Wowing us in travel: from Italy to Istanbul

Happy gelati eaters in San Gimignano 2000.

Happy gelati eaters in San Gimignano 2000.

Among my memory box collection is a piece from a long-ago Weekend Australian article. It was written long ago by Barry Oakley, an Australian writer and journalist who captured the absolute essence of travel with its mix of challenges, frustrations and joys. Inspired by that article I did fulfil one dream: to stand in the square at San Gimignano, eating a gelato, listening to the midday bells ring out, along with the unanticipated strains of harp music. It did feel a little like heaven on earth.

Mr Cassmob and I have been fortunate to travel to many places over the decades and while many give great pleasure, and very happy memories, “WOW!” moments don’t come along every day…those jaw-dropping scenes when your eyes pop and you draw in a huge breath.  It seems in the last couple of trips we’ve done particularly well in the WOW stakes…in regard to both scenery and animals.

The view of Sleeping Warrior from reception.

The view of Sleeping Warrior from reception.

In 2013 we visited our daughter in Kenya, Africa. One of the places we stayed was Sleeping Warrior Lodge near Lake Elementaita. As we walked into the reception area we were all stunned by the beauty of the scene before us. All we could do was constantly repeat “wow” “ that’s amazing”, something the staff told us was pretty much everyone’s reaction.

Sleeping Warrior caldera from the balcony of our cabin at dawn.

Sleeping Warrior caldera from the balcony of our cabin at dawn.

Not  an out-loud wow moment but absolutely awe-inspiring was watching the wildebeest make their annual migration crossing. The sheer determination held us in thrall, and silence, for the whole time of the crossing – about 20 minutes and estimated (by our guide) at 4000 animals.

View of the Acropolis from our hotel in Athens.

View of the Acropolis from our hotel in Athens.

This year we’d chosen an Athens hotel from Trip Advisor reviews (as usual) and so we knew it was supposed to have great views. Even so we were still astonished when we arrived at the restaurant for dinner. There before us was the Acropolis in all its glory, backlit by the setting sun. How amazing to eat a meal watching the shadows fall over this ancient site, the flag taken down and then the lights turned on. Spectacular!118 Istanbul sail in_edited-2

The finale of our trip was a cruise on the newly-refurbished Oceania ship, Insignia from Athens to Istanbul. I’m sure there are some ports world-wide which are arresting in their magnificence and I imagine Sydney would be one such if you hadn’t visited it before. Sailing into Istanbul was that type of experience…we were silenced (almost) by the city scape and scenery before us. It really was a huge WOW moment which set the scene for our experience of Istanbul over the subsequent days…we absolutely loved it!

Sailing into Istanbul on a summer's day is a WOW moment.

Sailing into Istanbul on a summer’s day is a WOW moment.

I’m hoping to revisit this blog more often in the coming weeks and share some of my photos from the tour just to whet your appetite for travel –and indulge myself with some reminiscences.

Shadow Shot Sunday: The shadows of slavery

Sunlight masks a sober sculpture

The cruel shadowed history of slavery

Men and women, wrapped in chainsslave sculpture

Trapped in dark cellars

Whipped to test endurance

Silence increasing their priceSlave whipping point

Shipped far away

A legacy of lost heritage

Pain, Courage, EnduranceSlave chambers

This is written and inspired by my friend Kristin and all her fellow African Americans whose ancestors suffered similar fates.

This memorial to the slaves is in Stone Town, Zanzibar. The site of the old whipping point is behind the altar of the Anglican Cathedral, and the former cellars under a nearby building.

This post is my contribution to this week’s Shadow Shot Sunday.

Shadow Shot Sunday

Christmas food, spices and Zanzibar

It’s that time of year when chefs and cooks around the world turn their minds to the Christmas cooking. Since Christmas cakes and Christmas puddings rely on the delicious spices originally brought back to Europe from Asia and Zanzibar, what better time to share some photos of the spices in their natural habitat in Zanzibar, once known as part of the Spice Islands.

You can compare the images with the spices listed in my Christmas cake recipe from my other blog.360 nutmeg and mace low

348 cardamom low

Cardamom

While holidaying in Zanzibar, and en route to the north-eastern beach at Ras Nungwi, we did a spice tour. It was really fun as well as informative. The guys made it really enjoyable by testing our knowledge of the plants from smell and taste, and along the way made us hats, necklaces, dilly bags, and glasses.

Cloves, not yet ripened.

Cloves, not yet ripened.

Peeling bark from the cinnamon tree.

Peeling bark from the cinnamon tree.

Do you recognise any of these plants, or do you use them in your Christmas cooking? Each and every one is in my Christmas cake recipe but the star is….

Green peppercorns are picked and dried before they ripen.

Green peppercorns are picked and dried before they ripen.

366 spice exchange low_edited-1Now where’s my Cointreau?

Mind you I find it somewhat ironic that all these spices, so integrally associated with Christmas, can be found on the largely Islamic island of Zanzibar.

The travellers in our Spice Farm accessories.

The travellers in our Spice Farm accessories.

Kathmandu Doorways

Inspired by last week’s post on Doorways of Travel I thought I’d add some of my old photos from a trip to Kathmandu in 1977.

Kathmandu monks 1977 edit

This one has always amused me – what were they looking at?

Kathmandu butchers edit

I can’t say I’d be enthused to use this butcher shop. Goat anyone?

Many feature doorways for the simple reason that the workspaces are so tiny and people work squashed up at all sorts of skills. Our children, then aged six and four, were with us on the trip so they had some amazing experiences. We were staying with friends and former work colleagues so we were fortunate to have our own built-in tour guides.Kathmandu sari beading copy

Silver or tin smiths working on jewellery etc.

Silver or tin smiths working on jewellery etc.

Some sort of celebration or religious event -I wouldn't take a photo like this these days.

Some sort of celebration or religious event -I wouldn’t take a photo like this these days.

This image always makes me feel depressed even though street vendors are common throughout Asia.

This image always makes me feel depressed even though street vendors are common throughout Asia.

It’s a shame these photos are so colour-damaged but that’s one of the hazards of tropical living.

Sepia Saturday: The Doorways of Travel

This week’s Sepia Saturday 203 features doorways, especially with people standing in them.

I haven’t trawled my personal/family photos for a suitable one and chose instead to focus on some recent travel photos which “fit the bill”. All were taken in Zanzibar, famous for its amazingly carved doors.

Many Zanzibar doors have small doors built within the larger door.

Many Zanzibar doors have small doors built within the larger door.

And then there's the colonial influence in the attire of this hotel's doorman.

And then there’s the colonial influence in the attire of this hotel’s doorman.

225 Stone Town doorway

I love a semi-closed doorway -always makes me wonder what's behind it.

I love a semi-closed doorway -always makes me wonder what’s behind it.

Do go and check out what the other Sepians have written for Sepia Saturday 203

Shadow Shot Sunday: Shadows of Stone Town

Shadow Shot SundayThe restaurant and bar of our Stone Town hotel was on the roof terrace with a wonderful view over the harbour: just perfect for a pre-dinner drink as the sun set. The building profiled here is the House of Wonders, formerly a sultan’s palace. Along the waterfront, near the Forodhani Gardens, young boys were taking running leaps and diving into the water.203 View from Mashariki edit

207 shadows Stonetown edit
Why not skip over to see what others have posted for Shadow Shot Sunday this week.

Sepia Saturday 202: Sandcastles, coats and spots

Sepia Saturday 202Sepia Saturday’s image for Week 202 focuses on a couple at the beach with a strange looking toy.Rach at beach The Hague

The family image that came to mind was one we took on a trip to Europe in 1977. We had taken the children to the beach for an outing as we so often did at home. Although it was around Easter and still quite chilly it did seem strange to see everyone on the beach in their boots and coats, whereas we were used to the kids being in singlets and knickers.

Louisa and Rach sandcastles The Hague

As always the girls just picked up their usual habit of building sand castles which attracted the attention of this spotty Dalmatian.

If my memory serves correctly, we were only at the beach because we had to spend additional days in the Netherlands because my husband’s passport etc etc had been stolen on an Amsterdam tram late on the Friday evening. On the Monday we had to go to the Australian embassy in The Hague to get a new passport issued, then back to Amsterdam to reissue our Amex travellers cheques. On the way into the embassy daughter #1 (in the red jumper) got her finger stuck in the hinges of the big glass door. One of those situations where no matter what strategy you employed there was pain, and yelling, involved.

Phase 2 of the process in the UK, with visas and more travellers cheques of a different brand, didn’t go nearly so smoothly. We spent so much time shuttling between the Nepalese embassy, the PNG consultate and the bank that we had a much more limited opportunity to sightsee around London. Lessons of the story: make sure one of each of you has their own passport and money (tick) and try never to have your passport stolen!

In my beautiful balloon

Following on from last week’s post of our balloon flight in Kenya, here were just some of the animals we saw.

Drifting peacefully.

Drifting peacefully. That’s our breakfast being set up under the tree.

No great “Out of Africa” moments with herds of creatures below us, rather a defensive elephant mother, a pair of rhino and a startled young giraffe.

645 elephants balloon flight

The great thing about two balloons being in flight is that you can get one in your photos. The two rhino had gone into defensive mode while the ostrich appeared indifferent.

The great thing about two balloons being in flight is that you can get one in your photos. The two rhino had gone into defensive mode while the ostrich appeared indifferent.

The rhino weren’t a common sighting in the Mara but our guide could identify where they’d been in the photo, and with some assiduous searching we were able to find them the next day. Believe it or not, one of them was only a baby.

WHAT is THAT?!

WHAT is THAT?!

656 giraffe Im out of here

I’m out of here!

And after all that we got an exciting (read bumpy) and hilarious landing and a fabulous breakfast in the bush with eggs ordered as desired from the chef. We had great chats with the other people round the table over breakfast. It was a tough life on safari.

671 breakfast in the bush

676 breakfast to order

Shadow Shot Sunday: Up, up and away

It’s Shadow Shot Sunday so why not pop over and see what others have written and photographed.

Shadow Shot Sunday

While we were in Kenya we woke up one early to do a hot air balloon flight – another first for me. I don’t like heights, or more specifically edges, so I wasn’t sure how I’d go but I loved it!! Of course we were floating so low we could almost have jumped out, except for those voracious and carnivorous critters.

567 balloonist and light

571 Balloon filling low

Blurry trees in the pre-dawn morning light. You can see how low you can go.

Blurry trees in the pre-dawn morning light. You can see how low you can go.

On the Road: Towards the Horizon

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge theme, Horizons, came to my attention courtesy of fellow blogger Debbie of Travel with Intent.

Go west towards the horizon.

Go west towards the horizon.

Australia’s outback spaces have such vast skies and distant horizons, how could I possibly resist the challenge. So here is my offering, taken a couple of years ago en route from Darwin to Brisbane. This image captures the road west of Wallumbilla in Queensland. The X-marks-the-spot contrails were of course just one of those serendipitous moments. I love the sight of roads disappearing into the distance, leading you towards new places and journeys.