X is for Xanadu

Xanadu: an idyllic, exotic, or luxurious place. X was always going to be difficult so I thought I’d give you my top ten places that I’ve enjoyed more than most and which haven’t already appeared in the list to date (and won’t squeeze into the remainder).

Sydney:

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Iconic view of the Opera House, circa August 1998

We ended up here after touring Oz for 8 weeks back in 1998. Since then I’ve visited three times on business. It is beautiful. The Harbour bridge, the Opera House, the green and cream ferries ploughing the trade.

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The Lawyer, aged 8, demonstrating the best use of the Opera House

The hills aren’t ridiculous but give it the sort of topography that a city needs to have character. If a city is flat then it needs walls or canals to compensate.  The Rocks is (are) cool.

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A view of and from the Rocks

The cricket ground a true place of homage. Even its business district has a neat compact charm. I don’t go a bundle on the beaches, mind – Bondi feels like it is its own pastiche. The zoo is quaint and Darling Harbour is all you would expect from a tourist rap but well done none the less. And if I do have a gripe, Sydney goes on for bloody ever: its suburbs frankly take the piss in spreading so far – not so much a sub-urban as post-urban. But the people have always been friendly, the food superb and there are few better ways to sped a few days than strolling around Sydney enjoying another sight or another easy going bit of banter. Go. But have energy; it’s vibrant.

San Francisco:

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A classic view of he Golden Gate Bridge as the morning fog is gradually burnt off

This is beautiful. No, it is BEAUTIFUL. But that’s not the best thing. It has the best climate in the world. Stuck between the Bay and the Pacific is self regulates to 72 degrees every day (give or take). Cross the Bay Bridge, head through the mountains and watch the thermometer climb a degree a mile until your vital organs have melted. Ok, it gets chilly in the morning with the fog and it does rain a bit in January but for the rest I defy you not to enjoy it as a visitor.

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Pier 39, the sea lions. Boy does it stink!

True, I prefer variety but, at a pinch, I’d take this.  And the BEAUTY? Did I mention the beauty? Well, ok it is sitting on a time bomb and one day it will disappear in a pudding of liquefaction so don’t be there then. But the fact it sits between various tectonic plates means the city is made up of small vertiginous rippling hills, best seen in the car chase in Bullitt.

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oh those beauteous hills…

They alone are worth the visit but drive down Lombard, cruise the Presidio, enjoy the museums. Sniff out a bargain in Chinatown or something retro in Haight Ashbury (it’s now so post post post modern it’s come back on itself); taste the chocolate splendours of Ghiradelli’s or the sourdough along the quay.

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December 2013: the Coit Tower in the distance

And do find time for the murals in the Coit Tower – America as a socialist paradise, discuss. And Alcatraz is worth a visit but book.

Tallinn:

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Up on the wall; it’s not as accessible as Dubrovnik but it as a more ramshackle charm

We ended one summer holiday here as a result of yet another example of dickhead tours in action. We planned to visit some Scandanavian capitals – Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki (we’d already seen Oslo some years ago) before ending in St Petersberg. Unfortunately I forgot to get visas to enter Russia and only realised in Stockholm. By then it was too late. However as readers will know, dickhead tours’ USP is that while  the original plans may crater there will always be an alternative. Tallinn.

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The place is full of churches

We caught a ferry across the Baltic – millpond calm it was – and spent three days in the walled city. It is medieval with Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, beautiful streets full of quaint and quirky buildings seemingly built one on top of the other with bars and restaurants at reasonable prices to suit any palate and pocket. Indeed a few too many booze tours and stag parties end up here so late nights are probably dreadful. But the daytime is a delight. One church, bombed out by the Luftwaffe in the 1940s was rebuilt by the atheist Russian backed government and is now a community centre and art space of much beauty.

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The winter palace – and me…

Outside Tallinn the Winter Palace tells of a time of a different Russian domination, under the Tsars. This is a fiercely independent country which has enjoyed a renaissance inside the EU and NATO. Try it before Putin tries to take it back.

Stockholm:

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Stockholm is water is Stockholm

As I said above Stockholm was on the same itinerary as Tallinn. By contrast it vaunts its many years of independence and liberalism openly and in Gamla Stan, the island housing the original settlement and the Royal Palace (with easily the most ridiculous household troop of any nation I’ve been to) it has a tiny jewel that warrants two days on its own. It had a Tintin shop, for goodness sake – the ultimate exemplar of civilisation at work.

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The model; if this is a it was, Wow!

Highlights include the modernist tapestry in the town hall, the exceptional Vasa, a ship that sank on its maiden voyage in the sixteenth century and lay buried in silt in 30 metres of water in the harbour until being discovered in the post war years and then, amazingly, brought to the surface and preserved. Stunning, gobsmacking. Oh, and do visit the Nobel museum. For a man who invented one of the most deadly of explosives, dynamite, Alfred Nobel has done a lot of good with his cash. The history of the peace prize made the visit for me.

Bristol:

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Brunel’s quite breath-taking suspension bridge

My alma mater, where I met the Textiliste, as I sold memberships of the law club during our freshers week in 1976. I remember the utterly beguiling blue eyes, full lip-bordered grin and a scarf that was twice as long as mine. We took our time falling in love but we didn’t stop once we started. You might say the same with Bristol. It is hilly and tiring and in places still shows off its scruffy history but it has corners of beauty and joy.

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You get some sense of the hilliness; a bane of an undergraduate who walks everywhere.

The university buildings, built with tobacco and slave money display the sort of grandiose splendour you would expect. The suspension bridge is completely stunning. The docks and the SS Great Britain tourist traps worth the time.

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There’s a lot of street art…

But wander Clifton, drink coffee, take in the Downs and the camera obscura, sniff out food and fashion in St Paul’s, find a Bansky stencilled on a wall and you will soon smoulder into a love affair that lasts a lifetime.

Cork:

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So old this is black and white… and the cheapest film at the time!

Ireland 1978. My degree done the Textiliste and I headed for Southern Ireland and a hitch hiking holiday from the ferry port at Rosslare to the  Ring of Beara and Bantry Bay. We camped; we shared cars with fussy Germans and wacky Norwegians; we stood at a bus stops and discoursed on the existence of God with a George Clooney lookalike, pissed to the point of grandiose articulacy.

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was I really this skinny – the scenery is stunning too!

We encountered generosity and suspicion, good nature and outright hostility. We ate simply, slept when the sun went down until it came up and saw the greenest, most beautiful countryside imaginable. I was too young to enjoy it fully, too old to feel entirely at ease and I knew that I needed to go back and do it justice. One day soon.

Amsterdam:

Amstedam is canals and cannabis cafes, or so the theory has it. But it is also bicycles and book shops. It has an architecture that repeats but is never quite the same. It is slow and at ease with itself and tells you, as does Venice how to work a city without cars. The Dutch are a fabulous people, ireverant and generous. They don’t do shame in the way we do across the channel. Take the nipple: in England the nipple today has the status that a homosexual man had in the 1950s – anxious to stay hidden, unsure and if displayed in public liable to generate sniggers or trigger anger; in Amsterdam the nipple is out and proud – it knows it is both repected and loved and, best of all, broadly ignored. What is not to like about a city, a nation that can embrace the nipple and make it feel welcome?

Bruges:

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A happy family Christmas break 2007

Ah Belgium. Name ten famous Belgians? Old joke. In Bruges it has answers to any questions asking ‘what is the point of Belgium?’ Like Amsterdam it has canals, like Tallinn it has a vibrant core that has a historic integrity. It is home to the most fabulous of chocolate shops and cafes.

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Just love this scene – very Bruges

It serves 400 varieties of beer, many flavoured (‘your usual arrowroot and cardamom Pilsner sir?’).

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Er and you were 15? What on earth were your parents’ thinking?

Go at Christmas for the market – Europe does many a Christmas market but Bruges is excellent – and enjoy the crisp air and the ice show that is stunning; even Bill Murrray in Groundhog Day would struggle to learn these techniques.

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Just superb

And now, with Eurostar so efficient (mostly) it is a hop, skip and jump away.

Tobago:

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And when it rains…

 

We’ve been to several Carribean Islands over the years but Tobago takes a lot of beating. It has rainforest as well as beaches. I wasn’t expected to ride a bloody horse which, believe me, is a definite plus. And it stimulated a lot of poetry. Frankly apart from the Turks and Caicos which was a complete disappointment, each island we have been to – Barbados, Antigua, St Lucia and Trindad – has offered something for the visitor if you want relaxation, some sights and a lot of cocktails and time to read – which, coupled with kid’s club is all the incentive I needed for a holiday when the sprogs were d’un certain age. And here’s a poem – I feel like a Vogon, forcing this on you but, hey, who’s writing this?

Sonnet of Sand

 The Disco Junk thrums past, a rainbow

On the puckered sea. Rock-like skulls,

Guano iced, are parliament to trilling gulls

Eyeing the coral fish, flashing their tarty show.

Cinnamon frosted babies, paint the beach

With plastic spades; eyeless parents, basted

For spit roasting; happy to have wasted

Their nurtured cash on dark staining their peach

White flesh. Seven days of frantic relaxation,

Spent anxiously checking for zebra stripes,

Are reward for a year’s dead-eyed toil. Gripes

Are banned; they have their compensation

In the form of a booze-induced coma

And the first stirrings of a melanoma.

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A Parliament of gulls

 

 

 

Sarf London:

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Dulwich Park; the pond, the walled garden where Shakespeare is performed in the summer and a community garden carries on the year round

Home. Heart. Peace. Safety. A bed that knows me. An oven that does my bidding. A space to write and a garden to grow. Streets that fit like worn slippers. Parks that envelope you in parental-like hugs. Nodding acquaintances. Easy access to the best, most culturally diverse place on the planet bar none (on yer bike, New York, you ain’t close).

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Me and my loyal companion – the much loved, now departed Blitz – we always enjoyed an ice cream

Weather rather than a climate. Tolerance in human form. If I could live anywhere at any time it would be here, now – unless the Textiliste wanted to move then I’d go.

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we do get snow; and when we do, the world becomes magical

Well, unless she wanted to move to North London. That would be intolerable.

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Multicultural moi!

 

 

 

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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25 Responses to X is for Xanadu

  1. Ula says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this tour. I’ve actually never been to any of the places you listed, except for a layover in Stockholm, so that doesn’t count. My husband has been to Bruges on business and claims it is one of the most beautiful cities he’s been to.
    My dog Inka resembles your Blitz. Dogs are the best.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yvonne says:

    You have got to stop writing so much!! How on earth do you do it? I can’t even keep up with reading it all!! 🙂
    I am jealous because on our tour of Aussieland we only had 4 weeks (including flights) so we didn’t make it to Sydney. (But the rainforest in Queensland was awesome!)
    I have been to Stockholm – once for about 5 hours, and we drove past Bristol once… Other than that, I will just have to stay jealous I think since you’ve been to so many amazing places!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I tell my kids, or rather I did when they were younger that I wasn’t going to buy them stuff beyond the needfuls but I would pay for them to experience as much of the world as we and they could and I kind of live by that creed. It’ s turned them into well rounded rather lovely citizens too so I think it’s been worth it.

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      • Yvonne says:

        I have a feeling that how you and the Textiliste brought your kids up in general probably has as much to do with them being lovely citizens as the travel – though the travel will have given them wonderful experiences to round that off beautifully.

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      • TanGental says:

        Thinking ahead to a certain theme I’m sure it is all about communication. I loathed the don’t do as I do do as I say approach to aprenting and teaching. The arbitrary rules that went explained and vowed I’d go through hell before I failed to explain why I wanted somethign or the kids needed to do x or y. It was a pain at times but I’m glad I did.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. willowdot21 says:

    Another great post!! I really enjoy the photos !

    Liked by 1 person

  4. noelleg44 says:

    You licked some wonderful Xanadu cities. I am most familiar with Amsterdam and San Francisco, which is my favorite of any city, And Bullitt – you mentioned Bullit! The best car chase movie ever! I introduced my son to the movie last year (he has several fast cars).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Loved the picture of the kid sliding down the Opera house, not sure if you would be able to get away with something like that now.
    Sydney’s suburbs really do go on forever, and its ever expanding. Alot to be found however. hidden away in its suburbs.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Charli Mills says:

    A tour through Xanadu (and now Olivia Newton John is singing in my head). San Fransisco is nearing my home-town turf. That fog rolls along to the furthest of the Steinbeck Country valleys tucked up beneath the coastal range of the Gabilan Mountains and you will find true-blue buckaroos. So close to the City by the Bay, so close to Silicon Valley, yet it still harbors old ranchos, vineyards and rodeos unlike anywhere else (buckaroos can milk wild cows and throw figure-eight loops in addition to steer-wrestling, broc-busting and bull-riding). Ah…I can still smell the sourdough bread! Thanks for letting me wax nostalgic among your waxings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Now that has to be in my next visit there. We go to visit close friends every three years or so.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Charli Mills says:

        I was born in Hollister and my family has ranched the Tres Pinos and Paicines area for seven generations. We raised cattle, horses, hay, turkeys and apricots. Here’s some places to visit if you take the inland drive from the Bay Area: Old Mission San Juan Bautista, Ridgemark Golf & Country Club, San Benito County Saddle Horse Show & Rodeo (where I won my trophy for goat-tying), Panoche Hills (and one day I’ll tell you what that word means), Rancho Cienega de los Paicines (an authentic California rancho where I grew up riding horses and, strangely enough, home to a fox hunting club), Bertuccio’s Apricot Orchards (dried apricots are condensed California sunshine), Casa de Fruita in the Pacheco Pass area, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Tres Pinos, Pinnacles National Park (great hiking), and make sure you eat tamales at Progresso Tamale Parlor in Hollister. There’s lots of wineries, but most are newer to my recollections. If you like riding motor cross, you can go tear up the Hollister Hills.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. trifflepudling says:

    A good read, and I now feel badly under-travelled! The only non-UK place on your Xanadu list I’ve been to is San Francisco but I didn’t take to it at all and ended up with an awful cold a few days later! Afterwards I read the Tales of the City books and wished I’d taken more notice of the place, though.
    Enjoyed the poem, and the last line is priceless.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Rachel M says:

    Nice! Looks like you’ve had some great holidays. Sydney is an urban sprawl. All Australasian cities are. It’s a consequence these cities developing after the invention of the automobile and it’s one of the reasons I think UK cities are much better places to live.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. roweeee says:

    Great to Sydney listed as one of your Xanadu locations. Love the place, except the traffic has become hellish and it could well soon be declared the world’s largest car park. Now, that’s something for the tourist brochures! You are feeding my travel bug and am feeling like an adventure. Well, off to the Mother’s Day breakfast at the school in the morning. There is also a warm gooeyness about being at home somewhere too!…as you seem to agree.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Autism Mom says:

    Such amazing places you have visited! Wonderful! I have not yet visited Oz and really should. Of course, the City by the Bay is an old stomping ground. My dad visited Estonia regularly on business and I have some “amber” he brought me from Tallinn (not sure if it is real or the orange plastic they sell to tourists… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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