Seville in December – The Cathedral

Seville is the location for the largest cathedral (left), by volume, in the world. It’s gothic old, dating from 1506. Expect to queue to get in – it took us about 30 minutes. But once in, there is plenty of space for all. And more.

So, What to look for? Well, in many respects the cathedral is a museum and gallery (with each chapel acting as a themed room). There are some notable pictures – Goya‘s Santas Justa y Rufina (right) depicting the two pious sisters tortured by pagans for refusing to sell their earthenware pots at a Pagan celebration.

This being Spain, there are many treasures exchanged between clerics from Spain and the Americas. These range from exquisite to kitsch (my guide describes them universally as dull).

Christopher Columbus is, naturally, a revered historical figure in Spain. His tomb (left) was originally in Cuba but repatriated to Seville at the time of the revolution. The sarcophagus is an imposing exhibit on the south east side. The coffin is held aloft by four figures representing the kingdoms of León, Castile, Aragón and Navarra. It’s a selfie paradise.

Adjacent to Columbus one finds – what my guide describes as – the masterpiece (right) of the Cathedral, the central altarpiece (Capilla Mayor). This is debatable. It is certainly impressive and is, apparently, the life’s work of the sculptor, Flemming Pieter Dancart. There are 45 carved scenes of the life of Christ, intricately carved and guilded. Unfortunately it is defended by an enormous iron gate (as are many other altarpiece in the cathedral) which really prevents one from studying the panels in any meaningful way.

This cathedral is not the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. It is austere and cold. Hushed. Next stop, the Alcazar. I’m writing this in the queue. Looks like a few hours are needed!


Benjamin Clementine, Munich, 19 November 2017

We first encountered Benjamin Clementine as winner of the Mercury Prize in 2015. We sat through the BBC4 awards show with its cod-suspense. We quickly purchased the winning album, At Least For Now, and we entered a world of alienation, busking in Paris, discovery and extraordinary vocal and piano ranges wonderfully unsymmetrical. This was extended somewhat when we saw him play the Somerset House summer concert in 2016. He was then taciturn, thoughtful, shy and beguiling.

The anticipation of the new album, I tell a Fly (left), was high. To read that his record company had sought a conventional album; i.e. commercial, and he had effectively told them it was either his album and not their’s, only added to the anticipation. The album, largely about refugees (and flies), does not disappoint. The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis’ review can be found here. Though I imagine the record company was less than delighted. Where are the love songs?

He then appeared on Later with Jools Holland October 2017; a necessary launchpad for a new work. His performance was, to say the least, unusual. He was joined by his long-term percussionist collaborator, Alexis Bossard and a bunch of clothes-less mannequins. They seemed like a major distraction; not least because some of them were children. So, on entering the auditorium of the 2700-seat Munich Gasteig, a shiver went down my spine when 13 mannequins, the majority representing pregnant women, were dotted around the stage.

On time, Clementine walked on stage and waited like a conductor for silence attention, before starting his unaccompanied intro (right). He was then joined by the percussionist and bass guitarist. Interestingly, he started with a song from his first album, Condolence. Maybe a crowd-pleaser before embarking on his themed segment – One awkward fish, By the Ports of Europe, God save the jungle and Phantom of Aleppo/Billy the bully. All great songs and delivered note-perfect. It is the commentary that is troubling. It’s not the content, per se. This is an album about refugees, outsiderism and war. The violence meted out in Aleppo is clearly important and his engagement with the child-representing mannequins act as a visual prop. And presumably the mannequined pregnant women the children yet to be born? His own explanation is that they represent time. That left me a shade confused.

Once through this section, we got another extended address in preparation for his song, I won’t complain. This is a tour to make money. The Gasteig is not an intimate venue. It was about two-thirds full. Before returning to the UK the tour has two more concert halls to add to the previous night’s Elb Philharmonie (left) in Hamburg, about which he had much to say. It cost a lot of money. It had no food. This latter point seemed to be a metaphor. It was expensive to get in. So why had he played there? Presumably to make as much money as possible. The album’s non-commercial content probably means that the value is in live performance? Maybe just a contradiction?

After 90 minutes, off they went to rapturous applause. And then back for a three-song encore – Ave dreamer, Box of stones (be prepared to sing along) and finally – and with hindsight not surprisingly –  Nemesis.

This concert has troubled me. I was not entertained. I trust Clementine didn’t intend me to be entertained. He’s a man on a mission, and it’s one that I wholly endorse. But three things I can say. First, the songs speak loud enough on their own. Second, the mannequins, take them away. Third, my partner who shared the experience with me that night does not share my analysis and discomfort. This is not written to put anyone off going to see him, indeed before the tour ends, the show will be performed in Brighton, UK, the town in which I work. We are still deliberating whether to go to see him.

Vive le Moment in the snow

I have reported elsewhere that the Gauloises advertising team is obsessed with semi-naked women. Well, it seems now that that is a bit boring, so now it is just naked women, flanked by men. It being the season, of course, for running around without clothes.

So, what is going on? Seemingly, Bavarians understand the concept of Pistengaudi (me thought it was a drunk architect). It is when you’ve done the skiing for the day and it’s time to get drunk. And naturally, in such circumstances, one sheds clothes. It goes without saying.

Why would you do that?

I have not written about Brexit for some time. I have watched incredulously as the UK’s chief negotiator, David Davis, has failed to understand that the EU is a rule-based organisation that works linearly, meets 4 times per year and delegates work to qualified people such as EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. I have also “enjoyed” reading in the Guardian John Crace’s sketches – yesterday being a case in point.

This morning the British Government – though I am being generous by describing it thus after a week when the now redundant Overseas Development Minister, Priti Patel, has been making her own foreign policy whilst on holiday, wheeled out another former minister, Theresa Villiers (left), to argue that the EU – Barnier – is being unreasonable in putting a two-week deadline on the UK sorting out the divorce bill as the final EU leaders’ meeting of the year is fast-approaching and he will have to make recommendations to them regarding exit progress. I’ve heard the arguments again – the EU is not negotiating. Trade policy is important for the British and Europeans. How can you negotiate the border between The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland before knowing what the trade agreement will be? etc. I do recall that Davis – and presumably what constitutes the UK Government – agreed to this on the first day of negotiation back in June 2017. Why agree to something that negotiators cannot honour?

But then this week, the UK’s illustrious and creative Prime Minister, Theresa May, decides that the leaving date, 29 March 2019 will be enshrined in law. Oh and the time will be 2300 (a recognition that the European Continent is on the whole, one hour ahead of the UK). My question is, when there is so much uncertainty about outcomes, why would a so-called leader commit herself – or successors – to such an absolute date and time? Politics was always the art of the possible. When negotiating with 27 countries whom the UK has alienated and distracted from more important global matters, this is unhelpful? Surely?




Picture Theresa Villiers: Chris McAndrew

I passed an examination!

Since getting back from holidays in the Alps in August, it has been quite busy. The start of an academic year is always busy; this year had its own challenges. And they are persistent. Apologies to my readers. Something had to give.

I have, however, now passed my Goethe Institut B1 German exam. It was quite an experience. I have not taken a formal examination for maybe 20 years (since completing my undergraduate degree). So, I had to prepare. The Goethe Institut offers plenty of mock examination materials for that purpose. I have spent the best part of a year trying to improve my mock scores. Examinations are as much about technique as they are content. Answering the question helps – though because the questions and/or instructions are in German, that makes it a shade more tricky to get right. I practised hard answering questions alone and with my tutor.

Kaffee und Kuchen nach der Prüfung

I have to say that I thought – confidently – that I had failed the listening part of the examination. In my training, this was my weakest discipline. One has to listen to a cod radio-discussion programme and identify who said what. There is little concession to speed. Some of the voices seem similar and, as was in my case, in the first instance, I had no idea what the theme was! But somehow, I passed that part with a creditable 77 (84 overall from four disciplines).

Anyone is doing this examination in Munich, be advised that the online “pass checker” tool may not work. After two weeks the Institut wrote to me to ask when I was going to pick up my certificate! And against their own guidelines, they sent it to an address in Munich for me to retrieve rather than have to attend in person. At 200 Euros, it is not a cheap option. But I am unexpectedly proud.

Autumn 2017 cigarette advertising in Germany

In recent weeks, the advertising territory has been completely owned by Gauloises. Indeed, Gauloises’ current campaign draws on the company’s favourite advertising theme, semi-naked women (left). I think the scenario is something like this – two women out for the night but have not had time to get ready because they work hard. So they bring their stuff with them and get changed in the taxi or some other vehicle. Whatever, they turn out brilliant.

However, JPS is back with a bunch of ultra-annoying 20-somethings (2/3 bearded men) sat on the roof – because they are so antisocial that they are not allowed inside – thinking up cool business ideas (presumably). A couple of laptops to symbolise work/creativity. One of the bearded men can do laptops and smoke simultaneously. Both the women are smoking but they don’t have laptops (men’s work?). The two other blokes are sockless, one of whom seems to be able to do amazing things with stools. I say no more.

Actually, I love the positioning of the poster next to a no-smoking sign!

All blue on the cigarette advertising front

As discussed for other brands, blue is the new black in the German cigarette advertising world. Gauloises is the latest brand to go blue, uninspiringly so (left). Milder taste. Kein Schnickschnack – I’d buy it for that alone (no “bells and whistles” is a possible translation). I suppose the real whistle is “Krebs” – cancer to me and you.

One good tandem ride – Munich to Tutzing and back

This year’s summer holiday has been walk oriented. The semi-planned tandem tour was sidelined. We did take a ride to Tutzing on Starnberger See, however. The original thought was to ride to Starnberg (24kms) and then ride around the lake in a clockwise direction and pick up the train at Tutzing. We started out in fabulous weather along the Würm Tal (Würm Valley). There is a cycle route taking in Planegg, Krailling and Gauting. It is lovely, though there are plenty of walkers as well. Care is needed. 

From Gauting to Starnberg we found the Mühltal cycle path which we had never used before. Wonderfully forested (right). We picnicked there. The path joins the main road into Starnberg, but there remains a cycle track.

The weather caught up with us. We decided to cycle anti-clockwise straight to Tutzing. The path is again forested with lots of people hiking and bathing. It is frequently necessary to leave the lake to go around private property.

The rain came down in Tutzing. We elected to go to a Greek Taverna to eat. And then at 1840 we elected to cycle back to Munich rather than take the train. The rain had passed, but we would need to do part of the journey in the dark.

We retraced our route back to Starnberg and then took an alternative route signposted to Königswiesen. We climbed out of Starnberg and through a golf course into another forest. When we emerged we were close to Hausen (right). Stupidly we went through the village rather than turning right towards Königswiesen. If there was a signpost, we missed it. This resulted in a bit of detour to get back to Gauting. Lovely sunset, though (left).

Once in Gauting, the route to Munich is fully illuminated and with dedicated cycle paths and good signage. In total, we managed 87km. We were pleased with ourselves.

Observations on mountain trails in Bavaria

If you are thinking about hiking in the Bavarian Alps in the summer, here are some thoughts:

Equipment – mountain boots for sure. The ground is challenging and ankles need support. I have worn successfully my North Face boots. Comfortable, sturdy, quite rigid. My partner used a pair of AKU CF Custom Fit boots (right). They are Gore-Tex lined and have a Michelin sole. They are unusual in that they are actually made in Italy. Combine with walking sticks for stability.

The weather can change very quickly; so, the usual advice is, be prepared. Take layers and make sure you have some waterproof clothes. Weather forecasting in Germany is different than in the UK. The British are obsessed with weather forecasts and can anticipate three new forecasts per day to be broadcast on TV and radio. The Germans seem satisfied with one. We have relied on ZDF. Non-German speakers can get the gist from this forecast. More importantly for making decisions about where to go and how long to walk are the weather radars available on the internet. These have helped us to make decisions even when we have been on the train heading out. If rain is forecast, these radar charts give a pretty good indication of exactly when it will arrive or whether it will stop.

Water – we are using Camelbak Chute bottles (left). They are 750ml capacity and watertight. I loathe bottles that leak. We have four of these. 3l gets us through a day of 6-8 hours with afternoon temperatures between 25 and 32 degrees.

Maps/guides – we started off using the Hikeline Wanderführer (authored by Katharina Spannraft) as our guide, but then bought a map (right) to give us a bit more flexibility and a better idea of alternatives. Paths are numbered and relate to the footpath signs on the route. Easy.

Food – we made our own sandwiches. However, there are Alm houses on most routes where food is often available. We did well when we visited; but they do close usually by 1700.

Transport – exclusively using Bayrische Oberlandbahn from Munich (left). There are three destinations, each with their own walking options – Bayrischzell, Lenggries and Tegernsee. A Bayern off-peak (after 0900) day ticket was €31 for the two of us. Cheaper than buying single tickets.

Seeberg Kopf circular route

We started at Bayrischzell. The walk started at a car park and mini-golf course to the south of the town. Route 645 is a delight. Initially wooded and constantly zig-zaging as it scales the steep side of the mountain.

When one leaves the forest the first of the Alms (Neuhütte) appears. The peak is basically up to the right of the Alm. A couple of kilometers further, Seeberg Alm comes at a junction. Up 20 mins or so to the peak (left). The peak is accessible to nonchalant cows. There will be some people as well. The peak is 1538m

When hikers have had enough of views over Bayrischzell and towards Wendelstein, walkers go back to the Alm and either retrace steps back to Bayrischzell or go right following a path to Osterhofen. It is a steep descent. The path meets a driveable path signposted to Klareralm and further to Niederhoferalm (below right).

The best of the walk is still to come, however. Follow route 645a (Talweg) towards Bayrischzell. The valley is fantastic and vertigo-inducing in places. Eventually the path meets the road, though continues in parallel at a discreet distance. We rewarded ourselves with dinner at the Alpenrose Hotel restaurant (eating on a very pleasant terrace). Vegetarian food available in that very Bayern way.