The London Ramble-Part 3

On Sunday afternoon, you gotta’ have Hart.DSC00458

It was one of those London days when the weather looked like it would rain on our parade and probably repeatedly.  Thick clouds hung low overhead. There was great anticipation for precipitation.  Rather than getting soaked like a junkyard dog, we took refuge in the dry, homey confines of the Clapton Hart.

DSC00456It bills itself as a local pub for local people.  The Hart is full of used furniture, bare-brick walls, and 20-foot high ceilings.  This watering hole is enormous with various rooms to fit all needs.  Want a dark, discreet, quiet corner to sip an ale?  Slip into one of the small rooms with deep red walls and low lighting.  Need to seat a huge crowd?  The spacious back room has long tables and sports a truck-sized skylight that gives a soft glow to everything below.  Further out back is a spacious beer garden for better weather days.

This pub started as the White Hart Hotel back in 1722.  In the late 1990s, it became the Chimes Bar, a music venue known more for its street side killings than an entertainment destination.  These were the days of Hackney’s infamous Murder Mile, a stretch of road known for it gangland savagery and brutal murders.  But those days seem to be gone now.  Hackney is changing and one of those changes is the Clapton Hart.  The pub specializes in serving microbrewery beers and hardy food. DSC00453 DSC00448

DSC00455Since our visit was on a Sunday afternoon, much of the clientele came for the Sunday roast, a traditional British meal of roasted meats, mashed potatoes and great sides like Yorkshire pudding, vegetables and gravy.  Young families with children camped out to feast the day away.  Others gathered over bountiful Bloody Marys or pints of dark ale.  One old man, propped up in a lone chair in the middle of the great room, swilled a bottled beer and tipped his captain’s hat to every young lady that sauntered by.

We dined on salt and black pepper potato chips and drank British ales.  We spent hours talking while kids raced around the cavernous pub and the stereo played Bowie, the Kinks and some modern British rock.  It never did rain that day, but what a nice way to while a way a Sunday afternoon.  At the Clapton Hart, of course.DSC00451 DSC00447



Friends, Together Again

The year was 1980 and I was world traveling with no direction home.  Life was simple.  I carried a motorcycle tank pack and a bamboo mat with a hand-made Greek blanket rolled into it.  I had no camera or sunscreen—it wasn’t around then. Worldkid had arrived.  I also had a Dutch girlfriend who had the most beautiful, big blue eyes that I had ever seen.  I was enchanted.  We had met on a terrace in Paris while waiting for the Magic Bus that was to arrive from London and then head onward to Athens.mb The Magic Bus was an alternative bus service for travelers on the cheap.  From the 1960s to the early 1980s, the buses roamed all over Europe, did the overland route from Istanbul through Afghanistan and on to India and Nepal, and also made North Africa stops in Morocco and Egypt.  It was definitely alternative travelling.  Passengers would light candles and incense in the aisles at night and play guitars and flutes to pass the miles away.  Young mothers would string up their babies from the ceiling in Mayan hammocks or Indian shawls and let the road motion rock their infants to sleep.  On our bus, there was a Brit who we called Magic Steve.  He would arrange things. Whenever we approached a border Steve would come down the aisle calling for all illegal substances to be deposited in a large bag that he carried.  At the border control, Magic Steve would suddenly disappear while all the passengers had their passports checked.  These were the days before the European Union so every country had their own border stations and currency.  Once the customs officials did their repeated stamping, the bus would be humming away again.  Five miles down the road, Magic Steve would return passports to everyone along with any personal items collected before the border.

My Dutch girlfriend (the one with the amazing blue eyes) and I reached Athens and checked into the 2-star Hotel Carolina.  She knew this grand city well from previous visits and showed me the Parthenon, the first Olympic stadium of the modern era and introduced me to retsina, that distinctively Greek white wine with a strong pine resin flavor.  Days later she left for her restaurant job on the island of Kos while I followed the movable feast of Magic Bus travelers ferryboat hopping to the Greek islands of Paros, Antiparos and Santorini in the Aegean Sea.  But after too many nights of ouzo and debauchery, I decided to travel to Kos to gaze into the most beautiful big blues eyes in the world.  I was still smitten.  When my new Dutch girlfriend learned that I was Istanbul bound, she asked if she could join me.  That was the nicest question I was ever asked.  She quit her restaurant job the next day and we boarded a Mickey Mouse boat to the Asian Coast.  We visited Izmir, the ruins at Ephesus, and the Black Sea.  We went to off-the-road places that had not yet been invaded by mass tourism where village children and women would fondle the flowing blond hair of my Dutch girlfriend like they had never seen the color before.  I was content to simply stare into her amazing blue eyes.

We reached Istanbul, saw dancing bears in the street, dined nightly on grilled shish kebab washed down with cold Efes beer, and stood in awe within the amazing domes of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia.  But when the Turkish prime minister was suddenly assassinated, Istanbul turned into an armed camp.  It was time to get out of Dodge.  Five days later on our third attempt we finally elbowed our way onto a bus.  We headed to the Greek border town of Thessaloniki, passed the amazing monastery of Meteora perched high in the Greece’s Pindus Mountains, and hopped a ferry to the Isle of Corfu.  We built a rock shelter on a remote beach and joined a vagabond community of French and Australian travelers.

After two weeks of bliss, another ferry took us to Brindisi, the very bottom of the boot heel of Italy.  It was there we met a guy named Erich from Switzerland who was heading north as we were.  And we also serendipitously ran into Magic Steve leaning on the fender of a northbound Magic Bus awaiting takeoff.  My Dutch girlfriend went up to Steve and asked him if he could get her aboard.  Being the arranger, he said no problem.  Then my Dutch girlfriend pointed to Erich and I standing nearby and told him that she was traveling with two guys who also needed passage.  Magic Steve must have stared into her amazing blue eyes for too long.  A half hour later the three of us were headed along Italy’s eastern coast as the Magic Bus growled northward.

We traveled the entire length of Italy, through the Swiss Alps hemorrhaging with silver strands of waterfalls, and onto Zürich, Erich’s hometown.  Upon arrival there, my Dutch girlfriend and I said goodbye to Magic Steve.  It was the last time we ever saw him.  We then started to look around for a public park to camp in for the night was nearly upon us.  Erich approached and asked us of he could buy us dinner.  We didn’t have a Swiss franc to our names and had not eaten a meal for a day and a half.  The park bench could wait.

We went to a typical Swiss restaurant of wooden beams and low ceilings.  The three of us gorged ourselves on hearty soup, homemade bread and cheese with an aroma that would scare away a cow but one I could not stop eating because of its heavenly taste. After dinner, Erich invited us to stay with him at his communal living quarters in the nearby village of Zumikon.  We spent a week in his lovely Swiss farmhouse complex and met his housemates Kristoff and Irene.  When my Dutch girlfriend and I bid Erich goodbye, little did the three of us know that we were to become life long friends, but that is indeed what transpired.  We saw each other sporadically over the next three decades—back in Zürich, in Amsterdam, then in New Mexico, and also on a three-day adventure of a lifetime down and up in the Grand Canyon. Erich was also one of the first people to know about our son, Sebastian, when his girlfriend, Barbara, took a sample to her Zürich lab in late 1983 and discovered that my Dutch girlfriend was pregnant.

But it was now 2013.  We had not seen Erich in over a decade and only had heard from him a couple of times through email.  My Dutch girlfriend, now my spouse for over thirty years, suggested I contact him about our upcoming visit to Europe.  It turned out that Erich would be in Amsterdam the very day we arrived from the DSC00286Caribbean.  We met for drinks at the VOC Café near the harbor and later for a great dinner at the Waag, the five hundred year old weigh station that is now a restaurant.  We laughed, got caught up with our respective lives, reminisced and laughed some more.  Erich was the first friend that we mutually had.  It was great to share him again after so many years.  I was finished with my glass of wine and looking at those two.  My old friend Erich, smiling as he always did but now with pure white hair.  And at my Dutch girlfriend who still has the most beautiful, big blue eyes that I have ever seen. It has been one long, great run.DSC00284

The London Ramble—Part Two

Fluid History Along The ThamesDSC00377

I can’t really call what we did a ‘pub crawl’.  That usually requires one or more people  drinking in multiple bars in a single night, and shuttling/stumbling/crawling (probably in that order) between the pubs as the night grows old.  My effort to sample the best historic maritime drinking establishments along the River Thames had a higher purpose than simply getting blasted.

DSC00369I was doing some serious journalistic research for an upcoming article that I’ve titled, Fluid London.  The plan was to roughly follow a small section of the Thames Path, a national hiking trail that meanders 184 miles from its source in the Cotswolds, through London’s throbbing urbanscape and finishing at the Thames Barrier in Greenwich.  Without pub crawl requirements, I took my time—five pubs in three days along the Thames Path—and absorbed the historical ambiance as well as well as a few pints of smooth, hand-crafted English ales.

DSC00379First stop was the curiously named Town of Ramsgate.  This long, narrow pub is located next to the Wapping Old Stairs, an aged stone passageway where Ramsgate fishermen used to sell their catch of cod, mackerel and eel.  But the drinking establishment was also a place where convicts and crooks were pressed into service for voyages to the American colonies.  The Town of Ramsgate sits in the shadows of the dreaded Execution Dock where Captain Kidd and other pirates were unceremoniously hanged by the neck.  Head out to the bar’s lengthy riverside balcony and you will see a noose hanging from the rafters, a gentle reminder not to misbehave like a rogue.DSC00394

The old Wapping Stairs

The old Wapping Stairs

DSC00390The first day also included a visit to the nearby Prospect of Whitby, named after an old sailing ship. It claims to be the river’s oldest tavern dating back to 1520.  The Prospect was a bawdy meeting place for sailors, smugglers and thugs during Britain’s golden age of sailing.  Sir Hugh Willoughby, an early Arctic explorer, sailed from here in 1533 in a disastrous attempt to discover the Northeast Passage to China.  Willoughby never returned alive.  All that remains of the original tavern is the 400 year-old stone floor.   But sipping on a cool Doom Bar Ale here while gazing out onto the Thames, it was easy for me to conjure up the maritime past of this grand old pub.DSC00375 DSC00393

DSC00417Day Two entailed long tube rides upstream to the far west London suburb of Chiswick.  We finally arrived at the cozy City Barge.  Built in 1484, the pub was then called the Navigator Arms where boat builders, ferrymen and farriers gathered for centuries.  The old bar was bombed by the Nazis during the Battle of Britain, but was carefully rebuilt retaining its true character.  The Thames changes at this picturesque shore called Strand on the Green.  It’s a kicked back view where customers enjoy the wildlife on nearby Oliver’s Island or a sweating rowing team as they grunt and glide through the brown water.  It was at The Barge where the Beatles were filmed for the movie, Help!DSC00407

The original part of the pub not bombed out by the Nazis

The original part of the pub established in 1484 survived the Nazi bombings of 1940.

DSC00421Help is what we needed getting to the next pub, the Bricklayer’s Arms in downtown Putney.  A series of buses finally delivered us there and what a delight.  The pub is not that old, opening its doors in 1826.  Formerly called the Waterman’s Arms, this rugged watering hole of beam and brick quenched the thirsts of watermen, those who ferried people and goods across the Thames. They were joined by lightermen, beefy dock workers, who unloaded the cargo brought from British Empire ports from around DSC00418the globe.  Today, it is a tranquil spot to drink beer and view the historic photos of maritime folk who once stood at the same bar.  I chose a Titanic Nautical Ale, full with smoky malt and burnt sugar flavors.  Then I attempted to play a game of 9-pin, a skittle game where you swing a weight connected to a string and attempt to flatten the 9 pins set up vertically on a wooden board.  You get three attempts to clear the deck.  I soon learned that more Titanic Nautical would be needed to improve my accuracy.DSC00429

DSC00431The last day was spent at the Mayflower pub.  It was here that Captain Christopher Jones selected his crew of local mariners and departed with the Pilgrim Fathers to Massachusetts.  A pub has been on this spot in continuous operation for over 400 years and it still sports thick black beams, deep red walls and planked floors that squeak like the deck of a wooden ship from yesteryear.  I couldn’t resists having a Mayflower Scurvy Ale brewed at the Greene King Brewery in Suffolk.  The food was so good here we returned a second time to dine on fish & chips, grilled tuna and Sheppard’s pie.

Captain Christopher Jones returned to London after delivering the Pilgrims to America.  During that epic voyage, Jones lost his boatswain, his gunner, three quartermasters, the cook, and more than a dozen sailors due to the same nasty illnesses that plague the Pilgrims. The captain’s health was also badly undermined.  He died the next year and was laid to rest in the Saint Mary’s churchyard across from the pub.  I plan to visit the grave of Captain Christopher Jones on my next trip to London.  And afterwards, I will lift a pint at the Mayflower in his honor.

The author (L) and wine connoisseur (R) ponder the flavors of various British ales.

The author (L) and wine connoisseur (R) ponder the flavors of various British ales.

View of the Thames from the Mayflower.

View of the Thames from the Mayflower.

The London Ramble – Part One

Ambushed at the Cutty SarkDSC00340

I wander under the bow of the Cutty Sark, that turbo 19th century clipper ship that brought China tea back to London in record time for an astonishing amount of money.  The clipper from below deck is now frozen in time, encased in a spectacular, glass-roofed structure that protects her from the damp, gray English weather.  While I admire the shining copper clad hull towering above me, I do a 180 and am astonished.  Before me are dozens of eyes staring at me, eyes from the past.  DSC00351

DSC00349Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Fry, William Wilberforce, and Sir Lancelot gaze unabashedly at me. So do the politicians—Pitt, Gladstone and Disraeli plus a splendidly carved little dog from a ship called Sirius. These are figureheads, most more than 200 years old.  The carved wooden sculptures used to grace the prows of Britain’s sailing ships and were thought to represent the vessel’s mojo. It was believed that these bold, brightly-painted sculptures led the way, offering seamen protection from the harsh ocean and safeguarded their journey back home.

It was back in 1953 that Sydney Cumbers, commonly known as Long John Silver due to the eye patch he wore after losing an eye DSC00366due to a childhood accident, gave his vast collection of figureheads to the Cutty Sark Trust.  Cumbers did this in memory of Britain’s merchant seamen and the Little Ships that went to the rescue of the British army at Dunkirk at the start of WWII.  I did not conduct a head count, but a docent informed me that the Long John Silver Collection is the largest collection of merchant navy figureheads in the world.  I cannot imagine anyone having more.DSC00365

I gaze into these faces of the past.  They are wonderfully carved, exquisite figureheads—maritime art from a day gone by.  The buxom, red-cheeked blonde tries to catch my eye.DSC00346  So do several CEO types, 19th century style with funky bowties, high shirt collars and bowler hats.  DSC00334 DSC00337That is not surprising since the sculptures were often 3-D portraits of family members of ship owners, or sometimes ship owners themselves.  Then there is Thermopylae, a magnificently mustachioed and helmeted classical warrior.  DSC00345But I am most impressed by the dark skinned, feather clad Indian.DSC00354  It is Hiawatha thrusting forward with the courage and determination, the kind of stuff that sailors needed 200 years ago plying the vast oceans by the force of the wind.  Sign me up on his ship.  It is bound to make home port. DSC00356DSC00357 DSC00363 DSC00343 DSC00342 DSC00335

Down Island Chum

08JulyBon 190Another Island Note

Worldkid is finally back on dushi Bonaire after some grand vagabonding through England, Belgium and Amsterdam. Tall tales, stories and lies coming soon about these ports abroad.  But first, how about a little island chum?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines CHUM, a noun: animal or vegetable matter thrown overboard to attract fish.  Here on Bonaire, we have that plus a different kind of chum—small bits of island lore, gossip and half-truths that land sharks, like you Island Notes readers, love to devour.  And so without delay, here is the recent menu…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI ran into the Moogie Man the other day at Sunset Beach.  He’s a local musician who started as a Captain Don dive instructor 20 years ago and never left the island.  Moogie was telling me how he was jamming with two musician friends in Kansas just that morning.  Ah, the power of the Internet.  He went on to say that in the middle of their cyber session, a Kansas tornado went sweeping by.  His friends in the heartland we’re safely tucked away in their basement studio and just jammed on, monster storm be damned.  I told Moogie, “Give me a hurricane over a tornado any day.”  We laughed knowing well that both storms are bad ass and could turn any nice day into a nightmare.  The hurricane season started June 1st.  Cheers.

Sometimes when I dive, I go deep soon after getting into the water—90, 100 feet or more—just to see what is down there.  I was diving Bari’s Reef and spotted a plaque way deep.  I leveled at 113-feet to read it.  On the left half of the plaque was a sculpted relief of a beer bottle.  To the right was the text, James Brando 1954-19—I couldn’t read the rest. So while I’m down here, I start to think, Who was this guy?  A cross between James Dean and Marlon Brando?  Did he have a drinking problem?  Did he die at this very spot at 113-feet?  Just about this time a shadow from above covers me. 11JanBON 36 I roll and look up.  Directly above is a 6-foot long tarpon—slivery, unsmiling, hovering.  The fish’s presence reminds me to check my clock.  Time to ascend to more reasonable depths.  Good bye, James Brando.

I am out solo sailing last week in 20-24 knot winds, a bit more than the comfort zone for my boat. Kontentu.  It is fresh and gusty, the kind of day where I never let the mainsheet out of my hand.  It’s the boat’s brake for avoiding a capsize.  But I’m not too absorbed to see a Buddy Dive Resort dive boat speeding back to port.  I don’t think much of it.  After all, it’s approaching noon and the skipper probably has a boat full of hungry divers clamoring for lunch.

I sail down to Te Amo (I Love You) Beach and head on a beam reach home.  As I pass by the city dock, there is the Buddy Dive boat—a strange place for it to stop.  Then I notice the ambulance, the police and a body laid out on the dock with a crisp white sheet covering the corpse.  Not a good day for under the water.  The dive crew from Buddy looks crushed, shattered.  I head home thinking about death and diving.  I later found out the deceased was a lawyer from New York.  They were diving the Hilma Hooker, a deep wreck dive, when the attorney had a heart attack.  Diving is a high-risk sport, no doubt.  But if you do it safely with backups, maintained equipment and a dive buddy, it is as easy as swimming.  I hear of diving deaths almost monthly on Bonaire.  Most are from out-of-shape divers, anxiety heart attack victims or people not following the rules.  That is a big price to pay for a look down under.  I was only trying to make the right mistake. –Robbie Robertson.

I am always amazed about the people who I meet on the island.  I discover that my new friend, Val, represented Canada in the 1972 Olympics when he skated with his sister in partners competition.  And the there is Walter, a 30-something Dutch guy who, with his girlfriend, Deborah, own a $15 million freighter.  It’s a non-stop business with that kind of capital tied up.  It makes North Atlantic and Great Lakes winter voyages a necessity.  The young sea gypsies are thawing out down island after a long, cold winter at sea.08NovAru 17