Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Corporate Christmas Greetings

The silly season is on us once again, and companies of all shapes and sizes are trying to use the opportunity to advertise themselves and to portray an image of a caring organization. It does not work! Christmas is not a commercial networking event. I used to get corporate Christmas cards lovingly signed with the names of a bunch of people I had never met, and expensively embossed with all sorts of nonsense. It is even more annoying, although somewhat cheaper for the progenitors, to receive emailed greetings from hundreds of companies who only want to sell me stuff. Why do the scan their signatures into these stupid emails and website links with cheesy Christmas music accompanying pretty snowfalls and fluttering robins? What impression do they think that this conveys? Presumably, it gives them a rosy glow to have been so generous and giving at this time of year. Well, generous in that they managed to copy my email address into their list of people to whom they wish to spread cheerful news. Once again, I say, "bah humbug"!!!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

How to get a PhD! Essential reading

Many PhD students are challenged by a familiar set of problems and issues, which are familiar to experienced supervisors and have been written about extensively. If you are thinking about doing a PhD, or you are engaged in one, I strongly recommend these books:

White, B (2011) Mapping your thesis: the comprehensive manual of theory and techniques for masters and doctoral research. Camberwell, Victoria: Australian Council Educational Research. ISBN 978-0-86431-823-7

Phillips, E.M. and D.S. Pugh (2010) How to get a PhD. 5th ed. Milton Keynes: Open University Press. ISBN 978-0335242023

Petre, M and Rugg, G (2010) The unwritten rules of PhD research (2nd ed). Milton Keynes: Open University Press. ISBN 0-335-21344-8

Creswell, R (2013) Research design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. 4ed. London: Sage. ISBN 9781452274614.


Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Standards and regulations

Rosabeth Moss Kanter (1983: 22) wrote,

... the aspect of productivity that needs serious attention is not the mechanical output of a production facility; it is, rather, the capacity of the organization to satisfy customer needs most fully with whatever resources it has at its disposal ... But mechanical notions of productivity lead often to products that meet ever more refined minimum standards, frequently resulting in a decline in customer satisfaction with them. The former thrust calls out for innovation - indeed, for innovative thinking on every level of the organization’s affairs - while the latter confines innovation to a marginal and unexciting role

Is there a danger that the existence of minimum standards in professional work is problematic? To what extent do we need mechanical notions of productivity when undertaking professional work? The widespread use of key performance indicators, standards and regulations is clearly a reaction to increasing dissastisfaction with service from all sorts of professionals. But are we in danger of creating a situation that almost guarantees decreasing standards, because we make people accountable for measurable outputs, rather than for the quality of their decision-making?


Kanter, R.M. (1983) The change masters. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Langtree Sinfonia

Langtree Sinfonia performed on Saturday evening at Wallingford in a church called St Mary le More. We have not played there before, and it was really nice venue. It is surprisingly modern inside, having recently been refurbished, and the lighting is excellent, given that there was plenty of light to read our music, but no glaring light fittings to distract people. The acoustic worked quite well and there was a really good ambience in the place.

The programme was good, with diverse pieces of the orchestral repertoire:

  • Dvořák - Czech Suite
  • Vaughan Williams - The Lark Ascending, Soloist: Sharon Warnes
  • Haydn - Aria “On Mighty Pens” from The Creation, Soloist: Bethany Cox
  • Schubert - 2nd Symphony

The concert opened with the Czech Suite, five movements that have dance themes in them, with trumpets only in the final movement. This was followed by an excellent rendition of The Lark Ascending. The orchestra accompanied very well, supporting without overshadowing the soloist who played with tremendous feeling and skill. It worked really well in the intimate atmosphere of this small venue. Next came the soprano solo from The Creation, with Bethany singing with great expression and feeling. It was a beautiful performance. Finally, we performed the Schubert Symphony, and the trumpets could rejoin the orchestra having sat out for the quiet pieces.

It was a great way to spend a Saturday, having spent part of the afternoon rehearsing and preparing. I am looking forward to the Spring programme.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Carrot Pickle

Our local supermarket sold some Carrot Pickle, and it was really nice. Very spicy. Needless to say, when I went back to get some more, they had cased stocking it, and as it was their own brand there was no chance of getting some from anywhere else. Fortunately, I still had the jar with its list of ingredients. I looked up how to make some other pickles and chutneys that were similar and came up with this recipe, which I made this weekend:

1 kg carrots, chopped into short sticks
4 tbspns ground nut oil
3 tsbns black mustard seeds
1 star anise
2 tspns fenugreek seeds
6 allspice berries
2 tspns turmeric
250 g tamarind
5 green chillies, de-seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 tbspns tomato purée
750 ml malt vinegar
500 g muscavado sugar
250 g sultanas
1 tspn sea salt

Method
Grind the fenugreek, star anise and allspice. Heat the oil until almost smoking hot, then add mustard seeds. Cook until they have all popped, then turn off heat. After it has cooled a little, add the chillies, garlic and turmeric, and cook for a couple of minutes. Add tomato purée and tamarind, and stir it in. Stir in the carrots, then add the vinegar, sugar, sultanas and salt. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for an hour or so until it is ready. Transfer to warmed jars and seal while hot. Makes six jars. Store it for two months before using it.

So, it is in the cupboard now, for the regulation two months, then we can try it. I hope it is at least as good as the Waitrose one.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Slow email

I sent an email to a colleague at another University, and after exactly half an hour received this warning:

This message was created automatically by mail delivery software.
A message that you sent has not yet been delivered to one or more of its recipients after more than 95016 hours on the queue on mrelay-e-ext.lmu.ac.uk.

I calculated that the delay was about 10.8 years, and was intrigued by the strange delay. I asked our own tech people and they thought it was rather funny, too, trying to deliver a message for almost 11 years - then they suggested that perhaps it was a bug in the system of the destination email server after the annual Summer time change. What kind of programmers or systems designers would forget that daylight saving time occurs every year?

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

I was on the Nürburgring again on 1st November. 13 laps of awesome riding - what's that, about 260km on the track? We had a 600 km ride there the first day, then one day messing around on local roads, then the laps, then the fourth day 600 km home again. Just brilliant. The FJR is still stunningly awesome. It really comes into its own both on long touring journeys like the journey to Germany, and on the track, where it can keep pace with most of the sports bikes, except the best. The power is just awe-inspiring, and the ability to chuck it around the track is confidence-building. I had a few nervous moments, but that was me, not the bike. I would say that although a trip like that takes me to the point where I am riding at the limits of my capability, I have yet to reach the limits of the bike's capability.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Pickled eggs

Sitting in the pub the other evening with a small group, the only snacks available were salt and vinegar or plain crisps, or some strange nuts with honey and chilli. Behind the bar was the ubiquitous jar of pickled eggs. I have been aware of pickled eggs for decades, as they are behind the bar of every traditional English pub. I thought it was time I tried one. My 50p egg was handed to me in a small shallow dish, with no condiments of any kind. Just a plain looking hard boiled egg. Surprisingly, it was fine. Nice and creamy, tasting very fresh, and more than a hint of vinegar flavour, but not too much. I decided I liked it. I am a convert, and now thinking about making some of my own at home. A quick search on the internet reveals that there are many different ways of going about pickling eggs. Could it be a new hobby?

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Multilingual editorial guidelines for scientists and translators (Press release)

The European Association of Science Editors (EASE) has recently published simple editorial guidelines for authors and translators of scientific articles (http://www.ease.org.uk/guidelines/index.shtml).This project is aimed to make international scientific communication more efficient and to prevent scientific misconduct. The guidelines advise on how to write complete, concise and clear (=understandable) manuscripts, and explain what is regarded as scientific misconduct. If authors and translators follow the guidelines before submission, then their manuscripts will be more likely to be accepted for publication. The editorial process will probably also tend to be faster, so authors, translators, reviewers and editors will then save time. The guidelines also explain what is regarded as scientific misconduct and provide links to the flowcharts of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).

The document is freely available as downloadable PDFs in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and we plan to add more translations (made by volunteers) in the near future. Moreover, the English version has appeared also in print, for distribution during some major scientific events, such as ESOF2010 in Turin and the AIDS Conference in Vienna. EASE nominated the guidelines for the ALPSP Award for Publishing Innovation 2010. Our association did not receive this award, but the ALPSP judges stated that the guidelines “meet a very real need and very much hope that EASE will be able to secure sufficient endorsement from editors for the guidelines to become a recognised standard.”

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Hong Kong

I am getting use to Hong Kong. I have not yet seen anything to photograph that I have not already photographed. But it is wonderful to be here. The place is alive.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

In the current economic climate, what is the most likely area that construction can deliver more for less?

I was asked this question by a journalist, and found it difficult to give a straight answer, but on reflection, came up with this:

Construction can indeed deliver more for less. The sector always has done. It has always been possible to cut corners and substitute good materials with low quality substitutes. Apart from substituting poor materials for good ones, we are also routinely de-skilling and de-professionaling the design and construction processes in every way possible to respond to clients who are not willing or able to pay for a good job. In the current economic downturn, it is inevitable that construction quality and social responsibility will be low on most agendas. But this does not provide more for less, in the long run. Perhaps what we need is a concerted attempt to persuade our clients of the medium to long-term benefits of good design and construction?

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Elderberry Chutney

Several years ago, when we had an elderberry tree in the garden, I discovered a really good used for the elderberries; it makes a great chutney. Because the tree was in the garden, I could see when the berries were ready for picking, usually in September. Elderberry chutney needs to be kept sealed for at least three months after it is made to allow the flavours to develop fully, so we used to open the first jar on Christmas Day, because it was am excellent alternative to the ubiquitous Cranberry Sauce, which is usually a bit too sweet for me. But for quite a few years, and especially since we moved to a house without an elderberry, I keep missing the right time to pick them. Either they were too green, or they had rotted on the branch. This year, I noticed that there were several tress nearby that were ready for picking, so I went out at 7 this morning and grabbed myself a bag of berries. Here is the recipe if you want to try it:

500 g elderberries, freshly picked from the tree when they are ripe, washed an removed from stalks (this is a fiddly operation to make sure that you don;t end up with any stalks or insects in your bowl of berries)
500 g onions, finely chopped
500 g cooking apples, peeled and chopped
125 g sultanas and/or raisins
250 ml malt vinegar
150 g white sugar
150 g light muscavado sugar
6 ml coriander
6 ml cumin
12 ml five spice
12 ml mixed spice
12 ml ginger
6 ml salt
6 ml cayenne
Put everything except sugar into a large enamelled or stainless steel pan. Cook the mixture until the ingredients are soft, stirring from time to time. Add the sugar, stirring over low heat until it dissolves. Cook the chutney until it is thick so that a wooden spoon drawn through it leaves a mark without filling at once with liquid. Meanwhile choose small jars with vinegar-proof (preferably plastic) lids. Paper covers are not satisfactory because vinegar can evaporate through them and the chutney will dry out. Plain metal lids should not be used because vinegar corrodes the metal. Put clean jars (roughly 3) into a cool oven to dry and warm. Fill warmed jars nearly to the brim with hot chutney, and seal at once. Store in a cool dark place. If correctly stored it will keep for years.

Let me know how you get on with it.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Reading Festival

This year's festival was quite interesting, because most of the headline acts were not to my taste. The line-up was quite disappointing when it first came out, but then every year, different people are delighted or disappointed depending on their tastes, but with so many bands over three days across six stages, there is always something to enjoy.

On Friday, the highlights for me were on the smallers stages, especially the "BBC Introducing..." stage. For example, Our Fold are a new band from Bolton, and their guitarist was really good, having joined them from Stone Roses. Skints, on the Lockup Stage were an excellent London reggae band with flute/saxophone. Mr Fogg, Blood Red Shoes, LCD Soundsystem were also excellent bands.

On the Saturday, I had been looking forward to Modest Mouse, Maccabees, Villagers, Black Angels and Pendulum and lots of sunshine after a rainy start to the festival. The weather was fine, but Modest Mouse and Maccabees were not interesting. Black Angels were really good, like 1970s psychelic rock mixed with Spiritualized. Enter Shikari were funny, but not much music. I loved Hadouken's lyric in Get Smashed, Gatecrash - "welcome to our world, we are the wasted youth, we are the future too". Imagine 10,000 kids chanting that. But there were lots of really poor bands on Saturday. In fact, we went to the pub for a couple of pints of real beer while we waited for the kids to finish watching what they wanted to see.

Sunday was more promising. and didn't disappoint. In fact, it was an excellent day out. The weather was mostly dry, with a couple of showers. I really enjoyed Peers, Holy F**k, Fool's Gold (with a conga!), Four Tet, Kele (better without the rest of Bloc Party), Foals and Caribou. It was a good end to what turned out to be a great festival, even though the headline acts were such a disappointment.

What probably made most of the difference was checking out all the unknown acts on YouTube first, so that I had some idea about which stages to go to at what time. It was much better having an idea about what would be worth seeing and what would be worth missing. The only thing I would change about the festival is the beer. They get sponsorship from a certain brewery, I guess, and the result is that there is only one kind of beer available on site, Tuborg, which almost undrinkable. Everything for sale on the site is ridiculously expensive, of course, and rarely justifies the price. But even so, the event is such a strong sensory experience of all kinds, it makes a complete break from the daily grind and is an excellent way to spend a few days. It helps that it is only two miles from home, too.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

West African Road Trip - Day 6

We had breakfast outside. The temperature was just right, at about 24, and was the coolest we had experienced yet. They gave us omelette, beans, toast, and some cooked mixed vegetables. While we had breakfast, Sammie said that he had changed rooms in the middle of the night because so many things in his room were not working, they upgraded him to a better room. Also, he had finally got hold of Kwaku Owusu, whose MSc dissertation I had supervised in Reading a few years ago. Kwaku was on his way to meet us over breakfast, as he was keen to meet up again. He took us one or two kilometres down the road to visit his workplace, Sunyani Polytechnic and meet the Rector. Kwaku had become vice-rector since we last met him. We went there and sat in his office talking about PhDs and other things for half an hour, and the Rector was on his way, but had not arrived by the time we realized we needed to get back to the hotel to check out. So we bid our farewells until WABER next week, and got back to check out and I put the room back to how it was and packed my still-damp laundry.

We left Sunyani shortly after noon and drove to Kumasi, arriving about 3 pm. We checked into the Engineering Guest House on the KNUST campus, which we had visited on the way North and had lunch with George Intsiful, an academic architect who had also designed and built this Guest House. He’d done very well, as it was spacious and nicely appointed. We went for a late lunch to the Joful restaurant – familiar to me because we went to another of this chain in Accra last year. These are really good restaurants with a good choice of food, local and international. It was nice to have wine with the meal, rather than the lifeless beer we have been drinking recently.

After our meal, we got a local taxi to the town centre so that we could have a lightning-fast tour of Kumasi with Sammie, who had been an undergraduate here. We started at the palace of the Ashanti King. It closed at 6 pm so they did not want to let us in, but Sam told us about some of the history, and how the Ashanti were the last to hold out against British colonial rule until after a few bloody wars. From there we walked to the centre of town, on the way pausing to watch a football game, on gravel, with eight players per side, and the goalies not wearing shoes. They played well and we saw a goal scored, but we soon moved on. And then to the market, which was huge and noisy and cramped. It occupied an enormous area and was a real spectacle, dusty, loud and incredibly busy with people walking in a great hurry here and there, occasional shouts of “hello white man” and other shouts in local language that did not make any sense to me (probably a good thing, too). The first place we tried to enter the market was the entrance and exit for the local minibuses (tro-tros) and we stood and watched for a bit while I tried to take pictures. But it was difficult to catch the endless stream of vehicles in and out, papping their horns endlessly and moving people around who were crammed into buses way beyond their legal capacity. It turned out we could not get into the actual market that way, so Sam had a chat to some locals, who really did not want me to take photos, and then we walked at great speed around the edge of the market, trying to observe the goings on through a sensory onslaught that was dizzying and overwhelming. After that, the rest of the town was fairly unexciting, and after walking a further 30 minutes, we got a taxi back to the guest house, bumped into George again, and joined him for a few beers at the bar. I am getting fed up of the local beer, so I has small bottles of Becks, which normally I don’t like, but it was a welcome change from the local stuff. We finished near midnight, and I was glad to get to bed after all the travelling and sightseeing.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

West African Road Trip - Day 5

Got up at 6 am and assembled with other safari participants at 6:30 for a briefing. As the hotel is a different operation from the safari park, they cannot co-operate, so breakfast service starts at 6:30 the same as the safari. This meant that everyone set off hungry. It turned out to be a foot safari, meaning a two-hour walk through the forest in the immediate vicinity of the Lodge. Our guide was quite experienced as a guide, and knew a lot about the behaviour of the animals, but could only explain things in terms of how humans behave. So he reckoned that humans learned how to carry babies by copying baboons or "bamboons" as he called them), which were numerous around the ramshackle staff accommodation, especially the area where they dump their rubbish. This was not a particularly nice way to start a safari, wading through rubbish that had been ripped apart and picked over by hungry baboons, who find this scavenging easier than looking for proper food in the forest. Since we were told in our briefing that it was extremely important not to leave litter around the park, I asked him why there was so much litter around here. He said that they put their rubbish into a hole in the ground, with the intention of burning it, only to find that baboons rip into it before they get a chance to burn it. “What can we do?” has asked, plaintively. I decided that this was not the time to suggest that burning all that plastic was not a good way of dealing with it, and that strong metal bins with properly fitting and lockable lids might help. I just shrugged in meek agreement. It turned out that most of our guide’s explanations of animal behaviour were based on a highly chauvinistic view of human behaviour. The struggles between fighting males were because of females, and the way that they marked out their territory, for him, was also to do with females, such that this was the reason that humans built houses, to prevent rival males from stealing the females. It was a bit irritating listening to his trite and inappropriate explanations, but this was his job and he had been rehearsing these stories for 23 years, so there was no point in anyone discussing this with him now.

After the tour of the grounds, having seen some impressive elephants, and some rather unimpressive baboons and warthogs (hortwogs to our guide) we were back to the Lodge for a very late breakfast. I was feeling very sweaty and mucky from tramping around the forest, and had probably had too much sun, so I went to get a wash. This lodge had full plumbing, but most of the time the taps would produce a little trickle, or nothing at all. Instead, there were two large buckets of cold water, with lids (perhaps 25 gallons each), and a smaller bucket of about a gallon to help with using the water. I was able to have a shower hby pouring buckets of coled water over myself in the bath, and felt much better for it. I then joined the others for a cup of tea, an omelette and some toast. We left Mole about noon and set of back to Larabanga, to visit the oldest mosque in Ghana.

After bouncing down the 6km track from Mole to Larabange, we got out of our truck to be welcomed by a bunch of mosque people. The main man was the son of the Chief Immam, and a teacher of English and Arabic. We had to pay a couple of Cedis each as soon as we got out of the truck, and this was written up into a Visitor’s Book that I had to sign. We then had to be welcomed by the Chief Immam, who sat on his mat at the side of the track and shook our hands. I wanted to take a photo, but he needed first to put on more robes and make himself look presentable. That was a shame, because I though he looked just fine as he was. We were taken for our guided tour of the outside of the mosque (or moks, as our guide called it) and told a load of rubbish about people coming from Medina with the idea that they had to cross two rivers, but not three, before they chose a place to settle, and having crossed the Red Sea as the first river, the next river was White Volta, and that meant they could cross no more (they somehow missed some significant rivers like the Nile, but that didn’t seem to matter). So, this man who had to cross these rivers had brought a mystic stone with him, and the stone was heavy so he couldn’t carry it any more, so he threw a spear and where it landed was to be the place for building the settlement. Blimey, what a load of tosh. I asked him why the wooden poles were used on the construction of the walls of the mosque, sorry, I mean moks, and he said they only went in to the wall a distance of 3 cms, and they marked how much of the wall the special man had built each day. Apparently, it was miraculous because in the night, while he slept, the angels came and built a bit more for him, so that was why there were sticks all over the building. He said they were just decorative not structural. I think he was wrong, but I didn’t say anything. It seems that the sticks somehow enable taller walls to be built, but much later we discovered that they provide a permanent scaffolding for the frequent replastering of the outside surface that would be needed to keep the place standing. It was first built in 1421, so it certainly has lasted well. Sadly, the guide was convinced that his fables were definite truths, and was fantasticaly deluded, but happy.

He explained to me that the Peace Corps had visited and told them about how to go about organizing small guided tours around the outside of the mosque, how to turn the profits from this activity into investment in a sustainable village. This sounded really good, but then as we walked around the mosque, at least half of the talk was about how they need a new classroom for the school, how they need more resources for the library and so on, each of which they would be grateful for some financial support. Meanwhile, a couple of the younger ones got into a conversation with Roine about the world cup, and were soon pointing out that they had a football team in the village, but that the football was burst and how they needed a new one, which would be a good thing for Roine to pay for. The pressure was increased as a little toddler appeared next to me holding my finger affectionately. Soon, we all realised that the Americans had taught these people the hard-sell, not just how to make tourism work for the greater good. We returned to the car, declining their further offers of ways in which we should hand over bucket loads of cash, and got some nice photos of the Immam. He was more decorative than structural, too.

On the drive to Sunyani, we saw a petrol tanker looking well kept and unusually lacking in dents, but the odd thing was that there were two goats on top. They were tied to the roof, standing up. Our driver, Solomon, thought that the tanker driver had probably picked them up at the market. We checked into our hotel, the Eusbett, which was poorly built and over-decorated, but most things worked and the service was excellent. By this stage of the journey I really needed to wash some clothes. Apparently, it is considered socially unacceptable to ask someone to wash your smalls, although shirts would be OK, but we were no in the kind of hotel that would do it overnight. Sammie had bought some small sachets of Omo, and this bathroom had a large empty plastic bucket, so I was able to put everything in to soak for an hour or so while I had dinner, then come back and wash and rinse it. To get it dry, there were enough coat hangers, and the room was a corner room so it had two windows and I was able to unhitch various parts of the draped curtains, the fancy pelmet with beads hanging off and the net curtains, all of which were far too heavy and made the room feel stifling and stuffy. With a through flow of air, I could hang everything overnight, and leave the room fan blowing while I was out of the room to help.

After sorting out the laundry, we jumped in a local taxi for a short ride down the road. We walked around for a bit observing the night life of Sunyani, with people hanging around the streets, the street-hawkers still selling all their wares and people cruising around in their cars or just hanging around. Not for the first time, I picked up the mood of a music festival, the kind of good-natured anarchy where people of all kinds gather just to enjoy themselves, and the various barbecues and other food offerings that characterize such events. Anyway, after wandering around and managing to avoid tripping over the many obstacles and holes underfoot, and avoiding falling into the open drains that stink, even though they are not supposed to carry sewage, we settled in at the Silver House, a fairly raucous local bar, where we had a few beers and watched everyone cavorting and showing off and drinking. The music was loud, and the people were good natured, often spilling out on to the street or sitting on the bonnets of their cars. We were sat outside at the front, and the smell of the drain was a bit too strong, and was not conducive to enjoying the beer. The music was loud, because right across the road was another bar with loud music outside, and they were in competition with each other. Eventually, we jumped in another beaten up old taxi and returned to the hotel.

I went to sleep among the drying laundry with open windows, having lost my fear of mosquito bites, because there seem to be so few mosquitoes around. Although I had no mosquito bites, I was interrupted by a rude awakening at about 4:20 am. It sounded like a cistern in the roof was overfilling and not cutting off the supply once it had got too full. The overflow was falling three stories on to concrete, at a fair old rate of flow, and making one hell of a noise. I tried to sleep through it, but it did not stop until about 5:30, when all the neighbourhood cockerels started their morning chorus, but I was able to sleep through that. I woke a couple of hours later, and the nearby school sounded delightful as the children seemed to be singing their lessons with great gusto and good voices. What a wonderful way to start the day.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

West African Road Trip - Day 4

When I met the others at breakfast, they had already ordered some omelettes for us, so that we had a more substantial breakfast than the previous day. After packing our bags, I had to go and get more cash from the bank machine to settle up the hotel bill, and while I did that Roine went to haggle over a couple of African masks for his souvenirs. Eventually, we set off after 9 am, and agreed that we had all grown rather fond of Bobo Dioulasso.

We set off for the Ghanaian border, stopping quite often to ask directions, always in French, and usually getting the same answer – yes it is this way. It almost seemed as though there was only one road, and since you are on the road, what on earth are you asking for?’ The road from Bobo was the really well made road that was not too bouncy. It was still being built, with the placing of mud bricks on the embankments and road edging, and setting them in mortar, to secure the sides of the roads to prevent them from being washed away in the regular floods that are characteristic of the rainy season. After getting back to the main road, which was older and more bumpy, we went the wrong way first, towards Côte D’Ivoire, where the rebels are in power. Fortunately, we stopped and checked with someone who put us right, and we turned round to head towards Ouessa. It started to rain a little bit, but not properly. We drove for hours and hours, eventually stopping at a town called Wa for lunch at about 3 pm. I loved the idea of a Chinese vegetable provencal, so that was my lunch. It had begun to dawn on me that we were on our way to a safari park, and Sammie called ahead to make sure they were going to reserve rooms for us. It was a good thing he did this after lunch, because we did not really get going until 5 pm, and arrived at the Lodge at Mole Safari Park after 8 pm. We were not settled into our rooms until 9 pm, then we had a beer and a chat. We shall be up with the lark tomorrow, because the safari sets of at 6:30 am. We'd covered a lot of miles today.

Monday, 19 July 2010

West African Road Trip - Day 3

We left Ouagadougou (Wagga-doo-goo) at 08:00 after an early breakfast. The city had wide, straight roads, and though it was difficult to find the right road, the traffic moved very well, and we made good progress. We were planning on getting all the way to Mail today, so that on the following day we could make the final push to Bamako. But we were getting tires of spending all day in the truck, and we decided to re-think our plans when we got to Bobo Dioulasso. We were looking for a particular village on the way. Roine had read in the Lonely Planet Guide to West Africa, called Ouroubono. We tried several times to find it, and asked directions, but never found it. But it did mean we did not take the direct road to Bobo, but we branched off at Pa, and went via Diébougou to Bobo.

We arrived in Bobo Dioulasso at 2pm and decided to have lunch, then find a hotel for the night, so that we could spend the rest of the day in one place, looking around and getting to know it. The tourist touts were a bit keen, but not too bad once we made it clear that we did not want to buy whatever it was they were selling. Everyone spoke French, but almost no one spoke English, and then only very rudimentary. This town was more primitive than previous places we had stopped at, and it was very warm and humid. The sky was cloudy and rain threatened, but never came.

We found a suitable café for lunch at about 3 pm, after looking in several places, one was too unhygienic, one simply was not serving food. We had rice with sauce, which was simply but filling. We also got our first taste of the local beer, Brakina, which was good enough for us. We then checked into the Hotel L'Auberge, having decided to stop travelling for today. This meant giving up on the idea of going to Bamako, because it is another 360km beyond Sikasso. We had decided that the following day we would do the short drive to Sikasso in Mali, and see what it was like. Possibly stay there the night if we found a good hotel and if the place was interesting enough. After checking into the hotel, it was about 5pm so we wandered around Bobo looking for a suitable bar for a drink and also looking for a cash machine, because the hotel would not accept any of cards. We found one that would only accept my debit card so I took out a wadge of cash to cover for tonight and tomorrow night's hotels and petrol for the following day. We stopped and asked people where was the best place to go for a drink, but hardly anyone could tell us because they could speak no English. Eventually we found the Black and White Club bar, and had a couple of Brakinas while we watched the world go by on foot, on mopeds, motorcycles and in very expensive SUVs. At one point, police turned up and started making a noise with whistles and lots of shouting. They stopped the traffic for 5-10 minutes, and then some police motorcycles and cars came roaring through accompanying some big shiny SUVs with tinted windows. Once the past, the police disappeared into the background and normal life resumed. We stayed for a couple of hours then returned to the hotel for an early night. I set up the mosquito net over the bed and the air conditioning had been on for a while, so the room was nice and fresh. But it was still a bit ropey, with old wooden furniture and poorly fitting window frames that let mosquitoes come and go as they pleased.

We had breakfast at 6:30 Tuesday morning, next to the pool. It was just a light breakfast, very French; a baguette, a croissant, some butter and jam and tea or coffee and some very sugary fruit juice that needed quite a lot of water adding to it to make it drinkable. We checked out and settled up the bill, then had to wait 30-40 minutes for our driver to return from wherever it was he had found to stay the night. Finally we set off about 08:30 and headed for the Mali border. Bobo was small enough to mean it was fairly way to find our way out of it and the road from Bobo to the border town of Koloko was very smooth and straight, and clear of traffic, so we made good time. It was strange that we saw hardly any other vehicles on this road. Clearly, we were not headed for the most significant border crossing. We stopped on the way to take photos of a waterfall, and then arrived at the first of several border formalities.

The first stop involved the police checking our passports and trying to figure out where we had stolen the car or not. The driver did not have a letter from his employer to authorise him to drive the car out of the country. I had to act as an interpreter between the policeman and the driver. Once the policeman understood what we were doing and that this was a rental of car with driver, he told us that it was OK, the three of us could go and he just needed a conversation with the driver alone. I offered to stay to help interpret, but he said it was OK he'd manage. He was very calm and smiling so we were not worried. We waited for about 15 minutes until the driver came out to tell us that the policeman wanted a bribe of 1,000 CFA (about £1.40) to buy his lunch, so we gave this to the driver, who paid it and came out grumbling that no receipt was forthcoming. The second stop was customs, and this involved a long discussion about whether our driver was authorised to drive the vehicle. It took about tem minutes to persuade them that all was in order. The next stop was the actual border where we had to show our passports and wait for them to be stamped. They just took them into a hut for ten minutes and came out with them stamped. This border was interesting because there were shacks and vendors right on the control point, and people sitting around, chatting, burning mahogany for fires, cooking meet, barbecuing sweet corn and selling all sorts of stuff. After moving on from there, we had a few kilometres in no-man's land, then reached the Mali crossing point. This time we were invited to sit on a bench with the policemen in a kind of permanent field-tent with no walls and a thatched roof. They we very friendly while they thumbed through our passports one at a time, checking the visas and copying out our details into their big book. There were 3-4 policemen, idly sitting around, and the biggest and most important was lounging half asleep right at the back of the shelter, enjoying his importance. While we waited I looked at the book upside down and noticed that we were the only people to have passed this way so far today, apart from locals passing unhindered. I wondered what they will do with this book once they filled it up. Probably sent it for filing away in some big office somewhere.

All this had taken about an hour and a quarter before we were finally on our way. But after a couple of kilometres, we had to stop to pay a road toll, buying a slip of paper for cash. Then we were on our way again. The road was growing slightly busier with carts pulled by donkeys and motorcycles or mopeds being used for all sorts of things. I think the most entertaining was the man with a live, adult goat strapped around his belly. Somehow, he managed to keep the goat and the bike under control as he made his way to town. Mali was very beautiful countryside with plenty of quite large settlements of mud huts with raffia roves. These close know communities were built out of the same red soil that they sat upon, with the addition of cow dung. Unlike similar villages in Burkina, these were much larger and seemed to be better kept. There were few concrete buildings.

We arrived in Sikosso quite early, maybe midday, and wanted to look around, as well as find a hotel for the night. As we drove around I think we were all a bit depressed by how primitive this place was. There was no sign of any industry and although this was Mali's second biggest city after Bamako, the only substantial buildings were the Governor's residence and some complexes built by various aid agencies. Thousands of people were taking part in a permanent market that is the city centre, operating out of small shacks or just sitting at the side of the road. We found the so-called best hotel intone, the Hôtel Zanga, and asked to look at the rooms. The place was deserted, the swimming pool empty of water, and only one person working there, who was asleep in front of the telly when we arrived. We asked to look at some rooms and she shrugged her shoulders and shook her head in a resigned kind of a way, clearly thinking that this was a waste of effort. When we got into the rooms, they were small, the curtains drawn, the toilet had the Muslim style of Bhutta, instead of toilet paper (basically a large teapot you fill with water to wash yourself), the rooms were musty and smelled of mould, and the window frames poorly fitting, with the balcony door not even reaching all the way to the floor. No mosquito nets meant that this would be a terrible place to sleep, so we thanked her and went on our way. We asked around and found another supposedly good hotel, this one called the Kaaky Hotel that was built in 2000. Again, there were no guests and the rooms were pokey, dark and musty. Even though they had mosquito nets, it was not a very nice place. So we decided we would not stay the night in Sikosso at all, but just have a wander before returning to Bobo. We bought some small clay pots. I bargained for the one that Sam wanted, in French, and felt quite pleased to have got the price down to 700 CFA (about £1). But when it came to a pair of smaller clay pots that Roine and I wanted, they were only asking 200 each (about 28p) so it really seemed unfair to beat the price down further. We also bought some mangos from the market for 500, and she was not interested in bargaining at all, although she eventually slipped 5-6 into the bag even though we only wanted three. We had done OK. We never found anywhere to have a beer. We had seen one really seedy place, concealed behind garish plastic sheets so the occupants cannot see passers-by and vice versa. This is a strongly Muslim community.

The drive back through Mali was straightforward and the border crossings were much easier going back. Some of the policemen thought it quite amusing that we had made such a small excursion into Mali, but although we were disappointed with such a small stay in Mali, we really needed to be realistic about how many kilometres we could cover in a day. And we need to be back to Accra at the week-end, so now we can take the return journal much more steadily. Passing a disused railway bridge that we had noticed on the way out, we stopped to take pictures of the bridge and the children and women carrying water on their heads were happy to be photographed as well.

We got a great welcome from the staff at the Hotel L’Auberge when we returned. It seems that they were particularly delighted to know that Bobo Dioulasso was more to our liking than Mail. I got the same room as yesterday, only this time it seemed fresher and everything had been cleaned properly. They had sprayed the corridors and rooms with insecticide, so we could be a bit more relaxed about mosquitoes for a while. We went to a restaurant for dinner, one run by nuns, called L’eau Vive. It was an outdoor restaurant in the courtyard of their accommodation, and the food was very good. I had a mushroom pizza with salad and chips. We had a beer with the meal, and as this was our second beer, Sammie went back to the hotel at the end of dinner, and Roine and I went to find the bar we’d seen on our first night in Bob when we were looking for something to drink. We had tried this place first the previous night, and it was deserted. They said then that it never really got going until 8 pm. As it was now 9 pm, we wanted to see what it was like with people in it.

When we got there it was already quite dark, and there was lighting at the bar, but none at the tables, so we were sat outside in darkness, watching the other customers and enjoying our beer. The music was mostly good West African stuff, with the occasional bit of crappy West African pop thrown in for good measure. Every time a new bunch of people entered, they cranked up the volume a little bit, until the loudspeakers were almost tearing themselves apart in the bass notes. The dance floor in the middle of the area had a shelter over it, and after a while some paltry disco lights flashed on intermittently. Eventually a couple stood up to dance awkwardly and jerked around for a bit, not quite in time with the music. This confirmed Roine’s theory that not all Africans had rhythm in their blood. Walking back across town at this time of night, the place now had a feeling of familiarity about it. Most of the people patrolling the streets looking for tourists had already seen us about and now left us alone, and it was a great feeling just walking along streets where people were getting on with their lives. We passed one of the continuous barbecues that are all over the town, where slow-burning mahogany logs are used to cook cuts of meat that have been tickled by millions of flies. The smell of mahogany smoke was a really wonderful part of the atmosphere of Bobo. A great end to a long day.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

West African Road Trip - Day 2

I woke about 6:30 after a good night's sleep. After getting up I had time to start working on preparing some ARCOM papers for this year's proceedings. I met the others for breakfast at 8am. This being a small place, there was only one thing on the menu - an omelette toastie. It was bland, with no salt, pepper or sauce. We managed to get some toast out of them, too. The local white bread was fresh and surprisingly tasty. As always, the Nescafé was undrinkable. I don't know what they do to it to make it so unpalatable. But we managed to get some juice by paying extra. Sammie wasn't happy about paying extra for the juice, so the fellow serving us said that he would make it up to us when we came back on the return leg of our trip. Our driver had slept in the car and looked a little worse for wear. Tonight we must make him stay in a small hotel to make sure he is properly rested, because our safety depends on him. We had a stroll around the district, where the roads were unmetalled, with the characteristic red soil of the region forming the surface. A squashed frog caught my eye.

We had a crazy schedule today, trying to get to near the Mali border by evening, with a stop on the way at Ouagadougou. We stopped just before the border to see some crocodiles and a so-called traditional village that was kept looking suitably weird for the tourists. Naturally we had to be photographed playing with the small crocs. We had to pay, of course, not only for the entrance, but also for a small chicken which the young guide carried in his hand, only to toss the live chick into the mouth of the croc when we had finished stroking him and having our photos taken. We walked from there to the border, about 1.4 km which was quite something in the humid heat. But it was good to be stretching our legs and breathing air that was not air-conditioned.

The border crossing from Ghana to Burkina Faso took much longer than we'd anticipated. Loads of forms and paperwork, and no one in any particular hurry. There were also several stages to the process: confirming the papers for taking a car out of the country, then customs control, then passport control for leaving Ghana. Next passport control for entering Burkina, then customs control, then confirming the paperwork for bringing a car across the border. The uniformed guys were at their swaggering best although Sammie tried his best to charm them. In Burkina passport control, while we sitting around waiting for the policeman to enter our details by hand into a huge ledger, a real motorcycle pulled into the area in front of the office, so we popped out to see where he was headed. He was the first motorcyclist we had seen wearing protective gear of any kind (even a helmet). This was a well-seasoned BMW being ridden by a Nederlander from Amsterdam to Accra; a two-month expedition on his own. He had about a week left to do what we had done in less than two days, and was enjoying his meander through Africa. What a trip.  He was astounded to hear that we were planning to go to Bamako and back in little over a week. That made us start to reconsider our plans, although we still wanted to get to Mali, even if we didn't make the capital city.

Once across the border, we made fairly good progress, although large stretches of the road were unmetalled, and huge potholes often slowed us to less than walking pace. We did not stop for lunch, thinking we would get to Ouagadougou for a late lunch. We actually got there at about 6 pm. We had made for a 5-star hotel where the food was reputed to be the best around here. The hotel was built by the Libyans, along with a lot of the neighbouring buildings, which were on a grand scale, but surrounded by squalor. The drive through the outskirts and the city centre revealed a vast city of quite surprising proportions for such a poor country. The government, it seems, are systematically flattening the traditional mud-hut settlements and displacing the local people, so that they can build masses of ugly 6-storey concrete things. The boulevards are wide and straight, with a separate lane for the numerous bicycles, mopeds and motorcycles. There are traffic lights, street lights, all amenities of a modern city. It was quite a change after driving past hundreds of mud-hit settlements. But not everything is finished and the quality of the construction is typically shoddy in most places.

After dinner, we got a taxi into the town centre, after bartering about the fare from 10,000 to 4,000 of the local currency (700 to the pound) and asked the taxi drive to take us to a bar with music. This was how we found ourselves drinking beer and watching Les Freres Diarra, a really good local band that plays the kind of music I like best from this region. After being hassled to buy CDs, trinkets and other rubbish, we managed to get a taxi back for only 3,000 which made Sam happy. We spent a very happy night in our swish hotel, and had a great breakfast the next day.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

West African Road Trip - Day 1

I am travelling with Roine Leringer and Sam Laryea, in advance of the West African Built Environment (WABER) conference.  We decided to come over early and take a vacation trip to explore more of West Africa. Sam and Roine had been discussing and planning this for some time, and I latched on to them, not wanting to miss such an opportunity. Our flight to Accra from Heathrow had been delayed by nearly an hour. Apparently it is common on this route for someone to arrive at the gate after it has closed. Their bags have to be located and removed, and then we lost our scheduled slot and waited for an hour to take off. The rest of the flight was uneventful and we landed at Accra to be met by Sam's brothers, George and Eben.

After checking in the hotel we went for a drink at the Honeysuckle bar, where the staff wear orange T shirts printed with the name of the bar. Julian Boakye and his friend Sheila joined us. I'd met Julian in Reading when he was doing his MSc in International Development. We had a few beers and a couple of slices of pizza. Got back to the hotel and went to bed about 2am UK time, 1am local time. We were staying at the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons, a very nice place, not too expensive and just around the corner from the British Council.

Saturday, we had breakfast at 8 am. The room was a like a big lounge bar. Clean tiled floor, enormous covered snooker table with a colourful football on it, two televisions, sound on, tuned to different channels, background music, and several wardrobe-sized, free-standing AC units set to a chilly 20 degrees. One by one I switched each of these things off. We'd had to tick a list of breakfast options the night before so our three trays were placed on a coffee table in front of low leather lounge chairs. Everything was in separate bowls, and each bowl was wrapped in clingfilm. The cooked food (scrambled eggs, baked beans, toast) was stone cold. The coffee was the same undrinkable instant coffee that I recall from last year. So, not the greatest breakfast ever, but it filled us up.

We left about 9am after chatting to Sena, who'd come to say hello. It was great to see her again and to congratulate he on finally getting her PhD after having to wait for a long time for her viva. We'd separated out from our baggage the things that were just for Accra, boxes of books, smart clothes and so on. So we had a bag each to put in the land cruiser and we set of north. The roads around Accra were very congested and progress was very slow for the first couple of hours. Through much of the suburbs, the road was under construction, although little work was happening. We stopped at noon for a snack and a cold drink. Yam chips with chilli ketchup and Sprite.

We learned that Saturday was generally funeral day. This seems to involve a drinking party on Friday evening, burial Saturday morning, more partying all afternoon and into the night, then church service with hangovers on Sunday. One particularly noisy funeral convoy was most likely for a military man. First came a motorcyclist in army fatigues, with siren on constantly. Close behind was a large open truck, with about 20 young men, mostly in black, standing up in the back, a couple of hand-held percussion instruments, shouting and yelling, some stretching their arms out. Next came a single-deck bus with some serious people, and quite a few military types. This was followed by a handful of vans and cars, with their hazard lights on. They drove fast and forced their way through the traffic.  Every so often, because they had pulled into a village to make a noise and drink beer, they would catch up with as again and pass us. Everyone gets out of their way, because they look like the military.

We got to Kumasi about 3 pm, and had a quick tour of the campus of KNUST, then a later lunch with Prof George Intsiful, who we met last year. I had a Palaver (like a spinach stew) with a couple of boiled eggs on top, and rice. Very nice.

Then we hit the road again and drove all evening getting to Tamale about 11 pm. Totally tired, and ready for a good night's sleep. Tomorrow we cross the border into Burkina Faso! I wish I had brought my French phrase book...

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Double-blind reviewing

As previously noted in this blog, the practice of double-blind refereeing is often compromised by authors who cite their own previous work in their draft papers submitted for review.

It is in the author's interest to maintain their anonymity, and the main reason for doing this is to protect unknown authors from being dismissed out of hand. It is easy enough for an author to cite his or her own work as "Anonymous, Year" and to enter "Reference omitted for purposes of refereeing, to be inserted in the event of acceptance", or similar, in the list of references. If authors choose deliberately to reveal their identity, there are many other ways that they can do this, so we do not expend a lot of editorial time on trying to overcome this. It is rarely such an obvious method of revealing an author's identity that surely it cannot be accidental?

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Why do CM researchers continue to cite Egan and Latham Reports?

Opening a research paper with citations to Latham and Egan is probably not a good idea. These were government-sponsored reports, not research projects, and they need to be viewed very cautiously as they are now quite dated, and the political and economic landscape in the UK has moved on significantly since they were published. They do not represent the state of the art in terms of knowledge: indeed, they never have. If they were to be cited, they would need to be critiqued, although they have been endlessly, so there is not much point citing them as a reason for carrying out research into how construction work is procured and managed. Rather, researchers should seek out the best of the research that has been carried out (internationally) where this point has been tested and proved. A journal research paper is not the right forum to take up an outdated rallying call for UK industry improvement!

Have a look at them and see if you agree:

  • Latham Report 1994 is difficult to find online now. I think it was withdrawn?
  • Egan Report 1998

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Poorly designed surveys

I am intrigued by the increasing flow of surveys that come across the CNBR list. I wonder how many practitioners subscribe to academic construction research lists? Worse, how do you write up a survey when you have not defined a sampling frame? What would you state about the population, the sample and the return rate? I recall recently seeing on CNBR correspondent getting quite irate with us because not enough people had completed his survey.

One recent survey was sent to the CNBR list from someone called Cameron Grogan (who signed himself Salman). It was an interesting case in point. His first question, to an international list of construction academics is: “Have you ever worked on a construction project outside of the United States?” It is clear from the context of this question that he identifies overseas as being outside the United States. But if I had never worked overseas, I would have to answer yes to this question, since I only worked on projects at home, in UK. So, having answered yes to this question, because I have worked on projects outside the United States, the next screen asks a whole load of questions with drop-down options that make little sense to me, but clearly make a great deal of sense to the researcher.

I particularly wondered about the question “Have you worked in any country which was affected by terrorism?” I guess that the UK has been affected by terrorism – but is this really what the researcher is looking for, given that his next question asks if my family travelled with my while I worked abroad? Very confusing. Until this point I was answering questions about working on sites in the UK, a country that has been affected by terrorism (as has the USA). Now, when I think about a question about taking my family with me while I worked abroad, I have to think about when my family came with me when I travelled as an academic to countries that were not affected by terrorism. In other words, all of the questions about my working abroad elicit answers that are nothing to do with the survey. So I aborted it.

I think it is important that before sending surveys out to mailing lists, students and researchers should be encouraged to think about the traditional steps in designing surveys. I wonder what we are teaching our students that leads them to make so many errors in the design of a simple survey. There are so many good books on this topic, but, for now, here are a couple of web resources to help researchers to get to grips with the basics of survey design:

The reason that I am going into this detail and posting these links is because so many surveys we receive in papers submitted to Construction Management and Economics are so badly designed that they contribute nothing to our collective knowledge. I frequently think that these poorly designed surveys do nothing other than confirm what the researcher thought in the first place, and as such they are simply a waste of paper.

I look forward to the day when we see fewer badly designed surveys...

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Day 10 - Prüm to Reading

The bike was covered in thick frost when I went to stow my gear before breakfast. It was 07:00 and -2 degrees. I went for breakfast at 07:15 and had the usual cereals, bread, cheese and coffee. I used the mozzarella and tomato with a seeded brown roll to make a packed lunch, taking a banana, too, for something to eat in the tunnel. I set off at 07:45 in the chilly weather. It was a nice, compact and thriving town. They even have a Yamaha dealer as well as all the other usual shops, like agricultural supplies. I passed an interesting looking sculpture park. That might be worth checking out for a return trip. I could see from the smoking chimneys of Prüm that there was next to no wind. The sun was up and not a cloud in the sky.

The road was not an autobahn, and mostly single carriageway so not particularly fast. I said cheerio to yesterday's high speed, and enjoyed this traffic-free route via Malmedy and Liege. As the man at Mosel suggested at the end of my first day, this was much the better route. The journey was perfectly uneventful and I got to the tunnel three hours ahead of schedule. I was happy to be on the final stretch home, and enjoyed my picnic on the train.

The run from Dover to Reading was dull, being back on British motorways, but at least the motorways were not too congested. The satnav could not get any satellite reception pointing straight up, and I wondered if that was a consequence of the volcano cloud up in the jet stream. Certainly, it was OK pointing lower, towards the horizon. But it might have been a coincidence. There is not a cloud in the sky here, and the sun is shining, and I am properly warm for the first time since the day I arrived at Motovun. I was surprised how slow the urban traffic was compared to all the places I'd been. Having arrived home, at 14:10, here are the statistics of the trip: I covered 2,293 miles (3,696 km) with a maximum speed of 140 mph (225 kph), an average speed of 60 mph (96 kph) in 38 hours and 24 minutes of riding. Hmmm, I could have done it in a day and half if I didn't need to sleep or eat! I wonder where to go next time...

Friday, 16 April 2010

Day 9 - Ettlingen to Prüm

The ultimate purpose of this long journey was to meet Frank Schultmann and Andy Dainty in Ettlingen.  I added a few days before the meeting in order to make a trip to Motovun.  And just as I was on the way here yesterday for the meeting, I started getting text messages to tell me that because of a volcano eruption in Iceland, Andy was unable to fly to Germany for our meeting.  A bit ironic, because we ended up with Frank and me in his office connected to Andy via Skype!  But we managed to deal with all we needed to deal with, and then Frank and I went to lunch with one of Frank's colleagues.  We went to a Bavarian style restaurant in Karlsruhe, which was very interesting!

I had checked out of the hotel in the morning, after breakfast, so when Frank dropped me back, all I had to do was get my gear on and hit the road.  It was 14:30 and I had 308km to cover, about 3 hours of riding.  I was soon on the A5 again, headed northeast to the A6 which was more in the right direction, to the west.  There were copious roadworks again, in between blasts of speed, but it was not possible to get much speed up because of the Friday afternoon traffic, which was heavier than usual.  However, when I turned on to the A62, I found an autobahn that ran across hilltops, with loads of bends and bridges, almost no traffic, and mile after mile of unrestricted speed!  It was awesome opening up the bike across here.  There was loads of empty road, and I had learned to keep the windscreen lowered, and crouch down over the tank, which put more weight over the front wheel. Perhaps the lowered windshield provided a better aerodynamic as well, but it meant that I did not suffer from the bike weaving at top speed, and I was able to maintain 130mph plus or minus 10 for long stretches, except when there was a proper speed limit on occasional stretches that had slow moving traffic.  One interesting thing was slowing down on bridges that sprang across impossibly wide valleys at high altitude; slowing down for crosswinds, rather than for traffic.  Some of the bends had good visibility and smooth enough surfaces to take them at 120 mph.  And on the straights I was touching 140 mph frequently.  This was the longest sustained high speed I had done in one go, and I made the most of it, because it will be a long time before I get another chance to do this.

I arrived in Prüm at 17:30 as the satnav predicted, and it found the parking around the back, for which they gave me a key to raise the barrier.  I got internet passwords, and when they told me breakfast was 08:00 to 10:00, I grimaced, and they offered me 07:15 instead, which will enable me to get an earlyish start for a long run tomorrow, 638 km and about 8 hours - quite a run, but the channel tunnel will give me rest as i cross to England.  I must say, I am really looking forward to getting home again after all this!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Day 8 - Matrei to Ettlingen

Today was another 630km marathon. I set off from Matrei after a nice light breakfast with Olivia to chat to.  Despite the beer last night, she was up being conversational and friendly.  She got me some coffee and made sure I had everything I wanted.  The bread was made by her mother, and was very fresh.It was clear after all our talking that this was not a good place to be young.  It must be very frustrating living here.  After breakfast, I managed contribute to last night's beer and eggs and settled up.  Then I stowed everything on to the bike and wished my hosts all the best, promising to back with the family next time we are passing this way.  I had a lot of road to cover and was keen to get on.  After five or ten minutes riding through Matrei, I got to the main road and felt the power of the bike as it surged up the hills and made overtakes simple.

Lienz was slow again, going through endless road junctions with badly-phased lights.  Once I got through Lienz, the road was more fun, with nice bends and plenty of opportunities for easy overtakes.  The traffic became heavier and slower, and the route to the motorway was already familiar to me, but it was easier to see the other views in this direction, that I was craning my neck to see on the way down.  I was headed for Kufstein, and thinking that this was a bad road to choose.  Next time, I must avoid this.  It went through a lovely valley, with town after town, but as a result, the speed limits were urban, and the traffic was difficult.  but once I made the motorway, it was easier, and after crossing the border into Germany I was once more able to open up the bike for the unrestricted stretches of the autobahn.  There were many places were I could cruise along safely at speeds well over 100 mph, occasionally nudging 130.

I passed by Hotel Amroesel in Flintsbach am Inn, and remembered what a nice relaxing time I'd had there, walking up the hill and meeting the bouldering boy.  Then the traffic slowed to a halt and I filtered slowly between the lorries on the right and the cars on the left, perfectly segregated.  Some cars were across the lanes in their queuing, but the soon moved out the way when they saw me.  The motorway ahead was completely closed, for no apparent reason, and we were sent into the rural hinterland with no hint as to which direction, so I just followed a big truck, assuming he would be looking for the best route to the next junction.  He was.  After crossing the Inn, the route passsed through many villages, such as Nussdorf, and through a really attractive town with lots of old architecture on a hill, Neubeuern.  Soon after that, we joined the A8 to Munich, which is what I was headed for all along, and the detour was over, thankfully (overtakes were not possible with such slow roads and heacy traffic).  So, occasional bursts of speed again, interspersed with crawling at 80 kph through the extensive road works that seem to go on for ever.

I was getting really cold by now, and stopped near Munich to get warm and have a coffee.  I was amazed to find seven text messages that had come in while I was riding.  Andy, whom I was meeting in Karlsruhe with Frank, was not able to get here after all because all flights were cancelled due to volcanic ash in the air!  Apparently, something in Iceland is spewing ash into the air and it is dangerous to fly through it.  The irony was immense, since the meeting between the three of us was why I was making this journey in the first place.  Ah well, I was having a good break from work, and there was still a ton of stuff that Frank and I can discuss.  Plus, we can get Andy on Skype to join in.  Having warmed up in the shop at the services, I went back to my bike to get some of the food left over from last night, and nodded at another biker, on a Hayabusa, who had just rolled up.  With his cigarette smoke drifting my way, he came and joined me on the bench, and we exchanged travel stories and so on.  He had jsut set off and was on his way to somewhere 500 km north of here to see his girlfriend.  He drives this road (A8) 2-3 times a week for his job, a truck driver.  Then it turned out that his main job was a policemen, working in the despatch room, handling emergency calls.  He's been diving in Rovinj, not far from Motovun, and planned to go to Scapa Flow in Orkney, where I once went for a holiday, so was had plenty to talk about.  he had one more cigarette, then went on his way, and I had another espresso and went on my way, blasting along the unrestricted sections of autobahn whenever the opportunity arose.

As I got closer to Karlsruhe, I was nearly worried about being late to meet Frank, but I texted him to tell him that I would not be there until at least 17:30, so that I could add one and a half hours to my journey by taking a detour to have another play on Schwarzwoldhochstrasse, the B500 from Freudenstadt to Baden-Baden.  This time it was much clearer and although there were stretches with snow lying either side of the road, the temperature was well above zero, and the views across the Rhine Valley that I glimpsed were stunning.  There were stretches where I had to take it easy because of mud on the road, but most of the 24 miles of high speed bends and gradients were even more awesome than last time, with the weather being better.  Look at that bend in the picture, right at the beginning of the run.  Long, clear and fast.  They're mostly like that.  Later that evening, Frank told me that on some summer weekends, the route gets very popular with bikers, many of whom kill themselves on the bends.  To avoid too many casualties, the road is simply closed on saturdays and Sundays.  That would have been frustrating for anyone who drove a long way to see it.

I made the hotel in Ettlingen, a suburb of Karlsruhe bank on time at 17:15.  As I was checking in, Frank turned up too.  I parked the bike in their underground carpark, sorted myself out, and then walked to his house with him, less than a kilometre away.  Xenia had prepared us a wonderful dinner, and the house was more like mansion!  They had designed it themselves and it was a really spacious, attractive house with masses of space and loads of rooms.  The view across the Rhine valley was pretty special.  After dinner, Frank and I went to a pub in Ettlingen, Vogel, where they brewed their own beer.  Good stuff, too!  This had been an excellent end to a day that started of OK, but just kept getting better!

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Day 7 - Motovun to Matrei

It was raining at the start of the day, and I spent the first hour on emails and reviewing a conference paper. By the time I'd had some breakfast and packed my stuff, Ranko was up and we went to the Hotel Kastel for a final coffee. We chatted about this and that, and I noted that there was almost no one around on the streets, and we returned to the house. I stowed my gear on the bike, manoevered it out from the space between the houses, and with the rain now dried up, I was off on the road again, headed North. The wet roads made me a lot more cautious about my speed, and I was approaching bends very cautioualy indeed. I knew the route home by now, or so I thought. At the boundary with Slovenia, I showed them my passport, but they did nto ask me to remove my helmet, just checked the validity of the passport. At the Slovenian border, 2.5 km further on, they waved me through, as I slowed. Somewhere between Gračišće and Crni Kal, I missed a right hand turn towards Ljubljana, and after ten minutes realised I was off track, so turned round and found the right road. I soon made it to the Italian border, and apart from some road works, it was all very straightforward.

I stopped for petrol and a snack at lunch time, then pressed on, making the winding roads up to Plöckenpass within an hour, to play on some of my favourite hair-pin bends.  But it was a bit wet after the rain, and still a bit of drizzle. Worse, the temperature hovered between -1 and 1 so I was worried about how the tyres would grip on this surface, so I rode up the roads like a novice, going in slow, and not accelerating too much out of the bends.  The last thing I wanted to do up here was drop the bike on a sharp bend.  Coming down the other side of the mountains, the roads were easier, as the temperature was a little higher, but it was awfully cold all the same.  I was thankful for the heated handlebar grips, and I worked out that I was quite comfortable around 7 degrees, but chilly below that, and when it was around zero, I really felt it.  However, it was not too cold to keep going!  The occasional light showers continued, so the road was not suitable for pushing hard into the bends, and every so often there was a bus or a lorry coming around the corner from the other direction occupying the whole road. I was glad not to be in a car!

Finally, at about 15:30, bang on schedule, I arrived at the guest house in Matrei-in-Osttirrol, the Ruggenthalerhof. I was welcomed in English by Olivia, who introduced me to her 5 year-old neice and the two of them showed my to my room, where her mum, Anna, was just finishing making it ready. It was a nice big room, with soafe, table and chairs, a balcony and so on. It felt more like a suite. They told me when breakfast was, and I asked about dinner. Apparently, there was a pizzeria open in Matrei, but probably nothing else, and there were a couple of other places to go. I decided to jump back on the bike and visit the Spar shop near the main road about 5 km back, from where I got some things that I could eat and drink in the room. When I got back, Olivia asked if I wanted some coffee, and I was quick to accept. I chucked my shopping in the room, as well as the bike gear, and joined her and Amelie in the breakfast room, where she made me a coffee, and practiced her English with me. After the coffee, she offered me a beer, and she joined me, and we continued to chat. Anna joined us, and we talked about all sorts of things. They got out some Schnapps made in this valley, and I tried two types, the first one was a bit too primitive, Williams Birne (Pear Schnapps) and the second one was very nice, which was made with Apples and Pears.  Anna pointed out to me that the Preglet label on this one was a protected trade mark, and only Schnapps made in this locality could bear this label.  I was not sure about which one was made by Anna's uncle, but at least one of them was.  Then Anna surprised me by offering me something to eat. She prepared some fried eggs on toast for me. I wasn't sure if I should have been embarrassed, because they didn't eat, since it was now too late for them to be eating. After this, Olivia and I compared our favourite music by playing each other the first 10-15 seconds of songs on our phones and we chatted about movies as well, until about 9:30, then that was the end of the evening. I was struck by her enthusiasm for all sorts of things and the lack of social opportunity in a remote place like this.  She was clearly wishing for a more interesting social life and, perhaps, sense of purpose. But she seemed stuck in a lifestyle that she would not have chosen. I guessed that this was how life was for large numbers of young people in similar situations.

It was a remarkable evening, all told, and I really felt like one of the family, having also met her brother and her uncle while we were there. Looking at the stuff I bought from the supermarket, I decided that this would make a good lunch tomorrow, instead!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Day 6 - Motovun

The last full day if my stay was a rainy day. We were confined to the house in the morning and went to the Pizzeria for a salad at lunchtime. Having checked out my phrase nook, I was able to greet Mishko with "Užasno vrijme, zar ne?", to which he responded, "ne". (The weather's bad, isn't it? No!) Mishko, who prepared the food, joined us for a chat while we ate. It was interesting observing that the banter between tables and betwern staff and customers alike probably wouldn't happen in England.

After lunch we returned to the house, drank a bit, emailed a bit, chatted a bit and nibbled some seriously good cheese. The weather cleared up, so we had a stroll around the city walls and chatted to everyone we met. Then to Benjamin's for dinner, risotto with truffles. After dinner we were fortunate enough to be invited to sit at the back of the Italian Community Hall while the local group of a capella singers (Klapa Motovun) rehearsed. Eight of them, sounding like 20, with beautiful voices singing four-part harmony. It was a mixture of traditional and modern pieces sung with tremendous skill, conducted by a young musician who was clearly very talented and lead by Tomitsa, a very powerful and passionate tenor. The sound was extremely good. They were clearly proficient, experienced and very well-matched to each other, socially as well as musically. It was a rare thrill to observe their skills and the good-natured banter between them. Their pleasure in singing was very uplifting.

This traditional style of singing is not from this region, but Dalmatia and they sang local songs, some Russian, merging with a more modern "pop" idiom. The tradition in this region is quite different, and probably nowhere near as popular or of such instant appeal as this.

Afterwards we went for more drinks in the Pizzeria bar and regaled each other with various tales about languages and travelling. I'd been able to say farewell to Lubici, Yvonna, Eike and Mishko. Once more, and more than before, I was going to miss these people. Then Rank and I returned to the house and chatted about writers like Pamuk, Eco, Dostoevsky, Borges and so on, as well as great movies like Once Upon a Time in the West, Apocalypse Now, Sin City and a load of others. This kept is going until way too late. But I shall not be in a tearing hurry tomorrow...

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Day 3 - Rosenheim to Motovun

The hotel in Flintsbach am Inn had turned out fine, despite the initial formality of my reception. I only saw one other person there during my stay. The young lady who was on reception, served the meal, the drinks, dealt with the music, did the breakfast the following day, and the check-out. But there was evidence of at least 8 other guests staying, judging by the places set for breakfast, each table with the room numbers labelled and the specific number of place settings depending on which room it was. She said that some guests were quiet and that was that.
The breakfast was good, fresh bread and so on, and I took an apple and a banana for a snack later in the day. I set off at 08:30, slightly later than anticipated, but I only had 430 km to do today, unlike yesterday's big push of 670 km. I expected to arrive in Motovun at about 15:00, but was not sure about the satnav's estimate of my time because it didn't contain the maps for Slovenia and Croatia. So I texted Ranko to tell him to expect me at 17:00, and this would give me a margin of error in case of two things. First I might get lost, second I wanted time to enjoy the alps.

As I left Flintsbach behind me, I was straight on to the autobahn again, with the river Inn alongside me, marking the boundary between Austria and Germany. It was strange looking to the left and to the right seeing farms, small towns and churches, all in the same style and arranged consistently, yet to the left was Austria and to the right was Germany. If it were not for a map, I would have no idea that I was looking at two different countries as I rode along this valley. After a few miles, the road crossed the river, and I had to stop at what used to be a national boundary and buy a special vignette that is supposed to be some kind of road toll for using highways. The charge for a 10-day motorcycle vignette is 4.5 Euros. It was a bit annoying that the last two times I had been through Austria, despite being dressed in bike gear and carrying a helmet, they had sold me a car vignette for twice the price. This time, I'd specifically asked for a motorbike vignette. Since I'd stopped anyway, I decided to fill up the fuel tank as well, and then I was on my way once more, into Austria, headed towards Lienz (not Linz, which is what people here assume I am trying to say every time I mention Lienz, which is in Tyrol). I have stayed at Lienz a couple of times before, and really liked it there because it is so close to the alps. As I progressed, the hills were getting higher, the mountains of the alps were more visible, and air was clean and fresh. The sun was shining and the temperature was dropping as I gained altitude. I suddenly remembered that I had chosen ths route to pass through Matrei-in-Ostirrol, because I have booked my first night there on my return trip. It was a good choice, because this is an incredibly beautiful valley. But I was enjoying the roads too much to stop and take pictures. I did stop a little later as the skies clouded over and the temperature dropped. I saw a good lay-by and pulled over. It was just beginning to snow and the temperature was down to 4°C. I felt a real chill off the bike, being exposed to the cold wind. It made me realize how protective the fairing and screen on the bike really were. I took a picture of the scenery, bike in foreground, and was keen to get back on the bike, to be a bit more protected from the elements.

The road was going through awesome scenery as the elevation increased, until I came across the Felbertauern tunnel after some nice fast riding. This is a 5.3km tunnel that gets through some big mountains. I entered it making a mental note that the speed limit was 80 kph, and as I accelerated into it, I kept glancing at the speed display on the satnav, which indicated about 54 kph. I accelerated to 80 mph before I remembered that the satnav didn't get a signal in the tunnel, and I sheepishly slowed to the proper speed. The tunnel finished with a dangeroud sharp left hand bend, but there are plenty of warnings to slow to 30 kph. Then I was at a toll barrier, thinking that my vignette would get me through, but, no, I had to pay 8 euros toll, which meant removing the gloves and finding which pocket had the wallet. I pulled over after paying to get my gloves back on properly, and saw that there was a tunnel museum here, so I dismounted and had a look at its locked doors, seeing only a few photos through the entrance. So I took a few photos as was off again.

Riding through Lienz was odd. I had never seen it crowded with cars and pedestrians before. I think it must have been so busy because it was a Saturday. I filtered past lots of queues of traffic, and was not sure whether this was permitted in Austria, but this way I was soon out of the town and heading upwards and onwards. The road to Plöckenpasse was open and clear, with good runs of speed. I missed a right turn, because I was having such fun lining up the bends and setting up smooth accelerations, that I had to turn round and go back 2 km. This was the first batch of hairpins and I passed a car on the straight and got into the rhythm of accerating out of a bend, braking into the next one, lining up the entry, seeing the apex point, looking up and over my shoulder at the the line, and then accelerating hard out of it, braking into the next one. Each time I was getting the entries better, braking into the bend, rather than too early, which I had been doing, and getting the tires to bite before accelerating, as well as getting the widest line by going for the apex. Again and again, hairpin after hairpin, all the time getting higher up the mountain. The road straightened became a little less bendy until the old boundary crossing into Italy at the top of the pass. On the way down, the weather was better, it was warmer, and the bends sharper and mroe frequent. Many of these stretches had a half tunnel over them, with an open structure on the outside where the sunlight streamed in. Some were complete tunnels, and totally dark inside. After the brilliance of the sunshine it was unnerving to be plunged into darkness for a few seconds, then out into the light again.

After the excitement of the mountains, the roads through the foothills went from village to village, with fast stretches in between. Then I got to the motorway about 2 pm and stopped at the service area for my fruit and water, and a proper espresso - one euro. Glass of water to go with it, no messing around, no fuss. The Italians know what do with coffee! I texted Ranko to give him a new estimated arrival time of 16:00, sure I would make it before then.

The Italian motorway took me to the Slovenian border, an easy crossing now that they are in the EU. From the border, I headed for Kozina, and managed to avoid the highway, particularly because i had not bought the vignette that Slovenia now likes to sell to the tourists who are passing through. I found my way through the route, with only a couple of wrong turns. I could buy the maps for my satnav for this region, but they are about £100 for this region, and I figured it was not worth buying maps of the entire Balkans and Eastern Europe just to get through a bit of Slovenia to Buzet.

After Kozina, to Crni Kal, then to the border with Croatia, where they seemed to be asking for passports and IDs from cars in front. I took off my gloves and got me passport out, but them woman with the uniform blanked me and turned to talk to the guards. I waited a bit then she turned back and waved me through in a very disinterested manner. Clearly, they only talk to Slavs at this border. Off I went to head for Buzet.

The last run from Buzet to Motovun was easy and fast. These roads are very smooth, with some very straight stretches that are wide and clear with no side turnings. The two cars in front of me were gassing it, and try as I might, I could get nowhere near them. My clock indicated 150 mph, but the satnav had it as 140 mph, and that's the fastest I've been on this bike. By now, I had learned to get my head down at speed, and the weaving didn't happen. It might have helped that there were no crosswinds, either. I was slowing down well in advance of any bends or turnings, which is perhaps why I could not catch up with the cars, but they were really moving.

I made it to Motovun in the sunshine, and wound my way up the hill, on an atrociously surfaced road that is in dire need of rebuilding. The guy at the entrance to the town who turns back traffic from the cobbled streets waved me through with a smile. And I picked my way up the steep narrow streets, bumping over the cobbles, through the town gate to the lower square, which has tables both sides for the coffee bars, and there was Ranko who was getting me a large cold beer. All the tourists watched as I bounced to a halt next to the table, and settled down to a nice cold pint and a chat, and I presented him with a bottle of ultra-hot chilli sauce. For the first, time, I had arrived earlier than I'd given Ranko to expect, to I was quite pleased with having navigated through Slovenia and Croatia without the satnav to guide me. So, by way of celebration, we chatted and caught up with each other's news till well after midnight, with the help of a few beers, of course.

In all I had covered 1863 km (1158 miles) in 19 hrs and 24 minutes of moving time, 23 hours and 20 minutes of travel time including stops. Maximum speed was 225 kph (140 mph) and overall moving average 96 kph (60 mph). Now I need a rest for a few days before doing it all again on the way back...

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Day 2 - Cochem to Rosenheim

The first thing to do was to get fuel. I have often run the tank down until the dashboard is warning me that I am low on fuel. But this was not one of those times. I was just close to empty, but not empty. I was really surprised to squeeze 18 litres into the tank, 16 litres being the previous record. This lead me to check in the manual to see what the tank capacity was and it is supposed to be 25 litres. Clearly, I need to be more ambitious about how far I can go on reserve.
After paying for the fuel, I made my way up the side of the valley to leave the Rhine behind me. The morning mist was thinning, the sun was shining in my face as I headed south, and the roads were excellent. There is a really nice winding road with great hairpins going up from Bruttig-Frankel to Mösdorf. After a happy few miles of whizzing round bends and over hills, I got back to the autobahn and headed south to Baden-Baden for the B500, Shwarzwoldhochstrasse.

The B500 was everything that I'd expected and more. Because of the hills that I was climbing, it was getting colder, down to about 6° again. And the clouds were low, as the hill rose to meet them. Then, as I finally got on to the stretch I had head so much about, I was surprised to see snow lying all over the place, but it was not fresh snow, and there was not enough to ski on, despite the preponderance of ski lifts and ski hotels in the area. The road was just perfect: massive long sweeping bends that could be taken at 90-100 mph. I've never ridden anything like this before. The road had no potholes, the bends had excellent visibility, they did not tighten as you went around them, when I encountered a bus or lorry, it was always at the beginning of a straight stretch ready for a good overtake without missing a beat, or perhaps this was because the forward visibility was so good, I could time it that way - the slow traffic probably occurs on bends, too, but being able to see and anticipate made the overtakes safe and well-planned (as they always should be). This road made me very happy indeed, and I look forward to doing it in the sunshine one day, rather than this drizzling mist. I hope I can get some photos on the way back.

After that, the autobahn was a little bit dull. The A8 had the most enormous roadworks and contra-flows that went on for a long time. The bits without roadworks were relatively short, but that might be because they were without speed limits, too, and it was exhilarating to be riding legally at speeds around 120-130 mph. The straight road and fast moving traffic was in marked contrast to the UK version of motorways. There is something quite different about the habits and expectations of drivers on the autobahn. Of course, moving at this speed meant that I was frequently slowing down as I approached any other vehicle, and was anticipating anyone moving out for an overtake. All too soon, another long drag of roadworks slowed the traffic to 120 kph or less.

At one point, the traffic had slowed to a complete halt. It was approaching the junction with the A8, the main road to München. The cars and lorries had clearly been stationary for some time because their engines were off and people were getting out for a chat and a leg stretch and a head scratch. Bizarrely, they had pulled to the edges of the carriageway, leaving a really wide space, big enough for a truck, so that I could pootle along past the envious motorists. I had to go really slowly, though, as so many people were getting out. I thought that an emergency vehicle must have come through as they slowed, forcing them all to the edges of the road, leaving this lovely space for me to filter through. After a few miles, the traffic started to move, and people hurriedly dashed back to their vehicles to start them up. And shortly after joining the congested and busy A8, I could see on the hard shoulder police cars and other cars, as the police tried to sort out what had happened. The congestion was just he queue clearing itself, and off we all went as before, lurching between roadworks.

By about 2 pm I was getting quite peckish, and pretty tired, so I stopped at a service station and had a sandwich and a coffee. I was trying to skip lunch, in order to make good progress, but realised that I was not going to arrive at my destination until about 16:00 and with 680km to do today, I needed to keep up my energy levels and concentration.

After many more miles of autobahn, I finally got to the hotel, finding it was still in Germany after all, and not Austria. The border is near, but runs along the river Inn, before the road crosses it a few kilometres south of here. I rolled up to the front door, and a handwritten sign with a “P” on it said “hintern haus”, which I recognised as meaning park around the back. I did so, and there was no way into the hotel from the car park, so then I had to walk back around to the front. I should have unloaded first, parked later.

This was a slightly larger hotel, a bit more formal than the last one, and I registered at reception and got my room key, moved my bags in, then went for a walk up the nearest hill to get a good look at the locality. I am in the foothills of the alps; there is no snow on the nearby hills, but plenty on the distant peaks. I am intrigued by the churches and crosses placed at the summits of the nearby hills. It is beautiful here.

On the way down the mountain, a boy in his early twenties caught up with me, walking more quickly. He had what looked like a mattress on his back. We walked together and chatted. He'd been "bouldering" on the mountain. Basically, this involves placing the mattress on the floor below a boulder which is anything from 1m to 6m in size, then climbing up the boulder. You place the mattress on the floor below you. If you slip, you land on it, thus protecting your knees. Perhaps it lost something in the translation to English. He was very enthusiastic about it, though, and very interested in my camera because he has used a Canon 1D for his work, a much bigger and more professional model, but not his own, and too big to take scrambling over boulders. He was interested in getting a 7D like mine. At least, he seemed to be quite knowledgeable about all that kind of stuff, and it was nice to chat to someone after a day of solitary biking.

After my walk, I was hungry and thirsty. In the bar/café/restaurant, they had a log fire burning and music playing. English pop songs from the seventies: dreadful. I survived six songs before caving in. When the waitress brought my meal, I felt compelled to grumble about the awful music. She couldn't find anything else, so she put the radio on instead. Half music, half sports spiel, in Austrian. Ice Hockey special, and Rosenheim have a chance to get into the championship league! Exciting stuff, eh? At least it made me feel like I was outside UK, which was the main thing. Anyway, after my pizza and salad (the only vegetarian option, again!) and a few beers, I was ready for some sleep.

I was up at 05:00 again the next day, and ready for a leisurely ride to Motovun, across the Austrian and Italian alps. Only 430 km to ride today, so it should be a lot less tiring, and there is a chance that I might not be too late arriving. However, there are a lot of mountain roads to play on this morning…

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Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom

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