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Category archive: Travel

Saturday October 31 2015

It seems that I am not the only one reminiscing about photos taken nearly a decade ago.  The Atlantic is now doing this, with the help of NASA and its Cassini orbiter, and the Cassini orbiter’s oresumably now rather obsolete camera:

Saturn’s sixth-largest moon, Enceladus (504 kilometers or 313 miles across), is the subject of much scrutiny, in large part due to its spectacular active geysers and the likelihood of a subsurface ocean of liquid water. NASA’s Cassini orbiter has studied Enceladus, along with the rest of the Saturnian system, since entering orbit in 2004. Studying the composition of the ocean within is made easier by the constant eruptions of plumes from the surface, and on October 28, Cassini will be making its deepest-ever dive through the ocean spray from Enceladus - passing within a mere 30 miles of the icy surface. Collected here are some of the most powerful and revealing images of Enceladus made by Cassini over the past decade, with more to follow from this final close flyby as they arrive.

Here is a picture of Enceladus taken on June 10th 2006:


That is picture number 25, or rather, a horizontal slice of it.

Beyond Enceladus and Saturn’s rings, Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is ringed by sunlight passing through its atmosphere. Enceladus passes between Titan and Cassini ...

That’s right.  Those two horizontal, ever so slightly converging white lines and the edge of the Rings of Saturn.

Picture number 10 is even more horizontalisable:


A pair of Saturn’s moons appear insignificant compared to the immensity of the planet in this Cassini spacecraft view. Enceladus, the larger moon is visible as a small sphere, while tiny Epimetheus (70 miles, or 113 kilometers across) appears as a tiny black speck on the far left of the image, just below the thin line of the rings.

That one was taken on November 4th 2011.

My thanks, for the second time in as many days, to 6k for pointing me to these amazing images.

Saturday October 24 2015

The week’s latest manifestation of the Michael Portillo Train Journey Show took us to Austria, and featured a spectacular viaduct, which made it possible for trains to go from Vienna to Trieste, the one big seaport of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire.  This is the Kalte Rinne-Viadukt, which gets the trains through the Semmering Pass.  I think I have that right.

Here is what it looks like, from above:


The man who designed and supervised the building of this railway would appear to be a very big cheese in that part of the world.

Now for another picture which tells you about something else that is going on in that part of the world, something Michael Portillo did not mention.

They’re building a tunnel:


I found that map (here it is bigger) at a place placed on the www in 1996.  Amazing. 

As part of an on-going programme to improve national and international railway links for the year 2000 and beyond, Austria embarked on excavation of a 9.8km-long pilot tunnel ahead of full construction of the planned 22km-long Semmering base line tunnel through the Alps. The new tunnel is on the domestic route between Vienna and Villach, which is on the main Trans-European railway route between the states of middle and eastern Europe and the Mediterranean harbours in Italy. The new alignment will supplement the existing 41km-long route, which was built more than 100 years ago and winds slowly and steeply up and over the Semmering Pass. At the lower elevation the new tunnel will allow for higher train speeds, ensure continued services through severe weather conditions and reduce travel times substantially. When complete, the new ‘fast’ track will carry high-speed passenger services and heavy freight trains while the existing mountain pass railway will continue as a local community service and as a tourist attraction through the spectacular Alpine landscape.

Work began on the tunnel in 1994, checking out the route, preliminary drillings, that kind of thing.  Amazingly, the tunnel only got the actual green light to be actually made, constructed, dug, drilled, built, tunnelled, in May of this year.  The present schedule says that the thing will only be finished in 2024.

In other words, it’s going to take thirty years from first use of a digger in anger, so to speak, to the last.  That sounds to me like a lot of years.

Tuesday October 13 2015

Here are the last pictures from my trip to Richmond last week that I’ll be showing you.  They are both of a house.

No cranes.  No roof clutter.  No scaffolding.  No white vans.  No taxis.  No Big Things in the background.  No me, reflected in it.  Nobody else photoing it, or even doing a painting of it.

Just a house, and some leaves:


But not any old house.  It was once the home of Henrietta Howard, Mistress of His Maj King George 2.  How do I know this?  From this sign:


Click on that if you don’t believe me and the above picture is too small for you to read properly.

Tip for when you are out and about photoing.  Take pictures of signs. That way you record not only what you saw, but what it was.  Maybe you won’t care about that in five or ten or twenty years time, if and when you are looking back through your pictures.  Maybe “P1250679.JPG” will be enough for you.  But maybe it won’t.

Friday October 09 2015

Later on, in Richmond, still beside the river, but upstream, practically in the country, I espied a cat.  Here is the context, and the cat:


In other cat-related news, 6k did a cat-related posting for me to link to last Friday.  He mentioned me in the first line, and then showed one of my photos, but I only realised that there was cattery later in the posting too late for last Friday so I had to wait a week.  He went on to mention that video of that giant white fluffy Goodie stroke James Bond villain kitten attacking the BT Tower.  Said 6k:

Yes. Kittens were huge (literally) in popular culture, even before the internet was around.

Very true.

And if Brian reads this before the end of the day, he’s got a lovely Feline Friday tie-in opportunity with his post from yesterday.

Better a week late than never.  (There is also a cat connection in this posting, which is about the head of another sort of big cat.)

6k is taking a bit of a break, or so he says.  I’ll still keep checking in, just to see.  “For personal reasons”.  Ah yes, there are lot of those about, rampaging the earth, closing blogs and generally causing havoc.  Me, I try to avoid having personal reasons.

Another favourite blogger of mine features more cattery here, in the form of East End high end graffiti.

Thursday October 08 2015

When I photo a scene, I like to get other people’s screens into my pictures:


The weather was grim and grey today, when I took the above snaps, but the paintings were bright!

Painting.  Before computers, this was how they did Photoshop.

Saturday October 03 2015

Here being Epping Underground Station, which is not actually underground, but you know what I mean.

As already recounted here, I was recently in Epping.  But I just looked again at the photos I took that day and realised that, fascinating though the M11 is, this sign is even more interesting:


I did not know there was such a thing as the Epping Way.  But there is.  It is 82 miles long.  Did you already know about this “way”, from Epping to Harwich?  I didn’t.

This is not really a case of “blog and learn”, but blogging did help, because as so often I was looking for something interesting to pass on.  Which meant I first had to learn something more about it besides its name on a sign.

I also like the photo.  Without photography I would have completely forgotten about this.

When I was at Essex University, I used to go there from London by train, or by car, or by bus.  Now I learn that I could have walked, by what would presumably have mostly been a rather scenic route.

Thursday September 03 2015

This afternoon I was meeting someone at London City Airport, and while waiting for their flight to arrive I took this photo, of the big TV screen showing flight arrivals:


Milan, Alitalia.  Amsterdam, CityJet.  Exeter, Flybe.  Isle of Man, British Airways.  Okay.  But what is Rotterdam, “Jet Centre”?  And what of London Biggin Hill, “Jet Centre”?  That was the one that got me noticing this.  Biggin Hill?  I didn’t realise that was any sort of regular London airport.

Googling, when I got back home to my desk, confirmed my earlier guess that wherever it says “Jet Centre”, this means it’s a private jet, leaving from the “Jet Centre” at wherever it was.  I am still not entirely clear about this, but that does seem to be what is happening.  Can anyone confirm or correct this?

Private jets, and the people wafted hither and thither in them, inhabit a world that I pretty much never encounter.  But at London City Airport, assuming I’m right about the “Jet Centre” equals private jet thing, the worlds of value-for-money regular-people aviation and of money-no-object plutocrat aviation overlap, to the point where both of these worlds appear on the same London City Airport TV screen.  Whether the plutocrats use the same airport facilities as the rest of us, I do not know.  Same runways, presumably.  But same arrivals and departures places?  I suspect not.

Either way, I bet it costs them.  I guess it’s a case of if you have to ask, then you can’t afford it, but I have to ask.  How much do they charge to land a private jet near to the middle of London?  Excuse me while I do some more Googling. …

Well, I still don’t know, but according to this piece, there is no London airport in the top ten on the list, so it must cost less than £2,530.  I was expecting it to be a bit more than that, somehow.

There is every chance that, by and by, Michael Jennings, globetrotter extraordinaire, will append a comment to this posting.  If he does, you can be sure that his comment will be a lot more informative than this posting has been.

Tuesday August 04 2015

Most of the things I tell you about at this blog are the sort of things that will keep for a month.

This view, for instance, looks exactly the same today, apart from any weather differences, as it did on the day I photoed it, nearly a month ago.  Okay, weather does make a difference, so these Things probably did look quite different today to how they looked on July 7.  But, they won’t have moved:


G(od)D(aughter) 2 wanted to visit countryside.  And I wanted to visit Richmond Park.  At Christian Michel’s, on the July 6 manifestation of his 6/20 meetings, I had had a Distant Views of London’s Big Things conversation.  Hotel ME, Parliament Hill (click on that to see what a huge difference different weather can make, in the space of a few minutes), this rather hard to describe one, that kind of thing.  Richmond Park, said this most obliging woman.  Have you tried that view?  No, said I.  You should, said she.  So, Richmond Park was the perfect spot for me and GD2 to visit.  GD2 wanted rurality.  I wanted a new and exciting view of urbanity.

The picture above is a rather extreme case of a good photo taken badly.  (I will return some time Real Soon New and take it better.) But I like it, because it records the moment when I first saw that the woman the night before had been spot on.  Wow.  There’s London.  Mission accomplished.

But soon, the views got a bit better, and so did the photos:


That’s a photo taken with my now maximum zoom (maybe this will get zoomier some time soonish).  The next two are me easing off on the zoom, to show not only London itself, but how London looks from Richmond Park, by including a bit more of Richmond Park.


I like these snaps so much that I took a long time pointlessly fretting about how exactly to display them here.  In the end, I just did what Hartley always does.  I just piled them up vertically.


The Walkie Talkie looks particularly fine in these snaps, I think.  However, it is becoming harder defend this building, even though I am determined to go on doing this.  Not content with firing death rays down onto the street in front of it, this building, it is now being said, is doing terrible things to the local weather.  The death rays were easily corrected, but changing these wind effects will be much harder.  Basically, those on the receiving end will have to get used to it, one way or another, which might include more architecture.

This is the kind thing that happens when you build a building which is a different shape to all previous buildings.  You find out that there are reasons why people mostly don’t build buildings this shape.  No, that’s not quite it.  You find out that whereas regular-shaped buildings, having been built a million times, have had all the bugs ironed out of them, this is not true of your building.  Simply nobody know exactly how to build it.  Not you, not anybody.

Saturday June 13 2015

A while back I visited a friend in Epping, and during our ramblings in Epping Forest that day, it was mentioned that there was a spot in that general area where the Big Things of London could be seen.  Seen from a great distance, but seen, in a gap between the trees.

Lured by the promise of this view, I returned, the Sunday before last, and was duly shown this view.  You could see what appeared to be the BT Tower, and when I got home I confirmed that it was indeed the BT Tower.  But, handsome though the BT Tower is, there is more to the towers of London than the BT tower.  Never mind.  I contented myself with photoing decaying farm machines.

But there are no decaying farm machine photos in this posting, and for that matter no photos of the BT Tower.  Because.  About an hour later, in weather that (as had been promised by the weather forecasters) was improving, we stumbled (if you can stumble in a car) on a vastly improved view of London.  We only got to that because my friend was using a hoped-for short cut to show me an antique railway station or a church or some such thing.  But suddenly I yelled that the view I had hoped to see an hour earlier was now viewable.  Stop the car.  Stop the car.  Let me get out and photo … this:


There they all are: Strata (the one with three holes in the top) Shard, Walkie-Talkie, Gherkin, Cheesegrater, Heron Tower, Natwest Tower, Spraycan.  They’re all there.  Apart from the BT Tower which is away to the right and hidden behind a hill.

As so often at this blog, what you are looking at is a great photo, taken just about technically well enough for you to realise what an even greater photo in all respects this could have been, if taken by a Real Photographer at the top of his Real Photographer game.

The only reason it has taken so long for me to stick up this picture is that, as you can surely imagine, I took a great many shots like this one, but later could not decide which one was the least mediocre.  All were very striking (because of what was in them), and rather blurry (because I’m a blurry kind of photographer when I take shots like these), and interrupted by wires in the foreground (because I did not see those until I got home). 

imageBut I do have just one more photo to stick up here, containing as it does the vital information telling Real Photographers exactly where they need to go, to take this picture properly.

I took that photo on the right, of our location displayed on its map by my smartphone, in the car, just before we continued to what had been intended as our next destination.  As you can see from this, we were well beyond the M25.  The small blue blob in the middle is the location.  Subsequent google mappery confirmed that we were twenty miles and more from the centre of London.

Sadly, the small blue blob in the middle is pointing, very misleadingly, in a completely different direction to the direction in which I pointed my camera to photo London.  London is located below and to the left, i.e. towards the south west, the M25 being the road around London and the M11 being the road from the territory to the north east of London (involving such places as Cambridge), to London.

This spot is not all that far from Epping tube station.  On a better day, I will return.

This view combines great distance with definite visibility to a degree that I have not experience and photographed from any other place.  Does anybody know of any place that scores higher by this combined measure?

I include cranes in the category list below.  There are, as always with big pictures of London, cranes.

Monday April 27 2015

One of my favourite buildings that I’ve never seen is the recently completed (quite recently completed - 2008) Oslo Opera House, which looks like this:


Sooner or later, some big public building was bound to be built like this, with a roof that doubles up as a big public open space, where you can walk to the highest spot on the building’s roof, without once having to go indoors.

Oslo Opera has become a new landmark for the city and proved an instant success with both locals and tourists.

And of course, that roof doesn’t have to be the bland and featureless desert that this one is, in this picture.  Sooner or later, it will acquire roof clutter!  Perhaps it already has.

As entire cities compete with one another for tourists, buildings like this, with walkabout roofs, will surely become ever more common, as ever more tourists search, as I search, for places up in the sky from which to take tourist snaps.  It is no accident that I found the above picture and quote at a site called Visit Norway.  (Although sadly, this Visit Norway site fucks with the links and causes them not to work, and these fucked links also fuck with subsequent links which are none of Visit Norway’s damn business. This caused me major problems, until I just stripped out all Visit Norway linkage, at which point sanity was restored.  So if you care, you’ll have to find the damn place for yourself.  I think Visit Norway was trying to help. It failed.  Norway, sort this out.)

Even as I praise this building, I make no judgement about what goes on inside it.  The point of these “iconic” buildings - horizontal Big Things - you might say, is that they are fun to visit, regardless of their mere indoor contents.  See also: Tate Modern.  After all, one of the advantages of a roof like this is that the roof can be enjoyed even as the inside of the building can be entirely ignored.

What got me writing about this Oslo building was a recent posting at Dezeen, featuring another proposed building by the same architects, Snohetta (which has a forward slash through the “o") which uses the same trick, of people being able to walk up to the top in a big zig zag.  This time it is a museum in Budapest:


And oh look, I went to the Sn o-with-forward-slash hetta website, and here is another Snohetta proposal, using the same trick, for another opera house, this time in Busan, South Korea:


With the design of the Busan Opera, the opera is no longer a passive playground for the elite but becomes interactive, democratic space, responding to the public’s ambitions and interests.

This is architect speak for:

People can walk about on the roof and take photos without having to sit through some stupid damn opera.

And oh look, again.  Snohetta have also proposed that a new media centre in Vienna should look like this:


Look again, and you encounter the Barack Obama Presidential Center:


These last two are not so zig zag, but the principle is the same.

London awaits you, Snohettans.

Wednesday February 18 2015

Today was the first first day of spring, so to speak.  By this I mean that it was the first day of 2015 which made in clear that winter would eventually end and that summer would eventually arrive.  Cool, but blue sky and sunshine.  Meanwhile, winter may soon resume but spring at least is now officially on its way, and will happen.

As a technically rather incompetent photographer, heavily dependent on good light, I rejoice.  The season of rootling through the archives is nearly over.  The season of adding to the archives is getting started.

And, also today, I went to a funeral, in Salisbury, which is about an hour and half out of London by train, in a south westerly direction.  The last time I ventured out of London into that part of England that is not-London for a ceremony, the weather was similarly excellent

As soon as we stepped out of Salisbury station, strange and exotic sights presented themselves, such as this Stonehenge Tour Bus:


But there was something odd about it.  It appeared to be leaning over somewhat, away from us.  When I got round to the front of it, I saw that appearances had not deceived.  It was leaning over:


How can a bus do that?  Was the suspension malfunctioning?  Was the Stonehenge Bus leaning over on purpose, in order to help a wheelchair bound passenger to embark?  Was it partly parked on the pavement, and was a suspension computer overcompensating?  Was there a kink in the road, downwards, next to the pavement?

I couldn’t hang about to investigate or to ask.  We had a funeral to get to.  But, odd.

Friday February 13 2015

One of the many pleasures of visiting my friends in Quimper, i.e. Goddaughter 2 and her family, is their cat, who is called Caesar.  Is?  Alas: was.  When I said goodbye to Caesar before coming back home last January, I feared that I’d not be seeing him again, and so it has proved, all too quickly.  A few days ago his faltering liver finally gave out completely, and to spare him more grief and pain he was put to sleep.

I took no photos of Caesar when I visited for the New Year, but took several last August, when I last visited.  Here is one of those pictures:


I took that at the same time I took the two photos of Caesar in this earlier posting.  If you try, you can imagine from that picture that Caesar has only two legs and is standing upright.  Not that you’d want to.

He is and will continue to be much missed.

I just came across this Economist piece from last November (I think that link will keep on working), saying that there may soon be ultra-cheap trans-Atlantic flights.  I did not know this.

Norwegian Air Shuttle, a low-cost carrier that has been expanding rapidly across Europe, has begun flying across the Atlantic and to Thailand. Next March Wow Air, an Icelandic carrier, will start flights on routes such as Boston to London, via Reykjavik, with introductory prices as low as $99 one way.

Time was when …:

… the fuel burned by long-haul planes made up a large proportion of the cost of operating the flights. That made it hard for budget carriers to find enough cost savings elsewhere to cut prices sufficiently to tempt flyers to switch from carriers offering more comforts.

This is now changing, with the launches of some new and far more fuel-efficient planes: Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, already in the air, Airbus’s A350, which will start flying within weeks, and a revamped version of Airbus’s A330, coming in 2019. Ryanair’s boss, Michael O’Leary, recently reiterated a promise that he would eventually sell transatlantic flights from as little as €10 ($13) one-way and with average return fares of around €200-300. The full-service airlines will also be ordering these new planes, but their cost disadvantage compared with the nimble budget carriers (because of such things as their legacy pension schemes and labour agreements) will become more stark.

Perhaps I will one day set foot in the USA after all.

As for that Economist link above, no, unless you subscribe.  You have to google “making laker’s dream come true”.  Then you can read it.

Or: this link seems to get you straight to a recycled version of the piece.

Wednesday February 11 2015

One of the better kept secrets of the popular entertainment industry of the modern world is how very good certain people are at faking reality, with quite small but very well made models.  Thoughtless people say they can always spot such fakery.  But the truth is that they only spot what they spot.  What they don’t spot, they don’t spot.  Obvious, if you think about it.  The same principle applies to things like men wearing wigs.  We can only see them when they are done badly.

So, I’m guessing that not everyone in Hollywood will be pleased about the internet presence of this guy, who contrives pictures like this ...:


… by doing this:


I found out about Michael Paul Smith from this Colossal posting, which is also where I got the above photos.

Much of the success of such fakery is to do with the camera being in the right place.  In particular, it needs to be low enough to see things from the same angle that a human would see them if the scene was real.

I remember first working this out when, as a kid, I went through a model railway magazine phase, a craze I caught from my best friend just a few doors away in Harvest Road, Englefield Green.  Most of the pictures in those magazines were obviously of models, but this was not because the models were always badly made.  It was because the camera was looking down on the scene, just as you do when you are looking at a model.  On the few occasions when the photographer would take the trouble to get his camera at real eye level, so to speak, it was amazing how realistic everything could suddenly look.

By the same token, and being only an occasional flyer, I have never yet tired of the thrill of looking down at the ground, preferably at built-up areas, from an airplane in the process of taking off or landing.  Everything looks like toys.  Really, really well made toys.  Your frequent flyers have got used to the idea that this is really just boring old reality, seen from above.  But to me, what I see from an airplane is something totally different from reality.  It is an entire world, painstakingly faked in miniature, for my personal entertainment.

Saturday February 07 2015

Yes, I spent the whole of today telling myself that it was only Saturday but feeling it to be Sunday.

For starters, the first of this year’s Six Nations games happened yesterday, on Friday.  I don’t remember that happening lately.  Isn’t the first 6N game usually on Saturday?  And then today, I went to a birthday party at Rob Fisher’s home, in the afternoon, out in the deep suburbs. Which was nice, but that’s something I associate with a Sunday rather than a Saturday.  It was the quite early start and the quite early finish that did it.  Saturday jollifications usually seem to start later and end later.  I’m not complaining about the timing, you understand, just saying that it messed with my head.

I was telling myself this all day long, yet still, when I was in the train back to London, I was thinking that I needed to buy some milk and some bread, but reckoning that I’d be too late for any of the big supermarkets, which are the ones which have the cheapest milk and the sort of bread I like, on account of these big supermarkets closing early, what with today being a Sunday.

Not that I mind any of this.  It’s been a great weekend so far, and there is still a whole day of it left.  England beat Wales in that 6N game last night, and today, Spurs beat Arsenal.  Spurs are my favourite football team, but I’m not a proper Spurs fan, because if Arsenal are involved but if Spurs aren’t, I like Arsenal to win.  Your real Spurs fan wants Arsenal thrashed, by Sporting Beelzebub if that’s who Arsenal are playing.

It actually is now Sunday, and I am cheating on the timing of this posting, by a short while.  The day ends when I got to bed is my rule, and I make the rules here.  What are you going to do?  Cancel your subscription?