The cyclops

I felt bad as I looked back at Rob through the rusted bars. Although he was happy to go and look at abandoned buildings, Rob didn’t quite share my passion for exploring them (not to the extent of scaling a 15ft gate).

He’d never say that of course, or complain that I was leaving him lingering on the pavement in a foreign city. That was Rob, forever forthcoming, even when it visibly distressed him.

But we had come to Berlin, a mecca for urban exploration at the time and I was determined to get in somewhere, even if it was just the once.

On entering the building, however, I was dissapointed to find that the place had been stripped bare. It was impossible to tell what the building had even been used for.

Exposed steps led me up a few floors, and I scouted the corridors hoping to at least find a view worthy of snapping. And then I saw it.

The facade made me think me of some archetypal gang lair from an 80’s film. I found myself imagining what it must have been like when the new generation first discovered these places, choosing to reclaim them in their own way after the powers that be so dramatically fell apart.

I took a picture and then hurried back down to the gate, where Rob was waiting, albeit looking a little put out.

I was happy then, sufficiently cleansed of my selfish impulses and glad to be here with a good friend. Then we headed off to discover what else had emerged out of this newly reborn city.

Above and beyond

I entered a mountain writing competition last month run by the John Muir Trust.  The theme was ‘The day a mountain changed my life’ so my entry was probably a bit low key, but what can I say, that’s my style. (Actually, it’s a rewrite of a post I did a while back on hiking in Snowdonia, but from a more inward-looking perspective.)

It must have been 6am when I unzipped the tent, or thereabouts, judging by the grey light that draped across the mountainside. The two bodies that were crammed in next to me lay motionless, matted hair sprouting from the tops of sleeping bags.

I slipped on my boots and staggered out into the cool air. Whether it was the noggins of whisky from the night before or the rolling view that made my head swim, I couldn’t be sure and I headed for a nearby rock to steady myself.

As I gathered my wits, I became aware of the shrill calls of sheep bouncing about the horseshoe curve that enclosed our camp. I spied their white shapes, shuffling across the farthest reaches of the slopes, as though they were all trying to outdo each other in their quest for the next tuft of grass.

My gaze travelled further down the valley towards a golden light that had only just broken across a neighbouring peak. From there, I turned my attention to the sky and watched how the clouds mingled together; reforming and reshaping as if the day was still busy sorting itself out.

After a few minutes, it occurred to me that not a single thought had passed through my head about where I was and what I was doing. In this environment, there was no need to figure things out or analyse the situation as I was so used to doing in my day-to-day life. It was enough to just observe and be in the moment.

But more than that, everything that was happening before me seem to make perfect sense. This was life in its most fundamental state; the shifting forces of nature, adapting, renewing, destroying and replenishing in one continuous, majestic display.

Just then, a muffled groaning broke my trance as the camp began to stir. Rich poked his head out of the tent and we exchanged mumbled greetings, but I didn’t feel able to convey what I had just experienced, at least, not in words.

I looked about the ridgeline, knowing we would soon be up there as we made our way to the top of Snowdon and beyond. The thought left me with a sense of trepidation and awe as I anticipated how many other breathtaking scenes we were likely to encounter on our expedition. Then, with a growing light, our day began.

Weave and flow – extracts from a Sardinian holiday #2

“It should be just up here,” said Stefano, as we bounced along yet another dusty, isolated track at the base of Monte Nieddu.

As before, there was no signage to indicate if indeed, this was the right way to the swimming hole. All we had to go on from the beginning was word of mouth and the name of the nearest village. That, and some directions from an elderly woman who appeared to be the only resident in town on this particular day.

In the back, the children could barely keep their eyes open while Veronica and her sister leaned their heads wearily against the window like two convicts in cross-country transit.

Suddenly, a red estate appeared from the opposite direction. The driver stopped and exchanged words with Stefano. It turned out they were also looking for the elusive river and had information on its whereabouts. Stefano swung the car round at the nearest layby and headed back down the hill. By the side of the road, the driver and his son waved us down and pointed to a pathway heading through the pine woods.

With renewed vigour, we piled out of the car and followed them down a thin track. Before long, the trees petered out and we were surrounded by sun-bleached granite formations that seemed to weave  and flow almost like a river. The path began to descend into a blind gorge and then we were presented with that most precious of resources – water.

Despite the midsummer heat, a steady stream made its way between the rock and collected in a pool just right for jumping into. On the far side, the water continued its journey off the lip of a ravine and plummeted into another gorge where a group of climbers were following its course deeper into the landscape.

 

 

Denmark Street 

A place to make a mistake

I’m not sure why I take the turning, which adds minutes to my walk, furthering the possibility of missing the bus. But my senses need refreshing, a change of scene to knock me out of my homeward routine. So I take a wander down Denmark Street.

They call it the ‘West End’ in the tourism leaflets but you wouldn’t know it. When I reach the junction with Unity street, there’s nothing but apartments housed in an imposing red brick buidling. Then, out of the darkness emerge the great temple-like doors of the Wah Yan Hong Chinese supermarket. The smell wafting out of the door is familiar, the same one that always seems to surround far eastern food stores. Is it the freezers full of seafood or some ubiquitous spice?

Next door is an extravagant Chinese restaurant, decked to the rafters in lanterns and dragon statues. The overall colour scheme is black, however, giving it the kind of air where you might expect a local Triad meet to take place.

Across the road the stage doors of the Hippodrome are open. I glean a look inside as an usher welcomes a group into a  red-curtained room. Articulated lorries block up the kerb, and there’s a stage hand sucking on a rollup in an unlit doorway.

Blink and I’d miss the steps that lead down to Harvey’s Cellars opposite, blue fairy lights illuminating the old wine racks. It’s the oldest establishment on this stretch by at least a century and still sells the Sherry for which it was founded on in 1895. 

I think about wandering in and feigning a party booking just so I can explore, but instead I decide to take a look in the magic bar next door. It’s a fairly unremarkable boozer decked out in traditional fashion, but with a secret theatre in the back just big enough for 50. It’s empty when I look in but the bartender assures me that it comes alive when the table candles are lit and a show is underway.

A downtown sidestreet such as this wouldnt be right without a seedy side and Shadows massage parlour is there to provide. ‘Shadows in the night’ as far the clientele are concerned or is it the girls who are ‘shadows’ of their former selves?

The whole facade is mirrored and there’s a handwritten note about a daytime offer stuck to the wall of the entranceway. It’s also right next door to a tattoo removal clinic, which would appear to compliment each other well; a place to make a mistake and another to rectify one.

Up on the wall is a red neon sign advertising Bombay Boulevard, a plain looking Indian restaurant. The red glow reflects in the empty windows above making me wonder if there’s any less conspicuous parlours along this stretch.

The thick scent of pure, unadulterated grease, fills the air from a chip shop. Two middle eastern men are behind the counter, their oily faces bantering with customers. 

A sickly-lit alleyway adjacent offers the ideal spot for a late-night urinal or something a little more tawdry.