Monday, 30 April 2012

Monday photo - 30th April

Despite being early June, the weather in Rome was hot and sunny and the crowds had descended in their masses. Rising early, we'd weaved through the maze of streets and gently slipped between tour groups into the entrance to the Vatican. On first glance, the foyer didn't seem too busy, the toilets were empty and the guidebook sellers twiddled their thumbs. We climbed to the next floor, discussing our viewing priorities and predicting the best times to hit each. And then we rounded the corner, and realised why the entrance was so empty - everyone was already upstairs.

Just a short while after opening, and the Vatican was packed. The large groups hadn't even arrived yet, but it seemed that every tourist in the whole world was inside these ancient walls. We considered heading outside and returning a couple of hours later, only to see the tour groups from earlier coming towards us. Packed in from both sides, we had to go with the flow. Although people were generally quiet and respectful towards each other, it was difficult to fully appreciate the place with the pressure from behind and the sea of people in front. It was definitely the most busy attraction I've ever visited.

All that quickly disappeared as we entered the corridor of maps. Huge, incredibly detailed and beautiful representations of Italy and other parts of the world, the rich sapphire blues of the seas and the elegant brush strokes made me forget, for a short while, about the noise and crowds, as we stepped free of the throng to look in closer detail. Despite all the amazing artwork in the Vatican, including world-famous paintings and murals, it was these maps that captured my attention and gave me a much-needed boost of energy.

Want to see more Monday photos? Take a look...

Monday photo - 16th April
Monday photo - 9th April

Monday, 16 April 2012

Monday photo - 16th April

The island of Guernsey, tucked in the English Channel, is one of the UK's hidden gems. Often bypassed for its more popular neighbour Jersey, it sits peaceful and largely untouched. Spending a week there in July a few years ago, I was blown away by its friendly atmosphere, pretty villages and rugged coastline. But what really impressed me were the stunning sunsets.

In the late afternoons, we would drift down to the local beach, watching the sky change from pale blue to brilliant orange as the sun gracefully sunk below the horizon, water glinting in the final moments.

I would thoroughly recommend a short break to Guernsey and the surrounding islands if in or visiting the UK - although it's best to stick to the summer months if you want to recreate those blue skies...

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Monday photo - 19th March

Monday, 9 April 2012

Monday photo - 9th April

“Come with me, I take you up. Come, come”. The high-spirited Egyptian Muslim who’d checked over our clothing before letting us enter the Mosque in the centre of Islamic Cairo beckoned us with a furious wave. There were no other visitors in sight, and we had been concerned about disturbing a time of prayer or the studies of the young boys wandering around the attached library, brows furrowed in thought.

“You come with me, I have keys, we see a nice view”, he promised, still smiling. He seemed happy with our visit (and the suitability of my outfit), so we allowed him to lead us first into the main hall, then through a labyrinth of smaller rooms before unlocking a small wooden door and up a steep flight of stairs, spiralling upwards in the darkness. Emerging squinting into the bright sunlight, we found ourselves on the roof of the Mosque, Cairo stretched out in front of us, the dusty city looking even more densely packed from above, and strangely beautiful.

“I told you, great view, yes?”, our guide laughed. Yes, we conceded. It truly is a really great view.

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Tuesday, 3 April 2012

On our way to...Madagascar!

(A normal day a few months ago, both getting on with our own thing)

Me: Do you know what I'd really like to see?
F: What?
Me: Lemurs. I'd love to see lemurs in the wild.
F: (temporarily bemused) Yes, that would be nice. In fact, Madagascar in general sounds really interesting.
Me: I'm glad you feel that way.
F: ... you've already started planning a trip to Madagascar, haven't you?
Me: The flights are much more reasonable than I thought. Look... (shows him the already loaded internet page with flight prices)
F: I suppose you're right, that price isn't bad.
Me: Great, I'm glad that's settled (punches in card details)
F:'ve just booked the flights?
Me: Yep.
F: I'm so glad we take plenty of time to really consider decisions before we commit large amounts of money to them.
Me: Me too.

That right there explains how we now find ourselves at the airport, preparing for a flight to the amazing island of Madagascar. It's one of those places that conjour up images of exotic wildlife, extreme landscapes and beautiful beaches just by rolling its name around the tongue. And we have three glorious weeks to explore this incredible place.

                                                      (image via wildlife)

To be honest, Madagascar has been at the back of our minds for some time now, but it never seemed the right time. The flights were always too pricey; the amount of time available too little. I'm not even sure that three weeks can do it justice, but we are going to try our best, using some local tour operators and keeping a flexible itinerary. There are some main sights we're hoping to see, such as the almost alien tsingy stone forest, the immediately recognisable baobab trees and the huge expanses of national park. We'll also be keeping our fingers firmly crossed for an encounter with the primates that inspired the trip. Aside from that, I'm excited to see what Madagascar has to offer; this huge island which is geographically Africa, but influenced so heavily by Asia.

Please keep an eye out for updates via twitter and on here over the next few weeks as we explore and make our way around! First stop: a very long journey which starts with a night in Paris waiting for a connection to Madagascar -there was a reason those flights were so reasonably priced...

Monday, 2 April 2012

Monday photo - 2nd April

In terms of pure, heart-stopping beauty, I would argue that Switzerland is right up near the top of the list. Chocolate-box perfect, snow capped jagged mountains frame brilliant blue lakes, the peace and quiet on rolling green hills is only broken by gushing streams and the occasional mooing of cows, and everywhere bright colours dazzle and amaze. The country is a hiker's paradise, drawing people from all backgrounds and walks of life.

One day I found myself hiking to a secluded lake tucked between mountains. The sun was hot, and the path seemed to stretch up indefinitely. As I slowed my pace, I heard determined yet gentle footsteps close behind me, and turned to see two nuns, fully dressed in the garb of their vocation, both in their 80's, marching up the path with only wooden walking sticks for support. I marvelled at their fitness as they greeted me with a smile, and decided against my original plan to take a break for a while.

After spending time at the lake, I was on my way back, glancing back around for one last photo, when I realised that the two ladies were there once again. I love this photo of them making their way back onto the path, the cool crystal clear lake in the background - a humbling thought when I'm hiking and start becoming lazy...

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Monday photo - 26th March