All posts by maristravels

There are still some countries I haven't seen and some things I haven't done and won't do now (like trekking in Nepal) but I've covered a fair bit of the globe as a traveller. I've been a professional travel writer, blogger, and photographer for some years now, love cinema, theatre, books and art. I try to cover these subjects in blogs when they crop up in my travels. I live in the UK and these days I travel mainly in Europe and Asia.

Pull Up a Seat – September 2022

I don’t know if the challenge is still going and I can’t seem to find a recent post from XingfuMama, but I thought I’d post this one anyway.

I’ve posted today on Southend-on-Sea but I didn’t include this picture in the piece as I thought it would be nicer as a stand alone picture. The seat in the picture is one on Southend-on-Sea Pier, the longest pleasure pier in the world at 1.34 miles.

The wrought iron detail is fascinating, covering as it does the Victorian/Edwardian era clothes, boating, building sandcastles, and the donkeys which were used to give rides on the sands. Not too comfortable on which to spend a long time, but pleasant enough for a short stop on the way to the end of the pier.

Southend-on-Sea

XingfuMama posts every Friday morning.

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A Day on the Pier at Southend-on-Sea

Once a place where Kiss-me-Quick hats were almost as obligatory as a fistful of ice-cream from the famous Rossi’s, Southend-on-Sea is now a City and looking to become a proper grown-up resort.

Sunday excursions to Southend-on-Sea by train were our big break from the workplace when I lived and worked in London way, way back , so when the opportunity came to experience a day out in that fondly remembered place, my one desire was to once again walk the 1.4 mile Pier.

Southend-0n-Sea Pier
Amusement Park by Southend Pier

There wasn’t time to do much more because we had to fight our way to the end of the pier in a gale blowing off the North Sea, a bad-weather day that kept most people off the Pier apart from a few fishermen and a few intrepid walkers. The train still runs down the pier and we caught it back to the town (I can’t get used to calling it a city when there is a beach and an amusement park in front of me) when the clouds really turned black.

From the town there is a lift to the esplanade (photo above) but for those who don’t mind a climb and some extra leg-work, the walk down the slope past cafes, shops and ice-cream parlours is quite pleasant or there is a way down incorporating steps and platforms.

The kiosks and entertainment spots I remembered on the Pier are no longer there, just a vast expanse of boardwalk leading you to the end. So, here are just a few photographs of the Pier at Southend-on-Sea on a rainy, windy, day, when some flashes of blue lit up the sky to make us think the weather was on the change but it wasn’t, it was just nature teasing us.

Looking Across to the Kent coast from the end of the Pier

And when you’ve taken it all in, the views to Southend, the views across to Grain Island and the Kent Coast and the grey waters of the North Sea, then head for the modern tea-rooms, or sit on the steps as many do to enjoy the last rays of the sun, on the end of the longest pleasure pier in the world.

Tearooms on Southend Pier

Some people say that the Blue Plaque to Laurel & Hardy, on the pier, says all you need to know about the place, but it’s got more, a lot more, going for it, not least great restaurants and lovely people.

We caught the train when we saw these clouds approaching!

Recommendation: I was lucky enough to be taken to a decades-run family restaurant noted for its seafood, and if you need a recommendation I can say without hesitation that I had one of my best meals, ever (middle skate with brown butter if you’re asking) at

Tomassi’s, 9 High Street, Southend-on-Sea SS1 1JE. Open daily until 7 pm. Phone 01702 435000

BABY ELEPHANTS ARE GORGEOUS

Just a day or two old

I was going to keep this one for mother’s day but I realised I’d forget all about it by next year so I thought it best to post it now.

It’s one I took when I was doing some work with the Elephant Help Clinic in Phuket many years ago. The baby elephant is wearing a lei because she’d just been blessed by the monks from the nearby temple.

Friendly Friday: Favourite Photo Challenge

Linked to the Sandy Chronicles

Chef Eddie does his thing

This picture is one I love because it captures, for me, a moment of total relaxation during a cargo ship cruise we took about 30 years ago. The ship was ‘The Author’, one of what I learned to call “the big whites”, boats of the South African Safmarine line.

Sunday was a big day for the crew when they had the brai, or barbeque, a tradition that was almost a religion for the South African crew on board. It was dress-down day when even the captain sported shorts and tee shirt, hair-cutting took place in quiet corners on the decks, and the crew relaxed in their ‘civvies’.

I was surprised that a barbeque was allowed on the deck, but I was assured all was perfectly safe. Eddie, the chef, had everyone’s favourite food ready, from salads to heavy carbs, fruits to exotic vegetables, and a fine selection of meats, fish and shellfish. As passenger we numbered only 7 but we had become friends with the crew over the course of our trip from Tilbury via northern Europe to South America. In fact we were their ‘shoppers’ as well, as some of the countries we stopped at would not allow the S.A. crew to disembark (political not racist) so we were given shopping lists when we disembarked – usually tee shirts for themselves and a gift for a Mum or a son or daughter.

I know this isn’t a good photograph, it’s blurry and lacks definition but it’s one of my all-time favourites because that holiday was one of the best ever and that evening sums it up so well. I must add here that I don’t go on cruises as floating hotels are not my cup of tea but a trip on a cargo-ship is a world apart.

On “The Author” we mixed with the crew as they went about their work during the day, and in the evening we socialised with them over drinks and dinner, played games in either their lounge or ours and swapped books and DVDs. Some evenings we lay on our backs on the deck and were taken through the star system by one of the crew, seen to its best away from the lights on land.

Thirty years after and I’m still in contact with one of the captains and two of the crew. It was an unforgettable holiday and I remember every minute of my time aboard “The Author”, Eddie’s great food, and the treats left in our cabin daily, from warm biscuits to gooey cake, the ever-changing menus due to the fresh produce he picked up at the different ports, and the tears and the hugs when we all said good-bye to some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

Lens Artists Challenge: Picking Favourites

Linked to Toonsarah who is hosting this week’s Lens Artists Challenge

It is with great trepidation that I sit down once more to enter one of the photographic challenges on the site, but I’ve been looking at various entries in different categories and especially Sarah’s today so here I am. I haven’t posted for a few months now but I have managed to dip in and out of the site and kept up with what’s been happening.

I said “with great trepidation” and I meant it, because after seeing some of the entries in today’s challenge and some of those from former weeks, I realize how far short of “artistic” my work falls. Being more interested in the words than the pictures I’ve never looked really closely at my images, or taken enough time to get them right.

Apologies over. Here are a few of my favourites, and I stress the word favourites as I can’t claim they are great!

  1. This is one of the monuments to World War ll spotted along the coast of Normandy. I do like this picture mainly because of the sky, the clouds were wonderful on that day and seemed to change shape every few seconds so I was lucky to get them just when they looked especially good.

I didn’t get to know the Normandy coast well until a few years ago when, with a friend, I spent 10 days touring the area. I loved the horses trotting along the beach, their passengers snugly wrapped up in carriages behind them, the serious tourists with their maps and photographs of relatives who landed on these beaches during WWll, and the fact that the food in Normandy was as good as I remembered from many years back. And I loved the fact that the museums and monuments, cemeteries and commemorative parks are still there to tell the story of what happened in France between 1939-1945.

The Library of Celsus at Ephesus, Turkey

This is Ephesus in Turkey. It’s a print taken probably about 30 years ago and yes, it did win a prize.

I don’t think it’s a great image but I think it does show the magnificence of that place and when I look at it I can still remember my awe as we walked in and faced this extraordinary facade.

Ephesus was an ancient port city lying just 80 km from Izmir, and whose well-preserved ruins are in modern-day Turkey.  Once considered the most important Greek city and the most important trading centre in the Mediterranean region, it survived multiple attacks and changed hands many times.

Today it is one of Turkey’s most significant ancient cities and it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2015.

Ephesus came to prominence under the ancient Greeks and became a city under the Romans in 133 BC and the capital of Asia Minor in 27 BC, seen as its historical turning point as it then became second in importance only to Rome.

Ephesus is also important from the point of view of Christian history in that St. Paul wrote his “First letter to the Corinthians” from here, St. John wrote his gospel here, and it is believed to be the final resting place of the Virgin Mary.

The facade of the library of Celsus which looms over the city and which you see above has been very carefully reconstructed from original pieces. It was originally built in 125 AD and Celsus is buried in a sarcophagus beneath it.

Apart from the facade of the library, there are many impressive ruins to see in Ephesus. Allow at least 4 hours to see it all, the amphitheatre (largest in the ancient world), the Odeon with its Corinthian-style pillars made of red granite, the 2nd century Temple of Hadrian, the aqueducts and the Agoras.

Sadly, Ephesus died, by reason of silt building up in the harbour to the point where no ships could reach the city. Without ships, trade died, and without trade the city died and was abandoned.

Torii Gate at Miyajima, Japan

I have so many Torii Gates in my files that the problem was picking out the one I like best but then the problem was, do I want one with a boat, with a beach, or set in a forest? In the end I decided on this misty morning scene.

I think everyone has seen images of Torii gates, the most famous of which is probably the above gate near Hiroshima, but there are many dotted around the seas, all calling out for a photograph.

A Torii gates represents the boundary between a sacred shrine and the human world. Once you pass through the torii gate you have entered the sacred, special space. 

Originally Torii gates were white, but now they are mostly painted red because the colour symbolises vitality in Japan and it is believed red gives protection against evil. (It is also said that as red paint contains mercury, the gates are preserved for longer – practical as well as spiritual).

White was the original color of torii gates which were more common than red ones until the arrival of Buddhism in Japan. After the separation of Shinto and Buddhism was officially implemented in the mid-to-late 19th century, some shrines started to paint over their red torii gates with white again, but they are fewer in number than the red.

Although the most photographed appear to be those that are located in the waters, torii gates appear in many inland spots such as the base of famous mountains, or along forest routes. These gates are said to embody the deity which is believed to exist in nature, sacred mountains and the ocean.

If you do come across a torii gate on your travels in Japan, as a mark of respect and if you wish not to offend your hosts, it is a good idea to bow before entering through the gate.

Linked to Toonsarah who is hosting this week’s Lens Artists Challenge

Leonardslee Gardens, Horsham, Sussex

I was promised a picture-perfect display of glorious colour, a sensual overload and a vibrant experience in one of the loveliest gardens in Sussex. And that is just what I had.

From March to June, the 100-year-old majestic rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and towering magnolias with which Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens are planted, offer a late spring experience like no other.

Jewel-coloured rhododendrons light up the woodland against a backdrop of red and green acers whose leaves re just beginning to take on their summer colouring. Many more are reflected in the waters of the 7 lakes that dot the woodland, doubling the colour and the display. I hadn’t realized how highly perfumed rhododendrons were, until my walk through the landscape of Leonardslee. One path that was lined with blowsy, yellow rhodos was a sheer delight and the scent almost overwhelmed.

You have to stop and smell the flowers when you walk through an avenue of yellow rhododendrons

It’s not only about flowers and trees though, hidden among the 240 acre woodland gardens is an exquisite Rock Garden with mini waterfall, ferns and the makings of a fairy-glen. And just off the main walkway is the enclosure for the resident wallabies whose interest in their visitors, charms everyone Not all the wallabies are in enclosures, only those needing protection – some of the younger joeys and the pregnant ones – so you may have a close-up encounter with a friendly wallaby as you amble round the park.

The sculptures, strategically placed to attract your attention, seem to be an organic part of the whole so easily do they sit among the flowers and trees. All of them demand time to look and ponder – and wonder at the quotations that accompany them. The current exhibition, The Walk of Life, is by South African Anton Smit and is a wonderful complement to the display of colour, the calmness of the lakes, and the birdlife.

Some of the plants at Leonardslee are extremely rare and the gardens are a living example of successful biodiversity. Nearly 200 rare and endangered plants are grown here by a dedicated team of gardeners.

The colour and vibrancy of the blossom is echoed in the birdsong that is a constant as you walk along the pathways or sit by the lakes and you’ll spot a vast variety of birds and animals even without trying, from green woodpeckers to electric blue kingfishers, yellow wagtails, peacocks, blue tits, Canada Geese and herons who congregate at the shallow lakeside where carp feed on the surface. You may also meet some of the shy fallow deer, a cheeky squirrel or two, and, of course, the wallabies, brown and white.

The Grade l listed gardens are at their vibrant best at the moment, and with plenty of seating dotted around the lakes and on the lawns, it is a perfect time to indulge in a day out.

A carpet of purple blossoms under a large rhododendron tree

Go earlier in the year for the daffodils and the bluebells and to walk through the camellia grove with its hundreds of varieties of camellias,or early April to see the magnificent magnolias bloom. Whatever time of the year you visit, you’ll find something to please and a restful area to commune with nature.

Water Irises on an island of flowers in the lake

And when it’s time for tea, you’ll find Leonardslee Tea Shop all you could hope for, with seasonal delights, home made biscuits, locally sourced food, cream teas with warm home-made scones. What more could you wish for.

Except maybe to spend the night in the fabulous Leonardslee House Hotel.




How long is a Week?

Last time I blogged I said I was taking a week off on my eye consultant’s advice but this has turned into many more weeks than originally thought.

Still no improvement on the eye front but having another series of eye injections. One eye has more or less given up on me, and the other is stable at the moment but has periods of behaving badly. Bright sunshine makes for difficult days when I have to keep the blinds drawn indoors and can’t venture outside and my reading, computer work and tv watching, are all drastically reduced.

However, I did manage to get away for a 3-day trip to Gothenburg for a 50th birthday party which was brilliant. No time for sight-seeing, as it was purely to visit family and talk but great to be able to hug and be hugged by family again.

And last week I was invited to lunch in the New Forest with a friend who was driving there, making it all possible. We had a glorious day and we drove through the wilder parts of the forest, avoiding the towns and villages, pretty though they are, and just enjoying the sight of the wild ponies and donkeys along the roadside.

Lymington Quay

We had a late lunch in the lovely old Ship Inn on the Quay at Lymington (high recommended by the way) and watched the swans in the water for a few minutes before catching the ferry back to the Isle of Wight. A few pictures here of my day out.

Meantime, I’m still rationing my time online, time spent reading and time watching TV but I’m now managing to read some of the blogs from those I follow. I don’t comment yet, but I’ll be back soon!