Thursday, June 23, 2011

Island of Spirits

Crete is a mountainous land and the usually dormant volcanoes of this island have carved a treacherous terrain for the motorist, even if the goats thrive. Obviously, the roads must go over the top to get to the other side, and if you want to travel to anywhere else from the beach it generally means climbing to the top of the peaks. I took one such journey from Chania on the northwest coast to Fragocastello on the southern edge of the island, where a magnificent rocky shore, with its coral reefs and undersea wrecks awaits adventurous swimmers and divers.

It was an eventful drive but well worth the effort. Although I loved being in Chania, having made friends with some of the locals (even those who had come from France or Sweden) and enjoyed the stunning ancient town with its magnificent harbour, I wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. I couldn’t have chosen a better place, as I reached a peaceful oasis of calm that was so far removed from the highlife of the more touristic towns in the north that even the short time there soothed the spirit in a splendid sea of tranquillity.

Fragocastello is haunted. Legend has it that the dead roam these parts on a schedule. Every year on May 17th the spirits of the soldiers who were slaughtered defending this outcrop against the Turks over a hundred years ago, come up out of the sea and make their way to the castle in ghostly procession that is anticipated by the locals with flowers and prayers of remembrance. I didn’t get to see the phantoms approach, but there are plenty of other spirits around to keep everyone entertained throughout the long night’s wait for the spectres of the past to rise.

The sunsets and sunrises are amazing and unlike in the UK you actually get to see them both happen with regularity. Many of the buildings, like my place in Turkey, are solar powered – that’s a welcome source of renewable energy that makes one feel okay about plugging in the pc while having the lights on.

If you get the opportunity, try visiting Crete. If your spirit needs a boost and you have an interest in history and culture as well as the obvious sun, sea and sand and simply desire a ‘get away’ from the routine, it’s like discovering light at the end of the tunnel. 

There’s a lot to do and see (I’ll feature a few of the sights here soon), the people are welcoming and friendly, the nightlife is superb and let’s face it, their economy could do with a boost. Oh, when you see Corrine and Maria, tell them I sent you.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Back On Top of the Mountain

Due to so many commitments over the past couple weeks I haven’t really had time to write for the Blog, but today being Father’s Day I’ve been given the occasion to relax and mention a few places I’ve been recently. However, I promise to begin the new format soon and hopefully share with you all some interesting thoughts and photos of remarkable places to visit. From Scotland to Turkey and Greece to California I hope to inspire a little of that sense of adventure and excitement I get when travelling around new places to see wonderful art and encounter historical sites, or trying new foods and meeting fascinating people. Because I’ve been back in the UK I’ve been terribly busy, but getting out and about is also a requirement.

English summer weather can be a serene pleasure or a complete nuisance, but it’s nothing if not changeable. The weather is mild by comparison with the Mediterranean coast, but it can’t be relied on; one moment it’s warm and sunny and then suddenly thunderclouds roll in to shower the hills and vales with a rain that keeps everything green. A famous saying about British weather is that there can be all four seasons in a day, and it’s true, one can wake up to sunshine and clear skies and blustery winds or a damp mist can quickly give the bones a chill. But the weather in Britain is a constant source of conversation. This is a busy week in England, with Wimbledon beginning tomorrow, and the summer solstice approaching, bringing the inevitable festivals, the calendar of events is upon us.

With prehistoric shrines and places as religiously significant as Salisbury, Wiltshire is a county laden with historical importance. When I lived in the heart of this area, halfway between Avebury, with its magnificent standing rocks in a series of elevated rings and the mysterious site of Stonehenge, with its world-renowned puzzle of solstice aligned monoliths, I began to consider the essential balance between tourism and protection.

Although these monuments belong to everyone, as we are all recipients of this veiled knowledge, there is a real need to ensure future generations benefit from the experience of connectedness to ancestral sites and every year this week it seems there is the argument of who determines access to these hallowed places.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land

~ William Blake ~

According to tradition, when Jesus was a child Joseph of Arimethea brought him to Glastonbury on a trading mission, and that the Holy Grail, the cup the Christ drank from during the Last Supper, was transported to England following the crucifixion and is buried in a mound at this site. People outside of England may find it interesting to know that there are still those who claim to be Druids and, dressed in robes and pointed hats, demand right of entry to these sacred sites in order to perform ancient rites to the sun, obviously without the actual sacrificial virgin.

From the Vale of Avalon and Glastonbury with its regular summer festival, now a huge business enterprise pulling in hundreds of thousands of people seeking an alternative outlet from their mundane office jobs, to the Lake District with its water sports facilities and quaint cottages that rent for hundreds of pounds a week, England’s countryside mythology has inspired generations of artists, storytellers and musicians to create a unique cultural identity in keeping with the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood.

Travelling across this island nation, regardless of the time of year, is a worthwhile experience that enriches the soul with culture and a sense of personal and shared history. As bumblebees sample the flavour of elderflower, before it's made into a tasty wine or fizzy drink, and elderly women exercise loyal retrievers along gravel paths, the fragrance of fresh blooming wildflowers in glorious understated colours adds a storybook quality to villages that still revel in the imagery of folklore. Of course, returning to Derbyshire has provided me a great location from which to explore the central England countryside.

Rambling through the meadows and climbing the tors and dales followed by lunch in an ancient rural pub is truly English culture at its most traditional. Nowhere is this more revered than in the heart of the region that gave birth to the industrial revolution. Overlooking the mills and factories in this textile rich area the Heights of Abraham cable cars that remind us of the beginnings of modern machine power provide a stunning view across the fertile land that was once the main source of so much of the world’s economic growth.

The lofty summits above the Derwent Valley are an excellent vantage point from which to look down on over 2000 years of human history, from ancient stone circles to medieval castles and Victorian workhouses. The wide-open spaces and protected woodlands of this idyllic region are a wonderful place for family holidays as well as discovering the character of pastoral England.

The vibrancy of the arts and crafts community that continues to operate throughout this district gives rise to galleries and museums of the highest quality. From Buxton, where the mineral water is sparkling and crisp, to Nottingham with its fabulous new urban gallery space, the arts are alive and well. From Ashbourne, the town that claims to have invented the gingerbread man, to Wirksworth with its annual festival of modern art, middle England definitely has its finger on the pulse of current fashions in fine and crafts.

It has been a sincere delight to spend time back in this land, seeing a few friends for lunch and visiting family made tolerating the weather a fair trade, and yes I did manage to find some different chocolates – for purely experimental purposes of course. However, with the reason for the visit being my son’s operation it was also a bit stressful and hectic at times, though all credit to the surgeon and anaesthetist who were understanding and approachable, making it easier to handle the obvious fears of any parent in this situation. Of course, he still managed to remind me in a humorous way that it was Father’s day and I wouldn’t have expected any less from either of them – they didn’t disappoint!

Personally, although I’ve never been one for these recently invented card-giving holidays I’d like to see it become ‘Parent’s Day’ or ‘person who helps you grow up and become a great adult’ day or something similar because I think each provider of support and love and encouragement is worthy of recognition without the necessary gender or biological role specification. Then again, it’s wonderful to have two great sons who love and respect my place in their lives, and to know I mean as much to them as they do to me. I hope everyone’s day was as great as mine.

Now, as I head back off by myself to the blue sky I know another adventure awaits before I return to this rainy little island. It's always a bit frightening travelling by oneself to culturally different places but I look forward to the challenge of a new land where I expect to see more old friends and meet new ones. I have many half-written Blog entries to complete and as I make the changes to the structure I’ll share them with you but, if you would prefer to join me you know how to reach me. Drop me some sincerity. Or, would you rather dream of living than be living the dream?

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