Category Archives: Travel writing

Chartres: journeys through La Belle France

We are on the move again! This time we have stopped in Chartres to finally visit this most elegant and spiritual cathedral. With its stunning stained glass, lofty towers and the very special labyrinth, it is a a must to visit. And I feel to return to. The son et lumiere on the rose windowed portal at night was also delightful. Quite a show.we have chatted with visitors and tried a bit of French! There seem to be less visitors at present but our hotel is full. Whenever we visit France there is always something so beautiful to see. On our way to our London home we saw the Osprey in Orleans Forest. Now we see this special place for the first time instead of just passing by. Soyez courageux. We should show our friendship with France and make sure we visit when we can!

On the road; approaching our destination. Chartres Cathedral on the horizon.
On the road; approaching our destination. Chartres Cathedral on the horizon.
West face of Chartres Cathedral
West face of Chartres Cathedral
Detail from stained glass and a reminder of goodness in people and not to be prejudiced.
Detail from stained glass and a reminder of goodness in people and not to be prejudiced.
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Rhodes; Nature and Responsible Tourism

My trip to Rhodes allowed me to explore some of the islands biodiversity. On a small road down from the monastery of Thari we stopped by a stream. My botanist friend Nick always recommends a good look around water. The pictures above are of some of the creatures found around the valley near Thari. The first thing that attracted my eye were these deep burgundy leaf shapes sticking up in a shady area. As we went to look crickets were jumping out from under our feet. There seemed to be thousands of them. Not for the faint hearted. I later found the name of this species and it is a Greek and Rhodian plant. It was so large that I had immediately thought invasive. Never jump to assumptions. In the stream there was a freshwater crab, some frogs and hovering above beautiful blue dragonflies.  Large lizards are found on the island, one above seen near the monastery and the others at the Acropolis and Monolithos love the ancient sites and rocks. Look carefully for them as they seem to love the tourist sites. The lizard and the lily are linked to dragons. Dragon Lily. But also Voodoo lily! And the dragon lizard. If you look more carefully at the first photo below you can see more detail and the blue. A really charming and obliging Aegean blue kind of creature. They seem to pose!

We did not see the famous Rhodian fallow deer. It seems they are now more scarce since there were devasting fires destroying large tracts of forest. The symbol of the deer can be seen in many places but certainly at the entrance to the old port. We didn’t see any two headed eagles either. However, there were mosaics and many carvings in the churches. It was hard to trace back the symbolism for the use of the eagles and it became quite academic.

Rhodes deer, symbols for Rhodes
Rhodes deer, symbols for Rhodes

 

 

2 headed eagle symbol of Eastern Orthodox Church
2 headed eagle symbol of Eastern Orthodox Church
strange shaped tree Rhodes
strange shaped tree Rhodes
Brimstone or powdered brimstone found on Rhodes
Brimstone or powdered brimstone found on Rhodes
Brimstone on Bouganvillea outside Petaloudes
Brimstone on Bouganvillea outside Petaloudes
swallowtail Rhodes April 2016
swallowtail Rhodes April 2016
dragon lily and cricket
dragon lily and cricket
dragon lily Rhodes April 2016
dragon lily Rhodes April 2016

We also saw many cats. I thought of the blog of photographyofnia as she takes many wonderful photos of cats in Istanbul and comments on how they are loved and respected there. There were plenty of Rhodes cats too and am sure there is an island colour that seems to predominate. The cats we saw in a street in Lindos, a very medieval town with an Acropolis, knew which door to wait outside for food. Unfortunately, not all cats were as lucky and there was a sanctuary for abandoned cats in Kalithea. Having had one cat for 17 years, our own Tigger, every cat should be a loved cat and sterilised. Cats and in particular semi feral cats can have a devastating effect on wildlife.

Many of of the wild flowers were similar to the Mediterranean ones we find in Spain. There was the dragon lily, Dracunculus Vulgaris and Capparis Spinoza, the Caper bush which are endemic to the region. It was quite dry and Madeleine thought there were less flowers than usual for Spring. Certainly the wild carrot, daucos carrota was fully out. This doesn’t usually come out at Navasola until the dry season of July and August. These ones were flowering near some ancient archeological remains, not far from the Acropolis. Bougainvillea and hibiscus and many other flowers adorned Greek gardens, balconies and the narrow streets of the old town.


Wildlife in Rhodes did not have the status that we saw in the Azores. At Petaloudes, the butterfly valley, but where tiger moths begin to fly in their 100s around the end of June there was a nature interpretation centre. There was no person there to discuss and inform as in the Azores and the exhibits needed some updating and modernising. There was also a sense of sadness in looking at the ageing stuffed specimens but there were some resigned comments on the notices too about the difficulties of conservation.

Although there is a severe financial crisis in Greece, Rhodes benefits from a strong tourist industry. I wonder how as tourists we can engage and support the protection of flora, fauna and their habitats in the places we visit.

1. We could always express concern and a desire to know about the biodiversity in a place. The Azores did have lots of leaflets and a display of their plant life at the airport.

2. Raise issues of conservation areas and how these are protected.

3. Try and use responsible tour operators who respect the environment.

4. Write and comment on how much you enjoyed the natural world on your visit. This can be to tourist offices but also flight and tour operators. Encourage and support conservation. Or if need be express concerns.

Greece is a signatory to the habitats directive of the EU.

Some information about the Natural History of Rhodes from Wikipedia.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Mediterranean_conifer-sclerophyllous-broadleaf_forests

Rhodes is in the Eastern Mediterranean conifer-sclerophyllous-broadleaf forests Ecoregion.

The flowering plant species of Rhodes number 1,243.
Dracunculus vulgaris, the dragon lily or voodoo lily
Capparris Spinoza. Capparis spinosa, the caper bush, also called Flinders rose,[2] is a perennial plant that bears rounded, fleshy leaves and large white to pinkish-white flowers.[3][4][5]

257 bird species are recorded from Rhodes, many are passage migrants. 80 are breeding species. We saw red rumped swallows at a reservoir and many swifts around the New Marina and hooded crows
There are 33 species of mammal including the Rhodes Fallow deer, Cervidae Dama dama; E

Rhodes has 4 species of amphibia: tree frog Bufo viridis, Hyla arborea, Rana cerigensis and Mertensiella luschani. Not sure which kind of frogs I photographed.

 

2,652 insect species/subspecies are recorded from Rhodes. Commonly seen insects in Rhodes are the sail swallowtail, the scarlet dragonfly, Cleopatra butterfly, European praying mantis, cicada, glow-worm, hummingbird hawk-moth, firebug, field cricket, European tree cricket, European hornet, cuckoo wasp, carpenter bee and the rose chafer.

178 land and freshwater mollusca species/subspecies are recorded from Rhodes.

The freshwater crab Potamon potamios is found on Rhodes. It is common at Petaloudes.

There are 24 species of reptile certainly found on Rhodes. The species I photographed is referred to as the Rhodes Dragon. It is also known locally as “Kourkoutavlos”. Or the Agama lizard, Stellagama stellio.

Rodini park is a rather neglected old Italian park which has seen grander days. Local people still seem to wander in but it’s neglect means that there are quite a few native and non native species thriving. In the right season it can have tiger moths. We also saw
Terrapins or turtles, goldfish, carp, egret, peacock,
White butterflies( April)
Curry plant,
And heard many birds singing!

At Petaloudes the famous place for the tiger moths, but is called butterfly valley and is a private park, we saw the museum of natural history and some brimstones on the bougainvillea outside.

Rhodes; a walking haibun tour!

I am in Rhodes with a longstanding friend who loves the island and visits regularly. More will follow on this beautiful place but I am prompted by Dverse poets to write a haibun about walking.  A haibun is poetic prose followed by a haiku. My friend and I have been fortunate to do a lot of walking together.

In youth, we walked and walked, together. Teenage talks and teenage walks to Barnes pond, along the towpath of the river Thames, across Hammersmith Bridge. We walked our children too into Manchester’s many parks and out to the moors of Derbyshire. We’ve walked in friendship for more than 40 years. And now I finally walk with her in her beloved Rhodes. And we walk and walk.

Walking the past. In the present. Future thoughts.

Feet walk over cobbled stones in narrow streets. Above, the eyes take in medieval arches. Thoughts of knights and maybe horses along the wider streets leading to the Grand Palace of the Masters. Castle turrets protected the Order of St John. Stones in piles from pillars fallen. Many battles fought, won, lost. Bright bougainvillea flowers adorn walled gardens within ancient fortress walls. Scents of jasmine waft with sounds of many voices from many places. Scooters dodge the wandering tourists. Greek homes still within the sturdy old town walls from where the deep blue of the sea separates the isle from the mainland mountains of the Turkish coast. So near. So far. Empires have come, empires have gone. This small island a jewel to hold.

We walk along the ancient stadium of ancient Greeks. As women we wonder on the nakedness of men running fast, in the past! No women allowed then. Except for one. The mother of a hero. The broken Acropolis with scaffolding speaks of the need to respect the past but greatness goes. We walk around the ruins of men and there lies the small dragon lizard, still and basking in the warmth of ancient stones. We walk through the streets of modern Greece, the new town, coloured by blooms. Concrete sore we reach a deep valley park. Rodini. A jewel from the Italian rule. Now forgotten, neglected but it’s streams flow with life. Small turtles, egrets, giant carp and butterflies. We cross broken bridges, pass by young lovers. Here the world of green enjoys the lack of human tramping unlike the famous butterfly valley walked through by the multitudes who yearn for green and to see  some wild thing ; the beleaguered tiger moth.

We walk over more pebbled mosaic floors into holy places. Two headed eagles symbols for the Eastern Church. The frankincense and gold of icon painting fill the spaces with a silent sacredness. Behind a city wall a gate opens up into the Jewish synagogue. We walk through this with silent acknowledgement of a persecuted past. Spanish sounds sing songs of their Sephardic roots from Andalucia; my home now.  We walk to connect. So few returned to their island home. Down by the harbour in an old Islamic building we walk past the hopes of new refugees from not so far but far enough across the gleaming blue and treacherous depths. Later, we walk high up a hill, along a path with stations of the cross. From the giant cross, we walk no more but watch Apollo’s sun being guided down to rest beyond the horizon of the west. How long have we got left?

Broken bridges show
The eternal flow below
Walk the heart to know

image image image

The Ravens’ Call.

I have been a bit absent from blogging due to the good weather and the need to get the land and house a bit more sorted before it gets toooo hot. I am also researching aspects of nature in Sweden and Norway for part of my novel. This has been fascinating.
Spring has started here and there are lots of bluebells out on the Finca. I will post soon on the wild flowers too.

There was a wonderful prompt from Dverse poets based on collective terms for birds e.g. a murmuration of starlings. There has been some striking and original poetry based on this and worth visiting the different posts on Mr.Linky for that post. As I missed it I will try Open link night for the one I wrote last week. This is another opportunity to discover lots of innovative poetry.

Recently Becky from Hidden Delights of the Algarve posted photographs of large groups of Avocets. The group name is ‘an orchestra of Avocets’. We recently saw a large group of ravens fly over our roof at Navasola. Usually there is a pair that flies but one evening I was called out to see a very large number together. On reading the term for this ‘an unkindness of Ravens’ on the Dverse prompts I didn’t think it was quite fair!

The Call of the Raven

Once I measured my life with sonic booms
Each day at 6 the great white bird
From Manhattan to Heathrow flew.
We heard, we looked, we never knew
There could ever be
A nevermore of Concordes.

Now I measure my life with the Ravens’ call.
Often about the time when night does fall,
Two fly over the roof towards the West.
To roost perhaps, to find some rest.
Lifelong mates speak together.
A chattercroak of Ravens

Once there were much louder cries.
So high above in fading skies,
20 to 30 together they flew
We looked above but never knew,
The name to call them.
An unkindness of Ravens.

Can such birds be more unkind than human kind?
Can talk, use tools, and a loyal mate they find.
They do not kill but pick at death,
To clean the earth from rotting flesh.
Unkindness seems unkind for clearing mess.
A cleansing of Ravens!

Where that great flock of ravens went
And why so many in such numbers spent
The early evening time together.
We will never know for sure.
Do such birds fear changing weather?
A warning of Ravens.

A pair are kept within Old London’s tower
Must never leave as there is fear
Of a fallen King and loss of power.
A kind old Raven sheds a tear.
For human heads upon a spear.
A kingdom of Ravens may be more fair.

Thanks to Dverse poets, yet again for inspiration and to TS Eliot whose Mr Prufock ‘measured out his life in coffee spoons’ I feel fortunate to be able to measure mine with birds and not aeroplanes these days.( although just recently tins of paint too!)

 

 

(photo courtesy of Wikicommons and taken at the Tower of London, UK)
bl 1London_tower_ravens

Poetry, Travel Memories; The first time ever I…. Whale Watching

This poem and memory is in response to a post from  dverse poetry prompts . It is about remembering a journey or place visited and trying to recreate the experience.  This is about the first time I visited America and where I saw a whale for the first time. It’s also about the mix of media messages, memories, feeling the fear, seeing the contrasts and learning about the biodiversity of living things.

The First Time Ever

 Gray Whale in San Francisco Bay    May 1999

The first time ever I travelled to those United States

Where star spangled banners show off diverse places.

Where the cavalry comes and sort things out

With guns n’ horses and Rin Tin Tin.

Why was this a place I feared to go

For an eightieth birthday of

California dreamin’

In San Francisco Bay.

Lew’s life work listening with compassion

Sharing and trusting we are loved.

So why the fears and why not go?

 

A friend and colleague frowned and said.

You won’t be going to any schools. Instead,

You are going to San Francisco

Where you can wear flowers in your hair

If you dare.

 

I leave a library full of well-placed books.

And think of a library with half written pages

Of young ones’ dreams and parents’ screams.

Columbine and eglantine in Shakespeare’s dingly dell

Of murder most foul where books lay strewn

budlike withering, wandering worlds, unworn.

 

We arrive and meet with love, forgiveness, fun.

A birthday to unite all States.

Where are you from? Your accent is so quaint.

London? What state’s that in? New England?

Oh across the pond, that England.

Islands within a continent of

Many smiles, many good days.

 

On a cold and blustery day in May

We boarded a boat in the drizzly dawn

To go far out to watch for whales.

We float about and see our first great Gray,

Between the rocks of Alcatraz and the Golden Bridge.

Directions called and Whale ahoy he stays or she

To show how whales can spout their shout.

Spots of barnacles for years within the sea

Ancient being with a peerless eye, explores

Within the bay, between the rocks of Alcatraz

And the Golden bridge. Why did we not stay?

But went out further seeking more

To see upon the sea.

 

It was a whaleless, grey and dismal day.

Cold crept in with oceanic spray.

No more giants but squawking gulls

And deep within, the stomach pitches.

Smells of vomit, fear of lurching overboard.

If there could be calm could I walk back

Like Jesus to the shore?

The waves they pounded.

 

The gulls cried out and followed on this hopeless tour.

All had been seen within the bay, no more.

We learn that seagulls do not exist.

Only gulls of many different kinds.

Oh Jonathan Livingston Seagull if only I had known,

Your flight beyond the realms of gulls so sure.

But now I do not know which gull you were.

And all I want is to return to shore.

Between the Golden Bridge and Rocks of Alcatraz

Was a Gray whale, the first I’d ever saw.

No need for more.

 

I am not sure whether my experience might encourage others to go whale watching. I had also never visited the USA but felt wary of the statistics and media messages on violence.  April 1999 was the time of the tragic shooting at Columbine School. As a teacher and in charge of our school library  we all felt very shocked and concerned about the loss of such young lives.

I am very glad I spent a week in San Francisco for Lew Epstein’s eightieth birthday. We were well loved by our American friends and we visited many places, near and far from San Francisco.  The Redwoods, Yosemite, Monterey Bay and of course the city itself. The whale watching was to be a highlight!

Post Script. We have planned another trip to the Azores, to Faiai where we hope to go out on a boat as there are many different kinds of whales off the deep sea bed surrounding the Azores. We will hope for a good day.

Dedicated to the too many young lives lost to violence and abuse. And to leave an ocean full of life for youngsters not only to read about but see and wonder. Travel in Peace. Gray Whales do.

OPHELIA   ( Hamlet)   Her garland of flowers and her deep sadness.

There’s fennel for you, and columbines.—There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me. We may call it “herb of grace” o’ Sundays.—Oh, you must wear your rue with a difference.
 GRAY WHALES

Gray whales can live up to 70 years. Barnacles attach easily to them as they swim slowly in nutrient rich oceans. The barnacles leave rings and thse give  individual markings to each whale. They migrate and can be seen along the Mexican and Californian coast at certain times.

Gulls and birds of the sea and shore

{ Larus} Heermann’s Gull, Ring billed gull, California gull, Western Gull, Laucous winged Gull,   and many varieties of tern, elegant, royal and least,  and from my poem on the biodiversity of birds, american  versions of plovers, sandpipers, curlews, whimbrel, dunlins, sanderlings, are but a few of sea bird variety on the Californian shores of the Pacific.

Link to beach guide for California

Thanks for reading and I do appreciate comments.

Pelican Puzzle poem. Donde Estamos? Where are We?

image
Willow and Gingko

Am now in a very different place where there is sea all around and halfway between the USA and Europe. We are on holiday for Trevor’s significant birthday. However, this poem was written a little while ago  and was inspired by a walk in a famous park. I love many of the prompts given by Dverse poets prompts This one was about the surreal in the ordinary. The climate talks were also going on at the same time. It all felt quite surreal particularly as I recognised the Spanish words of a small child. I also wanted to do this walk in response to the blog  A Wildflower’s Melody.A wildflower Melody I love the serendipity of blogging. Also check out some amazing poems and advice, examples and interesting folk writing poetry for the Dverse Poets bar. http://Dversepoets.com I can’t keep up with it all!

 

Donde Estamos?   Where are We?  or  Pelican Puzzle Poem

 

Donde estamos a child says on a bridge

Crossing with his father near the edge

Familiar sounds in unfamiliar places

Familiar faces from high mountain passes

 

Donde Estamos?

Where are we?

 

Diverse ducks on rippling waters

Wild grey geese fly into land

Wild and tame take turns to feed

Clipped wings that long to be freed.

image

 

Donde estamos?

Where are we?

 

 

 

 

Diverse trees some bare, some dressed,

With gilded leaves at some royal behest,

Weeping willow leaves green may last

Next to the far flung Gingko holding fast

 

Donde Estamos ?

Where are We?

 

Black fisher birds perched up on rocks

Herons looking down form weather cocks

Cottage house with surely, organic veggie plots

Fresh fish arrives in plastic pots.

 

Donde Eastamos?

Where are We?

image

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great African White in grey December Park

Whose wingspan could rival the albatross

Grey squirrel on a grey man’s long grey arm

The wild we tame with foods ever constant charm.

image

 

Donde Estamos ?

Where are We?

 

 

 

 

 

Wild eyed Pelicans look down the lake

Pink footed geese fly past their palace.

A dull sky with flights of fancy passes by

A skyline of roofs with power to make us cry.

 

Donde Estamos?

Where are We?

 

Overlooked by one all seeing Eye

Chopper birds also above us in the sky.

Surveillance city sees us all, weather indifferent

To human fair or peace for species in our care.

 

Donde estamos?

Where are We?

image

 

A small sized beak cries out in hope

By a puffed up pigeon on a post.

Ancient birds with strange design

Greet us with a knowing look

Open up capacious beak that must be filled.

Talks and more talks, but act we must

Who are we to turn our backs?

 

Who are we?

 

Where are We?

Donde Estamos?

 

image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will be busy celebrating Trevor’s birthday and then travelling back from another rather surreal place.  Let us know if you know anything about where these Pelicans are or hopefully just enjoy the poem. Thanks again to Dverse poets for all their prompts and inspiration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Journey. From one home to another through France, Basque Country, Extremadura to the Sierra Aracena, Andalucia.

With a long road trip ahead of us and the car laden with stuff to take, including all the wood carving tools given to me because of the sad closure of Heston Woodcarving Club, I was just a little bit anxious that our old car would make it. I was also sad to leave London, and all our family and friends but was also missing our little hidden valley in the South of Spain. Almost 2000km between us. I feel split between two worlds but am fortunate to have that choice.

Travelling through the green of France made me really think France could feed the world. So much agricultural land and such an industry with tractor factories all over the place too! Later I read that France was going to pass a law about waste food in supermarkets. Ironic and sad in a time of food banks for many.We had decided to go on roads without tolls and although a bit slower it was much more interesting and gave me more of an insight into being in France. Hopefully, it was also more fuel efficient and would save at least 100 euros in tolls.
I know Northern France quite well and am always amazed by its peacefulness as we used to take school trips to the World War 1 battlefield sites: Vimy Ridge and Beaumont Hamel, the Canadian sites are both historic and a reminder of a Europe torn and devastated by war, a hundred years ago. We passed to the south of some of these but did pass some graves still immaculately kept in small villages. These places are an important reminder of those who fought and of how now we need to continue to fight for a better world for humans and all species to live in. So many died so young and of a similar age to my 17 and 18 year old A Level students. So we travelled through minor roads near the Somme and even further back in time to Agincourt and finally came to the land of the rich. We stayed at Chateaudun, just south of Chartres. Here is supposed to be the first chateau to be found when coming from Paris to the Loire region, famous for all its chateaux along the river. Holiday homes for the rich. And then the revolution and the French love of Egalite, Fraternite,Liberte and all things French, like good food and wine. On the good food and keeping the French language French, there are some popular eating places such as Macdonalds and Buffalo grill which seem to be doing well as fast food chains, though along with Flunch, a cheap way to self service French dining. We enjoy finding Flunch and can easily even share a meal there!

By the small Loir in Northern France.
By the small Loir in Northern France.
Chateau by Loir, without an e.
Chateau by Loir, without an e.
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Tree lined road of planes near Dax in South West France.
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A not so narrow road but well used by the big trucks avoiding tolls.
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The only way to go in France, by bike!
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The only traffic jam on all the N roads but with a view of the Pyrenees, near Spanish and French border.

The journey through the Basque Country of Spain was beautiful and there are now some amazing roads but the Spanish do charge on these new super highways with major long tunnels through the mountains. The amount of road trucking transport is phenomenal. It is times like this that I do wonder how all this will have to change and hope that by reading Naomi Klein’s book ‘This Changes Everything’ a bit more I can get some insight. It seems to me from the book that there is too much control and investment in the fossil fuels industries which has slowed down the technologies we could all be changing to now. Will these be the giants like the dinosaurs bringing us and other species closer and closer to extinction. Or will it be me, one little ant with a lot of emissions. Could I have been driving a solar powered car? Well, certainly the sun shone most of the way this time!
We then stopped in Salamanca, always worthy of a return visit and always something new to see.mthis time it was the historic Paza Mayor,made all the more interesting by a political demonstration by the new found voice of local people. Ganemos in some way connected to Podemos, the fast growing alternative to the big two party system that has run the show for so long in Spain.

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Near Monfrague national park. Time to look out for vultures.
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Long roads through hot and dry Extremadura.
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The sandy track through the abandoned chestnut fields.
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Inside Navasola and down my magical track!
Wild gladioli outside the gate to Navasola
Wild gladioli outside the gate to Navasola

Finally home in our hidden green valley. And was it green. I had worried more about lack of but had been told it was often raining in April! I had to rejoined ice in the exuberance of the wild things growing or despair as my vegetable area was covered in all types of grasses and vetches.some time will need to be spent finding the beans and fruit bushes. Time will also have to be spent in looking at all the wild flowers. There are so many will keep me busy for months but suspect they will not last into the heat of late June.

The journey without tolls was from Dunkirk to Chateuadun to Dax. (with some help from the AA non toll maps.)Dax to Irun and then we chose the highways to Salamanca,mfinally paying a toll near Burgos of 27 euros. We have done this section without tolls but the new autoroute is quite spectacular.