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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sinai


Nat and I were saying earlier that Egypts one country were not sorry weve left - even though theres amazing stuff to see there that I wouldnt have missed for the world, the hassle and various methods of trying to make a fast buck combined with the heat and dirt wear you down after a while.


We spent the last couple of days in the Sinai peninsula. Nat and I opted not to climb Mount Sinai itself, no regrets there. St Catherines Monastary, however, really was worthwhile. 1700 odd years of continuous useage and a charter from Mohammed himself protecting it, presumably because the pilgrimage sites are sacred to Muslims as well as Christians. The Burning bush is still alive if not burning within its grounds, apparently its the only one of its species anywhere in the world. There were hoardes of tourists at first but they did trickle away leaving it a bit quieter. The museum contained icons and bibles dating right back to 6th and 7th Centuries. Again despite not holding strong religious beliefs myself you cant help but be moved by such a long period of devotion and feel the aura of the place. Where does fact and fantasy diverge though - do they really still beleive that St Catherines body was brought to Mt Sinai by angels after her martyrdom in Alexandria. Surely its more than possible she was taken there by someone but not on flights of angels wings. It made an intreresting contrast to muslim Egypt and the level of devotion to Islam shown by everyone. Its hard to comprehend as an outsider to both faiths and raises questions of how much upbringing and indoctrination by the state influences your belief sytems. Im actually very curious now traveling through this region to find out the actual facts of what is documented historical fact about the events relating to both Jesus and Moses'lives - which actually seems easier said than done, as if you google just Jesus Facts, at least the first 2 pages are still religious sites with their own spin. Im sure with more perseverence ill find some good info.

We drove through some dramatic mountainous scenery, we also spent a night at a basic but relaxing beach camp by the Red sea where I spent half the night sleeping under the stars and full moon to catch a bit of breeze. Im struggling quite a bit with the heat. I can just about manage if I can escape into some air con, but if dodgy air con or none I really struggle.



We have now taken the ferry across to Jordan - i did have a small panic, switching between being British to Australian in order to be in Jordan using the passport which has my Syrian visa in but so far so good, hopefuly they let me into Syria ok! Dont fancy being left behind when they dont understand someone with dual nationalities. Jordan allready seems really nice - i think Aquaba might be a little bit of a special case but so far its very relaxed and friendly.

Wadi Rum tomorrow and then Petra, Hurrah!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cairo-a-go-go

I have been in Cairo since the 25th now, together with the day or so at the start of the trip I am more than ready to move on. What an overwhelming city, hot and caked in dust, noisy and with no real centre, home to over 20 million people. Everything seems an effort and you need your wits about you to fend off people trying to rip you off or get somne backsheesh for doing nothing in particular. Apparently during Ramadan you are unlikely to have something flat out stolen from you but that wont stop them coercing you into giving it to them willingly. I must say Egypt in general has been hot and hard work with v few attractive towns. Luckily theres a whole lot of amazing historical sites to keep things interesting.

The last 3 days were also helped nicely along by a 5 star luxury splurge at the Marriott where my good friend Natasha joined me. I wish we could take those beds and pillows with us on our journey onwards from here through Jordan Syria and Turkey. We are both fans of the siesta!. Did some late night pool time there too.

Although hard and covering quite a large time frame with a fair bit of money spent, we have now more or less covered the interesting sights of Cairo. I took Nat back out to the pyramids. This time walking around the base of the great pyramid, last time i did the second one with Symon. The real highlight was the Solar Boat that they discovered in 1954 and hauled out in pieces, reconstructed and built a museum around. Truly amazing, it was HUGE and well....so ...boat like, for something that was 4000 years old and popped next to the pyramid for Cheops to use in the afterlife. Just perfectly preserved - i suppose we see a fair ammount of statues but not too much wood, so that made it unusual. We went on to Coptic Cairo, a strange little outcrop of orthodox christain churches pre dating the Islamic period and with their own beardy iotollah like Pope. Today we managed to get to the Citadel, again pretty imnpressive - we managed to eat a rip off lunch and by the end of it the sights had pretty much all closed but nevermind. Oh and also on the last day the previous group were together we visited the Al Azhar mosque which was quite incredible - of course some backsheesh was required but worth it

heres the pics..

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Temple Mania

Back in Cairo now and ensconced in the Marriott for a touch of luxury after a very 3 star week, Natasha arriving this afternoon ready for our journey Eastwards towards Jordan and up through Syria to Turkey and Istanbul. Symon has apparently arrived safely in Berlin and currently perousing museum island and the Nefertiti head where i was 10 days or so ago.

Whilst i think some of our group got bit templed out over the last week, Symon and I could not get enough, We even managed to squeeze in an extra curricular visit to Medinet Habu on the West bank in Luxor close to the Valley of the Kings. This was our favourite temple when we visited Luxor over 10years ago and still doest not fail to impress. Strangely untouched and seldom visited as if the Egyptians purposely want to keep it a secret, a stones throw from sights that receive daily hoards, Medinet is a large complex of colonnaded courtyards and still retains vivid colours on many of its reliefs. Other favourtes over the last few days were the Greco-Roman Kom Obo and Edfu temples, the latter still retaining its ceiling and with spooky chambers to explore. I almost expected to be able to push one of the hieroglyphics to make a wall slide open and be admitted to a secret passageway. Karnak temple in Luxor, whilst making an impression for its vastness and its clear supremacy for thousands of years as the seat of spiritual power in Egypt, for me on the most part lacks something. That said, I could sit in its forest-like maze of columns in the hypostyle hall contemplating those that had scurried about in there in previous millennia for ages.

Photographically these were a treat, interesting shadows, crumbling walls, deep cut hieroglyphics, ancient colours still visible. I got a little creative with photoshop with some of these, playing with hue and saturation to keep things interesting with so many of them begining to look similar.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Egypt

I've now been in Egypt for 4 or 5 days. Its been quite hard work with temps over 40, a very dodgy Cairo hotel and some long travel journeys, plus a touch of Pharoahs revenge yesterday. Limited internet access too, but uploading pics as we speak from comfort of the deck of a Nile Riverboat, with a dongle attached. Slow but novel!. Feeling chilled and looking forward to a relaxing few days now Ive made it here as wont be needing to unpack and as were the only group on the boat we have all scored our own rooms. Met up with Symon in Cairo and whilst great to be seeing Egypt again together after more than 10 years, the heat and unfamiliarity have caused one or two cranky moments, I think we're settling in now though. Its a great group too.

So far weve been to the Pyramids, seen the Tutankhamun stuff in the museum (more than happy to do those again next week with Nat), we took a night train down to Aswan where we took a boat over to the Temple of Isis at Philae, and this morning a very early drive through the desert to Abu Simbel. All incredible. Such a unique destination for perfectly preserved history.

Heres some photos showing from the Pyramids up to Abu Simbel. Another set to follow once i get better internet, since these ones W'eve been cruising down the Nile at a leisurely pace and visited Kom Obo and Edfu temples which I loved.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

An Abundance of Riches

Today was heavy on the feet but easy on the eye. First I went out to Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin's Versailles..of sorts. A relative of the first of the Hanoverian English Kings - George I (yes..when we ran out of English heirs and had to go to Germany for the next one), Queen Sophie Charlotte created a beautiful palace here. Then a couple of buses to the East side and the fabulous Museum Island. A lot of these museums were badly damaged during the war, and quite a bit of the treasures have only managed to find their way back from the former Soviet Union in recent years. The Egyptian museum contains the world Famous Nefertiti bust (unfortunately no photographs in that room) and the Pergamon museum contains the reconstructed Pergamon Altar from Ancient Greece, A Roman gateway and the incredible blue faence tiled processional way from Ancient Babylon. Theres also a museum of Islamic art there, amongst a whole load of other stuff I didnt have time for. All of these places have excellent and informative audio guides. Really incredible stuff.

Travel Philosophy Number 4 - Find a walking tour



"Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings." Heinrich Heine 1820

This quote is on a plaque on the ground, in the square where they burned 20,000 banned books one night on the order of Hitlers propoganda minister, the quote predates the Nazis by over 100 years, but just look at the eventual outcome of that book burning,

Just one of the many moving and interesting facts learned on a walking tour of Berlin took offered by Insider Tours. A great was of orientating yourself in a city and putting things in perspective and really not in the least bit touristy as compared to one of those ghastly coach tours. Slow paced with time to let thinks sink in, these are often specialist to a certain aspect of a city. I liked this one so much, im going to do one focusing on the cold war and Soviet Berlin tomorrow, which ties in nicely to the Le Carre im reading. Ive done similar tours in London, for example the Jack the Ripper tour, oh and a ghost walking tour in Edinborough, all very good.

I chalked up the first of 3 blissed out travel moments on this tour, wandering and marvelling at the grandeur of a square and the various phases of history it had witnessed. What a unique city, few other places have experienced such turmoil, from the Electors, to the Kaisers, the Weimar republic, the Nazis, the division of the city and the Cold War and what a vibrant stylish up beat and cosmopolitain place it is now.

Take a look at some pictures ..remember you can make full screen using the icon on bottom right



Incidentaly my other 2 blissed out moments, were randomly eating a hamburger at a corner place id discovered late at night when ón and on' by Abba came on and another today standing in front of the Nefertiti bust in the Egyptian musuem that id always wanted to see - you never know what random moment its going to hit you!

At the end of my walking tour i wandered off past the Reichstag into an area of impressive post reunification government buildings which were the inspiration for more photography. Ive grouped these together with some others of the memorial to the murdered jews in the holocaust. Ive shared my doors and windows and bold colour photographic fetishes with you.. another passion is light play, abstract angles, reflectionslines and converging perspectives, these all seemed to fit within this theme. I hope you enjoy and just like Alfred Hitchcock if you look closely you might see me pop up somewhere in these images!


Friday, August 13, 2010

Wilkommen, Bien Venue, Welcome

Another town... another set of show tunes to hum as im wandering round!

Today i arrived in Berlin, setting for Cabaret - I love that film, stunning Kander and Ebb music, Fosse choreography and Liza Minelli's career defining Oscar winning moment.



I havnt quite discovered a Cabaret bar like this one yet, although I believe the Kit Kat club does exist. As of course did Sally Bowles as penned by Christopher Isherwood.

I have managed to have quite a night out though, trolling round a few bars - interesting place! Got soaked walking home. Thanks Laura for the weather tips, keem em coming. Now... a few hours sleep before buffet breakfast... breakfasts are the best, especially paid for ones!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Boy oh boy oh Boy. this one deserved all the hype for sure. Its been a while since i got through 500p that quickly. Its a completely addictive page turner, I was up half the night finishing off the last 200p and in fact prob most of the other half of the night as I was too hyped up to sleep. It has to be said, its pretty gruesome and graphic in parts. The rape scene made me feel physicaly sick but it was integral to the character developement. The characters were all completely absorbing and likeable - well the ones your supposed to like anyway. I loved the setting, on an island in Sweden. The only thing i struggled a little with was some questionable moral desicions made by our heros towards the conclusion of the book, although I did also quite like the fact that Lisbeth was always one to fly in the face of the conventional way of doing things.

I cant wait to see the film now, ive been holding off till I'd read the book, i do find it quite bizzarre that they are going to complete the trilogy of Swedish made films, but also do the whole lot again in English language starring Daniel Craig. Just shows you how good the material is i suppose.

My only problem now is what to follow it with.. being in the English coutryside i dipped into an Austen but it really does seem like not much more that frilly English nobility matchmaking right now, beatifuly written but withought a great deal of umphh. I think ill come back to it at a later date when ive finished book mourning.

The Britsh Museum



Earlier in the week I went up to the British museum, ive been there loads of times, but with Egypt Syria and Jordan coming up, I thought id have another look. Its such a great place, and im not sure weather id been to the Great Court or not since it was put in there for the Millenium.



Back to Blighty

Im now just coming up to the end of my week back at home in England. For the last 3 days I was in the Cotswolds with Mum and Dad where id ordered up country lanes, B&B, country pub dinners and stately homes with history, all things im starved of in Australia. Typical 4 seasons in one day weather, but glimpses of sunshine and I really did enjoy the fresh air and wandering around historical places. This morning we were at Sudely castle, mostly a Victorian rebuild, albeit a very good one, but amongst other things it was the place Katherine Parr moved to when she married the Thomas Seymour after the death of Henry VIII (this was her 4th marriage so she was catching up with Henry!). Her remains are buried in the chapel there. The unfortunate Lady Jane Grey, Queen for 9 days then beheaded was also there as Katherines lady in waiting.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Piazzola Tango


I finally got in some proper Tango on my last night here. They apparently have some huge espectacular espectactular all singing all dancing tourty shows for example 'Senor Tango'! I did some research and found this place, relatively authentic,

Named after the famous tango composer and in a beautiful old theatre, it had a 7 piece band with strings, piano and 3 guys on those squeeze box things, then about 4 sets of dancers and a male and female vocalist. Talk about intimate, there were actually only 15 people in the audience - i counted them, so including the orchestra there were more people on stage - just for us! I felt like a bit of an idiot at first as i was on my own and there was about 45 mins of just sitting there before the show, most of the people were finishing off dinners they had had there. I realised what a great travelling companion a book is when i didnt have one to hide behind and peer over!.

Anyway the show was great, im surprised those guys dont get the occasional stiletto in the nads with all those between the legs kicks though! the girls looked great - the guys could have done with a tad less brill creme and lost the moustaches but perhaps that was part of the period look!

And bonus was a chatty English speaking taxi driver home who ive booked to take me to the airport in...lets see one hour!! yikes....

Colonia Del Sacramento, Uruguay

Its pretty cool being able to nip to another country in one day. Colonia is just 55mins from Buenos Aires by express catamaran to the other side of Rio De la Plata. While Bs As is hidden from the water for the main part by ugly train tracks and docks, Colonia is surrounded by the water. It has UNESCO heritage status being an early Portuguese settlement dating back to the 17th Century. It was very reminicent of Antigua, Guatemala with low buildings, courtyards, squares and cobbled streets. A nice breath of fresh air from the city, very sleepy and quiet.

LOS PUPPITOS




I got befriended by two cute poochies, I named them 'Los Puppitos'. They clearly have a great time showing people round and getting pats and cuddles. I was astonished when they followed me from where i met them trotting along by me, then sitting down for a sleep when i did, they even waited outside a museum for me for half and hour, snoozing on the front porch, then jumping up to greet me when i came out and trotting on again, I want pets!, unfortunately I always feel uncertain as to when i might pack things up and head off someplace, this trip being a perfect example.

And so here is todays slideshow. If your tired of doors and windows please navigate away from this page!



Oh I almost forgot to mention todays lunchspot - El Drugstore,an eclectic little place, with the owner crooning away on the guitar and Frida Kahlo an Pierre et Giles artwork on the walls. I had Bife Chorizo, tradidional steak dish. Couldnt leave the area without having a steak although was a bit too much of a meat fest for me,

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

La Boca - Birthplace of Tango


Another masterful use of the bus system, this time pondering on Argentinas dubious post war policy of harbouring ex Nazis, as I sat opposite and distinctly Aryan looking old man and the name Mengele sprang to mind. (sorry old man I'm sure you're actually someones kindly grandpa and had nothing to do with experiments!).

Anywho..So La Boca is pretty much the wrong side of the tracks by night but by day a colourful and vibrant barrio and supposedly where Tango first started - in the slums and bordellos in the ghetto. They have capitolised on the tourist trade a little. Its difficult not to be coerced into an overpriced cafe with a 'free tango show', but at the end of the day it is a great spot and I had been hanging out to see some tango action up close so I didnt mind. I even had the obligatory staged tango shot!

For a photographer with a fetish for windows, doors, bold colours and textures this was my idea of heaven, even if its all been taken a million times before me. And wander a few streets away from the main drag and you get that faded backstreet feel.

Turn on the you tube for background accoustics and check out the slideshow.



Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cleopatra's Daughter

Cleopatra's DaughterCleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book has the distinction of being completed in a cafe in Buenos Aires and also of having been kindly sent to me personaly by the author, the charmingly unassuming Michelle Moran. I have to say she did warn me that it was the most Young Adult of her books, and I suppose that was my biggest challenge with it. That sounds disparaging of that very popular genre of books, but Ive never really identified too much with books from a childs point of view. I did find the dialogue at times a little bit Harry Potter in ancient Rome. Having said that, the book was clearly extremely well researched and the story of what happened to the children of Cleopatra and Marc Antony after their parents suicide totally fascinating. It was a brutal time. I havnt really read much other ancient Roman based fiction or non-fiction so it was actually quite educational for me. I really enjoyed the non-fiction afterward too and it did make me want to get back into non-fiction historical biographies.

View all my reviews >>

The Cathedral

You dont have to be religeous to appreciate the serentity inside a church, the stillness and the history, the collective worship over centuries in one place has an effect on the emotions even if you dont identify with the object of their devotion. There was a stirring choral performance going on when I wandered in here,

Note to self though - must keep camera on horizontal when videoing as you cant view it right way up when uploaded otherwise!

Avenida De Mayo Architecture and the Casa Rosada

Oh What a Circus


Its pretty hard to avoid Evita here, particularly as apparently the anniversary of her death was just a few days ago. This is all fine by me as Ive been quietly singing Evita songs to myself the whole time ive been here in anycase!. My mother took me to see the show, probably in the early 80's with Marti Webb or Elaine Paige in the lead. I loved every minute of it. It was always my favourite of old scrunchy faced Lloyd Webbers shows. Apparently my mum actually looked like a young Eva in the 50's and she remembered her coming to Europe on the rainbow tour. Then theres the whole bizzarre story of how her embalmed body was stolen and hidden in a cemetary in Europe for 17years and how shes worshiped as a saint by some and despised by others.

So heres THAT dress..

and this is THAT balcony (hard not to do the appropriate Evita dont cry for me Argentina hand actions from it!). The Casa Rosada in general was very grand.

Cafe Society


Theres nothing quite like hanging out in a cafe when your traveling, esp when its cold and rainy outside. People watching, having great cofees, catching up on your book, pigging out. Can't be beaten. Ive discovered some nice places here, for example El Ateneo - how can you beat a theatre converted into a bookshop with a cafe on the stage, books AND coffee takes some beating!

The people seem quite stylish here.. (imagine Carrie Bradshaw voice)..what makes a people stylish? why Buenos Aires but not Brisbane or Birmingham? What has to happen for a touch of class to settle in... answers to these and more questions later..

This was an old style 'Salon de The' it was lovely sitting there finishing off my book and soaking up the atmosphere. I had a limon y soda, literally a glass of lemon juice and a soda syphon old style. I rediscovered limonada yesterday after remembering mum and dad introducing me to Citron Prese in Europe - gives you that lemon face but is very refreshing!

Todays lunch spot had fraustrating service - you wait till my blog is famous Cafe Terratoria!, but nonetheless had a lovley sunny sunday neighbourhood afternoon feel to it.

I laugh in the face of ridiculously complex bus networks!



Hurrah for me - just arrived home in no time almost to my door from the San Telmo markets area on the other side of the city. The Buenos Aires bus system seems to consist of about 200 independently run companies all with different routes, I have taken pot luck a couple of times relying on my luckily good sense of direction and getting of somewhere that seems to be in the general vicinity of where i wanted to go. Today i was a little further afield though. So i bowled up to a news stand and asked for a bus guide in Spanish, then managed to decipher the 200p long manual with maps and grids that seem only to tell you that there might be a bus of use to you going through somewhere nearby in this quadrant but we wont tell you exactly what street. Anyway...number 17 you are my lucky bus!

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