Posted by: Hackney Tours | March 3, 2012

Walking Tour of 2012 Olympic Park (as seen in Guardian)

Sat 10 March 12pm Hackney Wick Rail
1.5-2hrs; ends at Olympic Park View Tube (Pudding Mill Lane DLR)
£9 (£7 concs). Please contact us to book if you can.

It’s huge, it’s in Hackney Read More…

Posted by: Hackney Tours | April 23, 2010

Toledo: Bad Bolognese in Quixote Country

How many hostels have this sort of view? The Alcazhar is the new home of the army museum.

There’s always a tension, when you’re on the road a lot, between being adventurous and risking disappointment, and playing it safe by going for the tried and tested. Do you go for the sheep brains and expand your culinary horizons, or do you play it safe with the pizza that you’re really craving?

Just as waking up in a strange place every day – this morning a youth hostel inside a castle – is both exciting but eventually draining, Read More…

Posted by: Hackney Tours | April 10, 2010

Katyn: Polish President’s plane crash renews national tragedy

Of all the state visits, on all the dates, it had to be this one. En route to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre, the plane carrying the Polish President and some of the country’s highest ranking politicians crashes into the forest around Smolensk.

Plane crashes involving famous people, from Glenn Miller to John Denver and the Pakistani General Zia-ul-Haq, often invite speculation and conspiracy theories. And today’s incident could not have happened in a more contentious location.

Katyn is where the Soviet NKVD continued their assault on anyone who might lead an independent Poland Read More…

Posted by: Hackney Tours | January 29, 2010

Berlin car burners not so hot on history

A welcome splash of colour on a grey winter's day.

"We are all staying," says the squat banner just off Friedrichshain's Rigaer Strasse.

“Refugees welcome, tourists f*** off,” said the massive banner dominating the courtyard. This is the less than subtle sign outside the Subversiv squat bar, just off Brunnenstrasse in Berlin’s fashionable Mitte district.

I had just crossed the road from the bar at 183 Brunnenstrasse where a couple of young Lithuanian guys who lived in this long established squat were happy to chat about communal living as they served me a large beer for a single Euro.

If the streets of Central and Eastern Europe Read More…

Posted by: Hackney Tours | January 15, 2010

Slovakian Euro’s first birthday is Czech & Hungarian irony

The sky's the limit in Slovakia; or are those recession blues?

Onwards and upwards: Bratislava embraced the Euro at the start of 2009

Ironies abound in postcommunist Europe. In 1989, the Poles led the backlash against four decades of planned economies. Hungary was the most liberal and capitalist country in the Soviet sphere at the time and pulled the rug from under East Germany with its border relaxation. While in Prague, the memory of 1968 drove many a Czech to the streets to call for change.

Yet today, none of these countries are in the Euro. Read More…

Posted by: Hackney Tours | January 8, 2010

Javelin’s edge blunted by sceptics and slip-up

Life at the sharp end.

Chaos in Kent, but all quiet on Southeastern's Javelin at St Pancras.

I first took the Eurostar from London to Paris in the late 90s. An hour or so after departure, I asked the guard about the engineering works that meant we were reduced to a tedious trundle through Kent commuter stations en route to the Channel Tunnel. Knowing the potential of these tri-voltage trains, this seemed to be the equivalent of test-driving a Ferrari in a pub car park.

“Oh, it always goes this speed,” was the cheery reply from the guard, as we continued our slow progress through the Garden of England. If you can remember the planets blurring outside the cockpit window when a spaceship accelerated to ”light speed” in Star Wars, Read More…

Posted by: Hackney Tours | January 7, 2010

Christmas conscripted in the Balkans

Belgrade graffiti on Kosovo's 2nd anniversary of independance: commemorating the Battle of Kosovo and rejecting the EU.

Today is Christmas in places like Russia and Serbia, even in certain homes in Romania. In fact anywhere there are members of the branches of the Orthodox church that subscribe to the Julian calendar.

This time last year, in Poland’s Zakopane, I was turned away from a restaurant because it was already full; a roomful Russians in traditional dress were enjoying a festive dinner. I was disappointed; it would have been a fascinating insight into a culture we know so little about in the UK. And probably a good booze-up to boot.

Perhaps it was naive of me to expect festive cheer when Read More…

Posted by: Hackney Tours | January 4, 2010

Nachterstedt: Brown coal’s dark legacy in the former GDR

"Good luck": from Newcastle to Nachterstedt, miners needed plenty.

Nachterstedt is a small and unremarkable village in the former-GDR, with nothing to it but a few hundred or so houses and a nearby aluminium plant. Or so I thought, until a little searching on the internet threw new light on this part of Saxony-Anhalt and its effect on the literary community of the old East Germany. Read More…

Posted by: Hackney Tours | January 2, 2010

Rising cost of British rail

Now we got rid of all those pesky passengers...

The view from the shop floor.

If the first fall of snow brings the annual ‘Britain’s grinding to a halt’ frenzy of national self-recrimination, and the first wave of Train Operation Companies-directed frustration; then January brings the annual fares scandal as the TOCs raise fares using figures which leave the inflation rate behind like a stranded passenger on a lonely platform.

This year, the media reports that some (regulated) fares have actually dropped – albeit minutely – because of inflation. Others, namely deregulated fares (off-peak or leisure travel) have risen by as much as 15%. Read More…

Posted by: Hackney Tours | January 1, 2010

New Year’s Day in Clapton: history on your doorstep

Deepest Essex lurks in the distance...

Walthamstow Marshes: tranquility is a relative concept in London.

New Year’s Day is a good opportunity to take stock with a cobweb clearing constitutional. Leaving my Clapton base and heading away from town rather than towards it, I found myself on the Walthamstow Marshes with crowds of well wrapped-up couples and families who had the same idea.

The scene by the River Lea was typical of a London park. Despite the open fields and stillness of the water, there was movement all around. Groups tramped by on land, while planes made a gentle curve in the icily-clear air as they turned to the west to make their final approach to Heathrow. National Express trains for Chingford and Stansted Airport shuttled over the embankment that partially hid a giant gas storage tank, mixed liveries at once exemplifying transience while  also suggesting reincarnation. Read More…

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