Showing posts from 2017

Watching the Floating Lanterns in Hoi An, Vietnam

The paper lantern floated down the river, a soft light against the darkness. Dozens of others, red and yellow and blue, orange, purple and every combination of colour imaginable drifted nearby, dancing along the current. In the old part of Hoi An, coloured lanterns adorn every house, and at night a glow fills the town with the softness of candle light.

Although I could see no clouds, lightening flashed across the sky, and a distant rumble sounded. The humidity rose even higher. The wet season is an interesting time to visit Vietnam, where it be a coastal town like Hoi An, or travelling the Mekong. From the bridge, I stood and watched the lanterns as they floated down river. They slowly drifted out of sight, and I wondered how far they went and where they would finally sink, or maybe come ashore.

On the other side of the river are the night markets. Lanterns, of course, are for sale, plus everything a tourist needs: cards, hair-clips, pearls, clothes, memorabilia from the war. Whole stalls…

The Marble Quarries of Carrara

Today I discovered the marble quarries of Carrara, in Tuscany. I'm not too far from Florence, yet feel a world away.

All week I have been sweltering in +30 C temperatures, but the up here in the mountains the air is cool. A mist has rolled in over the mountain tops, and droplets of water sweep by in the breeze.
I stand in awe at the sheer size of these blocks. The entire mountains are made from marble, and have been mined since antiquity. Think Roman Forum, then Michelangelo's David. Both made from marble from this quarry.

The morning passes, and it is time for coffee in Carrara. Later I will visit the Arts Academy, and wander past the Duomo where art students are busy with hammer and chisel. The whole town, it seems, is made of marble.

A Room With A View

I'm sipping an espresso, overlooking the Central Market in Florence. Even from the third floor I can smell the leather.
I've Always Been partial to  views  wherever I stay. It does not have to be a grand sweeping views; looking over rooftops can be just as fascinating. A view into the world and life around me. In Venice , I gazed across a courtyard into a kitchen, where grandma spent all day cooking (The aromas were amazing). Of an evening, her kitchens were filled with people enjoying her food.

Of course, in Florence how can I not be inspired by all every view?

It's the middle of the afternoon, still around 31C, and the city is just waking up from nap. Undeterred, tourists fill the markets below. They have yet to learn the lessons of surviving a trip to Florence. From the surrounding trattorias laughed the tantalizing smells of garlic. It's too hot to be hungry, but I'm suddenly craving pasta.

The other window in this kitchen overlooks a central courtyard - and,…

Sailing the Danube

I am drifting along somewhere between Budapest and Vienna. Although only mid-morning, the water lapping against the boat is lulling me to sleep. We float on birdsong, and in the distance I can hear a dog barking.

The Danube is indeed a mighty river. At the moment it is more a muddy brown than blue; although I have had nothing but sunshine, it has been raining in Germany and the waters are sweeping down towards the Black Sea. Last night the river rose some 2 metres. Flood plains stretch to either side, and already the river nears the tree-line; it would not take much more for the river to sweep over the banks and flood the plains.

After passing Bratislava in Slovakia, the forests return. For a while there are fields of canola, golden yellow against the green. Wind turbines fill another stretch, turning lazily in the breeze, birds darting through the blades. Hawks and buzzards hover over freshly ploughed fields.

Now the boat has reached Austria, and a large stretch of forest runs along…

Coffee Five Ways

i) The God Shot

In coffee parlance, the God Shot refers to the perfect espresso. Mine was in Naples (though a few others in Italy are very close rivals). Naples was an amazing discovery. Even in the height of summer the only crowds were outside the gelateria and two pizzerias competing to be the best in the city. En route to the Archaeological Museum (not to be missed) we sought out The Bar Mexico. A strange name for a cafe in Naples, but well worth a visit. The Bar Mexico is an unassuming place near the Piazza Dante. Inside was immaculate, with both the bar and the machines gleaming. Two men in white suits stood behind the bar. One poured us a glass of sparkling mineral water; it was on tap, like beer in a pub. The other made the espresso: strong, flavoursome, with a rich crema. The God Shot, and for only 1Euro.

The Dog of Bruges

One of my favourite memories of Bruges was the Dog of Bruges. He has since passed away, but I will always remember him watching the tourists barges as they drifted past his window.

Like Venice, the canals of Bruges make it impossible to walk in a straight line; I found it simplest to follow a canal. The Groenerei (or Green Canal) is one of the old town’s major waterways, and was only two bridges away from my hotel. As I walked along I was surprised to see a golden retriever pawing at a window of the Côté Canal Hotel.

Unseen hands opened the window and spread out a quilt, and the dog made himself quite comfortable lying across the windowsill, soaking up the sun as he watched the world go by.

Watching the Dawn at Angkor Wat

The strangest part was walking in the dark, using the torches on our phone to light the way. All I could hear were our footsteps, and the noises of the jungle – plus the occasional swearing as someone tripped in the dark           I’d woken before dawn, and left my hotel in Siam Reap before the sun rose. Most tourists reach Angkor Wat via the front entrance, where a grand causeway stretches over a wide moat. Instead, my guide led me in from the east, where thick tree roots stretched across our path. Suddenly the jungle cleared and the temple rose before me: a black shadow against a dark blue sky, the grandeur of a world long gone.

          As Homer once wrote about another vanished world, Dawn comes early, with rosy fingers. As she does so Angkor Wat rose from the darkness. Hundreds of people stood around me, yet in the darkness I stood alone, watching the temple emerge along with the past. My guide had me to the edge of an ancient library pool, where the reflection of the…