Weekly Photo Challenge: SHINE

Shine can have many meanings: a high gloss polish, a brilliant lacquer finish, a light on a mirror, moonlight on water, a child’s freshly washed face before bedtime any or all of these can be offered.   I’ve found one or two that fitted these categories but they weren’t my favourites, instead, I’ve gone for the photographs below.

The first ‘Shine’ is the colourful and exquisite marble floor of the covered-in Galleria Emmanuelle in Milano, the trendy, upmarket shopping area that stretches from the famous Duomo to the Opera House.  All the top-named brands have shops here (dare one call them shops, I wonder?) and apart from the gloss of the beautiful marble, the whole place has a ‘shininess’ that seems part of this monied world.


Exquisite marble floor of the Galleria Emmanuelle in Milano – Mari Nicholson

And now for something completely different.   The photograph below was taken when I visited a workshop outside Hanoi where dedicated instructors were teaching children who had been injured by landmines in Vietnam, a trade that would eventually enable them to work in the world outside.  The glass jar on the table is full of wafer-thin sheets of gold leaf and this young girl is painstakingly applying it to parts of a picture.


Vietnam, Applying gold leaf to a picture to make it shine.

On on the same trip in S.E. Asia, in Cambodia, we came across a school .with something of the same idea.  A group of young students were being taught how to use gold leaf on religious icons, how to make Buddha statues, how to do intricate woodwork etc.  To me, it seemed incredibly difficult and needing great patience, but the ever-smiling children assured me it was easy for them and better than working in the rice fields where they never had enough to eat.

Cambodia, Using gold leaf effectively on Buddha statuettes and bowls – Mari Nicholson.

And what is nicer than a sunset with the falling sun shining on the water, the rustle of palm trees, and the lap of the waves.


And lastly, probably the best shine of all, the moon on the water, in this case a silvery moon that turned the sea a shiny gunmetal grey that could have been anywhere but was actually in a tropical land.

Shiny, shiny, moon.  I feel a song coming on – Mari Nicholson


“Any place I hang my hat is home”, or so the old song goes and this is almost true for me.  I seem to be able to settle in any location and feel instantly at home – even on holiday.  Feet under the table, a few friends around, some olives and some wine to keep the conversation flowing, and I’m happy.

That’s not to say, however, that certain places don’t take precedence, one of which is my permanent home now and has been for many years, the Isle of Wight, and the other is my childhood home in Northern Ireland.  These definitely represent home to me.

Starting from childhood:

Scene just outside my birth town – Photo Mari Nicholson


Growing up I may have spent too much time in this pub, for the craic and the wild music – Photo Mari Nicholson


Another favourite pub in Belfast – Kelly’s Cellars – famous for its Guinness.                        Photo Mari Nicholson

Now I live near the sea, in this town, a favourite of many people some of whom visited it for the first time on a school trip.  The weather is usually good, we seldom see snow, the beaches are clean and safe, and the walking is superb.

My Home Town
View to my beach from just outside the town – Photo Mari Nicholson

It’s a place of thatched cottages, thatched pubs and even a thatched church                   Photos Mari Nicholson

Shakespeare’s Cities (2)

HAMLET – Denmark

No use telling the world that Hamlet is not autobiographical as approximately 200,000 people beat a path to Kronberg Castle in Denmark every year.  Shakespeare set the fictitious story in Elsinore Castle and it is presumed that this was Kronborg Castle which has existed since 1420 and is considered to be one of Europe’s finest Renaissance castles.


Elsinore (Kronberg Castle) – WikiCommons

Despite being burned to the ground twice, Kronberg has continued to maintain its vital position at the head of the Øresund Sound. Ships passing into the Baltic Sea used to pay tolls at the Castle and Helsingør (the Danish translation of Elsinore) was once one of the most important towns in Europe.

Shakespeare’s evocative imagery, the dramatic story, and the play’s worldwide popularity means that thousands of people visit Kronborg Castle every year.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000, the dingy catacombs and graceful towers have become synonymous with the doomed Prince Hamlet.   Guided tours are offered in June, July and August, but the best time to visit, if possible, is during the annual Shakespeare festival in August.

From Copenhagen the journey takes less than 45 minutes or the “Hamlet” ferry takes passengers from Helsingborg, Sweden through the narrow strait.


Italy was one of Shakespeare’s favourite locations in which to set his plays.  Venice, which provided the setting for the story of Antonio, Bassanio and Portia in The Merchant of Venice, is one of Italy’s glories, its beauty breath-taking when approached from the sea, and its treasures among the greatest in Italy.


The ghettos may have gone, but this famous port city is still exceptionally atmospheric.  It’s hard not to have flashbacks to scenes from the 1973 Nicholas Roeg film Don’t Look Now if you are strolling around Venice as dusk falls.

Take a gondola to Palazzo Ducale and explore the former wine bars, cafes and churches,   visit some of the art galleries, relax on a boat ride to the outer islands and when the sight-seeing has exhausted you, take the canal trip down to Padua.  But, for some quiet time to think about the play, you will have to visit in winter – the only time the tourists don’t visit in their thousands.  With four or five giant cruise ships docking most days, Venice is in danger of losing all character and the world of Portia and Shylock may become a thing of the past.   It’s impossible to see Venice properly during the day, for that you have to wait until the cruise visitors have returned to their ships when you are no longer forced to dawdle behind them as they crowd the streets in groups with their cameras on sticks held high, desperate to get the photograph that may serve as an aide memoire when they return to their cocooned cruiser.

If I can paraphrase, it must be Venice, there’s a gondola in my photograph.



One doesn’t associate Austria with Shakespeare yet for some reason he set one of his plays in Vienna, a Vienna that is not recognisable today but that has some similarities with the Vienna that existed immediately after the Second World War when it was a city divided between the four powers, Britain, France, Russia and USA.


Concert Hall in Vienna – Mari Nicholson

Measure for Measure is set in a Vienna whose streets and taverns are teeming with criminals, prostitutes and pimps, not one we would recognise today.  This problem play offers us the purity of the city that was Austria’s cultural crown jewel, long hailed for its art, architecture and intellectuals as a city that has to balance purity with la vie bohème; the old with the new.  Often referred to as one of Shakespeare’s problem plays, its text has often been altered to suit the mores and morals of the period in which it was performed.

Most of the action takes place in the Duke’s palace, in the city prison and in the streets of Vienna. The play’s main themes include justice, “mortality and mercy in Vienna,” and the dichotomy between corruption and purity: “some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall.”

Today’s Vienna is more about Strauss than sin, Mozart rather than mayhem.

There is little to remind you of Measure for Measure but Vienna boasts Shakespeare Garden, a space dedicated to the flora and fauna in his works, a pleasant place to spend a little time.  Then maybe light a candle at the gothic St Stephen’s Cathedral and enjoy the quintessential coffee and cake at Hotel Sacher where you will have to join a queue for perhaps 20 minutes in order to get a seat and a piece of that cake – Sacher torte – but it’s worth it.

Have a traditional night out at the Viennese Opera before heading to a trendy bar in Freihaus or to a restaurant for the perfect Weiner Schnitzel.  Shakespeare would have loved it I bet.

Shakespeare’s Cities (1)

Looking through my photographs one evening last week and re-assigning some to other folders, I realised that many of them have attachments to Shakespearean locations, so I thought I’d give them an airing on Travels with my Camera today.

ROMEO and JULIET – Verona

Juliet;s Balcony

Juliet’s Balcony – Mari Nicholson

First up, one of my favourite Italian cities, Verona, a favourite because of the operas that are performed in the vast Roman amphitheatre, it’s proximity to the Dolomites, and the wonderful herb market I remember from my last visit.  Verona is actually the setting for three of the Bard’s plays but it is the Casa de Giulietta that is now a place of pilgrimage for young lovers because of Romeo and Juliet.  The walls of the building are covered with love notes all of which get a reply from a volunteer in the Juliet Club which operates from the premises.

It is a town worth seeing even if you are not interested in visiting Juliet’s house which, let’s face it, is fiction after all.  The Renaissance houses and beautiful squares make one want to linger at the sidewalk cafes where the black-aproned waiters with slicked back hair seem to have a special Veronese air about them.  The evening passagitta is still a big occasion in the city and young and old stroll around in their finest clothes, unselfconsciously partaking of ice cream as the sun goes down on the golden stones of this lovely place.



Wild Ponies on the Mountains in Navarre – Mari Nicholson

Navarre in Northern Spain is the setting for the fantastical Love’s Labour Lost, and although it is almost certain that Shakespeare had no knowledge of this area during the writing of the play, its rolling pastures and fertile valleys seem a perfect setting.  Home to the famous bull run in Pamplona during the San Fermin fiesta in July, Navarre also has a quieter side.   Famous for the Gregorian chant sung in its monasteries, its  Pyrennean cows, wild horses, National Parks, Botanic gardens, its traditions run deep.  One of these is the fast game of Pelote which you should see if you get a chance.

The autumn colours are eye-wateringly beautiful and a perfect contrast to the coastal houses which are painted either green and red or green and white.   The wines are exceptional – with a wide range of organics among them – and less well known than most other Spanish wines.   The population speaks Basque and the language is not easy to read – especially if you are driving – but Spanish is widely spoken everywhere.



Othello’s Castle, Famagusta, Cyprus – Photo Pixabay

I first visited Famagusta when it was in the Greek-controlled part of the island of Cyprus and the Turks lived in the area where the castle (now named Othello’s Tower) stood.  Since the war and the division of the island, Famagusta is under Turkish control but can still be visited from all parts of the island.

The land of Aphrodite and the tourist towns of Limassol, Paphos and Larnaca are hard to reconcile with the turbulence and the tragedy of Othello. yet drive into the mountain villages, or sit awhile and look at the seas around the island, and the story seems all too plausible – especially if you have visited Venice beforehand.

It is an island that can be visited at any season, although if you want heat, summer is best: it is also the time to experience the Greek Drama festival and the many flower festivals in the villages.  It has a thriving winter season, however, a time to enjoy winter sports in the Troodos Mountains when walking and hiking take precedence over more relaxed summer activities.

I feel if Othello had indulged more in the sensual delights of the island and listened less to Iago, Desdemona’s life may have been spared.

THE COMEDY OF ERRORS – Ephesus, Turkey


Ephesus – Mari Nicholson

Ancient Ephesus is the setting of the Bard’s shortest play, about twin brothers separated at birth.  It is also considered the apex of the Roman-Greco Empire and visitors may wander among the ruins of the fallen state, from the Corinthian-style Temple of Hadrian to the glorious Library of Celsus, and to the brothel which had connecting underground tunnels to the rooms  Much of the city is still to be excavated, but the solitary structures that remain showcase its former capital splendour.

There is little in the nearby town but there are a lot of ruins and excavations to see, including the house where it is thought that the Virgin Mary had lived.  Izmir is about 30 km. away (about an hour’s drive) and for those who wish to combine a relaxing resort holiday with some serious sightseeing, the popular Kusadasi lies just a mere 19 km. away. Istanbul, the capital, is about 650 Km away and trips can be arranged but it needs a good 3 days to do it in comfort.Although flights are advertised they are not recommended.


Cliff Diving at Mostar, BosniaHerzeGovina

Thronging the Bridge to see the Cliff Dives – Mari Nicholson

I must confess that when I visited the world famous Mostar Bridge in Bosnia-Herzegovina a few weeks ago, my attention was easily diverted from the historical reasons for my visit.  Surrounded on all sides by the travelling fans, plus hundreds of local fans of the Red Bull Cliff  Divers, I jostled with everyone else fo a place from which to view the adrenalin fuelled dives of these young men and women.

Preparing to do a Back Somersault off the Platform – Mari Nicholson

I had been unaware of the event until I got there so had to do a quick check on who was in what position, something I found fairly easy as the Mostar locals are all big fans.  I was even informed that my own countryman, the young British diver Gary Hunt, was lying in fourth position at the time (he subsequently came in second in this trial).


Checking that all is well

You can read about the Stari Most Bridge (colloquially known as the Mostar Bridge) in my earlier post put up this afternoon so I need not go into its historical importance here, nor mention the terrible war in which it was destroyed.


Awaiting the “rescue” divers below.

The Iconic Stari Most bridge served as launch point for 22 male and female athletes during the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series’ 7th stop on 24 September 2016 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Five-time champion Gary Hunt had missed out on a win in the previous two stops – in the past six seasons the brilliant Brit has never gone more than two stops without a win.


It may be a coach with the diver – Mari Nicholson.

I haven’t seen any of these Cliff Diving Championships before live, although I have watched some of them on media outlets but the stunning setting of Bosna-Herzegovina’s most renowned landmark, where diving has been a tradition dating back to the 17th century, has made me a total fan.  The city’s diving enthusiasts have warm-heartedly welcomed the 22 World Series athletes for many years now and introduced them to their preferred take-off point high above the Neretva River.


There are Vantage Points Everywhere – Mari Nicholson

“This town lives for diving and lives for this bridge,” my waiter told me as we gave our order in Restaurant Teatro, a balconied eatng place that offered a fantastic view of the bridge, the crowds, and the amazing turquoise river below with the colourful rescue canoes and the wet-suited divers.  He seemed to know everyone in the competition, from much respected Columbian Orlando Duque right down to the 25-year-old wildcard Australian female diver Rhiannon Iffland, here to battle it out with Canada’s Lysanne Richard.


The Diver Enters the Water and rescue is at hand should it be needed – Mari Nicholson

The first dives off the bridge date back more than 400 years, my waiter told me, but in the current competition, the men dive from a platform 28 metres high and the women from the bridge at 21 metres high.  Eternalized in the city’s flag and coat of arms, life in Mostar has been centred on the humpback bridge ever since its construction in the 16th century as the young men plunge into the Neretva River to prove their courage in a test of maturity.


The colour of the water looks inviting – but from 85 feet??  – Mari Nicholson

Competition cliff diving dates back to 1770, when King Kahekili, the last king of Maui (Hawaiian islands), leapt from Kaunolu, a 63-foot (19-meter) cliff and entered the water below without causing a splash.  Later, he made his warriors jump from cliffs to prove their courage and loyalty.  It is probably the easiest sport for the enthusiast to enter as there is no equipment to buy and no special clothing to wear.  All you need is nerve, a fit body, and the ability to sail through the air from a dizzy height and plunge into waters below, avoiding cliffs and jutting rocks as you descend.


Old Mostar and the bridge – Photo Pixabay

The teams tour the world as they compete in different countries each month in front of top judges from the sport.  More information and pictures can be seen here.   It really is thrilling.

See also:  Mostar, UNESCO World Heritage Site in Bosnia Herzegovina.

MOSTAR, UNESCO World Heritage Site

Dalmatian Sights:


Modern day Mostar – Mari Nicholson

Famous for the bridge that was destroyed in the 1990 conflict in the Balkans, the historic old town of Mostar in Herzegovina that spans the deep valley of the Neretva River, is somewhere that should be visited by anyone who travels to Dalmatia.   Most of the old town, as well as the bridge, was destroyed in that dreadful war, signs of which are still in evidence around the area.


Mostar, Astride the River – Mari Nicholson

Dating back to the 15th century, Mostar was developed as an Ottoman frontier town and was further developed during the 19th and 20th centuries when the Ottomans were seemingly unstoppable as they pushed at the gates of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

Old Bridge – Photo Pixabay

Long known for its old Turkish houses and the iconic bridge, Stari Most, after which the town is named (mostari meaning the bridge-keepers) many of the dwellings in the Old Town were restored or rebuilt in 2004 with the help of UNESCO.   The Old Bridge was originally designed by the architect Hajruddin, under the direction of his famous architect teacher Sinan, and its reconstruction was based on thorough and detailed analyses, use of authentic materials and techniques: the reconstructed portions have been left visible.


Before the war, Muslims, Christians, and Jews, mosques, churches, and synagogues existed side-by-side indicating that the Roman Catholic Croats, the Eastern Orthodox Serbs, and the Sephardic Jews, had lived peaceably together with the Bosniak-Muslims for more than four centuries and the town is an outstanding example of a multicultural settlement with its pre-Ottoman, eastern Ottoman, Mediterranean and western European features. cafe-near-entrance-to-the-souk-mari-nicholson

It is hoped that the reconstructed old bridge and city of Mostar will serve as a symbol of the coexistence of the diverse cultural, ethnic and religious communities in this region.

Old Houses, Mostar – Photo Pixbay
Mostar Bridge today (watching the Cliff Divers)
A Plea from the Heart – Don’t Forget the Past – Photo Pixabay

Weekly Photo Challenge: H2O

No rain promised in my area for a while so I’ve looked through my photos to see what I could come up with and here are two.  Both of these were taken in Thailand, one in Koh Samui, the other in Hua Hin on the Gulf of Siam just a couple of hours drive from Bangkok.

Having fun at Hua Hin, Thailand

This little boy was having the time of his life on his polystyrene box lid which served as a raft from which he was trying to catch fish.  I don’t think it mattered whether he caught any or not, the fun was in trying, and in having such a marvellous float to carry him along the seashore.  Don’t worry, Dad was trawling the near water keeping an eye out so that he didn’t drift off.  They had little money, it was obvious.  Mum was digging in the sand for tiny little sandfish and crabs for supper and his sisters were gathering leaves from the hedges around.  Tech toys were unknown to him and even though I am sure he hankered after them, I confess I hoped he could continue to enjoy the childlike life he was having at the moment I took this photograph.

Torrential rain in Koh Samui, Thailand

Oh dear, it wasn’t supposed to rain in Koh Samui, but it did, and heavily.  Two days of torrential rain rendered the hotel’s umbrellas unusable, the decking awash, and the grey sea a hazard if one wanted to swim.   Day and night it pounded the beach, the noise like thunder at night.  Room service was needed but by the time food got to the rooms it was cold – and sometimes very wet – so everyone waded through the water to the restaurant where the staff did their best to serve us with hot food.

Two days later it was all over.  We woke up to sunshine, dry decking, dry beaches and a placid blue sea.  Had it really been as bad as I remember?   As the locals say, “TIT” – This is Thailand”.