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Liverpool

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Friendly locals, a busy nightlife and intimidating seagulls sum up my two night stay in Liverpool.

One beady-eyed bird even stole a sandwich from a sleeping homeless person and stabbed it eagerly with its long yellow beak.

I did not have chance to visit one of the many museums, such as the International Slavery Museum, but I had chance to sample the nightlife and it was much better than my home town.

Even though it was a week-day, there were plenty of people of all ages in the bar, listening to a guitar player sing. The Cavern Club was small, built with bricks and underground. Opening in 1957, The Beatles played there 274 times. Queen and The Beach Boys also played here, amongst many other famous bands. However, the acoustics were bad and amplified too much.

The nicest part of the city centre was Albert Docks, a regenerated collection of former warehouses, with Holiday Inn Express being the best place we stayed there. I had a view out on to the dock in my room and at breakfast, which made up for the stale pastries.

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August 10, 2019 · 7:31 pm

My First Tough Mudder

I was only doing this in memory of my colleague.

I have raised over £100 sponsorship, so it was worth it.

We set off in the morning with a van full of sleepy colleagues.

I imagined a series of obstacles and mud in between, maybe five, and imagined that it would be over in about 30 minutes.

It took hours.

Luckily it wasn’t very cold as we got soaked in mud-water trenches, scratched by stones from mud which had been worn away, stung by nettles, burned by electricity and got blisters from trying to do monkey bars.

But what made it worth it were all my colleagues pulling together, waiting at every obstacle for stragglers and ensuring everyone got through it.

I soon forgot about my aversion to dirt as I had to crawl through it under cargo nets and barbed wire.

I challenged my fear of heights by climbing a giant cargo net with nothing underneath. My legs shook and I felt sick but I managed it. I could do this because we were supporting each other every step of the way, sometimes literally.

There’s no “I” in team and the group is only as strong as its weakest link. That day we did not have one and the only injury was an electrical burn (that bit needs closing down) and a pulled muscle.

If you would like to donate, the link is here.

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August 4, 2019 · 6:46 pm

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.

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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.

Polynesian painting

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.

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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.

moai facing sea

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.

tribal face

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.

 

moai by the sea

sunset statues

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July 16, 2019 · 9:23 pm

A Little London Trip

 

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Last week I had the pleasure of a paid trip to London.

I made the most of the last evening and morning there by seeing my cousins and visiting the National Gallery.

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Looking at masterpieces from around the United Kingdom is always enjoyable and there is always something to catch the eye of someone creative such as myself.

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Copyright literarylydi. Can you guess what famous painting this is and the artist?

I almost always forget my sketch book. Once again, I bought one. I only had an hour. I just managed to do a quick sketch in that time. When I finished and put the book down, I heard a collective gasp from a group of school kids age 6-7. “How did you do that?!!” a girl asked. “Practice”, I replied. “You can do art like this if you practice.” Another girl said “I have loads of sketches in my art book”. “Keep practicing!” I said, “it’s a lot better than watching TV”. Hopefully I inspired a future artist. I wanted to go to art school after sixth form, but my mum persuaded me that it was not a stable career and I am grateful for her for encouraging me to pursue a more stable existence.

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I dislike the stress, rudeness, noise, crowded and polluted conditions in London. People would push past you constantly, even if there was plenty of room. Time is money and everyone has somewhere to be urgently. Travelling on the tube in the rush hour was an awful experience and made me feel ill. It was hot, smelly, dirty and uncomfortable. I had to jump on and hope people made way for me, it was the only way to travel. I try to walk where I can, it’s a much better experience and there is so much to see. Each area of London has its own identity, a patchwork quilt of little villages, with their own history and culture.

It was a relief to return to my city with it’s clean cool air, smiling people and relaxed atmosphere. It is true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. I was so happy to be home.

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Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square

 

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November 18, 2018 · 8:59 pm

Birmingham Christmas Market

What I love about Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas market is its size, diversity and atmosphere.

It is the largest Christmas market outside of Germany or Austria and it takes place in their main square, as it has for 15 years. I had a Baileys hot chocolate and two “Christmas” shots. I also tried the German mini pancakes, a waffle and a hot dog.

Enjoying the merry go-round were people from all backgrounds and cultures, including a man wearing a taqiyah, a man wearing a turban and a woman wearing a hijab.

Get down there and enjoy it. It runs until 23 December.

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November 18, 2018 · 8:30 pm

The Picturesque Pyrenees

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There is something sublime about walking in the mountains.

Once you get up there, that is.

It was a long, hot ascent to the summit. The summer heat made our clothes stick to us as we stumbled up the winding fir tree forest path. The unforgiving ascent seemed endless.

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At one point, the path disappeared and we were launched into ferns.

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Another path had eroded partly off the mountain, and we had to lean into it to avoid sliding off.

But it was all worth it when we spotted a Griffin vulture soar out of the clouds, low above us. It flew serenely on the thermals, surveying us scrambling about on the peak.

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A brightly coloured patchwork of alpine flowers decorated the ground and the mountains in the distance were blue and green. You felt like all the city stress was slipping away down the slopes as you inhaled the fresh air and became absorbed in sounds of nature.

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One day we had a wild swim. The water was not particularly cold. The lake was encircled by pine trees and reflected the blue sky like a mirror. When we stood on the bottom, little fish came and nibbled at the dead skin on our feet. A complimentary pedicure.

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We walked away from the heat of the valley and up into the Pyrenees over two days, each route lasting around 7 hours. We walked slowly on GR tracks – French for big walk, taking plenty of photographs of the breathtaking scenery. We were staying near the picturesque French village of Seix, where we saw an impressive firework and kayak flare display for their festival.

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When we got down, hot, sticky and weary, we enjoyed tasty French food, full of flavour. Even their tinned beans were perfectly edible.

Our Air B’n’B host had friends round one night. They shared pineapple-infused rum with us from La Reunion, an island that is a French colony, and invited us to go on a traditional morning walk up a mountain with them. They were meeting the Spanish at 9am at the summit border. The French were bringing cheese and the Spanish were bringing wine!

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September 4, 2018 · 2:57 am

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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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