A Travellerspoint blog

THE CROCODILE TEMPLE AT KOM OMBO

sunny 40 °C

We sailed further up the Nile towards Aswan in the south. In the late afternoon we arrived at the Temple of Kom Ombo, situated on a dune above the Nile.
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On the quay we had to dodge a gauntlet of market stalls to avoid being hounded by intimidating traders.

On the quay we had to dodge a gauntlet of market stalls to avoid being hounded by intimidating traders.


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The temple was also built by one of the Ptolemies in the 2nd century BC, and is unusual in that it consists of two temples, one of which is dedicated to Sobek the crocodile-headed god.
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In ancient times, many sacred crocodiles basked on the river banks here, and many have been mummified. One does still see crocs around, so swimming is best done in the pool on deck!
The other temple is dedicated to Haroeris (sometimes called Horus the Elder) who was the falcon-headed sky god.
Here Sobek is sitting behind Haroeris.

Here Sobek is sitting behind Haroeris.


Sometimes Horus is represented, as here, as a full falcon.

Sometimes Horus is represented, as here, as a full falcon.


Much of the original structure of the temple had been destroyed by Coptic Christians, and builders needing stone for other projects. The Nile also played a role and here we see an example of a Nilometer, with which the priests could monitor the level of the river.
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Foundations are all that remains of the main pylon; these dovetails were cut into the stones for drawing heavy stones tightly together, using wood and water.
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The capitals of the hypostyle hall are adorned with carvings of papyrus.

The capitals of the hypostyle hall are adorned with carvings of papyrus.


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While we were still exploring the temple the sun was setting over the Nile.
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Scenes depicting purification of the king.

Scenes depicting purification of the king.


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On the back wall of the temple there is a rare engraved image of what is thought to be the first representation of medical instruments for performing surgery, including scalpels, curettes, forceps, dilator, scissors and medicine bottles dating from the days of Roman Egypt. To the left are scenes depicting goddesses giving birth in birthing stools.
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Another view of a Birthing
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In the side chapel there is also a festival calendar, which would have been used by the ancient Egyptians to diarise all the religious events occuring throughout the year.
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A panel of repeated was and ankh symbols.

A panel of repeated was and ankh symbols.


Sahar, our guide, unravelling an ancient mystery.

Sahar, our guide, unravelling an ancient mystery.


In this panel one sees the right Eye of Horus, which is commonly depicted on jewellery, on sarcophagi and in temples. The right eye was said to represent the sun, while the left eye represents the moon.
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An ancient myth describes a battle between Horus and Set in which Horus´ right eye was torn out and Set lost his testicles! Thoth magically restored Horus´ eye, at which point it was given the name "Wadjet" (meaning "whole" or "healthy").

The Eye of Horus was believed to have healing and protective power, and it was used as a protective amulet. It was also used as a notation of measurement, particularly for measuring the ingredients in medicines and pigments. The symbol was divided into six parts, representing the shattering of Horus´ eye into six pieces. Each piece was associated with one of the six senses and a specific fraction.
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It is interesting to note that if the pieces are added together the total is 63/64 not 1. Some suggest that the remaining 1/64 represents the magic used by Thoth to restore the eye, while others consider that the missing piece represented the fact that perfection was not possible. However, it is equally likely that they appreciated the simplicity of the system which allowed them to deal with common fractions quickly.
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The symbol of Rx for a prescription is intriguing; in general, the accepted definition of Rx is an abbreviation of the Latin word recipe, take. However, Charles Rice writing in New Remedies 1877 'an American pharmaceutical journal', suggests Rx is a corruption of the alchemist sign 4 denoting Jupiter, the father of gods and men, whose blessing was to be evoked on the prescription.
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Another researcher describes how the Egyptians weighed prescriptions carefully. She illustrates from hieroglyphs how fractions were expressed by dissecting the eye of the god Horus and suggests Rx designates the word 'prescription'. Perhaps Rx is a continuing cultural symbol from the eye of Horus once torn to fractions and miraculously restored.

In the ancient world Jupiter or Horus would both be powerful deities to enhance the efficacy of prescribing.

By now the sun had long set, although the air was still hot, and the crush caused by masses of other tourists was also dwindling.
There is much controversy surrounding the origin of these orbs seen on photos such as this. Are they representative of spirits or long-gone souls, or merely photographic blemishes?

There is much controversy surrounding the origin of these orbs seen on photos such as this. Are they representative of spirits or long-gone souls, or merely photographic blemishes?


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Posted by davidsandi 03:29 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

TEMPLE OF HORUS AT EDFU

sunny 45 °C

Having set sail from Luxor, we headed south to the village of Edfu, which is about half-way between Luxor and Aswan. Here we visited the Temple of Horus, which is the best preserved and the second largest in Egypt. It was built later than most other temples by a series of Greek rulers, who imitated the pharaonic culture and architecture. Ptolemy lll began the construction in 237 BC and it was only completed by Ptolemy Xlll in 57 BC.
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The falcon-headed Horus was originally the sky god, whose eyes were the sun and moon. He was later assimilated into the popular myth of Isis and Osiris as the divine couple's child. Raised by Isis and Hathor after Osiris' murder by his brother Seth, Horus avenged his father's death in a great battle at Edfu. Seth was exiled and Horus took the throne, Osiris reigning through him from the underworld. Thus all pharoahs claimed to be the incarnation of Horus, the "living king."
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The Temple of Edfu was abandoned after the Roman Empire became Christian and paganism was outlawed in 391 AD. It lay buried up to its lintels in sand, with homes built over the top, until it was excavated in the 1860s. The sand protected the monument over the years, leaving it very well preserved today. Mud bricks are used for construction throughout Egypt, and were used in the construction of temples then, as we would use scaffolding today, to build the higher parts. When the construction was complete, the mud bricks were removed.
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Sandi befriends a temple kitty.

Sandi befriends a temple kitty.

The pylon stands 37m tall and was one of the last features to be added to the temple.
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Beyond it one finds the Courtyard of Offerings, surrounded by columns, where worshippers brought gifts to honour Horus.
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The inner sanctuary, which was the first part to be built, contains a black granite shrine, which originally housed a gilded statue of Horus. In front of it is a replica of the barque upon which the image of Horus was carried during festivals.
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The Festival of the Beautiful Meeting was celebrated every summer, when the image of goddess Hathor was brought up the river from Dendera to spend some intimate time with her husband Horus in the sanctuary.
A royal cuddle.

A royal cuddle.


The Hypostyle Hall is like the entrance hall to the inner temple.
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and its roof is supported by 12 impressive pillars, capped by ornate capitals.
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Through the doorway one finds the Festival Hall and a warren of small rooms with highly decorated walls. Each room had a purpose e.g. linen room, storage of offerings, or laboratory where ointments and perfumes were prepared. The recipes and instructions to the priests are depicted on the walls.
Perfume jars

Perfume jars

Gifts to the Pharoah

Gifts to the Pharoah

Libations

Libations

In the outer corridor there are scenes depicting Horus slaying a hippo, which represents Seth. Many of the images have been defaced by the Coptic Christians when pagan worship was banned.
IMG_3807.jpgHorus is usually depicted wearing a double crown to signify the unification of Egypt: the red and the white crowns represent upper and lower Egypt.

Horus is usually depicted wearing a double crown to signify the unification of Egypt: the red and the white crowns represent upper and lower Egypt.

Other important symbols which are found in every temple are scarab beetles. These are dung beetles and were associated with the sun god Ra. The emergence of the baby dung beetles from the ball of dung seemingly represented creation, regeneration and resurrection, thus the scarabs became responsible for resurrecting the sun every morning! They came to represent the after-life, and thus became popular good-luck talismans.
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The ankh and the was are symbols carried by gods and pharaohs, and are ubiquitous in ancient Egyptian culture. The ankh is the hieroglyphic symbol for eternal life, health and creation. It also represents the Nile and the unification of Egypt. The was is a staff with the head and tail of the animal god Set and signifies power.
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Here Osiris carries the flail and the crook, also symbols of power.
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The cartouche is an identity label, affixed to every image of a pharaoh, to ensure that the gods will recognise him or her. Most modern Egyptians wear a cartouche in gold or silver on their body for the same reason.
"Cartouche" was so named by French soldiers as it resembled a rifle cartridge, with its oblong shape and straight line at one end.

"Cartouche" was so named by French soldiers as it resembled a rifle cartridge, with its oblong shape and straight line at one end.

Hapi is the god of the Nile, and has male and female aspects, shown as a pregnant belly.
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Horus, ram-headed god Khnoum (creator of humans) and god Amun, whose crown has 2 feathers.

Horus, ram-headed god Khnoum (creator of humans) and god Amun, whose crown has 2 feathers.


IMG_3845.jpgLoved this snake!

Loved this snake!

Carving of boat rope, which shows great attention to detail.

Carving of boat rope, which shows great attention to detail.

Baboons were part of ancient Egyptian mythology.

Baboons were part of ancient Egyptian mythology.

Graffiti will out!

Graffiti will out!

Driving back to the boat we passed through the village of Edfu, and would have loved to explore this market.
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Posted by davidsandi 09:43 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

VALLEY OF THE KINGS

LUXOR

sunny 45 °C

While staying with Bernie and Estralita in Scotland, we decided to find out what excursions were available, highly desirable and within our limited budget. A week later we found ourselves on the way to Egypt for a week-long cruise on the Nile. We decided this would be a wonderful way to celebrate our 30 years of Wedded Bliss! We had to fly from Manchester airport with Thomson Tours, which entailed a rather chilly, pre-dawn 4-hour drive getting there, and parking the van at the airport for the week. We stopped overnight on the way down with Jamie and Simon's godparents, Sue and Kev Bracchi, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. We had a wonderful evening catching up with them and their lovely sons, Matthew and Michael. There's not much that beats old friends!

We arrived in Luxor in the afternoon, and were greeted by the intense desert heat - quite a shock to the system after frosty Scottish weather. It remained between 40-45 degrees all week! Luxor is the modern name for the ancient city of Thebes.
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We were greeted by a Thomson rep and escorted by coach through Luxor to our ship, the Crown Prince, which was berthed three abreast on the Nile. It was a relatively new experience being met and escorted everywhere, and we found it quite relaxing not to have to think too much for ourselves!
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The Crown Prince on a rare occasion when she was berthed alone

The Crown Prince on a rare occasion when she was berthed alone

After settling into our simple, but air-conditioned cabin, with a large picture window out onto the Nile, we met for an introductory talk, followed by a buffet dinner.

The next morning we set off early [to beat as much of the heat as possible] to visit the temple of Hatshepsut on the West Bank. These houses are some of many in this area, which are being bought out and demolished to make way for archeological excavations, which are ongoing activities in these parts of Egypt.
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Queen Hatshepsut ruled Egypt 1503-1482 BC, and was one of the earliest and most famous female pharaohs. The temple is built on three terraces, with the upper one being right up against the limestone cliffs. We hopped onto a trolley bus to take us up the long approach.
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Our guide for the week was a fantastic erudite lady, Sahar, who has a Masters in Egyptology, and is in our opinion, a national treasure who should be cloned! She told us fascinating stories about the gods and pharaohs of ancient Egypt, as well as many insights into Egyptian culture and life today. Here she is showing us the remnant of a Myrrh tree, which Hatshepsut imported from the Land of Punt [Somalia], to provide shade on the terraces.
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In order to legitimise her powerful reign, she had herself depicted with the pharaoh's kilt and beard, as seen in these statues.
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After Hatshepsut's death, Tuthmosis III her step-son, became pharaoh. Perhaps fearing a challenge to his legitimacy as a successor, he immediately chiseled all images of Hatshepsut off temples, monuments and obelisks, consigning her remarkable reign to oblivion until its rediscovery by modern archaeologists.

In more recent history, tragedy struck in November 1997 when 58 tourists and four guards were killed by terrorists on the Middle Terrace. All the sites in Egypt are now heavily guarded with fences and security checkpoints, and there are Tourist Police with machine guns around every corner. Since that time there have been no further incidents, so it must be working, even though it is a bit eery.

Everywhere you go in Egypt people want tips for everything, and this man was no exception! He pointed out some murals and posed for pictures, then put his hand out. In spite of having to hand over constant tips, we enjoyed the quirky sense of humour of the Egyptians we met.
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Not sure whether this lovely head is that of Hatshepsut, or of Atum, the chief god

Not sure whether this lovely head is that of Hatshepsut, or of Atum, the chief god


Our first glimpse of hieroglyphics in the Middle Terrace

Our first glimpse of hieroglyphics in the Middle Terrace

The vulture-headed goddess Nekhbet carrying the Shen ring symbol of eternity in her claws. This mural is still displaying the original colours

The vulture-headed goddess Nekhbet carrying the Shen ring symbol of eternity in her claws. This mural is still displaying the original colours


Tuthmosis III offering wine to Sokaris, god of burials

Tuthmosis III offering wine to Sokaris, god of burials


This flying creature we found on many murals in the temples, and have yet to discover its relevance

This flying creature we found on many murals in the temples, and have yet to discover its relevance


IMG_3735.jpgThousands of graves of lesser mortals are scattered in the surrounding hills

Thousands of graves of lesser mortals are scattered in the surrounding hills

We then stopped at one of many alabaster factories to be found in the area.
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After welcoming us to his establishment, the owner with his 4 workers, put on a very comedic demonstration of how the vases are carved out of solid alabaster rock. His assistants sung in unison like well-rehearsed parrots, which we found hilarious! Such consummate showmen.
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The finished products are so thin they are translucent and highly prized. When Sahar told him about our anniversary, he presented us with a small scarab beetle each, which is really a good marketing tool to ensure that we buy [which we did!]. We just hope our delicate little green alabaster vase makes it home intact.

The next stop was at the famous Valley of the Kings. This valley is the one behind Hatshepsut's temple, and in fact her tomb was burrowed out beneath the mountain, and is aligned directly below her temple. The entrance to her tomb is in the Valley of the Kings, which means a feat of incredibly precise engineering. Tutankh-amen's tomb is the most famous tomb discovered in the valley, but the treasures it contained, we were to see later in the Egyptian Museum.
The entrance to the Valley, with the Valley stretching into the hills behind it.

The entrance to the Valley, with the Valley stretching into the hills behind it.

Unfortunately we had to leave our cameras on the bus, as photos were not allowed, so the following pictures are from postcards. We could choose three tombs to visit and explore. The first was that of Tausert and Setnakht. This large tomb was built by Queen Tausert in 1187BC for her own royal burial. For yet undiscovered reasons, Ramses lll decided to usurp the tomb and had his father Setnakht buried there. This is the decorated passage leading down to the first chamber.
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To get into the tomb of Tuthmosis lll, we had to climb up a steep scaffold stairway to the entrance, where a "guide" offered us a well-used piece of cardboard to use as a fan because he said it was hot inside. We declined the "fan" as it would have meant another tip, but found that it was indeed suffocatingly hot inside. We had to climb down a steep narrow tunnel and through several chambers before finding the main sarcophagus. The walls were covered in painted carvings with the stone sarcophagus in the middle. By the time we made our way out again, we found the outside air, even at 45 degrees, refreshing! How the workers digging and sifting on the site cope with the intense heat each day is a testimony to their endurance because the heat is truly incapacitating - so much so that one chap in our group fainted!
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The last tomb we chose was that of Ramses lX. He had also built the one next door with 150 burial chambers, for his many sons! On the roof of his burial chamber we found a beautiful painting of the goddess Nut, who is ruler of the sky, and who is displayed with her body in heaven and her feet and hands on earth.
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The colours are all original and their vibrancy is due to their protection from the elements.

The colours are all original and their vibrancy is due to their protection from the elements.

On the way back to the ship for lunch, we stopped briefly at the Collossi of Memnon, which are 20m tall and weigh 1000 tons each. Amenhotep lll built a mortuary temple in Thebes that was guarded by these two gigantic statues on the outer gates. Due to an earthquake in 27 BC, these statues became known for a bell-like tone that usually occurred in the morning due to rising temperatures and humidity, and visitors came from miles around to hear the music. Thus they were equated by the early Greek travelers with the figure of Memnon, the son of Aurora, whose mother Eos, was the goddess of dawn. The Roman emperor Septimius Severus, seeking to repair the statues in 199 AD, inadvertently silenced them forever.

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Later in the same week we heard that an important statue had just been unearthed in this vicinity. It is so exciting that archeological discoveries are still being made!

Posted by davidsandi 05:31 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

CORK AND KERRY

We were excited to spend the last 10 days in Cork city, as it was one of the few places in Ireland that we had not yet visited. Exploring the centre of town was like finally arriving in civilisation after weeks spent in the outback! This was partly due to it being a university city, but also due to it being a city renowned as a centre for art and culture. The centre of the old city is on an island in the river Lee, and has a village atmosphere.
Monument in the centre

Monument in the centre

The river Lee looking towards Shandon

The river Lee looking towards Shandon

The first five days were spent at Killarney Lodge B&B, which provided an excellent breakfast every morning, something David found very welcome on his return from his "red-eye" shifts. As the en suite toilets and showers had been installed in the bedrooms long after the building had been built, they are tiny, and one has to manoevre oneself under the basin to sit on the toilet. Even thinking of drying oneself after a shower, with the door closed, is physically impossible.
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We enjoyed the atmosphere and abundant variety of goods in the old English Market, which reminded us of the Biscuit Mill market back home in Woodstock, except that this one has been in existence since 1788. Parking in the city was mostly height restricted, but we found an open car park which cost €7.50 for 3 hours [what can one do except pay up!].
English Market in Cork City

English Market in Cork City

We felt like salmon for lunch, so bought 2 pieces and a frying pan [as our pots and pans had already been packed up] for less than the cost of a take-away. We drove up and down the river Lee looking for a scenic spot where we could cook and eat our lunch, with no luck. So we headed back to the B&B and cooked up our lunch in the van in the rather shabby car park area at the back of the building. Since it was raining we had to stay inside Mr Stubby, but a glass of wine, scrumptious fresh salmon, and a creamy salad made up for the lack of ambience!

David usually managed to get a few hours sleep on his shifts, which gave us time to enjoy the better part of the day. Having explored the sights in the city, we thought it would be good to visit a farmer's market advertised at Hosford Garden Centre, about 30 minutes drive away. We collapsed laughing when we discovered that the said farmer's market consisted of a nun selling crochet handiwork and about 5 other stalls. David tried to take a photo of the nun and her stall, but she refused [citing security reasons?]

David had one night shift in Newcastlewest [NCW], then a Caredoc meeting in Kilkenny, where we finally met some of the lovely Locumotion staff face-to-face, before returning to Cork City again for a further 3 "red-eye" shifts. As the weather was bright, we opted to make a big detour and visit West Cork and the Beara peninsula on the way to NCW.

We drove past Skibbereen and on to the pretty coastal town of Bantry, which nestles in the hills at the inlet to Bantry Bay.
IMG_3583.jpgIMG_3578.jpgDelightful olde world department store on the High street

Delightful olde world department store on the High street


An old water wheel

An old water wheel


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Looking out over Bantry Bay

Looking out over Bantry Bay

Driving on through Glengarriff onto the Beara Peninsula, we had stunning views over the bay.
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We were amazed to see large bushes of tiny red fuschias growing wild all over West Cork! They thrive well in the temperate climate, and are used in branding and marketing initiatives for the area.
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Castletownbere is a little town on an enclosed bay.
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We searched the town for fish & chips for lunch, but both shops were closed until 4pm.
Glorious hydrangeas

Glorious hydrangeas

This stairway was adorned with kitsch

This stairway was adorned with kitsch

Crossing the peninsula we could see Kenmare Bay as we descended to a pretty village called Eyeries.
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Unlike many of the drab grey cottahes in other parts of Ireland, the rows of cottages here were painted in gay colours.
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We love the Irish for SLOW!

We love the Irish for SLOW!

When we got back to Cork city we stayed at Brookfield Lodge, also near the University.
A fairy-tale tree in the garden

A fairy-tale tree in the garden

We visited the little Butter Museum, which displayed the history of the butter industry in Ireland. Nearby is the St Anne's church with the Shandon bells in the clock tower. The tower is locally known as the "four faced liar" because the four clocks always show different times.
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The tower is built of red and white stone [sandstone and limestone] which is mined in Cork and is reflected in the flag of Cork.
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On Saturday we drove to nearby Midleton for their annual Food Fair. Driving into the town, we saw no advertising or banners for the event and began to worry that we had the day wrong! Suddenly we got to the centre and found the roads closed off and hundreds of people milling about. We think we could teach the Irish something about better marketing! The market was good fun and we bought the most delicious stollen-like artisan loaf filled with dried apricots and raisins, which we hoped to find again, but no such luck yet.
Pizza acrobatics

Pizza acrobatics

A quaint version of a traditional Irish gig! Each mechanised puppet played a different instrument.

A quaint version of a traditional Irish gig! Each mechanised puppet played a different instrument.

Next day we explored St Finn Barre's cathedral. Finn Barre was the patron saint of Cork in 600 AD and the present cathedral was built in 1870 on the site of his grave. It contains beautiful carvings, floor mosaics and plenty of red marble from the region.
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We set off early the next day as we had a 7 hour drive up to Belfast to catch the ferry to Stranraer, Scotland. The 3 hour ferry trip was followed by a 3 hour drive along narrow, dark, wet roads, dodging "artics" and HGVs to arrive in Livingston by 10pm, thoroughly exhausted, but warmly welcomed by our dear friend Bernie who shooed us off to the most comfortable bed on the planet!

Posted by davidsandi 02:30 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

I OWE, I OWE, ITS OFF TO WORK WE GO

IRELAND

rain

Having bought a new laptop in Plymouth on our arrival by ferry, we had some software installed and set about restoring the backup from the external hard-drive. Alas our computer troubles were not over! We discovered that the backup, which had been professionally done by our computer man in Cape Town, inexplicably contained only about 5% of all our data. We now had to get used to the idea that all the work done on our stolen laptop for the previous 18 months had gone - besides screeds of Sandi's other data that was needed during our travels. But more was to come, when a week later in Ireland, we discovered that when they had loaded our new software, the new hard drive had became corrupted. After a few more hiccups, which we won't bore you with, and some indescribable to-and-froing between computer experts in RSA, Ireland and Microsoft, we finally have our new laptop working as it should.
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We spent the rest of our short time in Ebford packing crates to be shipped home, and stocking up on materials and equipment needed for Sandi's new workshops, scheduled for 2011 launch. The R&D work related to this venture continues unabated, which keeps Sandi busy, busy, busy.

Judy's dahlias were in full bloom, and we were sad to bid farewell to Rob and Judy's delightful cottage, which is to be demolished to make space for three new cottages on the property.
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We caught the ferry from Pembroke harbour to Rosslare, and spent the first week working in Toomevara. Our B&B was a grand old three storey house on a huge property, run by a young couple with a lot of very cute kids. We pondered how such a young couple could afford such an enormous property. For David’s birthday we went into nearby Nenagh and had some delicious seafood chowder.

David had 2 daytime shifts in Carlow on the weekend, and we opted to sleep in the van as it was warm enough.
The Liberty Tree built to commemorate the battle of Carlow in the 18th C.

The Liberty Tree built to commemorate the battle of Carlow in the 18th C.

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We then had 3 weeks in Monaghan, staying in the GP's home, so we relished the home comforts of our own cooking and wifi and Skybox TV.

We enjoyed following Must be the Music and X Factor series on BBC. While David travelled to Gorey and Letterkenny for weekend shifts, Sandi stayed at "home", trying to research and rewrite as much of the lost computer data as possible. On Sandi’s birthday she prepared a delicious meal, including a banana caramel flan - a favourite from her childhood. We both really appreciated e-mail and phone calls from home for our birthdays. Thanks again!
There is very little of merit to do or see in Monaghan; the most exciting event in the area is advertised below!
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A walk in Rossmore park is the only way to stretch one’s legs without breathing in exhaust fumes or being run over. It is an enormous forest estate, the paths of which are poorly signposted, and one could easily be lost for months.
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In Monaghan we really felt the bite of the new tax regulations, as the GP deducted 50% tax retrospectively to March, when David first worked in the practice, resulting in zero pay for the third week. Ouch - quite an unexpected shock!! Very disheartening to work a whole week for "nothing". David engaged an accountant in Monaghan to help claim back the maximum tax at the end of the year. So we're holding thumbs.

The speeding fine incurred in Cork in March also came back to bite us. We should have received an option to pay the fine of €80 by post, but only received a summons to appear in court in September! After many enquiries, we learned that there remained no option but to make written representation to the court, which resulted in a judgement of €140. Rather unfair considering our speed had only been 70km/hr, but sometimes one has to draw a line and move on!
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The Irish gardens are very pretty in summer with colourful begonias and geraniums. We were rather critical of the gardens in an earlier posting of this blog, and we apologise for that.
This pretty garden in Tipperary Town was full of huge sunflowers.

This pretty garden in Tipperary Town was full of huge sunflowers.

Finely manicured hedges and bushes are a national favourite, as almost every garden has some. Hanging baskets in public areas of towns and in front of pubs are charming.
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Spending a lot of time on the roads in Ireland provides its challenges. We often get stuck behind slow farm vehicles on the roads, and can't overtake for miles! When this happens we both tend to drift off on our own reveries, which makes best use of a frustrating situation.
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At filling stations, one longs for the friendly attendant who cleans your screen, checks the tyres, water and oil as well as filling up. David is tired of getting diesel and grimy smudges on his hands when filling up, and complains that it requires far too much effort to check the oil, water and tyres. Signage on the roads is generally inadequate, and speed restrictions very confusing.
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Some home visits were to addresses such as “House next to public toilet, Passage East” or “no 1 white wall” or “The Ruins, Post office square” which turned out not to be next to the post office at all, but where the post office used to be 200 years ago! Fortunately the driver of the medics car knows the area pretty well, but the same does not apply when David is doing house calls when working in a private practice.
The new motorways radiating out from Dublin are very good, but one finds very few services for fuel, rest or food along these roads. The other roads vary enormously in quality and have no rest stops at all, forcing one to drive for hours, before finding a garage that might allow one to use their loo. Often David resorts to African style and uses a bush!
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Although the Irish medical system is great in that it provides care for all its people and immigrants, a lot of equipment is thrown away instead of being recycled. The government can ill afford to be so wasteful in the current economic climate. The patients waste resources too, calling for attention at any hour e.g. David was woken at 3.30 am one night to attend to a man who had flatulence for the past 3 weeks! The patients have little reliance on common sense and are fearful of every fever. The doctors too are fearful of litigation and practise defensively. David's summation of the Irish system is "fearful, wasteful and defensive". Although 10% of David's income goes towards a PRSI tax, we cannot use the health services. A dental visit, which David recently had to resort to, made a significant dent in the Nye coffers - so we have an added incentive to stay as healthy as possible.

While Ireland is promoted as a classless society, there is a distinction between upper and lower classes. As a generalisation, the upper classes are educated, slim and often display the features of classic Irish beauty, invariably with easily understandable accents. The majority of people we have had dealings with [i.e. the rest, or the other class] are usually overweight, generally with coarse features, on social benefits, pregnant, mumble with a heavy accent that is often unintelligible, and rely on drinking for pleasure. Both classes may have material wealth, which means that this distinction is not evident by looking at people's cars or houses.
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One particular social observation, which tends to make our blood boil, is listening to those on benefits complain about their perceived raw deal. All we can think of is how hard our fellow African people have it, and how little they are expected to survive on - and how relative the Irish perceptions are. There is a really avaricious, materialistic mentality here among the younger generations, who have an attitude of entitlement, which is considered by older Irish folk as one of the dubious legacies of the Celtic Tiger boom years. It's been interesting to read that many of the Eastern European immigrants, who have been working here for a long time, are going back to their home countries because it's no longer economically viable to stay in Ireland. These critical observations aside, we have been struck by what a caring society this also is. The Irish do a great deal to help the unfortunate, like the Pakistan flood victims [lots of radio and TV appeals for citizens to send money to aid these poor folk], and others in need. It appears though that this altruism is generally forthcoming from the people, not the government, which is often the reality of grass-roots aid. So fair play to the Irish [wo]man in the street for their compassionate hearts.

While working in Waterford for a week, we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary at la Boheme restaurant, where we had a very good meal, which was a real treat.
A celebratory vase of wine in our room, before din-dins

A celebratory vase of wine in our room, before din-dins

Posted by davidsandi 12:26 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

LAVENDER, OCHRE and SUNFLOWERS

sunny 38 °C

We travelled to Coustellet in southern Vaucluse to visit the excellent Lavender Museum. IMG_3359.jpgIMG_3357.jpg
Although small, the museum is crammed full of a variety of old copper stills and other interesting artifacts from the lavender industry. Sandi had a ball capturing the wonderful exhibits - wishing her ex aromatherapy students were there to experience the pleasure too.
IMG_3362.jpgIMG_3372.jpgAn itinerant still for distilling lavender as well as fruit alcohols, which travelled from farm to farm.

An itinerant still for distilling lavender as well as fruit alcohols, which travelled from farm to farm.

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IMG_3387.jpgThe steaming lavender biomass

The steaming lavender biomass

This rare still was hammered without any welds, and may have been commissioned by a wealthy merchant.

This rare still was hammered without any welds, and may have been commissioned by a wealthy merchant.

An ovoid or egg-shaped still.

An ovoid or egg-shaped still.

A still to produce lavender concentrate.

A still to produce lavender concentrate.


We were instructed in the difference between lavender and lavandin by a pretty French lass who spoke perfect English. True lavender historically grows in poor quality rocky soil, high on sunny mountain slopes at an altitude between 500m and 1500m. It has been prized and harvested for centuries for its high quality essential oil yield. Lavandula angustifolia

Lavandula angustifolia


Lavandin is a modern hybrid with more spectacular flowers and a bigger yield, and is cultivated in fields on lower slopes. The chemistry, aroma, application and prices differ, respectively.
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Nearby, perched high against les Monts de Vaucluse, we visited Gordes, rated as one of the most beautiful villages in France. We browsed through some interesting ceramics on sale, then had our picnic lunch in the shade of an olive tree.
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IMG_3420.jpgLooking out across the Luberon Valley.

Looking out across the Luberon Valley.


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Dry stone walls are a feature in the Luberon region.
IMG_3424.jpgIMG_3441.jpgTypical farmhouse with the Vaucluse mountains in the distance.

Typical farmhouse with the Vaucluse mountains in the distance.

The next village on our route was the village of Rousillon, perched atop colourful cliffs. We had a steep walk up to the village itself, which was exhausting in the heat.
IMG_3449.jpgWe passed this interesting, old painted door on the way through the village.

We passed this interesting, old painted door on the way through the village.


The vermilion, yellow and red ochres are mined in open-air quarries. Even the colours of the houses reflect the warm colours of the ochre.
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Many shops sell the minature nativity clay figurines made in the time-honoured manner by the santonniers, which brought back childhood memories for David.
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Cicadas, which are plentiful, are the quintessential summer-sound of Provence. Their continuous rhythm is reminiscent of vuvuselas - or zillions of seriously fed-up buzzing and screeching goggas. Although one hears them constantly, one never sees them, except as souvenirs in the shops. At night, when their cacophony stops, the silence is suddenly exquisite - and as the sun rises higher in the heavens after dawn, one knows that their frenzied song heralds another day of rising heat.
IMG_3450.jpgDavid was scolded by the shop-owner for photographing his beautiful ceramic creations.

David was scolded by the shop-owner for photographing his beautiful ceramic creations.

Up till now, we had still not seen the fields of lavender for which Provence is renowned. We drove past orchards full of peaches, nectarines, apricots and cherries, and farmstalls selling melons everywhere. As we meandered along twisting, hilly country roads heading back towards Carpentras, we started to see more and more fields of lavendin, as patches of hazy purple in the landscape.
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After a long day, our final stop was at Beaumes de Venise for a wine tasting occasion. About a dozen local vintners offered tastings of their Muscat, for which the area is famous. They were all delicious and we got back to the campsite quite tipsy! It was time for the monthly camp-site social; Paella Party! Leon, the manager, spent the whole day cooking paella in 2 of the largest paella pans we have ever seen! It was delicious, and we danced the evening away, encouraged by the French singer and guitarist.
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Friday was our last day, and we spent it in Carpentras at the huge weekly street market. The narrow streets were decked with hanging paintings, and the stalls extended throughout the centre of town, selling Provencale linens and other goods, foods, household wares, plants etc. Fabulous!
IMG_3475.jpgIMG_3476.jpgWe stopped for a coffee at a cafe next to this fountain.

We stopped for a coffee at a cafe next to this fountain.

Sadly, we had to pack up and leave early the next morning. We had 18 hours of driving to cross France from the SE up to our ferry port at Roscoff in the NE. We crossed the Rhône, passing many fields of sunflowers en route.
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Bales of hay, tree-lined lanes [plus luscious cherries and strident cicadas] will always bring back happy memories of France for us.
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We used the France Passion book to find an overnight stop halfway, on a farm next to this meadow of flowers.
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The last night was spent in Roscoff, where we treated ourselves to a last French meal in a cosy restaurant, before crossing the Channel to Plymouth the next day.
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First stop on UK soil - PCWorld Plymouth - and immediate replacement of a laptop so we could once again be in touch with our other world, since there were no English keyboards or software in Spain and France!

Posted by davidsandi 00:47 Archived in France Comments (0)

UNDER THE SPELL OF MONT VENTOUX

sunny 38 °C

Using the France Passion guide again, we made our way to Chateau Gleon, in the Corbieres wine region of Aude, for an overnight stop on the way to Provence.
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The proprietor, a kindly old Frenchman, allowed us to pick our fill of ripe figs and brought us ice - a welcome essential in the high heat. After petting his dogs, big black Diablo, and an ankle-nipping little 'un, we stepped into his cool "cave" for a wine-tasting. We sampled most of his delicious wines, and bought a couple of bottles for our continued journey, plus one to savour with our dinner. While chatting to him it emerged that there is an estate nearby called Comte Durban, and he had some specially etched tasting glasses depicting a recent celebration there, which he insisted we accept as a gift each. What a sweetie! David's is no more, but Sandi's glass has so far survived the rigours of campervan living. As the shadows grew longer we had our supper and spent the night overlooking the river and the old bridge. The next morning we returned his ice-bucket, together with a gift of Sandi's soap, which seemed to surprise, yet delight him, and bid him a fond au revoir.
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David discovered what he thought were giant thistles growing next to the bridge and came back to report the find to Sandi, who informed him that they are actually artichokes! Guess who gets teased whenever thistles appear?
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The next afternoon we arrived at our pre-booked campsite in the village of Aubignan, Vaucluse. In the near distance we could see the Dentelles de Montmirail and Mont Ventoux, which looks as if it is permanently capped with snow. It is actually an exposed outcrop of limestone.
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The campsite was quiet and unsophisticated, and hot, hot, hot - but sadly had no swimming pool. It is perfectly situated for exploring the surrounding area that makes up southern Provence. We befriended several campers from the UK and Cyprus, who return to this same site every year for the summer, year after year.
Dentelles (laces) de Montmirail

Dentelles (laces) de Montmirail

On Sunday we visited Avignon, the regional capital.
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The old city is still enclosed by the original city wall, and access is gained by walking or driving through one of the original city gates. It was an important city during the Middle Ages as it was the seat of the Papacy for many years, before it returned to Rome. Seven successive Popes ensured that the area became commercially successful, and the county only became part of France after the French Revolution. The Jewish community thrived here under the protection of the Papacy.
Palace of the Popes

Palace of the Popes


The famous bridge of St Bénezet, better known as the Pont d’Avignon, stretches part-way across the mighty Rhône river. David can still hear his mother singing to him as a baby:
"Sur le pont d'Avignon, l'on y danse, l'on y danse. Sur le pont d'Avignon, l'on y danse, tous en rond..."
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The centre of the old city was pulsating with visitors, buskers and students - a festival atmosphere of note - rather like the Grahamstown Fest. The students were passionately enacting parts of their stage-acts, trying to entice one to book for the whole show.
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We wandered around, enthralled by the sights and sounds, until midday when suddenly the streets emptied and everyone settled down for lunch in one of the many street restaurants. After perusing all the menus on display, we chose the most appealing one that suited our budget, and joined the crowd for a leisurely lunch.
Ornate architecture in the main street

Ornate architecture in the main street


An arborial busker

An arborial busker


A delightful statue of a baby elephant

A delightful statue of a baby elephant

A grand building opposite the Palace

A grand building opposite the Palace

This bronze by Christine Remy took Sandi's fancy

This bronze by Christine Remy took Sandi's fancy

A potter in the street

A potter in the street

The festival bustle and vibe was a good solace to our post-Granada emotions, as we could focus on something other than the robbery and our recent losses. The next two days were spent exploring some of the quaint villages in the region. Beaumes-de-Venise had a little street market with some interesting ceramics on sale. It took extreme self-control not to buy some, and if weight, size, and budget was not a consideration the van and our kitchen back home would have boasted a few choice pieces.
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The olive oil mill was unfortunately closing for lunch when we arrived, so we had a drink on the café terrace next door.
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By this time our St Paddy's Day emblem - a silicone gel shamrock on the inside of the windscreen had melted in the 50C heat!
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Many of the old villages are perched high up against the rocky outcrops as a means of defence in times gone by.
The village of la Roque Alric with the Dentelles in the background

The village of la Roque Alric with the Dentelles in the background


The castle of le Barroux commands a grand view over the valley

The castle of le Barroux commands a grand view over the valley


On the farmland, the typical farmhouse is called a mas. It is of a rectangular construction, usually around a courtyard, with a sloping tiled roof, and faces south to protect from the biting Mistral wind in winter.
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Many of the country lanes in France are lined with trees like this.
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All the farmstalls and orchards along the roads were full of the bounty of summer; cherries, nectarines, melons, apricots and figs. Sandi indulged her cherry passion to the full, gobbling them daily in Fantastic-Mr-Fox style! [Singi and other Roald Dahl aficionados will relate to this reference.]
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We came across cheerful ceramics in almost every village. These were in the old Roman town of Vaison-la-Romaine to the north.
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The old Roman bridge and a narrow alleyway in the same town.
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On Wednesday we travelled down to just north of Aix-en-Provence for lunch with our buddy, Paddy, and her friend Hilary with whom she was staying. Hilary lives in Scotland, but rents a top-floor apartment in a grand chateau in the countryside. We spent a wonderful day with them, and enjoyed a delicious Provençale lunch.
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Posted by davidsandi 00:45 Archived in France Comments (0)

BARCELONA – WHACKY ARCHITECTURAL DELIGHT

sunny 35 °C

After a long, hot day of driving we arrived at the seaside town of Moncofa in Valençia province. We had chosen this as a halfway stop between Granada and Barcelona. We met a pleasant Irish couple parked on the campsite next to ours, and after a chat and a beer, we all headed off along the beach front in search of tapas for supper. We had a fun evening together, then set off the next day for Barcelona, as we had arranged to meet and chat with a medical doctor, who ran an integrative medical clinic in the city, at the end of the week.

It was a stressful trip, as we had to negotiate Barcelona at rush hour, then travel another 30 minutes further north to Camping Barcelona at Matarό. Being so relieved to have finally arrived, with the journey taking us several hours longer than we had calculated, David tried to turn left into the campsite without noticing that it involved crossing a solid line! Instantly, a Spanish cop on his bike was alongside, and screaming and angrily gesticulating at us! Most unnerving, to say the least, especially as we were still shell-shocked after our robbery and the horrid response of the Spanish authorities to our plight!
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It was a lovely campsite, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, but also the most expensive [at €45 per day], that we have stayed at. Many extras were included in the price, such as free shuttle buses to the beach and shops, and an inexpensive bus into the city. By now it was summer holiday season, and the site and pool were bustling with visitors. We tried setting up in the pitch they allocated, but had to move with the hour, as our neighbour's drainage vent was blocked and beyond foetid. In desperation we poured Toilet Duck in and around the drain, burned incense, and breathed through tissues, but soon gave that up and moved to another, less stinky, pitch a bit further along. Stultifying heat and stench are not welcome companions!

The next day we booked a bus ride into the city, and were dropped at the Plaça de Catalunya, the heaving heart of the city.
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Leading from the Plaça is the renowned la Rambla; a wide, tree-lined pedestrianised boulevard, all the way down to the harbour, full of stalls, buskers and animals for sale in cages. We had to queue for 30 minutes before we could get onto a Bus Turistic for a audio-guided full-day tour of the city sights. Subsequent hop-on-hop-off buses were more frequent - thank goodness, because standing in queues in the intense heat was no fun.

We started along the Passeig de Gràcia, where several architects had competed with each other in designing and building the most fanciful buildings in the Modernista style. The most famous of these is Antoni Gaudi, who designed and built many of Barcelona’s most extravagant buildings in the early part of the 20th century. A journey into the inner workings of his creative mind would be fascinating!
Casa Lleo-Morera

Casa Lleo-Morera


Casa Amatller next to Casa Batllό with its undulating chimneys (Gaudi 1906)

Casa Amatller next to Casa Batllό with its undulating chimneys (Gaudi 1906)


Casa Batllό

Casa Batllό


Further up, on the opposite side of the street, one finds la Pedrera [named after the quarry in Catalan, from where the stone came], also designed by Gaudi in 1910.
IMG_3228.jpgThe wrought iron balconies evoke the motion of waves.

The wrought iron balconies evoke the motion of waves.


Gaudi even designed the street lamps in this part of town

Gaudi even designed the street lamps in this part of town

The church of la Sagrada Familia is awe-inspiring in being so different to any other place of worship we have ever seen. It has continually been under construction since 1882, and Gaudi spent 43 years of his life on it. The building works continue as public donations come in, and it should be complete by 2030. It will have 18 towers; one for each of the 12 Apostles, 4 Evangelists, Mary and Jesus.
IMG_3243.jpgIMG_3244.jpgThe Crucifixion tableau above the front entrance.

The Crucifixion tableau above the front entrance.

We had a steep climb from the bus stop to visit Park Güell, named after Gaudi’s patron Count Güell. Initially designed as a residential garden city, it never took off commercially and later became a municipal park integrating his architectural work into nature.
One of two gatehouses; could this be the original gingerbread house?

One of two gatehouses; could this be the original gingerbread house?

The other gatehouse; every surface is covered in broken tiles.

The other gatehouse; every surface is covered in broken tiles.


The salamander or dragon fountain

The salamander or dragon fountain


Ornate tiled bosses on the ceiling of the market hall, which supports the seating area above

Ornate tiled bosses on the ceiling of the market hall, which supports the seating area above


An arcade of stone trunks, with no purpose other than to support a path above.

An arcade of stone trunks, with no purpose other than to support a path above.


The long, curved bench, built by Gaudi's assistant, snakes around the whole seating area.

The long, curved bench, built by Gaudi's assistant, snakes around the whole seating area.

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Another fountain with the Market hall behind.

Another fountain with the Market hall behind.

View over the gatehouse towards the city and the sea.

View over the gatehouse towards the city and the sea.


Pretty statues in a shop window nearby

Pretty statues in a shop window nearby

Back on a bus, we passed the huge roundabout called Plaça d’Espanya with its central monumental fountain.
IMG_3235.jpgIMG_3237.jpgScooters are obviously the most popular way to get around the city.

Scooters are obviously the most popular way to get around the city.


Huge joints of smoked ham are ubiquitous, and obviously savoured by the Spaniards.

Huge joints of smoked ham are ubiquitous, and obviously savoured by the Spaniards.


An un-named but attractive old building in central Barcelona.

An un-named but attractive old building in central Barcelona.

We rode up another hill, past the 1992 Olympic stadium on Montjuϊc, from where one has a magnificent view over the city from the Montjuϊc botanical gardens. There is an intriguing Jewish burial ground, dug into the vertical side of the hill,which we would love to explore on a future visit. Finally, we disembarked in the Barri Gòtic, and wandered through the streets of the old Roman quarter, but were too tired to visit the Cathedral.

It had been a long, very hot day, and we certainly managed to pack a lot into the day. By the time we had staggered back to the train, [luckily] caught the last campsite shuttle, and arrived back at the campsite at 11pm, we thoroughly exhausted.

The next day we had arranged to visit the doctor and her clinic at 0900, so had to make an early start. We had to walk 2km to the rail station, as it was too early for the campsite shuttle. The train ran all the way along the coast, passing miles of beautiful beaches. Then from Estaciό de Sants station, we had another 30 minute walk to Av Diagonale, where she had her offices. The whole building was in Art Deco style with a charming old elevator.
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Montserrat was a charming lady, who spoke reasonable English, but unfortunately the effort expended in getting to see her did not really justify the benefit gained from our visit.
A modern glass-fronted office building in Av Diagonale

A modern glass-fronted office building in Av Diagonale

As soon as we got back to Camping Barcelona, we left for France. When we crossed the border, we both felt immediately at peace and sensed the return of equilibrium to our souls. Although we had seen some sights of great beauty, Spain had proved to be a challenging struggle.
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Posted by davidsandi 09:50 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

THE HIGHLIGHT AND THE LOW-LIFE OF GRANADA

sunny 40 °C

The road from Portugal to Granada was baking hot and exceedingly dry. Surprisingly, the service stations along the route provided no shade for heat-drained travellers, so we had to wind out the awning for some respite, while we ate our watermelon, which had chilled slightly in our little fridge [it really takes strain trying to operate in the heat, which is perverse, as that is when we need it the most!]. We realised that most of the locals have the luxury of getting out of their air-conditioned cars, straight into the air-conditioned restaurants for their refreshments!
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The arid landscape was covered in rows of olive trees, as far as one could see, and beyond.
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The sunflowers in the fields, like us, could not take the intense heat and drooped their heads en masse.
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We saw several “farms” of countless rows of solar panels, which seem to be a big industry in this part of Spain.

The city of Grenada nestles in a valley overlooked by the snow-topped Sierra Nevada range.
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Our campsite at Suspiro del Moro, Otura, was 10km south of the city. It was pleasant enough with a large swimming pool and restaurant, where we had a delicious salad for supper.

The next day heralded our long-awaited visit to the Alhambra, which we had pre-booked on-line. On advice, we planned to take the local bus, only to discover from the bus-driver that the bus route went nowhere near the Alhambra! So we rushed back to the campsite and jumped in the van, as we had a timed entry to the Nasrid Palace complex. At the Alhambra, we were chased out of the shady parking area by an aggressive Spanish security guard on a scooter, and directed to park much further away, in another park, without shade, which he decided was for vehicles such as ours. The fact that we had to pay exactly the same parking fees, without equal amenities, was of no interest to him in the least.
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We spent the next few hours exploring the majestic, and yet intricate, beauty of the Alhambra palace city. The name is from the Arabic for the local reddish clay from which it was built. It dates back to the 9th century when it was used as a fortress. In the 13th century the first Nasrid king built his palace on the site, which commands a spectacular view over Granada city.

Once again it was hot, hot, hot, and we rested in the gardens for a while, stopping to photograph the roses and waterlilies.
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Remnants of the servants' quarters adjacent to the gardens.

Remnants of the servants' quarters adjacent to the gardens.

We popped into an artisan studio and shop to admire the intricate inlay and marquetry on display. We were so enthralled with the beauty of the finished products, and the skill displayed in creating them, that we bought an exquisite little table to be shipped back home. We were both excited to have invested in such a beautiful heirloom and can't wait to see it again.
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Our timed and controlled visit [along with only 300 others] allowed us into the Nasrid Palace at 12.00, with its intricate carvings adorning the walls and ceilings.
IMG_3167.jpgIMG_3166.jpgIMG_3168.jpgIMG_3177.jpgIMG_3183.jpgThe walls are covered in Arabic script telling many stories

The walls are covered in Arabic script telling many stories

The intricately carved ceiling of the Hall of Two Sisters

The intricately carved ceiling of the Hall of Two Sisters


IMG_3189.jpgThe Court of the Myrtles

The Court of the Myrtles


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The many rooms and courtyards were relatively cool in the heat of the midday sun.
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Apart from the Muslim history and architecture, there is also a big Christian influence: Emperor Charles V built his Renaissance Palace within the complex, the courtyard of which is used for concerts.
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It houses the Alhambra museum, containing many interesting artifacts from the palaces, including this exquisite urn, of which David sneaked a photo while the guard’s back was turned.
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David explored the Alcazaba Fortress on his own as Sandi was too exhausted by the heat to climb another step.
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After the long walk uphill back to the van, we were aghast to discover the sliding door standing ajar! Oh No! We peered fearfully inside to see everything topsy-turvy. Sandi immediately looked for the 2 laptops, but they were gone from their hiding place. We were paralysed! How could this happen to us? What do we do now? The violation was compounded by the indignity of finding Sandi’s underwear and toiletries scattered everywhere, assuming the thieves were looking for jewellery or other valuables. We realised too, that our 3 precious bottles of Rioja Gran Reserva had also been stolen! We had bought them to celebrate each of our birthdays and our 30th wedding anniversary in August, knowing that partying in Ireland would not be an option later. The low-lifes had ignored the 6 bottles of cheap Rioja wine, and made off with the special ones.

Feeling numb, we drove down to find security, but all we could find was the nasty little man who had caused this problem by chasing us away. He did not, or refused to, understand a word of English, but took us to the office, where another man tried to take a statement from David, which was difficult, given the language barrier. He claimed that there was nothing to see on the security cameras. He directed us to take his Spanish statement to the Police Commissioner in Grenada city to file a report. He really wasn’t bothered by our situation, and never expressed any concern or apology. Frustrated, and feeling angry with ourselves for all the things we “could have” done differently, and thoroughly depressed, we limped back to the campsite.

The main laptop contained Sandi’s travel labours with 18 months of research, book, and business work contained therein, besides all the rest of her computer data spanning years and years, plus all our photos, music etc. etc. She was about to back up onto the external hard-drive before we left Portugal, but ran out of time. We would therefore have to rely on the previous backup, which we had paid an IT expert to save for us, several weeks earlier in Cape Town, and which the thieves had not found. So although there would be a 6-week loss of data, we tried to be grateful for small mercies, as we could at least recover our photos and all the old data files barring the previous 6 weeks work [of which there was plenty!]. It was not until much later that we discovered even more devastation, relating to the back-up! Somehow the IT guy had duffed the back-up, and less than 10% of Sandi's total data had been saved. We contacted him later to ask what had happened, but he couldn't explain it, so we just had to accept it and move on. Depressing, frustrating, confusing ....... the words to describe how we felt have not yet been invented!

That evening we persuaded the receptionist to let us use her computer to do some damage control. Firstly, it was not easy to get any help as it was a Sunday night, the World Cup Final, and Spain was winning [the fireworks and celebrations went on for days afterwards!] Our bank security codes were in a document on the computer, so we were worried that our accounts would be cleaned out by the morning. We needed to change passwords etc., but were both running out of airtime, and it was impossible to get any top-ups locally. Our friend Bernie, in Scotland, thankfully came to the rescue by buying a top-up in Scotland and phoning the code through to us, so that we could make the necessary calls - an exercise also fraught with obstacles.
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Since we had to report the theft to the police in Granada we booked an extra day at the campsite and caught the bus into the city. We found the Police Commissioner, but he could not speak any English and wasn’t bothered! We gleaned that he wanted us to phone our statement to a central police operator who would speak English. So out we traipsed again to do his bidding. When we tried phoning the number, it would not accept an international call [our mobile phones were on “roaming”]. David then put the call through from a public callbox, but the instructions were all in Spanish, so again we hit a wall! Luckily we found a helpful lady at the Tourist office, who called the number, followed the instructions and connected David with an “English-speaking” person. He then proceeded to take down a statement, including the birth dates and maiden names of David’s parents! He directed us back to the Police Commissioner, who would download the statement for David to sign. After another grilling as to the veracity of the details, the policeman printed out about 12 copies, each of which had to be signed. Finally, we had a copy for our insurance, but…..it was all in Spanish!

Seeing as we had wasted the better part of the day, and seen nothing of the city, we decided to have a look at the Cathedral, which is apparently quite special. After getting lost a few times, we eventually found it, only to discover it was closed for the next few hours for la siesta! By now we were so weary, hot and thirsty we could barely think and decided to head back to the campsite to collect the van and set off on plan B without wasting any more time. This entailed heading off to the biggest computer warehouse, to replace at least one laptop so that we could try to make contact with the greater world again. Not so easy, as we soon discovered that all the laptops have Spanish keyboards and Spanish software! Again Bernie came to the rescue, and offered to courier her spare laptop to our next stop-over in France. It was a wonderful gesture, which gave us a glimmer of light to look forward to, but in the end it didn’t work out, and we had to wait until we got back to the UK before being able to buy another one.

That evening, though still very heavy of heart, we sought comfort in food, and ate the most scrumptious paella at the camp-site restaurant.
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Posted by davidsandi 03:06 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

THE ALGARVE COAST

sunny 40 °C

We arrived in Albufeira, in the centre of the Algarve coastline, in the afternoon, after a long, hot and sweaty drive. The Hapimag resort, which was not easy to find, is sprawled lazily across a large estate, overlooking the sea. The apartments are cool and spacious, and well-appointed with German attention to detail.
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The buildings are linked by endless paths, which are cobbled in typical Portuguese style.
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The lawns are punctuated by areas of dry scrubby bushes, which struggle to stay alive in the intense heat. The pool area provides a refreshing oasis, but is busy most of the day. Most guests started the week looking very white, but very soon became red, pink or brown! Some women we watched, lay on the loungers all day, baking in the sun, drinking endless cups of espresso, and smoking - every day!
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A short stroll leads to the top of cliffs overlooking three tiny beaches. To access the beach one has to scramble down pathways between the dry, crumbling cliffs.
IMG_3059.jpgIMG_3120.jpgMany of the rocks were encrusted with fossilized shells

Many of the rocks were encrusted with fossilized shells


The coastline was a rocky spectacle, formed from ancient scalloped coves and cliffs.
IMG_3044.jpgIMG_3058.jpgIMG_3065.jpgIMG_3068.jpgIMG_3071.jpgSmall red succulent plants cling to the parched earth

Small red succulent plants cling to the parched earth


Daily activities, games and tours were on offer for those who wanted their leisure organised. The only activity in which we [along with 3 or 4 others] chose to participate were some Tai Chi and Qi Gung sessions, lead by a lovely German teacher, on the cliff tops. It was wonderfully peaceful, in the cool of the morning, or at dusk, standing with one's back to the land and facing out to sea.

The days were unbearably hot, reaching 45 degrees, and we preferred to take siesta indoors in the middle of the day, only venturing out when the worst of the heat had abated.
A swim in the sea is a delicious way to cool down!

A swim in the sea is a delicious way to cool down!


We drove to the town of Portimão to visit the weekly Gypsy market. Our [up-to-date] Thomas Cook Algarve guidebook failed to mention that the market's location had changed 5 years ago, so after driving round in circles in the busy centre of town, we eventually found it. We found the gypsys more interesting than the goods they were trying to sell.
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The old town in the centre of Albufeira comes alive at dusk with a night market. The streets are lined with cafes, shops and stalls. There is a carnival atmosphere, especially when the magical, fairy lights are switched on.
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As we were there during the semi-final matches of the World Cup, there was soccer fever throughout the town, and every single cafe and restaurant sported the matches on widescreen TVs - lining each street. We could only laugh to think that, no matter how far we ran, there was no escaping the World Cup!
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We decided to go in search of the best deal for cataplana for dinner. The one we finally decided on was not the cheapest [€29 for two], but it was very good; a casserole containing crab, calamari, clams, mussels, prawns, white fish etc, cooked and served in a copper pan.
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We stumbled across a stage in the town square, where, to our immense delight, a group of dancers of all ages were doing traditional folk dancing! They whirled around at speed with the crowd egging them on.
IMG_3087.jpgThe band of musicians

The band of musicians

Finally, the public joined the dance circle

Finally, the public joined the dance circle


We had noticed that the beaches were usually deserted until about midday,
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and even the restaurants overlooking the beaches were sparsely populated

and even the restaurants overlooking the beaches were sparsely populated


We took advantage of the morning solitude by taking a champagne breakfast onto the beach.
IMG_3108.jpgNote that David, by now, has fallen victim to a very short Portuguese haircut

Note that David, by now, has fallen victim to a very short Portuguese haircut

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The end of the week arrived only too soon, and we decided to squeeze in another market, at the little town of Loulé, en route to Spain. It proved to be a vibrant fruit and veg market, where we bought some fresh figs and a piece of watermelon for the road. The Gypsy market down the road was disappointingly identical to the one we had visited in Portimão.

Posted by davidsandi 01:49 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

RIOJA WINE AND CORK TREES

We crossed the Pyrenees through the long Somport tunnel and could not believe how the country on the Spanish side is so arid in comparison with the lushness of France. The dryness was suddenly relieved by the incredibly turquoise blue water of the Yesa Dam. We wondered whether it was radioactive, as there was hardly any sign of human habitation along its shores!
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We passed Pamplona, with only days to go before the annual Running of the Bulls Festival.
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Villages such as this one, Berdun, are built on hilltops.

Villages such as this one, Berdun, are built on hilltops.


IMG_2913.jpgLots of windpower in N Spain although La Mancha is much further south!

Lots of windpower in N Spain although La Mancha is much further south!


Our first campsite in Estella had a swimming pool, which was a great relief after the long, dry and hot drive.

We then had 2 days in Logroño, the capital of the Rioja wine region. Our campsite was conveniently located, 10 minutes walk from the centre of the old town, next to the sludgy river Ebro. We visited the cathedral de Santa Maria de la Redonda to try to escape the oppressive heat.
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The highly ornate wall behind the altar was awe-inspiring, and worth paying 1 euro to light it up.
IMG_2944.jpgIMG_2947.jpgBeautiful statues but no tombs like the English cathedrals.

Beautiful statues but no tombs like the English cathedrals.


An artwork attributed to Michelangelo is kept securely barricaded behind the altar, but we declined to pay to light it up.
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A meal at a pavement cafe was good value [€9.90 for 3 courses with bread, a bottle of water and a bottle of wine] and enough to lay us out for the rest of the afternoon. Oh, la siesta is a wonderful idea!

The next day we wanted to visit a bodega [winery] to sample the renowned Rioja wines. In Spain one has to make an appointment to taste wines! The first two bodegas David phoned only had tours in Spanish that day, and “no” we couldn’t just come and taste! We were given an appointment at Bodegas Ontanon for 12.00, and arrived to find an extremely plush, family-run establishment.
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Our guide gave us a fascinating tour for an hour.
The cellar where the Gran Reserva is left to mature in bottles for 3 years, after being in oak casks for 2 years.

The cellar where the Gran Reserva is left to mature in bottles for 3 years, after being in oak casks for 2 years.


The many beautiful sculptures and stained glass artworks throughout the cellar were specially created to reflect the Greek mythology of viticulture.
IMG_2955.jpgA Centaur, with Oinopion, son of Dionysius and Ariadne, on his back.

A Centaur, with Oinopion, son of Dionysius and Ariadne, on his back.

Persephone is credited with giving birth to the first grape pip, and this beautiful statue shows her breast-feeding it.

Persephone is credited with giving birth to the first grape pip, and this beautiful statue shows her breast-feeding it.


Both sides of her face, light and dark, representing summer and winter seasons, are reflected around her on the marble walls.

Both sides of her face, light and dark, representing summer and winter seasons, are reflected around her on the marble walls.

The love story between Dionysius and Ariadne.

The love story between Dionysius and Ariadne.


IMG_2971.jpgBacchus

Bacchus

Ganymede, the cup-bearer of Zeus, provides the link between the cellar and the outside world.

Ganymede, the cup-bearer of Zeus, provides the link between the cellar and the outside world.


The wine-tasting itself was an experience to be remembered; our guide, Jesus, showed us in detail how to taste their Reserva 2001 for 30 minutes, then produced some tapas, after which we had to taste again and see how differently the wine tastes. We only tasted two wines, but how heavenly they were! We could only afford to buy three bottles of the good stuff, which we decided to keep for our birthdays.
Relaxing with a beer later in Plaza San Augustin to beat the heat.

Relaxing with a beer later in Plaza San Augustin to beat the heat.

We still had two days of hard driving before we reached the Algarve. Central Spain is very arid and the roads very straight and long.
Vineyards in the Rioja district.

Vineyards in the Rioja district.

Poppies amongst the wheat.

Poppies amongst the wheat.

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Our Molly [GPS] again let us down by taking us around in circles, looking for our campsite near Plasencia, which was our half-way stop between Logrono and Albufeira. When we eventually found it, more by luck than persistence, we were pleased to find a shady pitch and a large swimming pool. That night we both got massacred by mozzies, and David started the runs for the next 5 days.
Millions of cork trees in Spain and Portugal along our route. Many have been harvested, the lighter the colour the more recently harvested.

Millions of cork trees in Spain and Portugal along our route. Many have been harvested, the lighter the colour the more recently harvested.

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Ubiquitous olive plantations.

Ubiquitous olive plantations.

Storks are everywhere, and structures are often erected to encourage them to nest.

Storks are everywhere, and structures are often erected to encourage them to nest.

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Finally, at the end of the second day we arrived in Albufeira, in the Algarve region of south Portugal.

Posted by davidsandi 10:40 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

TWO NIGHTS WITH FRANCE PASSION

Our first night after leaving Bob and Bear, we stopped at Chateau la Piolette SE of Bordeaux.
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We took a wrong turn to a Chateau Prioulette, then had to ask for directions to la Piolette. We were warmly welcomed by the wine farmer and his wife, Alain and Dominique, who are 3rd generation on the farm and very sad that their kids are not able/interested to continue the line. They did not speak a word of English, but we managed with our limited French. She presented us with a chilled bottle of their dry white wine for supper, which we had on some picnic benches overlooking the vineyard, while we watched 2 pairs of hoepoes scratching amongst the vines.
IMG_2844.jpgSandi, thrilled to discover that Toulouse-Lautrec used to live nextdoor!

Sandi, thrilled to discover that Toulouse-Lautrec used to live nextdoor!

We had the use of a very nice shower/toilet built specially for campers next to the wine shed. In the morning she gave us a private wine-tasting and we bought some of their delicious wines before moving on. She also gave us the remainder of the bottles we had tasted! Such generous and friendly people, and altogether a lovely experience!
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We spent a couple of hours of the morning walking around the old village of Cadillac and visited the Duc's Chateau.
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Every room had a huge ornate fireplace.
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Tapestries in blue and gold adorned the high walls.

Tapestries in blue and gold adorned the high walls.

IMG_2874.jpgIMG_2876.jpgSome of the wooden ceilings are ornately decorated.

Some of the wooden ceilings are ornately decorated.


Help, I'm starving and can't get out of my bedroom!

Help, I'm starving and can't get out of my bedroom!


A curved, solid stone stairway for use by the servants.

A curved, solid stone stairway for use by the servants.


In restoring the building we felt the French "sanitised" much of the reconstruction to look nice, thereby losing much of the authenticity. This stairwell had not been restored, and looked real, but was barred to the public!
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The garden at the back of the chateau is another missed opportunity, as it is neglected and inaccessible.

The garden at the back of the chateau is another missed opportunity, as it is neglected and inaccessible.


This road in the town has been lived in since 1280 AD.

This road in the town has been lived in since 1280 AD.

We then headed down to the Pyrenees and Molly [our GPS] got us completely lost in the hills. We then retraced our steps and followed the limited directions in the France Passion book and found the farm [When in doubt read the instructions!]. It was a ramshackle place up in the foothills of the Central Pyrenees, with sheds filled with old farm wagons and wheelchairs going back at least a hundred years. No wonder it is called a "Conservation farm"! The farmer's wife welcomed us and spoke several languages including English. She invited us to gather mushrooms, and even gave us some much-prized Boleto [also known as Cep] for our supper!
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The toilet hut was quite a way through the long grass and quite wild! Sandi opted to hold on! As we settled down for the night a buck came grazing nearby.
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So, our first two host-sites with France Passion were lovely but very different. We think it has the potential to allow one to experience rural France in a very close-up and informal way.

We spent the morning in Lourdes, enjoying the market and marvelling at the excessive symbols of religiosity on sale everywhere, before setting out to cross the Pyrenees.
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Posted by davidsandi 10:25 Archived in France Comments (0)

SUN AND RED SQUIRRELS IN VENDÈE

Our friend Bear contacted us while we were in West Yorkshire, to ask if we could extend our stop-over with them, to look after the cats and booked guests for a week, while she visited her very ill mother in Sheffield. We crossed the Channel from Dover and, having landed in Calais, we set off on the long road to Vendée. We were amazed at how much of the land in France is used for agriculture; maize, sunflowers, wheat, beets, rape-seed, fruits and vines, and beautiful, sturdy charolais cattle everywhere.
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Not only was the French terroir enticing, but we witnessed the most spectacular red sun sinking slowly down as we approached Rouen. We wanted to park in an Aire for the night, but in order to find one we had to get onto the peáge autoroute. We eventually found one and settled down for the night [the toll cost us €11 but the parking was free].
En route we crossed the mighty Loire river.
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We arrived at la Maison Neuve the next afternoon, and soon our chums, Bear and Bob, were finalising their plans to catch a plane to Leeds and a ferry to Plymouth. Having been primed by Bear regarding the needs of their expected guests we were to mind, we looked forward to meeting them. Once we had greeted the French ladies for the chambres d’hotes and given them their breakfast, we welcomed a young English couple booked into one of the gites [holiday cottage]. All that remained of our duties were to water the garden and feed the cats, birds and squirrels.
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The courgettes grew so fast they became marrows in the blink of an eye.

The courgettes grew so fast they became marrows in the blink of an eye.


We so enjoyed being back in Vendée, just loving the relaxed lifestyle. Contrary to our previous visit, when we were escaping the Venetian freeze at New Year, the weather was hot and bright all week with the temperatures in the 30s.

We're not sure who was enjoying the sunshine more - us, or the darling moggies.
Flattened by the heat

Flattened by the heat

We started doing Qigong [thanks to Simon's instruction] in the back garden, facing the river, with the solid farmhouse behind us. Perfect placement!
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La Maison Musings ......... To stand outside at dusk, at about 9pm, and soak in the simmering end of the day, is heavenly. There is a calmness, in spite of the beads of sweat on the skin and the buzz of myriad flies and bees [frantically finishing their business before the light goes]. Occasionally there is a slight breeze, wafting the scent of lilac and roses from the climbers around the door. The Little owl and her fledgling scrutinise the courtyard, from the safety of the chimney pot, “chirring” raucously whenever a cat saunters into their sights. Then without a flutter, they glide into the chestnut tree nearby.
Lord of "Owl" he surveys.

Lord of "Owl" he surveys.


Long shot of Captain Inscrutible.

Long shot of Captain Inscrutible.


The light finally fades and even the hum quietens down, as one reluctantly steps back inside.

We picked the last of the cherries with a long ladder, and clusters of blackcurrants, which were delicious as a coulis with crème fraiche. Enjoying leisurely, late suppers in the big farm kitchen is bliss, especially the very affordable crevettes, duck a l’orange and galettes. We also really enjoyed visits to the French supermarkets, picking out the delicacies we had been hankering after since our last visit. What a pleasure to savour these treats again, but this time in the sunshine, under the umbrella, with the cats snoozing nearby or flirting with us for tidbits .
IMG_2711.jpg IMG_2792.jpgIMG_2789.jpgApple tart making, with evidence of our personal red wine tasting in progress.

Apple tart making, with evidence of our personal red wine tasting in progress.

We came down one morning to make tea, and saw the baby red squirrel, who had been keeping its distance, way up the drive at its own tree-trunk feeding hatch, having a feast on the bird feeder outside the kitchen window. Such a thrill!
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It was soon joined by its mother, and we revelled in the spectacle, taking lots and lots of photos.
Mama peanut cruncher.

Mama peanut cruncher.

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Red squirrels are almost extinct in Britain, as they have been squeezed out by the hardier, and more aggressive, grey squirrels.

On Saturday we visited the market at Fontenay-le-Comte, which was bustling and far bigger than the one we had visited in winter.
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We had some delicious [if somewhat light] galettes for lunch, in the shady garden of a little restaurant. Since the temperature had soared to a very humid 38 °C, we needed the shade. Even the pastis with ice-cubes and cold water didn't help to lower the internal temp!
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The charming young English couple staying in the gite introduced us to France Passion, a different approach to camping. It requires an annual membership, which allows for an overnight stay on selected French farms and vineyards. You simply choose a site, arrive and greet your hosts, and stay overnight for free! While some sites are grand and provide well for campers, other sites have rather limited facilities. It promised a fun way to meet the locals and get away from the big campsites.

One sunny afternoon we went for a walk in the Mervent forest, where we had picked holly in the winter. We had just been reading about snakes and snake-bites in France, so Sandi was adamant about keeping to well-defined paths, while David poo-pooed the whole idea - in spite of there being a dead snake on the road en route to the forest. Portent of things to come, or self-fulfilling prophesy? The path we chose started out well, but soon became quite rustic. Suddenly there was an almighty rustle in the leaves to one side and Sandi saw a sturdy silver-grey whopper of a snake disappear beneath the leaves. slaty_grey_snake.jpg
Much to David's dismay that was the end of the walk in that part of the forest! The rest of the walk proceeded rather sedately along an open bicycle track.

Bob and Bear returned at the weekend, and we started on the long journey towards Portugal and our time-share week. We had planned to visit Provence for a few days en route, but since our 2-day Vendéean stay had extended to a week, Plan-B was implemented. Provence would have to wait for our return from Spain. Fortunately we managed to secure a campsite near Avignon to coincide with the change of plans.

Our last supper in the Vendée was with friends, at a Pizzeria - not a Nye-favourite option [due to David's cheese and wheat allergies], but it was fun, even though we had hoped to finally get to eat at Le Donjon. We were amused to see that all the pizzas and pasta dishes were presented with a raw egg yolk on the top! This caused quite a bit of consternation at our table, as it was definitely not to everyone's taste. Maybe Italian food should be confined to Italian cooks?!

The journey back to La Maison, for our last sleep before hitting the road again, was illuminated by a beautiful full moon.
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Posted by davidsandi 10:11 Archived in France Comments (0)

BLOSSOMS, SOAP SUDS AND MUSEUMS

Devon, London and West Yorkshire

On our return to Ebford, we spent a couple of days catching up with ourselves again and sorting out MOT, road tax and insurance renewals for the van. The country garden flowers in Judy's garden and elsewhere were gorgeous and Sandi, as usual, was entranced by the lushness of the plant life, and so much clicking was done.
IMG_2595.jpgIMG_2598.jpgIMG_2602.jpgExtravagant Clematis flowers

Extravagant Clematis flowers

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We enjoyed a wonderful meadow walk with Judy and her walking group, followed by a ploughman’s lunch under the trees and home-brewed cider [an acquired taste - not quite Hunter's Gold!] supplied by the farmer.
Sandi leading the way with our wild flower manual being put to use, and of course, many more happy snaps along the way

Sandi leading the way with our wild flower manual being put to use, and of course, many more happy snaps along the way


IMG_2623.jpgIMG_2624.jpgIMG_2626.jpgIMG_2629.jpgWild orchid

Wild orchid


The organiser, David, mentioned there was an excellent cream tea to be had on a neighbouring farm, which naturally we could not resist, so off we traipsed and had tea in grand style!
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Then it was time to head up to London for Sandi’s courses. We camped at the lovely Crystal Palace campsite again, and made forays into the city with bus and underground passes.

The London courses, which took about 1 ½ hours to reach by public transport, were rather underwhelming, and chaotic at times. In general the presentations were simplistically repetitive, particularly the excessive time spent on skin diseases. On the up-side, meeting a few delightful delegates from UK, Holland, & Spain, was relative compensation.

During day-1, while Sandi was occupied, David amused himself by visiting the Tower of London.
The very entertaining guide

The very entertaining guide


The Queen's House within the Tower grounds

The Queen's House within the Tower grounds


Henry VIII suit of armour - note how he protected his family jewels!

Henry VIII suit of armour - note how he protected his family jewels!


How Elizabeth II protects her family jewels

How Elizabeth II protects her family jewels


Tower bridge

Tower bridge


We managed to get tickets for Swan Lake that evening, presented "in the round" by the English National Ballet, at the Royal Albert Hall. A real treat for us both.
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On the second day of Sandi's course David browsed through the Natural History Museum. The building itself is as fascinating as the extensive exhibits
The beautiful and intricate brickwork inside and outside

The beautiful and intricate brickwork inside and outside

Dusty monkeys climbing up the walls

Dusty monkeys climbing up the walls

Monographs of herbs on the ceiling

Monographs of herbs on the ceiling

He then spent a couple of sunny hours in Hyde Park.
The impressive Prince Albert memorial

The impressive Prince Albert memorial


The new Princess Diana memorial fountain

The new Princess Diana memorial fountain


A new statue - the Ibis

A new statue - the Ibis

On Sandi's final course day, off went solo-tourist David again, this time to the British Science Museum. However, as he was rapidly tiring of museums, he just looked at the fascinating medical history section.
An armrest for blood-letting

An armrest for blood-letting


He captured several curiosities around London.
IMG_2672.jpgShip-in-a-bottle at Trafalgar Square

Ship-in-a-bottle at Trafalgar Square

Busker at Covent Garden

Busker at Covent Garden

Pavement art on the Embankment

Pavement art on the Embankment


Elephants are all over town! Painted in many different ways, they are raising money for green causes.
IMG_2674.jpgIMG_2679.jpgThe three political leaders

The three political leaders


We then met up with Buz [old CT buddy, now living in London] for dinner and catch-up in the Chinese quarter.

With anticipated fun on the horizon we headed off for Sandi's long-anticipated 2-day workshop. After a hair-raising 90 minutes crossing London, we emerged unscathed on the A1 northbound for West Yorkshire. By early evening we eventually reached and checked into our farm campsite, which was in a meadow, with six Charolais bullocks [les blondes, those beauties from our Vendee days] grazing next door.
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It was lovely and quiet after the hustle of London, and we enjoyed our few days there - in spite of the rustic toilet facilities. We could write a Treatise on Toilets & Travels by this stage!

Sandi's bespoke soap workshop was a delight. The teacher, a really special person, was very willing to tailor the workshop to Sandi's rural soap-making interest.
Sarah in her studio

Sarah in her studio


Learning some new skills was great fun, with David enjoying his new shaving cream, even though it’s a bit gloopy! The next batch will have to be tweaked a bit, but at least it’s all natural and good for the skin, which can't be said for commercial shaving creams and foams.
Soap slices drying in the kitchen in Vendee

Soap slices drying in the kitchen in Vendee

Posted by davidsandi 12:55 Archived in England Comments (0)

CAPE TOWN [and how to avoid World Cup fever]

We left England on the May Bank Holiday weekend, during a gap in the volcanic ash clouds, but in the rain - hoping to find some remnants of the summer sun in Cape Town. But, alas, we had to endure 10 days of torrential rain before we could enjoy the lovely warm, balmy winter days, which Cape Town can be so good at.
Cape Town is rampant with soccer fever with the FIFA World Cup just around the corner. Most cars sport national flags and mirror socks [which may be a South African innovation?!]
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The new stadium at night looks just like an alien spaceship that has gently settled on Greenpoint!
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Home is where the heart is
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Our little nest we had built in the outside bedroom/backroom was full of the carefully stacked boxes of books; but left little space for us to live in.
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We had already decided to rent a bigger storage unit, so that we could move even more of our boxes, to give us more breathing room. So while Jamie's bakkie was available, and he was still in Cape Town, Jamie and David took several carloads of stuff out to the storage unit and spent the day moving the already stored stuff from the old cage into the new garage-style unit. Our previous return home had been marked by several crashes, and true to form, within days the hot water geyser leaked, flooding the tool shed. Soon after that, the swimming pool salinator packed up, needing replacement. Then it was the turn of the electric gate motors to pack up, followed by the telephone, car radiators, and then the final straw, the computer crashed! So many repairs and replacements later, and with much lighter pockets, we have decided to try and figure out how to break this jinx on our returns home!

We were anxious to meet the latest family member, Benjamin Mark Duk. Claire flew down from Grahamstown to help Judith for a week, so it was very good to get to see her as well.
Judes and Mia

Judes and Mia

Claire and Gaby

Claire and Gaby

Rob and Ben

Rob and Ben


Ben had arrived earlier than expected; in fact Jude's water broke while spending the weekend in Hermanus, and they had to rush back for her elective Caesarian section, before the planned date!
With many of us together in the same space again, Granny treated the family to lunch at Constantia Neck restaurant.
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Simon and Ingrid are very busy developing their fledgling publishing businesses. They expressed the need to have a dedicated office instead of conducting their business from the upstairs room of the house, which isn't professionally ideal. So it was agreed that they take over the outside backroom/grannyflat, as a new office, and we would move our bedroom upstairs. This would give us more space, but it does mean tricky trips down the stairs at night to use the bathroom.

We received a formal invitation to Ingrid’s first book launch: The Real Soccer Fields of SA. The author had also given instamatic cameras to a bunch of school children, and asked them to photograph what soccer means in their lives. The results were on display [strung between two ladders] and some of the photos were included in the book.
Photos on display framing some of the soccer players

Photos on display framing some of the soccer players

The panel of invited speakers

The panel of invited speakers


Simon posing next to their official banner

Simon posing next to their official banner

IMG_2395.jpgJamie and Lis

Jamie and Lis


Jamie and Ingrid practising blowing the vuvuselas!
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The launch was well attended, and well organised, and the kids played soccer and wolfed down the snacks!
Impromptu soccer practice with a tennis ball!

Impromptu soccer practice with a tennis ball!

Sandi had to fly to Joburg for the day to attend a Council meeting, but the next day we decided to catch up on some local culture by going wine-tasting for the day. The six of us set off for Klein Constantia and Buitenverwachting estates in Constantia.
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It was a lovely day relaxing with our kidz, and we finished off with lunch at the Brass Bell, being splashed by the breaking waves!

We managed to delay Jamie’s return to Ubuntu, Jefferies Bay, by tempting him with the Sunday night special at the Blowfish; after all, who can resist “all-you-can-eat-sushi” [for £12]?
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Then it was time to bid a sad farewell to Jamie, as he had to head back to take over the running of Ubuntu for the winter surfing season. Elisna stayed behind in CT for another 10 days to show their friends how to manage and run the new African Heart backpacker lodge in Observatory. They worked very hard for several months transforming the Greenhouse, where we had practised for so many years. We were impressed and enchanted with the changes; new en-suite showers and toilets, sunny stoep in the front. Elisna has painted dramatic African graphics on the bedroom walls and her speciality mosaics adorn the mirrors. All-in-all it has a funky, vibey feel, and is a busy place most of the time!
The outside does not look very different apart from the fence

The outside does not look very different apart from the fence

The inside courtyard

The inside courtyard


David's ex-consulting room

David's ex-consulting room

Sandi's ex-consulting room

Sandi's ex-consulting room


Tania's aromatherapy room

Tania's aromatherapy room

What used to be the Schoolroom is now the communal kitchen

What used to be the Schoolroom is now the communal kitchen


One of Lis' beautiful mosaics in the shower room

One of Lis' beautiful mosaics in the shower room

One of Sunet, the manager's, paintings on sale

One of Sunet, the manager's, paintings on sale


A beaded lion head trophy on the wall

A beaded lion head trophy on the wall

We were also introduced to some new eating places in Cape Town: Sidewalk Café in Vredehoek and the Eastern Food Bazaar in the city [a delicious range of Asian foods for R20-R30 a plate = £2.50]. The joys of having cool kids who know the good eating spots! We ended up going back to the Eastern Food Bazaar with our other dear friends, David and Paddy, to sample the yummy food at this quaint venue. David and Paddy

David and Paddy


And of course, no trip home is complete without a few forays to Mainland China, a favourite haunt of ours, which is also much loved by Janet and our young 'uns.

The next week was devoted to preparations for the new office. So with yet more packing and moving, we started a blitz-renovation. Six of us scraping, fixing and painting [Tania came to help] had the place looking spruce in a few days, and they moved into their pristine new office a few days later after new underground telephone line, door intercom and computer network cables were installed. Simon had painted the walls deep purple when he used it as a bedroom, so the walls need several coats of paint to neutralise it, but in the end it was a sparkling white room, with their vibrant orange and blue logo design across one wall. Then a bit of digging to lay flagstones on the lawn [it gets wet in the winter], and Readhill & Mousehand looked great, and was once more open for business! Sandi did a space-clearing before they started up again - just for good measure.

We spent a lovely leisurely Sunday with our dear friends, the Morrises, at their home playing Rummicub and eating divine food. Later we all walked their dogs through the fynbos above Camp’s Bay, watching the clouds swirl around us and the moon rise over the Twelve Apostles.
Sandi, Dalene and Guiness with the Twelve Apostles in the background

Sandi, Dalene and Guiness with the Twelve Apostles in the background

David, Dalene and Ian playing silly monkeys

David, Dalene and Ian playing silly monkeys

David and Ian with Camp's Bay in the background

David and Ian with Camp's Bay in the background

IMG_2482.jpgThe back of Table mountain shrouded in clouds

The back of Table mountain shrouded in clouds

Pretty unnamed fynbos

Pretty unnamed fynbos


Emerging protea bud

Emerging protea bud

Dried-out protea flower

Dried-out protea flower

In our continued search for a place to practise later, we decided to follow a few leads by taking a day to visit the pretty village of Stanford, as well as the Institute for Sustainable Living near Stellenbosch. Unfortunately neither of these places held any potential for us.

While at home, we enjoyed some of the familiar things that makes home, home:
Strelitzias in the garden

Strelitzias in the garden

Ha-di-da's on the Mead

Ha-di-da's on the Mead


Cuddles with Gobbelina in the kitchen

Cuddles with Gobbelina in the kitchen

Giving Daisy milk treats

Giving Daisy milk treats


Simon's game den under the stairs attracts a clutch of moggies!

Simon's game den under the stairs attracts a clutch of moggies!

Amber keeping a wary eye as usual

Amber keeping a wary eye as usual

Addy, our faithful housekeeper, stepping out in her best

Addy, our faithful housekeeper, stepping out in her best

Near the end of our time, we had a special family supper at home with much fun and laughter.
Tania, Sandi's beautiful sister

Tania, Sandi's beautiful sister


We spent a lot of time eating very good food in CT - both at home and elsewhere! Janet and Tash, her daughter, our "heart family" members joined us, and since it was a Friday evening, they blessed us with shabbat prayers before we enjoyed the delicious challah they brought.
IMG_2534.jpgIngrid and her friend, Gillian

Ingrid and her friend, Gillian

Rebecca demonstrating her hair straightening tool

Rebecca demonstrating her hair straightening tool


IMG_2552.jpgTania enters the fray

Tania enters the fray

Janet enjoys her hair curled!

Janet enjoys her hair curled!

Simon and David went to Silvermine nature reserve to walk up to the Elephant’s Eye cave, while Sandi and her partner in jols, Janet, spent their farewell morning in Claremont, sipping a strawberry daiquiri and window shopping.

There are such beautiful views over Cape Town and lovely fynbos; By Gosh we do live in a beautiful part of the world!
IMG_2562.jpgIMG_2559.jpgFynbos ericaceae

Fynbos ericaceae


IMG_2573.jpgIMG_2575.jpgInside the cave, all the plants were growing on the roof!

Inside the cave, all the plants were growing on the roof!

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The view out across the Cape Flats

The view out across the Cape Flats

Proteas in the wild

Proteas in the wild


Finally on Sunday we shared one last lunch at Olivello with Simon and Ingrid before heading for the airport with heavy hearts. We do so miss our beloved friends and family when we're away.
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We boarded our BA flight back to London thanks to the cabin crew who, for some reason we never enquired about, were not striking! As much as leaving makes us weepy, we were however relieved to make our escape 3 days before the Soccer fest started.

Posted by davidsandi 06:41 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

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