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Saturday, July 31, 2010

DISCOVERING LONDON BY FOOT

Crossing Abbey Road


"There are places I'll remember all my life..."  the Beatles.

London is one of those cities you really need to explore on foot.  At every corner, down every lane way, through the little parks and gardens, you will find treasures of the past and some of today's London too.  Look up.  Look waaay up! Some of these treasures are the architecture, the small details on the cornices of building, the chimney pots, the doorways.  London never fails to amaze me.  I've been here countless times and there is always some new place to explore as well as the fun of revisiting the old familiar places like Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square.

Yesterday, for my first day here, I walked around the neighbourhood of the Indian YMCA where I'm staying, and around Bloomsbury over to Russel Square.  There are so many things to see, and one of the things I've been doing this trip is trying to spot the big blue plaques on buildings that tell  you what famous person once lived there.  I've taken a lot of photos of the plaques I've spotted so far.  You could make a whole walking tour just  doing this.  I also decided to pay attention to the details of doorways, and have been photographing those as well.  And also some of the London murals, including a couple in the tube stations.
The Beatles Walk
Led by Richard who is known as the Pied Piper of Beatlemania and author of The Abbey Road Cafe Guide to the Beatles, we set off on a walk down memory lane with the Fabulous Five touring the various places in London where they lived and recorded.  Starting from Marlybone Station where A Hard Day's Night was filmed, then on to the British council records office where both Paul and Ringo where married.  And then by various houses, one where Ringo Star's son was born and was later a music studio where  "Eleanor Rigby" was composed.  This house at 34 Montagu became rather infamous and after the Beatles moved out, Jimmy Hendrix lived there in the basement ('66 -'67) until he and his girlfriend were kicked out for the noisy partying. It was also in t his house that John and Yoko later had their famous nude photo taken that caused a scandalous stir, and when the place was raided later by the police, John got arrested for drug possession. He had been tipped off and cleaned the house but one of the cops had planted some there. The cop was later punished for it but the stigma stayed with John. He pleaded guilty because of the stress it had caused Yoko to lost her unborn child, and later when they moved to the States, this old charge was brought up and caused John problems. He never moved back to England again because of it.

We passed by the restaurant where Help was filmed (now under a new name) and went over to 57 Wimpole St. where the Asher family lived.  Jan Asher was only 17 and already an actress when she met Paul in 1963 at a concert.  Paul lived here with her and her family for several years.  Her father was a psychologist, her mother a musician who jammed on her violin with Jimi Hendrix .  It was in t his house that Paul wrote "Yesterday" and later , with John, "I want to hold your hand"

We took the tube to St Johns ~Wood and went over to see the Abby Road recording studios and, of course, the famous crosswalk.  I twas tricky getting photos taken walking across the road because of the traffic, but one of the tourists in the group managed to take a couple for me. The fence around the recording studio is full of graffiti and memorials to the Beatles.  It' a very popular place for tourists to stop.
Later we ended up back at the tube station where Richard has his Beatles shop so you could buy souvenirs.


Old Hampstead Village Pub Walk
Hampstead is one of the poshest and most expensive places to live in |London and going back to the 1700 and 1800s it was a popular place for Londoners to go for the medicinal water and fresh air so a great many famous people have lived and still live there.  Our guide, another Richard (says he's Richard III) took us on an informative two our walking tour down the narrow lanes and shady streets of Hamstead, which was once home to many renown artists and writers and still is today.  (a number of movie stars and celebrities live there)  It's on a high rise in north London with views of the city and the famous Hamstead Heath.  The beautiful brick houses are dating back to the 1700's and are very well maintained and restored.

We first stopped outside the house where a friend of the owners used to stop by to tell stories to the children after their parents passed away.  He told them about a little boy named Peter who used to fly to a land where children never grew old.  Yes. it was here that Peter Pan was conceived!   

We saw the former  home of Robert Louis Stevenson who lived on the same street as well as the house of Oscar Wilde's lover.  Around the corner is a very old graveyard where many of the past celebrities are buried.  Saw the former  home of Judy Dench and the present home of film director Ridley Scott.also Ozzie Osbourne and a few others.  At the Admiral's  house, is where the author of Mary Poppins once lived and next door is the home of the Nobel prize winning author who wrote The Forsyth Saga.

As well we visited three of the charming old pubs in Hamstead and sampled the hand-drawn beer that each of them serves as specialities.  At one of the pubs, which we didn't go in, poet John Keats spent some years living and writing there.  And a the old Burg House, is where Rudyard Kipling lived.  A lot of these famous folk suffered with lung problems including TB and they came to Hamstead to live because of the clean air and supposedly purifying water from the springs there.

It was an enjoyable day, discovering London by foot.  If  I had more time here, I'd definitely take another tour or two. It's recommended for anyone visiting London as the best way to see the city and hear the amazing and interesting anecdotes that the guides will tell you.  You meet some interesting people too.  I spent a bit of time tonight with two fellows from Maryland,   a rather odd couple, but very nice to chat with and having that pint with them at the pub really made my day.

The former house of Virginia Woolf and George Bernard Shaw

Tomorrow I'm off to Wales.  So there's be more blogs coming up soon.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

ON THE EVE OF MY DEPARTURE


EXPLORING LONDON TOWN

This time tomorrow night I'll be winging my way overseas to London. It's not the first time I've visited London. I've lost count, actually, so it's another of those familiar places that I'm returning to. Last year my sister and niece and I were there and met up with one of my friends who showed us around town, even to some place I hadn't seen before. This time I'm hoping to meet some musician friends, take the Beatles walk tour and a historic pubs tour. I'm trying to keep a literary trend to my trip and will visit a couple of places such as this Fitzroy Pub where Dylan Thomas used to hang out, as well as other notables in the London literary scene. This area around the Indian Y where I will stay, is part of the Bloomsbury Group's haunts. And right across the little park from the Y is the home of Virginia Woolfe and next door, George Bernard Shaw


THE FITZROY PUB
I'll only be in London a couple of days and then I'm heading for Wales to spend some time with my cousins.
During that part of the journey I hope to visit some of Dylan Thomas's old haunts including the boat house where he used to live and write. Of course I will also be exploring more of my family's genealogy and going on a search for my great-grandfather and grandfather's graves. I'll be spending my time in Caerphilly where my father was born and lived until he immigrated to Canada in the early '30's
after the mining strikes in Wales. He had been a coal miner since the age of 14. Many of my father's family were coal miners, and my great grandpa and some of his family died in a great explosion in Senghenydd in around 1904 when my dad was born. I've been to Wales many times and since I grew up listening to all my dad's stories it is almost like another homecoming for me



VIRGINIA WOOLFE'S HOUSE
After I leave Wales, I'll be heading for Germany to spend time with my friend Patrick and his family in Mainz.
And then I'm off to Athens and further adventures on the Greek Islands.

You can follow my journey here as I will post every few days, whenever I can find a web cafe.




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Sunday, July 18, 2010

MY ATHENS FAMILY

This is my niece Debra, sister Jean, friends Christina and Daniella in one of our favorite tavernas.

After my island holiday I'll be going back to Athens for three weeks to spend time with my friends there. These friends are like a family to me as I have known them for many years and we share a great many memories together. The last two years I celebrated my birthay in Athens and this photo below is the one from last year, on the Hill of the Nymphs. There were a couple of other friends there including Patrick, from Germany, Shong, from Vancouver and her friend from Kiev; Anna Britt from Norway and my sister Jean and niece Debra who were traveling with me. My Athens friends are a multicultural group. Some of them I have known since I lived there in the '80's and others I met during the '90's when I was staying six months at a time writing and researching my novel. There are a couple of Classical scholars among this group.


This was my BIG birthday party in 2009 on the Hill of the Nymphs with my multicultural group of friends.
I am looking forward to spending time with my Swedish friend Christine and her daughter Daniela (who I used to babysit when she was just over a year old). When I first return from the islands I'll be staying with Carol at her Villa Olympia until Chris returns from Sweden. Then one week I will spend with my dear Persian princess, Dinaz and her husband Andreas. She's even taken a week of her work (in tourism) to spend time with me. Dinaz and I were close friends of Roberto, my soul brother from Argentina who died several years ago, and also our other English friend Graham who also very sadly died (both of cancer). We really miss these absent family members and like to reminisce about our times with them.


Lovely Dinaz and her husband Andreas
When I lived in Athens during the '80's and part time during the '90's I had a large circle of ex-pat and Greek friends and I've kept in touch with several of them. The Greek friends never forget me and when I show up this summer I know I'll be greeted with the usual warmth and enthusiasm.

One of my friends is Zoe, who is an American woman married to a Greek. She has lived in Greece since the '80's and has struggled to make a good life with her two children but life can be difficult in Greece and she's been there so long now. We always enjoy getting together when I'm in Athens and have long talks about life and writing etc.

My friend Zoe.

Greece is very much part of my life and what makes it so are these dear friends who I know I will always be connected to just like I am connected to friends here in Vancouver. That's why I must always go back as they are my family and I miss them a lot.
So I'm looking forward to this trip and spending as much time as I can with them.


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Friday, July 16, 2010

TURKEY: Traveling in the Footsteps of Alexander the Great

KUSADASI, Turkey

Going back my first trip to Kusadasi, Turkey in the early 1980's when I lived in Greece, the port was very small then, mainly a stop-off for cruise ships allowing their passengers to go up the road a few miles to the archaeological site at Ephesus. A friend who was traveling with me at the time had been there before that and said it was even smaller then, just a small tobacco growing village on the sea.


I returned to Kusadasi a number of times and each visit the town had grown, until the last time I visited there in early '90's it had become a bustling, crowded tourist resort town with five-star hotels built along the sea shore. I couldn't even find my favorite kebab shop. I did find the lovely old Stella Hotel up on the hill overlooking the port where I like to stay.

I'm hoping to pass through Kusadasi again on this trip, and wonder what it will be like? I'm meeting a travel writer friend on the island of Naxos and we will then hop over to Samos, and hopefully I be able to spend a few days in Turkey seeing a few old sites and new.
The Theatre, EPHESUS
I've made three previous visits to the ancient city of Ephesus, and I don't think I'll ever tire of walking those time-worn streets. And no doubt more excavations have been made. The theatre there is a particular wonder and from my knowledge of Biblical stories, this is where Paul preached to the Ephesians who weren't too happy with him as they worshipped Aphrodite.


I'm anxious to have another look at Ephesus, because I have been writing several scenes in my novel "Shadow of the Lion" that are set in the city. In Hellenistic times it was ruled by King Lysimachus who was one of Alexander's companion. He was given the city to rule during the battle for control of Alexander's empire by the Diodochi (Alexander's generals). The Hellenistic city wall was built during his time and that's one site I'd like to see. Of course Ephesus is full of magnificent ruins including the fabulous library.

My friend lives in an ancient town called Didyma (Didim in Turkish) located between Izmir and Ephesus. This is one of the little treasure I've not visited before so I am looking forward to exploring here with my friend as a guide. This was a sacred place from the 8th century BC and a cult center for the city of Miletus which is nearby. There's a ruined Temple of Apollo here. There is also a temple to Artemis. These temples had been destroyed by the Persians in 494 BC but were rebuilt on Alexander the Great's orders. Didyma is "The Gateway to the Land of Oracles". Now, that sound intriguing enough to merit a visit!

MILETUS

The nearby ancient site of Miletus is one of those places I've been trying to get to for years. The first time I went to Turkey in 1975, my Turkish boyfriend wanted to take me there but due to circumstances we were not able to go. So if I get to Miletus this trip I will be definitely thinking of Hakki and how he had planned to take me there, knowing my interest in Alexander.


In ancient times the city was located at the coast at the mouth of the River Meander. It had four harbours and was a major port for commerce in ancient times. It was one of the 12 most important cities in Ionia and was mentioned in Homer's Iliad. Miletus was destroyed by the Persians in their invasion of 499 BC and never regained it's strength or status. Alexander the Great seized it after a great battle in 334 BC and this ushered in a new time of prosperity and trade. After Alexander's death, his general Lysimachus took control of Miletus and made generous donations to the city.

Today, Miletus four harbours have silted up and it's hard to imagine what it had been like so long ago in the past. The ruins are now located on a broad plan 5 km inland. But there are still a good many things to see there and I look forward to this first visit to another place in Alexander's footsteps.























































































































































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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

SAMOS: The Island of Pythagoras

It's been some years since I last visited Samos Island, and that time it was only a day visit en route to Kusadasi Turkey. I'd visited once before during the time I lived in Greece in the 1980's and always wanted to return for a longer stay. I was heading there last summer with my sister and niece, from Naxos, but we mis-read the time for the ferry's departure and missed the boat -- ended up on Santorini instead. This time I won't miss the boat, because I've been looking forward to a return visit to this beautiful island.

Samos is the island of Pythagoras and the goddess Hera. The island is famous for its sweet wine. It's part of the Eaaster Aegean island group, close to the Asia Minor coast so there is boat service across to Turkey, mainly to the resort town of Kusadasi -- another place I've visited several times and hope to return to this trip.

The name "Samos" is from Phoenician, meaning "rise by the shore". It was a centre for Ionian culture in classical antiquity, renowned for its wine and red pottery. By the 7th C BC it was one of the leading commerce centres in Greece, leading their vast trading of textiles. It was a bitter rival of Miletus in Asia Minor and war broke out. This resulted in the creation of the Samian naval innovation of the trireme.

One of the major archaeological sites is the temple of Hera. It was connected to the city by a Holy Road (Hiera Odos) which was decorated with statues and votive offerings. The temple was built near the mouth of a river and for centuries it was the main place of worship on the island. Not much of it remains, other than one lone pillar.

My travel writer friend Inka and I plan to stop off on Samos for a day or two en route back to Turkey. There's a resort and village on the island where there is a folklore museum. My friend and I are hoping we can afford to splurge for at least a night's stay at the Doryssa Seaside Resort.
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One of the amazing archaeological sites on the island is this amazing tunnel that was constructed in the 6th C BC under Mt Kaslis, to build an aqueduct to supply the city with fresh water. This is the earliest tunnel in history to be dug from both ends. It has a length of one kilometre and is now regarded one of the masterpieces of ancient engineering. Named the Pythagorion, it is now part of UNESCO World Heritage Site


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Friday, July 02, 2010

NAXOS ISLAND: SANDY BEACHES AND GLORIOUS SUNSETS

 PLAKA BEACH, NAXOS

Naxos is one of my favorite of the Greek Islands.  It's the largest of the Cyclades, a mountainous, fertile island with miles of fabulous sandy beaches.
In history, Naxos was a cultural centre of major importance and was considered the cradle of Cycladic civilisation in about 1000 BC.  It was one of the first islands to work marble and in a couple of sites on the island you can still see giant Kouros statues that have been left in situ when the marble cracked as they were being moved out of the quarries.  In Greek legend, this is the island where Theseus abandoned Ariadne after their escape from Crete when the great volcanic eruption on Santorini devastated the Minoan civilisation.  On my very first visit to Naxos several years ago, one of the things that had impressed me was the sent of 'abandonment' because around the island are many abandoned villages.  Many of these coastal villages were abandoned during the pirate rates of the 1200 ADs and later during the occupation by the Ottoman Empire.  A round-the-island tour takes you to many of these sites including a tiny church where there was a secret school so children could be taught the Greek language after the Ottoman's forbade it. 

Naxos is also known as being the producer of the best potatoes in Greece and the production of a delicious aperitif known as Kitron, made from a lemon-like fruit.  The island also has emery mines.
MARAGAS TAVERNA AND CAMPING, PLAKA BEACH

I've been to Naxos four times already.  The first time I came I stayed at a campsite closer to Naxos town. The second time I came, I camped at Maragas Beach.  The beach here is idyllic, miles of sandy shore and sparkling, warm, turquoise water.  The third time I came, I was staying farther up the shore at Irinia Beach but it was an easy walk to spend the day here at Plaka Beach near the camp site that I enjoyed so much.  On last year's trip my sister, niece and I were staying at a hotel far up on a bluff overlooking the sea and although it was beautiful, I longed to be by the shore.  We did take a day to come to Plaka Beach and lay around on the beach lounge chairs, swim, and have dinner at the beach tavern.  But I decided then that I simply had to return, this time with my little tent, and camp once again at Maragas campsite.

So this is my plan:  Shortly after arriving in Athens on August 10, I intend to head for Naxos with my little tent and park myself at Maragas Beach.  Some time during my stay, a new-found travel writer friend, Inka, will join me so I'll have the privilege of showing her around this beautiful island.

The town of Naxos has a distinctly Venetian flavor with vaulted streets and an old castle.  The Venetians rules here for some time during the invasion of pirate in the Aegean Sea so their architecture still remains.  It will be fun to explore some of the other small villages and the many beaches too.
And one thing that is a special event each day is to sit at a beach taverna and watch the amazing Naxos sunsets.


NAXOS SUNSET

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