East Does Meet West

IMG_3228I walked past this shop every day of my stay in Istanbul as it was near our hotel.  It’s typical of the displays in the many confectionery stores in the city.  As you might expect there was no shortage of places from which to buy Turkish Delight.  I’d never known before that it was made in long rolls before being cut into smaller pieces, and all the displays made the most of the shapes, colours and the cross sectional patterns of the sweeties.

It was only when I started looking at all the photos I took (and that’s going to take a while as  I took over 200 over the four day period, so there will be more to come(!)) that I noticed the reflection in the glass from across the road.  It’s a juxtaposition typical of many of the experiences in the city……

Soft – A Travel Theme Photo

Last week I went to rural North Norfolk for a couple of days and stayed in a small cottage on the edge of a tract of farmland.  As the weather was sunny the thing  was to take advantage and to go out and explore the area on foot.

It’s sugar beat harvest time, and the thrum of tractors was in the air during all the hours of daylight; and the pile of beats grew bigger each time we walked by.  Although it wasn’t raining, the evidence of the wet, sometimes deep and slippery mud was showed there had been plenty of precipitation recently, and the frequent passage of the tractor pulling a trailer of newly dug sugar had churned up the path and bridleway.

It all might be a bit CSI, but I was fascinated by the pattern left by the tyres in the soft earth.

Thanks to Ailsa’s travel theme for prompting me to find a use for this photo!

Bright – A Photo

There’s nothing that I like better than a length of brightly woven fabric, or an interesting piece of ceramics, and when travelling somewhere new, there is nothing more exciting than hearing about the location of a market, so trips to South America have always seen me laden down with new purchases on my return home.

This local market was in Peru.  At the time, in 1996, I was living in Moscow, to which I had transported only a bare minimum of domestic items from London, and was therefore  in constant search for things to make my flat there feel more homely.  The consequence was that I ended up surrounded by an odd collection of  Russian pictures, tea pots and lacquer wear, with a generous helping of lengths of Mexican and Peruvian textiles which I used to cover up my oddly upholstered furniture….all to brighten up those long dark days in the winter.

With thanks to Ailsa for this weeks travel theme prompt.

Traveller or Tourist?

Are you a traveller or a tourist?  If an item I heard recently on a radio programme is to be believed, this is an extremely loaded question.  It seems that the majority of people who write about travel on their blogs describe themselves as ‘travellers’, and rarely as ‘tourists’.

A couple of things interested me about this report, and the interview with the academic sociologist who had undertaken research on the subject.  The first was the discovery that there was an academic sociologist making a study of travellers’ tales blogs. I’d never really thought about what such a researcher actually does, but if they can study this, there must be no end of things to which they might get to the bottom.

The second was that the research was done entirely by studying posts published in blogs; very specifically, the academic had no direct contact or conversation with any of the writers.  What she discerned from her reading was that those who believe themselves to be ‘travellers’ also believe they are having a more ‘authentic’ experience, and rather look down on ‘tourists’, which is generally used in a pejorative way.

By the written word shall ye be known.

My elderly Concise Oxford dictionary offers little help in distinguishing between the two vying words: to travel is to make a journey, especially one of some length to distant countries (and, to act as a commercial traveller, or door to door sales man), while a tourist is a person who makes a tour, traveller, especially for recreation; however ‘tourist class’ is the lowest class of passenger accommodation in ship train etc, and a ‘tourist trap’ is a place that exploits tourists.

I’ve never thought much about how I would describe myself when I am at large in the world; but now that I’ve posed the question, I think I’d say I’m a tourist when I travel through one place after another.  The subjective judgemental distinction I draw in not that between tourist and traveller, but between those who travel in a group, and those who do not.  I’ve done both, and there are advantages and disadvantages to each of them.

When I did my trip around the world on my own, I treated it as a full-time project, almost as a job of work, to do the research, see the site and record my impressions; periodically I joined a group, and felt like I was on a holiday, I had to pay much less attention, I went along with the flow, I did what I was told, I ate and slept when and where I was delivered.  I relaxed, until I started feeling antsy wanting to be on a solo jaunt again.

Recently I’ve been undertaking a periodic effort to visit places in London that are on the ‘tourist trail’ but which I’ve never been to before.  One noticeable thing about most of these outings is that, as a resident Brit, I have generally been in a minority; providing anecdotal evidence that we tend not to visit the sites of interest on our doorsteps.  If we didn’t go on a school trip we may never actually visit our own national patrimony.

The only occasions I can recall rejecting being designated a tourist was when I lived in Moscow.  At the time, the entry price for many museums and galleries was one thing for Russian residents and something 100 times greater for foreign tourists.  There was always a dispute at the ticket office and we would have to go to the supervisor’s office, show the residents stamps in our passports and argue that just because we were foreign didn’t mean we were in the tourists price category.

So what are you, tourist or traveller?  And what makes one experience more ‘authentic’ than another?

Travel Theme – Couples

I’m still going through the pile of photograph albums I’ve not looked at for too long, to load some of the better pictures onto the computer for a project I’m planning.  Some of the prints, especially those I had processed in Moscow, have not aged well, or maybe the colour was always a bit odd, or maybe I’m just too used, these days, to editing my pictures, zooming in, lightening, brightening and intensifying.

Nonetheless, it’s been a great memory stirring exercise.  I’ve been fortunate to visit Hong Kong a number of times.  My recent visits were to visit friends, and I developed a feeling of such familiarity that I didn’t take that many photos, however on my first trips I took scores.

This one was taken on a trip probably in 1994; crucially, before the handover back to China in 1997, when I stayed with a friend who was living in the far north of the New Territories and working as an English teacher to Gurkha soldiers serving in the British army patrolling the border.

I don’t remember exactly where the photo was taken, but I liked the fact that these women were both wearing the same style of hat, favoured, in that area, by people who have outdoors jobs, and were both carrying carrier bags from ParknShop, the local supermarket chain.

Thanks to Ailsa for the travel theme prompt this week.

Another Old Shirt

I’ve spent the last couple of evenings going through old photos, and loading some of them onto my laptop so that I can use them in a couple of gifts I am contemplating making for the end of the year.  While I already knew I had lots of photographs, mainly because in the recent past I’ve always seemed to be moving the albums and boxes from one place to another, actually looking through the pages brought the message home very forcefully.

Because I had a particular purpose in mind, I tried not to spend too much time letting my mind meander around in all the memories that were unearthed; all those odd little incidents, the people with whom only a few hours were spent, but who live on in the stories I’ve told of my trips, but it was hard to keep focussed.

The clothes are a talking point in themselves.  We’re all wearing the same waterproof jackets and trousers in most of the hundreds of shots of the Lake District where, for a period of about 10 years I used to spend a week walking every May with a group of friends, so I’ve no idea which year was which; and some t-shirts and dresses seem to have lasted for several years worth of warm trips in the late 1990s.

This one in particular made me laugh out loud, even when I wasn’t looking at my hair.  It was taken in 1996 near the Sun Gate above Machu Picchu where we had sought refuge from the hoards of people visiting the main site.  I’ve still got that shirt.  In fact I still wear it quite often to my drawing classes.  I knew I’d had it a long time, but I would never had said ‘at least 16 years’ if you’d asked me; but here is the proof.  I guess you could call it a good buy.

It brought this Mary Chapin Carpenter song to mind; the story of a life lived through the memory of all the places one old shirt had been, and all the things for which it had been used.

On Display – Travel Photos

Market stalls, especially fruit and vegetables, or textiles and ceramics always feature heavily in any stock of photographs from my travels.  Who buys that, and what do they do with it when they have?

When I was in Barbados last year I had the same conversation with lady stall holders every day when I was trying out the vegetables they had for sale.

‘How do you cook it?’

‘You can fry it,’ said Lady A

‘You can boil it,’ said Lady B

‘Or have it wid rice,’ said Lady C, from the doorstep in which she was sitting some several feet away.

I took these pictures of a row of shops in Athens a couple of years ago; clearly those with ecclesiastical needs would know exactly where to go for all the tools of their trade.  How fierce can the competition be between the neighbouring purveyors of incense thuribles  and brocade cloths?  Would you have to show some religious connection in order to be able to buy a bishop’s hat?  Or is a sale a sale, and anyone could have one?  Would you wear that, or display it?  So many questions for which unfortunately, this time, I was unable to find specific answers, but I suspect,  if the lesson learned from the Bajan ladies is anything to go by, you could do pretty much anything you like with any of the objects.

With thanks to Ailsa for her suggestion of On Display as the travel theme for this week.

Lost in the Grampians

After touring my way through the wine areas of South Australia, largely in the rain, I arrived in Halls Gap in the Grampians in late August 1997.  Tired of staying in hotels and B&Bs, after my stay in a little cottage in Burra, I’d discovered the world of the off season holiday chalet rental market, so I searched out a little holiday village on the edge of town and decided to stay for a couple of days.

I remember the place, largely because I remember getting lost in the woods on a walk; but what I didn’t recall until I reread my journal was just how much I enjoyed playing house for a few days.  I elected to stay longer than I originally planned and, rather than continue my progress east, I opted to do day trips out from my cosy little base, deciding that driving out and back each day was worth it to be able to enjoy having the time to unpack my bags, do some laundry and even iron it, and cook for myself in some approximation of ‘normality’.

I’ve told the story of getting lost a few times in the intervening years, and it was quite surprising to see how calmly I recorded the events in the diary, as the memory is quite an unsettling one, so comprehensively had I lost my way.  It was quite a foolish thing to do, to set off into the woods on my own without a proper map, but the officer in the National Park centre had told me that the route shown on the leaflet she sold me was easy to follow on clearly defined paths.

Both of these things were true, but only for the first 2/3rds of the route, which is about where I lost track of the path.  Or maybe it was before then, because by the time I noticed, crossing over a messy river, through a stretch of mud and tried to turn back, I couldn’t find the path then either.

It took me nearly four hours of scrambling hither and thither to finally find a path – I was seriously starting to think about what kind of place I should look for to spend the night – i did have some food, water, waterproof trousers and jacket, but it was not a pleasant thought given the amount of wildlife both large and small that seemed to be about.

I’d even started shouting ‘help’, when I thought I’d heard voices in the distance.  On the path I managed to get back to the road and then  I walked the 5km back to the car trying to sing to myself to keep me going, walking along the white lines in the middle of the road to give me some point of reference in the dark.

It’s funny that I didn’t record the thing about the story that always makes people laugh when I tell it, which is that I found the path only after noticing that the sun was setting and following that direction, but only after having stopped dead for a few moments wondering if the sun sets in the west in the southern hemisphere and working out from first principals that it does.

When I got home I couldn’t believe what a mess I was – covered in mud from all the full length falls down the wet hillsides; hands and knees scratched and bruised.  Fortunately no marks on my face.  Everything, even the rucksack has been in the washing machine today.

The next day, I hobbled around and had a quiet time.  Well and truly chastened, I think.

A Town Like Alice…for Real

A Town Like Alice was a favourite novel of my teenage years, and even though it’s only about Alice Springs to the extent that the town is held up by Joe Harman, the hero, as an aspirational place, when I was planning my trip to Australia in 1997, it was a key stop on the itinerary.  Add to that, years of British children’s television fascination with the School of the Air and the Flying Doctors, and I was really looking forward to my visit to the town.

My memory of my trip is of my fascination with the history of the town, and how the locals know exactly how and when the town originated.  The idea that it could be traced so clearly and definitively because it is so relatively recent, is such a contrast to the rambling history of any town in Britain.  There was no mystery, and I enjoyed hearing the stories, recounting the decisions on the  location of the telegraph repeating station and then the railway.  This was something that I experienced subsequently in the mining areas of South Australia and Queensland, but as Alice was the first place I heard these tales, they stuck with me.

But when I look at my contemporaneous journal it’s the people that I met who fill the pages.

I took a tour in the McDonnell range with a retired geologist whose commentary was largely about the geological history of the area, which, by happy accident, fed right into my own interest in geology and topography.  Tea from a billy and damper bread cooked in the fire featured in most of the exchanges I had while in the area.

Either ‘Lying down Woman’, or I was well and truly kidded

Fired with my enthusiasm for riding on a Harley Davidson at Ayres Rock, I was disproportionately pleased to find another biking tour guy who satisfied the biker appearance stereotype – a straggly goatee beard, long hair neatly plaited and tucked down inside his leather waistcoat; and extremely chatty.

Later I was persuaded under pressure, after more billy can tea, damper and lots of chatting with Willy, an aboriginal guide, to have a go on the didgeridoo, but could not get it to sound of anything other than someone blowing down a hollow stick. And then ticked off The School of the Air where the walls were adorned with school work from the scattered school children, and also photos of a visit by Charles and Diana – her looking very young in a nasty yellow dress a la Queen Mother.

It looks odd to me now that I noted these photos, as I wasn’t a fan and didn’t (and still don’t) pay any attention to the doings of the minor Royals; it was probably the anachronism of seeing the couple do their meeting and greeting  in such a remote place in the middle of Australia that struck me as so peculiar, but now I know I wrote those observations just a couple of weeks before Diana’s death.

From Alice I travelled south on The Ghan train to Adelaide where first impressions were not good….. but that’s another tale…….

Ayres Rock- 15 Years On

I’ve fallen a little behind in my occasional series of reflections on the round the world trip I did in 1997, which is entirely in harmony with the journal I wrote at the time.  Many of the entries begin with an apology to myself for not having kept right up to date, or for having been too tired/too busy to write my daily observations.

After some time touring the area south of Perth in Western Australia, as well as spending some time with family there, I arrived at Ayres Rock at the beginning of August.

Earlier than I am up most mornings, I have just returned from an exhilarating ride on a Harley Davison motorbike to view sunrise over the Rock (or Uluru as I’ve been told to call it.)  I thoroughly enjoyed myself with Glenn, proprietor, driver, guide and beverage attendant.

That early morning ride is one of the vivid memories I have of the trip and it’s good to read that I enjoyed it as much at the time as I now do in the recollection of it.  The obligatory trip to see sunrise could be taken in a big bus, a little bus, a car, or, as I discovered at the tourist centre, on the back of a bike, which immediately sounded much more fun, bearing in mind that whichever mode of transport I chose, I ‘d have to get up in the chilly, dark early morning.  I spent most of the trip chatting with Glenn (I wouldn’t remember his name but for the journal) over the coffee and doughnuts he’d brought with him, and nearly missed the moment of sunrise.

The Rock does change colour as the sun rises; because there was cloud this morning the transition was sudden and dramatic – dark red and then bright orange, as if someone had simply turned the lights on.

I had a packed programme for my two and a half day stay, each element of which I’d booked within a couple of hours of arrival, as, where I’d been the only tourist in Western Australia, at Uluru I was but one in a multitude, belying its isolation in the middle of nowhere.  The speed of booking meant my itinerary was a matter of chance and the advice of the woman in the travel office.

My early morning on the Harley was followed by an even earlier morning in a 6-seater, prop plane on my way to Kings Canyon.  There was a bus option, but if there’s a plane to take, why not?

I had the co-pilot seat, and with that came the responsibility of keeping an eye out for other aircraft, as I discovered that Ayres Rock airport had no air traffic control; instead there was a sort of open outcry in which every pilot announced his location and direction over the airways and everyone else looked out for them.  It created the occasional frisson of excitement when the pilot said ‘we should be able to see a helicopter/Quantas plane/Cessna….can you see anything?’  I shared the trip with an Australian Chinese family from Sydney who adopted me for the day, making sure I had a seat at lunch and taking lots of shots for me on my camera.

Landed at Kings Creek camel and cattle station, on an unpaved runway, from where we were driven in an open backed truck to the station for breakfast.  A huge helping of bacon and eggs, cooked in large quantities on a griddle, by just the sort of Aussie bloke you’d expect to meet on a cattle station. (!)

The walk around Kings’s Canyon was punctuated with pauses to identify locations used in the movie of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, but my memories are of the redness of the earth and the layers and layers of stratification in the rock.

And of the bumpiness of the flight back, which I spent with my eyes closed, except when called upon to perform my observer duties, although I did remark that Uluru and the Olgas, the other collection of rocks looked like pebbles on the flat red desert below.

Just in case you’re wondering, I didn’t climb up Ayres Rock.  One of the first stops on my itinerary had been the local cultural centre where I learnt that the local people neither understood nor liked the visitors’ obsession with climbing onto it, so that, and my general inability to climb down steep slopes, dissuaded me from attempting it.

And anyway, I had the perfect bird’s eye view from the plane.

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