Wednesday, September 4, 2019

A turning point

It's nearly a year since I last updated this blog. I'll try to do better in future!

After helping my father settle into his new home in a retirement village in September 2018, which included cleaning out a freezer from his old house ("Dad, are you absolutely positive you want to keep these frozen fish fillets you've had since the late 1970s?"), I returned to the Northern Hemisphere, which is where I now feel most at home.

I spent four days in Honolulu to break up the long flight. I was last there in 1996, for my first marathon. Apart from visiting Doris Duke's amazing house, ShangriLa, I mostly walked around the city and took photos.

From Hawaii I flew to Vancouver, to see Sarah and her dog Teddy in Deep Cove. My visit coincided with Bard on the Beach's season of "As You Like It", which was terrific. Sarah's brother Chris started BB some decades ago and it's showing no sign of flagging.

After a flight across the country to Toronto, I nearly missed my connecting flight to Newark after having a ding-dong argument with a US immigration officer with a power complex. Welcome to the United States ... NOT.

I only had six weeks back in my regular place on the Upper West Side this visit. It was the usual fabulous mix of work, morning runs in Central Park with friends, lots of films, photo walks, exhibitions (especially Anne Lindberg's "The Eye's Level" at the Museum of Art and Design), a Broadway show ("To Kill a Mockingbird", with Jeff Daniels), the Blessing of the Animals ceremony at St John the Divine Cathedral, Halloween.... There's always lots to see and do in New York, and after spending months there every year since 2009 I now know a lot of people. I didn't get off Manhattan very much during this short visit.

A couple of days in Dublin broke up the flight back to Europe, which is nowhere near as onerous as flights from Europe to Asia or Oz. I headed straight for the Irish Film Centre. Very disappointed that Foam Cafe has closed. It had the BEST seafood chowder. Bummer.

I was very happy to return to Budapest, which coincided with Julie and David also being there. Winter was starting, but I got straight back into a running routine with Rio, and caught up regularly with Sharon, Alexandra, Kate (on a visit from Japan) and other friends. I'd moved my stored stuff to Alex's place in the summer, but decided that after the next bout of travelling I would rent a place again in Budapest and create a real home base.

Following a few days in Debrecen (in Hungary), I spent a week in Kosice and Bratislava (Slovakia) before flying to Amsterdam to have Christmas with one of my oldest friends, Chris, and his family and to have a couple of runs with Maria, who was visiting from New York.

I'd decided not to spend the coldest winter months in Budapest, because the icy conditions underfoot are hazardous for me, so I flew south to Greece, where, not long after I unpacked and set up temporary home in Athens, it snowed.

An old friend from our Hong Kong years (Sue) took me in hand during my long stay in Greece.

Apart from a month back in Budapest in April, I spent about five weeks in the islands (Cyclades – Naxos, Paros, Syros, Mykonos – and Hydra, where I had a great couple of days of walking and talking with an Irish journalist I met in a restaurant) and three months in central Athens. I really like Athens. It's a great destination for a five-day jaunt from anywhere in Europe: easy and fabulous to walk around, with lots to see (street art, street life, relics of the past, museums, great food, reasonable prices). I'll be back. Nice people, too, especially Roula and Joanna. I ran/walked a half marathon on very little training, apart from a couple of runs with the Athens Hash House Harriers and a few jogs on my own.

While in Athens I met my goal of finishing the first complete draft of my memoir. Yay, me!

The islands were interesting during the winter off-season. They're not places I feel any desire to return to, except for Syros and its capital Ermoupoli, which is a real, working city year-round and not a tourist town and has an annual film festival.

Spring was definitely in the air in Budapest during my return visit for April. I'd been having withdrawal symptoms and needed a good dose of it before my time in Greece was up and it was time to return to New York. Miki and I went for a hike up near the Slovakian border and on another day walked around Lake Tata (with Joki the Yorkie), which I want to return to and run around with Rio. Friends Alan and Sue were in town, and Alan and I re-created a photo taken of us when we were maybe five years old.

May was spent back in Athens and Ermoupoli, before I switched suitcases back in Budapest, saw a perfect apartment to rent, signed the lease, handed over a wad of cash, then flew to London to see Michael and Eddie before returning to New York for June and July.

Maria and I went down to Annapolis, in Maryland, to spend time with friends Heather and Joe and to rendezvous with Sue and Bob, whom we met a few years ago at a marathon in New Jersey and last saw in Budapest in 2017. We ran a 10K race, but I was very slow. I also spent four days in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for a Dead Runners Society get-together. That was a blast from the past, with friends made during my first DRS conference in 2009 and since then.

I didn't run much while in New York, for the first time ever. But I walked hundreds and hundreds of miles, and in the other boroughs, too, not just Manhattan. Street photography is such a passion for me now... I saw many films and exhibitions as well. I love spending time in New York. It's one of my homes, with friends, routines, favourite places, favourite foods. But a couple of months is enough. After that, I start to get twitchy.

Just before midnight on 3 August, I arrived back in Budapest with an extra suitcase containing books from the stash I've been keeping in New York (including all my printed Facebooks going back to 2007) and the keys to the new apartment where I've now started the next stage of my life.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Spring cleaning

I'm in Rotorua for two weeks to see my father and to make sure he's happy enough in his new living environment. I couldn't come to New Zealand from Budapest (via the film festival in Sarajevo) without also visiting my family and friends in Australia, but it was definitely not my plan A. I'd been down this way for three months not long ago. But plan B reverts to plan A when I reach New York in a couple of weeks. Yay!

My life has continued to be hugely busy. After two months in Kuching (February and March), I spent six weeks in Hong Kong, staying back at the Helena May where my freelance life started 32 years ago. Around the demands of my workload, I ran with Paul, saw quite a bit of Polly and other friends, caught up on lots of films, and took about a thousand photographs. Photography is my new passion.

Back in Budapest from late May, after a week or so in Belgium and the Netherlands, I moved into Julie and David's apartment while they are away. I love my routines in Budapest, especially running with Rio, seeing friends for meals and films, and walking all over the city. I took a two-week trip to the UK (Devon, Cornwall, London and Hayling Island), which was so warm and sunny I thought I'd taken a plane to the wrong country. I ran a half marathon in Torquay. Great to see friends Polly (who was visiting), Linda, Peter and Amanda (who came up from Cheltenham so that we could spend the day at Kew Gardens), Michael and Eddie, and Wendy.

In late July, I went to Switzerland for a trail half marathon from Klosters to Davos. It was also a rendezvous with Maggy from Iceland, Susan from Amsterdam (she and I also ran a half in May in the Netherlands), and Julie, Gill and Chris from the UK. Davos was chocka with ultra-orthodox Jewish families.

I entered some photographs in an international competition a few months ago and was encouraged by the feedback: my strongest photographs have a narrative or pose a question of some kind. I've set up a Facebook page specifically for my photography. A visual complement to this blog, it's called "Robyn Flemming Photography: My Own Two Eyes". I also now post some of my photographs to a website for sale, and Getty Images has selected four of them for its library.

I'm making some progress on my book. I imagine a year or more of steady work is still needed to cut and shape it so that it's ready to show those who know about these things.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

February 2018 … I'm in Kuching, and all's well

I haven't had time to update this blog since I was in Copenhagen! I'm based in Budapest but have spent time in Reykjavik, New York, London, Berlin, Florence, Bologna, Rome, Malta, New York again, Warsaw, Paris, rural southwest France, Bordeaux, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Lisbon, Sarajevo, Istanbul, Chennai, Kuala Lumpur, Rotorua, and Oz (Albury, Melbourne, Sydney, Gosford, Ballina, Byron Bay, Brisbane). I'm now back in Kuching for two months.

Please friend me on Facebook for regular updates.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Autumn near the Arctic

Apologies to the two or three people I know who are not on Facebook and look to this blog for updates on my travels. The last six months just got away from me...

For most of the year I've been very happily ensconced in Budapest, for the past two months in an apartment that I'm leasing and not just occupying. There is a profound difference. Budapest is now my home base. I'm still travelling, but Budapest is now my starting point and point of return.

Since Miki's and my holiday in Portugal in the spring, I've been to Italy, Austria and Spain, and am now in Copenhagen en route to New York via Iceland.

I had a fabulous time in May travelling by train around northern Italy on my own before spending a few days with Giorgio and Amy near Turin. It's a beautiful country. I spent time in Udine, Trieste, Padua, Venice, Verona, Bologne, Florence ... then Innsbruck and Salzburg. I loved making up my itinerary as I went along.

In the summer I spent eight days in Barcelona, coinciding with a visit for a few days by friends from Budapest, Jules and David. There is still more I want to see in that part of the world.

The year has brought new friendships in Budapest and deepening friendships with people I've now known there for two or three years. I love the city and my life there.

Apologies again for the bare-bones nature of this blog. Facebook is my daily visual diary and I just don't have enough time to do much with this blog along with my other creative efforts and work.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Playing in Portugal

Somehow, a planned week's holiday in Portugal with Miki turned into just that: a holiday! No work appeared in my in-tray from the day our holiday started until the day I returned.

What a fabulous destination! We hired a car, so we had the flexibility to see the highlights between Lisbon and Porto, just inland from the Atlantic coast (including the westernmost point of Europe). We covered quite a small area in total, but Portugal gives you lots of bang for your buck and you don't have to drive very far between places worth seeing.

Miki negotiating a tight turn on the Obidos city wall

Nazare beachfront from the cable car
I immediately liked Lisbon. Sintra and its palace were pretty, but we suspect we didn't see as much of the place as we should have. We both loved the walled city of Obidos, where we walked the wall just before the rain started at around breakfast time.

In Nazare we took the cable car up the cliff-face to an upper town for great views of the town and beach (which looked very like an Australian beach).

In Alcobaca and Batalha we saw some incredible monasteries, the latter one being my favourite for its very stark, unadorned, soaring interior.

We didn't have any sightings of angels or virgins in Fatima, where we lit some candles for family and friends. Just outside of the town the next morning we visited some caves that are 100 (or 200?) million years old.

Mid-journey we spent a day in Coimbra chilling and shopping. I had my best dinner of the trip at an Italian place on the river: seafood risotto. We had been sampling Portuguese tarts every day, but from here on we wouldn't find ones to beat the ones we had in Obidos, Alcobaca and Coimbra.

Coimbra, looking up to the university buildings

We spent two nights in Porto, which we both liked. I loved the steep-sided river and mass of bridges, one of which I ran across. Cable cars and funiculars are popular in Portugal, and we jumped on every one we saw.

We decided to take the train back to Lisbon instead of flying, which was much the better choice. I decided not to do the Lisbon half marathon that I was entered for. I wasn't trained, the arrangements for the 35,000 runners to get to the start were complicated, and thunderstorms were predicted. But basically, I was just a wuss.


I lucked out with a Jewish film festival at a great little cinema not far from our hotel, where I saw five films over the two days we spent back in Lisbon.

Miki was a great travelling companion: even-tempered, flexible and funny.

Our flight back to Budapest was delayed for three hours because of a strike by French air traffic controllers, but the flight itself (via North Africa to avoid France) was smooth. I was very aware that I felt I was coming home when we landed at 4 am.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Mucking about in Marrakech

The last time I was in Morocco, I broke my right (dominant) arm two hours after I'd flown into Marrakech. That was just over two years ago. This time, I've had more luck. The only damage (so far) has been to my wallet. I came to see friends from Australia who are here for the Biennale – Jules and Yvonne, Rita and Anne – but have also caught up briefly with my cousin Kylie (last seen in Amsterdam in early 2015), photographer friend Alia (New York last summer), online runner contact Ahmed (first meeting), and Abdou, who works with Rita and got me to Casablanca, and then on to my flight to Malaysia, after my arm operation in January 2014.

It's a spectacular time of year to see Marrakech: perfect temperatures and deep-blue, cloudless skies. I'm not able to take Rita's tour with the others into the mountains. Work eased up for just enough time to enable me to be a tourist for a week in Marrakech during the Biennale art fair, but not a traveller for another fortnight in Morocco. Miki and I are heading off on a jaunt in a couple of weeks and I need to finish up some jobs before we go.

After seeing a physiotherapist in Budapest I've decided to keep running so long as my back isn't hurting. I missed the morning chats and laughs with Rio too much. I've had random runs with Barb and Maria, and new training friend Kate, but I'll hope to get back into a routine soon. Just to keep me on task I've entered some events in the US later in the year.

Last month I decided on the spur of the moment to take the train to Pecs, in Hungary, for a couple of nights. I loved it, and ended up staying for four days. I also spent a few days in Vienna, where I got my bearings for the first time. I've also topped and tailed this visit to Marrakech with overnight stays there, in the Museum Quarter.

A new friend in Budapest is Andras. We met at a screening of the Woody Allen film Manhattan, and film has become our thing. He works in the business as an extra. It's early days in the new year, but things are looking good so far.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

A little less rootless

Last year seemed like a very long one. I’ve been on the move a bit less than in recent years, but the start of 2015 feels like 24 months ago, not 12.         

A very quick recap: After seeing in the new year in Budapest, I made quick visits with cousin Kylie (visiting from Oz) to Berlin (where I had dinner with artist friend Norbert and Marisa from Malta) and to Amsterdam (saw Susan from New York, and NZ cousin Sarah and Simon) before I flew back to Asia. In Kuching I spent time with Emily, Min and Sam, Ivy and Swee, and other friends made in recent years, and had my annual health checkup. There was nothing wrong with me that wasn’t already wrong with me. I learned while I was there (staying at the Batik Boutique Hotel, as usual) that my application for a Hungarian residency permit had been approved for five years. 

This has changed everything!         

I spent February, including Chinese New Year, in Hong Kong, which was busy and fun and felt like home again. It offered up some new people (among them Joanne, Andy, and Sylvia). Spent time with Polly, Linda (who was on a visit from the UK), Carol, and Cathy and David. Hiked and ran with Cathy and Jocelyn. I gave a talk at Women in Publishing, which I helped start 25 years ago. A quick visit to Zhuhai to spend a couple of days with old Oz bestie, Chris M, and Xiao, who returned the visit to Hong Kong.         

Back to Budapest for three months, March through to late May, to start taking up my residency. Ran the Vivicitta Budapest Half Marathon. Spent a lot of time seeing cultural events with Miki, Julie and David. Through the Budapest Zombie Runners group I met two special guys, Riyadh and Tiago. I took holidays in Slovenia (where I met the Two Joans in Ljubljana) and with JB in Croatia (Zagreb, Split and Dubrovnik, where I ran a race along the old town walls, plus a hard, hot and hilly half marathon, and met Aussie runners Louise and Sandra). Visitors to Budapest were my near-oldest friends Barb and Bill, and Di. Other new Budapest faces were runners Andrea and Robert, Agi, and Nozzies Karin and Virginia.         

I spent June and July in New York, back in the apartment beside Central Park where my books are on the shelves and my runner friends are at Engineers’ Gate most mornings at 5.30. I wrote nearly 300 pages of a first draft of my book, ran races and saw lots of films. I had a week-long break in Toronto (to see former Hong Kongers Sarah and Will, and Frances) and Montreal (where I caught up with visiting Dead Runners Laura and Rob). Chiu Yin organised a writing workshop with the writer Amy Hempel at Tuxedo Park, where I met Sheila and Joni. Dominic was in town from Tokyo.         

Back to Budapest for August and September. Through running I met Kristy, Barb and Maria. Many fun morning runs with Riyadh. Saw lots of Hungarian and other foreign films at local arthouse cinemas. Miki became a close friend. He and I visited Istanbul for four days. I called in to see Kadir, manager at the AgoraLife hotel in Sultanahmet, where I stayed for a month in 2011. Chris H came for a visit from France. Visitors from Oz: Susy, and Kevin and Simone. Ran my third Wizz Budapest Half Marathon. I started working on my book again from scratch with Judit, a writing coach in Budapest.         

To New York to do final training for an October marathon (my fifth) in Pennsylvania (Steamtown) with Maria. My time wasn’t my best, but it was good enough to qualify me for Boston in 2017. New pal Sue also qualified in her first marathon. I completed the other races I need to do to get entry to 2016 New York City marathon. My 63rd birthday. I continued to work with Judit on my book. Another writing workshop at Tuxedo Park with writer Laura Shayne Cunningham, Chiu Yin, Sheila and Joni. Spent time with Liliane from Lausanne (we met in 2011), Vince from Hong Kong, Fran (we met in Kuching in 2014) and caught up with visitors from Oz: Lynne and Greg, Robert and Merelin, and Bridget.         

In early November, I returned to Budapest. Ran the Way of Knowledge Half Marathon (my 38th). Worsening back pain took me to an orthopaedic specialist who took spinal X-rays and diagnosed scoliosis on top of the osteoporosis I already knew about. No more running… I’m still getting my head around what that means. In December I took a weekend break in Zagreb, during which I left my bag containing passport, cards and cash in a taxi. There was a happy ending after a very charming Croatian geologist came to my rescue.        

I’m finishing up the year with a week on the border of southern Hungary and Serbia, checking out secession-style (art nouveau) architecture while I plough through a very heavy workload.