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Sunday, May 29, 2005

THE WELSH ADVENTURES

Caerphilly Castle

'Five years have past; five summers, with the length of ive long winters!
And again I hear these waters, rolling from their mountain springs
With a soft inland murmur -- once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Though of more deep seclusion; and connect
the Landscape with the quiet of the sky...
Nor will though then forget
Tat after many wanderings, may years of absence,
these steep winds and lofty cliffs
And the green pastoral landscape, were to me
more dear both by themselves and for thy sake...'
Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey: William Wordsworth

The magestic ruins of Tintern stand as a symbol of past ecclesiastical glory on the River Wye. Originally founded in 1131 on land donated to cictrcian monks by Waler de Clare, Lord ofChepstow, the abbey survived until the dissolution of the monasteries by Hewrny VIII in 1536.

We arrived at Chepstow around noon on Friday and checked into our B&B, then headed off immediately to do the Wye Valley walk to Tintern. 6 miles (or so they say...we began to believe as we slogged along, that English miles are twice as far as Canadian!) The trail is easy at first, through the woods, so it was cool in spite of a hot day. I've done the hike twice before, once in 1989 when I hiked both ways, returning on the Offa's Dyke trail. And again in 1996 with my friend Anne. I honestly don't remember so much uphill grind the first two times, but there were. So the trail got tricky in places and then, we finally reached the picnic area where I remember Anne and I stopping for a lunch break, and realized the next part of the trail was up 365 steps. If I'd checked the map I'd have found the lower trail, over the fields and stiles, but I didn't and we opted to take the highway (like Anne and I did). The road is narrow with a very narrow verge which we had to keep hopping up on as there was a fair amount of traffic. And it's a winding road, not straight on, so every turn we came to we expected to see the Abbey and I swear to god they had moved it! When we eventually reached there it was 5.30 and the Abbey was closed!! However as it is a big structucture, magnificent grey stone set in a green valley, we managed to get some good photos which made the trek worthwhile. Then we caught a bus back to Chepstow. (How on earth did I do both ways the first time?? Well...I was much younger and obviously fitter then!)
We had started out at 2.30 and hiked til 5.30. So it was a long, gruelling trek.

Once back in Chepstow, which is a lovely little Welsh town, we found an excellent put The Horse and Carriage, and had a delicious meal and a few pints of Guiness before turning in. Early the next morning we went to see the Chepstow Castle, a massive medieval fortress on the Wye River, sitting on a rock above the swirling waters. It stands guard over a strtegic crossing point into Wales. Started not long after the Battle Hastings (1066 AD) by William Fitz Osbern a companin of William the Conqueroror, it was a landmark in more ways than one and one of Britains' first stone-built strongholds.

With luck, we manage to get a bus right to Newport, and from there direct to Caerphilly, my father's home. As soon as I cross into Wales, I feel I am at home too. I see people who could be kinfolk, hear the lilting Welsh accent that reminds me of my Dad. I've visited Caerphilly many times and always feel that I have come back to my roots. I still have cousins there and that's who we have come to visit.

I took Ingrid on a tour of Caerphilly Castle soon after we arrived at Sheila's. This is the castle my Dad played in as a child, and I grew up hearing stories about it. So it's like 'my' castle.

The fortress sprawls over a huge area (30 acres in all) making it easily the biggest in Wales and along with Windsor and Dover, the largest in Brtaiain. It was built in the late 13the centruy by the Anglo-Norman lord Gilber de Clare, to consolidate his grip on the lands he had captured. The foretress impressed onlookers and an awestruck 14th century Welsh poet descirbed it as a g#;giant Caerfifili'. De Clare's castle, a high point in medieval military architecture is a surpreme example of the concentric 'walls iwithin walls' sysetem of defence and includes water defences -- a moat and two small lakes, cretibing a castle that seems to be on an island.

Of course a visit to Caerphilly has to include a walk up Windsor Street to see my dad's family home. And as we had driven into the town, through Bedwas, I showed Ingrid the slag heaps fromthe mine where Dad had worked from the time he was 14 to his mid twenties when he had lost his mining card due to his union activity in support of his fellow miners. Of course, thanks to Maggie Thatcher, there is only 1 working mine left in Wales at this time.

We had a lovely visit with my cousins. And a great treat today when Chris drove down from Worcester to spend a few hours with us. Then Ingrid was treated to a tour of cousin Andrea's house: which happens to be one of the mansions formerlly belonging to the mine bosses (a step up for our mining family!). Andrea and Paul are restoring the old house and it's a masterpiece!

She drove us into Cardiff at noon and we intended to sight-see for awhile. We did see the museum which was free. As soon as I walked into the art gallery, there was a painting by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) of the body of Phocion being carried out of Athens. This was an incredible moment for me as I'd just been writing about Phocion (Athen's military governor) in my novel. He was falsely accused of treason and executed s a traitor and this painting depicts them carrying his body out of the city as he wasn't allowed to be buried on Athenian soil. Was this some kind of good omen for me, I wondered?

Also in the gallery was a painting of DylanThomasby Augustus John (painted 1937-38 at the Fitzroy Tavern in London.
'I got him to sit for me twice,' said John ' The second portrait being the more successful provided with a bottle of beer, he sat very patiently.'

We intended to go to the Cardiff castle but the streets were chock full of revellers heading for the stadium for a football match. It was quite an overwhelming scene: thousands of yobs waving blue and white banners, swilling beer, chanting, singing, and carrying on and they weren't even at the stadium yet! We beat a hasty retreat to the side streets and found a quiet place to hide out til the streets were clear. And what a mess they'd left behind: beer cans and plastic cups and rubbish ankle deep. Disgusting! That's the footballers for you. We were not too impressed.

Got the bus back (passengers had to be walked from the Coach station by security to another stop to board because all the roads were blocked off. Cops everywhere!) Arrived back in London at 8 and met MJ briefly at a pub by the station. Then we made our way back to the Y and checked in for the night.

Just up the road from the Y is the famous Fitzroy Tavern where Dylan Thomas sat for the portrait. We went there for a pint and happened to sit right below a wall full of self-portraits and other memorabalia of the artist, Augustus John. The whole pub is full of pictures of the famous Bohemians who used to hang out there. Downstairs is a small pub area called 'The Writer's and Artists' Bar'. We really wished we'd found this place sooner as it was an interesting place, with quite a rich ambience as you can imagine!

So now we are safely back in the Indian Y and after our curried egg breakfast in the morning we'll be heading out to Heathrow for our noon flight to Athens.
It's been a wonderful adventure so far and we're looking forward to the next part, and especially lying on a beach by the blue Aegean and soaking up the warm Greek sun!


Thursday, May 26, 2005

LONDON NOTES: Art and Theatre

'London, thou art the flower of Cities all'
William Dunbar 1465-1530 London Refrain.

There are just so many cultural activities and things to see around this city. We were on the go all day today looking at everything from art to attending the theatre. And we took in a couple of London's beautiful churches as well, including the magnificent Westminster Abbey.

The highlight of Ingrid's day was seeing the Turners and Constables in the British Art Museum. She's studied art and so this was quite a thrill for her. I've been there a lot of other times although I do enjoy having a look now and then. My favorites are still the French Impressionists. I'll never forget the very first time I walked into the Gallery and saw VanGough's 'Sunflowers.' I burst into tears.
Today I was looking at some of the Italian Renaissance painters although I find their work is detailed and heavy.

We walked down the Mall and had a little picnic in St. James Park watching the various waterfowl who come begging for scraps. Then around by the palace (which I've also seen a zillion times).This is all first-time for Ingrid so we let her choose the destinations.

After a quick trip to Covent Gardens we went to Westminster Abbey and Ingrid and I went in to look around. It's intersting to see who is buried there and of course all the ornateness of the place. Too bad we missed the choir practice which is what we'd really have liked to hear.

Then, down the Thames and across by foot on the Milenneum Bridge to the New Globe Theatre. We had a delicious meal at the Anchor Tavern (roast beef, Yorkshire pudding etc) as well as a couple of pints of Guiness. Then, off to the theatre.

The New Globe is a fascinating look at what the original Shakespearean theatres were like. It has a open ceiling and the cheap tickets are standing room on the floor in front of and around the stage. The stage and the tiers are covered so the shows go on rain or shine. We had a good seat up on the tiers but there were a couple of pillars blocking some of the view. The performance was 'The Tempest' and it was a very different version than I've seen before. There were only 3 actors (male) who played all the parts, 3 female dancer/sprites (MJ thought they were biker girls because of the way they were dressed in jeans and black jackets) and a 'choir' up in the 'god's box'. The acting was brilliant but it was confusing trying to keep track of the characters especially for MJ who didn't really know the story well. I kept dozing off because I was so tired from jet-lag and walking, but came to later on and managed to pick up the threads more or less. Mainly I just listened to the amazing monologues and the way they were delivered. It was an entertaining play, even if you didn't have a clue, and a really good insight into how the Shakespearan plays might have been presented. I got lots of good pictures of the interiors and the audience.

Tomorrow morning, early, we're off to Cheptsow and hopefully my feet will hold out for the 5 mile walk to Tintern. I managed to hurt my back and put undue pressure on my feet by foolishing packing too heavy a back-pack. But I think by tonight they are much better. So, it's off to bed now and perchance to dream...

'We are such stuff as dreams are made on, andour little life
Is rounded with a sleep.' William Shakespeare The Tempest

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

LONDON NOTES: The Bloomsbury Gals in Fitzrovia

We're staying at the Indian Y by Fitzroy Square in an area that happens to be steeped in literary history. What a thrill to find that right across the park is the home where George Bernard Shaw lived in 1887-98. 'From the coffers of his genius he enriched the world.'
And after him, a young woman named Virginia Stephen move in. She started writers meetings, met a man named Leonard Woolf and became famous as the writer/critic Virginia Woolf. She lived at this house from 1907-11. Here she wrote 'The Voyage Out' and with her husband formed Hogarth Press and the Bloomsbury group.

Other famous writers and people of historical note also lived in this area. Right across the street in a corner house (now part of the London Foot Hospital) lived General Francisco de Miranda, (1750-1826) precursor of Latin American independence. Here he was visited by Simon Bolivar and Bernardo O'Higgins (liberator ofChile) to plan the campaign to liberate South America. Miramar, a Venezuelan, died later in a Spanish prison. There's a statue of him on the corner by his former home. Bolivar 'The Washington of S.A.' drove the Spanish out of Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Pru and N.Peru (renamed Bolivia in 1825). He ws the first president of Venezuela.

Other notables who resided and created renown works in the Fitzrovia area were C harles Dickens, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin,. Paul Verlain and Arthur Rimbaud, pets, who had a tempestuous relationshi p which included drinking, shooting and stabbings, ins pired future poets such as Boby Dylan. Elas Lancaster ran two nigth clubs here in the 1920's whose memers included HG Wells, Aldous Huxly, George B. Shaw. A poor, unmknown Welsham, Dylan Thomas, arrived in 1934 and would recite passages of 'Under Milkwood' at the Wheatsheaf Pub
The Omega Workshop started up in Fitzroy Square, a hothouse for new ideas, and attracted such notables as Picasso, Shaw, Yeats, Gertrude Stein. Brendan Behand came as an IRA courier in 1939 and stayed on to write his plays. Aneurin Bevan, pioneer of post war reform also lived here.

So we are surrounded by all this political and literary history.

Today we went for an extensive tour with MJ as our tour guide to Old London and then over to Belgravia where she lives. We visited the infamous pub once a favorite of rich and famous such as Diana Dors, Peter O'Toole and Alexander Korda the film producer. It was here that the Great Train Robbery of the 1960's was conceived and planned which netted the robbers a record 40 million Pounds.

More about London after tomorrow's visit to the New Globe....



Monday, May 23, 2005

READY, SET, GO!

"Where are you going, my pretty maid?"
"I'm going to London, Sir," she said.
Nursery Rhyme

"To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive." Robert Louis Stevenson 1850-1894

The bags are packed (believe it or not we are travelling light -- more or less!) I've got the afternoon to relax now, before we head for the airport and our 9.30 pm flight to London.

I've been to London countless times before and it's still one of my favorite cities. Just to wander about there is full of wonderful, amazing sights. We're going to spend 3 days there with our friend M.J. and that will include a first for me: a night at the New Globe Theatre to see "The Tempest". Ingrid has never been to Europe, though she lived in Brazil for some time, so this will be a thrill for her and a lot of fun for me showing her the sights.

I was thinking today of how, as much as I love the serenity and solitude of the countryside and islands, I do love cities. And I started to list a few that I am especially fond of, and others which I also enjoyed but would like to see more of. London, Cardiff, Edinburgh
Paris and Barcelona, Mexico City where I've only had quick trips through. I felt at home in Havana when I was there last December. Once upon a time before I went to Europe, I left my heart in San Francisco and then there was that amazing trip to New York which totally changed my life.
And then, one day, I went to Greece and fell in love with Athens. And one week from today, I'll return there. My city!

So our journey begins.
"The longest part of the journey is said to be the passing of the gate."
Marcus Terentius Varro 116-27 B.C. "On Agriculture (De Re Rustica)


"Pussy cat, Pussy cat, where have you been?"
"I've been to London to visit the Queen."
"Pussy cat, Pussy cat, what did you do there?"
"I frightened a little mouse under her chair!" Nursery Rhyme

What a grand way to celebrate the Victoria Day weekend!

Stay tuned! Next stop LONDON TOWN!



Sunday, May 15, 2005

TRAVELING THROUGH HISTORY: PART 1: A Poet's Journey

Caerphilly Castle, Wales

" As the Spanish proverb says: ' He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies, must carry the wealth of the Indies with him.' So it is in travelling, a man must carry knowledge with him if he would bring home knowledge." Samuel Johnson 1709- 1784 (written April 17, 1778)

Today begins the countdown. Eight more days, and my friend Ingrid and I will embark on our journey to England and Greece. Saturday, over breakfast, we discussed our plans to hike the Wye Valley Walk from Chepstow, Wales to the magnificent ruins of Tintern Abbey, and back via the Offa's Dyke Path. This was one of the favourite destinations of the Romantic poet William Wordsworth. While in London, we also plan to attend the New Globe Theatre to see Shakespeare's "The Tempest." In Wales, we will be walking in the footsteps of Dylan Thomas, although I'm not sure we'll have time to go to his haunts near Swansea.

From London we will fly to Greece, May 30. We have several destinations in Greece planned (I will be Ingrid's tour guide as she's never been to either England or Greece before.) One day trip we will go on is to the island of Hydra, where the Canadian poet Leonard Cohen lived during the '70's. We will also travel to Kefalonia (one of Lord Byron's haunts) and cross over to Ithaka (made famous by the blind poet Homer). Perhaps, if there's time, we'll make a short trip to Messalonghi where Byron died to see the small museum in his honour there. In Greece, Byron is a heroic icon.It occured to me that this journey is taking on a poetic theme -- journeying in the footsteps of famous poets.

For me, a travel writer, it gives me a new focus for some articles. Usually I'm researching ancient history when I'm in Greece. The last trip there, two years ago, I concentrated on Venetian sites mainly in the South Peloponnese. I won't be making a trip up north to visit the Alexander sties this year as I usually do. The one 'new' place I hope to visit is the island of Amorgos where there are some Byzantine monasteries.

"Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience. He that traveleth into a country before he hath some entrance into the language, goeth to school, and not to travel." Francis Bacon 1561-1626 "Of Travel"

I started travelling in Greece in 1978. Before that I visited England and Wales, which is the homeland of my parents, and where I have several cousins living. My on-the-shelf work-in- progess "Dragons in the Sky: A Celtic Tale" was researched in the area of Salisbury and Stonehenge. It also has an Alexandrian connection. My current work-in-progess "The Shadow of the Lion" has been researched in Greece, at various sites, and also in Asia Minor.

I became a travel journalist in 1982 when my first article "Listen to the Earth Music", about Leros Island, Greece was published. I started writing travel stories because I wanted some publishing experience before attempting to market a longer piece of work like a novel. Because I'd had an early training in journalism (I worked in the editorial dept. of a major newspaper right after I left high school), and I was starting to travel on my own I decided to try my hand at travel journalism. When the first article I sent out got published it convinced me that this was a genre I could easily write and make some money at. (note: Don't quit your day job! You don't make enough to live freelancing on unless you're employed by a publication)From 1993, when I was offered help by the Greeks to continue research for my novel, I began to combine my historical research trips with travel journalism.

My website www.dreamwater.org/ruthaki "Travel Through History", is mainly dedicated to my historical writing but also has links to published travel articles. All of my travel articles contain a historical slant. This summer's will follow the paths of the poets. While I'm away I'll post some travel e-journals and share my adventures with friends at home.

Writing travel news-letters (and, of course, keeping a written travel journal) are important sources later on of writing up the travel stories for publication. So, the countdown begins.

"For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." Robert Louis Stevenson 1850-1894 "Travels With a Donkey" 1978