I’m still in not-scanning-my-drawings-quickly-enough hell, but it’s time to catch up with this past summer’s travel fun. I went to England, France and Belgium earlier in summer, to attend my brother’s wedding, spend time with my family, take my dad out for his birthday, ‘experience’ the (now-dead) Queen’s 70th Jubilee, then escape the (now-dead) Queen’s 70th Jubilee and get some quality sketching time in Lille and all over Belgium in rain and sun and cloud. One trip back over to the home countries is not enough for this sketcher, so in July we took England and France trip #2, this time with my wife and my son. Or rather, just my son at first, as my wife stayed back for a few more days to care for our sick cat. So, my son and I went to San Francisco airport to catch our plane to London. We got there well early, had a nice dinner, played some MarioKart on our 3DS devices, iPads well stocked with Ghibli films to watch on the journey, and sat and waited to board our BA flight. Right as the boarding time came up, we were still waiting. A few whispers, I don’t think we’re getting on this plane. Then as we were preparing to board, it was announced the flight was cancelled because, get this, the tyre had been damaged upon landing, and they did not have a spare anywhere at the airport that fit that plane. It was a particularly big plane, double-decker. So, they said, they have to have a new tyre sent up from LA on a big truck. We ain’t flying tonight. Lots of confused people. We waited to get our bags, we waited in line for information as to whether we could board another flight, but no can do, they had already cancelled a flight earlier in the day because Heathrow wanted fewer incoming international flights that week due to staffing issues. Now I am usually travel lucky, as you know. Things usually work out. So to have my flight cancelled when travelling with my son was not ideal, but we made the best of it. My wife was able to find us a hotel quickly nearby to the airport (too late to go back to Davis), while we waited to see if BA could fly us the next day. It wasn’t cheap, but thankfully BA covered the cost. And there we stayed, me and my son sitting in the room playing our ukuleles, racing each other on MarioKart, watching Disney Plus shows. We went back to SFO the next day for many more hours of waiting. They were able to finally get our flight scheduled, although we still had to wait in a very long line of about 2.5 hours to check in. I recognized many of the faces from the previous evening’s lines. Some people from Ireland who had long missed their connecting flight, a few English people, and loads of people from Scotland, specifically Aberdeen, so I spent a lot of time listening to the Aberdonian accent which is a pretty nice accent. It seemed like spending one more night in San Francisco was not necessarily the worst thing in the world, although drab hotels near the airport aren’t exactly Mai-Tais at the Fairmont. That line was long, slow and exhausting. My son went and sat on a bench and read his book, played his 3DS, watched his iPad. I sketched a bit using a blue brush pen from Belgium, see above. Had to document the experience. I also played my 3DS, read a book, listened to a podcast, anything to pass the time. Eventually, we checked back in. We went to security. We had another dinner at the terminal. And finally, we made it onto the plane. It took another couple of hours to take off, but it took off. Our section was not crowded; I think several people may have found another flight. Our seats were nice, and it was exciting to land back in London, finally, very very tired, and see my mum. My son was happy to be back in London again after over three years since the last visit, and we got a travel story to tell. It all worked out in the end.
And so after so many places in Belgium and Holland we returned to France, and to our first visit to Disneyland Paris. We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel for that walk-right-into-the-park experience, and we were not disappointed. My wife is a huge Disney parks fan but has only been to the original (like a million times) so this was a novel experience. I have to say I really liked it, it wasn’t as crowded, the sidewalks seemed to be wider, the two arcades behind Main Street were nice and accessible and I really liked the Castle. I had to sketch it. Everything was a bit different from California, Space Mountain for example (which is still Hyperspace Mountain) repeated Star Wars phrases in French (naturally) and had an outside starting point, while Thunder Mountain Railroad was definitely longer and faster, and was located on an island that the ride went under a tunnel to get to. I also really liked Pirates of the Caribbean (“les morts ne raccontent pas d’histoires!”), probably more than the Californian one. The maze of caves near the pirate ship too was so much fun to run around. And of course, serving champagne on Main Street during fireworks (though I didn’t indulge). So yes, we liked it.
Our Thalys train from Brussels to Marne-La-Vallee was, amazingly, on time. I was sketching with the brush pen here, my son wearing his new Charleroi shirt. We spent some of our time on the train playing MarioKart on the Switch (I lost). When we got into Disneyland we had dinner at ‘King Ludwig’s Castle’, a lavishly decorated Bavarian themed restaurant, and we had hearty Bavarian fare (on our first night in France).
On the other side of the main park, in the place where California Adventure would be, is a second park called Parc Walt Disney Studios. I liked it there, although there was not as much going on, except the incredible Ratatouille ride. That one we enjoyed. In that whole area there were a number of mobile food carts, one from each culinary area of France (crepes from Bretagne, tarte flambee from Alsace, cider from Normandy etc), and then around the corner there were more, but from different European countries (we had some nice sangria and tapas from Spain, while my son went back to enjoying his favourite Belgian waffles).
The hotel was incredible. I enjoyed spending time in the pool, and they even gave my son a ball so he could have a kickaround on the grass (that made his trip). Above, I sketched my family playing ping-pong. Below, I tried one more fancy drink this time in the music-themed Cafe Fantasia. It was called the African Dream, made with rum, papaya, St Germain liqueur, lychee puree and bissap, I don’t know, I’ve heard of rum. It was tasty (and expensive), I got it because it looked like a vacation.
Above: Thunder Mountain Railroad, on an island in the middle of a lake. I drew this while tired legs were resting, colouring in later.
And finally, one more train journey, this time the Eurostar from Marne La Vallee to London, going back to the UK to see the family, go to a Spurs game at the new stadium, and hopefully unwind after a very busy trip.
Interrupting the travel sketches for a bit to catch up with events back home in 2020. 2020 for me by the way started on the beach, but 2020 has been what historians will probably call a complete f*ck*ng sh*tf*ck. This period of world history in particular will one day be studied as an elective. You all know what I’m talking about, the COVID-19 pandemic, and every day it is developing, and it’s overwhelming, and scary, and surprising, and pretty shite overall. I’m not going to go on about it here. A lot of people around the world are spending a lot more time at home than usual, and so Urban Sketchers last weekend recommended that we all draw our homes rather than go out and mingle – you can find their sketches in the usual social media places with the tag #USkAtHome – so here is my own entry. I spent most of Saturday at home, our AYSO away game in the morning had been cancelled, the preceding week having been one of the longest weeks I can remember. This week is moving just as fast, we got the ‘shelter-in-place’ call today in Davis, though we don’t yet have the drones following us home like in Madrid. Saturday afternoon I finally opened the bottle of Charles Quint that I had brought back from Belgium last summer, and sat in the living room watching one of my favourite zom-rom-com, Shaun of the Dead. Seemed like the right call. Sketched in uni-ball signo pen and tombow brush marker. These are strange times indeed.
If I was continuing the silly a-themed alliterative titles I would call this post “Apes and Ale in Amsterdam” but the phrase I am using, “je bent in de aep gelogeerd”, is more than appropriate. Ape-proriate if you will. This is ‘In’t Aepjen‘, a celebrated historic brown cafe in the heart of Amsterdam, near the red light district. It was on that Friday of the Symposium when I was totally wiped out by the heat, I had gone back to the hotel for a rest in the evening, to spend some time in air-conditioned comfort. But I got hungry, so I went out to find some food. It was still stupendously hot. I wanted to eat some Indonesian food, but I was passing an Indian restaurant near my hotel that just looked really nice, and I can never resist a good Indian. It was absolutely delicious. I sat in there for a while writing my diary, sweat dripping from my brow. There was a couple on the table next to me, who asked if the food was too hot for me, I said no it’s just the weather! They were visiting from India, and they said the food was like back home, it really was very good. Happy to have found a delicious meal, I went for a wander about Amsterdam. It was already after 10pm by this point, so I didn’t want to go down to Amstelhoeck with the other sketchers, so I went for a walk. I had wanted to find a proper old ‘brown cafe’, and maybe get one last sketch in. I ended up coming across ‘In’t Aepjen’, which was small and full to the brim with character. Brown cafes are old Dutch pubs, called brown due to their dark and cozy interiors, usually wooden and often stained with decades of smoke. No smoke any more, thankfully, but the brown was very much in this cafe. It was decorated with lots of monkey themed items, and barrels and ships and other knick-knacks. I decided to continue drawing with a brown Pitt brush pen, and knocked out the panorama above, which took me just one beer to draw. The beer in question was the ‘Aepjen Bier’, red and tasty. Click on the image to see it in more detail. I chatted with the barman, who told me the story of the bar, its name, and that Dutch phrase.
The brown cafe was opened in 1519 on Zeedijk, so it was celebrating its 500th year, and the name means “in the monkeys”. It was a place that would give lodging to sailors, many of whom would have been returning from distant exotic lands, like Indonesia, this being the Dutch Golden Age of Exploration, bringing back many things, including monkeys. To pay for their lodgings they would sometimes give the monkeys to the owner of the cafe, who would then sell them to a local whose animal gardens would be what became the Amsterdam zoo, but in the meantime there would be monkeys all over the shop, and it wasn’t a great place to sleep when you’ve got monkeys jumping about all over you, with their fleas and lice and banana skins and PG Tips and so on. In fact people would get sick from staying there, bringing rise to a common phrase in Dutch, “je bent in de aep gelogeerd”, which meneertje barman told me translates as “you are fucked up by the monkey”. I suspect ‘gelogeerd’ is probably closer to ‘lodged’ but the barkeep’s colourful local translation is better. Its written on all their stuff, and I’m assured this phrase is well known in Dutch, and that it does actually originate from this cafe. To be “fucked up by the monkey” is to be having bad luck or be in trouble. I went home having learned a new Dutch phrase, repeating it to myself as I walked through the narrow streets back to my hotel in the Scheepvaarthuis.
I really wanted to come back to In’t Aepjen and sketch another time, so a few days later when I was less heat-exhausted I returned for a couple of beers and to draw in more regular pen. I spoke again with the barman, and he told his story (reluctantly this time) to some female American visitors who wanted to know about it. I also chatted to a guy from Glasgow who was visiting on business (I think he was in the toilet paper business, but I couldn’t think of any good jokes, apart from “how do you make a bog roll? Push it down a hill” but I didn’t say that because one, it’s rubbish, two they might not call it bog roll in Scotland, that might be a London thing, and three he might have actually explained to me how you do make bog roll, what with him being in the bog roll industry). So I just told him the story about “je bent in de aep gelogeerd.” It’s a conversation piece alright. I might start making up similar stories in London pubs. “Oh yes, the Olde Cheddar Cheese, that gave rise to the popular phrase “to get the cheese stuck on your elbow”, which basically means to be confused about what time it is,” or if I’m in the Good Mixer, “ah well this is where the very common phrase “you have been good-mixed up” which is when you can’t find your wallet but a stranger buys you a beer and a round for the whole bar”, or actually I’m going to not think of any more now. I drew as much as I could, adding a little bit of colour, but my eyesight wasn’t great and I wanted to sleep so I added the rest of the colour later on. These are a couple of my favourite of my many bar-sketches, and if you’re in Amsterdam you should look for this place, there is lots to see and sketch, and the atmosphere is good. Just don’t get fucked up by the monkey.
The final bit of urban sketching done in New York (I also took a lot of photos for reference drawing later, but you can’t beat being there on the streets tasting the air). Here I am just off Washington Square, looking up Fifth, indeniably NYC in November. I never went up the Empire State. Always thought it would be better to go up the Rockefeller anyway, because at least from there you can see the Empire State – I love seeing that building. I also adore the Chrysler – it’s one of those buildings that when you first see, you cannot stop taking photos of it. It could be the most beautiful modern building in the world (and I say modern meaning in the past 100 years). I sketched it from the steps of the New York Public Library, itself a fantastic old building (but not one with baby changing facilities, I might add).
One of the things I love about New York is that you always feel a little like you’re on the set of Ghostbusters. Things are so familiar. And not just Ghostbusters, but any of the million or so other movies or shows that have been set here. Not a feeling you get strolling down Edgware High Street.
I still hadn’t eaten, which is not a good thing (and surely an impossibility in the big apple), and as I previously mentioned, I wanted something ‘New York’. But then I happened across a little Belgian place, the BXL Cafe in narrow 43rd Street, which called me in to taste some Maredsous beer and some absolutely amazing moules frites (better than I have had even in Belgium, I might add). I drew the place (right) in copic and faber-castell brush pens; trying something different for a change. Overheard some Scottish women talking about shopping for their kids, sounded like they had saved up a long while for this trip, and I felt sorry for them because the pound has absolutely plummeted this past couple of months. I overheard a lot of British people in New York – more than I did New Yorkers – the place is choc full of them. Probably why I felt at home.
Came back down again the next day, with my wife and baby, to go to Central Park and see the amazing fall colours. We ended up getting a little lost on the Subway, which is enormous fun with a stroller by the way, and sitting in a cafe off Sixth trying to feed the baby (while overhearing, of course, English people). And I finally had cannoli, something definitely New York, and it was good. New York is good. Can’t wait to go back.
The second morning in New York was brighter and breezier. I took an early train, and went all the way down to the bottom tip of Manhattan, to look out at the Statue of Liberty, which is famous because it was in X-Men. It was placed out on Liberty Island way before the world became a place full of digital camera snapping tourists, so it’s not there just as a cynical ploy to get you to take the ferry and get a closer look. It was there to greet the throngs of immigrants, the huddled masses arriving on ships toward Ellis Island, that the New York was eager to welcome, and who have contributed so much to the city and the country’s character (something to remember, daily mail readers). A gift to show the bonds of liberty and friendship between America and France (something to remember, fox news viewers). From here though it’s kind of hard to see properly. You’d think they’d move it closer.
Gotta love her though. Really, I couldn’t come all this way and not see Lady Liberty, holding up her ice cream. I’ve been close up before, and she’s cool. This day however was a sketching day and that means packing in as much of the city as I can grab, and drawing some along the way. I wandered about the financial District, stopping off at the World Trade Center site, still empty and closed off as it was when I was there six years ago. Mooched around the narrow streets that reminded me so much of the City of London (and with names like Thames Street you can see why). Stopped off in Wall Street, to see what all the fuss is about. There was a lot of construction work going on, cue all the quips from all the passers-by. Sat on the steps beneath a huge statue of George Washington (on the site where he was inaugurated President, which is pretty cool), I sketched the New York Stock Exchange, which is still covered over with that huge (and unnecessary) flag, which reminded me of a giant band-aid. Are they hiding behind it?