Friday 23 September 2011

Cities where I got an unexpected........ 'welcome'!

In a previous blog I've told about my one and only visit to New York (1969) and the very first time I went out of the hotel when, within a couple of minutes, I was menaced for money by a gang of youths who surrounded me, one holding out his hand with a big grin on his face, knowing they had got 'easy meat' - which they indeed had. In my naivety, I'd gone wandering out alone, camera hanging round neck, looking up in wonder at this famed place, which everyone knew of and, at least at that time, few non-Americans had visited.. I was a sitting duck - and I'd advertised it..
    That was an unpleasant lesson which I've never forgotten. Ever since then I've tried to look as inconspicuous as I can and walk purposefully, even if it's in a place where I've never been before.
   However, there have been experiences less alarming, though not particularly edifying - like my first visit to Amsterdam when, again after leaving my hotel for the time to take in the marvels of the city, the first 'marvel' to greet me was the sight, in broad daylight, of a man having a wee into a canal.

In the mid-1980s I went to Vienna for the first time to spend a week and a half in this city, surely the ultimate destination for those with cultural tastes and aspirations. Arriving at the Westbahnhof (by train from Munich) my mind was buzzing, overwhelmed with thoughts of "Ah, Vienna! Here you are at last! Glorious home of sophistication, beauty, elegance, incomparable history. What wonders have taken place here!" (My distracting inner musings somehow made me take an 'Ausgang' which was not the main way out. But no matter. Here I was!)  - "......Ah, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Haydn, Johann Strauss, aristocratic delights....balletic horses......towering intellect.....Freud! Einstein!.......
I walked out of the station - and lo!.....there, facing me, chalked on a wall in clear letters at least two feet high, was a somewhat unsavoury graffito. And what did it read? It read:-

                                              F U C K   O F F       


It was a few years after that when I made my first visit to Bonn (I was shortly to take up a three-year residence in nearby Cologne.) A major reason for visiting Bonn was it being not only the capital of the then West Germany, but more importantly for me, it was the birthplace of Beethoven, one of my two ultimate 'music-gods' (the other being Bach, since you ask.)  I'd already visited the great man's shrine-grave in Vienna but here I was in the very place where he first drew breath. I knew that in Bonn's Beethovenplatz there was this statue (left) of the hero. Her gracious majesty, our Queen Elizabeth herself, had left a bouquet at the foot of the statue on a state visit a few years earlier. So I approached, camera at the ready, hardly able to believe that after all these years I was about to achieve one of my longed-for goals, to be present here in person at this hallowed place.
 I was nearing the statue from the side, my heart thumping in anticipation. But I had to get a full-on front shot first. So, camera poised, I moved to the front. And there - below the glorious name of 'Ludwig Van Beethoven', was spray-painted in large red letters:-

                                       " .......IST EIN ARSCHLOCH"
                                       (Translation:   " an arsehole".)

Well, all I can say is "Is nothing sacred? Really!!!"


  1. Hello Ray:
    Alas, so it would seem that nothing is. We live in very strange times. But how unfortunate have been your initial visits to so many cities and we do hope that there are others, not alluded to here, which met up to, and exceeded even, your every expectation.

    New York we do so wish to visit and consider it quite seriously. But, as we are not willing to fly for all of that time, then we are having to consider an Atlantic crossing. What puts us off is the thought of being trapped for 5/6 days each way with fellow passengers with whom, we feel, we should have little in common, and endless amounts of food available at all hours of the day and night. We have looked into the modern day 'tramp steamer' or banana boat, but they take for ever and are fearfully expensive - more so than Cunard.

    If you have never visited Budapest, then try it. In all our years in all parts of the city we have never once felt nor been threatened.

    Thank you for the comment which you wrote but which, as happens, failed to fly to our blog!!

  2. apparently human nastiness is ubiquitous.

  3. Many thanks, J & L, but your comment tells me that what I'd intended to be a light-hearted blog (to counter-balance my previous 'heavy' Biblical one) hadn't really worked. I'd actually been smiling to myself as I wrote it, though maybe starting with the NY experience (which certainly shook me) was not very helpful to that end. But just minutes after each of the other experiences I was chuckling at the unexpectedness of what had befallen me. (I've just tweaked a few words in the article above. Maybe 'dry' humour is not so easy to convey in writing).
    You are one of a number who prefer not to fly. These days I would avoid it too when there are viable alternatives. My own reason would be because of environmental damage - and I'd certainly use the railway in Europe now even more than I used to, especially now that there are the Eurostar trains direct from London to the continent through the channel tunnel. I'm with you on the horrific thought of being on a ship, for a long time 'imprisoned' with the same fellow passengers, and with no means of escape.
    I'd LOVE to visit Budapest, and when it becomes possible, certainly will do. However (and you may find this hard to believe) since returning to this country from Germany in 1991, because of dire financial circumstances continuously since then, I've not had one single holiday in over 20 years - not even in England! It all depends on my winning the National Lottery. However, it doesn't even have to be the top prize. Just a few thousand £s would open up such exciting possibilities.

  4. Thanks Dr Spo, but it was only the first of these (in New York) that really affected me long-term - and all to the good, as I've never had a similar experience since.
    Otherwise, it's just a case of shrugging one's shoulders and sighing "Oh dear! What have we come to?" - and then getting on with life.

  5. Your "firsts" were so much more "interesting" than mine. I'm not saying I'd trade; I'm just saying they were interesting.

  6. Well. Mitch, they were certainly 'memorable', if nothing else.
    Now let's hear about some of yours and let US be the judges.

  7. I love this, it's life at the raw sharp end. It's it wonderful that no matter where we go in the world, some bored teen gets there first and scrawls some insulting graffiti. It’s a strange and yet warming indication that we are, no matter of location, all the same!
    I love these travels, I rather think I love all travels, mine, yours, everyones, so much so that I feel I should have been Phyllis Fogg! Yet 80 days seems so short! Gosh I just wish I had the money to travel!

    New York, the most visited city in the world is big, massive and vast, yet also rather small, at least it was to me. Vienna, I confess I was a little drunk my whole stay!

  8. Jase, it's nice when one has experiences that give one's observations a personal touch, rather than offering a predictable guide-book viewpoint.
    I'd too wanted to travel widely, but now I feel that there are so many countries where there'd be scenes of suffering to greet you, it would spoil my going around. And I don't just mean human suffering, which would be bad enough alone, but also the widespread misuse of animals e.g. as beasts of burden, or sold or kept to slaughter, where there are alternatives available. All that would upset me profoundly. So if I had the money I'd tend to concentrate on those parts of Europe I haven't yet seen, as well as America, Australasia, South Africa and Japan - all of which should take enough time to cover, certainly a great deal more than your 'crisp' 80 days!

    Yes, Vienna might sometimes be best seen through the bottom of a glass. Astonishing grandeur of architecture, of course, as well as a culture scene very few cities can rival. Nevertheless, even though I was sober through all the 10 days of my visit, I found it rather emotionally cold and hard to find its 'heart'. But maybe it has changed in the 25 years since then. I'd certainly like to give it another try - besides I've now got a blood-relative inhabitant of the city to visit.

  9. Maybe more pissed at the time, than 'bad', Cubby. Haven't we all done unsociable things under the influence? Well? Haven't YOU? ;-)