Tag Archives: traveller

Neon in the rain

Piccadilly Circus lights

Tip: If you ever find yourself at Piccadilly Circus (or Times Square, or any other neon-lit traffic interchange) in the rain, look down – it’s lovely! Continue reading


The poetry of Spaghetti Junction

Yesterday I went on my third monthly Birmingham Flickrmeet for a bit of socialising and a bit of snapping, but mainly because I’ve never been to the ‘notoriously confusing’ Spaghetti Junction as an end destination. Going in a group of about 15 seemed a safe way to venture into its scary underbelly.

And, y’know what, for all that it is an edgy urban concrete jungle, it’s certainly not the eyesore that people make it out to be. In fact, I found it to be quite a poetic place in the July sunshine.

Below is a favourite photo of mine from the day (there are lots more in the Birmingham Flickrmeet pool)…

Spaghetti Junction -62

(The full set of Spaghetti Junction photos are on the Flickr photo-sharing site or you can see them on this slideshow: Spaghetti Junction Flickrmeet.)

Underneath this early 1970s construction, renowned as the bane of those who must traverse it, I also found many treasures, delights and disturbing objects:

  • Teenagers fishing for perch
  • Artworks on the supporting pillars
  • A ‘typo’ underneath the Aston Expressway
  • Vivid yellow and black striped caterpillars
  • The gravestone of DC Michael Swindells who was stabbed on a canal towpath while making an arrest in 2004
  • Crackling pylons
  • A mother and two children out for a walk
  • Three police officers on dirt bikes
  • And, of course, the sweeping majesty of the roads above

There’s a travel metaphor here, I’m sure, regarding only seeing the surface and judging a book by its cover. If you can, it’s worth exploring maligned places like Spaghetti Junction more deeply. But safely.

And that’s why Birmingham Flickrmeets are so great and so useful – for when else would anyone dare wander there or, another example, the canals of Aston in the deserted industrial backend of Brum? Behind the headlines of gang warfare, you’ll find plenty of fascinating scenes of nature, urban artwork, barge life and the UK’s industrial heritage.

I’m starting to think of the Flickrmeets as an option for local adventure travel. What do you think? Underbelly tourism?

Personally I like the overview of Spaghetti Junction as well – not the M6 route so much, but the maze of dipping, curving through-roads. It’s kind of like driving your own car on a roller coaster and perhaps even it looks a little bit like a ricketty fairground ride in some of the photos – like this one from Pete Ashton:

Motorway Quadriptych

So, if you’re in Birmingham on (I think) the second Sunday of each month, bring your camera and join a Birmingham Flickmeet – or look for one in your own town – you never know what you might see.

But I think if you came to Birmingham and did this, it would signify a traveller rather a tourist moment – as Benedict Allen said in this earlier post:

“It is crucial to record. The difference between a traveller and a tourist is that a traveller simulates that experience (for others) and records it.”

Ok, so exactly what is a tourist and what is a traveller?

It had to be done. People are searching for the answer to this question and finding this blog, naturally enough. So feel free to post your definitions. Because I’m not sure I know what the difference is. Budget, attitude, destination, length of holiday, courage, individuality, all of the above, none of the above?

Answers on a postcard… or even below. As you wish.

Oh yes, and here’s explorer Benedict Allen’s take on it when I asked him at a talk recently – it’s all about the note-taking and recording it for others.

Egypt tourist

A great pic from David Evers/Flickr

Tourist vs Traveller – the difference according to Benedict Allen

How important is it to record your travels? This is the question I put to the explorer and Unbreakable tough guy Benedict Allen at the Travellers’ Tales festival in London this Saturday. I’m also interested in other people’s takes on this, and why they keep personal travel diaries?

Firstly, though, here’s Benedict Allen’s response:

It is crucial to record. The difference between a traveller and a tourist is that a traveller simulates that experience (for others) and records it.

Explorers like travellers are in the business of reporting back and, increasingly, this is a justification for going. We can no longer see the world simply as a playground (I was pretty self-indulgent when I started out). I feel better looking back that I recorded my expeditions: through writing, filming and photography.

You have to remember that is it s privilege to travel – many can’t do it (for financial and other reasons) – but by sharing it you give others a chance to get out there.

Of course, Benedict Allen has been on some pretty unique and far-flung trips. He added that the Niowra tribe he stayed with knew that their way of life was disintegrating and wanted him to record their Crocodile Initiation Ceremony for posterity.

But is there much value in the rest of us contributing our travel writing to others, especially if we aren’t adventurers but say backpackers following a well-trodden trail – or playground as Allen calls it? Is there anything for the world to learn from us?

Are we breaking down prejudices through our travel writing or are we just underscoring them?

And why are we so driven to record our experiences beyond the tourist holiday snap? Why, for example, do I have around 40-50 travel diaries locked up in a trunk in my house!?

(Aside: I did it so that I would have my best memories in writing for if I ever lost my memory. But also there were ideas of having published books, being the new Anais Nin, and let’s not underestimate the sheer habit of it.)

Finally, is ‘recording the experience’ really a difference between tourists and travellers? Or is it just that travelling types are often on long journeys with hours to kill so out comes the diary/blogging platform – or do you think you can you still be a ‘traveller’ on a weekend in the Lake District?

Of course, the irony of staying up late to blog my weekend of travel writing isn’t escaping me. I’m also reminded of Jack Kerouac who recorded the beat years while Neal Cassidy was the person who fully lived them.

So my finally question I’m pondering is how would my travels have been if I hadn’t stopped to record them – would I have live more fully in the moment, or is it worth saving some back to relive them later on?

More from Travellers’ Tales festival: See the list that keeps Benedict Allen alive

Girl with diary

A (wannabe) travel writer takes notes in a leather-bound diary at the Travellers' Tales festival, London (Feb 2010)