Travels and Photographs

 

 

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The great photographer Henri Cartier Bresson said that “Your first 10000 photographs are the worst” a somewhat daunting prospect, and I have never counted! I would not presume to think of myself as a photographer but I do like to take photographs and have accumulated many over time of myriad people and places.

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I take photos of my travels, download them on to my computer and leave them there, the memories images and emotions of my travels still fresh in my mind. Then much later, feeling curious and often nostalgic I revisit them and my eyes wander through those moments in time and places that the camera has captured to preserve for my reminiscences.

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I find a whole array of different reflections in the pictures, formal ones of places, buildings, streets, squares, architecture, walls, history, the things that make a place what it is, the structure and outline of a society or place and its history. Then people, ones that I have seen, some whom I have met, others who are just passing through a scene at the moment the shutter clicks. Then there are those that create the atmosphere of the place, the light, the colours, the pace of life and its daily round.

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These pictures remind me of the place, they don’t stir the emotions so much as remind me, they are the diary of a place, the narrative of a place, they are the place rather than the experience of being there.

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I find that the photos that stir the emotions are the odd ones, the quizzical ones, and the ones that capture a moment rather than a place. The ones that have flavour, that set the senses alive A set of footprints in the sand of a pristine beach, a monk sipping a drink through a straw, a tree growing out of a building the intricacy of a piece of some art that tells a mystical story, a chicken chained to a fence. Those ones tell a story beyond the picture itself they stirs the emotions about my experiences and about what gives the lifeblood to journeys, the ones that make you smile, and recover the feelings that accompanied your journey.

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Cartier Bresson also referred to the camera as being “ a sketch book an instrument of spontaneity” and that’s very true. Out of the thousands of pictures those are the ones I am sure I will keep revisiting forever.

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Travel- A journey into history and time.

 

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It is said that history is a symphony of echoes. Einstein’s equation says that time is like a river that speeds up meanders and slows down. When we travel we come across those two concepts combined and receive some surprising answers. Different places give us a different perspective of what time means in the context of the places we discover and their history.

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Table Mountain in Cape Town, is the core of the city, the city sits beneath it as if in a basket. The mountain doesn’t have any forbidding presence, it is is a comfort, a real everyday presence that give reassurance and motivation to the city. Not for nothing are Capetonians known by some as the “mountianhuggers”. The cloud formations that fall from it at evening are affectionately known as the table cloth. Table Mountain is here now and today, it does not occur to anyone that it is history and that its origins are 300 million years old.

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The Arenal volcano, in Costa Rica, is a real live volcano and the sense of time in that piece of nature, and its history, tend to be measured by the last time there was an eruption, 1968. The excitement of a real life volcano might induce some of us to wish it was more recent. 48 years is the sense of history and time that many create around it. But the real history is that it has been erupting for 7000 years. Time has shrunk.

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The city of London is a place where the past and the present have melded together with history to live in the present. The church of All Hallows by the Tower dates back to 675 and is still a church today where people worship. Time there is a history lesson nothing more. London is filled with old places still used sitting alongside the most modern places that befit one of the great cities of the world.

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At the other end of the spectrum is the ancient kingdom of Angkor and the ruins of its various temples, dating back to 11th century and now simply a place of ghosts, (and tourists), a place where nature has imposed itself in the intervening years and taken back what belonged to it originally in some places. We learn the history, but don’t live it and we marvel that such things could exist nearly 1000 years ago. There, time is very real and not in any way compromised.

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Finally the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, in that country, are as old as Angkor but there is a big difference. In truth no one is compltely certain as to who built Great Zimbabwe. The African oral tradition of history has allowed parts of that history to disappear in the telling of it, and so we are left with a place that hangs in the air in time, with no real reference point as to why and when.

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Our perception of history and its echoes, bend and shape the sense of time in the places that we journey to.

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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South Africa’s Wine Lands

 

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If your idea of a good day out is a long lazy lunch in the sun, a picnic with friends or even tasting great wines in variety, then a trip into the winelands will be just fine.

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South Africa’s winelands have come of age in recent years having chaged from the old cooperative system to myriad small wine farms producing a huge variety of wines with a particular South African flavour. The original vines were brought by French Huguenots in the late 17th century to the Cape, one of the best wine areas being Franschoek valley, Franschoek literally meaning French Corner.

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Set in some of the most beautiful scenery in South Africa the wine routes comprise a number of farms where you can stop and sample the wines if you want and usually eat. Some have restaurants and at some you can just phone ahead a book a picnic to eat in the amazing grounds. No pressure, no rush; if you like real relaxation in beautiful surroundings away from the city that is for you.

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There are wine many routes and many visitors come for a holiday mainly spent touring the wine areas. The most popular are the Stellenbosch wine route, the Franschoek, Constantia, Darling and Paarl but there are many more.

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If you are not into wine, these farms are still a great place to go to enjoy good food, explore the surrounding countryside with its hikes and scenery and the small towns that surround them. Many of the inhabitants of the small towns are workers on the farms and descended through many generations of families who have worked there. The farms cater very much for families so everyone can enjoy and it is not expensive with no obligation to buy.

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The food varies from fine dining to rustic, made with local produce and amazing value for money. Some good farms to visit but not an exclusive list, Boschendal for picnics, Spier for the tastings and activities, Delaire for its restaurant and on the Darling route Kloof where the annual rocking the daisies music festival is held.

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It’s a great day out, relaxing interesting and just fun

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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