Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Goodbye England, Hello Europe!

So much for thinking I’d get the rest of my Crete, Paris and Chartres photos posted before I set off again! The past few weeks in England have been full of activities: seeing old friends, visiting art galleries, getting some minor laptop problems sorted with the help of an excellent young Polish computer whiz at the Apple Store on Regent Street (a temple devoted to all things Apple!), visits to Norwich and a return to Yorkshire.

However good it is to be among familiar surroundings in North Yorkshire, the weather is a strong reminder of why I could never again live up here. It is cold and wet, damp and chilly, grey and dark even in July! Of course the days when the sun does shine and the rich green of all the tall trees and fields glows, and garden flowers are all lit up, and the countryside is full of sheep, cows, bunnies, pheasants, deer and foxes, on these days it is perfectly English and very beautiful.

In the morning I’ll be flying to Prague and after a few days in the city I’ll head to the south of the country – new territory for me – to visit an old Czech friend whom I know from my Cornell days. Then it’s on to Graz and Klagenfurt in Austria, and from there I’ll head north again into Germany and go to Weimar, traveling via Munich. Anyone who has studied Goethe and Schiller will understand why I’m heading to Weimar, which in the old days was closed off to us behind the Iron Curtain, but can now easily be visited.

From Weimar I’ll go to Berlin for a couple of weeks. I was last there in the mid-70’s, so I’m curious to see all the changes and to get a better look at the eastern side of the city. I did visit before – a complicated and anxiety-inducing process of passing through checkpoints and changing required amounts of money with little to spend it on. After Berlin there will be a few brief days in Belgium seeing friends, then a few brief days back in Notting Hill to sort out my gear before packing it up and flying south to Malta for the month of September.

I’ve decided not to carry my laptop with me for the European mainland part of this trip, which means no new photos for some time. Yes, I’m way, way behind with posting photos – but I always was! In fact, I’ve got a huge stack of photos from Rwanda and Congo that I always think about posting if I ever get the chance….

Saturday, July 05, 2008

20 May - 12 June, 2008

I'm slightly reluctant to write about how delightful Crete is, for fear of encouraging yet more tourists. Fortunately this blog doesn't have such a large readership that I need to worry too much, and I suspect that most readers are people whom I'd be happy to share this wonderful island with. Bear in my that my photos do not even begin to show the wonders of Crete: the bluest sea, the clearest air, the divine scent of wild thyme on the hillsides, the majestic mountains... I'll divide my photos into three sections - favourite pics from Crete; Knossos (yes, it's Crete, but deserves a section of its own!); and Santorini. The photos below are the Crete pics. I did not take my camera on the Samaria Gorge hike to save on weight, but I doubt that my photographs could do it justice, in any case! And sorry - I have not arranged these photos in any particular order!

I love the way that almost everyone on Crete makes such an effort to decorate the outside of their houses with flowers.

This is a view of the village of Sellia, as seen from the village of Myrthios, on the south west coast, directly south of Rethymno, and just up the hill from Plakias, where I was staying.

Rethymno, on the north coast, has a Venetian "fortezza" and old harbour. This photo is taken from the new harbour showing the "white mountains" in the distance. The mountains are often covered with snow in the winter.

A wonderful display of potted plants from someone who clearly misses having a garden!

This is a small olive tree - the island is covered in olive trees with their distinctive grey-green leaves, and naturally olives and olive oil form a significant part of the local diet.

My Norwegian friend Astrid came to visit me in Crete! We had a great couple of days together catching up. She used to work in Bukavu, and is now in Goma (DR Congo) after an 8 month break.

Village street in Myrthios, south coast of Crete.

I guess you can tell that I like flowers!

Here are the White Mountains again in the distance. Hidden in the mountains is the amazing Samaria Gorge - the longest gorge in Europe (18km), and one of the most beautiful days I've ever spent. It is difficult to imagine, seeing the mountains from the "outside", just how beautiful the gorge is; one surprising feature are all the pine trees that grow there, but which you don't see on the mountains. Crete used to have ample tree cover, but the Venetians cut down all the trees to build their ships - history buffs might be interested in "Empires of the Sea - the Final Battle for the Mediterranean, 1521 - 1580" by Roger Crowley.

A view of the south coast, near Frangokastello.

I liked the way that the shape of this village conformed to the niche in the hillsides - near Frangokastello.

The village of Sellia

Taken near Preveli Monastery - I couldn't make out the purpose of the wall!

Another view of Rethymno.

The Rethymno Fortezza.

Preveli Monastery

View of Plakias taken from Myrthios. Back in the 70's there were only 10 houses in Plakias; now there are hotels and a large development of holiday homes is beginning construction. It's still delightful - but for how much longer? Fortunately the two-hour drive from the airport puts off plenty of people.

The Panorama Restaurant in Myrthios - it has truly panoramic views over Plakias. And yes, there are rather a lot of cars on the road - this is a popular place with tourists!

Views (above and below) of a lovely old bridge not far from Preveli.

Along the road between Sellia and Myrthios.

Frangokastello on the south coast. It's old. Don't know how old - can't remember all these details!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Paris city hall

I am absolutely thrilled and delighted to tell you that Ingrid Betancourt is finally free! Please see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/7487026.stm for details.

I'm in Norwich, East Anglia for the next couple of days. Delightful town with a cathedral and central market that date back over 1,000 years.