Category Archives: Uncategorized

Rain in Sicily

Marooned in my very nice hotel in Syracuse where it has rained now for 3 days.  And when I say rain, I mean torrential rain falling from the sky non-stop.  As most of what I’ve come here to see is outdoors, like the Roman and Greek theatres, that’s not good news, although I did manage some of the smaller sights before the deluge.  I’ve been here before so it’s not too bad for me but my travelling companion is very disappointed.

We were luckier in Taormina where, although we had heavy rain there too, we managed on the good days to do the essential sights.

To those bloggers with whom I usually keep in touch this is the reason for my silence.

To compound matters I left my ‘phone in the security section at the airport (now awaiting collection when I get back), my IPad locked me out, and as I can’t retrieve its text code on my mobile OR landline, it asked me the usual security questions like mother’s maiden name, first pet and first school: no probs.  Then it asked me when I opened my Google Account!  Can anyone remember when they opened theirs?  So I’m still locked out.

I always carry my little Kindle in my pocket for convenience and it has been my saviour.  It never asked me daft security questions and it just logged on to the hotel internet like a pro. when I remembered this morning that it also does emails.  WordPress needed my password which I couldn’t remember so it I’ve had to get another, but that’s OK, I’m online now and have read a few blogs.

I don’t think I can upload photos though, so will not be posting until I’m home again.

Meantime, here’s to the Kindle, much better value for money in my opinion, and a definite thumbs down for the IPad.  This is the second time the IPad has done this to me so I should have known better than to rely on it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newport, Isle of Wight, a Second Look

On the green in the middle of the town stands a memorial to the last little chimney sweep to die here, and just a few miles away a lovely old pub is the site of the last hanging to take place.  I’m in Newport, the main town on the Isle of Wight, sometimes referred to as the capital.

Valentine Grey

 

The Island is well known as a favourite holiday resort for walkers, cyclists and families with young children, but Newport itself is often dismissed as merely a shopping area.  Yet Newport was the hub of the Island’s rail network until the Beeching cuts of 1996 closed its railway along with many more on the island.  This was a cut too far as the roads can barely cope with the increased traffic that was the result of such drastic pruning.

The only remaining train line runs from the ferry terminal at Ryde to the resort town of Shanklin with stops at Sandown, Brading and Smallbrook (for the Steam Railway), and the hub of the transport network is now the bus station in Newport where routes from across the Island terminate.

A quick visit to the town and you could be forgiven for thinking it is a town of chain stores from the ubiquitous M & S to H & M and Primark, but this historic town centres on two elegant squares surrounded by Georgian and Victorian architecture, and the town’s quay from which goods from all over the world were shipped along the Medina River from the port at Cowes, is just a short walk away.

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Riverside Pub in Newport, The Bargeman’s Rest

Swans float serenely on the river ignoring the canoes and kayaks, the sailing boats and the odd small yacht or two that are on the water, and on the terrace of the Quay Arts Centre people relax with coffee and cakes, tea and crumpets or lunch.  Inside the Arts Centre is a constantly changing art exhibition, dance classes, open mic occasions and an upmarket shop selling exquisitely crafted goods in silk, silver, ceramic, pottery and paper.

There was an extensive Roman settlement on the island and there remain two Roman villas, one of which is open to the public and whose remains provide a fascinating insight into country life in 3rd century Britain.  Discovered in 1926 when foundations were being dug for a garage, subsequent excavations revealed the remains of a late Roman farmhouse built around 280 AD with a superb bath suite, underfloor heating and remnants of mosaic floors.  You can peep into a Roman kitchen and see a slave preparing a Roman feast and there is a hands-on activity room where you can make a mosaic, repair a broken pot or weave a blanket.  Outside, the plants Romans would have used are grown in the beautiful herb garden.

CC David Hill
Carisbrooke Castle – Copyright David Hill (Flickr)

Newport is probably more famous for the nearby castle of Carisbrooke in the village of the same name, but although there have been fortifications on the Carisbrooke site since Roman times, what one sees today dates largely from the 12th to the 15th century.

Carisbrooke Castle Copyright David Hill (Flickr)
Carisbrook Castle – Copyright David Hill (Flickr)

Carisbrooke Castle is most famous as the place where Charles I was held prior to his removal to London and his execution by Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarians. The castle is said to be haunted by the King’s young daughter, Princess Elizabeth, who died during her incarceration in the Castle.

The donkeys of Carisbrook Castle are very popular with children of all ages.  In previous centuries, water for the castle’s occupants was drawn from the 150 foot deep well by two donkeys powering a draw-wheel, walking approximately 270 metres to raise one bucket of water.  When the castle lost its defensive role this practice stopped.

When the castle was restored in the 19th century, the equipment was renewed and the donkeys have been raising the water for the benefit of watching visitors ever since then. English Heritage is keen to say that the donkeys enjoy the exercise and are never over-worked.

Nearby Parkhurst Forest is home to two prisons which together make up the largest prison in the UK: it was once among the few top-security prisons in the United Kingdom. Their names, Parkhurst and Albany, were once synonymous with the major criminals who were housed there, it being presumed that any escapee would have a problem getting off the Island (as indeed it proved on the few occasions when a breakout occurred).

Crowds enjoy the music festival ©VisitIsleofWight.com

The famous Pop Festival shows no signs of losing popularity despite competition from other towns and cities across the country.  Seaclose Park on the east bank of the River Medina has been the location for the revived Isle of Wight Music Festival since 2002 and it is one of the key events in Newport’s events calendar!

So if Newport, Isle of Wight is on your itinerary, please wander around its streets and alleyways, look at the façades of the houses and try and guess in what century it was erected.  Find the row of old Alms Houses and if time permits, take a walk along the banks of the Medina River and try and visualise the days when sailing ships sailed up here from Cowes carrying a cargo of rice from Carolina.  And when it comes to time to eat, whether your taste runs to Mac & Cheese, Burgers, or Fine Dining, Newport can supply you with the best, with the Golden Arches for fast food and Hewitts and Michelin-starred Thompsons for truly superb food.

The Guildhall, Newport.jpg ©VisitIsleofWight.com

 

Whitehall Palace – Banqueting Rooms

Travels with My Camera

To London last week with the British Guild of Travel Writers for our Annual Summer Outing which this year included a visit to the Banqueting House in Whitehall, a tour on a Big London Bus and a Cruise on the River Thames with City Cruises, the boat that allows you to get off at any stop along the route.  The open-top bus tour and the river cruise took place in blazing sunshine and although London sights are familiar, the landmarks and historic sites never fail to thrill.

London Bridge

The Banqueting House is the last surviving part of the Palace of Whitehall*.   It was once the greatest palace of its time in Europe, almost totally destroyed by fire in 1698, but I knew nothing of its history until this visit.

The Great Hall © Historic Royal Palaces/Peter Li
A view of the great hall and its ceiling decorated with paintings by Sir Peter Paul Rubens…

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Whitehall Palace – Banqueting Rooms

Re-blogged because I have now accessed some images from Historic Royal Palaces which help flesh out the text.

To London last week with the British Guild of Travel Writers for our Annual Summer Outing which this year included a visit to the Banqueting House in Whitehall, a tour on a Big London Bus and a Cruise on the River Thames with City Cruises, the boat that allows you to get off at any stop along the route.  The open-top bus tour and the river cruise took place in blazing sunshine and although London sights are familiar, the landmarks and historic sites never fail to thrill.

London Bridge

The Banqueting House is the last surviving part of the Palace of Whitehall*.   It was once the greatest palace of its time in Europe, almost totally destroyed by fire in 1698, but I knew nothing of its history until this visit.

The Great Hall
© Historic Royal Palaces/Peter Li
A view of the great hall and its ceiling decorated with paintings by Sir Peter Paul Rubens at the Banqueting House. The ceiling canvases were commissioned by James I’s son, Charles I, in 1629-30 to celebrate his father’s life and wise government. They represent the only scheme painted by Rubens to remain in its original position

The Banqueting House was created for King James I in 1622 by architect Inigo Jones.  Inspired by the classical architecture of ancient Rome it was revolutionary at that time, standing it is said, head and shoulders above the ragbag of buildings that composed Whitehall Palace.  At the time of which we are speaking, a banquet was composed of little snacks and desserts, eaten after the main course when diners were waiting for the entertainment to begin, and was consumed in a separate little house or room, highly decorated and situated a short walk away from the main dining hall in order to aid digestion.  The Banqueting House of Whitehall Palace was the biggest and grandest of them all.

The Great Hall
© Historic Royal Palaces/Peter Li
A view of the ceiling of the Great Hall.  The canvases were commissioned by James I’s son, Charles I, in 1629-30 to celebrate his father’s life and wise government. They represent the only scheme painted by Rubens to remain in its original position

It was during the reign of King Charles l that the magnificent ceiling paintings by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (which today can be viewed from comfortable leather cushions laid on the floor) were installed.  Under these ceilings over 400 years ago, royalty and courtiers, ambassadors and aristocrats took part in some of the most exuberant and decadent masques every performed; today it is more likely to be celebrities and fashionistas who parade beneath the sumptuous ceilings as The Banqueting House has proved a popular ‘Events’ venue.

The Great Hall
© Historic Royal Palaces/Peter Li
A view of the great throne in Banqueting House and its ceiling decorated with paintings by Sir Peter Paul Rubens.
The Great Hall
© Historic Royal Palaces/Peter Li.                                                                                                                   A view of the great hall and its ceiling decorated with paintings by Sir Peter Paul Rubens at the Banqueting House. The Banqueting House is the only remaining complete building of Whitehall Palace, which served as the sovereign’s principal residence from 1530 until 1698 when it was destroyed by fire. Designed by renowned architect Inigo Jones for King James I and completed in 1622.  It later became the scene of King Charles I’s execution which took place on 30 January 1649

* Whitehall Place was for many years the property of the powerful Archbishops of York, who needed to be close to the monarch.  The first was built in 1241 and was originally known as York Place, passing through time to Cardinal Wolsey who extended it greatly.  As we know, he was deprived of his properties by Henry VIII who took it over in 1530 when it became Whitehall Palace.  Two great fires saw the destruction of Whitehall Palace, the first in 1691 and the second in 1698 when it was almost totally destroyed.

Opening times: Monday to Sunday 10:00 – 17:00 (last admission 16:00).                Admission:  Adults £5. 50   Concessions £4. 60:    Children 5-15  £0

What follows are images of London taken from the top of the Big Red Bus.

The following are pictures taken from City Cruises boat which carried us from Westminster Pier down to the Tower of London and beyond, passing some very innovative architecture whose positioning evoked some heated argument amongst us, as well as the always sombre Traitors’ Gate leading into the Tower and almost certain death.

 

Dr Samual Johnson said, “…..when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”   Even after the long gap in time, I agree with him, every word.

 

A Short Story About a Bear

Delving into my photo box today I chanced upon these pictures and as there is a tale to tell about them, I give it to you here.

Once upon a time in Thailand, there was a baby bear who, for a short time, lived near a friend of mine with a couple who had been looking after it since it was found wandering near a village.   They were kind to the bear but as it grew older it became unmanageable and they were at a loss to know what to do with it.

In Western Europe we can approach a zoo or an animal theme park to ask for help but there was no such thing in Thailand at that time (I’m thinking it was around the 1970’s because it was about then that I first started to visit there).  So my friend adopted the bear and looked after it as well as she could on her large acreage but eventually, she had to find another home for it.

So the bear went to live in a Temple.

Monks in Thailand look after any animal that is no longer wanted (Buddhism holds all life sacred), and the bear, although probably larger than anything they had taken in before, found a home with them.  He had to be kept chained up for most of the time, but he was taken out for walks every day and didn’t want for company.  A sad life we may think, but there was no alternative at that time, and he was treated kindly.

Bear A
The Monk tells the Bear his Friend has Arrived

What the bear looked forward to were the visits of my friend once or twice a week when her work permitted.  She always arrived with his favourite food, condensed milk, which she fed to him out of the tin – he could scoff 3 tins of the stuff in one visit – and some apples.

 

I accompanied her a few times but I never had the nerve to approach too closely, she had a special bond with the animal but I felt our acquaintanceship didn’t go back far enough for him to embrace me with the gentleness he did her.  OK, I was a coward.

Bear E
Now Please may I have Some Water?

The animal lived for over 30 years and was a placid old bear right to the end.  The monks were very fond of him and he had a good rapport with some regular visitors, and he always showed affection towards her when she went to see him.

Bear C
One Last Sip Before You Go.

I suppose she was the nearest thing he had to a parent.

Animals in captivity are not something we like to think about, but I felt that this bear had a good life (just look at that glossy coat) and he was treated with dignity and respect because the monks had him in their care.  There were alternatives but you can guess how awful they were.   So, a Happy Bear Story, I hope.

The End ….

 

Wish You Were Here

Today I got a postcard from abroad!   So what? you may think.

So absolutely fantastic that I did an impromptu jig in the hallway when I picked it up before reverently placing it in a prominent position so that I could look at it and admire it for a few more days.

Ronda

Do you remember how exciting it was to receive a postcard in the days when people sent you postcards?  Those mountain views, seascapes, hotels with the X placed just where the sender’s room was?  The whiff of abroad that unsettled you as you sweltered in a stuffy office or maybe dreamed in your kitchen or garage as the evenings grew shorter and the winter light faded?  You remember it now?

Japan
Mount Fuji, Japan

Next time you’re away from home, put away your smartphone, pack up the tablet, venture out and into the touristy gift shops and buy some postcards to send to your friends  Postcards are physical things, things you hold, read and re-read, pass along to friends to read; they give rise to conversations “So-and-so is in Venice this week.  I’ve had a card”.  “Oh, does (s)he like it?” and so on.  A whole conversation opens up in which you discuss former holidays, your bucket-list of places to see, the food you ate, the weather (always good) and how the children loved it.  You don’t need to look down at your phone to check anything, it’s on the card, as is the view, not a blurred selfie taken and then hastily dispatched to all and sundry.

Russia
Russia

You can’t store the postcard in your Inbox only to have it deleted after the set time (in my case 30 days), you can’t Tweet it, upload it to Facebook, Instagram it or save it to your computer. But you can be cheered by it every time you look at it and think that someone has thought about you enough to go out and buy a card, then a stamp, then find a Post Office in which to post it. I know sometimes the shop will sell stamps and take them for posting, but not always.

CUBA
Cuba

So, what sort of Postcard are you going to send?  One of those innuendo-laden Donald McGill cards that used to make everyone laugh, even the Vicar on a good day? Or a view of the sea/sand/mountains?  A donkey, Flamenco dancer, famous painting, or two fluffy kittens in a basket?  You have to think of the right card for the right person, and as you do, you’ll realise the pleasure it is going to give to whoever receives it, whether it be an aged aunt or a nine-year-old nephew.

Italy
Rome, Italy

Writing and sending postcards means time away from interfacing on Facebook, emailing the office, or poring over selfies of friends out on the town, but isn’t it a great excuse to ditch the technology for an hour or two?

Yorkshire
Haworth, Yorkshire

I don’t mind what you send me.  I just love that lift I get when I receive one, to know I’ve been remembered, and that you have spent time buying, writing and posting me a Wish you Were Here thought.

Beach

Wish You Were Here!

COWES WEEK – The Regatta

It’s called a Regatta, but that’s an understatement if ever there was one, for this yachtfest is Cowes Week, the time of year when the inhabitants of the English town of Cowes on the Isle of Wight, rent out their houses, kennel the dogs and cats, and disappear. The ‘yachties’ are about to descend on the Island for what the glossy magazines call ‘the week of the year in the sailing calendar.’  

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Cowes Town

Although the town will never again play host to the reigning monarchs of four countries as they did in 1909 when King Edward VII of England, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, the Tsar of Russia and the King of Spain visited with their yachts, there is consolation in the whiff of serious money that comes with today’s royally rich. Oil barons and City whizz kids crowd the pavements of the narrow streets and swig vintage champagne from bottles as they stagger from one party to the next. Old salts and wannabe ‘yachties’ dressed with impeccable regatta cred. stroll the narrow streets with polished brass telescopes under their arms, as the bemused local population looks on in wonderment. Cowes6

During the Regatta, over 800 boats and around 9,000 crew members will descend on this small town in the south of England. Cowes is not just for international yachtsmen, however. Non-sailors also flock to the island to enjoy the atmosphere, to sit on the beach and gaze at the coloured spinnakers that dance on the waters, to join the pleasure boats that sail around the competitors, and to gawp at the great, glossy yachts of the world’s billionaires, anchored offshore. Nor is boating on the stretch of water that separates the Island from mainland England, the Solent, confined to just these few highlighted days in the year: the number of sailing clubs tucked away in every harbour and cove has led to the south coast being dubbed Marinaland.

Boats at Seaview
Boats at Seaview

For the visitors who decide to join in the spirit of Cowes Week, dressing to look the part is easy. Stalls line the pedestrianised streets during the eight days of the Regatta and are on hand to sell overpriced tee-shirts, navy sweaters sporting capstans and anchors, and peaked caps festooned with enough braid to satisfy a Ruritanian General. Blue and white are still the colours of choice, but wannabe sailors should beware of the striped matelot look much favoured by minor celebs.

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The genuine articles are available in the somewhat old-fashioned local shops that make no effort to look stylish or enticing, favouring instead a turn of the century faux ‘ships chandlers on the quayside’ look as befits Queen Victoria’s island.

Boats on the Sea, People on the Beach
Boats at Sea, People on Beach

But Cowes Week is about more than dressing up. It is an exhilarating mix of world-class sailing, jazz, rock n’roll, and brass bands, clowns, unicyclists, and street theatre. For the people who want to take a break from watching the more than 200 races during the Regatta, there is constant entertainment in the Yacht Haven where there are food stalls, a huge beer tent, and music from live bands that play day and night.

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‘The diamond in the Solent’ is how this 23×13-mile island has been described, not only because of its shape but because of its safe, sandy beaches, great pubs and restaurants and a range of resorts to beat anything Continental Europe has to offer. And with an excellent transport system, everything is within easy reach.

Beach & Pier
Sandown, Pier and Beach from Cliff Top

The beauty of the Island as a venue for sailing events is that there is so much to see and do away from the coast. There are a wealth of activities on offer and whether by car, bike, public transport or on foot over the miles of bridle paths and downland walks, the island is easy to explore.  With ultra-fast catamarans and jet-propelled boats making the crossing to the mainland in 10 and 25 minutes respectively, if the need for a faster pace should arise, day trips can easily be made to places like Portsmouth, Brighton and the great cathedral cities of Winchester and Salisbury.Cowes11

Away from the main yachting town, messing about in boats is best indulged on the six-mile stretch of sands at Ryde or the glorious crescent of golden beach between Sandown and Shanklin. In the classic villages of Bembridge and Seaview you will still see and hear the sights and sounds of long-forgotten English summers as children play cricket, tennis and deck quoits, for this is an island where families with children feel comfortable, where the swimming is safe and the beaches are clean.  It boasts not one, but two, dinosaur museums (it’s not called Dinosaur Island for nothing and fossil hunts are a regular occurrence), Blackgang Chine claims to be the oldest theme park in the country, and there is a wonderful zoo at Sandown where rare tigers are bred and the cubs are a great hit with children.Isle of Wight from the Sea

The Island from the Sea at Sunset

The Isle of Wight has now firmly established its reputation as the venue for the premier pop Festival which takes place in June. It was the venue in 1970 for the first major pop festival in Europe when, for a few days, 600,000 young people with bells around their necks and flowers in their hair lived the dream of the dawning of Aquarius. They had dance-ins and love-ins to the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Kris Kristofferson, The Doors and just about every other rock and folk musician who could get to the Island. It is said that this was the final break with the influence of Queen Victoria who spent a large part of her life on the Island at her Osborne House home, from 1851 until she died in 1901.

Modernity is found in the indoor and outdoor swimming pools, fitness centres, surfing, canoeing and body-boarding at many beach venues. For the adventurous, there are hang-gliding schools, bungee jumping and flights in small ‘planes around the island. Half the island is a designated area of outstanding natural beauty and its 80 miles of trails and 60 miles of coastal paths are perfectly laid out for walkers. There are forests, downlands, medieval villages, valleys and shady creeks, and enough museums, Roman villas, castles and manor houses to keep culture vultures happy for weeks.

Red Funnel scene, Admirals Cup
Red Funnel Ferry Southampton – Cowes

But if you come for the sailing and to mix with the ‘yachties’, if you want to be considered one of the sailing fraternity you should be wearing a team shirt – preferably one of last year’s. So, if you are thinking of coming back for the celebrations in 2019, make sure that you get hold of one of this year’s shirts.

Copyright www.visitisleofwight.co.uk
Cowes Fireworks: Copyright Isle of Wight Tourist Board

And if you manage it right this week, if you manage to look the part, to walk the walk and talk the talk, you might get invited to one of the yacht clubs to watch the fireworks on the last night. But if not, you can watch them from the beach with the rest of the happy holidaymakers, join in the last night celebrations which may go on until the wee small hours or just sit it out in one of the great eateries on the Island. For despite its social cachet, this yearly celebration of England’s sea-faring heritage is for everyone.

 

Lendy Cowes Week 2018:  August 4th – 11th.   Official website: www.lendycowesweek.co.uk/

Information:  https://www.visitisleofwight.co.uk/whats-on/lendy-cowes-week-p1464171

 

CYPRUS – Aphrodite’s Island

Once bitten forever smitten, they say of Cyprus, and I can vouch for that.  Lying at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa, this island of Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, offers a magical blend of romance and relaxation in a landscape untouched by time – away from the coastal resorts that is.

I fell for its charms many years ago when a Zorba-like boat captain whisked us off in his boat for a seafood picnic on an offshore island, later to watch the most glorious sunset I’d ever seen.  In retrospect, the colours of the setting sun and the purple and pink skies probably owed a lot to the wine consumed on deck but that was the start of my love affair with the island.

Aphrodite's Rocks (Limassol to Paphos
Aphrodite’s Rock, Cyprus

The legendary birthplace of the Goddess is a golden yellow rock that juts into the sea on the coastal road between Limassol and Paphos, and 4,000 years on from her tempestuous birth from the foamy ocean, her legacy of love is still attracting young and old.  Swim around the rock three times and you will retain your youthful looks, I was told!

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to test this offer as we were on the way to Paphos to visit the ruins of the nearby ancient city-state of Koúrian, wonderfully situated on the cliffs above the sea, where we sat on the steps of the amphitheatre imagining ourselves as 5th century theatregoers, before wandering off to a nearby site to admire the still discernable central heating system and bath-houses and the well-preserved mosaics of fighting Gladiators.

Four thousand years of civilization and priceless cultural treasures are visible in Paphos where the harbour, still used by the local fishermen, is the focal point of the town, and cafés, bistros and bars line the waterfront.  As the sun sets and the fishing boats chug out to sea for the night’s trawl the medieval fort on the edge of the sea turns honey coloured, lovers stroll up and down the promenade and from bars and restaurants, the musical sounds of Zorba the Greek can just be heard above the tinkle of ice in glasses.   And yes, I know Zorba wasn’t a Cypriot, but the music is everywhere and everyone seems to like it.

If time allows, it is a good idea to alternate days on the beach with days in the mountains, and in this case, Limassol, Cyprus’s second city, is your best base.   You’ll eat well in this town, and cheaply, whether you like chips with everything (Cyprus is big on chips – a boon for those with children) or want to try some of the local dishes like kleftiko (lamb cooked in the oven until it falls off the bone), stifado (a sort of beef stew) Afelia (pork marinated in red wine) or the famous meze (a selection of meat and fish dishes).   With hotels from budget to 5-star, a public beach with changing tents, sun-loungers, jetties on which to stroll, and that always sparkling sea, there is something for everyone.

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Some of the beaches are man-made and the long 8-mile strip of development may appear bland but don’t dismiss Limossol too quickly: the old town makes up for the modernity of the new. There is a daily market that shouldn’t be missed, where soft velvety peaches nudge scarlet cherries, and melons and apricots tumble in perfumed profusion.  And buying a pint of freshly squeezed orange juice for 1 Euro just has to be a bargain.  At night the Tavernas by the Old Harbour offer great seafood and in many of the restaurants you can join in the Greek dancing – to Zorba the Greek, of course – if you have the courage.

Mountain Village, CyprusIf you like driving, Cyprus is one place you should avail yourself of a 4WD.  Up in the Troodos mountains, steep hairpin bends and the lush green mountain backdrop gives way to ancient cobbled trails that lead to peaceful villages nestling on the slopes of 6,500-foot Mount Olympus.

In the fields round about, brown and black goats chomp the grasses among the rosemary and thyme.  Lizards and butterflies vie for your attention and during the mild winter, almond trees blossom and lemon and orange trees perfume the air, but in the summer flowering pink oleander and broom cover the hillsides, a magnet for the bees that produce the exquisite Cyprus honey.  At certain times of the year, birds from Africa, Asia and Europe swoop overhead in compelling formations as they migrate to their various homes.

Most of the villages have an ancient monastery displaying time-worn frescoes and rare icons, and a familiar sight is a monk in full black robes sitting outside his tiny chapel, usually with a mobile ‘phone clasped to his ear.  In the afternoon the only sound is the slap of counters as old men play backgammon in the inky-dark bars of the villages.

Kakopetria set in the northern foothills of the Troodos is one of the loveliest mountain villages.  It straddles two fast-flowing streams in the middle of which lies the old village, lovingly brought back to life by local craftsmen.  Wooden houses with ornate verandahs filled with lemon geraniums and perfumed roses line the narrow streets and the village women making lace shelter from the sun under vine trellises.

Amazingly clear waters surround Cyprus

In complete contrast is Aiya Napa where you’ll find the island’s best beaches, soft golden sands leading to gently shelving seas.  But, Ayia Napa is not for everyone: this is clubbers’ paradise, the “new Ibiza” the so-called “Garage-music capital of Europe” with lighting and sound systems to equal anything London has to offer.  Top UK DJ’s are resident during the summer, the clubs are mega with most having a capacity for over 2,500, and none of them open before midnight.  Those still awake during the day can shop till they drop from designer to downright dodgy goods and for the kids, there is a Waterworld theme park based on the Greek Myths, more family fun than white-knuckle, from April to mid-November.

EPSON scanner image
Statuary depicting the suffering endured during the wars

Inland from here is the island’s capital, Nicosia, and a visit to the old walled city is worthwhile if just for the walk back in time through the narrow streets of The Folk Neighbourhood – Laïki Geitonia – a renovated pedestrian area of bargain-filled artisan’s shops.  And if borders fascinate you, you can walk to the ‘Green Line’ and from a platform look over to the Turkish side of the island.

Larnaca seafront has an air of sleepy charm with cafes and tavernas lining the palm-fronted promenade but it has little to recommend it apart from its good museums and interesting monasteries but if you want the best seafood in Cyprus then head for MacKenzie Beach just outside the town, where the restaurants along the seafront are outstanding   Reservations are needed if you want Sunday lunch as this is the day Cyprus’s extended families eat out, just like in France.

Village Lacework

Cyprus is one of those blessed islands that can cater for those wanting antiquities and those who want nothing more than to soak up the relentless sun and bathe in the warm, azure sea.  It feels very familiar to visitors from the UK with familiar British chain stores, driving on the left and English being widely spoken, but the 340 days of sunshine and the laidback atmosphere leaves you in no doubt that you are abroad.

Climbing the Rigging in Paphos Harbour
Climbing the rigging 

Dreamtime on the Daintree

I found the wander.essence.com site by following a link on a recent post by restlessjo and this has prompted me to enter Cathy’s prose challenge.  Intention?  Just to try to convey some of the fun of that particular day.

My Australian images are not in the computer, nor can I find them on my external hard drive so I shall have to search for my photos of the group clad in royal blue ponchos eating damper in the rain – and all smiling.  I will find them eventually and upload them. Meantime, these images are all from Flickr.

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Ray had a string of Pom jokes with which he tried to wind us up.  “I reckon Captain Cook was the first whingeing Pom to reach Australia,” he said. “Think of the names he gave to places around here, Mount Sorrow, Mount Misery, Cape Tribulation, Weary Hill”.  As I stood there in my rain-soaked oilskins and bush whacker’s hat I muttered that maybe Cook had a point.

This wasn’t what we’d planned for our week at the Great Barrier Reef when we’d flown up from Sydney to Cairns ready to dive into the warm, underwater world of the coral paradise, but ‘unseasonal weather’ had turned the normally turquoise waters of Cairns into a steely grey.  This did, however, provide the perfect time to visit the Daintree National Park – the Aborigine’s Dreamtime that Never Wakes – travelling up from Cairns along Cook’s Highway on roads lined with pink trumpet trees and Cookstown orchids.

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Which was why we were standing on the sands at Cape Tribulation where, on June 12th, 1770, Captain James Cook’s circumnavigation of Australia ran into trouble.  The Captain wasn’t to know that the dense wall of green jungle he spied from the deck of the Endeavour would one day be recognised as the oldest rainforest in the world, nor that where we stood would be the only area in the universe where the world’s two most complete eco-systems – the Great Barrier Reef and tropical rainforest – would meet.

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Like any red-blooded Australian, Ray, our guide/driver/lecturer/cook,  took great delight in telling us about the deadly flora and fauna that inhabit the forest, like the taipans whose bite is 200 times deadlier than that of a cobra, the terrifying saltwater crocodiles  that can break a cow’s neck, and the vines that inject poison into your skin if they touch you and for which the only remedy is to burn off the top layer of flesh!  Then there is the protected cassowary, a huge flightless bird that will attack and tear you apart if you appear in the least bit threatening, poisonous spiders, leeches, mozzies and sundry other bizarre insects.  Oh, and if you meet a wombat don’t pat it, he warned.  Wombats, despite their cuddly appearance, can be very aggressive.

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I thought we might have to hack our way through snarling creepers and dense, thick undergrowth, but thankfully, the Daintree is very civilised, and we walked on wooden pathways surrounded by trees, lush palms and huge ferns, all labelled and sign-posted.  The magical, cool, dark rainforest, home to many rare and threatened animal species, is laced with waterfalls and fast-flowing streams dotted with boulders that shine like polished agate and contains plant species over millions of years old.

We sauntered through this cathedral-like space, humidity being too high for anything faster,  keeping our eyes peeled for tree-climbing kangaroos, green tree frogs, rainbow lorikeets and Boyd’s forest dragons.   When the forest canopy parted occasionally we glimpsed elegant white cockatoos flying high above, darting in and out between the trees.  Accompanying us all the time was the demented cackle of the Kookaburra.

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Ray rewarded us for not complaining about the humidity by brewing up a billy-can of tea and handing out ‘damper’, a doughy mix of flour and water which fed generations of bush travellers but is inclined to lie heavy in the stomachs of pampered ‘poms’ such as we.   Then it was on to the little town of Daintree through Mossman, where the boulder-strewn icy waters of the gorge tempted one or two to risk a paddle.

Somewhere before Daintree, Ray produced a lunch of fried fish and salad, washed down with a light Australian wine, only slightly diluted by the steady drizzle that had been falling for some time.  It was surprisingly good, and the ordeal by damper that pride had made us eat (in the surety that Ray was testing us in some way) was quickly forgotten.

Once a thriving timber town, Daintree is now the centre of the eco-tourist trade. An Aboriginal walking trail departs from here, focusing on the flora and fauna of the gorge, but to fit it in requires an extra day in the forest.   Ray convinced us we’d made a mistake by only opting for the one-day trip, but we all promised to come back again and do the walk.

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We boarded the cable-driven ferry for a trip down the crocodile infested Daintree River in the charge of Bill Brewster, the acknowledged authority on the Daintree and a  man who knows the favourite spot of every crocodile in the chocolatey brown river.  We were warned not to dabble our hands in the current as the crocodiles lurked just under the water when they weren’t resting on the creeper-swathed river banks and we weren’t actually over-the-moon when Bill steered our flat-bottomed vessel towards a patch of jungley green and pointed out what looked like a log.  Then it moved, a split second before we hurled ourselves to the far side of the boat.

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Our 4WD was awaiting us at the end of the river trip to take us back to Cape Tribulation through a wilderness region of undeveloped coastal scenery and rainforest, making frequent stops along the way to examine some particular species of tree and to check out more dinosaur-like lizards.  Fortunately, Ray was well supplied with a bad-weather collection of umbrellas, rain-hats and waterproof ponchos to counteract the steady drizzle that preserves the eco-system of this ancient rainforest.

And then we were back on the sands.  Less than ten metres from the edge of the dense greenery and we were walking on the reef again.

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Captain Cook didn’t have our luck.  He didn’t know that just beyond the dense jungle, shrouded in mist and rain, lay a stunning, beautiful world, nor did he have the benefits of a guide with a quirky sense of humour and a vanload of blue plastic ponchos.

The pinkish tinge in the sky promised better weather tomorrow for swimming with the multi-coloured fish.  But none of that mattered now.  In The Dreamtime that Never Wakes we had all found something special.   A pity Captain Cook didn’t find it too, he might have renamed those mountain tops.