Ha Long Bay – Vietnam

 

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Ha Long Bay is situated on the north east coast of Vietnam, a ride of about 160 kms from Hanoi. It is an area of about 1500 square kilometres comprising some 2000 islets and Karsts, which has been designated a UNESCO Heritage Site. Ha Long Bay means the bay of descending dragons. It has its own micro ecology and bio diversity and a huge variety of islets.

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You can access the bay from a number of places but the most obvious are Halong town and Bai Chai a small town about 15 minutes away. Travel around the islands is by boat, either old junks which cruise slowly around and on which you can stay overnight or by smaller boats on day trips. One of the delights of this trip is the Vietnamese food that is made locally especially the sea food. On the boats you can order food and have a great meal as you cruise around. The nice thing is that you can order so you get something special.

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There are lots of people selling tours to Ha Long in Hanoi and the local area, many acting only as agents and selling tickets and those tickets can have various prices for the same tour or trip, so it is important to look around. The price differences can be big. For myself I negotiated the various elements of the visit independently so got amazing deals on transport boats and food, but tat is easier if you are a solo traveller than if in a group. Also I stayed in the town of Bai Chai rather than Halong itself , although very close by and that town is very good value. It is being developed for the mass market, so as with many places in Vietnam it is going to change quickly.

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The islets Karsts and the seas around them are a visual delight, something quite unique, but 2000 islets is a lot so its good to be selective and visit the ones you want. Each has a name, the elephant, chicken, he and she, etc so you can be specific. There are many caves and grottos on the islets, some can only be visited at low tide and others any time so find out about those. Some, unfortunately in my view, have lighting that can give them a slightly Disneyworld feel, but they are amazing for all that.

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Halong is a joy, and an indispensible part of any tour of the variety and wonders of North East Vietnam.

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The Pirogovo Open Air Museum Kiev

 

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About 12 kms south of Kiev Ukraine lies the village of Pirogovo which contains the Pirogovo Museum of Folk Architecture and Life. It is a 370 acre open air museum showing the cultural history of Ukraine. The site contains folk architecture brought from all parts of Ukraine and reassembled there.

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The setting is rural as is the display, ancient buildings, a church that dates back to 1742, windmills, old houses, art and handicrafts. On festival days in Ukraine there are displays at the site which are well worth seeing.

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There are records of habitation at the sight since the 1600s and its setting is ideal for an exhibit like this. Rolling country away from the city although close enough to easily reach it. In summer it is beautiful with wild flowers walks, streams, horses, all redolent of the times gone by.

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It is an official state museum although the setting is far from the traditional museum building environment. It’s a rally great day out in the country with a combination of rural life, fascinating buildings and real history as it was lived.

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London – Kew Gardens

 

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Kew Gardens, also known as The Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, is set in 300 acres on the southwest edge of London. It is an area of London replete with history of British Kings, from Richmond Palace, the home of King Henry V11th through Tudor times to the reign of George 111 who owned what is now Kew Palace, as a nursery for his children. It is one of the most visited places in London but its big and the ticketing systems efficient so its an easy visit.

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There was a Palace at Kew from the early 16th century but the Palace that you see now dates back to late 18th century and is a microcosm of 18th and 19th century life including the Royal kitchens that have not been touched since 1818.

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The gardens are beautifully landscaped with large open areas filled with trees shrubs flowers and endless walks. The river Thames runs through the gardens and you can take time to walk its banks.

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Inside the gardens is the Great Pagoda build in 1762 and the Japanese gateway, and 4/5ths replica of the entrance to a Japanese temple. There are a number of other amazing buildings including the Palm House in which there is a walkway high up enabling you to look down on the trees and the Orangery.

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As well as being incredible gardens, Kew is a serious research establishment containing the world’s largest collection of living plants and a huge seed bank, there for conservation purposes as well as research in conjunction with over 80 international organisations. It also has the largest herbarium in the world.

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In the park itself there is a treetop walkway and endless places to sit talk relax picnic, eat, and just be enclosed by nature close to the centre of one of the largest cities in the world. Definitely a place for a day out if you are in London and you want to get away from the crowds noise and stresses of big city life

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Travelling – Malawi

 

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Malawi sits at the southern end of the rift valley, its lake that runs the length of the country, 580 kms in length, its prime feature. It’s a poor country, in 2015 the poorest in the world and to give you an idea of what that means for a country of 16m people, the per capita GDP of the states in 2015 was $51000.00, that of the UK $41000.00 and that of Malawi a mere $494.00. That is poor. Chances are the computers we use cost more than that.

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It is a landlocked country with few raw materials in exploitable quantities, its main export being tobacco, and the huge bulk of that economy is in agriculture. The country’s existence is an accident of history, a result of the European imperial growth of the 19th century, its culture unique but influenced by Zambia, Mozambique an Tanzania which surround it. It has only ever been poor.

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Having listed all that gloom, it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful countries in Africa. The grasslands of the 2000ft Nyika plateau with its wildlife and unique flora, to the valleys and mountians of Zomba and Mulanje, and the lake itself, the centrepiece, long, freshwater and more than 1000 species of fish. It’s a place where a safari is really wild and very exciting.

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Malawi calls itself the “warm heart of Africa” and it is. Its people are renowned for their friendliness, tolerance, and acceptance. Despite all the tribulations the country has suffered in its history, politics, floods, HIV, its people are proud and feel in themselves a uniqueness which makes the country special. Poverty and pride are not mutually excusive. Anyone who really wants to see, feel, hear and experience sub Saharan Africa at its most beautiful and most African, loves Malawi.

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I need to declare in interest here in that I was born there, my parents both working there, that country and indeed Africa are in my blood as they say. Life was not comfortable, all water had to be boiled before drinking, occasional electricity in the early days, malaria and the health risks of the tropics, but the sense of freedom and space and the desire to learn were bred for me there. The beauty of nature and the people teaching so much. The contrasts for mw in Europe were enormous, I found the sight of people locking their doors to go out very, very weird indeed. The last time I visited I arrived at Lilongwe airport, the immigration officer looked at my passport, saw that I was born in Zomba Malawi, smiled, and said “Welcome Home”! It was so good to be back.

Noordhoek Beach – Cape Town

 

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I have been to many beaches in many countries, but the one that stands out most, my favourite of all, is Noordhoek Beach In Cape Town. The word Noorhoek means literally North Corner. It sits on the edge of the city, a 20 minute beautiful drive from the centre along the cliff road called Chapman’s Peak. noordhoek_beachThe beach is 8 kms long bounded at one end by the cliffs of Chapman’s Peak and at the other end by the Hamlet of Kommetjie with its famous lighthouse. It faces the Atlantic Ocean, being on the west side of the Peninsular and the back of the beach is made up of protected wetlands so that this is not a beach with bars and clubs and crowds, it is just the beach.

img_2584It is a beach for surfers and kite surfers and swimmers, but best of all it’s a beach that is so big, that no matter how many people come you can enjoy the feeling of a beach to yourself. You want to escape the pressures of city life then there is nothing like walking in the early morning sun here, to commune with nature, be on a white sanded blue watered beach surrounded by nothing but nature itself, perfect to take you out of yourself and get some perspective on life. img_2491-1The water is not warm since the beach is brushed by the Benguela current that rises on that side of the peninsula, which includes sub Antarctic water that surfaces there due to prevailing winds, but in summer its warm enough. The beach has its very own shipwreck at one end, a ship than sank when driven aground by storms, a reminder of how this tranquil place can erupt when huge storms come

img_2500It’s a perfect place to relax, swim, think, walk, take time, have a picnic, and generally escape. The evenings bring sunsets that on a clear day are intense and can be watched until the last edge of the sun disappears below the horizon. In October the Southern Right whale coms to this part of the world with its young and the sunset can be made even more special by the sight of these beautiful creatures in the water, not far off shore, with their young learning to breach. img_3325

Magical

 

 

Water Water Everywhere and Not a drop to drink

 

 

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My title, from the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, talks of an ocean of salt water that surrounds his boat, but despite the forbidding description there is something that is fascinating about the image of being surrounded water itself, regardless of whether you can drink it or not. Even if they had loads of drinking water the image would still be powerful

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Humans have a true fascination with water. There are the obvious things that we need to drink it to survive, that our bodies are, to a large extent, made of water, that we wash with it, swim in it for relaxation and many will tell you its because that’s where humans came from in the first place. But that is all the practicalities of water.

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Travellers are no different, when we travel and explore we go and look for water. Millions of us go to the sea or the ocean to rest, we love to see waterfalls, we row on lakes or sail on the sea or take a barge down a canal, or even walk by the river. We sit and contemplate by a gurgling stream, we listen to the sounds of waves, we are in awe of the sheer power of water in waves or Tsunamis , water has a hold on us. We admire huge tracts of water and marvel at the place of water in religions we come across. We take delight in describing a mountain stream with the cool clear water of melted snow, and complain of polluted water, not just because we cant drink it or use it but because you just should not treat water in that fashion.

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If you travel to a country with a coast then at some stage you will visit that coast. if you are in a landlocked country we seek out rivers, streams, lakes, waterfalls even a pond in a park. Its as if we need a little fix of the sights and sounds of water to make our journey complete. We even go on cruises, sitting atop that very undrinkable water the poet wrote of as we feel at peace with the world while we sail on the water.

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We might travel to be near water, or alternatively visit some nondescript seaside town for no other reason than to have stood beside the sea and be able to say we saw this this or that sea or ocean. Somehow a journey without the visit to some water is not complete.

 

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The Life Inside Flowers

 

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No matter where you travel in the world there are flowers. Their colours textures brilliance and contrasts are different but nature delivers flowers everywhere. They grow on trees, bushes, from the ground and even in the sea but they are ever present and add to the memories of a place and its flavour.

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What has always fascinated me is what happens inside the flower, at its root, where nature creates the flower, because inside there is a whole world of activity that goes on in the life cycle of the life of a flower, and some of the most beautiful parts of a flower are those that we don’t see close up. They add to the picture but they are not completely visible

 

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That inner world has perfect shapes, bugs and microbes, contrasts of colours and shades which together create the perfection of a flower. Its as if you can see the mechanics, the motor, the engine room the beating heart of the creation.

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The varieties in different places in the world are extraordinary and even flowers we see every day and perhaps take for granted, have that hidden life that is so fascinating.

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If you see a beautiful flower that inspires you its worth taking a look really close up and see what is at home and what is happening inside. Flowers are conditioned by their environment but it does not matter if you look in a garden or a park or the other side of the world, nature is at work.

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