full of roses, as well as camellias, gardenias, and other things. There are two parks just a few metres from our apartment and our street is lined with tall oaks and other trees. Maples are slowly growing outside my study window and I can see Black Mountain in the distance, covered with native bushland-we are fortunate to live where we do. The Australian National Botanic Gardens are not far away.

I notice plants, a lot; I’m frustrated by knowing the names of so few of them. Inner Canberra is a good place for plant lovers to live. We thoroughly enjoyed all manner of plants on our recent American journey.  But we were glad to see elk, as well.

North America road trip

North America trip - North North America Trip - West
North America Trip - South

The big North America road trip. The numbers on the maps show where we planned to stay, but we visited more and had to make some changes!

Fog on the CA coast

29 August 2013: Safely arrived in San Francisco. The first day was inauspicious:  fog along the Northern California coast, but we survived a long scenic drive on the wrong side of the road. Piaci Pub and Pizzeria in Fort Bragg CA supplied  superb Italian food.

usa282

The next day was better:  near Fort Bragg. We were soon surprised to find American shopping, food, road rules, streets, buildings, etc., etc., more difficult to understand than those in Europe.

usa361

The lighthouse at Crescent City, CA, a town described by Lonely Planet as “about as charming as a wet bag of dirty laundry.” Most unkind.

usa190

We saw the famed Redwood forests … and elk, calmly resting near the road.

usa163

After a strenuous climb up the hill, delicious local beer was welcome at the Oregon Caves Chateau, where we spent a night.

Portland, Oregon was good fun after sunshine and forests, seaside and fog for three days

usa187

Absurd traffic jams kept us from seeing more of Columbia Gorge.

usa181

Mt Ranier shed its cloudy blanket for us.

usa278

We were made most welcome at Trinity Parish Episcopal Church, Seattle WA.

usa067

We saw this Elio being promoted @ $6,800 for delivery late next year. Two people:  driver in front, passenger in the back, full comforts of ordinary car, 84mpg, 100mph, 3cyl., 900cc.

The Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour, near Seattle were interesting.

usa198

Just the thing for an idyllic holiday shack in the San Juan Islands, 45 mins from Seattle.

Anacortes

Spectacular crossing from Anacortes WA to Sidney BC … once the fog lifted.

usa060

Pumpkin beer in Victoria! Amazingly tasty.

usa009

A lovely spot for a picnic:  French Beach, at the southernmost tip of Vancouver Island BC, with a view across the Juan de Fuca Strait to the Olympic mountains of the USA.

usa389

The Butchart Gardens, near Victoria, were magnificent, but so was the admission price!

usa112

In the past, Victoria had a reputation for false Englishness that tried to be more so than the English themselves.
That seems to be largely gone. Now it’s multicultural, with a place of honour for the First Nations.

Vancouver view
Vancouver view

The view from our 15th floor Vancouver apartment, at dawn.

usa161

Took the Sea to Sky highway as far as Squamish:
fog was a challenge to the serious sightseer, but we did see a few superb views.

usa819

Our visit to Jasper was favoured by sunshine: this is Medicine Lake in the Maligne valley.
Lots of ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ as we saw one fabulous sight upon another.

We found authentic, tasty and reasonably priced Korean food, in Jasper, in the midst of the Canadian Rockies!.

usa787

With snow falling steadily, we couldn’t see far,
but the short excursion onto the Athabasca Glacier was fun and interesting.

Very pleasant stay at Holiday Inn Canmore; dinner at Crazyweed Kitchen in Canmore..

Superb views from the summit of Sulphur Mountain, in bright sunshine the day after the first Autumn snowfall (which had experienced the previous day).

usa709

North America wildlife sightings to date:  two porpoises, two seals, a single butterfly, a small family of elk, a couple of deer, many chipmunks and squirrels, not many insects, no flies, surprisingly few birds … and newly hatched fish in a marsh near Banff fed by warm sulphurous springs. Coniferous trees sighted:  many millions.

Saw bison, elk, deer and antelope at the National Bison Refuge, near Missoula MT.

Moose Creek Cabins and Inns:  cosy and very comfortable, but contemplating the weather forecast of snow and rain in Yellowstone NP.

usa093

Falling snow decorated the trees and made the hydrothermal wonders all the more mysterious and steamy.

usa556We celebrated the second of our two days in Yellowstone NP by delighting in the colours of the thermal limestone terraces, pools and vegetation.

In Banff and Jasper, the majority of visitors we observed were Korean: in Yellowstone, the majority were Chinese. Some were quietly reflective but many were chatty noisy … just like tourists from anywhere, I daresay. Surprising to me was that in none of these great national parks did we encounter a single African American, whether visitor or staff. Curious.

usa782

Driving South from Yellowstone: I was quite relaxed as James drove steadily. What had made nervous a few earlier was driving a busy ten-lane highway near Seattle at 70mph in the pre-dawn mist!

usa777

A pleasant hour at Jackson Hole National Museum Of Wildlife Art.

usa648

1 October: selfishly hoping for a resolution to the USA budget deadlock as all national parks were closed until the deadlock was resolved. We hastily prepared alternative travel plans, cancelling visits to Death Valley, Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia and adding time to our stays to Las Vegas and West Hollywood.

usa008

The classic American road trip, from anywhere to nowhere at 75mph.

usa818

Beaten-up one-dollar hat three sizes too small, from a charity shop.

usa677

Sheer magnificence: Canyonlands.

Amid the enthralled throng: Antelope Canyon.
usa778

Choosing the right road.

usa768

A Eurocopter EC-130 was a superb aircraft in which to enjoy my first-ever helicopter flight, into the Grand Canyon.

West Grand Canyon (not the National Park), which is, yes, to the West of the closed National Park on a Native American reservation. I did not expect it to be green, but it was.

usa722

Black Mountain (Mt Hesperus), watercolour by Englishman Tony Foster from his show ‘Sacred places’ at the Museum of Northern Arizona.

usa723

Thought of our great friend Joshua Park when we saw these (though, thankfully, he looks nothing like them):  Joshua trees, Yucca brevifolia,.

A long walk today took in some of the grandest places on the Strip: the Venetian is the finest and huge.

usa070

The Jockey Club was remarkable value, with our excellent apartment for under $100.

usa167

In the midst of the too-much-of-everything, Las Vegas has some fine things, for instance this chandelier by Dale Chihuly, at the Bellagio.

More curious sights along the Las Vegas Strip.

usa168

In an upscale Las Vegas arcade, we found a boutique crammed with delightful ‘Christmas’ decorations,
but not one of them was a Christian, religious or spiritual symbol
… unless you include Santa Claus who is St Nicholas in a vague sort of way.

usa030

America the Beautiful National Parks pass:  sadly of no further use to us.

usa002

“Seems it never rains in Southern California … It pours, man, it pours.” (Albert Hammond).

usa038

Glorious C12th stained glass on loan from Canterbury Cathedral, exhibited at the Getty Museum in LA.

usa673

Also at the Getty Museum, I found this Still life:  tea set (c.1781), by Jean-Etienne Liotard, intriguing, with its paradoxical depiction of messiness and informality with meticulous technique and careful composition.

Friends setUnfortunately a tour of the Warner Bros Studios wasn’t especially interesting: here we pose on the set of Friends … a show I’ve never watched.

usa878

A delightful four days with Justin, Joe and Bodo the dog!

Old Courthouse

Spanish-American influences at the Old Mission and the County Courthouse in Santa Barbara CA.

usa011

The refectory in the ‘Hearst Castle’ at San Simeon:  high art and tomato ketchup, with willow pattern tableware and sterling silver antiques.

Coastal color

The central California coastal scenery is glorious … as were the many colors of the plants covering the hills close to the sea.

Pfeiffer Beach

With the government shutdown ended, USDA workers were reopening the superb, secluded, Pfeiffer Beach (in Los Padres National Forest) just as we arrived for picnic lunch.

Toast

In San Francisco, I toasted James, who safely drove us 6,200 miles (as I took photos and attempted to navigate).

usa076 usa128

The ocean-going tug Hercules, now on display at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, reminded me of Scuffy the red-painted tugboat, a favourite of mine as a small boy.

The San Francisco cable cars were fun to ride and the views memorable, but the queues were extraordinary and the service infrequent.

usa035

Blessed by Sunday service at Grace Cathedral.

usa877

Delighted to share dinner and conversation in person last night with Jeff Tabaco and Thom Watson.

Not many places open on Sunday, but we found a good Thai restaurant:  dark, cold and intimidating streets hide pleasant cafés and restaurants in Central San Francisco.
usa002Visited the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge in SF.

Superb authentic pizza and a classic view in the sunshine at Sausalito CA.

usa767

No, my eyes did not fool me: I did see a Melbourne W-class tram operating in San Francisco. Many are the journeys I’ve made in one of those.

Captain Phillips Gravity

Three fine movies to round off our travels, each with a masterful leading performance: Tom Hanks in ‘Captain Phillips’, Cate Blanchett in ‘Blue Jasmine’, and Sandra Bullock in ‘Gravity’.

Home, and grateful to all who helped us enjoy a fine journey.