London – St Pancras Station

In retrospect a conference on the rather specific subject of Status epilepsy (in other words a seizure which persists and does not spontaneously abort) lasting 3 whole days, was not surprisingly, confusing and far too esoteric. It was for the most part very research based with lots of complex slides showing the histology of various brain cells from slaughtered rats or cats. There was much talk on nerve cell channels involving sodium, chloride and calcium.  Again there were multiple mind numbing histological slides of nerve cells. The only fascinating aspect for me, is  that on this occasion, the sacrificial beast apparently was a wombat, specifically the nerve cells and synapses of the wombat epididymus. ( part of one’s testicle) . If only someone could inform these scientists in their ivory towers, that there woud be much less flak from the anti animal vivsectionists if they were to switch to possums.

The Imperial College is an University complex in Kensington and is surrounded by imposing buildings housing museums of every sort. There is a Royal College of Music behind the Royal Albert Hall. The College of Music has a Museum of Musical Instruments. To my grief it was closed for Easter! I was dumbstruck as Easter had passed a week ago. I am far too British to argue or question this explanation and meekly left. 
There is a Royal Academy of Music as well with a Museum and it is open! I looked up their syllabus and to my delight found that I could enroll in “period historical instruments” (the Recorder). As well I could have also taken lessons in the SACKBUT! It has a certain appeal. The head teacher is one Margaret Faultless. So I decided to set out via St Pancras Station, to visit the Academy Museum.
The St Pancras Station has a very special place in my distant memory as it was how I entered London for the very first time, more than 30 years ago. I had, on the first attempt, successfully passed Basic Physician training exams. Some may scoff that it was easier in those days, well I hastened to state that it was not! Dare I say it but the clincal exam at least was much more demanding. Anyway this is a good subject for debate upon my return. 
Be that as it may, I took a year off, what is now called a ‘gap year’ and travelled Europe. I left Sydney and flew to Nepal, India and thence to London. For Nepal it was my third visit, the outcome of an affair of the heart, worthy of another chapter of the book of my life. 
So I was about 26 and I suspect rather hippy in appearance with the mandatory Tibetian jacket and rather longish hair. I was mortified when I was pulled over at Heathrow on my arrival and subjected to a very thorough search of luggage, I recall they squeezed my toothpaste. My body was left ‘intact’, nothing squeezed or penetrated thankfully. What made it all the more unfathomable was that then in the 1970s we, Australia, were in the Commonwealth and so Aussies were privileged to enter Great Britain via the GREEN lane, nothing RED about this young man. It was definitely not British to be cut out from the flock like this as far as I was concerned.
So I took that train from the airport and it arrived at St Pancras Station. A beautiful edifice that reminds me of some of the unique buildings hidden in the hotch potch that is Hindley Street, Adelaide, although 10 times bigger. Hence I revisited this architectural wonder, now a National Trust Heritage site. My very first night was spent in a sort of back packers appartment very near the station. I am sure it no longer exists as the station is overshadowed by modern tall buildings.
Serveral photographs of the timeless facade and building that is St Pancras Station, London, the entry point for my first trip to London all those years ago.


A Day in the Country near Budpapest.

I met a delightful couple in Budapest, Chris and Garbor who invited me to spend the day with them and we drove to the village of Szentendre, about 30 km to the north of Budapest. 


Gabor, Chris and I

Some background: whenever there was a bend in a river, the ancient romans settled! The Danube was no exception and all along the highway from Budapest to Szentendre there are ancient ruins (other than me, I hasten to add) from Roman times.
Wikipedia says this about the history of Szentendre:

The area where Szentendre is today was uninhabited when the Magyars arrived. In the 9th century, Árpád’s companion, the sacral prince Kurszán, settled here. He renovated the Roman fortress that had fallen into ruin and re-established a settlement on the remains of the Roman building. Little is known about the history of Szentendre between the 9th and 10th centuries. 

My comment : If you read the preceding paragraph in a  cursory way, in all probability, you missed this questionable use of english : “Árpád’s companion, the sacral prince Kurszán, settled here…” Now if Arpad was a male, then it is possible that Prince Kurszan may indeed have been his sacral companion, but I rather suspect that the correct adjective is ‘sacred’.

The city was largely depopulated in the Turkish era. According to a 17th-century census, only one family and their service staff remained here at that time… one family!

After the Turks were expelled from the area, foreign settlers moved to the settlement. Today evidence of the town’s prosperity in this time can be seen in the baroque style of the houses, the Mediterranean atmosphere of the town’s architecture, its beautiful churches, the cobblestoned streets, and its narrow alleys. 

There was also considerable Dalmatian immigration. The Dalmatian families settled on Donkey Mountain where Dalmát Street preserves their memory today. Even in the 1980s, this street was inhabited exclusively by descendants of the original Dalmatians. 

But I can’t say that I saw any, which begs the question “How do you spot a Dalmatian”?   I know terrible pun!  So rather than bore the reader with words, here are some pictures of Szentendre.


village square , the flowers are real



A very quiet street !



panorama of the village square





Budapest in 5 easy walks.

I have ticked all the “must see sights” according to the City Walks brochure. Sadly I have missed the Marilyn Night Club which promises “table dancing, lap dancing, strip tease show…. Beautiful Hungarian dancers” and this all for free entry…I asked the young Hungarian man at breakfast if there had been a spelling mistake (lost in translation) and it should have stated: “sabre dancing and tap dancing”? He reassured me that it was spelt correctly. I could not imagine anything more painful than someone dancing on my lap. I assume that one removes one’s shoes? When I learned ballroom dancing in High School and even purchased dancing pumps, my teacher was constantly emphasising that one “danced on one’s balls.” I am absolutely sure that she did not in any way or form imagine this variation. 

I suspect that I had a much more enjoyable time at my evening baroque concert in the  Saint Stephen Basilica which was programmed on the principle to “send them away happy”. There were no less than 5 variations or versions of Ave Maria scattered throughout the evening for organ, soprano, tenor, violin and lastly trumpet! Sadly the rather intimate nature of the event was negated in the cold cavernous cathedral so despite the acoustics, the evening felt rather flat. Now if there had been a more than reasonable Alto Recorder in the ensemble…

When travelling in each major city, I always try to attend a classical music concert or opera, for several reasons. Most of my readers will know that music is a love and on an equal footing with medicine. Secondly listening to famous international ensembles and thirdly the concert halls and opera houses of  Europe are beautiful architectural creations and a ticket to a performance gets me inside for a not so free tour.

As a consequence I have been blessed to witness some truly memorable musical occasions. A production of The Barber of Seville at the Swedish Royal Opera house in Stockholm during 2012 spings to mind.

Then there is the spontaneous  and totally unexpected memorable  musical moment. One such occurred  whilst I was in Brazil.

At Tiradentes I stayed at the Pousada Solar da Ponte. This was an abandoned, half completed mansion, stumbled upon by a dapper and friendly Englishman and his portuguese wife almost 40 years ago! They purchased it, financed it’s completion into a 4 star pousada! The owner, John, now in his 80 s was a chatty delightful host. 

The ornate church in Tiradentes housed the sole remaining organ of a renowned portuguese organ builder from the 18th century. By lucky coincidence John informed me  there was an organ recital on the Friday night so I went along! Varied programme of conventional western 16 and 17th organ music including of course J.S.Bach. I will never forget that evening.

the Opera house


It only seems like yesterday

A year to the day, the 24th August 2012, I was in Spain, riding the Camino , and had reached the town of Sarria, more of a dirty modern city really. It was the only disappointing destination of the Camino.

My accommodation, allegedly 3 star, the Hotel Alfonso IX was at once forgettable yet memorable – it was a depressing, dark and dingy multi-storey “box” that had seen in the past 4 or even 5 stars. Secondly it was obviously THE place to stay in Sarria. Around 6 pm a white stretched limousine pulled up and out stepped a stylish middle aged woman, predictably with cigarette in mouth, and a male companion looking like a disheveled Luciano Pavarotti also smoking, but a cigar. Lest you jump to the wrong conclusion, remember that the real Pavarotti had died from pancreatic carcinoma a few years previously!

Imagine my surprise when, about 30 minutes later, drifting through what were very thin walls, came the sound of a voice, singing. A tenor, then in answer, the soprano! For the next 45 minutes I was treated to the equivalent of high quality “Muzak”… As they trilled and tra-la-la-ed up and down their scales. Of course it was possible that they were in reality having mad passionate sex with the sound system on high. But the next morning I did verify their singing as there was a flyer advertising a concert of operatic bel canto delights in the Sarria town hall the previous evening. Moreover both singers were in the foyer, each smoking and autographing a photo of themselves, for the impressed bellboy! Bellboys in Spain and especially in Sarria, were obviously classically educated.

As I am now learning the Recorder, I wonder, if I returned to the Alfonso IX, would I stand a chance with the bellboy? I would even tolerate a cigarette in my mouth if that would add to the attraction! However smoking a cigarette and playing the Recorder at the same time would require sucking and blowing simultaneously, a feat I suspect even my teacher could not manage, despite her years of practice and on the double reed what’s more.

If, in my wildest dreams, the bellboy was swept off his feet, by this smoking Recorder player, we would settle down in Spain together and open a pub, named obviously “The Weed and Whistle”.

But the name of the hotel provoked my curiosity. Who was this effeminate sounding Alfonso, of which there had been at least 9? Well he was the King of Leon born in 1171 died 1230, and certainly not a fairy, for he fathered 21 children by 5 wives and in addition sired some 15 “bastards”. By my reckoning, his wives and offspring would have occupied every single room of the modern Hotel Alfonso IX, especially the Bridal Suite. Imagine the noise through those thin walls!

One of his daughters married into the Ponce de Leon family, but they were “without issue”- An utterly predictable outcome , when the groom has the family name of “ponce”.

Finally, Alfonso is said to have been called the “Baboso” or “Slobberer” because he was subject to fits of rage during which he foamed at the mouth.

So here I sit in flight on an Emirates Boeing 777 to Frankfurt on the 24th August 2013. A new bike awaits me in Dresden. My Recorder in my luggage, practicing sucking and blowing as I listen to a concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra, (in deference to my music teacher).

Addendum: after an hour of experimentation (seated in 11F Business Class) and thanks in part to my anatomical training, I think I have the answer – gentle blowing through the mouth, tonguing the Recorder at the same time, whilst just as gently, drawing in through the nose. The down side is that this manouvre can only be successful if I draw gently on the cigarette inserted up one nostril and block the other with a cotton ball, simultaneously with the Recorder in my mouth. There is a niggling doubt that unless the Bellboy is visually impaired, it may not achieve the desired outcome…..The woman in seat 11E has just activated the call button and requested she change seats.