Portrait of a Port City: Southhampton, England

Cruises in SouthhamptonWhile it may seem strange to create a portrait of a port, Southampton on the south west coast of England is not just a simple port. This is a steep departure from the usual sunny and tropical destinations we feature here at Vagobond, but the port and the city of Southhampton are worth considering.

First of all, Southhampton is the largest city in the county of Hampshire on the south coast of England. Second, just 75 miles from London, it is a major holiday destination for Brits. In addition, Southampton is a major port and the closest city to the New Forest. Cruises from Southhampton are a major tourism industry in the UK.

The city itself lies at the northernmost point of Southampton Water at the confluence of the River Test and River Itchen, with the River Hamblejoining to the south of the urban area. All of these names make me jittery with the way they sound like they belong in the Shire or off among the misty mountains.
With a quarter of a million residents and nearly a million in the greater metropolitan area, it is a very significant city in the UK. The city’s name is sometimes abbreviated in writing to “So’ton” or “Soton”, and a resident of Southampton is called a Sotonian. Not to be confused with Satanists who are something else entirely. As are Sodomites. This is not Sodom or Satan, it’s Soton (though with the population being so large it is likely you can find Satanists and sodomy or even a combination of the two if you really want to look for them.

Southhampton has the longest surviving stretch of medieval walls in England, and a number of museums such as Tudor House Museum, Southampton Maritime Museum, God’s House Tower, an archaeology museum about the citys heritage and located in one of the tower walls, the Medieval Merchant’s House and Solent Sky, which focuses on aviation.

And, the real Titanic launched from Southhampton. A Titanic Memorial Museum exists there. 2012 was the 100th Anniversary of the tragedy. The Mayflower also launched from Southhampton, but no memorial is planned for the crew or passengers of that vessel though they all perished (eventually). The Mayflower Theatre though is a famous landmark and well worth a visit even if the Rocky Horror Picture Show is still on there.

The annual Southampton Boat Show is held in September each year, with over 600 exhibitors present and is a big draw for tourism. It runs for just over a week at Mayflower Park on the city’s waterfront, where it has been held since 1968. The Boat Show itself is the climax of Sea City, which runs from April to September each year to celebrate Southampton’s links with the sea.

Southhampton has a lively pub and club scene and is filled with young people who want to party like it’s 2019. Part of the reason for that is because it is a cheap place to live or have a holiday.

Dramatic Vagobond Travel Video

Here’s a fun video I put together that hits some of the video I shot on my travels during 2009-2012 in Serbia, South Korea, England, Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Turkey, Egypt, and a whole bunch of other places – I wasn’t real sure what to do with these so I proudly present to you – Vagobond Travel Dramatic. Please be sure to subscribe to my You Tube Channel. I’ve had several people ask me who the singer is that is just chilling out next to the Thames and grooving – I have no idea, but I enjoyed his impromptu show. He could be someone very famous for all I know…

Places I’ve Lived Ranked from Best to Worst with Top 10

Vagobond MapThis is actually, a very hard list to order – mainly because the particular time and experience I had in each place weighs just as heavily as the place itself. I didn’t realize that ranking these would be so difficult. Not only is it hard to rank the best from the places I’ve lived – it’s equally hard to rank the worst.  In the middle, each place had positive and negative qualities that would change the ranking. Perhaps the only way to do this is to rank these places based on whether I would want to move there again with all other things being equal.

After getting started, I’ve realized that it only makes sense to rank the Top-10. As for the others, I’ve  put them in an approximate order – but in general aside from general top and bottom of the list groupings – it’s pretty hard to juggle or rank them.

Looking at this list – it’s interesting to see that I’ve lived in six countries and seven U.S. States. My top 4 all have more than 1-million people. I’ve lived in four state capitals and nine cities of 500,000 population or more. I’ve lived in the largest cities in Turkey, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii. In my top-10 are cities in Turkey, Hawaii, Washington State, Oregon, and Indonesia. I’m surprised that California isn’t in that group. The bottom line is that I like living in large cities next to the ocean, preferably with a Mediterranean or tropical climate, plenty of diversity, and at least one university and plenty of public transit options.

#1 – Izmir, Turkey

Izmir is a special place. It’s a port city on the Aegean and the gateway to the Turkish and Greek Aegean Islands. Izmir is cosmopolitan, modern, ancient, and laid back all at the same time. Izmir literally has it all. The caveat, of course, is that since I was last there in 2012 – a lot has happened. The Syrian civil war changed the population dynamic and the heavy hand of Erdogan and his process of re-Islamization may have drastically changed Izmir from my memories. Certainly it has changed, I’m just not certain how much.

Istanbul, Turkey

No matter if Istanbul has changed or not – there is no place like it in the world. There are two places that I consider to be the center of the world. Istanbul is one of them and see below for the other. The entirety of human history and civilization meets in the crossroads of the planet. This astounding place with so many stories, so many traditions, and so many people. Istanbul contradicts itself. It is both East and West, a land city and a water city, secular and religious, expensive and cheap, easy and difficult. Every big city is a masterpiece – but Istanbul – it is more.

#3 Honolulu (and Oahu), HI

Honolulu is the other city I consider to be a center of the world. If you were to poke a straight hole through the globe, you could almost run it straight from Istanbul to Honolulu. Much smaller than Istanbul, much less history, and much less important in terms of human culture and politics – and yet – Honolulu is where the entire world dreams of going and you can meet anyone from anywhere on Oahu. It truly is ‘The Gathering Place’. Oahu is expensive, crowded, and remote – but the weather is beautiful, the people are generally peaceful and kind, and while very small in comparison to the world- it has an outsized place in the imaginations and dreams of humanity. At number three is living pretty much anywhere on Oahu including Honolulu, Lanikai and Kailua, the North Shore, etc.

#4 London, UK

I didn’t like the weather very much during my time in London, but the museums, the access to Europe, the ease of finding something to do made it rank high on my list.

#5 Bellingham, WA

Bellingham will always be a place that I hold dearly in my heart. The sheer magnitude of outdoor beauty from Mt. Baker to the San Juan Islands. Sitting between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. The terminus for the Alaska Ferry. The great beer, the hippie/environmental vibe combined with a great university. It’s just a cool place. I made a great decision when I decided to live there.

#6 Seattle, WA

Like Bellingham but bigger and with a more robust tech industry, amazing museums, great architecture, and instead of being between Seattle and Vancouver, it’s between Vancouver, Bellingham, and Portland. Great music and art, lots of cool neighborhoods, amazing restaurants.

#7 Fez, Morocco

I enjoyed living in Fez. It’s an exotic city with a lot of the amenities of the West and great markets, food, entertainment, and a robust community of expats and educated locals. Fez is the only place in my Top-10 that isn’t a water city.

#8 Kapa’a, HI

Kapa’a is one of only two small towns that made it onto my top-10 list – the main reason is because I lived right next to the beach there for a couple of years. Kapa’a itself had a pretty great selection of restaurants and diversity of cultures for such a small town – but really it was waking up and going for a swim every day.

#9 Parapat, Sumatra, Indonesia

Parapat is the other small town that made it to my list. I’m sure it is a totally different experience now – but swimming in Lake Toba, taking the trip to Samosir Island, drinking that coconut wine and playing guitars with the Batak men in the evenings, hiking into the jungle and finding giant fruit bats and orangutang – these were high points in my life.

#10 Portland, OR

Portland is a cool place but I’d never live there again. It’s gotten too expensive, too big, too weirdly politically correct. I love the food, the quirky neighborhoods, the music, the markets, Powell’s books – but I wouldn’t live there again. I will be happy to visit over and over again though…

Florence, Oregon

The following are the cities that I would live in again – if there were no other choices available. They are good places.

Tacoma, WA

Tacoma seems like it just might be cool. I need more information but if I had to choose one town from all of those not in the Top-10, Tacoma would probably be it because of proximity to Seattle, Portland, Canada, the Pacific and the universities, art, music, and culture.

Mazatlan, Mexico

I didn’t really live in Mazatlan long enough to be able to judge it. I was a child and not there all that long. I think I would like it if I were to go back.

Mendocino, CA

Mendocino is beautiful and honestly, I would consider living there – but it suffers from the same issues as a lot of towns on the bottom of this list – too far from a city, not close enough to warm oceans.

Juneau, AK

Alaska is amazing. I would never want to live there because the winters in Southeast are wet and long and dark. I want to go back to visit. If I had to live there, I don’t think it would be too bad.

Manisa, Turkey

Manisa was exotic and cool but the summers were sweltering and the real attraction was being close to Izmir. Three things I did love about Manisa – the hiking, the wild horses in Niobe, and the Messer Festival.

Sacramento, CA

I liked Sacramento but it just got too hot. A big house with air conditioning would probably make it livable but there are better choices nearby.

Big Bear Lake, CA

I feel lucky to have grown up in Big Bear Lake. I also recognize how limiting that was. It’s a beautiful place. If I were to live in Southern California again, however, I would be more towards the San Diego area.

Sefrou, Morocco

I liked Sefrou but it’s a bit too big and a bit too small. If I were to go back to Morocco, I would pick a city or town on the coast that was either bigger or smaller. The biggest draw to Sefrou for me would be friends and family who are there.

Florence, OR

Florence is cool but the ocean is so cold you can’t really swim in it. Florence needs a university.

Raleigh, NC

Raleigh was another city I appreciated and enjoyed.  Simply too far from the beach and the whole Southern approach to history including confederate monuments etc gets under my skin.

Myrtle Creek

As for these last places (below), I guess I’ve said all I needed to say about them. I have no desire to visit or live in any of these places again. Reedsport is the only one that I ever loved – but it broke my heart and I have no desire to ever go back. I also loved being a farm kid in Myrtle Creek, I loved our property but not all that went with it, not the community, not the people, not the horror of my experience there.

Reedsport, OR

Jacksonville, NC

Millington, TN

Redding, CA

Canyonville, OR

Myrtle Creek, OR

 

 

Places I’ve Lived #13 – London, England

London, EnglandI’ve spent a fair amount of time in London – but the only time I lived there was a brief stint at the end of 1998. I showed up at the invitation of my friend Danny, who had been my assistant and rowdy drinking companion while working on John Sayles film LIMBO in Juneau, Alaska. I went to the UK on a whim and without any planning – my adventures were many – I was captured and enslaved by a gang of Irish Gypsies as I hitched along the motorway near Rugby – they forced me to break up pavement and concrete for about a week before I made a daring escape – but that is another story. I illegally rode the rails all the way to Scotland, met a beautiful girl in Drumnadrochit along the shores of the Loch Ness, and visited the ancestral home of my grandmother’s clan on the Isle of Skye – the McCleod Castle – where I left one of her scarves as a memento and took some flowers from the garden which I dried in my journal. But none of that is what I’m writing about right now.

Groucho Club, LondonWhen I got back to London, I was even more out of money than I had been when I arrived. Danny and I quickly drank away the rest of my reserves and he allowed me to move into his parents house with him – they were surprised, but also agreed. His mother, finding out I was a writer hired me as a casting assistant. She was a powerful redheaded woman who usually had a phone to each ear. She had me read scripts and scour through casting books to find the actors who fit the parts. I got to work on Angela’s Ashes and several other films in this way, but without getting anywhere near the set. She took me to prestigious lunches and tried to introduce me to the right people. At the famous Groucho Club, Jude Law and I began doing shots and it ended with him passing out and me getting kicked out!

It was an amazing period to be in London – a few notable concerts were Billy Bragg and Depeche Mode (the Singles Tour). I was too young and stupid to realize the access I was being granted to the rich, famous, wealthy, and powerful. Ultimately, I wasted the opportunities that were shoved at me.

London EnglandStill, it was a fun and exciting time – but I was drinking far too much and not saving anything. A few friends I’d made in the  exhilarating worlds of London cinema, publishing, art, and music began fucking around with heroin and that was always the place where I’d drawn the line – I was fine with the underground bar scene and pretty much everything else – but needles going into arms was in my red zone – and honestly, if you weren’t a full part of the party, nobody wanted to party with you. It was time for me to leave.

Instead of heading to France and across Europe, I opted to go back to Bellingham, back to radio, back to the life I’d left behind. I hadn’t yet learned that you can never go back. I did alright back in Bellingham, but as I wrote before -eventually, I needed to leave so I went to the nearest major metropolitan area. I landed in Seattle.

London, England

London, EnglandLondon is the largest city in England and the United Kingdom. It is one of the most important cities in the world. It has a population of about 9 million people. It is a center of fashion, literature, film, art, food, and much much more.  There’s not much that can be said about London that hasn’t been said elsewhere. I spent the night sleeping on a bench in Regent’s Park one night and was woke up in the morning by a flock of ducks. I used to spend a good deal of time in the British Museum and exploring the rare book shops nearby. The Tate Modern is a must go-to and the scary haunted Tower Bridge experience under the Tower Bridge is a hair raising experience. The weather isn’t fantastic most of the time, but you don’t need to be outside in London – there is an abundance of indoor activities. Also, we’re humans so we can dress for any weather. At the time, London still had a terrible reputation for both the food and the weather. I was there at the height of the ‘Essex Girl’ phenomenon – which despite the negatives that time has heaped upon her – was something that I am very glad I did not miss.

Sleeping with Ghosts – London’s Georgian House Hotel

Back in 2012, I was in London, England for the World Travel Market. At the time I was fortunate to be doing a lot of international travel to places like Egypt, Spain, and the Balkans. I determined that I wasn’t going to stay anywhere that wasn’t extraordinary in some way. I found some incredible places – a houseboat on the Thames, an incredibly luxurious hotel with a 007 theme, and a Victorian era house converted into a hotel that is reliably reported as being haunted. For that one, I have to give credit to my friend Matthew, who made the recommendation for me. I’ve heard that since that time, Georgian House has turned into a Harry Potter themed hotel! I may have to go back.

I’m very happy to re-share the story of the Georgian House Hotel.

Haunted Hospitality at an incredibly good price!

Georgian HouseThe building that houses the Georgian House Hotel dates back to the mid 19th century and has a certain elegant and timeless feel to it. I would imagine it was haunted even if I didn’t know it only because all of old London feels like a scary old horror film to me. Don’t misunderstand me though – it’s lovely and well maintained.

Since I was there at one of the busier times of the year, most hotels were charging a minimum of a few hundred GBP per night for a room, but I was extremely surprised to find that I could stay at Georgian House for just 69 GBP per night for a room that didn’t have a toilet ensuite. It had a sink, coffee service, TV, internet, and a very comfy bed, but the toilet and shower were two steps out the door across the hallway.  Incredibly convenient even if I had to open my door and the price – magnificent.

My favorite part of the Georgian House Hotel? The breakfast. While there is a buffet, the breakfast menu is cooked to order. Eggs Benedict, salmon and cream cheese bagel – yeah – that’s my kind of place.

Georgian HouseI was lucky to come back after an open house and got to drink champagne with the staff and owner, Serena one night. They told stories about the ghosts and I got to learn that the building had been in Serena’s family for a long time.

As for the ghosts…the house  is haunted by several ghosts, including that of an unknown man who has been seen in one the basement staff rooms.  Serena said that the staffer woke with the man sitting on the end of her bed but then he got up and walked out. The staffer came down asking who had come in her room the night before but found out that she had the only key and the door was locked.

Whether or not this is the same ghostly figure that has been seen in the kitchen and one of the top floor bedrooms (#11 if you dare) is unknown.

Georgian HouseSuffice it to say he, or they, are harmless spirits who are more than content to appear for a few fleeting moments and then be gone as they go about  their business. Serena has no idea who they might be since the houses were formerly apartments and they no longer have the records for who lived there.

The ghosts of two children have also been seen flitting about the upper floors. They first appeared when a guest on the next floor down came to reception to complain about the noisy children playing above him. On that night, there were no guests on the top floor!  On another occasion Serena says that she spoke to them when they appeared and assured them that they were welcome to visit on the upper floors only. Sadly, they didn’t show while I was there.  I would have liked to have seen them.

This is a lovely old hotel in central London, not too far from Queen Charlotte Station and a nice walk away from many of the major sites. In addition to the basic rooms on the top floor, there doubles with ensuite, and apartments for families. I highly recommend this lovely old hotel – ghosts and all.

To book a room, you can visit http://www.georgianhousehotel.co.uk/. Tell them Vago sent you to see the ghosts.

Around the World in 18 Days – An iPad App/ Travel eBook

When I was a kid I loved all the books by Jules Verne. In fact, I still do. One of the best of them is Around the World in 80 Days. I’m not sure, but I think the combination of that book with all the National Geographics I used to pore over at my grandmother’s house led to the world traveler I am today.
I’m also guessing that based on the title of his book, photographer and writer Andy Davies was influenced by Mr. Verne as well. As some of you know, I’m engaged in a very slow journey around the world so when I first saw Andy’s book, I thought to myself that it was just too fast, but upon checking it out, I have to admit it. I’m jealous as hell. Andy made a very cool trip and saw more in 18 days than many travelers see in a lifetime. To cover that much ground that quickly and with a purpose…very cool.

around the world singapore Andy’s trip took him through Hong Kong, Singapore, Cairo, Istanbul, Venice, Zurich, Bruges, London, and Paris. His photos – astounding. You can check out some of them at Around the World Book. His book is more than the photos though.

I feel like in the short time he was in each place, he was able to take a glimpse into the souls of the people and the cultures. Maybe it’s from being so acutely aware of the shots he wanted to take, watching so closely. I’m not sure, but it works. The book/app works too. I especially like the clean maps and the references to how much he spent on transportation, where he went, and how he got there. Here’s one example of what I mean:

In Hong Kong I used my “business people” tracking skills to follow people who looked like they knew where they were going, in Singapore I found that most of the “suits” I followed were heading for
the numerous British pubs located along the Singapore River.

Nice. The funny thing about travel is that we all do it our own way. There are some people who spend months and months in a place and never get to see anything and there are others that can get to the point very quickly. When I got to the back end of the book, I was pleased to find that Andy had included his itinerary notes, packing notes, and travel notes. Like reading Burton’s Kama Sutra, sometimes the most interesting bits are to be found in the notes and it’s amazing how many writers and photographers leave out these bits. For example:

I traveled with a carry-on sized Victorinox convertible and expandable backpack/shoulder bag and a small shoulder bag with enough room to carry my cameras (two, compact) and spare lens as well as a laptop and charger.

around the world - istanbulIt’s when you get into the specifics that things become interesting. Andy’s photos bring the life out on the page (or screen) and one of the cool things about using an iPad instead of a regular printed book is that when you buy Around the World in 18 Days you actually get two books since he used a completely different set of graphics and images for the horizontal and vertical versions of the book. Still, the price is the same at just $3.99. Less than the price of a latte will get you nine countries. (And actually on sale for a limited time at $2.99 if you use the links here)
As I mentioned, his photos are amazing and that’s why when I reached the back I was stoked to find that Andy had included 12 Travel Photography Tips. I’m a pretty decent amateur photographer, but I always want to be better. Andy’s tips gave me some tools to do that with. Simple things that I hadn’t thought of. I would share them, but in fact, I think the Travel Photography Tips alone make Andy’s book worth more than the price. If you notice that my camera skills are getting better, these tips are party responsible. You should buy his app/book.
In short, I highly recommend Andy’s iPad App/eBook to anyone. The price is right, the content is incredible, and whether you are traveling or just dreaming of travel Around the World in 18 Days will inspire you.

Andy Davies went around the world in 18 Days. When will you?

As always, in the interest of full disclosure, I want my readers to know that this is a sponsored review, however, as always, it is also an honest review. I’m picky about what goes on Vagobond.com and you can always trust my recommendations. If you want me to consider a sponsored review or post about your business, book, website, or product use the contact form to get ahold of me.

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