JC’s September Swan Around…

The first day of the month – and we’re in Vienna!

It’s only just up the road from Bratislava – or rather just up the river. The Danube – if you want to get all riparian about it.

Boarding the hydrofoil, the short distance took us along the river into Austria, enjoying what views there were through the rain-splattered windows. A lowering skyline of dark cloud hemmed the embankments in Bratislava, Devin and Hainburg; meadow forests and fishermen’s cottages, crumbling castle ruins and fortification walls were all passed as we journeyed on.

Negotiating the dam of Freudenau was somewhat finicky before we finally reached our destination.

Although it rained all day – not even stopping for one minute – it didn’t prevent us from having a  splendid time in the city.

Of course, when there’s a cathedral available, it’s only polite to pop in and have an admire.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral has borne witness to many important events in Habsburg and Austrian history and, with its ornately patterned, richly coloured roof, it has become one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.

Little Asides Warning:

The funeral of the Italian composer, Antonio Vivaldi occurred in this cathedral in 1741.

Beethoven discovered just how deaf he was when he noticed birds flying out of the bell tower as a result of the bells’ tolling but could not hear the bells.

A memorial tablet gives a detailed account of Mozart’s relationship with the cathedral. This was his parish church when he lived here – he was married here, two of his children were baptised here, and his funeral was held in the Chapel of the Cross.

After a thorough perusal of all things cathedrally (it was still chucking it down outside), we headed for the Café Central for a thoroughly splendid lunch with some legendary cake to finish things off.

The café occupies the ground floor of the former Bank and Stock Market Building, and was a key meeting place of the Viennese intellectual scene. It is a classy affair and boasted many famous customers including regular patrons Freud, Trotsky, Lenin and Hitler.

Often they would all meet up and have a game of Scrabble.

(OK, I made that last bit up).

Palais_Ferstel“Palais Ferstel” by Florian Prischl



Cafe_Central_in_Vienna_interior_near_portraits“Cafe Central in Vienna interiors” by Clayton Tang

Finally, we pitched up at the Belvedere for the Klimts.

The Belvedere owns many works by the renowned Austrian artist Gustav Klimt including the famous Kiss and Judith (that’s two paintings!)

The Belvedere is a historic building complex, consisting of two Baroque palaces with grounds set on a gentle gradient, including decorative tiered fountains and cascades, sculptures, and some impressive wrought iron gates. The Baroque palace complex was built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy – jammy beggar!


Belvedere_Vienna_June_2006_009“Belvedere” by Gryffindor



“Carlo Innocenzo Carlone – Prince Eugene as a new Apollo and leader of the Muses”




The Kiss

Vienna was an effortlessly easy city to get around – the trams and the Metro ensuring we made as much of the day as possible.

It was still raining next day back in Bratislava…

We checked out – Steve was charged an extortionate 24 Euros for a jug of orange juice he’d accidentally broken at breakfast. It marred what had until then been an excellent choice of lodgings – the Mama’s Design & Boutique Hotel.

We mooched around the city, taking coffee and cake at the UFO Restaurant – a stylish venue at the top of Novy Most (New Bridge) that spanned the Danube. Apparently, the deck of the restaurant was not accessible to people during communism in order to prevent people from seeing capitalist Austria!

Further mooching took in an Irish bar that had become something of a favourite of ours and, for want of a cultural interlude, we also visited the Bratislava City Gallery.

However, there was little of interest there to keep us away from the bars, and our trip was rounded off with a thorough perusal of said establishments.



The RSPB insists you’ll love the big skies, sandy beach and bird-filled marshes of Titchwell Marsh and they’re not wrong – it’s an outstanding nature reserve to put it mildly.

It was a bit of jaunt getting to this part of north Norfolk from the Midlands but it is well worth the effort – not least because I got to see an Arctic Skua.

These are nasty, vicious birds with plenty of attitude to spare and they’ll think nothing of ripping after a gull or tern to steal its catch – or to even kill the actual bird sometimes.

I love ‘em, I really do!

I forgot to include a nature notes warning so you’ll just have to plough through this part…

The walk from the visitor centre heads down to the sandy beach past reedbeds and the shallow lagoons, which were chocka with birds. The Parrinder Hide is a work of art – fantastically funky, if that’s still a word that can still be banded about without too much derision. The usual suspects were in plentiful supply with a nice turn in curlew sandpiper and avocet.


To finish off the month on a suitably cultural footnote, I went to see the Kite Runner at the Birmingham Rep with friends from the college.

Here’s the five star review from the Birmingham Mail, which saves me the job:

The Kite Runner at Birmingham Rep

Tears are welling in my eyes as I think back to this moving story of two young boys growing up in Afghanistan and the different fates that befall them – tempered by their own personalities and the political, social and economic events that they live through.
It stars just 10 actors (of which there is just one woman), plus a drummer, who are aided by a few different backdrops and a bit of clever lightening.
Yet the audience is transported through three decades and from the streets of Kabul to the sunny beaches of California on emotional roller coaster which explores father-son relationships, social values, love and violence – including some brutally disturbing incidents.
This is a sad story, but it is peppered with biting humour and hope and shines a different light onto Afghanistan, the country which has been at the centre of the War on Terror, Osama bin Laden and opium.
May be it is not a surprise that the play is so good as it is based on Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 international best seller.
But replicating such a complex story which spans such a long period and crosses the globe cannot have been an easy feat.
Speaking ahead of the opening night in Birmingham playwright Matthew Spangler explained: “Part of the pleasure in reading the Kite Runner and, I hope, seeing the play is that there is just so much in it.”
He met Khaled through a mutual friend in San Francisco before he set about writing the piece and it is obvious that the author’s input has been invaluable to its success – 95 per cent of his notes to Spangler contained changes he would have put in the book.
Attention to detail is another ingredient that has helped to ensure the impact of the story is maximised.
A cultural consultant is hired for each production and Spangler re-writes some of the prose to suit the different actors playing the main parts.
Superb acting by Nicholas Karimi (Assef), Andre Costin (Hassan/Sohrab) and David Ahmad (Kamal) ensured the story is portrayed with full impact.


JC’s Autumnal August

A very autumnal August to say the least!

And as I’m writing this in September (always so tardy, this blog), its fair to say September is making a better job of summer than August ever did!

The blustery weather’s enough to make anyone go cultural, so I indulged this month’s leanings with a visit to the Gas Hall Art Gallery, and a quick gander at the latest exhibition: Marvellous Machines: The Wonderful World of Rowland Emett.

This exhibition is the biggest ever display of Emett’s work, and tells the story of his life living and working in Birmingham. It featured a selection of whimsical machines and cartoons created by this eccentric English inventor.

The quirky moving machines, or automata as they are known, included items from the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as well as some fantastical flying machines, plus a bicycle for cycling across the moon.

Here’s a piccy from the website…




Now that I’ve mentioned Birmingham, I thought I’d share this little snippet about the city and the Flintstones. It’s a tenuous link but quite interesting:

Brylcreem was first manufactured in Birmingham at the County Chemical Company. It was first advertised on TV by the jingle ‘Brylcreem – a little dab’ll do ya!’

It has been claimed that the famous “Yabba Dabba Do!” of the Flinstones was inspired by the Bryclcreem jingle. Al Reed, who was Fred’s voice, was supposed to have shouted Yahoo but thought Yabba Dabba Do sounded better!

I’ve been browsing through the Little Book of Birmingham by Norman Bartlam and all sorts of mad stuff can be found inside.


There was a surfeit of cultural stuff this month with viewings of The Inbetweeners 2 movie as well as Guardians of the Galaxy. I’ll be on the BBC 2 Culture Show at this rate.


The monthly Fell-Walking Club took us to the criminally under-rated Shropshire Way for some splendid sauntering.

Here’s Roy with a blistering account:
The route: Field path to Clapping Wicket, then to View Wood and south to Brandhill, then east to Whittytree to Onibury. Then north west returning to Stokesay.

Lunch: Apple Tree, Onibury. Limited range of beers and snacks.

Terrain: Pasture, arable and woodland walking, a little hilly in places.

Cheers, Roy!

After the pub lunch, there was an unusual array of cars smothered by the undergrowth, which – if Trev’s attempt to open the public telephone box was anything to go by – must be on steroids around these parts.



car2  car3





A significant birthday party for Christina was occurring in Weymouth so it was essential I went down a few days early to acclimatise. Annie was driving so a stopover at the Clarke’s Village at Street was a given.

The usual routine followed our stay – with obviously plenty of drink being involved along the way – plus several breakfasts at the Swan. We celebrated Chris’s big day in a very sunny garden before everyone headed into town for the live music.

A great time was indubitably had by all…

On Monday, it being a Bank Holiday, there was naturally plenty of rain about. A few of us went to watch the El Jurassico where Weymouth FC beat local rivals Dorchester Town 2-0.


I’ve not been to Dudley Zoo for years. I’m not massively fond of zoos but Dudley Zoo has certainly improved since the last time I went. So many of the enclosures were spacious with the emphasis always on conservation and breeding programmes.

The lion and chimpanzee areas were huge compared to what they used to be like, and the animals all seem to be in fine fettle. I think the flamingos are in the same place they’ve always been for a zillion years or more.


The end of August saw Steve, Gez and myself flying off for a short break in Bratislava in Slovakia.

Fortunately, our first full day there was on the 31st – so I can post the rest of the trip in next month’s blog!

Although a substantial chunk of our day was spent lazing on the banks of the Danube with a couple of beers, and flitting between various Bratislavan landmarks such as the castle and the Irish pub, we had – prior to this – enjoyed a tour around the lesser known districts of the city in an 1974 Skoda.

This was billed as a funky retro tour and took us through off-the-beaten-track places of the communist past and the recent transformation of the city.

If you want to check out the website:


It was a gloomy old start to the day but this seemed to enhance the atmosphere and landscape – and clearly got rid of the tourists!













We visited concrete housing estates, including the legendary Petržalka district (no, I hadn’t heard of it either). We wandered around the largest cemetery for Soviet solders under the Slavín monument, and drifted past abandoned factories (seemingly right out of a film set).

Eventually we fetched up at the bunker line from 1938.

In the historic rooms of the pre-war bunker B-S 4, the history of the fortress and its everyday life came alive. Steel loop holes, massive concrete walls and original air cleaning system were still in place as well as objects that no fortress can do without: weapons and weapon systems, turrets, ammunition, storage rooms, uniforms and other soldiery stuff. An authentic bathroom, sleeping rooms and the commander’s office room offered interesting insights into the past.

An old faded photograph shows Hitler mooching around it front of the S 4 bunker. I lifted it from the official website www.mpo.sk so go visit as its worth a peek (and you can see how often I pinch such things to bulk out my blog…)





The tour was ended with a suitably agreeable pint at an old communist pub on an old communist estate…