Moscow Choices.

 

 

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Moscow is a multi trip city, its big, steeped in history, and lots going on, but there are some places that warrant a definite visit.

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The Tretyakov Gallery, which is housed in a fascinating building, is a State gallery that houses some 130000 Russian paintings. It dates back to the 19th century although the main building that houses it is early 20th century. The history of Russian painting is there and it is a gallery designed in a way that you can walk and look without other people imposing.

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Red Square is well known to all, as is the façade of the Kremlin in Red Square, but a visit inside the Kremlin is a discovery of a varied and fascinating world of architecture and churches and gardens. It is a structure that conjures dark and forbidding images in our minds but those are wrong images. The forbidding façade of the Kremlin doesn’t do justice to what is inside.

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Outside the kremlin can be found the Tomb if the Unknown Soldier. Many cities have such memorials but what is unique about this one is sadly the numbers of soldiers it commemorates who died in Second World War nearly 10000000. That is a number hard to get ones head round and far more than any other nation that fought in the war, it’s the equivalent of roughly the entire population of greater London.

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That sad statistic takes me on to the final place in this piece the Museum of The Great Patriotic War. Being interested in history I have seen war museums in various countries but this one is the most inspiring I think. The museum is set in Victory Park and the museum itself is 14000 sq. metres of exhibition which extraordinary fascinating exhibits and it is very a very moving, experience especially when you come onto another terrible statistic, that over twenty million civilians and soldiers died. It teaches you to understand just how much that terrible period is part of the life around you and inside its people.

 

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Moscow is a big place in a huge country, but these ideas will give some sense of it today and historically.

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Cape Town

 

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In his records of his circumnavigation of the world, Sir Francis Drake described the Cape of Good Hope, where Cape Town rests, as the “fairest cape in the entire circumference of the world”. It is also known as the Cape of Storms so named by the Portuguese explorer Bartolommeo Dias in the 15th Century and was later referred to as The Cape of Good Hope because it was the point at which the sea route to the East opened up. It is part of the Cape of Good Hope national park. Cape Town was originally a supply station for ships travelling from Europe to the East and for this reason was also know as the Tavern of the Seas.

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Today Cape Town is a successful cosmopolitan city; it is the largest by population and the home of South Africa’s Parliament. It has a Mediterranean climate of long warm dry summers and damp cool winters. It has become a major tourist destination as well as a vibrant business centre and a home for some 3m people of various cultures. The city has a wonderful combination of great physical beauty, as well as a lifestyle that is relaxed welcoming and very varied. The streets are varied from traditional zones to the small houses and streets of the Bo Kaap.

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The most famous place in Cape Town is Table Mountain, one of the new7 wonders of the natural world. The city sits in a bowl beneath the mountain that towers over it and you are conscious of it wherever you look. The prevailing winds from the south east mean that the normal city pollutions are blown away and not only is the air cleaner than most cities the quality of the light brings everything around you into the sharpest focus the colours deep and intense.

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Cape Town in famous for its beaches, white sand, blue water, sun and great variety. If you like beaches with people bars and restaurants they are there, but if you like big beaches with few people on them just a few kms brings you to long beaches virtually deserted.

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One of Cape Town’s prides is in its food, of every variety. Seafood fresh from the ocean and the variety of foods representing the different African, Asian and European cultures that make up the city. Like all cities there are two worlds, the one that everyone reads about and the one that locals know so if you know someone that’s the best way to know the city. The food ranges from fine dining to roadside cafes all of which have something to offer.

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The hub of the city for most newcomers starts with the waterfront development at the harbour from where you can visit Robben Island and where you can shop eat and relax to your heart’s content. It’s easy to get stuck there since the centre has everything, but to do so is to miss the other delights.

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In spring, September/October time, a visit to the national park to see the acres of wild flowers is an experience, huge fields of natural varied species. The Cape national part is one of the largest micro ecologies in the world. October is also the time for the annual visit of Southern Right whales who come to the warmer waters of the cape with their young, and as you drive down the coast its special to stop and watch these creatures in the water. The Cape is also home to the Great White shark a protected species in South Africa and the cape is one of the largest breeding grounds in the world for these very formidable creatures. Try cage diving to see the sharks a memorable experience.

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From Cape Town the next destination going south is Antarctica, so its at the very tip of Africa, but distance is relative nowadays and it’s a must see place.

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Travelling North or South

 

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The world has traditionally been divided between north and south, not just because it is split by the equator, but also because the geography, history, culture, politics, climate and way of life of each part has been seen to be different. Sometimes that division is as simple as saying the north is cold and the south is hot. Sometimes it is more complex, but within this tradition is also the understanding that the North is richer, better educated and more prosperous than the south, and therefore more ordered and safer.

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If you accept the equator as being that dividing line, and of course that is arbitrary, traditionally you could look at the map o the world at the countries in it and see clearly that the problems of the world were in the south, the wars the poverty, the danger, and the north was the safe place to travel. But today if you look at the same map with the same divide, the story is different. Increasingly the problems of the world are found in the north

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The north is still richer and more ordered but undoubtedly wars and the fear of danger are by increasingly in the north. Is that simply an accident of history, or is it a function of the south actually becoming safer and the north more dangerous. There is no one reason but the facts speak for themselves and so should travellers be looking more to the south of the world for their destinations?

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Well it is still vey poor and it is harder to get around and you can get stranded, but at the same time the south has got its act together as far as travellers are concerned. Countries understand that not all travellers are the same so cater for the whole range from luxury to backpacker, they understand their earning power from travellers, and so their attitudes are different. No longer is the traveller the interloper but now the traveller is the welcome guest whose motives are simply to understand and to enjoy.

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There is always the traveller who decries the increases in numbers to destinations, since those travellers are looking for the raw flavour of the unexplored, but for most of us the opportunity to explore the verdant exciting and fascinating south of the world is only just beginning

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Wildlife in The Western Cape South Africa

 

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Historically, before European settlers came to the Cape of South Africa, there was abundant wildlife throughout the area, alongside the Khoisan peoples who were hunters and gatherers, and who populated the Cape. When the settlers came, especially the British with their traditions of hunting, much of the wildlife disappeared as a result of hunting. To read accounts of those days and the numbers of animals killed in any one hunt, which would be numbered in hundreds, it is not surprising there was none left.

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Now wildlife animals including the big 5 of Lion Leopard, Elephant Buffalo and Rhino, have retuned to the Cape, brought back there in extensive reserves where breeding programmes abound and the animals roam free. Their threat now is no longer from hunters but from poachers particularly of the rhinos.

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The safari has also returned to the Cape at a number of privately owned game parks like Aquila, Sanbona, Gondwana and Inverdoorn,and others to suit all pockets. All are driving distance from Cape Town and some suit for a day trip, others you can stay and enjoy a more extensive experience; there is a cheetah refuge in the Cape where Cheetahs are rescued and bred.

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An added attraction on some farms is the existence of rock panting from the Khoisan some 100s of years old because, although there are very few of their descendants in the Cape, most Khoisan being found to the North, their heritage and culture are there.

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Seeing these beautiful creatures in the stillness of a picture enables us to see what they are and how they are made, but the picture can never do real justice to the power of these creatures, their places in their environment and the extraordinary variety of nature.

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Everyone has their favourite animal for their own reasons, but the experience of seeing them together is a special one. Its easy to forget that these are wild animals and the wild does not leave them because they are in game parks, but their coexistence with humankind is a positive for us all. We have to look after them.

 

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The Crimean Peninsula

 

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There are times when you are on the coast of the Crimean peninsula, or Crimea, when you get the feeling that you are in the South of France, in Provence, before it became famous and developed and expensive There is that familiar mix of a rocky coast the scents of pine tress, the warm waters and beaches, good wine good food and sun! But it’s a lot cheaper that is certain!

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A good place to stay is in the city of Simferopol, the main city of Crimea, which, whilst not being exactly in the centre is very well placed to get around and see the south coast and the mountains. There are hotels but a good plan is to rent an apartment and a driver and get around the peninsula. A driver and a car are not expensive and really convenient.There is an interesting park dedicated to metal workers with statues they have created, and when you get thirsty try the local Kvas, a drink made from fermented bread.

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Crimea is famous for its wines and they are really good. There are many beaches and small ports. Balaklava is a good place to go hire a boat spend the day at sea going around the coast, swim off the boat, catch fish, find a beach, make a fire, cook the fish, drink the wine and have a great day. Or sit at night on the beach with a group and watch the shooting stars and the sky lanterns that people send up

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The history of the Crimea is a vivid and warlike, one, which makes for a lot of sites for historians or those interested. The Crimean war, the naval bases of Sevastopol and Balaclava and the history of the second world war. Then the famous Swallows Nest on the South Coast. Of course also Yalta, a beautiful town in addition to its historic significance, and see the palaces dating back to the days of the Tsars.

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The scenery of the Crimea is not just beaches but mountains too and a great outing is to take the 3.5km cable car up Ai-Petri, which, whilst not being the highest mountain has amazing Vistas down the South East coast and at the top there are great hikes, and exploring.

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Its hard to get to Crimea these days since the Russian takeover but if you want a Riviera experience without the crowds and cost, a great place to go filled with welcoming and interesting people.

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Cultural Contrasts.

 

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It is a statement of the obvious but of you travel then outside your own land, your own place and way of doing things you will travel to another culture. It is part of the nature and experience of travelling. It is one reason why we go in the first place. But when we do and we find this other culture and we enter it how do we treat it? Do we accept the culture or what it is, do we shrink from it, do we try to impose out own culture on that which we find, do we adapt to it, or do we reject it? Of course we go with an open mind, but then a new culture can attack our senses and confuse us. And when we come with our own culture and enter another one, what happens to ours, have we left it behind?

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In Asia some of the most beautiful monuments and sights are Buddhist. An ancient religion still very prominent, revered and practiced by the people who live there. We want to see these buildings, temples, icons, and so we do. Some like Angkor Wat are historical, empty relics, large stone constructions that give us an image both of something extraordinary but also an image of a bygone era. Some on the other hand are alive and part of the everyday lives of the communities around them.

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Enter a Buddhist temple filled with people having removed our shoes and watch what people do. The dress code is sometimes serious and perhaps it irritate us that we are not appropriately dressed. So do we ask ourselves why on earth do they have these rules, or do we accept this as just part of the culture and comply? Sometimes we stand to one side quietly, trying to be unobtrusive so that we don’t interfere in what is happening. Or maybe we deicide we want to be a part of it, we might buy some incense sticks or a piece of gold leaf for the Buddha, or sit and meditate.

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Unless it is our own religion we are always outsiders but accepted as such by the people at the temple. We may, discreetly, take a photo, or ask a question and we are careful not to impose either ourselves or what we think and how we act. Having sampled, we wander outside to be met by the sight of a monk standing at a souvenir stand sipping from a can of Coke through a straw. It’s a jolt, we don’t expect it, and it’s amusing but why not? There is our culture and his culture coming together and neither one is the less for it.

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In times gone by cultures rose and fell on war, attrition and the supremacy of one over the other, now perhaps they start to blend and we can hope that the best of both is what the traveller carries home.

A Trip on Bangkok’s Waterways

 

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Like all great cities of the world Bangkok has a river, the Chao Phraya, which flows through Bangkok and on into the Gulf of Thailand. Cities often begin their existence where there is water not just for living but for transport too and Bangkok is no exception. Off the Chao Phraya flow innumerable canals and small tributaries known as Klongs. Many of the klongs have now been filled since they were not exactly healthy, but there are sufficient left to give you a great alternative look at Bangkok, at what became know as the Venice of the East although that name might not quite be valid today.

 

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Travelling on water sets you slightly apart from the world that borders the water, and in Bangkok that helps you to see the city without the danger of being run over! The river is wide, busy and carries you through the heart of Bangkok, through the history of the city combined with a view of the modern metropolis of office blocks and hotels. And once toy have done that divert into the networks of canals that subdivide, criss cross and are a labyrinth. There is every kind of boat including some that seem to be driven by outboard engines taken from large lorries.

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Bangkok is famous for its floating market on the canals which is often crowded being a favoured tourist destination but away from the you find sellers on small boats floating slowly down the canals in search of business. ~The sellers are often gentle faced ladies earning a crust, but they drive a hard bargain and are very persistent. They will sell you a drink a souvenir and if they don’t have what you ask you they will persuade you to spend your money on something else, or at least try to.

 

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Where there are rivers people live, and the canals are lined with old houses leaning over the banks of the canals jammed together, constructed haphazardly and remaining there for generations. Some even collapse into the canals and lie there a forlorn reminder of previous inhabitants. Wander in amongst those houses and you find networks of alleys and small streets and walk past people washing and cooking I the street, or plying their trade selling or making small things.

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The canals are in all the various parts of the city, the water grey, turgid and not smelling of roses, but the life that is around them goes on as it has for generations. It is not difficult to walk a short distance from all the symbols of the modern Bangkok and find the canals and people living there, hidden away , seemingly separated from modern Bangkok but still actively part of it.

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The canals are a fascinating world of seeming tranquillity in the heat and noise of Bangkok, the houses and buildings look forgotten but they are not, and aside from the Bangkok of condos and blocks of flats its another world, another Bangkok to see.

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Phnom Penh -The Royal Palace

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Phnom Penh sits astride the great Mekong River, a city with a long history of greatness, war, famine, poverty, genocide and re-emergence. The city reflects its history in its daily life with broad streets lined with trees from the French colonial era, to modern developments of office blocks and condominiums, to tight narrow old streets lined with small shops and roadside traders selling food and souvenirs, and huge covered markets with stalls selling food clothing and everything imaginable. The roads hum with gridlocked traffic and the driving attitude that is the tradition in Asia, where every small inch of road is occupied, and drivers manoeuvre so close to one another that one wonders how and why the scooter riders survive. It’s a mystery but the driving is a culture that all observe and no one complains of.

 

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The city is busy energised and at times frantic, but it all works with a sense of purpose and style. The restaurants that line the edge of the Mekong thrive at night with every food imaginable with sellers, performers and buskers everywhere. Bright neon lights contrast with dark side streets most simply carrying a number to identify them. An old lady walks down the street leading an old man by a rope around his neck while he plays a Tror a Thai stringed instrument and they collect money. There is always something going on.

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In the midst of all this seeming chaos sits the serene peace of the extraordinary Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. Dating back to the 19th century when the capital moved back to Phnom Penh the Palace sits alongside the Mekong and is the residence of the Cambodian Royal family today. They live in a part of the Palace shut off but the rest you can wander in. This includes the throne hall, a magnificent enormous room of gold and white still used today for religious and ceremonial functions. The detail intricacy and the symmetry of the buildings are beautiful and although they have similarities of design they are unique.

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The Palace reflects the place of Buddhism in society with the silver Pagoda sitting alongside the palace buildings. The Palace is walled so that the endless noise of traffic and daily life does not intrude and is like entering another world. The Palace reflects how Cambodia has both retained its links with its historic past of the Khmer kingdom down to the present day and Cambodia’s emergence into the 21st century.

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The Travel Bore

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I learned a long time ago that when returning from a journey, heart and mind filled with reflections on the things I have seen, people met, the places explored, the scents, emotions, secrets and sensations experienced, its really not good to talk about it too much.

Camera loaded with amazing photos, tales of people met, places seen and dangers overcome fill you, as you sit comfortable in the knowledge that you have something very special to offer now that you are home again and with friends. There is a fine point between simply saying that the travel was great and being a travel bore. Even sitting with another traveller it can become a competition trading the most beautiful, the most ugly, the highest, longest and most dangerous, oh and of course the oldest. Comparing notes on outlandish activities you would not do at home, and the sensuality of travelling is not wise, its easy to become a travel bore.

How much people really want to know you have to gauge. How many times people say would love to see your photos, but still they are unseen by all but you, except for one with a fabulous beach which is all they seem to want to see. You wonder why, you are slightly hurt. You have the wonders of the world to lay at your audience’s feet, but somehow they dont really want to know. “They are envious” you whisper to yourself, “they don’t care, they don’t understand”, but in truth they know that if you start you will never stop, and they will have nothing to say because for them such things are abstract compared to the appalling weather we have been having lately. You can hope that one day they will come to you and say “tell me all about Timbuctu” and then you can expound, but in truth they just want to know where you were and whether you enjoyed it. You are safe returned, that is enough. To hear the rest would be unsettling. So here is an ode to the travel bore!

The Traveled Man

SOMETIMES I wish the railroads all were torn out,

The ships all sunk among the coral strands.

I am so very weary, yea, so worn out,

With tales of those who visit foreign lands.

When asked to dine, to meet these traveled people,

My soup seems brewed from cemetery bones.

The fish grows cold on some cathedral steeple,

I miss two courses while I stare at thrones.

I’m forced to leave my salad quite untasted,

Some musty, moldy temple to explore.

The ices, fruit and coffee all are wasted

While into realms of ancient art I soar.

I’d rather take my chance of life and reason,

If in a den of roaring lions hurled

Than for a single year, ay, for one season,

To dwell with folks who’d traveled round the world.

So patronizing are they, so oppressive,

With pity for the ones who stay at home,

So mighty is their knowledge, so aggressive,

I ofttimes wish they had not ceased to roam.

They loathe the new, they quite detest the present;

They revel in a pre-Columbian morn;

Just dare to say America is pleasant,

And die beneath the glances of their scorn.

They are increasing at a rate alarming,

Go where I will, the traveled man is there.

And now I think that rustic wholly charming

Who has not strayed beyond his meadows fair.

 

Ella Wheeler Wilcox 1896