Sunday, September 28, 1997

Books of the week

Books of the week

Jeremy Atiyah 
Sunday, 28 September 1997
Little-known Museums in and around London (Abrams, pounds 13.95) by Rachel Kaplan. No Londoners, or visitors to London, will have the excuse to waste their rainy Sunday afternoons again. This illustrated book is a detailed guide to 30 museums in and around London, few of which I had even heard of - from Dr Johnson's House to the Tea and Coffee Museum. The only surprise is that "around London" can extend as far as Cambridge.
Eastern Caribbean In Focus (Latin America Bureau, pounds 5.99) by James Ferguson. This slim volume, one of a series covering the Latin American world, is not exactly a guidebook though you'll find it in the travel sections of bookshops. The idea is to provide readers with nitty-gritty facts about the history, culture and economy of a country; the "What to See" section is then condensed into three pages. The assumption that there are already enough conventional guide-books on the market strikes me as a fair one.
Nansen: The Explorer as Hero (Duckworth, pounds 25 hardback, published 23 October) by Roland Huntford. Forget Scott: Norway had its own failed-to- reach-the-Pole hero in the 19th century, in the form of Fridtjof Nansen, who spent three years clambering about the Arctic before turning back, 230 miles short of his goal. The black and white photos of men in ice are superb, but the book is as interesting for its account of Nansen's post-polar depression as it is for its tales of frostbite and bears.
The Death Zone (Hutchinson, pounds 16.99 hardback, published 2 October) by Matt Dickenson. Another account of the disastrous Everest climbing season of May 1996, written by one who successfully returned from the summit having filmed his experience. Even to the extent of climbing over the frozen corpses of the week before's storm, Dickenson brings out splendidly the sheer terror at the heart of the whole mountain climbing project.
The Traveller's Handbook (Wexas, pounds 14.99 hardback) edited by Miranda Haines. A compilation for the serious travel enthusiast, comprising around 100 essays on every aspect of travel, from the specialist ("The Diabetic Traveller" by Robin Perlstein) to the dramatic ("Surviving a Hijack" by Mike Thexton) to the mundane ("Motor Concessionaires and Agents" by Colin McElduff). The 300-page directory at the end of solid travel listings is an invaluable asset.
Jeremy Atiyah

A short stay in...; Lille

A short stay in...; Lille

A short train ride from London, this is our closest foreign city. It has moules by the bucket-load, art, Flemish architecture, cheap hotels and lots of coal mines. What more can you ask for?

Why go there

Well yes, it only takes two hours by direct train from Central London, thanks to Eurostar. And it happens to be your nearest really foreign city, wherever you live in Britain. But that might imply that Lille is just any old city, which it isn't. Come here anyway - for mountains of moules, a pretty old Flemish city, cheap hotels and brasseries, an art gallery suited to a European capital, brave new architecture and relics of a vast coal industry.

When to go

The Pas de Calais region of northern France is not renowned for its weather. The rest of the country makes rude comments about this being the Pays Noir, a black land of fog, rain, frowning skies and coal dust; but there are still many more pavement cafes in Lille than you would see in a British city. The important message is that you can come here any time outside mid-summer, when the whole city is closed. The weather is basically the same as Kent except slightly colder in winter and hotter in summer.

How to get there

Eurostar (0345 303030) runs at least eight trains daily from London Waterloo to Lille. The trip takes two hours and costs from pounds 57 return if you stay a weekend, and do your travelling (both ways) on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. The price increases to pounds 66 for travel on other days, as long as you stay over on Saturday night. For the record, Lille is a mere one hour by rail from Paris, one hour 10 minutes from Brussels , and five hours and 20 minutes from Marseilles.

For drivers, Le Shuttle (0990 353535) is the easiest option and it needn't be expensive. If you book at least one day in advance you can get a three- day return ticket for pounds 69; this drops as low as pounds 49 if (for the outward journey only) you travel before 6am or after 10pm. If you just turn up without booking, you'll pay pounds 109 return. Give yourself about an hour to drive from the Calais area to Lille; head for Dunkerque, then take the A25.


The biggest event on the calender has actually just passed. The Braderie de Lille takes place on the first weekend of September, when a million people pack the streets for three days and the entire city becomes a gigantic jumble sale. Stall-holders, from housewives to antique dealers, pack every inch of pavement in the hope of selling off unwanted possessions left over after the summer.

You'll find events in every month of the year though, if you look at the region as a whole. In the second week of October for example, the focus hops across the border to the Belgian town of Comines where the Fete des Louches takes place over three days. Watch out for processions of giant 15th-century noblemen, followed by soup ladles (louches) being thrown from windows.

What to see

Euralille. The locals are extremely proud of the modernity of the Eurostar terminal and its adjacent shopping complex, though watch out. Some think it contains the seeds of a Sixties urban nightmare. The Tour Credit Lyonnais building sits on top of the station exactly like a gigantic ski-boot.

Place de Charles de Gaulle, or Grand Place. Apart from the irritating traffic, the central square of the city is lined with a delightful series of vernacular facades, representing Flemish renaissance styles from the 17th-century onwards. On ground level, outdoor cafes are packed throughout the day and night. Surrounding highlights include the Old 
Bourse (see below), the opera house and the Thirties art-deco building of the local newspaper, La Voix du Nord.

The Old Bourse. This is the gem of the Grand Place, a perfect square decorated with bacchic torsos and bunches of grapes. Built by merchants in the Flemish style with a hint of Spain in the roof spires, it is once again thriving in this new age of capitalism. Step inside the colonnaded walkway to see busts of industrialists and lists of presidents of the chamber of commerce.

Musee des Beaux Arts, in the Place de la Republique. Reopened after restoration in June of this year, this is one of the best European museums you'll find outside a capital city. In vast, towering rooms, canvases of Goya, Rubens and other big names are well represented.

Museum of Modern Art. Out in the green, leafy suburbs, permanent exhibitions include works by Picasso and Modigliani. Thought-provoking temporary exhibitions.
Charles de Gaulle's house and museum. France's finest was born and bred in Lille, in Rue Princess to be precise, in the north of the old town. The house is an excellent example of a turn-of-the-century interior, in Empire style. The general's baptism robe and cradle are there, as is his black Citroen, shot up by Pieds Noirs in 1962.

Maison Coillot. In the south of town, on the Rue de Fleurus, you can see Lille's only art-nouveau exterior. Come for tree-like, curving beams, ceramic lettering and stone features that seem to grow from the wall.
Hotel de Ville. The ugliest building in the city has the tallest tower: an evil-looking art-deco rocket bulging with protuberances. You can climb it before midday.

Food and drink

The cuisine of Lille revolves around mussels and chips, a very strong cheese called Maroilles and lots of locally brewed beers. A typical snack is the flamekueche, a paper-thin pizza folded up and eaten with the fingers in pubs. Another speciality, oddly enough, is a dish called Welsh rarebit.

Les Brasseurs, to the left as you emerge from the Lille-Flandres train station, is a huge, dark, jolly pub where all beers are brewed on the premises in copper vats. Ask for a blonde. There are excellent flamekueche here, as well as dishes such as rabbit in beer and beer tart.

Le Meert on the cobbled Rue Esquermoise (No 27) is the most elegant patisserie-confiserie (cake and sweet shop) I have ever seen. Unchanged since 1839 - the height of bourgeois Lillois decadence - its interior features baroque flourishes and painted wooden tableaux as well as a puppet- sized upstairs balcony. Try some sweet gaufre, an exquisite stuffed wafer which Charles de Gaulle continued ordering from this shop to the end of his days.

L'Huitriere, at 3-7 Rue des Chats-Bossus (at the back of the fish shop of the same name), is one of the most elegant fish restaurants in France. The art-deco interior, dating from 1928, is worth seeing in itself for its marine mosaics and ocean stained-glass windows. The set menu at Fr450 (about pounds 50) features lobster and other crustacea though you'll need to book weeks or even months in advance. Call 00 33 320 55 43 41.

Aux Moules at 34 Rue de Bethune is a much more accessible eatery which has been serving up mussels and chips for 70 years (as well as other French cuisine). You can get a great dinner here for a tenner.

Brasserie Andre, at 71 Rue de Bethune, is a classy brasserie and very popular with locals, where dinner will come to around pounds 20 each. Go for regional dishes such as Boeuf au Maroille.

Where to stay

There is a wide range of hotels though note that during the week most of them are stuffed full of people on business. At weekends, prices are lower and there is much more chance of finding space.

One of half a dozen similar hotels directly opposite the Lille-Flandres station, the Hotel Continental (0033 320 062224) starts with single beds from Fr150, doubles from about Fr200 and parking spaces for Fr40.

Hotel Flandres-Angleterre (0033 320 060412), also outside the station, has two stars and offers rather superior rooms for slightly higher prices, around Fr300.

The Bellevue (0033 320 574564) on Rue Jean-Roisin has one big boast: Mozart, aged nine and a half, stayed here. With excellent views over the Grand Place, you could not ask for a better location. Rooms from Fr500.

The Carlton (0033 320 133313) at 3 Rue de Paris overlooks the opera and is the poshest hotel in town - it is Pavarotti's regular. Prices start from about pounds 70.

Out of town

Apart from the jollities of the channel ports (booze, hypermarkets and beaches), the region is not known for its attractive scenery. In addition to pylons bestriding the horizon, the main feature of the landscape is giant slag-heaps, reminders of the age of coal mining which dominated the area up to the closure of the last pit in 1990. In fact a visit to the coal mines at Lewarde (about 40km from Lille) provides the most interesting half-day excursion from town, giving a flavour of how people lived and worked in the Pas de Calais for 300 years.

Tours are escorted by retired miners, who have taken up new careers as tour-guides in boots. They'll cheerfully show you the whole process of mining, from the changing rooms to the pit head, whilst boasting how not a single miner from the whole region was made unemployed by the closures (they were all given alternative work).
The best part is "descending" 400 metres into the mine itself, where you shuffle with your guide along dark dusty tunnels, examining exhibitions from different ages of mining from the 19th century to the present day. There's an element of hoax about the whole experience, which you ultimately discover, but it's bleakly convincing.

To reach Lewarde, take a train to Douai from the Lille Flandres station (about 25 minutes and pounds 7 return). From Douai there are then hourly buses to Lewarde; walk for 15 minutes from the bus-stop to the mine itself. Entrance, including the tour, costs Fr60, or Fr30 for miners, and the mine is open daily, from 10am to 5pm (4pm after November). For more information, call 0033 327 958282.


Although I would not come to Lille for shopping, this mercantile town certainly has its possibilities. Stepping off Eurostar, the first thing you see is a raised footpath winging through the sky to the Euralille complex, the vast futuristic shopping mall.

At the other end of the class spectrum is the wild rambling flea market, La Marche de Wazemmes, which takes place at the Place de la Nouvelle Aventure in the south of town on Sunday mornings. Come for flowers, kitsch and chaos.


Emile Zola's Germinal (Penguin pounds 5.99) is a hugely gripping account of the life and struggles of 19th-century coal miners in the Pas de Calais region. General guide books to France should be adequate for your short break in Lille, but for more substance French readers could get a copy of the latest edition of the Guide Bleu Nord Pas de Calais published by Hachette.


You think you know how to speak French? The patois of these parts will stymie you. Known as Ch'ti, it is virtually unintelligible, even to other French people. As well as Flemish elements, lots of words have a Spanish connection, which is a throw-back to the days of the Spanish Netherlands.


Although it is easy to arrange your own trip to Lille, there are operators offering packages. Classic Breakaway (Tel: 01492 532532) offers weekend packages in Lille for pounds 125, including Eurostar travel and two nights in a hotel, either in the two-star Flandre Angleterre downtown, or in the four-star Sofitel, a 12-minute tram ride away (price based on two sharing). For a real bargain, try this one - two couples sharing a car can get a ferry crossing and two nights (in two rooms) for pounds 59 per person.


Hovering at between nine and 10 francs, the pound will buy you 25 per cent more French goods and services this year than it did last. Make good use of the opportunity while it lasts.


Don't expect information to come cheap: the French tourist board has a premium line number, 0891 244123, on which you can speak to a consultant who will advise or send brochures. If you happen to live in London, you can visit its office at 178 Piccadilly, open from Monday to Friday.

In Lille, the tourist office is located very centrally in the Place Rihour. It opens from Monday to Saturday 9am-7pm, and Sunday 10am-noon and 2pm-5pm; Tel: 0320 219421.

Sunday, September 14, 1997

Why jumping from a great height can be good for you

Why jumping from a great height can be good for you

Adrenaline sports are big. And from tomorrow, the Travel Channel begins a week devoted to the art of living on the edge. Jeremy Atiyah finds out what makes us want to leap into the abyss
Jeremy Atiyah 
Sunday, 14 September 1997
The craze for so-called "adrenaline" sports continues unabated. Flying from the tops of cliffs with elastic bands tied round the ankles? Bouncing down valleys inside giant rubber balls, running face-first down the sides of skyscrapers, skiing down vertical sheets of black ice? Parents may be alarmed to learn that these are but a few of the reasons that compel their children to travel.
But if you don't understand why anyone would want to go ride upside down in a roller-coaster, let alone bungee-jump, there are scientific reasons for it that go beyond a desire to stick two fingers up at nanny.
"The process of successfully conquering our terrors is accompanied by numerous chemical processes in the body," explains Dr Jamieson Walker, a pharmacologist at Edinburgh University. "The rush you get from surviving, say, a bungee-jump will dramatically change your mood. It will also make you temporarily immune to pain. Substances released into the bloodstream will include not only adrenaline but also 5HT, (the subtance which Prozac stimulates in the body), as well as morphine-like substances."
In other words the effect can resemble taking a double shot of cocaine and morphine all at once.
Never mind mood changes, activities such as bungee-jumping create a severe shock to the physical system that should not be ignored if you are worried about your fitness. Heart beats soar to at least 160 per minute, blood vessels in the eyes burst, while bruising and possibly bleeding can occur inside the ankle joint. If you worry about these trivial details, you will never think about jumping, which is one reason why few people are ever injured doing it.
A spokesman for the UK Bungee Club in London told me that the only kind of injury she has ever encountered is the so-called bungee-burn, when terrified participants grab hold of the elastic on the way down. "The only kind of medical authorisation we require is for people over 50," she said. "The oldest customer we have had was about 80 years old. The oldest in the world was 98."
The cable television station, the Travel Channel, will be running a special "adrenaline week" of programmes this week to promote the idea of adrenaline breaks. One of the presenters is Domenika Peczynski, an adrenaline-sports- junky who has tried everything from parachuting to rap-jumping (walking face-first down the sides of sky-scrapers). "Most of the activities are not really dangerous, they just seem that way," she told me. "The reality is that they are a safe way of defusing our self-destructive urges. Going white-water rafting stops me from doing the really dangerous things like drinking too much or getting into bad relationships with men."
Were there any activities at which Domenika drew the line? "Yes, river- boogying," she answered immediately. River-boogying?
"It's a Scandinavian sport that involves shooting rapids on a tiny surfboard. I was doing it in a freezing river where I lost my board and got smashed against a big rock. In any of the watersports, including canoeing and white-water rafting, there is an element of danger. You really have to have proper gear and supervision to do those things."
Domenika was none too keen on "zorbing" either. Zorbing is the latest craze to have emerged from New Zealand, a bizarre sport where the participant is zipped and cushioned inside a giant plastic bouncy ball. The ball can roll down mountains, even perhaps fall off cliffs, only to bounce away harmlessly with the person still zipped up inside.
"The snag with zorbing is that you can't see properly and you feel sick," confessed Domenika. "It's just sky, grass, sky, grass as you roll over and over. Then you suddenly roll off a cliff."
Many of these dangerous sports seem to originate in New Zealand and suggested reasons for this tend to centre on the frustration that can develop from living in an out-of-the-way country in the south Pacific, surrounded by millions and millions of sheep.
Insurance? General holiday policies do not cover any of these sports, though if you book the activities as part of a package the price may well include an insurance premium anyway. Columbus Travel Insurance offers policies with "action adventure" loading and that specifically includes 14 named sports. Two sports that Columbus does not cover at all are mountaineering and pot-holing.
According to Julie Philpotts, of Columbus, there has been no sudden upsurge in injury claims arising from dangerous sports. "As far as I am aware," she says, "the vast majority of holiday injury claims are still related to skiing."
This is hardly surprising, given the growing popularity of "black" runs featuring steep narrow chutes and lots of blind corners. "Black Double Diamond runs in America are the scariest," says ski writer Stephen Roe, "but people love them because they like being scared. The most common cause of accident though is having a heavy person crash into you, and that can happen just about anywhere."
Your parents may not like them, but few of these activities are more dangerous than everyday life, provided that they are done in controlled situations. To keep things in proportion, it should be pointed out that golf is statistically more dangerous than climbing or canoeing, while most dangerous of all is going for a walk.
Bungee jumping: The UK Bungee Club (tel: 0171 720 9496) offers jumps in London for pounds 35, plus pounds 15 membership and insurance for the first jump. Catapulting, which is basically bungee jumping in reverse, is pounds 25 plus pounds 15 for the first jump.
Hot Air Ballooning: Hayes and Jarvis (tel: 0181 748 5050) offers hot air balloon trips in Egypt as part of package holidays. The Adventure Balloon Company (tel: 01252 844222) offers single balloon flights across the UK.
White-water rafting: Adrift (tel: 0181 874 4969) offer rivers in Turkey, Mexico, Ethiopia, New Zealand, Nepal and West Africa.
Rap Jumping: Not known outside New Zealand. Call Absolute Adrenaline Adventures (tel: 00 64 9 3584874).
Zorbing: Again, only known in New Zealand. Call Andrew Ackers (tel: 00 64 25 850628).
General Activity Holidays in UK: Adventure Sports (Tel: 01209 218962): Multi-activity holidays in Cornwall. Cinnamon Adventure (tel: 01932 842221): Short breaks. Acorn (tel: 01432 830083): Over 150 activities throughout the UK.
Victoria Falls: Zimbabwe/Zambia, the adventure capital of the world. The world's most impressive waterfall is a natural backdrop to a staggering array of activities from rafting, microliting, kayaking, bungee-jumping and safaris.
Queenstown, New Zealand: Rafting, bungee-jumping and canoeing. White- knuckle adventure really started here.
Kathmandu, Nepal: The Himalayan capital is a walker's paradise, with rafting in the Chitwan National Park.
Cusco, Peru: Staging post for the Inca Trail, the Sacred Valley, the Urumbamba River.
Cape Town, South Africa: Superb coastline, with opportunities for canyoning and abseiling down Table Mountain.
Chamonix, France: One of the best French adventure centres, with winter and summer skiing, hiking, biking, rafting and canoeing.
Cairns, Australia: A gateway city for bungee and all watersports, as well as the Barrier Reef, superb for scuba divers.
Bryce Canyon, Arizona: Incredible scenery, superb walking and rafting.
Alaska: Glaciers, forests, lakes, rivers, a true wilderness.
Vancouver, Canada: Gateway to a smaller Bryce Canyon.
Courtesy of the Travel Channel.
The Zambezi, Zimbabwe: In low water (September until December) nothing will touch the carnage this mighty river can provide. Grade V wild water at its wildest.
Karnali River: Nepal's mightiest river. Very remote and very exciting.
Coruh River: Amid the breathtaking scenery of the Turkish Kackar mountains these rapids are incredible: early spring sees a three-day white-knuckle roller-coaster of a ride.
Karamea River: Tough rafting New Zealand-style on the South Island amid rugged mountains through to the Tasman Sea.
Upper and Lower Emo, Ethiopia: Thundering white water among stunning blue peaks, deep canyons and game.
Compiled by The Travel Channel and Exodus Travel.
Triftji: One of the most fearsome black runs in the Alps, down under the Hohtalli-Rote Nase section of Zermatt. Serious snow required and often only skiable after mid-January.
Mont-Fort, Verbier: A black run for lovers of moguls only. Not to be considered by the faint-hearted.
Swiss Wall-Les Portes du Soleil: The Swiss Wall is a notorious black run, made terrifying by the fact that you can never see what's ahead. A sign warns that this is a run for experts only.
Envers du Plan: A heart-thumping alternative route through the Vallee Blanche in the Alps. Awesome scenery and challenging skiing for experts only.
Chamonix's Dustbins: The Poubelles Couloirs were originally the site where construction crews dumped their rubbish when they were building the lifts. Now these chutes are demonic black runs, one running from the Aiguille du Midi and the other from the Grands Montets.
Compiled by Gill Williams, Editor of 'Ski-Survey', and The Travel Channel.
Rutschebahnen: The world's oldest working roller-coaster is Copenhagen's in the Tivoli Gardens, which has delighted fans since it opened in 1914.
Pepsi Max - The Big One: Europe's steepest ride in Blackpool's Pleasure Beach. It boasts a 200ft drop and has a top speed of 80mph per hour.
The Desperado: The star attraction at Buffalo Bill's Casino in Jean, Nevada, USA. It is the world's steepest ride with a 67 degree drop.
The High Roller: Circling the top of the Stratosphere Tower Casino in Las Vegas, it is the highest ride in the world. It loops the loop at a teeth-gritting height of 1,150ft.
Dragon Khan: Spain's Port Aventura has this ride with more loops than any. It whisks you upside down a stomach-churning eight times.
Courtesy of the Travel Channel.

The Sunday walk: Vote with your feet in the Welsh referendum

The Sunday walk: Vote with your feet in the Welsh referendum

Jeremy Atiyah takes a day trip to the principality on the eve of the poll to decide its political future and finds a route rich in the remains of its industrial past
Jeremy Atiyah 
Sunday, 14 September 1997
Is Wales on the way to reclaiming its ancient nationhood? Next week's referendum on whether to set up an assembly for the Welsh might give us a clue, but in the meantime, how about a Sunday afternoon stroll in the Valleys?
Actually Abergavenny, in Gwent, is not strictly in the Valleys, but on their northern fringe. The town lacks the ranked stone cottages of the mining villages, although traces of the vast mining industries, such as old canals and defunct railway lines, still criss-cross the area. I chose it as a rural part of Wales easily accessible on a day trip from England.
The walk started from outside Abergavenny information centre in the Swan Meadow car park, by the bus station and about a mile's walk from the little train station. I crossed the main road, and took a left turn into Mill Street. On the left was an industrial estate, on the right was the mighty ruins of Abergavenny's mediaeval castle, an unloved relic originally built by the English to oppress the Welsh.
The surfaced path dropped down to the left, away from the castle. Crossing a stile I found myself walking across a field towards the rushing River Usk, where I turned right, to walk beside its red collapsing banks. Beyond the river loomed the smooth rump of Blorenge and to my left the unexpectedly sharp peak of Sugar Loaf.
Reaching a bridge and a weir, I crossed the river and immediately took a small lane leading off the busy road to the right. This led up under magnificent trees with Llanfoist cemetery on the left. From now on, it was basically uphill all the way, but shaded by sycamore, horse-chestnut and elm. First I forked left through an underpass under the A465, then passed a nursery, crossed over another main road and puffed by Llanfoist church.
Eventually, as the path turned steep and rocky, a dark stone wall loomed in front of me out of the forest. A forgotten castle perhaps? Climbing up a railed stairway to the right I was astonished suddenly to find myself on a canal towpath - a canal, halfway up a mountainside. This turned out to be part of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, the first section of which opened in 1812, as part of the network of transport which linked up the mines and ironworks of South Wales and Newport Dock.
Turning right, I set off along the canal, hugging the curves of the hillside and overhung by monumental beech trees on the opposite bank. It was so narrow in places that I could almost have jumped it. Crossing over a humped back bridge, I then carried on into Govilon, along the opposite bank, backed now by posh homes with lawns and landing places, all with private, moored boats.
Suddenly little canal boats were everywhere, pleasure barges with names like Rachel and Edna, creeping along so slowly that I overtook them as I walked. The view down over the valley from the canal comprised smooth green slopes, shining to yellow in a few spots where the sun was piercing the clouds.
Eventually, two miles later, I turned left onto a plank bridge, over the canal and along the driveway to an ivy-clad stately home called Llanwenarth House. Where the drive swung right into the grounds of the house (featuring a sign "Beware Deaf Dog"), I went straight on, over a stile into a field. The idea was to carry on in a straight line across the field, though I had to watch out for massive bulls lurking behind bushes.
At the top of the field, I crossed the stile onto a road, and turned left; a couple of hundred metres up here I was then able to climb down from a bridge onto a defunct railway line. This was the Merthyr, Tredegar and Abergavenny Railway which, from 1862 to 1958, chugged along here carrying coal; now it's a peaceful tree-lined path. I followed the path down (not up) for a couple of miles until I eventually joined the path near Llanfoist, which I recognised as my outward route.
The author travelled to Newport in south-east Wales from London Paddington, courtesy of Great Western Railways, on one of the many daily trains. Regional trains run from Swansea to Manchester, via Newport and Abergavenny.
8 The helpful information centre at Abergavenny (Tel: 01873 857588) can sell booklets of suggested walks, including this one, for pounds 1.80.

Stop trashing bedbugs! They give hotels a certain cache

Stop trashing bedbugs! They give hotels a certain cache

Why we should open our arms to the new bug invading London hotels
Jeremy Atiyah 
Sunday, 14 September 1997
They are oval, flat and reddish brown. And they are coming. According to the latest edition of the Good Hotel Guide, published last Monday, they were "first spotted in 1997 in eight hotels in the Earl's Court area". Now they are scuttling across London.
If you hadn't heard, these are the "super-bedbugs", otherwise known as Cimus lectularius, currently invading London's hotels. Apparently immune to the most commonly used pesticides, they have a clever trick of laying their eggs in the middle of pillows and mattresses so that the only means to eradicate them is to burn all the bedding in the room. In fact, to be really sure it may be necessary to demolish entire rooms, buildings or streets. Or even cities.
The most admirable thing about these creatures is their taste. Not for them the outer reaches of Hackney or Tower Hamlets. No, these fastidious insects are so far determined to make their mark in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.
You see, somehow they know. They know, for example, that there is little purpose infesting cheap hotels on the outskirts of London because it will not get them into the news. And they clearly understand that anything to do with the Royals makes an easy target these days.
On a different note, they also happen to be extraordinarily hardy. When guests start getting uppety about being bitten they should remember that these bugs may not have had a mouthful of anything for up to six months - that's how long they can survive between meals.
In short, I'm amazed that travellers have the nerve to complain about bed bugs. After all, these resourceful little fellows rather resemble travellers: they have been around, they stay in Earls Court hotels and they get by on very little. What's more, they were presumably brought into this country by travellers in the first place.
Considering that they eat only twice a year and that they are small to the point of being invisible, I have to say that basically they are all right. The fact that only one American tourist has required medical treatment for bed-bug bites in Kensington does not strike me as a bad record at all.
And anyway people's most memorable nights while on holiday always involve some kind of insect life. These are in the really interesting hotels, the ones that liven up at the dead of night. I recall riotous nights under yellow bulbs in windowless rooms in Cairo, where the walls were black with mosquitoes. Characterful hotels always resonate in the darkness to the sound of scaly cockroaches scuttling over plaster walls.
Yes, I'm talking about moth-eaten carpets, non-fitting window-frames, torn mosquito nets, explosive rusty plumbing, sagging mattresses and odd little items of wooden furniture that nobody has ever used. Hotels where mysterious banging noises rattle your door at inconvenient intervals throughout the night. These are the hotels that have not yet been identified by the owners as characterful, and have not yet been fumigated or had fitting windows installed.
Along with room attendants who burst in at inopportune moments, bed bugs are just one more essential component of these establishments and waking to find itchy red weals all over our bottoms is part and parcel of the experience. There is nothing that a good dollop of antihistamine cream will not soothe.
As for good hotels, well these of course do not have bedbugs. Instead they have large numbers of dead towels hanging from chrome pipes in the bathroom. The water that gushes from their taps is inert. They have carpets of extreme shagginess which are tragically devoid of any forms of life. They have heavy drape curtains which seal light out and air in. They are unnervingly silent.
Too silent, probably. Who knows whether even now the bed bugs are not planning an invasion of the world's five-star hotels, instilling life and character in their wake. How can they be stopped? Will some new, terrible pesticide be brought out to defeat them? When they attack, my thoughts will be with them.

Sunday, September 7, 1997

A litre of beer and many Wursts later...

A litre of beer and many Wursts later...

Munich: city of BMW-driving, Weissbier-quaffing, sausage guzzlers - or is there more to it? Jeremy Atiyah investigates
Jeremy Atiyah 
Sunday, 7 September 1997
Is Munich just a city of Goths wishing they had been Latins? A BMW-driving people who strip naked in public parks and guzzle their way through 50 kilos of pork and 150 litres of beer per head per annum?
Before I visited, I knew it as the city which devoted itself entirely to beer-drinking every autumn, in the annual Oktoberfest. Well, yes. But the trouble was that all those supposedly beery hedonists also sat on benches in the Versailles-like garden of Schloss Nymphenburg (the old summer palace on the edge of town) having urbane discussions about Leibnitz and listening to Baroque music. To judge by the name, Bavaria (ie Barbary) may be a land of ill-educated peasants, but what about their famously clean, compact capital city of pedestrians and cyclists? Their easy access to the Alps? Their wealth and their superb art collections?
In short, what on earth was Munich really about? Intrigued by the contradictions, I set out to investigate.
The town centre, when I first got there, seemed typically bourgeois and German. The strictly pedestrian precinct of Marienplatz contained a gothic town hall - its statues, pinnacles and towers faded to the colour of old driftwood - and an array of spanking new fashion and department stores. Perfumed shoppers shuffled silently to and fro.
Nearby, I climbed up the tower of St Peter's church for a panoramic view: the utter provinciality of Munich reflected off its shining new red roofs. There were historic buildings out there all right, but the only thing that looked old was the Liebfrauendom church, its two massive domed towers vaguely evoking another Germany, a dark, forested, pre-Renaissance land. In the distance, beyond the silver, spidery, tent-like structure of the 1972 Olympic stadium, a ripple of snowy mountains announced the Alps and the border with Austria.
On ground level again, signs of that Germanic obsession with food and drink were all around. Strolling past the local delicatessen-butchers, under large signs announcing Eigene Schlachtung ("Our own slaughter"), I saw elegant window displays of pig-parts, including hearts, heads, tongues and trotters. Redoubtable ladies in hats were purchasing the classiest varieties of Wurst.
As for the Viktualenmarkt off Marienplatz, I found it packed at 10.30am with hundreds of people under horse-chestnut trees consuming beer and sausage. For a pre-noon snack, it seemed, two fat, white Weisswurst, a pretzel and a dollop of sweet mustard were a mandatory routine for all Bavarians - in anything from red-checked blazers to leather trousers. I joined in the general snacking with a bottle of Weissbier, a cloudy, sweetish brew made of wheat instead of hops.
My fellow drinkers looked entirely at ease with the notion of belonging to a peasanty, sausage-eating culture, but this has not always been so. Just north of Marienplatz, the mighty Residenz - the former royal palace of the rulers of Bavaria - is one giant tribute to Latin culture. Starting in the 16th century, emulous Bavarian kings sweated for 300 years on the fear of being left behind by Renaissance, rococo or neoclassical styles.
After lunch, from the cool halls, marble floors and classical figures near the entrance of the Residenz I made my way through to rococo rooms upstairs - extravaganzas splattered with gilt leaf and coloured stone - as far as Max I's tiny private chapel, comprising seamless inlays of coloured marble and lapis lazuli of scandalous opulence.
Seventeenth-century shades of BMWs and red-checked blazers? The ultimate was yet to come. The Altes Residenztheater at the back of the palace was the most ostentatious little room I had ever seen, a rococo riot built by the Belgian dwarf, Cuvillies, in which every column was the torso of a Bacchic youth, every balustrade a creeping tendril. Forget about performance art - this theatre was so intimate that people only came to watch each other. It was not exactly the court of Louis XIV, but how the Bavarians wished it had been.
But the German adulation of Latin culture is a commonplace. Less well known is the oddity of some of their other heroes. Great militarists? Gothic conquerors? Car manufacturers perhaps? Actually, no. In the eyes of Muncheners, the greatest Bavarian remains their 19th-century king, the foppish Ludwig II, whose interests in life boiled down to opera and fairy tales. Hating his own capital, Ludwig II built no monuments in Munich at all - his contribution to posterity was the fantastic castle of Neusch- wanstein in the mountains beyond.
Emotional, solitary, foreboding: these old Germanic concepts couldn't help cropping up. From a sunny, leafy street, I ducked into a dark, shrine- like museum devoted to the another Bavarian hero, one Princess Sisi, a tragic, anorexic 19th-century princess who has never been forgotten by her people. Photos of this Princess Di figure, miserably married to the Emperor of Austria, showed her with dark hair, a tight mouth and firm brows. I saw her parasol, her nightshirt, her mantel, even her travel medicine box containing Cocainspritze and Opium mit ther. In 1898 she was pointlessly stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist in a case of mistaken identity.
It turns out that nobody appreciates the poignancy of pointlessness more than the purposeful Germans. In the Isartor, one of the original gates of the old city wall, I came across another little shrine-museum, this time full of grinning locals. The Valentin museum, which has ironic opening hours (10.01am to 5.29pm), commemorates the life of Valentin, Munich's equivalent to Charlie Chaplin, a joker with a Pinocchio nose. While I was inside, a grey-bearded artist in the courtyard was pointlessly arranging and rearranging bollards.
Thank God for Germany's degenerate side. Up in the north of the city, in the once Bohemian area known as Schwabing, I dropped in on the Alter Simpl, a wood-panelled cafe of high intellectual decadence where Thomas Mann dreamt up the physically enfeebled heroes of his novels, and where the satirical magazine Simplicissimus was launched. Sipping a beer under a nicotine-stained plaster ceiling, I admired two ancient locals at the bar who might have been character models for Death in Venice.
As for the royals, it wasn't only Ludwig II who had had decadent tendencies. His grandfather Ludwig I had an entire room in the Schloss Nymphenburg filled with paintings of his favourite women. The result, which I visited on a sunny Sunday afternoon, was the Schonheitengalerie, or gallery of beauties, a crowd of 160-year-old, life-like Jane Austen babes with curled or plaited hair. No vulgar blondes these, though some wore saucy transparent sleeves and low-cut frocks. Of all the pictures, the girl with the hottest lips was none other than Lola Montez - the English girl, masquerading as a Spaniard, whose scandalous relationship with the king helped to precipitate his abdication in 1848.
Which was all very well, but did the past's decadence reflect the whole truth about modern Munich? I decided to forgo one of the world's greatest art collections, in the Alte Pinakothek, in favour of a visit to a thoroughly up-to-date establishment, the Deutsches Museum - a celebration of German science, technology and industry.
This was something else. Scattered over countless halls and floors were rooms devoted to specialist subjects such as mining, ore dressing, machine tools and electrical engineering. Engines seemed to stimulate people in this country. "Yes, but you see the crankshaft was going this way and the pistons did not react under the power of the steam until the driveshaft..." Peering into a contraption with cogs, pistons, pipes and shafts spiralling out in all directions, I overheard two men urgently discussing the steam engine. "No, no, no. You see the crankshaft..."
The aeronautic section was even more appealing. German technology had lagged in this department: the fuselage of one of their earliest planes, the Messerschmitt ME163, looked as short and dumpy as a constipated bumble bee. But before there was time to gloat, I came across the German perspective on car construction, a catalogue of success that we never learnt in school: in 1879, the first two-stroke petrol engine was invented by Mr Benz; in 1883 the first car engine was patented by Mr Daimler; in 1897, the first diesel engine was presented by (yes) Mr Diesel.
All in all, the Deutsches Museum had been awesome. But had I yet seen the best of Munich? That evening I stepped into the famous Hofbrauhaus, or "Court Brewhouse", for a drop of Munchener beer.
It was like stepping into a very noisy cathedral. Massive columns supported a cool, vaulted ceiling. The leathery-shorts-and-feathery-hat brigade were represented by a few moustachioed gentlemen; 2,000 more roaring drinkers lined benches that stretched away into the distance. The oompah band, trumpeting and yodelling, played tunes of tear-jerking innocence. I squeezed on to a bench, shouted for Wurst and a litre of beer, and was soon rollicking arm-in-arm with a stubbly Austrian on one side and a grande dame from Frankfurt on the other. Forget Baroque, forget Ludwig II, forget even Daimler-Benz. At that moment, Munich's gift, the most cheerful pub in the world, felt good enough for me.
Getting there
The author flew courtesy of Lufthansa (Tel: 0345 737737), who fly six times daily between Heathrow and Munich, twice daily from Birmingham and three times daily from Manchester. Fares from London start from pounds 129 return, plus taxes.
If you are willing to put up with the discomfort of a 22 hour bus ride, you can also get to Munich and back on Eurolines (Tel: 0990 808080) for just pounds 94.
Getting around
The U-Bahn and S-Bahn systems (for underground and surface trains respectively) are extensive. From the airport to the town centre costs DM13.40 (about pounds 4.50).
On foot or by bicycle is by far the best way to see Munich. Bikes can be rented from an agency at the railway station; they are also available from many of the outer S-Bahn stations.
Places to stay
The author was a guest of the Vierjahreszeiten Kempinski (reservations: Tel: 0800 868588) one of Germany's leading hotels. During the beer festival twin rooms cost pounds 169 and doubles pounds 203. The winter rate from Nov 1 is pounds 100 for all rooms.
Budget accommodation is also available in pensions and youth hostels; call the tourist board (below) for details. Book early during the Oktoberfest.
More information
The helpful German tourist board in the UK is on 0171 4930080. In Munich itself, there are information offices in the train station, the airport and also at Rindermarkt in Pettenbeckstrasse.
Of the various Germany guidebooks available, the best is the Cadogan Guide (Cadogan Books, pounds 15.99) which is an insightful and unusual pleasure to read, despite being a 1994 edition.