Flash non-fiction: a tale of surf war

I’ve just found an old bit of writing, it’s a sort of flash non-fiction piece and I thought I may as well share. It’s quite airy-fairy and no jokes, I must have been having a grown-up week. I’m really busy at the moment so finding it hard to blog, there could well be more of these. Feel free to let me know what you think, even if you think it’s crap. I’d also welcome ideas for a slightly catchier title.

Beach, a tale of surf war

west dale

There’s no one on West Dale Beach.

The bay scoops into the land like a bite stolen from a giant biscuit and I’m standing where the gap in the front teeth would be. Rocks crumb into the steely water which stretches back, merging with the autumn sky. All that lingers between is a distant dark island, I don’t know its name. Anna does. She says only puffins and guillemots live there.

Standing on the cliffs, I can see rocks below, pebbles too, sand, sea, but no people. Then Anna comes into view. She’s reached the beach and is clomping across reddy-pink stones, hair flapping, heading for the sea.

“If she could keep going,” Amy, our mentor, tells me, “the next stop would be Venezuela.”

As I watch, Anna reaches the lip of the sand, where the band of loose stones – they’re the colour of watered down Merlot – gives way to a paler and softer sort of beach. She mars the sand’s smooth surface with the first satisfying footprint. I want to shout to her, to tell her to stop and wait for me, but it’s too windy: cold air rushes at my face with force enough to muffle any sound.

Instead, my feet begin to shuffle. I run.

Carefully, I leap gnarled wooden steps, two at a time, down the sandstone cliffs. At the bottom, there’s a clatter as I hit the pebbles, keeping my arms out for balance. Then a dull doof… doof... as I thud over the sand.

Anna’s not far ahead now. If I’m really quick, I think, I might feel the sea wash over my feet before she does. My cumbersome wellies slip off with a wriggle and a flick as I run, lightening the load. I hurry, now with bare feet pummelling the cold wet ground. But she still beats me to the shoreline.

A tall frothing wave crashes, swells and swallows her feet up to the ankles.

I walk the edge of the bay kicking worm castings and water. Anna stays where I left her, flicking her primrose hair and paddling.

A week in Pembrokeshire

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Photo of the week: Istanbul’s floating kitchens

When I first saw these floating kitchens from Gelata Bridge, I thought they were some sort of fairground ride. Bursting with neon and rocking violently in the wake of a passing ferry, it seemed the most logical conclusion. In fact, they’re grilled fish vendors, selling their sandwiches to people on the adjacent street. It doesn’t seem very practical, but it seems to work for them, business was booming.

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Armchair travel: Shiraz in 360 panoramas

So here’s my new thing – wasting time looking at 360 panoramic shots of things. Some are brilliant, others are not so, but all allow you to get a bit of a travel fix while bored out of your mind at work. Who knows how I ended up looking at pictures of Shiraz, but it turns out it’s not just a tasty variety of wine. Shiraz is Iran’s ninth largest city. Situated seventy kilometres south west of Persepolis, it’s famous for literature and gardens.

These are some of my favourites:

Iran carpets

Carpet Repair Workhop

A colourful, raggedy workshop where they seem to be repairing Persian rugs. At least some places have resisted adopting the throw-away culture.

Iran Mosque

Nasir Al Mulk Mosque

This mosque’s stained glass is stunning with the sun streaming through, it forms this trippy pattern-on-pattern effect in bright sweet shop colours.

Iran poems

House of Poems

A shop with poems hanging from every available surface. It’s every writer’s dream.

Iran lion

Lion Statue

The word Shiraz means ‘cave of lion’ because at one stage it was seen as absorbing productions from the rest of the country, while exporting nothing itself. The sandstone lion statue, hiding away in a cave is mildly interesting, but this shot of tourists taking pictures is just so meta. I loved it.

Iran tomb

Tomb of Hefez

Shams al-din Mohammad, or Hafiz, is considered as one of the greatest Iranian poets. Little is known about him but he is thought to have been born between 1317 and 1326 A.D. in Shiraz. This monument is nowhere near that old, it was built in the 1770s. The detailing in the roof reminds me of sun refractions in the sea.

Which one’s your favourite?

Photo essay: Little Venice to Camden

A winter walk along the Regent’s Canal

We found this walk on the Canals and Rivers Trust website, well, my friend Jenny’s new, and now very much in favour, boyfriend did. It’s the Little Venice to Camden circular taking you along the Regent’s Canal most of the way. It’s quite a long walk and it was freezing, but I have to say it was really beautiful in winter: gulls were floating along on shards of ice, the trees were dramatically bare, contrasting against the moody sky.

Starting out at posh Warwick Avenue, where we were joined by a pair of bright green parakeets for a while, we headed up towards Edgware Road, then skimmed Regent’s Park, passed London Zoo and onto Camden. I had no idea just how many barges would be moored along the way, jumping out from the winter murk with their circus colours and boisterously fonted sides. With it being London, there’s this amazing juxtaposition between the grand, and uber-expensive, houses along the path and the baggy-jeaned kids smoking weed, or the blue sleeping back curled up under a bridge.

As you approach Camden, street art begins to appear. The walls under one canal bridge has been home since 1985 (until recently) to the Banksy Vs King Robbo war. I’m pretty sure this part of the canal is where the Mighty Boosh scene featuring Noel Fielding as a shaman drug dealer was shot too. “Me mum’s making me Spaghettios, do you like Spaghettios?”

We finished the walk in Camden, deciding to thaw out in the Hawley Arms because I couldn’t feel my body anymore. You can continue all the way back around to Little Venice, I might leave it until it’s a bit warmer before I try that though.

Ragent's canal walk start

Start. There’s a nice barge cafe here so you can grab a nice hot tea.

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Regent's canal barges

Let’s face it, who wouldn’t want a house boat.

Regent's canal 1st bridge

Surveyors, er… surveying.

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Regent's canal posh house

Imagine!

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London Zoo

Show off.

Regent's canal street art 'Homeless'

This was on the pathway next to bridge with several sleeping bags under it. I can’t find out who it’s by. The way it’s become distressed and weather beaten really makes you stop and think.

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Regent's canal houses

If I could live here, I would never whinge about anything again.

Regent's canal Pirate Castle

Regent's canal Camden

Caaaaamden.

Regent's canal bookshop barge

A bookshop on a barge. Genius.

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Camden Lock

Camden market moped seats

It’s been a while since I’d been to Camden, I usually avoid it because it’s so touristy and the stalls had become so sterile. Anyway, it’s all changed. These are these new moped seats in the market for a start. Nice recycling Camden council.

Travel Massive London

Last night, I went to the Travel Massive travel bloggers Meet-Up (ooh, check me out with my fancy pants lifestyle) at the Long Acre in Covent Garden. It was a really good do. I met loads of really interesting people, some from the travel industry, some not, and with the wine flowing everyone got along famously.

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The guys from travel site My Destination came down too. Unfortunately, due to a bit of a technical hitch their presentation didn’t quite go as planned but I managed to stay sober long enough to find out about their amazing new promotion: the Biggest Baddest Bucket List, or My BBB, with perhaps the most unbelievable travel prize I’ve ever seen. If I start talking about it I’ll get too excited and anyway, I don’t really want the extra competition (IT’S MINE). If you really must know it’s all in the video below.

 

 

I also met the most travelled man in the world, Fred Finn, as confirmed by his award from Concorde. He’s even in the Guinness Book of World Records. He’s a lovely man who came over from Kiev, where he now lives, especially for the event and he’s even promised me and an interview. I’m looking forward to that.

Fred Finn

Some of the other guys I met last night include:

Brendan Wan, who sums his blog up as: Travel, Culture, Imagination, Life.
Rich Leighton, who has itchy feet and travels solo.
Rebecca Kroegel, graphic designer and Australian London enthusiast (who ‘s keen to find a local husband, wink wink).
Sandy Allain, director of Simply Travel Guide which has guides for just about everywhere.
The awesome couple behind Career Break 360, who offer support for those planning the nerve-racking career break.
And of course, James and Neil, the co-founders of My Destination.

Well, those were the people who I got cards from anyway. Stupidly, I didn’t take any of my own, so if you’re reading this and you attended, HERE I AM – the one who kept saying she was hungry (I missed the food).

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Feeling pretty smug that I didn’t partake in any of this.

The next Travel Massive Meet-Up is in Brighton in April, it looks great with writing workshops and other events. It’s really cheap too, come along!

A Fussy Eater Abroad: 20 of Your Tales of Vegetarian Travel Woe

Lunch in Mostar

Lunch in Mostar

Having been a vegetarian since birth, and a fussy one at that, I think I’ve just about heard it all when travelling. Mainly it’s met with utter disdain or incomprehension. Thank god I quite like dry bread, chips and crisps.

This article, 20 of Your Tales of Vegetarian Travel Woe, recently appeared on the BBC website and I had to share, it’s always nice to know you’re not alone. I’m pretty sure I’ve endured similar situations to all 20, but I particularly like number 9 (the entire waiting staff discussing whether the pink ravioli filling is spinach).

This is a typical scene with a waiter, especially in Hispanic countries (with a few more pathetic attempts by me to pronounce something from the phrasebook):

Me – “I’m sorry, I’m a vegetarian.” (I always feel the need to apologise.)

Waiter – “We have chicken.”

Me – “I’m afraid I don’t eat any meat.”

Waiter – “Yes… chicken is vegetarian.”

In Bosnia last summer exactly this scene happened for the umpteenth time. I ended up with a bottle of still water and a small bowl of brown-tinged iceberg lettuce. No dressing. My boyfriend was given a plate of fried meat the size of his head and a legs-worth of beer.

Veggies are not a popular folk.

The human bone church

Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic

Sedlec Ossuary

In a sleepy suburb of Kutna Hora, Sedlec Ossuary is home to around 40, 000 skeletons. They’re not a memorial to a past massacre or genocide, but actually part of the spectacular, if rather macabre, interior design. From bone chandeliers, bone family crests, bone vases, bone… well, you get the idea. There are skulls, tibias and other body parts, many I don’t know the name of, adorning every available surface. 

Liz with skulls

As the train rolled into Sedlec, after miles of snowy villages and industrial wastelands, we wondered if we had the right place. It seemed too still, too empty to house the fantastical church we’d read about. A delicately winding path lead us through a small cemetery of plush, but snow-sodden grass. Thick steps dipped down into the crypt where it was cold and colourless and lacking any of the expected musty smell, which was a bit of a relief considering the banging hangover we were both suffering from.

skull_tunnel

The skeletons have hung in these elaborate arrangements since 1870. In the 13th century the abbot scattered a handful of holy soil in the cemetery, he’d brought it back, supposedly, from the grave of Jesus in Jerusalem. The ossuary soon became the most popular place to be buried in all of Bohemia. It becoming so desired, in fact, that they ran out of space. The monks decided the best thing to do was dig up the old bones and chuck them in the crypt, making room for the freshly dead. 

Schwartzenburg coat of arms

František Rintn, a local woodcarver, was given the task of finding something to do with them. He bleached the bones and made the bizarre chandelier, the Schwarzenberg coat of arms, which includes a human bone sculpture of a raven pecking at a Turks severed head (there’s a lot of that in the Czech Republic), and put his signature, in other people’s bones, on the wall. Why not?

Rintn bone signature

3 countries in 3 weeks

South America – it’s a bloody long way. To get to Buenos Aires (BA) alone, one of the easiest places on the whole continent to reach, there are two flights involved, one of which is a whopping 12.5 hours long. That, as it turns out, was the relatively straight forward bit.

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MASSIVE tree, Buenos Aires

Overview

Countries: 3 – Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil.

Places Visited: 10 – Buenos Aires, La Paz, Rurrenabaque, Madidi national park, Santa Rosa, Coroico, Mendoza, Santa Fe, Puerto Iguazú, Foz do Iguaçu.

Transport: 10 flights, 4 overnight coaches, 2 Andean bus journeys, 2 4×4 trips, 7 boat trips, countless subways, taxis and local buses and 1 horse ride.

Beds: 14.

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A night out at La Bomba de Tiempo, BA

We hadn’t planned to go any further than Argentina. Rich and Leah (Andy’s brother and his girlfriend) were having a bit of a breather from their HUGE trip encompassing south east Asia, South and Central America and had rented a gorgeous little flat in trendy Palermo, BA. When we arrived we’d been up for a good 24 hours, we still headed out for the traditional first night bender though (why do we never learn?) and before we’d even had time to regain our eyesight, we’d booked flights on to Bolivia

They could have been trying to get rid of us, but we were, very convincingly, assured that the country was unmissable. We spent a week in Bolivia, a sort of holiday from a holiday, flying out to La Paz a couple of days after landing in BA and using the city as a sort of base to work out from.

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The witch market, La Paz

First, we wanted to visit the jungle and pampas – the famous South American grasslands. This meant booking yet another flight, this time to the small northern rainforest town of Rurrenabaque in the Amazon Basin, not far from the border with Peru.

From there we were able to take a small boat up the Beni river and back, spending a night out in Madidi national park, right in the heart of the jungle. This meant we could do some amazing treks, including one that took us to a cliff full of noisy roosting macaws. Then we journeyed two hours in a 4×4 out to the alligator infested pampas of Santa Rosa, bribing officials with bottles of Coca Cola (of all things) along the way, where we spent another unforgettable night, buzzing from the encounters with spider monkeys and capybara we’d enjoyed during the day.

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The new airport runway in Rurrenebaque

After heading back to La Paz for a night it was then on to sleepy Coroico and some relaxation at an eco-lodge in the leafy mountains. We took a local bus service, packed in thigh-to-thigh with locals, across the snowcapped foothills of the Andeas on the second most dangerous road – it was still pretty hairy, but the other is nicknamed the ‘Death Road,’ so it seemed a much better option. We only spent one night there, but it was the most perfect place to wake up, peering bleary eyed out across the peaks and valleys of the Yungas.

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Our porch

We were sad to leave Bolivia, but Argentina was calling. Once back in BA, we booked an overnight coach up to Mendoza in the western wine growing region close to the Chilean border. This was in June, their winter, so it was much too cold to head down south to the famous Patagonia or Tierra Del Fuego, anyway, we’d agreed to meet Rich and Leah at the Iguazu Falls in the north a few days later.

We spent three nights in the city, taking the opportunity to indulge our gaucho fantasies by horse riding in the hills, then shopping for handmade sandals at the local markets. Next it was onto Santa Fe for a day – the wrong day, as it turns out, as just about everything was shut – before getting straight back onto another overnight coach headed north to Puerto Iguazú.

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Me, king of the plains

We spent our first half a day on the Brazilian side, as is generally recommended. A local bus takes you across the border and back. We didn’t see much of Brazil, but I’ve got the passport stamp, so it counts OK.

The falls are so large, that their energy seemed to penetrate my flesh making me all giddy and excited. However exhilarating it was though, it didn’t prepare me for the Argentinian side. At the Devil’s Throat, El Diablo, the largest precipice of the falls, the water gushes with such incredible force that the noise and spray and electricity tingling in the air took my breath away, literally.

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One tiny section of the huge Iguazu Falls

We caught another overnight coach back to BA. It’s by far the best way to travel in Argentina, with their huge recliner seats they’re just so comfy. They also feed you, ply you with champagne, films and even rounds of bingo before turning out the lights. You’re woken in time for breakfast and, hey presto, you’ve travelled 600 miles AND saved on the price of a hostel for the night. We only had a few days left to fit in a few of the capital’s sights before, all too soon, that sad, sad day arrived – home time. We headed back to London a little bit deflated, still in denial about the true extent of our abuse of the credit card, but desperate to tell all of our adventure (whether they wanted to hear it or not).

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Sad face.