Sunday, 17 January 2010

A Portuguese Blog

Well, one of my resolutions this new year was to get my Portuguese back on track so, deep breaths, I've begun a sister blog in Portuguese.  It will be good practice in terms of revising and learning grammar and vocab and hopefully some Portuguese friends will help me out with the occasional corrections.

Can't think of anything to write there though, and if I can I don't know how to.  Be brave Cliff, be brave!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

More Switzerland

It didn’t take too long to get back to Zurich though by the time I arrived it was dark and there it wasn’t snowing, rather pouring, absolutely slinging it, tipping in fact, down with rain. Like Rainer said it would. Still, inside the cavernous station was a traditional German-style Christmas market. A huge expanse of santa’s workshop style wooden huts selling everything from hot cheese and potatoes to hairy bear sex. Well ok I made that last one up but this led to trouble in the end. As I was wandering round the huts looking at the Christmas presents, arts and crafts, sweeties, cheeses, meats, mulled wine, gingerbreads, toys, flowers, decorations, ornaments and so on, I spied a god selling hot melted raclette (the aforementioned cheese and new potatoes with pickled gherkins). One look and my tongue hit the floor and trust me, it wasn’t the thought of a hot potato. I decided to sneak a photo with my very discrete half a mile long 300mm lens. Very difficult because it was dark and the shutter speed slow and while I had suddenly developed three legs, using a tripod wasn’t an option so I moved around surreptitiously, snapping away. He glanced at me over his cheese melter and my heart stopped. Would he smile? Would he go ballistic? No, he just frowned. Hmm, better make my self scarce, so I moved away and took some candid shots of other, less attractive but reasonably serviceable if nothing else is available people. As I stalked, I mean, walked around I spied a god selling hot gluhwein. Oh god, two gods!! I was having a tripod moment again. Up went my lens and I pulled it out to its fullest extent. I wanted to be in this guy’s beard. No way could I get into trouble because there were simply too many people waiting to be served, so I snapped away with impunity till, emboldened by my success, I went search of raclette sports. Sure enough I found him again, and this time he wasn’t expecting me so I had a clear view. Well I would have if some stupid woman hadn’t decided to buy about 37 dishes of this stuff. I waited and waited and waited. Finally the bitch and her shit left and I had a clear line of sight.

Trouble is so did he.

He looked up, saw me. Laser beams right into the back of my head. Ulp. I tried a weak smile. No smile back, just this laser beam. I bit my lip. More laserbeam. My tripod was folding away. He beckoned me with a finger. Should I run away? Is he going to rip my face off with his cheese slicer? Is he going to throw potatoes? Maybe he’s going to give me a free sample? He beckoned with so I shook my hair and took a casual stroll up to the bar, em, counter. He said something in German that sounded vaguely like he was disappointed. I asked if he spoke English though in hindsight I should have asked if he spoke Basque. No-one speaks Basque. What was I doing? I laughed casually, “Oh ha ha ha ha, you mean this thing” I said, cheerfully chucking my £600 camera in a carrier bag full of chocolate wrappers. “I’m just, you know, recording some memories of my lovely holiday in Switzerland.” Decided an apology would be in order. “I’m sorry if you didn’t like me taking a photo”, I said, conscious I’d taken about 47 and wondering what colour underwear he had on and whether it was tight. Nope, he didn’t like it. I showed him the last photo, which was crap by the way, and said I would delete it, which I did with satisfaction. Trouble was the previous one then appeared. Oh, I laughed, how funny I must have taken two by mistake. I deleted that one as well. Thankfully the one before was the bloody Christmas tree (admittedly beautiful and festooned with real crystals instead of balls) so he was happy. He frowned at me and said thank you. I decided against asking for a portion of his cheese and scuttled off pretending to take photos of the train departure boards. Somehow I’d ended up at the gluhwein hut and this time the fella had no customers and also gave me a laser beam so I thought, ok I’m outta here before I get my ass raped with a cheese slicer and boiling wine. I sat on the tram feeling smug as I still had other pictures of the cheese god to go with the wine god. Cheese and wine always go well together after all. They could have been my first threesome and I’ve promised myself one before I’m 50. As Commander Data once said, I’m programmed in multiple pleasuring techniques. What’s more I have a decent sized hard disk and plenty of ram so it’s their loss.

Next day I got up. It was my last day and Rainer had kindly agreed to let me keep the room till 5pm so I packed, showered and enjoyed the last of Rainer’s wonderful breakfasts. Today he had already left so I had to bounce around by myself. I signed the guestbook and headed to the station. I’d been told a good use of my time was Rapperswil, a pretty little town at the end of Lake Zurich, 40 mins on the S-bahn. It would leave plenty of time to wander round, come back, do a little shopping and get to the airport. So early that morning I rode in the rain, out to the haptbahnhoff to get on a train. Hey what can you do, I’m going to.. well it wasn’t Hawaii. 5 minutes out the rain turned to sleet and by the time I got to Rapperswil the weather was decidedly English January. Well, the pretty bit of Rapperswil when I finally found it (no directions from the station, no map, nowhere selling guides, no sign of a tourist office) it was deserted. Not surprising really as the weather really sucked and it was just so grey. Frankly I could have been in communist Warsaw for all the beauty and gaiety I felt. I was ready to come home so after half an hour I went right back to the station and caught the train to Zurich.

Which arrived in Winterthur instead.

Which actually turned out to be really cool because there is a, well, waterfall is too grand a term, this wasn’t Niagara, but on the Rhine there you can find some very dramatic rapids and water crashing down rocks and some low falls. Lovely jubbly, I was happy and only slipped once. I eventually got back to Zurich in time for a last visit to the chocolate shop and thence (isn’t that a cool word?) thence to the airport.

Uneventful flight. Instead of having the plane to almost to myself like on the way out, I was packed in because this time it was only a little plane and all the customers were businessmen and women. The reason being this plane ws flying into London’s City airport, a tiny little place on the Thames in the East End of London and near to Canary Wharf. Bit noisy and possibly powered by rubber bands. When I got to London City it was a shock. I knew it was small but this place is even smaller than Västerås. Hell the train station at Little Mincing-in-the-Wold with its once a week train to the sheep market in Marlborough is bigger. It’s literally two large square rooms and that’s more or less that. Having said that, landing almost in the middle of the city is awesome. The plane flew up the Thames at low altitude and London glittered in the dark, the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf standing out like an island of silver light in a sea of sodium orange. (wow, that’s an impressive sentence, I’m going to trademark that…). Where was I? Oh yes a sod of sedium orange. Very efficient journey. Very swiss. Train to the airport left on time. Passport control and security very swift. Swissly swift. They found the bottle of water I forgot about in my bag and once they’d rescanned me, sniffed my shoes, felt my underwear, eaten my chocolate and pulled out my plums It was straight through and onward for timely boarding. Flight arrived in London ahead of schedule. No other flights so more or less straight out of the airport. No waiting around for baggage claim, always travel with a hand job if I can. The DLR line is right in the airport and its one stop onto the Underground which just happens to be the Jubilee line, my local line, so I could go from East End to the north western extremity without changing. What could be easier? The DLR duly arrived in a few minutes and 5 minutes after that I’m on the Jubilee Line platform.

“squawk…. bzzzzz…..crackle…..flmpffff….squawk……due to a signal failure. Passengers are advised to take alternative routes……”

How the fuck was I supposed to get from the fucking East fucking End in the middle of fucking Docklands at fucking 11:30 at fucking night and find a fucking alternative? What alternative???!!!

Fuck. London Underground sucks. Signal failure, train failure, track failure. I get it all most mornings and end up with passenger failure.

Needless to say, getting home from the airport took longer than the flight and check-in combined

Yep, I was back in England.


The Curse of Liechtenstein

The day dawned and once again my host was at the breakfast table. If anything the weather was even worse, the rain tipping it down outside. His suit this time was dark navy blue and once again free of movement. “It always rains in Zurich” he said. “I hate it to rain”. “Yes, I said, it’s a shame there isn’t any snow here”. “There is no snow a lot any more”, he frowned, “only rain but sometimes snow after Christmas. The rain is not nice for you”. Not much I could say to that. Thought he might offer some going down, preferably while wearing the suit, but no, wasn’t to be. He stared out of the window. He smiled brightly, “I must go. Hhave a nice day but it will be difficult I think. On Monday all museums and places to visit are closed, and it rains today. You have a possibility all day. It will be grey I think.” And with that cheery thought he got his coat. “Bye Rainer” I said, for that was his name.

Ho hum. What to do. Decided to go to the tourist centre in the main station. Maybe if it was raining in Zurich it might be sunny above the clouds on Reggie and I could have a blue and white possibility instead of a grey one.

The news wasn’t good. “It’s very bad” said the lady fluently, checking the Reggie website. “You won’t get very far. Everything is open now but there is no visibility.” Damn. No possibility of visibility and tomorrow I leave at 5pm. It clearly wasn’t going to happen. There would be no mounting for me this trip. Very disappointing. “Last week it was beautiful” she added, annoyingly. Why is it always so much damn better last week wherever you go? I asked what there was to do on a wet Monday in Zurich. “There is nothing”, she said helpfully. “All the museums and visitor attractions are closed on Monday, but you can go shopping.” Yeah rite. I know, I’ll get a Rolex and I might just have time to pop into Hermes, or maybe Jimmy Choo and get some new slingbacks. Then she said “The weather is much better in the east. You can get a train to near Austria and visit Leichtenstein. It is a very little country, only 14kms in size. There is a bus and only half an hour. It is a very little country and you can buy a stamp. They are famous for stamps”.

Oh well that settled it. Nothing to do in Zurich so leave the country to buy a stamp.

“Would you like a ticket?”

“Yes please.”

Sodding else to do wasn’t there? The train left shortly after. Swiss trains are very comfy double-decker affairs and I looked forward to seeing the rain ease off and the countryside slipped by.

After an hour I began thinking to myself that the weather wasn’t getting better it was getting worse. In fact the rain was beginning to take on a whitish tinge. We’d moved from rain to sleet. I’m sure it will be much better by the time I get to Sargans I reassured myself.

The train pulled into Sargans about half an hour later. I peered through the falling snow and saw the bus waiting. “Is this the bus to Liechtenstein?” I asked. “Of course.” said the driver. Silly me, imagine buses and trains not joining up. Unheard of. Yeah rite. I’m English and here the train doesn’t even join up with itself, never mind buses.

The bus pulled off, largely empty. Not many people wanted to go to Liechtenstein, clearly. Maybe they already had stamps.

By now the snow was really coming down and visibility was almost nothing. I couldn’t tell where I was. Did those odd houses look Swiss or Liechtensteinese? Well its not half an hour yet and the bus will stop in Vaduz, the capital village. We drove on. By now it was an hour. Ok, well the weather’s bad, so we’re probably behind schedule. Still, I looked outside at the swirling snow, a little anxious. The driver seemed unconcerned but driving carefully. I had no idea where I was. The snow was sticking to the windscreen and I was lost, but when the storm outside me subsided I saw an awesome sight. Wrong town, nothing there, empty windows staring at me everywhere. Wrong town, dead and cold, burial ground of secrets and of fears untold. Wrong town, what becomes of Sir Cliff when the wild wind blows.


I got off the bus as it wasn’t going any further and the driver pulled off back the way he came with a cheery wave before I could ask where Vaduz was. I stood there, the snow began falling again. There was a shop up the road with a light on so I walked up and immediately I went “hmmmm…”. Why are the prices in euros? “Hello” I said. “Do you speak English?” “Of course”, said the lady. Jesus why does everyone say ‘of course’ when I ask a question? I’ve been getting this response for the last three days. Is this the right train to Lucerne? Of course. The chocolate factory is here? Of course. Do you speak Burmese? Of course. Can I suck your penis? Of…no.

“Erm…. Where am I?”. “Ah, you are in Feldkirch”, she said. It sounded reassuringly Germanic. “Is thisSwitzerland” I asked, doubtfully, looking at all those euro prices and waiting for ‘of course’. No, she said, breaking convention. “This is Austria. Of course”.

Oh, Austria. As you do.

“Erm, I think I missed a country somewhere”. “Oh”, she said, “the German border is a bit of a drive in the snow but it is easy to find”.

German? German??!! GERMAN?????

“What about Liechtenstein?”

“You want to go to Liechtenstein?” she said, like I just asked to go to Pyongyang for a week’s self-catering.

“Or Switzerland?”

She laughed and said she thought I was on my way from Switzerland. The conversation was suddenly getting complicated. Turned out the bus doesn’t always stop in Vaduz. And no it wasn’t THE Liechtenstein bus, it was a company called ‘Liechtenstein Bus’. That would explain the TWO buses in the car park in Sargans. This one ran from Sargans to Feldkirch, over the Austrian border. And me crossing it with no passport or ID of any kind. Shit. Thank god for Schengen but is Switzerland in it, it’s not an EU member after all. Still, she said a bus to Vaduz was due and I set plans to sneak over the border about half an hour later I was finally in the tourist centre in Vaduz asking what there was to do during a blizzard in Liechtenstein. “We sell stamps” said the lady helpfully. “And we can stamp your passport.” The less said about passports the better. She gave me a map and said I could walk up and see the castle but couldn’t go in because the king, prince, baron, marquis, lord or whatever he is lives there with the royal family. She pointed out the road on the map which was fine, but I couldn’t actually see the road in the road. What else was there to do. “We have a Liechtenstein museum”. I brightened up. “But it is closed on Monday”. I dimmed. Eventually I settled on a trip to the Parliament “but it is closed to the public” but as this was right next door I knew I would exhaust possibilities pretty fast. “There is also a cathedral, and it is open”. I brightened. “It is next door to the Parliament” I looked outside and dimmed again. Could see it through the snow and I’ve seen bigger parish churches. Hell, I’ve seen bigger garden sheds. I asked what else there is. She looked uncomfortable. “There is an art gallery”. I waited for the inevitable. “But it is closed on Monday”. The will to live was draining away and I was contemplating a naked walk through the blizzard till I expired, comforted by the thought I might emerge from entombment in a glacier about 10,000 years from now and be the subject of scientific curiosity and dissection of my stomach contents.

Which reminded me. Lunch.

So I had an omelette in Liechtenstein and went back to Zurich.

I didn't buy a stamp.

Next. The Incident of the Christmas Market

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Swizerland continued

So, I arrived in Zurich early courtesy of a shit-cheap BA flight and by 11am I was outside the flat I was staying in, blinking in the sunshine. As money is in short supply I decided to use a gay bed and breakfast firm I’ve used a few times in the past. It’s a German outfit and organises home stays in gay households all over the world. The B&B’s are vetted and have to meet certain standards. I found this place in the middle of the city which included lots of extras, like a fridge, cd player, cable tv, wireless internet, balcony and own bathroom, for around £35 a night. Beautiful apartment, very stylish in a funky gay kind of way, and I had windows on two sides so the room was very light despite it being the darkest time of the year. The host thoughtfully provided a gay guide to Zurich (not very big) and a number of books on the shelf, all of which were photographers collections and predictably naked men featured prominently.

Tasteful though, it wasn’t porn. I have to say, by the end of the 2nd day it wasn’t just the books that were hard bound….

I wasted no time in getting out into the sunshine. It’s done nothing but pour with rain for weeks in London so I was grateful despite the cold. So, impressions? Zurich is a heavy and grey city it has to be said, but heavy and grey in a cutesy Swiss kind of way. The old town (there’s always an old town isn’t there?) was attractive and fun to wander in with shops to explore. I walked as far as where the river drains into Lake Zurich (only a short walk) and was treated to lots of people on the shore enjoying the sunshine and feeding the swans, while in the distance the Alps loomed crystal clear in the winter sunshine. Somewhat non-snowy, but they did loom adequately so I was satisfied. I was looking forward to my trip up the mountains the next . The views should be stunning.

I wandered back along the river and found Bahnhofstrasse. In any other city the area around the station would probably be full of drugs, prostitutes and winos but this is one of the most expensive streets in the road, lined with designer stores and no end of Rolexes and Breitling watches tastefully arranged in countless jewellers. Not a kitchshy cookoo clock in sight, just 4 and 5 digit price tags. I checked the time on my free of charge four year old mobile phone and decided to head back to the flat. It needed a charge. In any case it was getting late and I’d had a very early start.

Back at the flat my agreeable blonde-haired, blue-eyed host greeted me with coffee wearing a track suit which seemed to ill conceal a lot of bouncing around movement in the bouncing-around-when-you-jog area of his front middle. “You like mounting” he said? My eyes were unavoidably drawn. “Um, er....” I said, coherently. He moved around and bounced a little. “You like Swiss mounting?” It seemed to be getting strangely warm and it wasn’t just the under-floor heating. My vision was completely dominated by bounce at 12 o’clock dead ahead and a metre away. “Would you like to go down?” he added. “Erm…”, I said, transfixed. “You mean now, tonight?”. He laughed. “No, you cannot like it if it is dark”. Well I’ve never tried anyone dark so I wouldn’t know, but before I could say anything… “You must come mounting in the morning. You can go down in Lucerne in the morning Cliff”. It gets me like that too some days, so I understood. “Are you going to mount Reggie?” he said. Reggie? “Yes, Reggie” he agreed, “It is the highest mounting near Lucerne”. Ah. A mountain. Called Reggie. He gave me a leaflet.

Mount RIGI is indeed the highest point in the area and I awoke the next morning not to clear skies by the darkest, greyest clouds you could ever see. Bugger. I’ve arrived a day late. In the dining room my host was sitting there looking rather sad, no longer bouncing but wearing a business suit. “You are still going down?” he said. I was tempted. I’ve got a thing about suits. “It is grey and you can’t see anything” he said, rather pointlessly I thought. I know a grey single breasted when I see one and all I can say is he must have strapped it down because there wasn’t so much as a bump on show, never mind bounce. Nevertheless I got to the station and caught my train. Lucerne is only an hour away and it’s a pleasant journey along the lake and into the hills. Naturally with Swiss precision the train left right on the second and likewise arrived exactly on time.

Lucerne was even prettier than I remembered it, but it had turned very dark. I went to the tourist information desk and they gave me a mournful look. “You cannot get it up” they said. How rude, I thought. “The rotating cable car is closed, you cannot get it up”.


Turns out there was a big snow storm brewing up in the mountains. So that’s what my host meant. The visibility was dropping and the cable cars were shutting down so any hope of ‘getting it up’ had to be abandoned. Damn. The one thing I really wanted to do.

Hey ho.

Still, it was dry in Lucerne and there were worse things to do but wander round and discover its exquisiteness. It’s a beautiful place, just like you imagine a Swiss town to be. I wandered for hours, visited a chocolate making centre, went to the Lion of Lucerne thing, a giant dying lion carved out of the hillside that Mark Twain famously described as the saddest sight he had ever seen. Later, the sky began to clear and while it was too late in the day to go mounting and mountains, I was treated to a panorama of the beautiful mountains along the lakeside. Still not very snowy, but the snowy ones were higher and more distant. For now it was a lovely moment to watch the sun setting and the town light up, Christmas trees glowing and people looking in brightly lit shop windows.

Tomorrow the weather would be better