Category Archives: travel

186. Firth of stone and fire – North Berwick, Scotland

streets-of-north-berwick-scotland-by-paradasos-flickrThe afternoon has flown me here, all across a summer sky of grey. The evening beckons now, and outside the window the narrow streets are empty, the shops all shut up for the night.

Scotland. June. Long hours of daylight reaching out ahead.

I stretch my legs along the main street, past red sandstone houses, cafés, bistros and grey tile roofs. It’s a dull old Monday, and the North Berwick weekend bustle, if there ever is one, is hidden far from sight.

The town runs out on me with just the links ahead, and so I try the steps down to the beach. The tide is low and the shore is softly rippled, quiet. No traffic noise. No planes. Just grey sky, grey water, and the lonesome cawing of a gull.
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183. Kenya 7: new light on a dark continent

malaria-dysentery-apathy-oxfam-poster-2008-by-roadsofstoneThis poster called as I walked from the station, reminding me that it’s time to wrap up my series on Kenya.

My visit last summer left me with a whole lot to say about the country, about Africa, and our attitudes to the continent and her people. I sat down to write, and the project found life of its own. Today I’ll outline some highlights, final thoughts and reflections.
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180. Mountains of food – la cuisine savoyarde

fresh-powder-flaine-france-april-2008-by-roadsofstone.jpg

I was in Haute-Savoie last week – part of the ancient kingdom of Savoy – that mountainous corner of France around Mont Blanc and south of the Swiss city of Geneva. The name Savoy comes from the latin sapaudia – fir forest – an origin still heard in the French word sapin (fir tree).

Long an independent duchy, the area was occupied by Napoleon’s troops from 1792-1815. After a period as part of Sardinia, Savoy was annexed by France in 1860.

en-avril-hiver-commence-flaine-france-by-roadsofstone

The region has strong associations with Piedmont in Italy, and with French-speaking Switzerland (Turin and Geneva are both much nearer than Paris). The local dialects reflect old mountain French with a smattering of Italian.

But the food doesn’t reflect Italy or France. Savoie is a stronghold of Alpine cuisine. Don’t expect delicate French dishes – this is the home of solidly calorific monster feasts to fuel any long day on the slopes.
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179. Kenya 6: Africa – how can we help?

dream-world-internet-kenya.jpg What can we do to help the people of Africa?

Should we visit, as tourists? Is it enlightenment, or voyeurism, when tour companies arrange sightseeing trips to the ghettoes of Nairobi?

The problems are so massive that it’s easy to admit defeat – to assume that if governments can’t sort the problems, then aid agencies and individuals don’t stand a chance.

I don’t share that view. There’s a lot we can do, and here are some suggestions.
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178. Full fathom five – on Elbow Beach, Bermuda

night-landing-in-bermuda-by-haywards-heath.jpg“Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground”
– The Tempest, Act 1, Sc.1

“Full fathom five thy father lies” – The Tempest, Act 1, Sc. 2

The sky is falling all around me as the winter afternoon is fading. Down, down we glide, towards the North Atlantic. Three thousand miles of unforgiving sea are all behind us and ahead lies just a pinprick of green holding out against the blue-grey vastness of the ocean.

The rain lashes against the windows as our wings bank on the approach, the landing lights looming nearer in the dusk. A rugged landfall, but now we’re safe.

Outside the airport and across the causeway, a deluge is raging in sheets across the road, the palm trees swaying wildly in the storm. The evening washes itself wet and windswept upon the shore. Continue reading

176. Ashtead Common 2 – a winter’s trail to spring

winter-dawn-epsom-downs-surrey-england-by-chilsta-flickr.jpgWinter drags in February. The lengthening evenings seem to pack a scary sharpness in their chill, and there’s an unexpected bleakness in these brightening days which makes me yearn for spring.

But it’s not the weather really. It’s my lack of patience for this place, which palls now with every passing week.

The soulless office above the shopping mall entombs me on shivering days like these. Days when inertia sucks the lifeblood of enthusiasm out from in me. Hours spent waiting for the gloom to lift and fall. Days when I don’t feel like running, and I wonder how I ever did.

epsom-crocus-by-osde-info-flickr.jpgThe crocuses in Epsom Park smile indulgently as I pass on my winter’s route towards the dry Chalk hills above the town. They remind me.
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174. The hidden history of Texas – on Buffalo Bayou, Houston, USA

texas-street-houston-usa-by-roadsofstone.jpgTexas.

So reads the street sign, and everything they say is true. The sky, the buildings, the cars, the winter weather – they all seem so much bigger here.

Downtown, early morning. A fading twilight was lifting above the Astrodome when I peered out through the curtains five minutes ago, and now it’s nearly daybreak.

The eastern horizon is promising cool and blue and cloudless – a perfect Texas dawn is calling. For now, Houston has a sleepy air, the metropolis still dappled and drowsy and awaiting the day.

If you want to know a city, just run through it streets, and look up and all around you. Breathe its atmosphere and history, and immerse your soul in the rush before your eyes.

Live a different life, for a few brief footsteps, and surrender your mind to the wanderings of your feet. Lose yourself.
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