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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

More Stately Omes and heritage

At the start of October I came back to the UK and went of for another lovely B&B break with Mum and Dad for more English Heritage and pub dinners. Lovley jubbly. We went to Sherborne Abbey with its incredible gothic arches and fan vaulting. I loved the light streaming in. This photo was inspured by that famous portrait of the Queen at her coronation in Westminster Abbey with that dramatic depth of field and arch behind her..

We went for a forest walk near Golden Cap on the coast, Forde Abbey and Athlehampton Manor.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


The Knight of Maison-RougeThe Knight of Maison-Rouge by Alexandre Dumas

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Classic French bodice-ripper based around various plots to free the captive Marie Antoinette in French Revolution Paris. Bit slow to start and in danger of being as deathly awful and grim as Dickens' Tale of 2, from the same era. Its not easy to sit through grim as grim can be Paris with heads rolling left right and centre, im very loathe to pick up the lengthy Les Mis now. In Dumas style though, there is humour and it does reach a swashbuckling page turner pace for the 2nd half. Really not a patch on Count of Monte Cristo or Queen Margot though unfortunately.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Poland - Krakow

Its hard to believe that just last week I was eating dumplings in cold and rainy Poland. It was quite a shock to the system after the Middle East and Greece, my first reminder of the general climate of Northern Europe that I was raised in. The sun surprisingly has decided to show itself again in the UK where I am now. It comes across as a pretty prosperous and livable city and I enjoyed spending some quality time with my parents there.

Krakow is one of only a handful of cities in Europe lucky enough to emerge from the war, architecturaly (if not emotionaly) unscathed and has an extremely well preserved medieval old town as well as an impressive hilltop castle - the 'Wawel', seat of the Polish kings and site of thier coronations and burials. We did also manage to get out of the town and visited Czestochowa monastary, home to the much 'Black Madonna', so much revered in Poland that it was officialy crowned Queen and Protector of the Polish Nation and is believed to be responsible for several miracles. Despite the years of Communist rule, Poland came across as fervently and devoutly Catholic, no doubt partly due to Pope John Paul II being from here - something they are clearly very proud of. I had a momentary panic while taking my turn to file past the icon when everyone in front of me decided to get down on their knees and proceed to work their way round the chapel like that. I wasnt quite ready to join them. On the way back from Czestochowa we stopped off at Pieskowa Skala Castle which has a section of the Wawel museum based there and an interesting collection of historical furnature (doesnt sound that gripping I hear you cry! - I really am quite a nerd at heart.)

Heres the pics..

Friday, October 1, 2010

Travel Philosophy Number 8 - A Thirst for Knowledge

Broken Jewish Tomb Stones - Kazimerz Cemetary

Without trying to be too preachy, not everyone has the opportunity to get out and see stuff in the world, sometimes people have not been able to travel outside their own town, and perhaps due to the media they are fed by which ever governement they live under (North Korea's been popping up on BBC World alot in the last few days), they may have a pretty limited understanding of the larger world around them. I always feel a certain responsibility to myself to learn as much as I can while I'm traveling. A good day is a day that sends you to Google to research something further.

Without setting out for it to be that way, this trip has been quite a religeous education for me. As I've said previously, I dont hold any strong religious beliefs, but at the same time, the concept, culutural traditions, shared beliefs and historical backgounds of the major religions is fascinating and learning more gives you a much deeper understanding of the world today. It just so happened that Ive ended up travelling through Biblical lands and Muslim countries and now in Krakow I am in what was once one of the most important centres of Jewish culture in Europe. I say 'was' in that there are now only approximately 200 practicing Jews in the city following the devastation of the war, but then it is still a major site of Jewish pilgrimage and has the grave of a prominent Jewish holy man. We hired our own local guide to give us a walking tour of Kazimerz, the historical Jewish disctrict. We visited Synagogues and learned alot about Jewish culture and traditions.

Learning stuff is not neccesarily always a fun experience either - our next stop was the site of the wartime ghetto, where the local Jewish population were moved into and literally walled in - a starting indication of the deliberate cruelty was the fact that the ghetto walls were made in the shape of Jewish tombstones. Close to there was the Oscar Schindler factory. with an excellent newly completed exhibition on Nazi occupied Krakow. Not an easy exhibition to go around, even though it was housed in a place linked to an uplifting message - i.e the thousand or so jews on 'Schindlers List' who he managed to save.

Finaly an experience which is hard to describe and whilst certainly not being enjoyable, was profoundly moving and again a travel experience to learn and take something away from - Auschwitz.

I found the diverging train tracks at Auschwitz II - Birkenau, where someone had left flowers at the junction quite symbolic as essentially when people arrived at the camp and got down from the trains the first thing that happened was the 'selection' where they would either go to the left if deemed fit enough to work or to the right - straight to the gas chambers and cremetoria if not.

Also very effective for putting things into perspective were the collections of possessions found in warehouses on liberation of the camps. When you look at the piles of shoes, shaving brushes or suitcases and really imagine each one belonging to a different person, and that these were just a tiny proportion found there at the end, it gives you some idea of just how many people passed through these camps where in the words of Rudolph Hess, the only way out was through the cremetoria chimneys. And then of course this collection of 3 camps was not the only one in operation in Europe.

I've been joined in Krakow by my 80 year old parents who were in their early teens during the war. My mother found the Auschwitz camp experience particularly unsettling I think, as she remembers very strongly feeling petrified as a girl of the Germans being succesful in their attempt to invade Britain and what would happen to her if they did. As it was they lived through the air raids and remember the bombs. It does make you think how lucky you were to be born in a certain place though - i.e on an Island as opposed to just over the border from Nazi Germany.


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