Twitchhiker | Paul Smith's travel tales from here and there

Remember the Tyne
24/05/2010, 20:06
Filed under: travel | Tags: , ,

A couple of iPhone snapshots from Saturday evening by the River Tyne, which divides Newcastle and Gateshead:


Photo of the day – Newcastle upon Tyne, from the Tyne Bridge
08/08/2009, 20:00
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A view from a little closer to home for today – about two miles up the road, in fact. This was very much a spur-of-the-moment shot taken on the iPhone while crossing the Tyne Bridge a fortnight ago. I love the chaos of jumbling shapes and colour staggering up the north bank of the Tyne.

Twitchhiker - Newcastle upon Tyne

On the horizon at the far right hand side is Saint James’ Park, the once great cathedral of football in the North East, until it all went spectacularly tits up last season. Best not to ask, we don’t like to talk about it.

The Tyne of your life
03/08/2009, 09:13
Filed under: travel | Tags: , ,

Twitchhiker - Popolo

My first double page spread for the Guardian – this guide to my adopted home city of Newcastle was published in a travel supplement for the paper on Saturday June 27th, and is lovingly re-created for you here:

The story goes that several years ago Newcastle was declared eighth-best party city on the planet. Not unexpectedly, the good folk proceeded to celebrate.

For too long that image of the people threatened to overshadow the gradual transformation of both Newcastle and Gateshead beyond their monochromatic ship-building roots. Fortunately, in the years that followed, the city matured into one of the most compelling and effervescent places in the country. There are few cities offering such a wealth of diverse experiences. And we know it, too; recent footballing under-achievements aside, everyone here is fiercely proud of what we have, far away from the clutter and splutter of London.


A leisurely stroll along the River Tyne is the best introduction to the history and regeneration of the city, as well as the majesty of the seven bridges that crisscross it. Gateshead Quays is dominated by the orange-brick might of the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, its impressive girth hosting internationally acclaimed galleries and installations. The metamorphosis of this former flour mill was a significant marker in Newcastle and Gateshead’s charge to become one of the country’s cultural focal points. Alongside is the Sage Gateshead, a rolling hillside of glass and steel which plays host to world-famous musicians and global conferences.

Newcastle’s Quayside is the oldest neighbourhood in the city, with graceful Tudor merchant houses nestling among the imperious Victorian properties. It’s here you’ll find the bars that made Newcastle famous a decade ago, but in recent years it’s become a mecca for foodies: walk south from the city centre down Dean Street, and your palette will tingle with delight at the menus on offer. Hei Hei is one of the top locally owned restaurants, a punchy, urban space that reworks traditional Chinese dishes, while the rather grand Indian restaurant Vujon sprawls across the ground floor of a Victorian town house and serves a boro chinghri bhoona (king prawns with garlic, ginger and onion) for which I’d wrestle a man with 10 arms. Continue reading

Day 1 – all aboard for Amsterdam
02/03/2009, 10:55
Filed under: twitchhiker project | Tags: ,

Twitchhiker - goodbye England

It’s just after 8pm on Sunday evening and I’m somewhere in the middle of the North Sea – on board a boat, thankfully. It hasn’t gone that spectacularly wrong just yet.

Is it a boat? Or a ship? A ferry, even? Watch with less-than-interest as I confuse my nautical terminology on an adhoc basis throughout this post.

Day one has been amazing, so long as you don’t consider me tearing around like a mad man trying to do all those last minute chores I’ve had four weeks to complete. My up-until-now calm resolve imploded on itself around lunchtime and I allowed myself a few tears to leak away the stress.

Packing was remarkably easy. I’ve two messenger bags with me – one packed with clothes, the other chock to the brim with tech. I’m of the firm opinion that underpants are good for two days and socks can be aired after use and rotated every three days; a handful of t-shirts, a shirt and a couple of jumpers, a spare pair of trousers and a towel. In the tech bag, my laptop, camera and the legendary Power Monkey, wires and adapters for all occasions (except, I suspect, the occasion I really need the wires and adapters for) and miscellaneous paraphernalia.

When the time to leave Jane arrived, the tears were all mine. Every time I’ve doubted myself over the past four weeks, every time the situation has overwhelmed me, Jane has picked me up and dusted me down, held my hand and stroked my cheek. As independent as I believe myself to be, I’m going to struggle without her.

Two camera crews had descended on Central Station to interview me. They were keen to interview not only myself but other Twitter users  – there’d been chatter over the weekend about a send-off from local tweeps. So when I arrived outside the station with only myself for company, I assumed the next month would involve me holding a man-size tissue to my face to wipe all that egg off. I needn’t have worried. Around 20 people turned up to wave me off – some I knew, plenty I didn’t. Plenty of folk from the Newcastle Photo Walk turned out (a group of Flickr users who found each other through Twitter) as well as the whole team from (which, in case you haven’t tried it yet, is a cracking way of finding tweeps with the same interests as you).

My friend Kelly from Century Radio also arrive with a carrier bag of crap and other oddities, including:

– a copy of Good Old-Fashioned Advice by Michael Powell
– a magic set
– earplugs and eye mask
– a battery-power pocket casino
– a bottle of Moet (from Jon, who was on-air at Century at the time)

The earplugs will no doubt come in handy and I’m tempted to keep the magic set to amuse myself, if nobody else. The Moet will be gone by morning. No point lugging the extra weight around Amsterdam with me.

In between filming a miasma of cut-away shots and interviews for the television crews, I met @minxlj who had provided the ticket for my trip to Amsterdam. A home-grown bleach-blonde, pierced rock chick vessel of Heaven’s beauty with a penchant for web design, I presented her with my gift for helping me; a copy of Pete McCarthy’s book Road to McCarthy. I had wanted to hand over my copy of McCarthy’s Bar – the book which originally piqued my interested in travel – but it was ruined in a flood some years ago.

In return, Leanne (to address her by her slightly less devilish real-life name) handed over a small dog/mouse/rabbit-faced clay figurine of a pig, which held a plaque reading Bon Voyage. In quick succession, I exchanged that gift with the the second person to help me, technically the first I’d be taking advantage of (I received the ticket for the ferry crossing before accepting the lift to the terminal). Lindsay, known to Twitter as @rivets, was a tall middle-aged university lecturer who’d worn his skin through thick and thin. A face full of mischief and tall tales beamed as I swapped my figurine for a small orange metal tin bearing the name BIFURCATED RIVETS. Lindsay has collected dozens of them; it was a small and pretty thing, pleasing to the eye, so I felt no need to ask why.

On the way to the port, we discussed summer holidays and the English abroad, and my chances of making it to Campbell Island. Lindsay confirmed what I already knew; it’d be impossible to travel the majority of the distance by land in such a short period of time. I could do little but agree, and hoped at some point soon I’d get lucky and land a flight somewhere.

Once on board the ferry, I rang Jane to tell her I was there safe and sound, and then Jon to thank him for the Moet. I took photos of Tynemouth and the rich red sun setting over Newcastle, and finally got to grips with the Nokia N95 and TwitPic. I have a feeling I’ve already gobbled up far too much of my data allowance already; hopefully the team at O2 Litmus will take pity on the imbecile and his inability to grasp the basic fundamentals of international roaming.

I’ve only been for a short amble on deck and throughout the bar – pausing for a reasonably priced bottle of Stella Artois – but two facts concerning the other passengers are undeniable; there are far more men then women travelling to Amsterdam – I can’t for the life of me imagine why – and the majority of them are whistlers. In the terminal, on deck, squeezing past one another in the corridors – all of them are whistling in the most nauseatingly good-natured manner.

Gah. The boat’s just begun to nod from side to side. I haven’t ate since 9am this morning and my stomach isn’t convinced it can live on Stella alone. Still, I’ve just cracked open the Moet and intend to chug down a fair bit of it before I spruce up for dinner. I’m not able to post this until sometime tomorrow from Amsterdam, so I’ll let you know whether drinking lager and champagne on a sea-faring boat before dinner is a sensible idea.

[12 hours later]

Well. That didn’t go according to plan. I don’t care where in the world I am, I’m not parting with £12 for a prawn cocktail. It’s just not going to happen. Consequently, I sank a bottle of Moet and then refused to eat anything in the restaurants on board. I now have both a head and a mouth that feels like a bison has shat in it.

I’m also out of credit for my mobile, and I’m not entirely sure how. I wrote an article about international roaming last week, so I know I shouldn’t have burned up £7 of credit on a phonecall of a similar length. I’d accepted an incoming call from a local radio station for a live interview, when the line went dead. I suspect that MCP is some sort of satellite network covering the North Sea, but I haven’t seen any literature to warn me that I’d have the arse well and truly ripped out my wallet for using it.

It’s probably best this has happened at the beginning of the trip; as grateful as I am for the ferry trip to see me on my way, I’ve been out of contact with Twitter for over 15 hours, and it’s going to be another two until I have any chance of finding a broadband connection. I have to move on from Paris by Wednesday and I’ve no way of seeing or confirming any offers, should there be any.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I may have to go and vomit.

[1 hour later

I didn’t vomit. Instead I parted with £14 for the breakfast buffet. Technically it wasn’t my money; I frittered away a whole £10 on the Blackjack table last night, and saw a six-fold return. I had expected a thin seam of gold to run through the centre of the sausages, but instead there appeared to be only salt.

I can’t believe I’ve been without Twitter for the best part of a day. What the hell was I thinking?

How you can help me – be on Twitter tomorrow from midday!
25/02/2009, 12:18
Filed under: twitchhiker project | Tags: , , ,

We’re nearly there. Just four days to go. I’ve decided I’m mostly excited with only a twist of the heebie-jeebies.

So I’m planning to leave Newcastle on Sunday dinnertime, but how? And where? That’s where you come in. I can make travel plans three days in advance, so tomorrow is the litmus test of whether this is really going to work.

From 12 midday GMT tomorrow
, I’d like you to offer whatever you can to help me – transport or accommodation – to begin my journey from Newcastle. It’s the only time we’ll have a clock-start, so we can have an “official” launch on Twitter. Otherwise, offers simply have to be for three calendar days ahead of the current – offers for Monday can be made anytime on Friday, and so on. I’m sure that somewhere along the line this will get sticky when timezones are taken into account, but I’m sure one of you will notice and put me right.

So how will tomorrow (and subsequent days) work as far as offers are concerned?

  • If you want to offer me transport or accommodation, you need to send a public message beginning with @twitchhiker
  • No direct messages at this point please – it’s very important everyone can see your offer; this must be a completely transparent process – any offers made by direct message will be ignored.
  • If you make an offer, don’t include too much detail; if it’s transport, say where you can take me from and to, and what the method of transport is. If it’s accommodation, just mention whether it’s a spare room, a sofa, a hostel, and where it is – no addresses, just the town or city will do.
  • I’ll send a @reply to the people I’d like to help me. That person then needs to reply back in public to @twitchhiker and confirm the offer. If don’t hear anything back within an hour or so, I’ll probably move on to another offer, if I have one. Once the offer is confirmed, we’re in business! The detail will be worked out in private by direct message; this is primarily to keep me safe.

It’s up to me to look at everything and match up offers of transport with offers of accommodation – you may not think your offer makes much sense by itself, but it may be a single piece in a much larger jigsaw, so please offer anything you can and let me know how you can help.

I don’t know what to expect on day one; there may be dozens of people wanting to help, or thousands waiting to watch me fail. If you’ve any questions about this process, if any part of it doesn’t seem clear, leave a comment below and I’ll reply.

Twitchcast #1 – in which I plod around a park, say “erm” a lot and set you some homework
05/02/2009, 00:33
Filed under: twitchhiker project | Tags: , , , , , ,

Several points worthy of your consideration before you watch this, the first of many Twitchcasts:

– It’s barely a month after Christmas and New Year, when I ate and drank an awful lot

– I’m just back from New York, where I ate and drank and awful lot

– At 6′ 4″ so I’m robustly built to begin with

– It’s a scientific fact that Vimeo YouTube adds 10 pounds to you

All of which goes to explain why I have a featureless face as round as the moon. I also seem incapable of forming coherent sentences, but given this was recorded in one take in freezing temperatures, you’ll forgive me on this occasion. I promise to project more and be far more articulate next time:

So there we are. Plenty of you will have travelled far more extensively than I have, so I’d like you help in beginning to determine what routes I can’t take, given that I can only ever plan my journey three days in advance. Any advice, please post it in the comments below. Ta!