Friday, January 26, 2007

Recent travels

This is my first week in Sri Lanka, where I expect to work for Merlin from now until January 2008. I have had SUCH adventures since [my last blog posting]... which was on November 21 last year (sorry). This posting won't be very profound but it will try to explain what I was up to from leaving Liberia until my arrival in Sri Lanka. Then, as soon as possible, I will write about my new experiences here in Sri Lanka. Advance synopsis: I brought all the wrong clothes.

County Hotel, London, December 18, 2006

First I flew from Monrovia (Liberia) to London on December 2/3. That seems so long ago now... I stayed with wonderful friends Jenny and Derek (and also saw my wonderful friends Carolyn and Baljt) and worked for a few days at the Merlin office in London (meeting wonderful friends Kerstin and Sian) trying to sort out some fuel billing mistakes from Liberia. In this period I caught up on a few movies. I felt I chose quite well, seeing 'Casino Royale' (which I found impressively thoughtful); 'The Departed' (which was a bit unimportant for Martin Scorsese but very well made); 'The History Boys' (which, coming from Alan Bennett, disappointed me a bit); and then in one long and very expensive (because it was all at Leicester Square) session of 'Red Road' (marvelous and moving), 'An Inconvenient Truth' (better than I expected), and 'London to Brighton' (very well made and with frighteningly realistic performances). During this period in London I attended the Merlin Christmas party (where some peoples' true characters appeared) and the MapAction Christmas banquet with my wonderful friend Lynne. I finished at the office with some debriefing about my work in Liberia and briefing for my upcoming work in Sri Lanka and then took the Eurostar to Belgium and then a train to Amsterdam to meet my wonderful friend Nienke.

Self-portait, Amsterdam, December 13 , 2006

While in Amsterdam I met wonderful new friends and started to relax. Nienke and I went to a delicious dinner at
The Curry Club (a monthly South Asian dinner night), danced at the Sugar Factory (a great but very smoky club) and I rode a bike around everywhere. I met Nienke's wonderful artist mother Frida Kole and several of Nienke's wonderful friends. I also visited another wonderful old friend in Leiden and went to The Hague where, in the Mauritshuis Museum I happened upon 'The Girl in the Pearl Earring' and 'The Anatomy Lesson' without knowing they would be there. (I love it when that happens.) I was sad to leave Amsterdam but did enjoy the first class service back to London on the Eurostar (no economy ticket had been available!).

St. Pancras station, London, December 18, 2006

The main point of my whole holiday was to meet Dad, who I hadn't seen since December 2005. He arrived at Heathrow on the 18th and we set off by train to Nottingham to see my wonderful aunt Jill and her wonderful husband George.

Aunt Jill and Dad outside her house in Nottingham, December 19, 2006.

In Nottingham we concentrated on family, trams and old pubs. Dad took me on a tour of his old drinking establishments.

Dad outside the '
Bell Inn' (established 1457), where he used to drink during his university days (when it was a lot newer than it is now).

Nottingham's Robin Hood, along with a very Merry Man. Photo by Ray Haythornthwaite, December 19, 2006.

Nottingham's '
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem' (established 1189) with one of its original patrons. January 19, 2006.

The next day Dad and I flew to Cyprus for our Christmas holiday. (On the way I watched 'The Devil wears Prada' which I found surprisingly good.) We stayed at the Arsinoe Beach Hotel, in Limassol, where I was almost the youngest guest (and where Dad was almost the second youngest). The other guests all seemed to come from Lancashire or Yorkshire and most seemed to be concentrating on playing bingo in the lobby. The food was heavily English and we needed to get out as much as we could.

Unfortunately Dad was sick on the day we'd planned to take a coach tour to Turkish Occupied Cyprus. I am fascinated by borders and complex and disputed sovereignty so I went along alone. Before we reached the border our Cypriot tour guide was very political in his briefing, complaining that he needed to show his passport to visit part of his own country and explaining that the Turks were doing their utmost to appear to be operating their own state. It was therefore nice and interesting to see him chatting so affably with the Turkish official who accompanied us while north of the border. We skirted Nicosia and visited Kyrenia on the northern coast.

Tourism at Bellapais Abbey, Kyrenia, Turkish Occupied Cyprus. December 23, 2006.

Kyrenia, Turkish Occupied Cyprus. December 23, 2006.

Raging Mediterranean Sea, Kyrenia, Turkish Occupied Cyprus. December 23, 2006.

Kyrenia, Turkish Occupied Cyprus. December 23, 2006.

Kyrenia, Turkish Occupied Cyprus. December 23, 2006.

The best two days were December 24 and 25 when Dad and I hired a car and explored Cyprus on our own. On Christmas Eve we drove to Pathos, mainly to see the Greek and Roman mosaics. While a lot of the mosaics are protected and sheltered, others are under the sun and there to be walked on. It is sobering to walk on tiny tiles that are at least sixteen centuries old.

Circa 4th-century Roman mosaic, Pathos, Cyprus. December 24, 2006.

From Pathos we drove up to the Troodos Mountains where we could see both the northern and southern coasts from nearly the same point. We had lunch at the Ben Nevis restaurant, (about 100m higher than the 1,344m summit of Ben Nevis in Scotland). There was some snow and if they get more they will open their (rather small) ski hill. Two hours later Dad was paddling in the Mediterranean back in Limassol.

View from Troodos Mountains, Cyprus. December 24, 2006.

Me and Dad (hand-held self-portrait genre), Troodos Mountains (elevation about 1,344m above sea level), Cyprus. December 24, 2006.

Me and Dad (hand-held self-portrait genre, extreme image rotation to horizontal by PhotoShop), Limassol (elevation about 45cm above sea level), Cyprus. December 24, 2006.

On Christmas Day we drove to eastern Cyprus, stopping first a well preserved Roman aqueduct in Larnaka. Well, we thought it was Roman, but I have just done some research and discovered it was built in the eighteenth century!! So much for "What have the Romans ever done for us?"!

Larnaka Aqueduct, Cyprus. December 25, 2006.

Larnaka, Cyprus. December 25, 2006.

On the 26th Dad flew to Egypt to see the Pyramids, while I did a Scuba refresher course in the chilly Mediterranean. On the 27th we went quickly to some old Greek ruins near Limassol.

Amathus, site of Ancient Agora, Limassol, Cyprus. December 26, 2006.

After a week of Full English Breakfasts and dodging bingo in the hotel lobby we flew back to England and settled into a very nice Bed and Breakfast.

Yorkshire. December 28, 2006.

On our first day back in the UK we visited historic and slightly off-center York Minster in York, Yorkshire. (It's off-center in that parts of the floor plan deviate a foot or two from the main pattern.) We then went to the National Railway Museum, which was very good but which I found a little bit dated and lacking information about track and networks.

York minster. December 28, 2006.

York. December 28, 2007.

York. December 28, 2006.

Dad and 'Mallard' - word speed record holder for steam locomotion (126 mph) - at the National Railway Museum. December 28, 2006.

The next day we crossed the Humber Bridge, which for 17 years was the longest suspension bridge in the world, and then headed south to St. Albans.

Humber Bridge. December 29, 2006.

St. Albans Cathedral, St. Albans. December 29, 2006.

After we had a fond farewell Dad flew off to Ottawa and I flew to Belfast to meet my extraordinarily wonderful friend Sue for New Year's. Starting with
Stormont, Sue and I explored the Portaferry / Strangford Lough region of Ireland, and in particular the Portaferry Hotel and 'The Slip Inn' (homes of 'Fecking Irish Whiskey').

Stormont, Northern Ireland. December 30, 2006.

Portaferry, Northern Ireland. January 1, 2007.

Blustery Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland. December 31, 2006.

After all this traveling and photography my camera and I needed some time apart so I left it with my wonderful friends Jenny and Derek and flew home to Canada. That was mainly to see Dad again but I still had some adventures to go. I had planned a date with my wonderful friend Sandra to see James Brown - but sadly he died on Christmas Day. (We still had a very nice evening though.) It was also wonderful to catch up with my wonderful friends Maria, Paul and Caroline for Eggs Benedict at Ada's Diner in Ottawa. I flew to Washington DC to see my wonderful friends Betsy and Stoy. We had some delicious food and explored the F.D.R. Memorial and other highlights of the Washington Mall area.

After two nights in their lovely house (and with their darling cat Bendit) I went (with help from my wonderful friend Melissa) to pack my personal effects into a U-Haul truck for a drive up to Ottawa. I'd planned an easy itinerary up to Ottawa in case of snow or problems at the border but all went very well except that the truck's power steering died in Syracuse. As well as staying at Dad's marvelous new house in Ottawa I also stayed with wonderful friends Petra and Brad in their incredible new home in Chelsea, Québec.

That was more or less it for my travels except that on my way back through London towards Sri Lanka I caught 'A Prairie Home Companion' (delightful and a fitting last work by Robert Altman). After six weeks that took me to England, the Netherlands, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Canada and the US I now find myself in Sri Lanka, which I will describe and illustrate soon.