Archive for November, 2014

Ulaan Bataar – Capital of Mongolia  


Not the most attractive of capital cities, Ulaan Bataar in Mongolia is not without its charms.  Perhaps not a city to spend more than a few days, the sights of UB can be enjoyed as an example of a capital totally alien to the rest of its country.  You can eat in international restaurants and cafes where there is more on offer than boiled mutton and morestimulating beverages than fermented mares’ milk!

Battling the dust, rubble and broken roads, looking further than the soviet style, grey, block buildings andsurviving the life-threatening traffic, the visitor can enjoy an array of fine museums, theatres offering spectacular concerts of traditional music and dance, German bUB Monasteryakeries, Austrian coffee, modern shops and breathtaking ancient palaces and exquisite, Buddhist monasteries – the few survivors of the brutal Stalinist purges that destroyed not only the buildings but the monks themselves. In the Museum of Persecution, the names of 20,000 lamas, intellectuals and soldiers line the walls.

The Central Market is a must and a great insight into Mongolian life as you walk through rows of torturous wooden saddles, assorted horse paraphernalia, genuine antiques, the bright orange ger furniture alongside the 50s style furniture for the more modern apartment. It’s not called the Thieves Market without reason – I managed to ward off a couple of chancers by creating a lot of noise which sent them scurrying in embarrassment!  Boots for every occasion are displayed in long rowCamel Trains, assorted hardware, shimmering silks and satins and tables of dissected sheep sit beside piles of onions, potatoes and summer fruits.

Inspite of all the NGOs based in the city, the large numbers of destitute and homeless children are disturbing.  They beg with desperation and hunger in their eyes and sleep next to sewer pipes in the freezing winters for a bit of warmth.

On the outskirts of this ramshackle place, the tent houses (gers), the horses, goats and people still in traditional dress, stimulate your curiosity to go beyond this city and find the  true attraction of this wild, frMongolian Horsesee and fenceless country with its wild,  beautiful landscapes and its warm, welcoming people.

Robben Island – Off the coast of Cape Town and famous for its political prisoners, especially, Nelson Mandela.   The name means seal island and it does have seals, penguins, antelopes and prolific bird life.  It appears a peaceful place, far from the throb of Cape Town but the reminders of the brutality of apartheid are preserved for those intRobben Island Prisonerested enough to take the little ferry across Robben Island Prisonand visit.

Nelson Mandela and his fellow prisoners had found this island an impossible place to escape and they suffered long years of an intolerable, incarcerated, existence.  Today, ex-political prisoners conduct tours around the prison and island.  They show you Mandela’s cell and the lime quarry, where he and other ‘enemies of the state’, were forced into back-breaki3686 Mandela's Cell Robben Islandng labour.   Chilling stories of the previous apartheid policies and punishments, are told calmly, without hatred, by these guides as they relate their personal stories.

You leave, more than just a little subdued, chastened by the compassion and courage of these men who had shared a little of their lives and taught you some important history.  You also leave learning a little more about the humanity among the prisoners and their desire to forgive.   Ahmed Kathrada was one. Not as well-known as some of the others, he was imprisoned for 26 years, aftLimestone Quarry  Robben Island  South Africaer which he could write

“While we will not forget the brutality of apartheid, we will not want Robben Island to be a monument of our hardship and suffering.  We would want it to be a triumph of the human spirit against the forces of evil.  A triumph of wisdom and largeness of spirit against small minds and pettiness; a triumph of courage and determination over human frailty and weakness; a triumph of the new South Africa over the old”.

I’ve been to Robben Island many times – it is a must if you are going to try to understand South Africa.




Well this is a novel addition but they are so beautiful in their own earthy way, that I wanted to write about them!

The Pilbarra is a half million square kilometre wilderness area in Western Australia.  It is where Australia’s huge iron ore industry is located.  The rich deposits of iron ore are being shipped off to China as fast as it can be hauled out of the ground.   This landscape is Pre-Cambrian –  two billion years in the making and therefore  ’pre-life’.   Fortunately in 1969 the Karijini National Park was established preserving this strikingly beautiful landscape.  Deep, blood-red  gorges, steep cliffs, bone white Snappy Gums, golden spinifex and the stunning ochre coloured termite mounds define this  ageless land.  These structures are built by the industrious collectives of the Spinifex Termites.  There there may be a million    of these little creatures in one mound surviving their harsh habitat by utilisiIMG_3675 Karijini Termite Mounds Smrng their    extraordinary engineering skills to control the heat and humidity of their homes.  Their  mounds also act as a defense against predators, a food source and a recyclable way of  enhancing the nutrients in this ancient soil.

The Aboriginal people of this area understood this habitat and the animals that survived     here.  The Spinifex Termites were used for medicine and as a supplementary food source.   They only took from the land what they needed and also survived for tens of  thousands of years.

Iceland is now becoming a popular tourist destination but with such a small population and being remote from the rest of Europe it never feels crowded.  Iceland is a beautiful wilderness with  prolific bird life and amazing geothermal and geological landscapes.  Mountains, rivers, lakes, fjords and a wild coastline dotted with tiny fishing villages.  The capital, Rekjavik, is a delightful, arty, tiny city with brightly coloured houses and welcoming people.  

0209 Godafoss Waterfall in IcelandSeltun Geothermal Area IcelandMain Street AkureyriReykjavik Residents Icelandic Pony on Grimsey 0280 Namafjall  Iceland Thermal Area0272 Lava Fields at Dimmuborgir, IcelandGullfoss or Golden Waterfall IcelandEskfijordur IcelandModern Reykjavik and Cathedral
1034 Seltun Geothermal Area Iceland

Blue Lagoon at Grindavik Iceland
 Bolungarvik Cottages  Iceland
Seltun Geothermal Area IcelandGodafoss

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