Berlin will always be Berlin, or so goes the song Berlin bleibt doch Berlin. I didn’t know what to expect on my first visit here since the late eighties and early nineties, firstly as a tourist in West Berlin and (after the wall came down) as a guest of friends in East Berlin.
But Berlin this time felt like a city now living on its past; there doesn’t seem to be a vision for Berlin’s future. A vast building programme has implanted modern buildings alongside the historic architecture but I have found a solid bourgeoisie rather than free radical forward thinking.
The famous party culture seems constrained within strict geographic borders, the Weimar freedoms and the politics of Krolloper are from another world as is the devil-may-care attitude from the era of Berlin, the divided city.
Time could be called in Berlin on the freedom to party. There’s creeping gentrification in Berlin so it’s not a huge leap to imagine a clean up, as has happened in Amsterdam, until recently Europe’s other party house. And Berlin felt to me uncomfortably close to the countries of the former East, with their right wing politics.
Name check for the band I saw on Tauentzienstraße: their sign said Stray Mood. Like the city, their fashion sense and their music could do with being more progressive.
Berlin's Tiergarten is a city park which offers welcome relief from the unrelenting city architecture and general rudeness of the Berlin city. No matter the traffic, including tourist buses passing between Berlin landmarks peeking through the depressing grey gloom.
The origin of the Großer Tiergarten is as a royal park for hunting. My little hike would have been much more lively with a European bear or two around, rather than just statues, squirrels, birds, ducks and sleeping bats. And sunshine!
“Daniele Gatti’s journey from the Romantic to the modern era - Transcendence, Creativity, Deconstruction”
The Berlin Philharmonic orchestra is one of the small number of orchestras of which almost everyone has heard of, yet relatively few have heard in person. My first trip to Berlin for twenty years (and my first to the former west for more than twenty-five) could not pass over the opportunity to book a ticket online to hear and see the Berlin Philharmonic playing in their home concert hall, the Philharmonie.
Sheffield Park is renowned for its autumn colours, not just the oaks and beeches but many acers and other exotic trees. Several giant sequoias and some interesting mushrooms. It's great to revisit time and time again though the traffic queues are an indication of its popularity, as well as the lack of alternative recreation in this increasingly crowded region
Boston Manor, Syon House and Osterley House are all in walking distance of each other in West London. They're grouped around the Main Line of the Grand Union Canal, the Main Line of the Great Western railway to Paddington, the M4 motorway and the flight paths to the runways at Heathrow. But the old houses and their magnificent trees were built long before these modern transport arterial routes. Boston Manor Jacobean house was completed in 1623; the exterior of Syon House dates from 1547 and is still the Duke of Northumberland’s London home; the current Osterley House was constructed from 1761 in the Georgian style by the architect Robert Adam.
GOC London's route for today's hike followed the Grand Union canal as much as possible but mixed technology and industry with the peace of the old canal; from this perspective the planes taking off from nearby Heathrow seemed from another world. The route weaved us around the M4 flyover and the railways, bringing us past GSK's international corporate headquarters, through docks at Brentford lock to the river Thames and then to upstream to end at Richmond. A fine participation of 35 or so, plus one pedigree dog.
It was particularly interesting to visit Boston Manor House as it has been restored and reopened recently. We enjoyed our lunchtime picnic on its fine lawn amongst old cedar and oak trees, some of which are thought to have grown from seeds planted at the time of the construction of the house.
The Mercantour is the mountainous area bordering France and Italy where the Alps come down to the Mediterranean sea. The wall of Alps of at least 2500 m. altitude presents a natural frontier that has been disputed over many centuries.
We visited Sospel, with a quaint bridge over the river which includes a fortified gatehouse that was formerly a frontier post. Nearby Castillon was a post on the Alpine section of the Maginot Line.
Further back in to France, St. Martin Vésubie heads the valley of the river Vésubie which reaches the river Var by means of a deep and impressive gorge, one of the belvédères of which is intriguingly named "Le Saut des Français".
And so back to Menton on the French Riviera. After lots of travel the town looks as pretty as ever; host to weekenders as much as to tourists from far away. The mild climate and lack of frost gives a real sub-tropical feel to the gardens. Sunrise over the Mediterranean is a pretty good a way to start the day, a visual preparation for the seemingly chaotic geography of the streets with their feast of shapes and colours,
Nyons feels like a Provence town but is now administered as part of the Rhôone-Alps region. It's a pretty town just north of Avignon. Nyons has been famous for the quality of its olive production since Roman times, the market still has a Provencal feel and the narrow streets are as narrow as the streets of a village in the Var, where the deep shade protects from the fierce Provence sun and heat.
We left Rasteau and the vineyards of the Villages des Côtes du Rhône beneath Mont Ventoux and the Denterelles de Montmirail after an early breakfast and crossed the Rhône on the medieval ecclesiastical bridge at Pont St Esprit. Next the famous road along the belvederes and corniches of the Ardèche gorge and a stop for coffee and croissants at Vallon Pont d'Arc.
Onwards up Mont Lozère via Les Vans to a picnic halt at Le Mas de la Barque at 1440 m. up Mont Lozère, which overlooks the Cévennes.
We passed some vineyard tractors collecting this year's fine grapes but otherwise we found the roads largely clear of holiday traffic this last weekend of September, We saw the canoe trailers leaving Vallon Pont d'Arc whilst we were enjoying our coffee so no trouble there either.
Brilliant ride of around 300km in any case but especially brilliant as it's my first ride for over a year. Christophe kindly took me as pillion on his KLV1000: very many thanks to him for that (his bike is left on the bottom right photo). 300km on the comfortable pillion seat of a KLV1000 ridden by an absolutely top rider on roads that one dreams of, and in the best possible weather too! Also thanks to Henri who researched the route and to Simon, the leader of our group, all of AMA. Our club celebrated its 30th birthday with a grand cake and a special run of 30th anniversary shirts.
Ma carte postale de notre ballade de samedi au route des gorges de l'Ardèche, Mt Lozère et les Cévennes. Grand merci à Christophe et sa moto qui m'ont accepté comme passager, et de Simon et Henri de l'AMA qui ont proposé la ballade.