Tag Archives: Travel

Maps and books

We’re busy buying books and maps at present, as our old stuff is way out of date, and when you’ve got a map of Europe blu-tacked to the kitchen wall with some brightly coloured bookmarks tags on, it’s easier to build up a mental picture of the route in your head and get an idea of the physical distances between places. Okay, the satnag might tell you it’s a three hour run down the Autobahn, but what about that interesting road over there leading off to who knows where? Does it loop back towards Magdeburg or Kiel? How far is it, and how fast can we do it without grinding the top off the sidestand or occasioning fits of hysterics from my pillion passenger and collecting speeding tickets? What do those squiggles tell you? Apart from that particular road has a lot of sharp bends.

Anyway, the maps and physical map books arrived arrived today, and are being deployed ready for the next phase, which is deciding precisely what is doable in terms of side trips and what is simply a bit of a slog just to tick off a place name. Google maps is all very well, but doesn’t take to having sticky labels put all over the screen and not getting them mixed up with other people’s stuff. Besides, where’s the adventure in that? As I’ve said before, we’re taking the roads less travelled and finding stuff which may not be on the main tourist trails.

Yay! Phone call from the Motorcycle store over at Esquimalt. Our helmets and jackets have arrived for trial fittings before I go visit the local Triumph dealership and rent one of their big bikes for a two day up-island trip in August. I’m also plugging the gaps in my Terry Pratchett book collection, including copies of his very underrated Johnny Maxwell trilogy. Which were scheduled to arrive today, but they’re coming in from the UK so when they actually turn up is anybody’s guess. The sun is shining and for the moment we’re on top of our work and courses. So far so good. Or as we used to say; “It’s a very nice day. Now watch some complete tit try and ruin it.”

Achtung! Deutschland!

Road trip planning this weekend for May to July 2017. We’ve decided to take a nodal approach this time round, as opposed to the more traditional linear model of road trip. Translation: we’re planning to travel to one place for a week and stay, making mini-excursions for days out as opposed to the logistical nightmare of stopping every day or so on the road, packing and unpacking every other night, dodging from place to place to ‘do’ places like we’re ticking boxes like we recently did on our road trip around the USA.

We’re currently, as the title of this post suggests, planning our route through Germany and I keep reading about the upsurge in violent attacks from the Muslim population over there. Now I happen to feel sorry for the Germans, who on a number of previous visits in the 1980’s and 90’s I’ve found to be generally warm and welcoming people. This generosity of spirit currently seems to be rebounding on them as their chancellor has imported a whole tranche of ingrates who do not have the wit to integrate in their new home. To quote two recent examples; a Suicide bombing in a bar, a pregnant woman hacked to death for refusing the advances of a newcomer to name but two incidents from the last week. Never mind the much more well known attacks like the attack on train passengers. And these are just the ones we hear about. Then there’s the backlash.

It’s easy to dismiss the civilian response to the terror attacks with the ‘neo-nazi right wing racist’ label, but that’s not ‘right wing’ at all. Hint; many of the attackers are identified as Neo-Nazi. But hang on, isn’t that National Socialist? Hmm. Not exactly ‘right wing’ are they? Rightist politics are by definition not pro big government or even remotely socialist, whereas the attackers tend to be of a big government, pro socialist bent (Often with big, gothic letter tattoos). Therefore the correct description for many of these backlash attackers who are described as Neo-Nazi (and therefore Socialist) is actually ‘left wing racist’. Not to mention that the majority of these attacks seem to be happening in Eastern Germany, territory of the old DDR (the Socialist German Democratic Republic). Now tell me, wasn’t that a left wing regime up until 1989? Answers on a postcard. No prizes for getting the correct answer.

Not that I’m overly worried about these attacks impinging upon our trip, except maybe peripherally. I’m more concerned about crazy Italian drivers, caffeine-driven eastern European truckers and diesel spills. Defensive riding will get us past most problems on the road, but it’s the thoughtless dithering of distracted drivers that sends chills down my spine. They’re a far bigger threat to me and mine than any would be terrorist.

Notwithstanding we’re plotting our route through Germany to run from Southern Italy, probably catching a ferry to Split in Croatia before doglegging back to Venice via Trieste and hacking north through western Austria and Bavaria, south east Germany (Which we’re told is very scenic) into the Czech Republic, thence back across the border into Berlin and up into Denmark, possibly via Lubeck or Kiel. Now I’m fairly familiar with south western Germany, the Saarland and Rhine valley, but want to see how the East has fared since reunification during the 1990’s. We’ll also be touring off the Autobahns, as they’re generally filled with crazy people trying to achieve light speed in their Mercedes and BMW’s. Our style is going to be more of the bimbling and pootling variety along minor routes. The road less travelled. Mostly away from the madding crowds.

For those not familiar with the terms; to bimble or pootle means to meander (Walk, ride, drive) in an amiable and casual fashion, without undue haste, allowing plenty of time to stop and sightsee. Although Mrs S has observed that my version of bimbling can involve high speeds when warranted. Around some very twisty roads indeed. Or; as she once vouchsafed after a mildly throttle happy trip. “Sticker, you are a fiend.”

After that, the rough plan is to stop around Copenhagen so we can make forays into southern Sweden. I may even try to visit one of my cousins, who I’m told still lives in Gothenburg. Although she’s often elsewhere in the world. After that we’re discussing staying in Amsterdam and possibly Delft before sliding off to Bruges and back across the channel before getting back on the plane home.

Right. That’s the rough plan. Spirited discussions about where we’re going to stay and for how long have been had over the weekend, and no doubt will continue until I start putting money down, which isn’t going to happen until late August. This kind of trip takes time to organise if you don’t fancy taking your chances on accommodation. Berlin is by necessity going to be a weeks stay on its own. Likewise Copenhagen. The possible fracturing of the EU may well impact on our operational necessities, but being Canadian tourists, I don’t think it’s going to change our plans that much. At least not in the short to medium term.

Achtung Deutshland! Wir kommen. We’re coming. Oh yeah.

Just general stuff

Well that’s the beginning of our next big trip sorted out. Two new touring jackets and helmets, body armour etc. Matching his and hers ordered. Pricey, but I’ve got the money having made a good deal over the weekend, despite being out of the country. After that I pulled my assets out of stocks and shares because I’m concerned the US market may be close to peak, and don’t fancy losing all my gains if there’s a Wall Street Crash event while I’m busy elsewhere. So, a little profit taking has been done, and I’m standing back for a moment to catch my breath and see what’s going on in the background.

One of the people I’ve begun listening to a lot is Mark Blyth (See sample talk below)

He actually seems to have his finger on the pulse, talking clearly and concisely about macroeconomic matters and their consequences. He’s rational, logical, amusing, down to earth and makes an otherwise difficult topic, so often clouded with politically motivated bamboozlement by the doctrinaire, sound so simple. Save, don’t save, export, trade balances, assets, liabilities he covers a great swath of the worlds economic ills and their root causes. One to follow.

crow and half mastSo, we’re back from the northwestern USA, having seen a lot of flags flying at half mast in memory of the five murdered Dallas Police officers. Every Police station, city hall, fire department and quite a few businesses we saw were flying the stars and stripes thus. Which leads me into a puzzlement. How does whipping up others to kill Policemen advance the cause of the BLM activists? That’s a completely counter intuitive strategy, rather like fucking to increase virginity. Add to that the knowledge that a good many of the class warriors stirring things up are northern European in appearance. In short, what we used to call ‘rent-a-mob’. Turning up at any protest to scream and shout mainly because it gives their miserable lives a perverse sort of meaning.

Not that we saw much of their antics. Near the place we spent last weekend, we observed a great many people blundering around peering intently at their dumbphone screens, headphones on, almost oblivious to the outside world. Apparently many are engrossed in an online game called ‘Pokemon Go‘. Even to the point of playing while driving. Which may qualify them for a Darwin award. One man in New York state is known to have wrapped his car around a tree while playing (I’m surprised he’s the only one reported thus). Stories are emerging of players wandering aimlessly into busy traffic and various Police forces have issued safety warnings. There have been no reported fatalities as yet, but it’s early days. The shallow end of the gene pool always gets emptied first.

As for the Nice attack, words fail me. Well, apart from thinking how pointless it was. Like with Paris last year, we’re not changing next years travel plans for it.

Gosh, is that my cynicism? I was wondering where I’d left it.

On the road again

Another day, another hotel room. It’s like being a road warrior again without all the chasing after customers. Shonky, insecure wi-fi, cable TV, identical corridors (where am I today?) and little time to write. I have, on the bright side, sourced a copy of ‘Mencken’ by Alistair Cooke containing a collection of articles by the great H L Mencken. While Mrs S and I are doing different conferences in differing places, it provides a little brain breathing space. Reading through, the thought occurs that very little changes in politics. At least in the USA.

Told you so

Well colour me cynical. Not that I’m a nice person anyway. My days of wide eyed innocence were lost many moons ago. But today’s news of a top level resignation has me sitting here with a smug smile on my face. Back in March 2015 I wrote:

“…anyone taking a new, PC sanitised Top Gear on will have to be really, really, good, or more likely be so blindly ambitious they don’t realise they’re committing career Seppuku…”

Bye, bye Chris Evans. Told you so. When I told Mrs S, she promptly punched the air with a shouted “YES!” She doesn’t like Evans either, he’s “Just loud.”. Me, I think he’s a very noisy one trick pony. Some people find him funny, but then they’d probably have a good giggle at a public execution.

No seriously; the Beeb tried to ‘keep the old format’ and re-create the same kind of car show. Which was a mistake. And like the vast majority of remakes it turned the revamped show into a complete turkey which threatens to fold after only one year. By contrast Clarkson’s version ran for thirteen years.

So, the new revamped Top Gear looks like sinking without trace whilst The Grand Tour, starring Clarkson, May and Hammond comes out sometime this year on Amazon Prime. Which may get shown here on Shomi, as for some reason known only to Canadian Broadcasting, we can’t get Amazon Prime north of the 49th parallel. Not that I watch TV anyway. Well, apart from advert-free streaming on Netflix and Shomi. At least I get to choose which repeats I watch.

Not that we’ll be watching much for the next week or so as we’re going into conference mode. Mrs S and I are heading over to the mainland and then down south of the border for a few days to partake of our respective conferences and shop for a few electronic bits and bobs before heading back home for the rest of the Summer. The only trip I intend making after that for 2016 is to hire a motorcycle and pootle off up island some time in August or early September. Maybe the week after Labour Day, when the weather is still good and the crowds have all gone.

Another day…

…Another few dollars, although not quite as many as I’d hoped. Still, not a bad result for all that. Money is complicated. People must be reimbursed for their services, taxes must be paid, and so the money goes round. The timing could have been better, but I’m not totally unhappy. Next time it will only be me with my finger on the financial trigger, so I’ll only have myself to blame if it all goes arse about face. However, I’ve looked at the options of my chosen course of action, and I’m fairly confident of a stable long term outcome. Short of a cataclysmic meteorite impact or the Earth suddenly opening up and swallowing the piece of rock my money will be accumulating in, or the world having a total civil and cultural meltdown of course. Which is the investment version of touching wood or other action meant to placate the gods of finance.

2017 Europe tripAnyway; with all the whining and bitching about Brexit, this weekend I thought I’d post something a little more uplifting and pro-Europe (Although not pro-EU). Or annoying, depending on how sore a loser you are. The road map for the Bill Sticker European tour of 2017. Ta-daa! (Click to enlarge)

Now as no plan survives contact with the enemy, the above map should only be viewed as a general guideline. All locations are open to change. No definitive bookings have been made, and only a deposit has been put on the machine we are to purchase. Proposed starting date is from the UK in the first week of May 2017, thence heading south and west into France, towards the Rhone Valley and may take us further East and North than illustrated on the return leg, depending upon weather. I’ve done my stint riding in all sorts of shit and slush over the last three decades and have decided it’s not much fun. Especially when even the most impermeable waterproof trousers (Why is it always the trousers?) start to fail and unwanted moisture begins to make its presence felt in all those embarrassing little places.

The only way our proposed tour can go tits up is if all the wronged Brussels bureaucrats have a major snit at anyone speaking English and decides visas and passports from predominantly English speaking countries are invalid. In which case I’ll have just flushed a great deal of money down the great white telephone to no good purpose. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. Article 50 negotiations and changes will take a lot longer than two years because the lawyers will want all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. Then said negotiations can’t even start until there’s a new Prime Monster in Number Ten Downing Street. Even if Brussels decides a total ban on all things and people British is a jolly super wheeze, we’ll have until at least September 2019 to shoehorn our trip in. Besides, we’re Canadian with certificates to prove it. With an EU fiendish PM no less. So will bluff our way through somehow.

I’m not going to find myself in the position my dear departed old mother found herself in around 11th June 1940. She was touring with a band in Italy at the outbreak of World War II and found herself with a whole train load of British, French and other refugees at the French / Italian border, having been kicked out by Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government. “Suitcases all over the place.” As she often gleefully recounted her temporary predicament. How she got out of Vichy France she never said, but I think she escaped as one of the civilians taken out by Operation Ariel, which is the unsung cousin of the famous Dunkirk evacuation.

Not that anything like that is going to happen to we 21st century travellers. We might get a little unhappiness from border guards, but frankly I think their attitude will be; “We’ve had your money – now piss off.” Which is fine by me.

Not doomed then…

There’s a lot of doom and gloom being talked at the moment, and what Julie Birchill calls ‘poncing around on twitter’. Seriously, she’s in good fooling with this article (Thank you Bishop Hill). If you take all the pessimistic views from the bought and paid for lamestream and all the ‘Remainder’ twats panicking on twitter, then everything in the UK is going tits up in a massive way. Which back in realityville, just isn’t happening. The market has taken a hit, that much is true. Sterling is down over ten cents against the Canadian and US Dollars, but it was far lower when Harper was Canadian Prime Minister.

Yesterdays rate is about the same as back in September 2014, (around CAD$1.72). If you go back to my 2013 screenshot, the exchange rate was even lower.Currency screenshot November 2013 So it’s not the ‘lowest in 31 years’, far from it. As for ‘dollar parity’, that’s just a wild guess invented to scare the peons. As someone who needs to move money between countries a few times a year, I’m not panicking, far from it.

Actually I have a more positive view. I’m actually quite sanguine about the whole ‘out of EU’ business. Which my instincts tell me will be good for UK businesses and their trading partners after this short-term glitch, thus good for those who need a job, long term. The Bank of England has good liquidity and is solid as a bank can be. The UK economy overall isn’t in that bad a shape. The European banks and EU, I’m not so sure. With their track record of ‘losing’ 6 Billion unspecified Euros in 2013, to cite but one example, and not getting their finances signed off by the European Court of Auditors up to 2007. Since then the accounts have been rubber stamped but with some ‘observations of wastage’. No matter what the Euro apologists say, I’m less than confident about the EU’s ability to remain fiscally stable. No matter the gripes and veiled threats of raised tariffs, the EU has way more to lose from a divorce than the UK, and all the globalist bedwetters certainly don’t have a clue.

Now before Brexit became a probability, I was going to pull my money out of Sterling, but have decided to leave it where it is so it can breed with all those other lovely UK connected currency units and raise far more babies. Which will turn into more readies for Mrs S and I, and probably pay off the college funds for the next generation when they arrive (Although, please God, not just yet). And if handled right will provide for another generation after that.

As for Europe and travel. Our next big trip for 2017 has just entered the planning stages and we will be taking in the UK, Denmark, Netherlands, Atlantic France, South of France, Italy and maybe further East. On a motorcycle. Specifically a 2017 Triumph Trophy SE 1215. We’re going to ship it over via Air Canada’s new motorcycle service and ride around some haunts old and new. The general overview is a week or two at each location, maybe more depending on whether we’ll be hitting the vineyards in a big way or just pootling around sightseeing. Mrs S and I are both dual nationality, so can use either passport to cross borders and thus get around some of the visa restrictions that might be put in place.

Languages? Our French is adequate for day to day conversation, my German and Italian pretty basic, but enough to get by on. When I say ‘pretty basic’ I mean being able to count to a hundred, order a beer or three, say ‘please’, ‘Good day’, ‘thank you’ and ‘I’m Canadian / English’, book a hotel room and ask people to speak more slowly. I’ve even picked up the odd word in Swahili from Eldest who is currently working in Africa and heading off to the fabled land of Oz later this year. Our legal eagle (Youngest) is coming over for Christmas, even if we end up paying her air fare, so we’re looking forward, not back.

A little weekend drama

A sunny Victorian Friday afternoon around four. Unscheduled call from sister in law up island. Our elderly widowed friend up there has suffered some kind of sudden illness and called an ambulance. Mrs S gets on Skype and contacts the sheltered living facility elderly widow is domiciled at. No answer. They’ve gone home because Friday is ‘poets’ day (Piss Off Early Tomorrow’s Saturday). Has the Ambulance been called or not? Has it arrived? Has friend been admitted yet? After half an hour of phoning hospital we have our answer. In-laws will go in first to check because they’re closest. We’ll get ready. Just in case.

While waiting for answers I pack. Five minutes and we’re all set. Suited and booted. I’ve even thrown in a couple of books because I know from long experience that hospitals are all ‘hurry up and wait’. In-laws agree to put us up for the night, saving us a hotel bill, and after a flurry of exchanges on cell and Skype, we decide that since we have power of attorney over friends ‘living will’ we have to be there. Just in case. We were heading oop norf tomorrow for a visit and delivery of birthday presents anyway, but this event has shifted our timetable forward by twenty four hours.

So, out into the crawling nonsense of Victoria’s Friday afternoon traffic we go. Taking half an hour to travel the first four miles. Once out onto the highway it gets better and the hammer goes down, in a genteel sort of way. Moving briskly but safely. Out of the way boys and girls, Uncle Bill has a job to do.

Around seventy miles later. Me driving and Mrs S on the phone, we pull up and head into the hospital emergency department. Finding to our eternal relief that elderly widowed friend is mostly just dehydrated after a nasty bout of gastroenteritis, and will be ‘filled up’ and sent home between twenty four and forty eight hours later, providing all the other tests hospitals and doctors like to do draw a blank. We regale friend with tales of our recent US road trip to keep her entertained before a porter comes to wheel her down to X-ray. By the time we leave the hospital it’s eight, so Mrs S and I brave the sluggish evening service at a White Spot restaurant because neither of us have eaten since breakfast.

Over to in-laws for a tea and jaw session before bedtime. Hospital in the morning so we crash and roll out of our pit for a swift mug of tea before getting on the road again. Agree to meet in-laws later.

We arrive at the hospital and pile into the short stay facility to find elderly widow friend has had her check up from the neck up and down again. According to ER physician “There’s nothing we didn’t expect to find in a ninety six year old body.” So we found her rehydrated and good to go home, which was a pleasant surprise. By eleven am Saturday we’re all done and elderly widow friend is home and resting. We make sure Reception knows about her current state and ask them to make sure an appropriate fuss is made, which they are happy to do.

Thence it’s coffee, chat and cookies in a trendy but basic café with in-laws before heading back to the barn. Job done. By twelve noon all is well. After a stop for a leisurely lunch we’re home by three thirty. Our little weekend drama is over and we have now stopped to catch our breath. Wasn’t that fun? No. But we’d have only been bored otherwise.

A touch of melancholia

Today I am feeling rather sad. Nothing desperate, just several glitters short of a sparkle. Pensively distracted. A wistful melancholy settling on my soul like low cloud, blocking the wider view. Last night, in the early morning hours where sleep would not come, I swore I could hear my late Mother’s voice singing the old Ella Fitzgerald number ‘Melancholy Baby’ like she did when I was small.

Ma Sticker was a secret Jazz lover, and played piano in a band when she was young. In her unguarded moments, when cares were miles away, I’d often hear her singing softly to herself. Lilting tunes from the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Now whenever my way is unclear, I can hear her voice in my head as though she were in the same room. Funny that. She’s been dead almost two years now and still she can reach out and lay hand on my heart.

Always thought Ma would make it to three figures, but in the end she simply threw up her hands and gave up the ghost four months short of her ninety ninth birthday. She’d be a hundred this year, if she’d lived.

Mrs S says I’m suffering from ‘road trip burnout’ and perhaps she’s right. I’m back behind my desk and in need of stimulation. I’m up to date with all my work and perhaps a little ennui has bubbled up between the cracks (again). Perhaps because I’ve recently gone from eighty miles an hour down to twenty and twenty is sooo boring. Maybe I need one of these and some big empty roads to play on. Or some other unfettered adventure perhaps?

At least this July I’m to be spared the tedium of Mrs S’s symposium and it’s appalling vegan cuisine. I get to slob around Vancouver for a couple of days checking out the fleshpots. Maybe I’ll get out of the city and just head West for a couple of nights, stopping and starting as the muse takes me.

Satellite navigation

I own a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 10.1 inch screen tablet and a very useful piece of kit it is. I use it for handling email when away from base, Instagramming and Skyping with family. Even occasionally taking pictures. It also has a moderately decent ‘maps’ navigation feature and built in GPS chip. While we were in Paris last year it served us well. The little blue dot representing our position on any map was our best friend. It directed us back to our little apartment on many occasions when we had become turned around. This year, several Google upgrades on, this specific application has become not so user friendly.

Let me describe what happens; we fire up the application while we’re in wi-fi access, set our journey options and follow the little blue dot. Ten minutes later the little blue dot turns grey and stubbornly stays on one point of the map we passed twenty minutes before. Now we didn’t use to have to do this in Paris as in the factory default application before Google got their grubby little digital paws on it, all the maps were internal and updated whenever we were connected to the Internet. When not online, it worked as well as any Satnag I’ve ever used, and was a cut above in that it did not send us the wrong way down any one way streets. During our recent journey however, we lost contact on a number (Twenty? Fifty? I lost count) of critical junctures, leading to unnecessarily harsh words being spoken between driver and navigator.

Today I went and checked out a few tech forums, and rapidly found the answer. In the factory default, the original application works off ‘GPS only’. In the Google ‘upgrade’, it switched my device location (Without asking me for permission to do so) settings to ‘Internet and GPS’. In which mode the little blue dot stops for a breather without asking permission. The fix is simple; in the ‘Settings’ menu on your Tab. Select ‘Location’ menu and change location selector to ‘GPS only’. Check after each Google upgrade to ensure that the latest ‘upgrade’ has not switched it back. Bloody Google. They used to be so useful until they went all Microsoft on us.

As an aside: Google may be experimenting with self driving cars, but until they sort out the satellite navigation side, I certainly won’t consider riding in one.