10 thoughts for Earth Day

I spent Earth Day in the best possible way, elbow deep in dirt, working the soil and sowing seeds. As I was preparing a small vegetable patch, I spotted a wild rabbit just a few feet away watching my progress with keen interest and cheeky bravado. I may have to plant a few extra lettuces just in case.

Now the light has gone and I am back indoors nursing a piping hot cuppa,  I thought I would rustle up a few of my favourite earthy quotes coupled with some of my travel shots to round off this Earth Day. I hope you enjoy them.

Earth laughs in flowers.     ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

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I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want to own.       ~Andy Warhol

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What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.     ~Mahatma Gandhi

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To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.                           ~William Blake

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Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.      ~Theodore Roosevelt

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Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.  ~Albert Einstein

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Only when the last tree has died, and the last river has been poisoned, and the last fish has been caught, will we realize that we cannot eat money.     ~Cree Indian proverb

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There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more.              ~Lord Byron

Pacific Ocean World Ocean Day

The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.    ~John Muir

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Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, 
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.                 ~Dr. Seuss

Happy Earth Day 2014. How did you spend your day?

xxx Ailsa

 

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Travel theme: Round

I’m still a little enchanted by the magic of Brian Boru’s fort, with its rounded earthen walls guarded by a ring of trees, so I went looking for a few more rounded photos I’ve taken on my travels.

First up, the glowing and humming round flowers of the Sonic Bloom exhibit in Seattle.

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An eye-catching ball of water fountain in the lobby of the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

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Looking through the round portholes of a rather unusual ship in a bottle along the banks of the Hudson River in Manhattan.

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The stunning ceiling of an unexpected monastery with more than a few secrets on the outskirts of Washington D.C.

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I hope you’re going to stick a-round to come up with your own interpretation. If you would like to join in this week’s travel theme (everyone’s welcome!) here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Round
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes

xxx

Ailsa

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate                                  - J.R.R. Tolkien

Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home. – James Joyce

Posted in Photography, Travel, Weekly Travel Themes | Tagged , , , , , , | 144 Comments

Looking for Brian Ború – Killaloe

April 23rd 2014 marks the thousandth anniversary of the death of a legendary High King of Ireland. Every Irish person, child and adult alike, is familiar with the name of Brian Ború; his stance against the Vikings and his death at the Battle of Clontarf feature in all school history books, pubs and restaurants bear his name and paintings abound of a larger-than-life bearded warrior with flowing hair brandishing a sword. But apart from a vague idea of a warrior king who died defeating the Vikings, for most people, he has always been a little blurry around the edges. Even dedicated scholars of history disagree about Ború’s politics, achievements and heroic status. One thing is certain, however. Of all the High Kings of Ireland, his is the only name instantly recognizable to all. For some reason, the spirit of Brian Ború; the man, the king, the warrior and the legend, refuses to retreat quietly into the past.

Last weekend I made a trip to visit his birthplace; a quaint little village that gave rise to Ireland’s most famous king. Killaloe, County Clare and its twin town, Ballina, County Tipperary, straddle the banks of the River Shannon, at the southern end of Lough Derg; the largest of the Shannon’s lakes.

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It was in Killaloe that Brian was born, 12th son of a local tribal chief, Cennétig (Kennedy), around 941 AD. While Gaelic Celts had been enjoying an entirely homogenous existence in Ireland since approximately 500 BC, they had been weathering a spate of Viking invasions in the years leading up to Brian’s birth. Vikings had built strongholds in the coastal areas of Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Wexford and most strategically, Dublin. Elsewhere in the country, the Celts were a disparate lot; the country was divided into 5 regions corresponding to today’s provinces – Ulster, Leinster, Connacht/Connaught and Munster (with Meath making up the 5th region). All over Ireland, tribes were busy battling Vikings and vying for power amongst each other. It was one big mess.

Brian’s tribe was pretty low down in the pecking order; they were a branch of the Dál gCais who were themselves a branch of a branch of a tribe who were vassals paying homage to the King of Munster. As the twelfth son of a family so far removed from nobility, Brian looked set to disappear into the annals of history without leaving a trace behind. 

The drive across the country was delightful, despite Google Maps’ inability to keep up with the Irish predilection for building roundabouts. At some point you just toss the directions and go with your gut feeling that the winding dirt lane blocked by sheep is not, in fact, a major arterial. Killaloe was buzzing when I drove across the little bridge over the Shannon. A Viking village had been set up along the banks of the river, populated by living history re-enactors giving longboat rides and archery lessons.

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In ‘Viking’ tents there were talks and demonstrations of ancient metal working, cookery, herbal medicines and textiles.

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One chap was rushing around excitedly showing off his latest weaponry; he’d had them fashioned after artifacts on display in the National Museum of Ireland. They looked like they could inflict a serious amount of damage.

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A group of armour-clad Vikings led the crowds over the bridge to the Ballina side where they demonstrated battle skills and training games, including Bran Dubh and Ragnarok which looked suspiciously like that scene from the Hunger Games where everyone runs into the middle to grab a weapon and then the killing begins.

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I left the games to wander back to Killaloe in search of Brian’s palace of yore. When he ascended to High King of Ireland, Brian flew in the face of tradition. Instead of ruling the country from somewhere traditional like the Rock of Cashel, aka Cashel of the Kings, he elected to rule from his old stomping ground. It was the ancient equivalent of Princess Kate Middleton shopping at Topshop – Brian was keeping it real.

Steep, narrow streets scale the hill that rises abruptly up from the river bank. The royal residence that once graced its summit took its name from the hill, Kincora, an anglicized version of the Irish ‘Ceann Coradh’ which translates as Head of the Weir. These days, while the hill still offers a great vantage point over the village, there is no trace of the palace. After Brian’s death, Kincora was destroyed and rebuilt numerous times, then struck by lightning and finally demolished by a vengeful King of Connacht, who went to great lengths to eradicate every last piece of it by throwing the remaining stones and timber into the river. In its place stands an austerely constructed Catholic church.

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It was worth the visit, though. In the grounds of the church is a beautiful nave and chancel church, St Lua’s oratory, dating back to the 10th or 11th century. It was moved stone by stone from Friar’s Island on the Shannon River when a hydroelectric power station was built, resulting in the planned flooding and submerging of the island.

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The sun came out as I wound my way back down the hill, feeling distinctly unfulfilled. Viking combat games and vanquished palaces had brought me no closer to the legend of Brian Ború. Before leaving, I decided to make a short trip north of the village, along the promisingly named Brian Ború Walk which skirts the Shannon and the western shore of Lough Derg. A little over a mile along the road, I pulled over at the sight of a policeman wearing a luminous yellow jacket and brandishing a speed radar gun. “Excuse me”, I ventured, “do you know where Brian Ború’s fort is?” He looked puzzled for a moment, then he perked up and pointed. “There’s a sign on that gate there.” I looked, and sure enough, there was a sign on a plain metal gate, easily missed if you didn’t know what you were looking for.

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“What’s in there?” he asked. “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.” I answered. “Grand, so,” he flashed a smile. “I’ll keep an eye on your car while you go for your walk.” He re-assumed his position with the speed radar as I waved goodbye and pushed my way through a tiny turnstile by the metal gate. The walkway was a dirt track lined on both sides by harsh mesh fencing. One side was evidently private property, in the early stages of being immaculately landscaped; the other side was clear cut forest; tree stumps severed in their prime, baking under the hot sun. It must have been a lovely dappled forest glade at one time.

At the end of the pathway the mesh fencing melted away as the space opened out into a daisy-strewn clearing with a prepossessing earthen mound as a centrepiece.

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The sides were about 12 feet high and the base was encircled by a ditch that was half as deep again. Gnarled trees leaned out at impossible angles from the steep slopes that had been carefully molded by ancient hands. The nearby village, loud with revelry, tourists and the clink of metal on metal, seemed a million miles away. I was utterly and ecstatically alone in this tiny time-warped pocket of history. Erratic clumps of violets danced and the air was still and hot and thick with birdsong as I walked, mesmerized, towards the hill fort and scrambed up the slope.

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At the top a narrow path encircled the fort, affording tantalizing views of the Shannon and Lough Derg through the trees.

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This was an important spot in Brian’s time; overlooking the best place to ford the river where Lough Derg narrows into the Shannon River. Cattle destined for tribute to the Dalcassian (Dál gCais) chiefs would be driven across the river here. The ring fort’s Irish name, Bél Bóraime, alludes to the paying of tribute in cattle, and it is probably from this location that Brian, born Brian Mac Cennétig, got the nickname that was to stay with him throughout his life – and for a thousand years more – Ború. It was also the perfect location from which to govern passage and defend against invasion along the all-important Shannon. According to tales of old, at the height of his power, Brian kept two navies – one on Lough Derg and the other on the Shannon.

Inside, the sides sloped down, more gently than on the outside, to create a saucer-like enclosure with an entrance at one side. In the middle of the enclosure a fire pit and some charred wood conjured up images of early Celts gathered around a blazing fire. I wandered around the top of the fort for a bit before descending into the inner sanctum to lie down gazing up at the trees that towered overhead, soaking up the sunshine and the birdsong and breathing in the earthiness mingled with the faintest scent of violets.

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This magical, mystical spot is where Brian is believed to have been born and raised. Somewhere behind the birdsong I imagined the footsteps and laughter of a little boy who would one day grow up to be High King of all Ireland.

It was with great difficulty I roused myself from my languor and walked back towards the road. The policeman greeted me with a smile. “So, how was it?” I grasped for words that fit. “Enchanting. No, enchanted. A place to let your imagination run wild.”  “Grand so, I’ll bring the kids down some weekend.” He waved as I left. I spent the journey back imagining Brian’s reluctance to leave his home when, according to legend, he was sent to study with monks on the island of Innisfallen. There he would learn Latin, the ancient traditions of Ireland and significantly, the Brehon Laws; statutes which governed everyday life in early medieval Ireland – laws that were one of the few things that all five regions of Ireland had in common. He may have been sent there to join the clergy, and he might have done so, if it had not been for murder most foul. But that is a story for another day. 

For now, I leave you with some footage of my adventures in Brian Ború’s birthplace.

xxx Ailsa

During 2014 there are events all around Ireland celebrating the life and times of Brian Ború; for more information visit brianborumillenium.ie

Posted in Europe, Ireland, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

Travel theme: Clean

I’ve just been catching up on the week’s news and I audibly (and, it turns out, appropriately) gasped when I read this article in The Guardian about Beijing’s pollution crisis and canned air – or the alternative, bagged mountain air as photographed by Getty here. First we bottle water, now air; we’re running out of natural resources to commodify. Is it just me, or does this read like the opening scene of a really bad post-apocalyptic sci-fi?

In sympathy for the plight of beleaguered Beijing residents and in disbelief at worldwide corporate greed perpetuating the downward spiral of our environment, I’m choosing the theme Clean for this week’s theme. Freshly fallen snow makes everything seem cleaner, turning New York‘s Central Park into a winter wonderland.

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It was laundry day when I visited Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. All along the shoreline women were busy scrubbing clothes in the lapping lake waters.

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I was sitting on a park bench in Manhattan’s Battery Park when this little bird landed right next to me and proceeded to groom herself. Her antics were so funny I couldn’t stop myself from taking a few photos. She didn’t care; she stayed put until she was nice and clean.

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Raindrop-sprinked lilacs in springtime are about the freshest, cleanest scent I know.

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Are you ready to make a clean sweep? If you would like to join in this week’s travel theme (everyone’s welcome!) here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Clean
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

It’s time for some spring cleaning!

xxx Ailsa

Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you see the world. – George Bernard Shaw

Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Scientists will eventually stop flailing around with solar power and focus their efforts on harnessing the only truly unlimited source of energy on the planet: stupidity. I predict that in the future, scientists will learn how to convert stupidity into clean fuel. – Scott Adams

Posted in Photography, Travel, Weekly Travel Themes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 93 Comments

12 free things to do in Seattle’s Pike Place Market

No trip to Seattle would be complete without a visit to Pike Place Market, with its bustling stalls, cobbled streets and neon signs. seattle, pike place market, neon sign, waterfront, travel, travelogue, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney, travel tips Filled to overflowing with the freshest of produce and flowers, hand-crafted jewellery, artisan breads, jams, honey and cheese;  it is an easy place to get carried away on a shopping spree, but you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy the market. Here are a few suggestions that won’t strain your purse strings.

1. Watch cheese being made.

Beecher’s have been delighting Seattle’s taste buds since 2003 when they first opened their flagship store in Pike Place Market. beecher's cheese, seattle, pike place market, travel, travelogue, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney As you walk by the shop on the corner of Pike Place and Pine Street, you can push your nose up against the windows and watch the cheese makers at work in their glass-walled kitchen. beecher's cheese, seattle, pike place market, travel, travelogue, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney The end result is some of the freshest cheese you’ve ever tasted. beecher's cheese, seattle, pike place market, travel, travelogue, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

2. Watch street performers.

There’s always something going on down at the market, from clowns and living statues to incredible a capella gospel singers and Artis the Spoonman and Jim Page rocking the crowd into a frenzy. clown, seattle, pike place market, travel, travelogue, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney seattle, pike place market, travel, ailsa prideaux-mooney, travelogue

3. Discover your inner anarchist.

Left Bank Books began as a small kiosk in the market in 1973, moving shortly thereafter to its current shop front on First and Pine where it has served as bookstore to Seattle’s radical community ever since. Inside the store, jam-packed shelves creak under the weight of left-leaning tomes. For such a small space it packs in a wealth of titles; many from indie publishers and covering every subject imaginable. It is easy to spend a couple of hours looking through the neatly organized shelves of this gem of a bookstore and when you finally emerge back into daylight, don’t be surprised if you’ve developed a rebellious swagger to your gait. left bank books, seattle, pike place market, travel, travelogue, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

4. Go pig spotting.

Pike Place Market is renowned for its pigs; they’re everywhere. Big ones, small ones, in shop windows, on the sidewalk, perched on rooftops. The most famous pig, Rachel, stands guard proudly underneath the main sign for the market, but there are many more to be found if you take the time to look around. pike place market, seattle, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, pike place market, seattle, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney,

5. Read the floor.

The market floor is covered with approximately 55,000 ‘name’ tiles. They were sold as part of a fundraising campaign and anyone who bought one could choose an inscription for their tile when they were installed in 1985. Mixed in with the names of market supporters and local Seattleites you can find all kinds of celebrities and even a couple of presidents. There are plenty of interesting inscriptions to keep you entertained. Here are a few of my favourites.pike place market, seattle, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, tiles, floor tiles, famous names pike place market, seattle, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, tiles, floor tiles, famous names pike place market, seattle, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, tiles, floor tiles, famous names

Don’t wait too long to check out the tiles. Several are cracked or broken, having weathered market crowds for almost 30 years, so they’re slowly being replaced. Catch them while you can.

6. Follow the hoof prints.

While you’re looking at the floor, check out the bronze pig hooves on the ground near the main entrance; also part of the fundraising campaign. You might spot a few familiar names. pike place market, seattle, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, bronze pig prints, pig hoofs, famous names pike place market, seattle, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, bronze pig prints, pig hoofs, famous names

7. Watch out for low-flying fish.

This is perhaps the most popular of tourist activities at the market, but even so, it’s well worth a quick stop. Fishmongers hurling huge fish to each other is guaranteed to get the crowd going, especially when they miss.pike place market, seattle, flying fish, throwing fish, fish market, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, photography If you’re very brave, you can get in on the action for yourself. pike place market, seattle, flying fish, throwing fish, fish market, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, photography

8. Take a photo of the “original” Starbucks.

The “original” is in quotation marks because in the days before Howard Schulz and long before the Venti Frappuccino, the original Starbucks was located at 2000 Western Avenue at the intersection with Virginia Street. They didn’t relocate to their present spot in the market until 1977 when their old building was torn down.original starbucks, starbucks coffee, seattle, pike place market, travel, travelogue, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

At least the logo is the original one. The brazen mermaid was deemed a little too titillating for general consumption in the 1970s so she was replaced with a more demure version.

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 9. Sample the good life.

The vendors at the market believe in try before you buy, so there’s no end to delicious samples on offer, from unique jams…

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…to chocolate pasta – seriously, you have to taste it!

10. Stop and smell the roses.

… or tulips, depending upon the season. Pike Place Market is the best place in the city to find freshly cut blooms at a bargain price, and the sight of those bouquets stretching the length of the market halls is enough to gladden the heart.pike place market, flower market, seattle, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

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11. Make your mark on Seattle’s Gum Wall.

This is a sight so grisly it deserved its very own post, so I wrote about it here. seattle, pike place market, lower post alley, market theatre, gum wall, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

12. Get a mystical energy boost.

Wander down the steps to Western Avenue to get a view of the Market from another angle. While you’re down there, look for an alcove underneath the bridge where a staircase leads you back into the market. At the bottom of the steps lies an unusual sculpture named ‘A Point’. pike place market, seattle, a point sculpture, michael oren, seattle artist, ley lines, seattle ley lines, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney The work of late Seattle artist Michael Oren; it honours the Native American peoples who lived here long before settlers set foot in the Pacific Northwest. It is placed on a spot sacred to the Duwamish, Suquamish and Nisqually tribes in the area and held to be a ‘thin place’ where this world and other realms collide. The three sides to the sculpture may well signify the three tribes; there is also a suggestion that the three sides correspond to the direction of three significant ley lines that run through Seattle and intersect right at the tip of the sculpture. The artist incorporated crystals at the base of the sculpture for people to run their hands over, in the hopes of increasing their chances of feeling the energy being emitted. Hold your hand over the top of the sculpture and see if you get a jolt of otherworldly energy. Then go back up the steps to the market and explore some more!

xxx Ailsa

Posted in Photography, Travel, Travel tips, United States, Washington | Tagged , , , , , | 51 Comments

Travel theme: Misty

It is the middle of the night as I write this and a thick fog has descended outside, muffling sounds, dimming streetlights to a whisper and smudging the surrounding countryside into dark, indecipherable daubs of smoke. This is my favourite kind of weather, utterly romantic and thrillingly mysterious. Fog-drenched cities transport me to Dickensian London, full of cobblestones and horse-drawn carriages, villains, jovial ne’er-do-wells and the occasional cheeky urchin. In the countryside, the very minute a veil of mist obscures the view, I fancy I hear Cathy’s ghost calling out across the moors for her beloved Heathcliff. Inspired by the great swirling blanket outside my window, I have gone looking for some of my haziest photos.

Arches National Park on a misty day has got to be seen to be believed. Spectacular at any time of year, but during monsoon season it takes on an entirely mystical allure.

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Manhattan in the fog looks like an ocean liner gliding gently down the Hudson River. Even the yellow cabs seem to honk in hushed tones.

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I spotted this baby fawn trying to keep up with its mother on a cloud-covered trek in Mount Rainier National Park.

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A horse and his rider, enveloped in the fog that greeted us as we reached the top of Volcán de Pacaya in Guatemala. We didn’t toast marshmallows on the hot lava, but I did get to ash-ski back down the volcano by twilight, which was a ridiculous amount of fun.

mistyhorse

I hope this week’s travel theme doesn’t get you lost in the mists of time. If you would like to join in (everyone’s welcome!) here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Misty
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

Play Misty for me.

xxx Ailsa

Walk on a rainbow trail; walk on a trail of song, and all about you will be beauty. There is a way out of every dark mist, over a rainbow trail. - Robert Motherwell

…and one of my favourite poems, it never fails to make me laugh…

In the Arms of My Glasses

They can call me softy
as ofty
as they please
but still I’ll stand by these
my little optical accessories
they stop me walking into lampposts
and trees, when it’s foggy
and I’m out walking with my doggie

- John Hegley

Posted in Photography, Travel, Weekly Travel Themes | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 174 Comments

Travel theme: Statues

After my brief encounter with Rome’s talking statues, I went looking for other memorable statues I have found on my travels. I will never forget the heartwarming statue of Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh, erected in memory of a faithful Skye Terrier who is believed to have followed the coffin of his master to Greyfriars churchyard and guarded the grave for 14 years. When he died of old age, he was buried just inside the church gate, close by his master’s grave. What a good boy.

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I caught this silhouette of Lady Liberty towering over the cranes of the New Jersey docklands during a fiery sunset in Battery Park, Lower Manhattan.

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Here’s the moving Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C. It was the height of summer and there was an insane heatwave so I didn’t venture outdoors until evening, but thankfully they illuminate everything in D.C.

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The giant Muffler Man cowboy who loomed large along Route 66 in Amarillo, Texas until late last year, when he was sold in an auction to a private bidder.

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One of my favourite Seattle statues; the late, great Jimi Hendrix in full rock star pose on the corner of Broadway and Pine.

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Are you ready to carve out your own interpretation of this week’s theme? If you would like to join in (everyone’s welcome!) here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Statues
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

Looking forward to seeing your figures and figurines; your bas-reliefs and bronzes!

xxx Ailsa

The statue of Freedom has not been cast yet, the furnace is still hot, we can all still burn our fingers. – Georg Büchner

Sometimes you’re the pigeon and sometimes you’re the statue. – Unknown; attributed to many, but applicable to all. :)

Posted in Photography, Travel, Weekly Travel Themes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 185 Comments

Congregation of Wits

Rome is filled to bursting with spectacular statues in pristine condition but the one that really won a place in my heart is worn and eroded and in such poor condition you can barely make it out. What it lacks in definition, however, it more than makes up for in aiding and abetting civil disobedience. Just off the southwest corner of the Piazza Navona you will find the infamous Pasquino; a limbless male torso believed to represent Menelaus, the mythical king of Sparta. His long since disconnected hand appears to be grasping another torso, possibly the dead body of Patroclus in a representation of a scene from The Iliad.

The statue, dating from around 3BC, was unearthed during road construction in 1501 and put on display in this small piazza now named Piazza Pasquino in its honour. Where it got the nickname Pasquino also remains a mystery. One story has it that the statue was discovered near an inn run by a man named Pasquino. Another more elaborate story tells of a man named Pasquino whose work (as a tailor or a teacher depending upon the story teller) caused him to frequent the Vatican. The Vatican ruled all of Rome at the time, and Pasquino, with access to behind-the-scenes intrigues, was in the perfect position to get the inside story on who was doing what to whom. When he would return from his frequent visits to the Vatican, he took great delight in fuelling Rome’s gossip mill with the latest goings on, often adding his own ascerbic commentary to the mix. When Pasquino died, his fellow citizens named the statue after him and started attaching anonymous comments to the statue, lampooning the ruling class, much as Pasquino had done during his lifetime. The English word pasquinade, meaning a lampoon or criticism posted publicly, owes its origin to this tradition.

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The Popes were often the target of the derision. Pope Adrian VI so dreaded the criticisms posted on Pasquino that he suggested the statue should be thrown into the Tiber. The only thing that stopped him was the fear that Romans would ridicule him for being afraid of a statue, so dear old Pasquino remained where he was. Instead, armed guards were posted in the piazza to prevent anyone leaving anonymous notes.

And so the Congregation of Wits was born. Within days, other statues around town started ‘talking’ too. Marforio, a reclining Roman river god at the northwest end of the Roman forum, was the first to respond – and often had animated ‘discussions’ with Pasquino. Notes posted on one statue would be responded to on the other statue and so the discussions would bounce back and forth. Marforio was moved to several different locations around the city but kept talking until the Vatican finally decided to enclose him in the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori up on Capitoline Hill, where he still resides today. The powers responsible for his incarceration said it was in order to keep the statue safe; although many believe the real motive was to keep the statue quiet.

Other statues now got in on the act too - Il Faccino (The Porter) on the Via del Corso mocked the ruling classes while dispensing water from his stone cask; the lovely Madama Lucrezia added the sole female voice to the congregation; and the statue of Abbot Luigi, now located close to the Basilica di Sant’Andrea della Valle, also joined in the political and religious satire. This last statue is believed to be of an unknown emperor of Rome; unknown because the head belongs to another statue.

A plaque underneath his statue roughly translates as: “I was a citizen of ancient Rome. Now I am known as Abbot Luigi. Together with Marforio and Pasquino I achieved eternal fame for civil satire. I have endured insults, disgrace and interment, but here my new life is finally secure.”

That’s not entirely true, however, as Abbot Luigi has been known, on occasion, to lose his head – when someone steals it. Luckily, however, his head always seems to find its way back.

Rounding out the congregation of wits is the most startling of statues. When I was making my way from the Spanish Steps to the Piazza del Popolo I followed the curiously named Via del Babuino (Baboon Street). Halfway along I spotted a rather hirsute-looking statue lolling over a trough of water.

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It’s a statue of Silenus; a drunken pal of the god of wine and fertility, Dionysus. It’s a superb representation of a lecherous drunkard on the prowl, but early Romans found the statue so grotesque they quickly nicknamed it The Baboon and the nickname stuck. His location in a largely unpoliced part of 16th century Rome made him a vociferous member of the Congregation of Wits. I suspect he wasn’t the politest of commentators.

Oddly, I didn’t spot a single note attached to Rome’s talking statues. The wall behind Il Babuino used to be thick with graffiti but now, thanks to graffiti-proof paint, it is starkly blank. But judging by the expression on the statue’s wizened old face, I suspect he’s still got an awful lot to say.

xxx Ailsa

Posted in Europe, Italy, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Travel theme: Pink

After a long and arduous winter that felt like it was never going to end, yesterday marked the vernal equinox up here in the northern hemisphere. As if to mark the occasion, when I was out walking yesterday, a solitary, fragile cherry blossom drifted into view, breaking through the winter gloom with a promise of warmer, longer days ahead. So it is with great glee that I offer up pink as this week’s travel theme. It’s a colour you either love or hate, but if you look closely, there’s an awful lot of it around.

This is how Seattle does spring time.

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Utah is positively bursting with pink, like the haunting pink hoodoos of Bryce Canyon

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…and the mesmerizing Coral Pink Sand Dunes at sunset…

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Then there is the elegant pink of glorious flamingos…

pink flamingos

…a dramatic pink-streaked sunset over Manhattan

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…an utterly romantic smoky blush of dawn from the window of the Empire Builder train crossing the US…

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…and a deliciously delicate pink dawn from the window of an airplane.

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I hope you’re tickled pink enough to come up with your own interpretation of this week’s theme. If you would like to join in (everyone’s welcome!) here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Pink
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

Show me your flushed, blushed, rosy shots. Think pink!

xxx Ailsa

Almost all words do have color and nothing is more pleasant than to utter a pink word and see someone’s eyes light up and know it is a pink word for him or her too. – Gladys Taber

Wish on everything. Pink cars are good, especially old ones. And stars of course, first stars and shooting stars. – Francesca Lia Block

A kiss, when all is said, what is it?
A rosy dot placed on the “i” in loving;
‘Tis a secret told to the mouth instead of to the ear.   – Edmond Rostand (Cyrano de Bergerac)

Posted in Photography, Travel, Weekly Travel Themes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 201 Comments

Saint Patrick and Saint Toothless

Just south of County Dublin in Ireland lies County Wicklow, often referred to as the Garden of Ireland because of its stunning landscape and coastline. In keeping with the natural beauty of the area, the name Wicklow is thought to come from the old Norse Víkingalág, anglicized to Wykynlo and meaning Viking meadow, which conjures up images of burly men in scary hats romping across wildflower-strewn fields.  However, the name for Wicklow in Irish, Cill Mhantáin, bears no relation whatsoever to its Viking name. It translates as Church of the Toothless One and its origin dates back to St. Patrick’s arrival in Ireland. I was intrigued, so this St. Patrick’s Day weekend I travelled down to Wicklow town to find out more.

Just south east of the town centre, I followed Castle Street towards the coast and after a short distance found a wide open stretch of land leading to the ruins of Black Castle, perched ominously on a rocky promontory overlooking the sea.

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Clambering up the stony steps gave a dramatic view of the surrounding water and countryside for miles in all directions; it was an ideal spot for fortification against attack.

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The castle was built after the Norman invasion of 1169 and suffered repeated attacks from local clans until it was finally razed in 1580. Its ruins still stand guard over the Wicklow coast today, but if you look south from the castle, you’ll spot a small beach that played a large a part in giving Wicklow its Irish name.

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Inver-dea at the mouth of today’s Vartry river was a much used port in early Ireland, and this beach, Travailahawk beach, is where many an early visitor to Ireland would disembark.

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When St Patrick was a boy, he was taken to Ireland as a slave. He escaped his captors and fled the country – some believe he departed from this very beach. When he returned to Ireland years later, on a mission to spread Christianity throughout the land, he chose Travailahawk beach as the place to begin his journey.

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However, St. Patrick and his followers were met with a stony welcome – and I mean that literally. The local pagans picked up stones and started winging them at the would-be missionaries and in the debacle, one of Patrick’s followers had all his front teeth knocked out. Patrick bid a hasty retreat, sailing north and electing instead to begin his missionary work in Antrim in Northern Ireland.

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The poor old monk who had lost his teeth was given the nickname Manntain (toothless one), and despite all odds, he returned to Wicklow and set up a church. The church and the toothless saint live on today in Wicklow’s Irish name.

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Now that’s what I call dedication. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Posted in Europe, Ireland, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 49 Comments