Bournemouth (UK), post lockdown

Though i’m not the most adventurous type, Bournemouth post-lockdown felt like a big step back into holiday travel. With the weather forecast good and a cheap upgrade on the hotel room it felt like the stars had aligned.

The trains were only a fraction full; unheard of in the nascent holiday season. Anywhere along UK south coast is sure to be popular. Still I felt an anxiety, not through fear of the virus but something less easy to pin down. The mandatory face covering and distancing rules never seemed likely to be enforced but I felt compelled to have my mask hooked ready on one ear in case a guard approached. Really when you’re not even in spitting distance of anyone it seems a odd rule. Why not only boarding and alighting or during peak times?

I have to admit to drinking a bit of vodka mixer on the journey. Well, it was my birthday. And holiday travel after so long did feel like a big deal.

Leaving the station I struggled with the major decision of which Tesco to visit, as they were both almost equi-distant from the hotel. I opted north, and walked straight in the path of an oncoming beggar. He seemed honest, if it wasn’t a finely honed scam, telling (and showing) me he had only collected 10p for the whole day but needed £3.20 for something he muttered. I told him, ‘It’s a post-cash society,’ thinking hardly anyone carries coins now and would be wary of near contact. But I added: ‘Lucky for you it’s my birthday,’ while getting out my wallet, with no idea how much change it contained. Quite a lot, it turned out, so I handed over about £2.60 – more than I ever have to a beggar. Of course he seemed grateful, wishing me happy birthday and have a good day. It’s only in Bournemouth I’ve been stopped in my tracks, and in previous years I would have gotten irritated and not always given anything, but in these times there are a lot of desperate people. Or at least more of those not wanting to spare their money to the truly destitute.

Hotel check-in should have been straight forward, after so many, and it was only for one night. But this time I struggled. Had to fill out a form: name&address, email, double-sign. Since I had the booking reference and my details were already registered through the booking site it seemed, well, very 20th century. Then she told me: ‘First floor, on the left.’ Simple enough, I thought, so headed for the nearby stairs.

As I started climbing them I heard her call: ‘Sir! It’s on the left.’

Back at the bottom I noticed another set of stairs a long way on the other side. I wondered, how many unfamiliar would assume on the left meant turn left once reaching the first floor?

The room was stuffy in early evening, so I had to get out. Another trip to Tesco bought a bottle of Pinot Grigio, watched a bit of TV and feel asleep.

Surprisingly not hungover, I checked out the hotel about 5mins after hearing what must have been the fire alarm since there was no one at reception. It was most likely a drill.


There’s a lovely footpath route that leads from the Knyveton road right down to the coast. All the times I’ve been to Bournemouth and never discovered it!


The coast walk feels endless, it’s one of the best in the UK. Well, certainly the most tourist-friendly (lots of toilets). This was supposed to be after the 2M rule was relaxed, not that it is realistic this time of year, but people made an effort to keep their distance.

Fours hours till my train, I got as far as Mudeford. July was bound to be crowded, but on this partly sunny day there was just enough space. Half way along I realised I’d left an unstarted bottle of apple Lucozade in the hotel room. What irked me was the thought that it would be thrown away unopened, such was the minuscule yet non-zero virus risk. At least I still had some wine decanted in plastic bottles. Well, it was that or water with my lunch.




On the return walk back my tranquillity was broken by two blokes arguing, from different groups. ‘You think you’re superior to me?’
‘No, I don’t think I’m superior at all.’ There might have been a racial element to it, such are these febrile times. But I wanted to switch off from that and enjoy the rest of my walk.

The first train back east is one of the most enjoyable (or at least stress-free) journeys, especially with so few passengers. On the last Southern train the Scottish driver regularly issued a reminder to obey the rules, including the 2m distancing!

So, I’m thinking, make the most of it before the virus threat has truly gone…


Amsterdam (continued)

Relieved to be back at the hotel I started my usual preparations for that night. Listened to live-streamed UK radio 4, a discussion about nudity – its cultural history & changing meaning.

After downing nearly half of the vodka I was finally ready to hit the town. My new self-assurance that tonight had to be the night. This time I found the red light area with no problem. A narrow street led from the canal. I vaguely remember a couple of women, one typically blonde, perhaps mid twenties in the usual skimpy underwear. But she hardly got off her stool, since there as I reached the door approached someone dark skinned and considerably older. I can’t say whether she was black or mixed; her maturity was the main thing I noticed about her. I even asked her age and she told me 35yrs. Well, maybe she’d lived a hard life; many sex workers have, let’s be honest. In any case I doubt she was older than me. [A section of text has been removed for inappropriate content]

After exiting I realised I’d put my jacket on inside out, so dipped into a quiet side-street to correct it. As I strode to the end I nearly bumped into a group of lads at the intersection. I stepped back in to let them pass. But they instead turned towards me. One of them kicked me in the shin, and all three of them seemed to laugh at that. He hadn’t used much force but it was enough to be annoying after the initial shock. Surely they were on something; alcohol makes casual violence easy, and I felt the urge to search them out and be violent back (though thankfully I didn’t). I don’t see myself as the type to get picked on; I’m not big but at a glance I could pass for a middleweight boxer. It was the first time anyone has shown violence and it hasn’t put me off visiting dodgy places, which is probably inevitable with what I seek out. But then Amsterdam, for all its tawdriness, reputation for drugs, doesn’t feel like a threatening place.


The next and last day I returned to the city centre. It seemed a more gentile and tourist-friendly place, but still very crowded, mostly under 30s. I considered visiting another sex-worker, with 50euros still in my pocket. And maybe I would have done but for the lack of them at early afternoon. Difficult to know in the harsh light of day, albeit mildly intoxicated, whether I would have gone though with it.


Generally the rail system works well, but Amsterdam station could maybe do with a simpler information display. There are so many different types of train. Had to ask one of the staff in the end which platform. The return journey was by high speed back to Brussels. The most interesting part was when a couple got searched for drugs. A team including sniffer dog. This is passing through the Schengen countries so it’s a good opportunity for smuggling. They returned to their seat. Maybe just a bit of hash, not enough to warrant arrest but still hardly worth what they must have gone through.

In conclusion, Amsterdam is not somewhere I’d ever want to revisit. Maybe great if you’re looking to experience the weed, some tulips, or just the culture. Not (IMHO) the best place to visit for [text removed for inappropriate content]. Amsterdam’s very reputation, attracting millions of tourists, makes it seem over-hyped and caricatured. Perhaps a victim of its own success.

Surely there are many like me who discovered, or had it confirmed to them, that the idea of this city is better than the reality.

To read the complete version:  Sin Cities (Amazon UK)

Sin Cities (Amazon US)


Rotterdam, Amsterdam… and the troublesome travel bags

Rotterdam central is within easy reach by Eurostar. The advantage of rail – other than the carbon saving – is you can take a comfortable amount of luggage, not have to spend hours or days refining your choice down to what that just-flight-legal cabin bag will hold without breaking its zip. In February I’d really struggle with that for a three nighter.

Had an embarrassing incident at the St Pancras terminal after I’d forgotten to zip my bag’s back pocket. Travel passes and a spare phone fell out seemingly just after I’d walked the few metres to the queue with it on my back, I only realised when other passengers had picked them up. I must have been distracted by the surprise announcement, and lost in some discussion on streamed radio.

Embarrassed at my carelessness, I decided part of the problem was with my cheap eBay bag – I now would always associate with that embarrassing incident, so decided to buy a new one. Spent half an hour or so looking through sports discount store rucksacks. Well, it passed some of the time. After dark, the journey really dragged. No sense of the 200+km speed cross country. Still, one train journey from London to the Rotterdam central can’t be bad.

Only one night in Rotterdam before moving on to the capital. Glad to arrive late enough I wouldn’t feel the need to go out again since that meant notifying the hotel proprietor on return. How different from the capital!




Next day it was chilly, breezy, and not much sun; the kind of coldness just enough to be uncomfortable in the one jacket not too warm to wear inside a station. Hours before my bus was due. Much cheaper than train if you book in advance. Relieved to get out of the cold rain. Then at the destination I climbed out and made for the luggage area of the bus, and could not understand why it was closed. No one else taking their luggage. Then opened and shown to me it was empty. I was baffled, until he pointed out my bag was behind me. But how had I not noticed it? Surely it hadn’t been there the whole time? I know my peripheral vision is not the best (I’ve passed by a friend on the street completely unrecognising more than once). But to not see it at all. Still baffles me. It was as if this luggage bag had developed some power to make me seem foolish beyond its cheap appearance. My dislike of it became hatred. It was definitely going get dumped for another.

The budget XO hotel turned out to be impressive, other than its dimensions. Though it was away from the city centre. I could have upgraded to a double for under 2euros but that somehow seemed unnecessary. The room itself was impressively well-equipped with tech, for a 3star: a coffee machine, huge TV and luxury shower.

That evening I searched for a Lidl, hoping to find some cheap vodka. But nothing more than beer. Carrying basic supplies I headed back, still hoping to find an off-licence near the hotel as most shops were closing before 7. I ended up in a ‘night shop’. The cheapest bottle of 70cl was 21euros! Normally a discount supermarket in Belgium or Germany would sell the same for no more than €9. It had to be tax. I’m happy to pay loads of duty on spirits in the UK, but on holiday it leaves me feeling exploited. Nevertheless I bought it. I drank nearly a third that night.

That night I took a train into the notorious city centre. After drinking over a third of the vodka it seemed like a good idea. But it was getting late, approaching nine. The old town was crowded despite it being a cold winter Tuesday night. Somehow the red light district eluded me. But that night was, you might call it, a dry run, though I was there too long given my ticket only lasted an hour. No choice, it seemed, but to walk the entire 5km journey back. This is when you are glad of the alcohol in your system.

Second morning in Amsterdam, slightly hungover and tired-legged I set out to buy my new luggage bag. Train fares are way simpler than most other countries, not least the UK. I got one ticket that lasted 24hrs for 8euros. Amsterdam Noord Park first, where I went for a walk, yes, around the park. With the sun it felt pleasant to eat my grated cheese sandwich and cereal bar.


On to Noord town. I headed for a Decathlon store and picked up the rucksack I’d thoroughly perused online. I think I’d had a quick check of the zips before taking it to the counter to pay in cash, rather than self service. There was a queue so I had a look around and picked up a cheap bottle. Another embarrassing incident followed. The cashier asked me: ‘Is their anything inside?’
‘I’m not sure,’ came my honest response. Somehow I hadn’t noticed how it was filled out.
He unzipped it to look inside. And I can’t remember his exact words. But I remember the word ‘shoplifting,’ said both for me and his assistant who had suddenly appeared. He then started pulling out these little boxes, and commented: ‘Those would set off the alarm.’
But soon he realised they were just empty boxes, mostly flattened. Though he still seemed perplexed. I pointed out they must have been used to fill out the rucksack. At this point, I don’t know who was the most embarrassed. I hadn’t fully processed whether he was seriously suspecting me of attempted shoplifting, more concerned was I about making up the right cash. After I’d paid he said, ‘have a nice day.’ And I left with the burgeoning realisation that I’d been suspected not only of attempted theft but of being a rather stupid thief.

…to be continued.

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from the US