Tag Archives: history

Rapa Nui – An Isolated Island

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I have been fortunate enough to travel around the world. Nowhere was as uniquely beautiful as Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui.

The tiny spec on the world map was finally discovered by the Dutch in 1722.

Named after the day of its discovery, the island may have been spotted as early as 1686, by Captain Davis, an English explorer.

Originally named “Davis” island, this was the land mass the Dutch were seeking. It was later visited briefly by James Cook in 1744. He soon continued on his way, declaring that the island had nothing substantial to offer. He noted that there weren’t any trees or animals and few birds. You can read the fascinating diary of the experience here.

indigenous statue

The indigenous people would have looked something like this.

Some twenty years before, the Dutch had killed 12 islanders for coming too close. Perhaps when Cook visited, the natives thought that appeasing these powerful people would enable survival, so they hoisted a bunch of bananas up to the boat as a peace offering.

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Those courageous seafarers must have been glad to arrive – Easter Island is one of the most remote locations in the world. Accessible from just Tahiti or Chile, it is a five hour flight. The tiny airport usually operates one flight each day. If you want to go the old-fashioned way, a journey by boat takes a week and only two operate annually.

We flew business class because it was the same price as standard and it was a pleasant experience, with fully extendable seats. Our flight was as cheap as it gets at £400 return, as we went out of season in June when it is cooler and wetter. However, it was still warm, with temperatures between 18-20 degrees celcius. We were lucky enough not to get rain during the day. 

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Winter is the best season to visit, as there were only a few small groups of tourists at key sites and it did not seem to get hot enough for there to be any mosquitoes.

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The fish was lovely and fresh, with a choice of large tuna, reinata and merluza to name a few, along with squid, prawns and other crustaceans.

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On the last day we swam in the sea, which was luke warm and very pleasant. The island only has one sandy beach and you can admire a row of “moai” statues as you swim. This area of the Pacific must be one of the least polluted in the world, owing to its isolation.

The best way to see the statues is to cycle. This means you can go at your own pace and avoid any pesky tour buses. Most of the sites close at 4pm. We hired electric bikes from a great shop off the main street for about 17 000 pesos, £20 a day. Don’t bother with the bike shops on the main street, most of them are broken and you get ripped off.

Beach statues

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It was this isolation that caused at least three near extinctions of its indigenous population. The Polynesians are believed to have arrived in 700-800 A.D and settled there permanently 100-200 years later. They are believed to have travelled thousands of miles, from the Marquesa Islands.

Those ancient voyagers looked for islands after studying the migration patterns and habits of birds and then navigated using the position of stars. With their large double-hulled wooden canoes, they travelled with basic foodstuffs to help them farm the new land. From 1000-1100 A.D. they also brought sweet potato, perhaps from contact with South America.

painted moai

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Its Polynesian name is Rapa Nui. From the 1400s, the island was so successfully cultivated and well-populated that the tribes started building the famous megaliths with smooth expressionless faces. To this day, no one knows what they symbolise. They have a dramatic and haunting beauty. They tower above you, silently watching over the farmed fields, undulating hills and red rocky cliffs. Built from around 1400 until 1650, they have watched generation after generation flourish and fail.

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Archaeologists found that the islanders all worked together to build and enlarge them, until the tallest statue reached over 20 metres high. They called them moai, which means to exist, and each one is carved with slightly different features. Perhaps they were self portraits of their chiefs. This would explain why only one group of statues face outwards to the sea, the last group to be built. The Rapa Nui tribes had realised that they needed protection from outsiders. The joint effort to build them must have encouraged peace and harmony between the tribes, essential when resources and land were scarce. But the islanders paid a high price for this dedication – they had cut down all their tall trees for monument transportation.

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Popular myth tells a story of self-sabotage, where the people cut down all the trees and then starved, as they had nothing to build or cook with. However, a recent study refutes this. Scientific analysis such as carbon dating showed that the islanders ate a diet rich in fish and that they knew how to sustainably manage their environment, even though the soil was poor. The study’s authors suggest that it was the island’s visitors who were to blame for the lack of trees, as rats could have wiped out the remaining slow-growing palm trees. They had to import them from Tahiti in the 1960s.

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As the islanders could no longer transport their impressive monoliths, they started a new “Bird Man” cult. There is a cave on the island that is faintly painted with bands of colour, honouring their new belief system. They would have competitions to get bird eggs, often laid in precarious places on the cliffs. This shows that they were using initiative to survive.

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Legend has it that deforestation led to starvation and even resorted to cannibalism in the late 1700s. This myth has also been debunked with evidence that the population used innovative techniques to ensure that they could continue growing crops in the dryer soil.

In 1862 outsiders once again brought death and despair. A ship from Peru took half the island there as slaves, some 1 500 men. Disease was rife, and eventually 100 were allowed to return, after pressure from the English and French. However, smallpox spread during the return voyage, and the 15 survivors spread this disease to the remaining islanders, most of whom died.

Those who survived were then forced to give up their indigenous beliefs and convert to Catholicism, which was completed in 1866. In 1870, a French explorer arrived, Dutroux Bornier. He was detested by the inhabitants and most left with a missionary for a nearby island, Mangareva. It was only after he was killed that some returned.

After these waves of foreign interference, just over 100 of the original islanders remained in 1877.

In 1888 the Rapa Nui King was given a deed to sign, giving the Chilean government control of the island. The document was translated for the indigenous people to mean “protection” and “friendship”. Sensing deceit, the King Atamu Tekena bent to the ground and took a handful of dirt in one hand and a handful of grass in the other. He gave the Chilean representative grass and kept the dirt. The land would always belong to his people.

Almost 80 years passed before the Chilean government recognised the indigenous population as Chilean citizens, following a rebellion. In 2014 they submitted a petition for independence which they continue to pursue. Tensions between Chileans and Polynesians was evident in an eco hotel development on the coast, which had graffiti on its fence and black flags obstructing the view.

Easter-Islands

Polynesian descendants look after the moai statue sites, ensuring that their spiritual past is respected. They now have a flag which was first flown in 2006, a red “Reimiro” ornament that was worn by chiefs and others of high status.

Now the population is back to its original size of around 7,000, almost all concentrated in the small settlement of Hanga Roa.

Sadly, locals appear to be making the myth of self-sabotage a reality. It takes three hours to walk to the other side of the island, yet everyone goes everywhere in battered Nissan pick ups and Jeeps. With these excessive and unnecessary emissions, they are contributing to climate change which could eventually submerge the whole island. It has already resulted in coastal erosion which threatens the existence of the mighty Moai statues.

To this day, outsiders continue to damage the island. Seas of selfie-sticks, star jumps and shouting ruin the quiet reflective impact of the moai and some even risk damaging them in their vain pursuit of the “perfect” picture. 

Hundreds of years ago, Easter Island needed protection from visitors bringing death and disease, leading to the creation of the only set of Moai to face the sea.

Now the island is under threat once more.

 

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sunset statues

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July 16, 2019 · 9:23 pm

Fountains Abbey

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As soon as you walk down the hill, the tower emerges in all its glory. Then you see the columns and arches soaring into the sky.

Fountains Abbey is a skeleton of its former glory, yet one of the best preserved ruins in Britain. You need to spend all day in this UNESCO World Heritage site in Ripon.

After admiring the ruins you can explore the 18th and 19th century follies in the landscaped grounds.

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The abbey was built in 1132, the result of a religious divide amongst monks in York.

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Copyright literarylydi

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You could ring the bell of the mill that ran here until 1927.

The small group that settled here were more conservative, believing that Benedictine monks should live more closely to the rules laid down by the Bible.

Eking out a living on the verge of starvation, they sold wool to pay for their upkeep.

The Abbey would not have survived without France. Money and supplies were sent over from there when they joined the Cistercian Order. They lived in silence, suffering cold temperatures with only brief respite at the fire.

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They suffered from the Plague and finally from Henry VIII’s pillaging. He sold it to a nobleman in the 1500s, after arranging for the roof to be removed and sold.

In the 19th century it fell into ruin before being restored, which is still an ongoing project.

It costs £1,000,000 to run each year with the combined forces of The National Trust and English Heritage.

To discover more about its history, visit this WordPress page.

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August 31, 2018 · 7:01 pm

Kos, Pserimos and Bodrum

It is five years since I went to Greece and Turkey and I have been enjoying the photos and memories recently.

We had a lovely girls holiday. apart from the night when I half carried, half dragged my friend to the hotel. We went when it was cheap and the holiday season had wound down, so there were no taxis to be found.

I stopped at the third shot of absinthe and told her to. She stopped after five. I danced around the room, giddy.

She was fine until we left the hotel to party in the centre of Kos.

She gradually got more intoxicated. By the time we arrived 20 minutes later, she was falling asleep.

The bar staff were worried and I didn’t want her to pass out, so I woke her up after I’d enjoyed my cocktail and we set off.

She said she wanted to sit on a wall and stay there and I reasoned with her. After a while she let me help her. It was a long walk back. She threw up the next afternoon.

We always say I’m never drinking again but how often is that true? The last time I was sick from alcohol was as a student. I liked to test how much I could drink. I could stomach 8-10 shots. I was usually sick after 10. I didn’t like the lack of control, so it didn’t happen often.

One time I got escorted home by some chivalrous students. They didn’t realise how long the walk was but they were men of their word. It’s dangerous getting drunk as a woman unless you have friends that are sober enough to look after you. Students think that getting drunk is a game but it can have lasting consequences.

These days I hardly drink at all. I’ve never liked alcohol unless it is a quality spirit or doesn’t taste of it. I used to make the odd pina colada. I used to have cocktail parties until a friend told my parents how amazing they were. They have been around every birthday since.

Anyway, back to Kos, Pserimos and Bodrum. Popular tourist destinations. There are castles at the ports of Kos and Bodrum and there is a lot of history between the two countries. We didn’t absorb much of that as we didn’t have time for the audio guide. However, the internet informs me that the Byzantines ruled after the Greeks until their empire crumbled. Istanbul fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 followed by Greece, as that was part of the same Byzantine kingdom. The sultans ruled Greece for 400 years, until the Greek War of Independence lasting from 1822-1831.

 

Pserimos

Bodrum

Kos

Bodrum

balalaika

All the world’s a stage

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September 10, 2017 · 6:35 pm

Beer-lin at Christmas

December was a busy month with trips to Birmingham, Berlin, Lancaster, Norwich and Great Yarmouth and a visit from my cousins, where I cooked for five for the first time.

I learnt that you need to have everything prepared and ready to go for the day of the visit. I spent that morning scouring local farms for turkey, only to be told that it had to be ordered in advance. I was saved by a pre-prepared one at Waitrose.

There was so much to see and do in Berlin. The city had a festive atmosphere with Christmas lights and markets. Temperatures were close to zero so my thermals came in handy.

Hotel Indigo was comfortable, clean and stylish and was lovely to return to after a day on our feet. We had an executive room with a balcony and we wrapped up to admire the view.

It was easy to get around using the S-Bahn and U-Bahn train systems. The U-Bahn is the Underground. You have to get your ticket stamped by the machine or you can be fined.

Transport links from Schönefeld airport were dismal, perhaps the reason for its rating on Google of under 3 stars. We were shattered after our budget airline experience featuring the usual lengthy queues. I nearly fell over as I had labyrinthitis – an inner-ear infection causing balance issues and disorientation. I had just started swimming again and medical opinion was that it had pushed infection further into my ear. Luckily it was the last 24 hours of it.

There was a long walk to the train station which was a vast concrete space with confusing German signposting to unfamiliar areas and some omnipotent machines. You needed to have the right amount of coins as they did not take cards and most did not like notes. Perhaps this is to encourage those in the know to buy at the airport. There were no officials and no information desk. In England there are information points at almost every major station so it was a culture-shock. I’d already been jarred by the lack of warm water in public toilets. Economical efficiency at its best but punishing in winter. Hand-warmers are recommended.

Berlin Photo Tour

Many meals centred around sausages (wurst). This is tasty currywurst.

Many meals centred around sausages (wurst). This is tasty currywurst.

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This pint features the German bear in front of the dome of Berlin’s parliament or Bundestag which is one of the subjects of my next post. Bears first appeared on a city seal (emblem) in 1280. The earliest city seal from 1253 didn’t feature a bear but an eagle, which was the symbol of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, an important part of the Holy Roman Empire that included Berlin. In 1280 the second emblem featured a Brandenburg eagle flanked by two standing bears. When Cölln and Berlin were merged into one city in 1709, the coat of arms featured the bear below two eagles -red for Brandenburg and black for Prussia. By 1875, the bear gained a crown signifying Berlin’s status as a free city.

 

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Schnitzel was nothing special.

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The apple cake was delicious.

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Our walking tour started in front of the Brandenburg Gate, outside Starbucks. It was free if you were heartless but our charismatic guide explained that he lived on donations and 15 Euros was the going rate. It was well worth it as we felt we had seen all the key sights and were fully briefed in the history. All questions were answered.

Just past the Gate on the road is the dividing line of the Wall that divided East and West Berlin until 1989, stretching off into the traffic. Division seems a distant memory, one that many would surely rather forget.

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Today is the 70th anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz where over 1 million people died. An estimated 90 per cent of these victims were Jews, with Poles, Romani gypsies, Soviet Prisoners, homosexuals and others deemed “undesirable” making up the hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish victims that were killed at the hands of the Nazis. The death toll is inconceivable. I thought of my grandfather, who liberated and dealt with the aftermath of Bergen-Belsen. Hell on earth. He never spoke of it and it must have been easier to repress than think about. Primo Levi, an Italian Jewish Auschwitz survivor, writer and chemist, remarked  “I am constantly amazed by man’s inhumanity to man” quoting the Robert Burns poem “Man Was Made to Mourn”.  

The Jewish Memorial in Berlin was quite an experience. It was a series of concrete blocks gradually getting taller until you were engulfed by oppressive blank columns trapping you on all sides. You are suddenly in a narrow space overshadowed by heavy grey monoliths leaning towards you which blocked out the light.

It was even more powerful at night. I couldn’t see anything but a gloomy, shadowy passage in front of me. It was eerily silent and you could hardly see the sky.

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You could go on a “Trabi” tour. Trabant cars, affectionately termed “trabis”, were iconic vehicles used by the Soviets of East Berlin. There is a museum for almost everything in Berlin, from those cars to computer science.067

Balloon sightseeing looked fun but freezing. We didn’t get a chance to see the Berlin Wall art but click here for a good website with it.

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Source: ampelmann.de

The East side still retained some differences such as the pedestrian crossing signs which featured a large man in a hat. The design was conceived by a traffic psychologist, Karl Peglau. The thinking behind it was that we react more quickly to appealing symbols.

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The history of a divided East/West Berlin reminded me of North/South Korea. The Russians called the East the Federal Republic and the British, French and Americans named the West the Democratic Republic. The wishful thinking post-War was that both halves would be run harmoniously. But the 1950s saw the fear of Communism explode in the States with witch hunts including even Charlie Chaplin. There were uprisings in the East which were dealt with by the Stasi, the secret police. Around 2.7 million East Berliners defected from 1949 until the Wall was built, with 200,000 leaving the year before in 1960. Reasons for escape were economic, social or political.One reason was the introduction of a collectivization policy in the 1950s. The goal was to consolidate individual land and labour into collective farms in order to increase food supply. But this meant that profits decreased and there were food shortages and riots instead.

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The Wall was publicly built to prevent a war for the city but privately it was

Walter Ubricht (Wikipedia)

Walter Ubricht (Wikipedia)

also to stop the East-West exodus. The East-German leader Walter Ubricht termed it an “Anti-Fascist Protective Rampart” protecting the Federal Republic from “military adventurers”.

The photo above shows border guard Conrad Schumann who left two days after Wall construction began. His fellow soldiers were distracted and he saw his chance. West Berliners encouraged him to jump and after deciding for a moment he went for it. The moment was captured by passing photographer Peter Liebing. The iconic photograph was used as propaganda.

There were some unusual escapes, such as by tightrope-walking and with a car converted to go under the crossing barrier. Many who succeeded were guards, with over 1,300 fleeing in the first two years of the Wall’s construction. This led to the installation of locks and further walls requiring several soldiers to open them.

There was a good exhibition at Nordbahnhof S-geisterbahnhof_21_01606Bahn station about the division of the Underground. Tube trains from the West could pass through Eastern stops but they could not be used and became “ghost” stations. Even here soldiers escaped, so they would be locked in a platform bunker until the end of their shift.

Officially, 136 Berliners died fleeing to the West. Some wanted to earn more money, others were trying to join family members. Friedrichstraße station was nicknamed “The Palace of Tears” as it was the station where East Berliners would have tearful goodbyes to West Berliners returning, unsure when they would be allowed to see them again.

Many casualties were not recorded by the secretive Soviets. But a victims research group called “August 13 Working Group”  has claimed there were more than 1,100 fatalities linked to the division of states. West Berliners used it to fly-tip.

The photo above captures the worst Wall stand-off caused by a senior U.S. diplomat, Lightner Jr (American for Junior, which means son of) wanting to go to the opera in East Berlin. The East Germans demanded to see his passport, which he insisted only Soviet officials had the right to check. He was forced to turn back. Due to the tank stand-off and fervent diplomacy that ensued, officials on both sides were allowed to attend the theatre and the opera over the border. As for Lightner Jr, he went to the performance days later.

This month Stasi records became available online for the first time. The Stasi were Soviet secret police. Their files have been available to their subjects since 1992. But you had to write out for them and there were delays in release. The records were saved by East German citizens who stormed Stasi offices when the Wall fell in 1989. They include the harrowing case of Manfred Smolka, a former East German border guard who was seized, thrown in solitary confinement and guillotined after he escaped to the West.  The Stasi even attempted to recruit Prime Minister Angela Merkel when she was at University.

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Our tour guide was fantastic and we felt like we had been fully briefed on the key history and sights of the city centre.

The German market looked fantastic. To the left is the Concert House where we enjoyed an orchestral and choral Bach performance.

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All photos on this page Copyright literarylydi. Please ask for permission before using. Thank you.

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You must visit Fassbender and Rauch. It’s a chocolate shop with green awnings like Harrods and has confectionary which is just as fancy. There were several iconic buildings made entirely of chocolate. Upstairs in the lift is the restaurant where they do a main meal in chocolate on Monday-Friday. There can be a queue early in the afternoon but it is worth the wait. Their petit-fours look exquisite and are delicious.

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Christmas decoration in Pottsdam, copied nicely in chocolate in Berlin. That city is the subject of my next post, along with more of Berlin.

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January 27, 2015 · 9:21 pm

Introducing Turgutreis

My journey to Turkey started with a trip down to London as we were flying from Luton airport.

To get there I took a bus, two trains, two tubes, a train and then another bus. This was easy to do as links in London are pretty efficient, not as provincial as up North, where bus drivers take breaks every 15 minutes to read The Metro.

It was once I got to the airport that I experienced delay – our plane was late coming in and then this happened next to it…

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The oil spill delayed us by an hour. Green powder was spread all over it and then it was brushed up before we could depart.

When we finally got to Bodrum-Milas airport in Turkey we were tired and I was hungry (I am usually hungry). We got our taxi to the hotel, which was probably the most expensive part of our holiday at 80 Lira each. You divide by about 3 for Sterling so this was about £27 for an hour’s journey to our hotel in Turgutreis. The first thing we noticed was that almost everyone smoked. Our car reeked of it.

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Our hotel was lovely, having been built on the site of an old hotel only a year or two before. It was very modern and featured a spa, indoor and outdoor pool and private pier which we later jumped off to go snorkelling. But tonight I needed dinner before bed. Luckily there was a family-run outdoor diner just next to the hotel. I had some kebabs bursting full of flavour next to a Turkish family who were having dinner with their little one at about midnight.

 

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The next morning after a great sleep I opened the curtain to heaven on earth. Before us was the light blue of the pool and just in front of that the darker blue of the sea framed by the sun blazing down from the bright sky. I went onto the balcony and was dazzled. The light was so bright that my camera malfunctioned and all the pictures that day came out white. We spent most of that day getting accustomed to the brightness, squinting British tourists sweating in the sunlight.

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We thought we’d take in the local village and the new culture. It was a 15 minute walk away and we could walk along the seafront to get there.

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We saw lots of dogs and a few cats, both pets and strays.

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We passed a lot of cafes and restaurants with shouts of “hey bella take a look at our menu” “hello how are you English?”.

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Turkish delight

We also went down a street with tourist tack shops and also a bakers and tailors. The tailors was very busy with many alterations being made on the spot.

 

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Bougainvillea brought bursts of colour to the white buildings.

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I had some ice cream made of natural fruit juices, pistachio and blackcurrant. The locals were very friendly and cheerful.

We walked past the empty expensive shops in the harbour, admiring the tiled walls and the figureheads of Turgut Reis – the sailor who gave the village its name.

 

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After that we spotted the villlage mosque in front of a McDonalds and headed for it.

We weren’t sure whether we would be allowed in but it appeared that all was welcome. We were both wearing long dresses so we took off our shoes, donned scarves and entered an oasis of calm. There was one big carpet on the floor divided into sections for prayer and lots of beautiful tiling and chandeliers, with a big one hanging from the high elaborately painted dome in the centre.

 

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It was empty apart from some scholars buried in their books in the corner, prayer beads in hand. We took care to be quiet and had a rest there for a while. We heard later that the mosque had only been built about 5 years before.

On the way back we went to the supermarket to get lunch. There was fresh fish by the entrance and a man was picking out what he wanted for about £7.

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Then there was a vast array of fruit and vegetables piled up and further down were dried fruit and nuts of all varieties.

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On our way back we saw plenty of statues and flags with Ataturk (or “father of the Turks”). Ataturk was an army officer and the Republic of Turkey’s first president who ruled unchallenged from 1923 until 1945. He was responsible for wide-ranging social and political reform to modernise Turkey. These reforms included the emancipation of women and the introduction of Western legal codes, dress, calendar and alphabet, replacing the Arabic script with a Latin one. He briefly made the fez the compulsory national headdress and people faced heavy fines if they wore a turban. He was and still is treated almost like a religious figure, with one portrait description even describing him as “immortal”. In almost every city there is a statue of him.

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After filling our bags with local delicacies we headed back to our hotel for some sunbathing on the pier. The next day we planned to go over the border to Kos in Greece.

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June 1, 2014 · 8:55 pm

Buxton day trip

I have had a lovely couple of days off lately. On Wednesday I went to a shopping mall and bought some presents, on Thursday I went to Buxton and on Friday I joined a new gym, went swimming and had a haircut!

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Buxton is a lovely place to visit in the Peak District. It is a village of around 20,000 with some nice cafes and quaint OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAold-fashioned shops, including a chemist that looks like it is still stuck in the Victorian era.

In 1572 Dr John Jones wrote the first medical book on Buxton waters entitled The Benefit of the Auncient Bathes of Buckstones. The spring waters were believed to have healing properties. Even Mary Queen of Scots visited to benefit from them. In the Victorian era it was a popular spa town and there is still a baths. You can drink the natural mineral water for free there and it is still bottled and sold today.

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We went to a tea shop for a drink. It was a bit of a disappointment and tasted the same as when I make it at home.

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The “Devonshire Dome” there is a feat of civil engineering. It is hard to believe it was the roof of stables. It was built in 1789 by John Carr, commissioned by the duke for Buxton Crescent, converted into a hospital and is now restored by the University of Derby. Go in if you get a chance. I only got a chance to view it from the outside but the inside looks impressive just from looking at pictures.

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Buxton_Dome_South_Elevation1000Mum’s main mission was the charity shops. Relentlessly we hit every single one. There were rail upon rail of cheap but tacky clothes, clothes only geriatrics wear and probably had. When I am that old I’ll wear charity shop clothes because I won’t need to look presentable anymore. I’ll be like the lady in the Purple poem.

But surprisingly we did find some that weren’t from M ‘n’ S, Tesco or Primark – Coast ones. I got a painted silk-style sleeveless ruffled top with a dark beige pencil skirt and a 1950s-style A-line dress. It’s blue with roses on and I can’t wait to wear it. Even mum laughed at the “vintage” charity shop. The clothes were like fancy dress for a 1970s party.

We went back to the tea shop for lunch. I was impressed with the selection – chicken curry, jackets with cream cheese and spring onion, steak sandwiches and “Buxton” burgers.

Mum said the burgers were good so I went for one of those. This was served with salad and posh crisps. Salt and vinegar, my favourite. I was enjoying it until I crunched on a couple of bones. I got one and thought that was it, continued eating and then got another…and another. Luckily I didn’t swallow them as I may have choked. I was slightly put off. The meat had been lovely, but I didn’t want to be reminded that I was eating an animal. The whole point of cooking meat is not just that it tastes better but also that you don’t feel like an animal eating another animal, like a lion at zoo feeding time.

I didn’t want to make a scene but Mum insisted we say something. They’d be nice about it, she said. So I told the manager.

“Ohhhhh.” She said, haughtily, the disdain all too audible, “we haven’t had that before. We’ve never had a customer complain about that.”  I thought I must be imagining her tone. I went to the toilet. It was cold like the cafe – at least the food was hot. There were flannels to dry your hands on that you put in a little basket, a nice touch.

On the way back, I saw her poking the burger meat around angrily with a knife, peering at it from the side. She then triumphantly reported to mum that it was “gristle” I had nearly taken a tooth out on, not bone. She said “I poked it with a knife and it wasn’t hard, so it must have been gristle”. How gristle was better than bone I don’t know. One woman walked out having hardly touched her “spicy potato soup” a thick orange lumpy broth. Mum was served hers with stale bread, the staff urging her to “help yourself to more if you want”. Clearly they needed to get rid of it.

Mum bought some cake and they charged her full price for that and the meal, despite my bones of contention. It had butter icing, not even cream cheese icing like mum does, which is much better and tastier. Cheaper ingredients and maximum profit. I stalked out indignantly. Mum was apologetic as I grumbled about the disgusting lack of customer service skills. I wouldn’t be going there again. Its name was “The Cafe at the Green Pavilion”.

Anyway then we went to the library and art gallery, which was a much more enjoyable experience. It was combined in an old building with wooden doors and stained glass windows. But it had also been converted into a museum about Buxton’s history. I expected it to be poor as it was only two floors and looked poorly funded. We went into the exhibition space of a dire modern artist, abstract shapes in different colours spoiling the walls.

In the corner was a dark corridor. I went down it and there were little labels indicating different periods of time hanging from the ceiling and a video showing the passing of time from prehistoric to modern times in photos and drawings. I turned a corner and walked into the Cretaceous Period.

A massive dragonfly clung to a tree and there were noises of the forest around me. I walked on and into a cave.

There were bones of mammoths, bears, hyenas and in the corner roaring at me, a bear that looked rather too life-like. I quickly walked on into the “hunter-gatherer” age and a skeleton lay in a glass case, a man of 25-30.There was a little burial tomb reconstruction that you could crawl into. There were knife and axe heads on display. I went under an arch into the Roman period.

This interactive journey through time just kept on going, a maze of corridors and passages making you feel like you were actually in that era. It was fantastic.

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There were Roman columns all around me and a life-like centurion in full armour standing by the wall.

A ceremonial washing basin was on the right with a bronze head above it. Further on was a Roman rubbish dump – much nicer than modern ones – all broken jars and animal bones. I wonder what future ancestors will make of ours.

There were videos playing and you could hear the audio so you could take it in as you looked at the exhibits without having to watch them. I heard that to become a Roman citizen you had to serve 25 years with their army. Many Anglo-Saxons did and were posted away from their families in the Empire. Some would never have seen their families again.

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Due to space there was only a corridor linking this age to the 1700s, telling of medieval hunts in the forests. Then I went into a 1700s sitting room.

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You could sit on an imitation chair by the fire surrounded by fancy things. In the next room was a reconstructed “Buxton” black marble workshop.

The public went mad for this rare marble in the Victorian era and would buy loads of the stuff while on their spa breaks. It was made into everything – tables, chairs, jugs. But production virtually stopped when the craze was over. You can still buy it though.

There was a corridor dedicated to more recent years and all too soon I was back from my time-travel journey. I enjoyed it so much I went back in time instead of forwards. I couldn’t believe the collection box was empty. Museums are poorly funded these days so if they do a good job they need financial backing. I gave them a little. The time travel machine was too good to be free.

We then went round the flowers in a conservatory, enjoying the sweet scent that filled the air. We passed by the Pavilion Gardens on the way out but sadly it was too cold to enjoy them.

On the way home we saw what looked like World War Two bunkers but they were in fact enclosed kilns (enclosed to conform to blackout regulations) for the production of quicklime from Derbyshire limestone, which was produced in Buxton from the late 1800s until 1944.

If you’re visiting Yorkshire or England for that matter, don’t miss Buxton and its museum. It’s great for adults as well as children.

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The 1940s Party

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It took quite a bit of preparation to enter the time warp. My damp hair had to be rolled in curlers, blow dried and hair sprayed. I filed my nails to a point as was then fashionable and painted them red. Without having time to find an outfit I had to be resourceful.

I had a blouse and old-school wool cardigan but I didn’t have a skirt that was knee-length or longer as they make me look frumpy. Luckily mum came up with the goods (an old one I’d passed on). She also gave me a metal and bead broach for the top of the shirt as in those days modesty was protected with more buttons. A thin leather belt was essential. I was also given permission to wear my dad’s ancestor’s glasses, which were 1940s style and may well have been from that era, but there was no way of telling. I wanted to wear the gas mask too but that was out of bounds. The specs had interesting bendy extensions to fit them to your ears, were lighter to wear and I think, more flattering on the face.

1940s make-up was similar to modern make up application, but with more blending. I found a tutorial and used that. But all that eyeliner and eyeshadow liner took an hour to remove! I even plucked my eyebrows a little to give a more pronounced arch. I must have done quite well as someone asked today whether I’d had them done professionally.

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Mum kindly did my hair in a style of that era, which used a lot of hair grips. It was central to the look and was much admired. Then I went to my friend’s house. As soon as I went into the room I felt like I’d gone back in time. It was lit by a wood-burning stove which issued plenty of heat, flames flickering on the bare floorboards.

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Part of the ceiling paint had come off revealing the upstairs floor, as if the house really had been caught up in the 029Blitz. The windows were covered in newspaper like the real blackout and the only furniture was wooden other than the coal scuttle and wood basket. The digital radio was black and blended in, blaring out 1940s radio including sirens, explosions and wireless announcements. There was an excitable commentator going on about “Wood for war!” so presumably the fire was less authentic than my costume. There was another girl in a scarf tied up like the ladies in the factories which looked great with bouffant wartime hair and her boyfriend had sourced Union Jack braces and a flat cap. We sat on rugs against sofa cushions.

Someone wondered how people danced in those days, so I got up and showed them, even using the wooden broom in the corner as a prop. In my costume I felt like a hyperactive grandma.

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I’d recommend this theme, particularly if you have any rooms that are being decorated. Also if there is any staining it can simply be covered up. Don’t forget to make your V for Victory signs for the camera!

YouCanDoIt

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March 2, 2014 · 6:57 pm

Istanbul Day 1 – Tokapi Palace

Kebab pizza

Kebab pizza

After the magnificence of the Haggia Sophia we refreshed ourselves with a visit to a traditional restaurant where we ate kebab main meals (when in Rome, or rather Istanbul!). I had it with the hot spiced apple tea again. It was sweet and revitalising and I couldn’t get enough of it. I then had a tea but I had to ask for milk – if you don’t they just serve it black! Every drink is also served with mounds of sugar cubes as well as having it added. After a while I began to appreciate the EU sugar limits.

Lamb kebab. Photos copyright literarylydi

Lamb kebab. All photos on this page copyright literarylydi

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delicious cous cous salad

We then continued our tourist experience by buying up boxes and boxes of Turkish delight and nougat. Massive blocks of the stuff were chiselled off.  They had an array of colours and nuts, it was quite a display. The Turks are very fond of anything with nuts in. 342

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We then went to the Tokapi Palace (Tokapur in Turkish pronunciation), where we marvelled at the variety of styles of 16th-17th century tiled walls.

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We walked in ancient regal rooms with 16th century bronze and tile fire places. Odd things with pointy tops. Every so often there would be a little courtyard, sometimes with a fountain.

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I got the impression the Turks were also very fond of these, which seemed logical given that Turkey is usually lovely and warm, unlike the bitter cold that day. I had forgotten gloves and I soon lost all feeling in my hands.

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The best bit of the palace were the imperial treasures, which at one time only the royals could admire. I had never seen anything like it. Such a large amount of incredibly valuable precious-stones, gold and diamonds, all glistening and dazzling in two rooms, crammed together in a breathtaking display of opulence. There were bronze and ivory thrones from the 16th and 17th centuries, every inch dripping in rubies and emeralds. I asked my boyfriend whether I could have some ruby or emerald jewellery for Christmas. Even if we won the lottery I doubt that is possible, but one can dream. I was like a magpie in the dragon’s cave of the Hobbit. I had never seen anything like this before.

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The gold was highly polished and almost blinded you in its magnificence. The diamonds looked thoroughly transparent. These were the literal jewels in the crown of a vast and wealthy Empire that had at one point stretched all the way to “threaten the gates of Vienna”. Incredible given that they started off as a nomadic desert tribe. Unfortunately we couldn’t take photographs.

We saw the Harem where the Emperor’s many wives and the black Eunuchs that served them were housed. The quarters of the Eunuchs were the most modest rooms in the palace, quite small but still richly decorated with painted tiles.

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We saw the religious artefacts (the Prophets beard, bits of the Kaa’ba in Mecca and so on). These were the busiest rooms and there was a hushed solemn silence throughout the crowd.

The Library of Ahmed 3rd was built in 1719 for use by royal officials. Today its books are stored in the Agalar Mosque.

The Library of Ahmed The Third was built in 1719 for use by royal officials. Today its books are stored in the Agalar Mosque.

We saw the library and as the sun went down we walked through the gardens to the edge of the palace. Here there was a viewing platform with a little seat. The city stretched away on the other side of the river. It was quiet and rather romantic and we took a picture against the sunset.

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The building’s illuminating lights came on and after three hours touring this vast complex it was time to go, we were told the palace was closing.

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I had enjoyed feeling like a princess and would have to make do with our “palace” hotel instead that night. As we walked out we saw that the place was guarded by armed soldiers. The Haggia Sophia looked even more dominating in its floodlit glory.

We walked back using the GPS on my boyfriends phone, winding around narrow dark streets, all the while passing burnt down houses standing as they were, dilapidated houses that surely were not safe to live in, disturbing alley cats scrabbling at the rubbish, some of them with infected eyes.

We crossed a railway and navigated for a while longer through the gloom – there were few street lights. Thankfully the streets were largely deserted and we finally made our way back to the hotel.

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December 26, 2013 · 2:45 pm

Istanbul Day 1 – The Haggia Sophia

The next morning I awoke expecting sunshine and was dismayed to hear rain lashing against the window and a dull grey sky. Any photographs I was going to take would be ruined.

I must point out that this photo was taken at night, it wasn't this dark in the day.

The hotel chandelier. I must point out that this photo was taken at night, it wasn’t this dark in the day.

We went down for breakfast. I’d never seen such a selection. Pastries, fried eggs and bacon, deli meat, salad and cheese, cereals, yoghurts and dried fruit. I had some of this with delicious sweet Turkish tea, sipping it under the massive hotel chandelier which took centre stage, glistening even in the gloom.

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We headed to the main attraction, the Hagghia Sophia, by way of the Byzantine Hippodrome. The history of it was incredible. The obelisks thankfully had a brief information plaque and were barricaded off. Other relics of a lost age have simply been left where they were dumped, abandoned ancient rubble in amongst the modern tram tracks on either side. The Turks do not seem very interested in the Byzantine history of their country. Apparently Prime Minister, Recep Tayipp Erdogan  even bemoaned the “clay pots” and “other stuff”, excavations of which delayed the building of a new underwater tunnel under the Bosphorous. We went on a boat tour of this river, but that is a story for another day.

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The Hippodrome was a vast square and we were walking where horse-drawn chariots would have thundered down and around it for public entertainment. The obelisks looked like giant stone fingers reaching into the air, and each one had been carefully engraved. One was stolen from Greece and had hieroglyphics all the way up. Another had Byzantine sculptures on it (above left). Then there was randomly a broken bronze sort of sculpture next to them all. I wanted to know more about the history of these objects, as the plaques really just described what we were seeing. But my boyfriend was not a fan of audio guides.

We walked on to the Haggia Sophia (As I’ve said before, the Turks call it Aya Sofya and didn’t always understand if we said “Haggia Sofia”). We were dwarfed by this beautiful colossal structure. It looks like it couldn’t possibly have been built by humans as the scale is unbelievable. We went towards it past the fountains and trees framing it and it just kept on growing in size until I felt very small indeed.

Due to the weather the only decent photos of the Haggia Sophia were taken at night.

Due to the weather the only decent photos of the Haggia Sophia were taken at night.
All photos on this page copyright of Lydia (literarlydi). Please contact me if you wish to use them.

We queued for some time at the ticket office, but thankfully as it was December and a rainy overcast day, we didn’t have to wait long. The ticket price was very modest without a tour and it would have taken far too long to find out about the former church/mosque and museum as it is so steeped in history. Looking up minarets and domes went up into the sky as far as you could see.

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As we entered we were engulfed. Entering through the vast doors a massive painted, columned, domed space opened out before us and took our breaths away. I got a crick in my neck trying to admire the central dome. It had Arabic script in massive gold linear script. Next to it in a marvellous fusion of religious art, was the Virgin Mary and child.

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A zoom of the ceiling painting you can just see in the first picture of the Haggia Sophia interior above

All around the edge of the central dome, light flooded through from windows carved into the stone, framed by orange and green painted triangular tiles. There was a second level  almost touching the roof it seemed, with delicately carved viewing screens.

The floor was made up of slabs of marble, worn slightly from the worshippers and visitors over hundreds of years. In fact the main shell of the building is 2,500 years old, the first structure being built on the site around 500AD by a Roman emperor. There is a fantastic programme on the BBC at the moment: Byzantium: A Tale of Three Cities which can tell you much more than I can about the history of Istanbul and buildings such as the Haggia Sophia. It really brings the past to life, and without virtual reconstruction scenes in a way which is really quite clever. Let me know if you watch it and what you thought of it. I found the narrator quite amusing with his ironed jeans and fancy sunhat at a jaunty angle.

All photos displayed on this page are copyright Lydia Benns.

The lights seem to float in the air. All photos displayed on this page are copyright of Lydia (literarylydi)

The main area of worship was dark on this cloudy winter day and this made it all the more atmospheric, the gold Islamic inscriptions illuminated by rows of hanging metal chandeliers. Of course they no longer held candles but odd electric lights in little individual glass jars. They seemed to hang by themselves as you could hardly see the thin chains in the gloom, stretching down right from the cavernous roof.

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We then walked out of the doors and up to the royal viewing floor, the “upper gallery”. On doing so you really feel yourself following footsteps of the past as the beauty of the church dramatically disappears and you climb up a rough cobbled stone corridor weaving around and up with stone arching around you.Apparently this was part of a network of secret passageways enabling the Emperors and their families to go to the church/mosque without having to mingle with the commoners.

The Upper Gallery

The Upper Gallery (Copyright literarylydi)

Suddenly the cramped walkway opened out without warning into a grand open space, the high ceilings completely covered in painted and tiled patterns. This time you could not see the individual slabs of marble on the smooth shiny floor. There was so much history you could almost physically feel its presence in the building. There was even a bit of Viking graffiti reminding you of its age, vertical lines rudely etched into the viewing wall.

There were columns framing the space on the side towards the mosque, intricately patterned at the top. They were blackened up here with the soot from what must have been hundreds, perhaps thousands of candles hovering above the floor below. Every inch of ceiling was carefully painted and the variety of colours and patterns was astounding. In places you could make out where Byzantine church crosses had been painted over after the building was converted (literally). I had never seen mosaics of such scale. The whitewash that had previously covered them had been removed and they glittered even now. The figures looked at you serenely from their lofty perches, exquisitely detailed and done with such care and attention, showing how even their creation was a kind of worship.

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The view to the church below was an awe-inspiring sight. Watching the service from this height, royalty must have felt like Gods themselves.

I was in a dream-like daze in that superhuman structure. It is hard to believe it was built just 500 years after the supposed birth of Christ, without the impressive civil engineering technology we have today. I wondered how many slaves had died building it. The scaffolding must have been terrifying.

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I don’t think I will ever see anything as beautiful or as incredible as the Haggia Sophia again. If you haven’t seen it yet you must experience it for yourself.

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December 17, 2013 · 11:45 pm

On Mr Cameron’s “Small Island” generalisations

I was rather amused by Mr David Cameron’s Britain is Best speech at the G20 summit. This was not not just due to their similarity with the Prime Minister’s speech in British romantic comedy Love Actually, but by the glaring inconsistencies of it.

In response to an alleged comment by a Russian official that the United Kingdom was “just a small island” he responded “Britain may be a small island but I would challenge anyone to find a country with a prouder history, a 120802CameronPutin_6496554bigger heart or greater resilience”, continuing that:

“Britain is an island that has helped to clear the European continent of fascism and was resolute in doing that throughout the Second World War.

“Britain is an island that helped to abolish slavery, that has invented most of the things worthwhile inventing, including every sport currently played around the world, that still today is responsible for art, literature and music that delights the entire world.

“We are very proud of everything we do as a small island – a small island that has the sixth-largest economy, the fourth best-funded military, some of the most effective diplomats, the proudest history, one of the best records for art and literature and contribution to philosophy and world civilisation.”

Despite the communal applause in the press, the flaws of these comments were all too obvious. In comparison to Russia, we are indeed a small island. Regarding our past, yes we have had great inventors and famous people who have changed history. But so have many other countries. As for our history, the way we occupied the colonies, slaughtering the natives and attempting to convert them all to Christianity is nothing to be proud of.

1. Mr Cameron claimed Britain cleared “the European continent of fascism”. Yes but not without the military might of America, without whom we may well have lost the Second World War.

2. The statement with the most holes is that Britain “helped to abolish slavery”. As The Guardian’s Stephen Moss AS 55 Anti-Slavery Britain then pointed out, we profited from it for 300 years before this happened. A BBC history website points out that of all countries, Britain profited most from the trade.

As the Abolition Project website points out, it was no longer in Britain’s economic interests to continue slavery. Since America had become independent, it had been able to obtain sugar elsewhere. Furthermore, following the Industrial Revolution, we had been able to produce our own goods. It was also no longer profitable because of the continuous revolts. These points may explain why many importers of plantation produce were also abolitioinists. In August 1833 the Emancipation Act was passed under pressure from religious groups and abolition campaigners. However this still did not go far enough as it still required slaves to be “apprentices” working for free for six years before becoming emancipated.

“Apprenticeship” was not outlawed until 1838. The 1833 Act was only a partial victory, only applying to the West Indies, Cape Town, Mauritius and Canada. The Empire continued to profit from slavery in other countries. The Act did slave-ship01s  not stop the practice – many simply ignored the ruling and although reported by campaigners, it was not enforced. Treaties were entered into with other countries, and an “Anti-Slavery squadron” was set up of old and derelict Naval vessels. However ship owners that were caught were tried in foreign countries. Those freed were sent to Freetown, a British colony. However when that became full they were forced into the army or “apprenticeships”. It took 100 years after the Emancipation Act for total abolition of the trade, during which time Britain continued to profit by importing and exporting slave-grown sugar and importing slave-grown cotton.

For freed slaves conditions were still horrendous with endemic racism, poor living conditions and lower pay, as a former slave and American statesman, Frederick Douglass commented:

“Though no longer a slave, he is in a thralldom grievous and intolerable, compelled to work for whatever his employer is pleased to pay him, swindled out of his hard earnings by money orders redeemed in stores, compelled to pay the price of an acre of ground for its use during a single year, to pay four times more than a fair price for a pound of bacon and to be kept upon the narrowest margin between life and starvation….”

3. To say that we invented “most of the things worthwhile inventing” is doing a great disservice to the great 1885Benzinventions of other countries. The invention of the car for example, was crucial to our sixth-largest economy, in which a £52 billion turnover is supplied by the automotive industry.

4. Mr Cameron then claimed we invented “every sport currently played”, what about rowing, which was first recorded in Egypt, basketball and sumo wrestling? (to name just a few). The comment suggests that the only sports worth including are British ones, thus devaluing the sports of other countries. Furthermore the reason for the widespread playing of British sport again relates to colonial rule. Game fields were used for “moral instruction” of the conquered,  following a rejection of local cultures and beliefs.

British army troop5. As for a well-funded military, we are the fourth-largest worldwide spender on military. Yet after cuts, the army will eventually number just 82,000 – a level one British lawmaker said was the lowest since the Napoleonic Wars. Even the new British Head of Armed Forces, General Nicholas Houghton commented: “We’ve got to get back into an ‘expeditionary mindset’ where we will not have perfect capability for every scenario.”

A political opportunity was seized to put good spin on the unproven comment by a Russian official, using sweeping generalisations. The majority of the press responded as was intended. However, as a result of the comments we appeared arrogant, misinformed and laughable as a nation. Yes, Britain has been the home of many great inventors and yes we do have parts of history we can be proud of. But lets not diminish the achievements of other countries.

As American poet and critic Ezra Pound said: ““Any general statement is like a cheque drawn on a bank. Its value depends on what is there to meet it.”

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