Son Mieux at 013 Tilburg, Thursday 13 April 2023

Mid-week gigs where I have to travel a bit to get to the venue often feel a bit weird. Taking the metro in to the centre of Amsterdam to see a show at Melkweg or Paradiso? Fine. Finishing up early at work, doing something for dinner, taking the metro to Centraal, then a train to ‘s Hertogenbosch, & a change to another train to Tilburg? Felt weird. (Even driving an hour and a half to Zwolle didn’t ring these same bells.)

My train was late in to Den Bosch, so I missed the short connection, and I ended up arriving at the venue just a minute before the show started. It was a sell-out gig, and I could only just get in the door and find a spot at the edge of the crowd. 013 is a bit of a barn. It can take about 3000 people, most of them at ground level, some on a balcony. Lead singer Camiel Meiresonne mentioned that apart from festivals, this was the biggest crowd they’d played to so far. They had another two nights at the 6000-capacity AFAS Live in Amsterdam coming up in a few weeks, so that would soon be superseded, but the audience gave them a great cheer anyway. It’s fun to be part of a band’s big moment.

Apart from the travel to get there, the gig itself also felt a bit weird. They played their biggest hit to date, last year’s “Multicolor”, as fifth in the set. They ended the main set with a slow rendition of the already downtempo “Heavy Water”, and during the song the band seemed to all just drift off the stage one at a time, leaving Meiresonne and the guitarist on their own…then they they left, too. The recorded version of “Heavy Water” rises to a decent outro, but the live version didn’t have the same energy, and it just faded out, leaving the audience confused about what was happening. Was it all over?

When the house lights didn’t come back up, the crowd got the message, and summoned the band back to the stage with enthusiastic applause, calls, and whistles. They gave a good encore, ending with profuse thanks and an extended version of their second-biggest hit, “Dancing at the Doors of Heaven”.

The one advantage of being right at the edge of the crowd, just inside the door was that I was also first out, and first to the merch stand where I picked up a vinyl copy of their album The Mustard Seed. Not that I have a record player; but if a band doesn’t have a tour poster on sale, I might buy their LP and stick it up on my wall as a substitute. LPs make decent posters; CDs don’t. (I do still sometimes buy tour T-shirts, but their quality and sizing can be so variable that I often find myself not wearing them much.)

Set list:

  1. This is the Moment
  2. 1992
  3. Drive
  4. Everything
  5. Multicolor
  6. Tell Me More
  7. Tuesday
  8. Can’t Get Enough
  9. Will (Part 1)
  10. Will (Part 2)
  11. The Mustard Seed
  12. Heavy Water


  1. Nothing
  2. Dancing at the Doors of Heaven

Mixed Media, Saturday 27 May 2023

This is going to be a low-effort MM post. Or at least I intend for it to be a low-effort post. we’ll see how it turns out by the end.


After a long spell of not reading very much long-form literature, I’ve been making an effort to get back into it again. I’m aware I’ve said this before. The modern world (or maybe it’s just my life) has an constant strong undercurrent of attention drain. I find it easy to get into the habit of snacking on YouTube, short-form web content (drip-fed through social media), and TV shows. Less easy to break out of it again, and to get used to the idea of reading 50-60 pages of a novel at a time. (Let alone academic papers, or textbooks.) I’ve had a break from academic work for a year now. If I’m going to pick things up after the summer again and actually complete my MSc, I need to cultivate focus.

I joined Mastodon back in November or December, and although I’m happy that this federated Twitter alternative exists, I fear that “social media” in general is unsafe for my sense of calm and mental well-being. It was far too easy for me to follow a bunch of interesting people and get caught in the vortex of all the fascinating things they would write and link to, and find myself distracted, intimidated, and despairing of all the things that I “should” pay attention to and care about. Even at a low dosage it’s too much, so I’m stepping away again.

Also, I’d forgotten how much I enjoy novels once I get up to speed with them.

  • ⭐️ Ned Beauman – Venomous Lumpsucker || I’ve heard this called “cli-fi“, a kind of (science) fiction that deals with themes of climate change and ecology. This is an intense near-future story squarely in that vein. It’s not explicitly a comedy, but it has some very funny parts.
  • Mary Roach – Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law || Amusing essays.
  • Ian Rankin – A Heart Full of Headstones || Latest episode of Rebus. It’s fine.
  • Anthony Horowitz – Magpie Murders || When I picked this up in Waterstones in April, I had no idea that there was a TV adaptation being broadcast at the same time. I just bought it because I was looking for a non-police-based mystery novel, and the magpies appealed to me. It’s a twisty book-within-a-book double mystery thing. Quite good. I haven’t read any Anthony Horowitz before, but he’s on my “approved” list now.
  • Lindsay Ellis – Axiom’s End || I think it was Alex and Fiona who pointed me in the direction of Lindsay Ellis’s video essays on YouTube, which are very good, and I was aware she’d written an SF book. I saw it in Waterstones and picked it up to give it a try. It’s a good, thoughtful first-contact / aliens-on-earth piece. A little clunky in the first hundred pages or so.
  • ⭐️ Andy Weir – Project Hail Mary || Classic golden-age “the lone scientist as hero” story. Challenges and clever solutions. If you like that kind of thing, this is top-notch. It reminded me that I skipped his second novel, Artemis. I will pick it up soon.
  • Mary Robinette Kowal – The Spare Man || Murder mystery set on a luxury space cruise. I’m not super fond of ultra-rich protagonists, and I found the rarefied milieu of the setting to be annoying.
  • ⭐️ Ray Nayler – The Mountain in the Sea || More cli-fi, with a bit of a cyberpunk and AI edge. Very thoughtful; has a lot to say about consciousness and intelligence.
  • ⭐️ Lindsay Ellis – The Truth of the Divine || After Alex mentioned that Ellis herself had called these books “Transformers fan fiction”, I couldn’t un-see it. Yeah. OK. It really is. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The writing is stronger in this second book, and it widens the scope of the alien contact, with the promise of even more and bigger things to come.
  • ⭐️ Lucy Foley – The Hunting Party || Tight murder mystery thriller set in an isolated Scottish lodge. The narratives before and after the crime weave back and forth so that you don’t even find out who the victim was until the end of the book. Very good.


  • 💩 Morbius || You only watch this for a joke, or a dare.
  • ⭐️ Enola Holmes
  • ⭐️ Enola Holmes 2
  • ⭐️ Top Gun: Maverick || Okay, so militaristic imperialism. And incredibly cliché-ridden. But Cruise knows and co-producers are extremely skilled at keeping you on the edge of your seat.
  • Black Adam || Meh.
  • ⭐️ The Menu || Creepy; horrible people getting their comeuppance. Nails the aesthetic of fine dining idolatry and food worship.
  • ⭐️ Bullet Train || Silly mad fun.
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania || Competent. Visually sumptuous, but lacking in emotional weight.
  • Lightyear || Good.
  • ⭐️ Strange Planet || The trailer for this was incredibly bland and left me completely uninterested. The film itself is really good! (Back in cli-fi again.)
  • ⭐️ The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent || Bonkers and brilliant. Has a surprising amount of emotional weight; although maybe that’s just because I was watching it with Fiona, and there’s a bit of a daddy-daughter thing going on in the film.
  • 💩 Luther: Fallen Sun || No. Badly constructed. Takes the character waaay beyond the boundaries of plausibility that the TV show had established. And even if this was a generic action/spy thriller the final confrontation has just too much wrong with it.
  • See How They Run || Cute little period murder mystery. Enjoyable performances from all concerned, but otherwise forgettable. I watched it just a couple of months ago, and I already don’t remember whodunnit.
  • Twilight, Twilight: New Moon, Twilight: Eclipse, Twilight: Breaking Dawn part 1, Twilight Breaking Dawn part 2 || Watched all of these with Fiona in Dundee. I’ll take these as a single chunk. First of all, Bella Swan is objectively the worst. Secondly, I’m neither team Edward nor team Jacob; I’m team Dads. The three main dads in the films (Charlie, Carlisle, and Billy) are just incredibly wholesome. They need their own spin-off sit-com.
  • The Empty Man || After the first sequence in the Himalayas I was seriously wondering if I’d be able to watch the rest of it, because it hit all my particular buttons labelled “unsettling existential dread.” But the rest of the film turned out to be far less disturbing. “Just” a cult/ghost/what is real horror movie.
  • ⭐️ Escape From New York, ⭐️ The Thing, ⭐️ Halloween, ⭐️ They Live, The Fog, Big Trouble in Little China, 💩 Escape from LA. || When Abi was away in Dundee with Fiona in March, Alex and I had a “CarpenterFest” at home. The Thing is still creepy as hell. I don’t think I’d ever seen The Fog before, or Escape from LA. The latter is just awful. How did its special effects manage to be worse than those of Escape from New York fifteen years earlier?
  • Lupin III: The Mystery of Mamo || Weird.
  • ⭐️ Shazam II: Fury of the Gods || Taste the rainbow, motherfuckers! Flawed, but fun.
  • ⭐️ The Lost City || Watched this with Mum & Dad. Dad hated it. Mum & I both enjoyed it. It’s silly fun. But definitely fun.
  • ⭐️ Sharper || Clever, dense, con movie. The first two thirds, you wonder how it’s going to go. Unfortunately the third act builds too strongly on top of them, and turns out quite predictable. Entertaining, though.
  • ⭐️ Renfield || Watched this at the Odeon Luxe cinema in Dundee with Fiona. (£20+ per ticket! Expensive! But you do get awesome fully reclining seats.) Fun, bloody comedy gore. After Fiona and I had watched Nic Cage in The Unbearable Weight the previous month, it was enjoyable to watch him go over the top in the role of Dracula here.
  • Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre || Bland, not thrilling, unfunny. Wasted opportunity.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3 || Yes, it was Rocket’s story all along.

Episodic video (“TV”)

  • ⭐️ Slow Horses season 2 || More good spy drama.
  • 💩 The Rig, season 1 || Could have been something more than a Doctor Who story. Wasn’t. Amusing to see one of the first characters to be killed off reading John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes. Props to the set designer.
  • ⭐️ Kaleidoscope || I’d seen the trailer for this and thought it looked interesting. The tease of being able to watch the first seven episodes in any order, and everyone being served a random sequence was a cute gimmick, but turned out not to be quite true. (I’m not the only person I know who got the order green yellow violet orange blue red pink white.) Pseudo-random, maybe. From a story-telling point of view, quite an achievement, though. When I saw Eric Garcia coming up in the credits as the series creator, I was even more interested. I’ve enjoyed a lot of his books and projects over the years.
  • ⭐️ The Last of Us, season 1 || Yes. YES.
  • ⭐️ For All Mankind, seasons 1 & 2 || Different than I’d expected, before I dived in. Slow-moving and thoughtful. Much less “rah-rah space!” than I’d imagined, and right from the very beginning it makes it very clear that it’s going to challenge the term “mankind” all the way to the moon and back. Beautifully produced.
  • The Witcher: Blood Origin || Inoffensive, but forgettable.
  • Star Trek Picard, season 3 || Makes the first two seasons seem rather pointless, if the whole thing was going to build up to this Next Gen reunion and final send-off. That said, I enjoyed seeing the Next Gen gang all back together again, and I would have watched more of that cast having adventures again thirty years later. But in-universe the characters were all scattered, and they needed a multitude of devices to bring them together again, and most of those devices were…bad. Overall: mixed.

Rina Sawayama at Tivoli Ronda, Utrecht, Tuesday 21 February 2023

Rina Sawayama at Tivoli Ronda in Utrecht. Photo by Fiona Sutherland.

Fiona had moved out of her flat in Perth in mid-January, and she had been staying with us Oostzaan while we figured out next steps. I’m writing this at the end of May, and looking back it feels like that was a long stretch of time, but actually we turned things around really quickly. After some frantic emailing back-and-forth with a property management company, and a hurried remote viewing, by the start of the week of 20 February we had sorted out a flat in Dundee, ready to move in on 27 February. We deserved a little break from the stress.

I had booked my ticket for the concert back in November when they went on sale; the gig had sold out quickly. But my experience of getting an after-market ticket for De Staat through Ticketswap had been good, and on the day of 21 February there were a few tickets on sale for that evening. I knocked on Fiona’s door mid-afternoon and said “heyyyy, do you want to go to a gig this evening?” She said, “sure, who?” I think I’d played her some Rina Sawayama once in the car maybe? So Fiona wasn’t a big fan already, but figured it would be fun anyway. I got a ticket on Ticketswap, and a few hours later we were on the train to Utrecht.

We didn’t get there in time for the opening act – we just saw the end of their last song. The vibe at the gig was good – lots of people very excited to be out. When Rina came on, it was only her and her guitarist/keyboard player Emily. After playing “Hold The Girl”, Rina took a moment to talk about why it was just the two of them. Normally she’s on stage with two dancers, a drummer, and guitarist Emily. But the dancers and drummer were all sick. She had the option to cancel the gig and maybe reschedule, or go ahead with a more minimal stage act…and she chose the latter. There was much applause. I’m happy that’s what she chose, but also happy that Fiona and I were both wearing masks. (I saw one other person in a mask afterwards, in the queue for merch.) I can imagine that the act would have been more lively with more people on stage, but Rina was captivating even with less entourage. Also, this made it a unique experience – only the audience at Utrecht got to see this version of the concert.

Set list:

  1. Minor Feelings
  2. Hold the Girl
  3. Catch Me in the Air
  4. Hurricanes
  5. Your Age
  6. Imagining
  7. STFU!
  8. Frankenstein
  9. Holy (Til You Let Me Go)
  10. Bad Friend
  11. Send My Love to John
  12. Cherry
  13. Comme des Garçons (Like the Boys)
  14. XS


  1. This Hell

(Merch: I got a tour poster.)

Rome 2023

The last time we were in Rome was in 2003. Alex was two; Fiona wasn’t around yet. We flew there on a Wednesday, and came back on a Sunday. We probably booked the flights by phoning the Trailfinders travel agency and getting tickets posted to us, and booked the hotel by calling and making ourselves understood in broken Italian. There were no smartphones, no map apps, no Google Translate. We got around with guidebooks and dictionaries. The word “selfie” had only just been coined, but hadn’t gained traction. And yet we were travelling with not just one but two digital cameras.

The first was an Olympus C-3000Z, our very first digital camera (which we’d bought with the money from winning and then selling a car), and a Casio Exilim EX-S2, for lighter-weight snapshots. We came back with 212 pictures. (They’re all still in my photos library. A few years ago I even went back and geo-tagged them.)

My hair was just growing out of a bleached-blonde phase.

Martin kneeling down at the edge of a paved area, with Alex (two years old) on his back. Alex is wearing a red shirt and blue dungarees. They're both smiling. Martin's hair is dark, with bleach-blonde frosted tips.

This year Abi and I were travelling alone (although with plans to meet up with Patrick & Teresa when we got there). Alex stayed at home in Oostzaan, while Fiona has moved out already and is living in Scotland. We’d booked the flights with ITA Airways through Skyscanner, and our stay at Hotel Nardizzi through We both have smartphones with ubiquitous, fast, wireless internet. Geolocation means we’re never lost We can point our phones’ built-in cameras at text, and have them render translations instantly.

I only brought one digital camera with me, my Fuji X-T20, with three lenses: a XF 10-24 f/4 (which I’d bought in anticipation of this trip), a XF 16-80 f/4, and a XF 35 f/2 prime (which I didn’t use very much). I took 4587 shots with the camera, weighing in at 98.7GB of data. If I\d started with a fresh one, it could have all fit on a single tiny, cheap, 128GB SD card.

My hair is just growing back from a bleached-blonde phase. The roots are grey now.

Martin and Abi looking at the camera from a balcony, with Rome stretching out in the distance behind them. Cumulus clouds draw a line above the horizon before the sky shades into a late-afternoon blue. Martin is wearing a black t-shirt with the white text MEUTE (as in the band Meute), and has a blue rucksack strapped on. Abi has her hair pulled back. She's wearing a red dress, and carring a brown leather backpack. Her red bone conduction headphones are around her neck.

Day 1, Wednesday 3 May

Got up and left the house at a very reasonable hour. Parked at Schiphol P3 & took the bus to the terminal. We’d bought some new luggage the weekend before (a large green case, and a smaller cabin-sized blue one), and using four-wheeled cases rather than two-wheeled cases is definitely an upgrade. Schiphol was unremarkable, and the flight with ITA was fine. Abi had bought some new neck pillow sleep aid technology to try out on this flight before her long flights to the US next month.

Landed in Rome just after 14:00. Walked from terminal T1 to T3, where we got the Leonardo Express train to Termini. (Ticket machines: slow & clunky.) The hotel was not too far away, and we just walked. At the front door to the building it wasn’t clear whether the lift was for guest use, so we took the stairs up to the fourth floor. A bit out of breath when we got there, and the chap on reception was curious why we hadn’t taken the lift. We’ll know better next time.

We took some time to settle into the lovely room. Nice size, good bathroom, shuttered windows looking out on the street below and a Ministry of Defence building opposite. Then we went out for a walk to explore. We headed north into Villa Borghese, where Abi wanted to see if people were using the park for running, and what kind of routes she could use. (Foreshadowing!) We walked up through Pincio, and took in the view out over Spagna. We had dinner at Pasta In Corso on the Via della Maddalena, just a couple of streets north of the Pantheon. Abi had pasta with mushrooms, and I had gnocchi with a tomato and mozzarella sauce. It was lovely.

After dinner we walked past the Pantheon, which was closed by that time, and round by Trevi, which was still packed. The toys of the season are (1) a small plastic light-up thing that you can launch vertically upwards with an elastic band, and which will then gradually float back own again, (2) a weird squishy slime thing that makes a sheep-like sound when you splat it against the ground and it pulls itself back into a ball, (3) pre-loaded USB battery charger packs with built-in laser pointers. We stopped in at a Pam supermarket just off Piazza Barberini on the way back to the hotel to get a supply of room snacks (bananas, abbracci, crisps, chocolate) and cola. (We’re not addicted, but we’re strongly habituated.)

Day 2, Thursday 4 May

A few years ago when I was visiting our pension adviser, I got served a tiny cup of coffee that I hadn’t asked for, but which I drank out of politeness, and actually enjoyed. I’ve always described myself as liking coffee-flavoured things, but not the coffee beverage itself. But I wanted to put that to the test, and try some holiday espresso. We took our time getting up in the morning, and walked in the direction of the Forum. On our way there we stopped at a small caffe and ordered a cappuccino for Abi, an espresso for me, and two fruit tarts (because we were too late for cornetti, the sweet Italian croissants). I enjoyed the espresso! And resolved to try more of it to see if this was just a one-off.

We walked past the Forum, but didn’t go in to the museum part. I’d been using my new XF 10-24mm f/4 wide-angle lens, but just outside the Colosseum I tried my XF 35mm f/2 for a bit, and was somewhat stunned by how crisp and sharp the images were, and how much background blur I can get at f/2. On a sunny day in Rome I also have to use crazy fast shutter speeds to get the right exposure. (I think that for the first time I viscerally understood the need for ND filters. I also think I “get it” about bright, fast primes now.)

Abi with her eyes closed and her mouth open with laughter, lookup up towards the right of the frame . The Colosseum is behind her, out of focus, providing a soft blurry background.

While sitting down outside the Colosseum we got hustled by a vendor for some cheap armbands. We paid the dude, and were able to wave the armbands at subsequent vendors as “we’ve already got one” amulets of protection. Onwards towards the Circus Maximus. At one end of the Circus, there was a tent village set up for a “Race for the Cure” event taking place. We admired some of the local bird life. Rome has black-and-grey hooded crows, whereas we’re used to the local all-black carrion crows. They’re gorgeous. Slightly smaller than our local crows, I think? Also less bold, and they stay further away from the humans.

We got chased away from a monument whose open gate was apparently not an invitation, and crossed the Tiber on the Ponte Palatino. We wandered through the narrow alleys of Trastevere for a bit, then followed the big Viale di Trastevere for a while until we came across a Billy Tacos restaurant where I tried a French Taco for the first time. (A day of firsts!) It was amazing. Abi had a (cold) burrito. Abi also suggested that French Tacos might be a good way to use up left-over frites after a Frites Friday. 🤔

A Billy Tacos tray, with on it my French Taco, wrapped in alumimium foil. The receipt is attached to it. The recieipt shows the ingredients: tortilla, french fries, mayonaise, falafel, mozzarella, spicy salsa.

Refreshed after lunch, we found a walking and cycle path down the side of the river. We came across a tiny and well-hidden geocache at the foot of the Ponte della Scienzia. Does not require climbing. But I did a bit anyway, and was able to get some nice photo angles.

The metal feet of a bridge spear the ground on the right-hand side of the frame. Affixed to the closest one, slightly distorted by the wide-angle lens, is a white poster of a black nine-tailed cat with the text "off-label" printed behind it. On the left side of the frame, a man is cycling on a brightly sun-lit cycle path.

We carried on and stopped for a rest and a drink in Parco Marconi, a new and lovely little park near Ponte Marconi. It’s out of the way of the main tourist routes, so the people in the park seemed to be all locals: teens having out with their friends, parents with their young kids, middle-aged folk like us taking in the day. Sitting at the cafe, we watched as a trio of parakeets harvested thistle heads from the overgrown slope up to the street, and carried them back to a large tree. Were they using them for a nest? Are thistle heads particularly rich in seeds or insects? Not sure. It was a curious sight, seeing them fly with these large purple flowers.

A parakeet sits half-hidden behind a thistle stalk, cheekily looking straight at the camera. Its wings and tail feathers are dark green, but the fluffy feathers around its legs are brighter. The overall effect makes it seem like it's half in shadow and half in sunlight, even through it isn't.

We crossed back to the East side of the Tiber at Ponte Marconi. Spotted a cute little lizard at the other end of the bridge, and it was willing to sit still enough for me to take its picture. This was as far south as we’d go. We walked north along the Via Ostiense, talking about living in different countries and imagining what we might do in the future, perhaps after retirement. We passed the Pyramid of Cestius and arrived at the gates of the Baths of Caracalla just before they closed. (We figured we’d save that for another day.)

As we were crossing the road in front of the Baths, we had to sprint to avoid some traffic, and Abi felt a pain in her leg. Thinking it might be just a cramp, we sat down for a while to see if it would pass, but it didn’t. We were still about 5km from the hotel, and Abi wasn’t going to make it back on foot. We could have called a taxi…I suppose…but instead we swallowed our dislike for capitalism making things better for people who can afford it and worse for everyone else, and took two of the ubiquitous Bird electric scooters. The app onboarding process was very easy; navigating our way back through the city centre along Rome’s busy streets was a mix of exhilarating and terrifying.

Abi was able to stand on the scooter while it was moving, and able to hobble along where we had to jump up on the pavement and push it on foot to avoid the worst of the traffic hot spots. We made it back to the hotel. I went back out to the supermarket to get some crusty rolls and cheese that we made into a room picnic dinner.

Day 3, Friday 5 May

We’d hoped that Abi’s leg would be better this morning, but it wasn’t. Abi had consulted the internet and found that the pain she’d experienced (“like being kicked in the calf”) was consistent with an Achilles tendon injury. Abi identified some medical centres that would take walk-in tourists, but decided that she wasn’t completely out of the game, and could still hobble along and take the scooters again. We resolved to make it a quiet and restful day.

We started with coffee and cornetti at the hotel. The hotel doesn’t do breakfasts as such (although when we were checking out on the last day they said that they might start), but they do have two seating areas at reception, a basket of fresh cornetti every day for guests to grab for free, and a self-service coffee machine. This was my second espresso. It seemed perfectly nice!

The Bird scooters were still where we’d left them the previous night. We re-hired them and scooted to the park at Trajan’s baths. The park was a scooter no-parking zone, so we left the scooters at the gates, and hobbled through the park until we came across the Piazza Martin Luther, which had some nice places to sit, with some sun for Abi and some shade for me. A film production company was shooting a scene a hundred meters or so away. We ate leftover bread and cheese from the previous night’s room picnic, read our books, watched the birds, and the locals eating their lunches.

Mid-afternoon we got up and walked the short distance to the Colosseum, where we figured out the metro system. Just like the Dutch OV-Pay system, you can tap in to the metro with a credit card and be on your way. At least, it worked easily enough for me. It didn’t like one of Abi’s cards. We took the metro to Barberini, and then walked to the Centro Storico (which I’ve dubbed “Romeland” to distinguish it from the rest of the city). Abi wanted to have a look at leather bags to use as a new backpack while we were there. We found one on Via in Arcioni, and Abi also picked up some postcards and weird non-standard “stamps” in a shop on Via della Panetteria.

We bought some cola from a Coop supermarket, then got some expensive gelato from a surprisingly quiet gelateria just round the corner from the enormously crowded Trevi Fountain – our first of the trip. We walked back along the Via del Tritone to Barberini and stopped that the Pam supermarket again for more room picnic bread and cheese. This time we also bought some olive oil and balsamic vinegar (in a spray bottle?) to liven things up. The room didn’t have any plates or bowls, so we used the left-over plastic tray from our bananas as a dish for dipping our bread in the oil and vinegar. Despite the intention to take it easy, we’d been out for most of the day, and had covered over 5km on foot. In the evening Abi wrote postcards, while I read a book.

Day 4, Saturday 6 May

I wanted to get out of the city this trip, to see some of the surrounding area. I remembered that on my high school trip to Rome in 1987 we had gone to Villa D’Este in Tivoli to see the Renaissance buildings and gardens. Abi scouted a medical supplies shop in advance that might supply her with a crutch, and we identified the right train to get us there. We got up early (by holiday standards) and took Bird scooters to Termini. We rushed to buy our tickets, and made the 09:00-ish train. (There’s only one direct train every hour and a half or so.)

The train ride was lovely, with some great views. We walked over a delightful modern wooden bridge into town, and stopped at the first available farmacia to see if they had a crutch (stampella). They did, but only the forearm kind, not the under-arm kind that Abi was looking for. They gave us directions to a different store closer to the town centre. We walked on to another farmacia, but when we described what we were looking for the shop assistant quickly waved us on to the Sanitaria further down the road, which turned out to be an orthopaedic shoe shop. They had one under-arm crutch that looked like a rental, but which they were willing to sell us for €45.

Abi spent some time adjusting the crutch until it was comfortable, and then we walked on to the Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, where we sat down at a caffe for our now-traditional coffee and cornetti. We had a little look at the views from the square, and found the entrance to the Villa. The first set of rooms we encountered were a modern art exhibition of the works of Pino Pascali. Very cool, but not quite the Renaissance vibe we had expected. Downstairs we did get into the Cardinal’s chambers, and then out into the gorgeous gardens. Beautiful sights and views, but lots of stairs, and not terribly well set up for going around on crutches. We munched on some bread and cheese in the gardens, saw our fill of fountains, and walked back to the station to catch the 15:30 train back to Rome. At Termini we spent some time hunting around for a letter box where we could drop the custom postcards with their custom QR-code stamps. We also tapped a street vendor for some scarves that Abi turned into strapping to mount the crutch on her back while we took Bird scooters back to the hotel.

We rested at the hotel for a bit before heading back out to meet up with Patrick and Teresa for dinner. They were staying in a different part of town. We walked to Barberini and took the metro to Lepanto, and walked to their hotel, where we ate at the hotel’s restaurant downstairs. Abi had Carbonara, I had Cacio e Pepe. After dinner we took the metro back to Barberini. It was part 22:00 and our trusty Pam supermarket would have been closed, so we walked up the Via delle Quattro Fontane to buy some room drinks from a mini market there. As we turned up the street, we were faces with a GIANT MOON, perfectly positioned at the top of the street. I tried to take some photos while Abi blocked traffic for me. Although they capture a bit of the scale of what it looked like, I didn’t catch any detail in the moon itself. It was an amazing sight, though.

Day 5, Sunday 7 May

On Sunday we wanted to take the metro for a distance out of the central area to go to a park. We walked to Barberini and took the metro to Lepanto, where we’d been the previous evening. It looked nice, and we thought it would be a good place to stop and get our morning coffee and pastry snacks. We were right. We had coffees and fruit tartlets at Fabric Coffee Bistrot on Via Marcantonio Colonna before taking the metro another few stations to Valle Aurelia.

We walked through some lovely residential areas in the direction of the Villa Doria Pamphili (also written as Pamphilj with a “j” to represent an end-of-word “i”). What we thought was an entrance to the park turned out to be the way in to a residential area, where people were hanging out and grilling. We eventually found our way to what looked like a motorway off-ramp, but people were parking there, and it was actually right next to a park entrance. It’s a lovely park, far away from the tourist zones. We heard very few non-Italian voices as we walked around.

We passed some fountains, and water courses filled with turtles. At the edge of a large pond some people were throwing bread into the water and watching the carp and turtles fight it out for the scraps. (The carp mostly won.) We found a quiet spot to sit for a while and ate some of the snacks we’d brought. After we’d rested we walked further through the park, past the actual Villa and its amphitheatre, fountains, statues, weird relief sculptures, and gardens. I spent some time taking pictures of a gorgeous pigeon who was done for the day, and had no interest in moving from its out-of-the-way perch.

We left the park through the north-east entrance. We walked to the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola and enjoyed some great views of the city. We descended into Trastevere and had dinner at Ristorante La Piazzetta on Via di San Francesco a Ripa. This was, after five days, our first pizza of the trip. After the meal we stopped at a farmacia on Viale di Trastevere to pick up some more (extremely expensive) ibuprofen, and crossed the Ponte Garibaldi back into the historic centre. We passed the Largo di Torre Argentina and its cats, and had some more gelato. We passed the Pantheon and Trevi on our way back to the hotel, and made our daily stop at the Pam supermarket for additional room snacks.

Day 6, Monday 8 May

The weather forecast for Monday was not great. It would still be warm, but we’d see some rain in the middle of the day. We thought we’d do the Pantheon and then the baths of Caracalla, which we’d missed on an earlier day. We walked past the presidential palace on the Quirinale. We had our morning coffee and cornetti at a caffe on the east side of the Pantheon. (I noted that the espresso tasted more burned than on previous days, and the taste didn’t linger the way others had done.) Unfortunately by that time the queues for the Pantheon were also hideously long. We were approached by a guide who asked if we want to join a tour and get in without waiting, but we preferred to go our own way. We decided we’d get up early one morning and get there at opening time.

We walked on past the south edge of Piazza Navona, and stopped at Campo de Fiori to browse the market. We continued towards the Tiber and took steps down to the path down by the river itself, where we followed the path for a stretch. I wasn’t sure where we’d be able to get back up to street level again, but there are stairs next to pretty much every bridge. We came back up at the Ponte Palatino, near the Bocca Della Verita and the Circus.

The weather was starting to turn, and there was a bit of warm drizzle as we walked the length of the Circus to the Baths of Caracalla. When we got there we found that they were closed on Mondays. We checked the short-term weather forecast and radar on our phones — not something we could have done twenty years ago. It didn’t look promising, but we decided to wait under a tree on the path to the entrance of the Baths to see if there would be any change at ground level. We finished off a crossword while munching on some biscuits, but the drizzle persisted, so we called it off. We walked over to the nearby Circo Massimo metro station (getting the entrance on the wrong side of the road at first) and took the metro to Repubblica.

Just round the corner from Repubblica, at the foot of the road to our hotel was a McDonalds where we’d hoped to find our late lunch, but it turns out that McDonalds in Italy doesn’t carry the McPlant burger, or any other vegetarian options (beyond fries, or the egg McMuffin at breakfast). Disappointed! Our memories of Rome from when Alex was tiny include McDonalds. Instead, we hit up the Coop a little further down Via Nazionale for some more cheese, and then the Pam a little further back for more bread. We spent the rest of the day relaxing in our room with another room picnic.

Day 7, Tuesday 9 May

A day of Ostia with Patrick and Teresa. We got up and took the Metro over to Lepanto again and had our morning coffees at Fabric Coffee Bistrot again, this time with cornetti instead of the fruit tarts. We caught up with Patrick & Teresa at their hotel, where Patrick had booked an Uber to take us out of town. Ostia was beautiful. We wandered around the ruins, stopping here and there. I took some nice photographs. Down in the Mithraeum I tried to take some pics at unusual angles, not just the standard shots looking straight at the statue, but they didn’t come out as well as I’d hoped.

We had lunch at the restaurant at the visitor centre, right at the same time as a school party of teens. It was busy. Towards the end of our time there, as I was taking some portrait shots, I leaned back against a tree and got the back of my T-shirt covered in sticky resin. (Just a few minutes before I leaned against it, I remember looking at the tree and thinking to myself “gosh, that’s a lot of resin running down its trunk.”) Fortunately I had a denim shirt with me to change into, so I wouldn’t stick to the chair on the way back.

At the end of the day we called another Uber to take us back. We left Patrick and Teresa at their hotel while we walked a bit further up Via Cola di Rienzo and found a delightful restaurant where I had parmigiana di melanzane for the first time on the trip. It was amazing. Abi had gnocchi, and we split some (very crusty) bread a salad with cheese and a primo sale salad, with rocket, spinach, olives, and pomegranate seeds. The restaurant was Bar & Ristorante Marco Ciampini, which we later discovered is the sister restaurant of the much more famous and exclusive Caffe Ciampini just above Spagna.

After dinner we crossed the Tiber on Ponte Regina Margherita. We stopped for (slightly disappointing) gelato just off Piazza del Popolo, and climbed the hill behind the Piazza towards Pincio just as the sun was setting and the street lights were starting to come on. We stopped for a bit to listen to a busker singing on Terrazza del Pincio, and tossed him some coin. We walked along Viale della Trinita dei Monti, past Ciampini (before we realized the connection with our dinner), and then along Via Sistina to Barberini. As usual, we stopped off at the Pam supermarket to pick up some bananas and cola just before getting back to the hotel.

Day 8, Wednesday 10 May

The forecast for the day was rain, and so it turned out. This was the day we wanted to hit the Pantheon early. We got out the door just before 9, bought a temporary umbrella for me (Abi already had one). We zigged and zagged through the streets to the Pantheon. As expected, there were no queues at that time on a wet Wednesday morning. We looked around for a bit, then set off in the direction of the Vatican, where Abi wanted to locate some hard-to-find Saints medals. We took our time, taking photos along the way, and having our morning coffees (and egg McMuffins) at the McDonalds just off Navona.

After we crossed the Tiber at Ponte Sant’Angelo we didn’t go into the Vatican. We just orbited it, with Abi diligently combing the Articoli Religiosi shops for the exact medals she was looking for. (She came up empty in the end. But knowing that it wasn’t for lack of trying.) We stopped for lunch at Hostaria Ago e Lillo on Piazza Risorgimento, where I had another parmigiana di melanzane. (It was good, but not as exceptional as the one at Ciampini the evening before.)

Our walk around the outside permiter of the Vatican was pleasant. All the tourists hang out at the “front” of the Vatican, to the south-east. Beyond the north-west walls it’s all residential Rome rather than Romeland. The rain had mostly stopped by the time our route curved around the south. We stopped at a street vendor and also at the Leonardo museum just off St. Peter’s Square to pick up some souvenirs for Alex & Fiona. Then a long wander back through the Centro Storico, stopping off at The Gelatist on Via del Tritone for some very good gelato, and Pam (again) for a final top-up of room drinks.

Day 9, Thursday 11 May

We’d originally thought that we might go out for one final morning coffee before packing up and checking out, but we decided not to force ourselves into any kind of hurry, and we just enjoyed coffee and cornetti and a crossword on the terrace at reception instead. At checkout, the manager wanted to show us one of the newly renovated rooms before we left, so we could see what it might look like if (when) we come back. It was very nicely done, but it was perhaps a little less characterful than the room we had. We like our hotels a little quirky.

No rushing. We walked to Termini, got the express train to the airport, and found that because we were flying with ITA Airways we could drop our checked bag right at the exit of the train, rather than having to stand in a queue later. There was a funny moment at security, where I had gone through the gate already, but got fished back out of the system because the staff insisted that Abi (and me, by association) go through the fast-track line because she was still walking with the crutch. Our flight was at 14:35, on time. The crutch got us onto the plane in the pre-boarding queue, which was nice. Uneventful flight. Back at Schiphol we took the bus back to the car park, and drove back home.

Good holiday. Lots of walking, even with Abi’s injury. We’ve been to Rome before, and seen a lot of the sights already, so what we wanted out of the trip was to just be there, and soak up the atmosphere. That’s exactly what we got.

Hot Chip

Listening to Hot Chip’s latest album Freakout/Release, I spotted that I went to see them at Melkweg in December 2019, but I never did an entry here on the blog about it. Hmm. Must do better. There are a few recent gigs that I need to catch up on.

The things I remember about the gig are:

  • Alexis Taylor is smaller than I’d expected.
  • Joe Goddard looked like he didn’t want to be there
  • Owen Clarke (synth, guitar) reminded me of my therapist. He also has some great little shuffle dances around his keyboard.
  • The cover of Sabotage they did as part of their encore was flippin’ amazing. It brought the house down.

As for Freakout/Release, I wasn’t sure about the song “Eleanor” at first, but it has really grown on me.

Rotterdam city break, 10-12 February 2023

Abi and I enjoy taking weekend breaks at Van Der Valk hotels. They have locations all around the Netherlands, mostly just outside towns and cities, but near main roads. They’re all easily accessible by car, and they’re often close to the countryside walks and cycle routes. Most of them have a large, family-friendly restaurant. The facilities are typically modern, elegant, and very comfortable. And somehow they manage to do this at very decent prices. Especially if you don’t have a specific destination in mind, but rather just want to “go somewhere,” you can usually find a multi-day or last-minute special offer.

Last year, for example, we went to the Valk hotel at Spier-Dwingeloo, which is right on the Dwingelderveld National Park, and we had some wonderful walks. Around Black Friday in November the Valk marketing teams kept bombarding us with special offers. Although we like getting out into the countryside, this time we decided to go for a city break, and Abi booked us a weekend at hotel Rotterdam-Blijdorp in February.

I had taken the day off work. We took a leisurely morning, and set out for Rotterdam mid-afternoonish. (For future note: the hotel only has minimal parking of its own – only a dozen spaces or so – but they have a deal with the Zoo next door, which has hundreds of spaces. We were able to find a space on-street close by, and then we got lucky with an open spot in front of the hotel later.)

At dusk, a nine-storey factory building is lit up from the inside, on the other side of a wide canal. The words "Van Nelle" are lit up in red on the right of the building.
The Van Nelle factory

After checking in and dropping our bags, we wanted to go our for a walk while there was still a bit of light, and then come back and order room service. We walked to Coolsingel along the Delfshavense Schie, past the old Van Nelle factory. It was cold. We walked back to the hotel through the Heemraadspark and past the Blijdorp Zoo. On the way, we stopped at a Jumbo supermarket for room snacks, and at the Turkish bakery next door to it for some amazing baklava. What we didn’t realize was that room service stopped at 20:00, and we got back to the room about ten minutes too late to order. So we just made do with the (large quantity of) snacks we’d brought back with us.

The next morning we got up and had breakfast in the hotel to set us up for a big day of walking. We reversed the previous evening’s route and walked back south through the Heemraadspark, where I took photos of some odd-looking ducks that I later found were actually Egyptian Geese. They were characteristically aggressive and territorial.

An Egyptian Goose goose-stepping over grass. Its legs and feet and bill are bright red. Its has a red eye surrounded by yellowish-brown splotches. Its breast is beige, and its folded wings brown, blue, and white. It looks peaceful, but looks can be deceiving.
Egyptian Goose

We continued south past the Euromast. We stopped at an Asian supermarket just nearby, where Abi bought some cream of tartar (hard to find in mainstream NL supermarkets) for making snickerdoodles, and some root-beer-adjacent sarsaparilla beverage. A little further south we found that the Maastunnel under the river has a tube dedicated for cyclists and pedestrians, and that it’s accessible by classic wooden escalators. We couldn’t resist.

Wooden escalators to the pedestrian and cyclist tube of the Maastunnel
The pedestrian tube of the Maastunnel
Cyclists on the wooden escalator

We continued our walk on the industrial south side of the Maas. We stopped for a rest and a bite to eat at the Foodhallen. Afterwards we crossed the Erasmusbrug and walked past the Maritime Museum and the Cube Houses to the Coolblue shop where Abi had placed an order to collect some new bone conduction headphones. We were coming to the end of the day by this point, and we were getting tired. We headed for the Markthal to get some dinner, but I’d got to the point of tiredness and hunger that nothing really seemed right. (This is, regrettably, a habit.)

I felt like some pizza, but the options were limited. When I finally found a place that would sell me a simple slice they were happy enough to take my order, but then they discovered that they didn’t actually have any margherita. All their other options had meat on them, and their payment terminal didn’t allow them to do refunds. This did not make me any happier. I had seen a New York Pizza shack nearby, but they weren’t selling by the slice, and because it was a busy Saturday it would take them an hour to make a whole pie. Boo. Fortunately Abi was able to find some nice ramen, and in the end I bought some peanuts at the AH in the Markthal to get my energy back up, and resolved to get room service when we got back to the hotel. (We also got more baklava from a stall in the Markthal, although it wasn’t nearly as good as the pieces we’d had from the bakery the previous evening.)

It was getting dark, and we’d seen all the things we wanted to see that day, so we just made a relatively straight line back. We got back in plenty of time to order me a pizza and Abi a glass of wine. We clocked just over 20 meandering kilometers in the course of the day, and we slept well that night.

On Sunday we got up, had breakfast in the hotel again, checked out, and drove to the water taxi stop at the Marconistraat. The Rotterdam water taxis are very cool. They’re not sedate cruise vehicles, they’re point-to-point speedboats. You do have to book them well in advance, though – you don’t just flag them down. We took one to the stop just outside the Maritime museum, and walked from there to the Kunsthal.

Nick Cave’s Soundsuits

The main exhibit was “In the Black Fantastic” which featured several of Nick Cave’s Soundsuits. We also enjoyed the “Women’s Palette 1900-1950” exhibit, which featured groundbreaking art by women who were overshadowed by male artists at the time (and also since). There were some amazing pieces on display, but overall the Kunsthal felt a bit unwelcoming and clinical to me. I appreciated the art, but the vibe of the place made me want to get back to the Stedelijk here in Amsterdam.

Afterwards we walked across the museum park, which was under heavy construction. The the monstrously mirrored Boijmans Van Beuningen Depot dominated the view, but it was fenced off and the light was drab, so it lost some of its impact. (Although it’s still quite a sight.)

Boijmans Ven Beuningen Depot

We wandered through the city centre a bit, and had lunch at McDonalds, sitting outdoors despite the chill. The rest of the country has abandoned masking, but we’re still keeping ours on in most indoor spaces, and taking care around crowds. (Just because we take some risks doesn’t mean we take all the risks.) We stopped in at the Bever outdoors shop opposite, and Abi bought some socks. We walked around the centre a bit more, through the Koopgoot, and finally back to the Maritime museum where we got the water taxi back to the car.

Abi in a water taxi

On the drive back, we discussed the notion of replacing the build-in car radio on our 2007 Ford Fusion with a screen unit that supports Apple Carplay. This is a thing that one can do! (And we did. I expect this will come up in my future “Nice things 2023” post at the end of this year.)