The Source of the Loue


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What do you see?

It’s the Source of the Loue River, emerging from a limestone cliff.

It’s a stunning sight/site, but much more than just place of natural wonder – though natural wonder indeed it is.  Some of the water is gathered through seepage through the karst rocks, and some from an underground feed from the upstream Doubs River, into which the Loue feeds back as a tributary further downstream.  They found out about the Doubs contribution when there was a spillage from the Pernod factory. Nice!

Stefi and I had walked down to this awe-inspiring place, near Ornans, in the French Jura, and were speculating about the man-made rock walls.

So we asked.  A young chap was manning an information table, and pressed every bit of his English, plus an impressive photo album, into explaining.

In the space between the rock wall on the left, and the river, had been an early industrial complex.  A mill, and a foundry if I understood him correctly, both driven by the power of the water.  Only twice has the water flow been known to cease, so it was a reliable resource.  A hundred people worked here in its heyday.  Then … technology changed, and there were ways to generate power that didn’t involve a long and (then) difficult trek to the source… so that was the end of that.

Despite the evidence of the photos I still find it almost impossible to envisage how those buildings squeezed in there – and what human ingenuity it must have taken to actually construct the complex.

I’m so glad the young man was there – and so glad we asked!  Otherwise we’d have seen only the current scene, and not the deep history.  Part of the fun of traveling is guessing about the meaning of what you’re seeing … and you can be so wrong!

Speaking of which … I went googling for info on the Source of the Loue to fill in the gaps in my understanding of his explanation. I found nothing about the historical buildings, but found French painter, Gustave Courbet, who’d grown up near here.

What do you see?

You might interpret this painting this way …

“Although The Source of the Loue appears neutral, the foreboding darkness at the painting’s heart symbolizes the artist’s vehement opposition to the industrial endeavors that Napoleon III’s Second Empire brought to the French countryside so near and dear to his heart.”    Label from Humble and Human: An Exhibition in Honor of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr., February 2–May 26, 2019

OR this way  …

“ a specifically sexual inflection. These dark openings, from which waters pour out, are clear metaphors of female sexuality, derived, like the motif of wavy flowing hair, from the depths of natural processes… Courbet has constructed a metaphor in which female sexuality is seen in terms not of male fear or ideality, but in terms of natural processes identified with the forces of the earth.”   That one (about the same painting) is from

I’ve always loved the aphorism “What you see depends on where you stand.”   And sometimes, on being able to ask.


Bonus photo just because it’s lovely … solitary church on a hill by Ornans on the drive into the Source of the Loue.



And yes, there were elephants!


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One of the reclining Buddhas in the Dambulla Cave Temple

I was on a bus in Sri Lanka, going from Trincomalee to the Golden Cave Temple at Dambulla. Fantastic caves with wondrous Buddhas – but that’s not what this is about.

Trincomalee is the second largest deep water harbour in the world, after Sydney, and so very strategically located that it’s been a garrison port at least since the Portuguese colonised Sri Lanka.  And still there are a lot of troops stationed there.

I had wondered what Sri Lanka would be like, after its terrible conflict.  It feels like it still carries a deep painful bruise from the violence both to its body and to its idea of itself as a multicultural multi-religious nation.  We have a knowledge of that pain from Christchurch.    So… on the bus … and we’d just driven past another military camp, where sometimes there are checkpoints.

‘Mind you’, said our guide,’ you would not want to be driving at night.  It is very dangerous.’   My mind went to men with guns.   ‘It’s the elephants.  They wander where they will, and they’re hard to see on the road at night, until it’s too late.’

And right on cue …

Peer carefully past the driver’s mirror … it was the best shot I could get as the whole busload rose to its feet. An elephant and her calf, deciding to cross the road in front of the bus in front of us, and fading into the long grass and scrub.

From then on, we were straining our eyes, trying to distinguish the difference between the grey slabs of karst rock, and what could be elephants.  Some were.

Later, we were in Colombo.  Some from our ship went to the National Parks, more elephants – and others to the Elephant Orphanage and Elephant Foundation – many more elephants.   We’d been to an elephant rescue enterprise in Phuket, of which more shortly  –  so I opted to get a driver and have a look at the city.

The traffic!  Once, we were in Palermo in Sicily, for a conference on System Dynamics and Chaos Thinking – in short, how chaos self-organises into some form of operating system.  I thought the traffic there was a prime example of chaos.  No discernible rules – yet it functioned.   Colombo is even more so.   Tuk-tuks, scooters, open trucks, cars, all in fluid movement.  My driver told me we were driving down a one-way system.  ‘But there are vehicles coming towards us.’  ‘Yes, it’s Saturday afternoon, so there are no traffic police on duty at the intersection, so some people choose to come this way.’

Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque – built in 1 year in 1909.


The old and new Kathiresan Kovils, with a waiting wedding party, and many sculpted elephants.









We stopped at the Gangarama Temple, and walked into a courtyard, at just the time the temple elephant arrived to make her obeisance to a very beautiful jade Buddha.

Elephant’s-eye view of the Buddha. Asian cow elephants can count themselves lucky: only the bulls have tusks.

Earlier, we’d been in Phuket.   In Thailand, the elephant is everywhere – in crafts, carvings, temple sculptures, and even in their own letter of the alphabet – but not in nature.  The numbers are down from about 50,000 elephants in the 1950s, to maybe 3,500 now, and perhaps 500 of those are in the wild.   Jungle clearance for agriculture removed their habitat, and the elephants were co-opted into that clearing, as log-shifters.  Thailand once was 70% forested: it had got down to 20% when a new forest protection law was passed in 1989.  Redundant elephants.   And they’re not cheap to keep, at 200 kilograms of food a day.

So, our trip was to an elephant sanctuary – The Green Elephant Sanctuary Park which is a refuge for rescued elephants.  It’s no small undertaking, working on elephant-scale. Buying an elephant out of slavery, rehousing not only her, but also her rescued and rehabilitated mahout and his family because that’s a one-to-one relationship … it’s huge.  I say ‘her’, because they only rehouse the cows.  The males are too disruptive – and generally more expensive because they’re too valuable as workers.

Elephant accommodation. They’re by nature nocturnal – but night-wandering is not an option for fear they stray beyond the park.

The mahouts’ houses, directly opposite the elephants’.

Tourists provide a source of income, and a group of elephants are rostered to be fed, mud-bathed and cleaned by people like us who all seem to develop a great goofy grin when we can get close enough to touch these gentle giants.

Great goofy grin!

‘On duty’ when we were there, were a mother with the first calf actually born at the sanctuary, a couple of other youngsters brought in with their mothers, and 9 others –standing patiently and calmly waiting for us to feed them bananas and sugar-cane.  Of course, we tended to gravitate to the ones with young – and the solos getting less attention would sometimes help themselves to the food baskets.

She would accept food – but get too close to the baby and she’d usher it to the other side of the enclosure.

Then three were ushered into the mudbath – most of our group stripped of, got in and slathered them with mud.

Off to another pool for a rinse-off with buckets –  then through a sort–of-car-wash (left of picture) – duty done!  A much easier job than hauling logs  –  and I’m sure much more to an elephant’s liking than the alternative tourism jobs of taking people for rides or performing in animal shows.

Those elephants who are too old, or ‘not suitable’ to be rostered, (=too brutalised through chains and beatings) get to stay in the retirement part of the park.

So – a big tick to the Green Elephant Sanctuary, for their all-round ethics.  And yes, the facilities for the tourists are as good as those for the elephants – I wasn’t surprised to learn that the originators are Swiss!

And yes, we got fed too.


Can you pack your conscience?


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We’re not long back from a cruise in the Indian Ocean on Holland America’s Maasdam.   Yes, lovely.  But it’s interesting trying to be an ethically and ecologically conscious traveller on a cruise ship. Let’s leave aside the means of propulsion and the lack of any offered carbon off-set scheme – guess I’ll have to find my own – there are other things to try to balance.

Like … our cabin steward was a delight, and the towel-sculptures displayed daily had me exclaiming in glee.  But what does it take to persuade ships, and hotels, that when you follow the instructions for NOT having your towels changed daily, you really mean it?

 I talked with him.  I said that really truly unless the towels were in a heap on the floor and begging to be taken away, he should leave them on the racks.  That might have lasted two days. Second round:  well, actually madam, we’re expected to change them regularly.

Holland America could take lessons from Hurtigruten, the Norwegian cruise-ferry operator.

They let you not only dictate the state of your towels and bed-linen – you can also put up a sign outside your cabin to say ‘don’t clean the bathroom today’, and each day they don’t have to spray more chemicals around, they make a small donation to an  environmental scheme.  The woman in the neighbouring cabin and I shared a healthy competitive urge to get more brownie points – and the cabin stayed at least as clean as our bathroom at home!

The Hurtigruten crew really seem to have bought into the programme:  I looked sideways at the bar steward who gave me a plastic straw.  ‘Yes, I know’, she explained ‘we’re in the process of replacing them, and given that they’re already manufactured it seems better to use them up and dispose of them responsibly than to simply dump them.’ This was last May – I’ll bet they’re all clear by now.

Oh, but the plastic in and on the beaches of the Indian Ocean!   Think about your brochure-induced mind-pictures of the Maldives.  Azure water, white sands…. Yes, true … but…  we anchored in the ocean off Utheemu, and climbed in the ship’s zodiacs to go to a sand-bar island which the cruise line leases access to.   Picture perfect. As we approached the reef, we could see the line of umbrellas awaiting us on the top of the sand-bar. Pulled in, flopped out, grabbed fins and snorkels, staggered into the soft warm water.   The reef is starting to recover from the Boxing Day tsunami, buds of new coral appearing, around which the bright fish cluster.

So far, so travel brochure.

But as I walked through the regenerating scrub back to Mani in the umbrellas’ welcome shade, I started seeing the plastic, buried in the sand, caught in the bushes.

A cold drink and fabulous fresh fruit-skewer later, I gathered my courage. How is it that the fear of the new sin of ‘virtue-signalling’ can so inhibit us?!

I got a large rubbish bag from a Zodiac skipper, and in 20 sweaty minutes had filled it.  ‘Ah’, you think, ‘happy ending. Then lots of other people did the same, and by the time you left you’d cleared the sand-bar’.

Nope.  A couple of supportive comments from fellow travellers busy taking pictures – but that was it.   I put a suggestion in that beach-cleaning could become an optional part of such excursions, but I’m not holding my breath.  Beach clean-ups are, however, standard operating for my sustainability cruise-models, Hurtigruten.

Another great contrast – Langkawi off the coast of Malaysia.  We commented to our taxi-driver how clean the road-sides and river-banks were. ‘Yes, tourism is nearly 100% of our income –  we have to keep the place clean.’ Save the environment / keep the tourists happy … who cares what the motivation is if it works.  And then, of course, I thought of the plastic being shipped off Langkawi to the plastic ‘recycling’ plants on the mainland. Methinks I think too much!

I love cruising. You get to see the places you’ve always wanted to go, without unpacking more than once – and my inner info-junky soaks up the on-board lectures.  You collect unforgettable experiences and people, and can do as much or as little as you like.  You see how people in places that don’t have much else can make a living out of tourists, and how tourism can be both a boon and a burden to local economies and infrastructures.

You can try to make good choices about the excursions you take – and still get gobsmacked when a visit to a ‘fish farm’ discloses 3 metre square ponds heaving with 30lb fish.

‘No, these are too big to eat, we just keep them here to show the tourists.’  ‘Does the manta ray (circling the next 3×3 pool) ever get out?’ ‘One day we’ll need to replace it.’


And something else to literally stop us in our tracks.  Something drifting off the coast of Sri Lanka.

After the ship had come about, and observed for some time, we put down a boat which approached cautiously and circled. Could it be something dire? Something threatening?

Whatever it had been was truly abandoned.

The Captain’s announcement was that the ‘fishing raft’ would be picked up by the coastguard.  But – does a fishing raft have hand-painted banners?  I am left with an uneasy feeling.


No, you can’t give your conscience a holiday.    On which subject:   this is the last blog I’ll publish through Facebook.   If you like to read more (and yes, there will be elephants) you’ll need to click ‘Follow’ on my WordPress site. See you!

The entrance to the harbour at Utheemu, in the Maldives. A Resort staffer hauls out flotsam. We applauded.


How do you know when it’s time to go home?


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How do you know when it’s time to go home?

When you find yourself standing on a lookout on the island of Madeira, with tears starting unbidden at the sight of cliffs rising from deep blue water, framed by pohutukawa trees.

Yes, pohutukawa on Madeira.  Alberto, our guide, had asked where I was from. At the “New Zealand” answer he said “I can show you metrosideros!”  And there they were, above Faial.  I don’t know how quickly they grow there … but if it’s a similar growth rate to NZ, they’d probably been there a good 50 years. And I felt a tug to my roots.

The pohutukawa seem to be a benign addition to the landscape, unlike our questionable Aussie cousins.  Parts of the island are covered in wilding gum-trees. They were (like the gorse and broom!) brought in with the best intentions.

Madeira’s name means ‘island of woods’. But it’s also a very steep land of volcanic rocks, so as the forests were felled for shipbuilding and burned for farming, the erosion started, and the floods raced unimpeded down the hillsides.

What to do?   Well, eucalypts have a very long tap-root, which would be good for holding the hills together, they thought.  Four varieties were brought in in the early 1900s, and liked it so much they stayed.  And took over.  And another unforeseen consequence:  Madeira had also been an island of birds – like New Zealand, the only mammals are introduced. Those birds, and their insect-foods, had developed with the Laurisilva – the original bay-tree forests.  The insects couldn’t abide the smell and taste of the eucalypts. No insects = no birds. They retreated into the residual bay-tree forests.

Bay tree forest.

You might have gathered by now that we were blessed with a guide who had wanted to be a biologist.

He even pointed out to me the euphorbia which is used to make Campari. Loved that man!


Loved Madeira too.

It’s dramatically rugged, with narrow roads engraved into the sides of the hills, and villages with houses perched like swallow-nests on ridges in deep valleys.

Looking down into the Valley of the Nuns. Short version: a convent-full walked the 17ks from Funchal to (successfully) hide from pirates.

Farming’s no easy thing…

Funchal, the capital, is on hills and gullies too, but with roading infrastructure which is a triumph of engineering. The highway even goes UNDER the end of the airport runway extension!

Funchal is charming – two sides to the old town: one narrow alleys with door and wall art; one more elegant with the monumental buildings, linked by a lively and lovely market.

Funchal has had its challenges since its founding in the mid-1400’s ..

sackings and burnings by pirates,

major earthquakes and floods,

shelling during WWI…

… what’s there now is an architectural time-series.

And the harbour is front and centre. We went out on a replica caravel, authentic down to the smells of pitch and rope, and constructed in the old fishing town the next bay along. (She had diesel motors though, so we weren’t called on to haul sails.)

Swimming off the Santa Maria de Colombo … safely certain the cannon’s a replica. (I’m furthest out, and Stefi’s powering toward me.)

Which had me thinking… Madeira in the 15th and 16th century must have functioned somewhat the way we imagine the moon or Mars functioning in the 22nd century, as a way-point, a coaching stop, a re-fuelling and repairs stop for explorers launching into the farthest reaches.

It was settled and developed quickly as part of the great Age of Discovery, and continued to be an important point on the trade routes throughout the 18th C.  James Cook and Charles Darwin both stopped over.  What lessons might linger there?

Plagues, pirates, slavery (once slavery was abolished, the slaves almost entirely decided to go home to Africa), booms and busts as exploration and trade patterns changed…  and now a place where plants from all over the world grow, and people from all over Europe go… Madeira feels like a microcosm of the past, and maybe a preview of the future.   And oh yes, they’re working on a eucalyptus oil extraction industry.

They have tree-ferns too – but these are an endemic version and my tears were safe.

Country Smells


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There is no glory in star or blossom till looked upon by a loving eye; There is no fragrance in April breezes till breathed with joy as they wander by.

William C. Bryant

… or in our case …. as we bike by the fragrances, inhaling deeply.    The smells of the countryside are all around us.  It is been a great year for clover, and the sun lifts its perfume towards us.  Then the grass where the famer has cut a swathe to feed fresh, and left another swathe to dry for hay.  Gradations in aroma from sharp to mellow.

A potpourri of countryside smells. Clover, cut grass, compost (green canvas line) and cut grain field.

The compost from the cow-barn straw lies in a tidy line alongside the farm tracks/bike tracks, sometimes covered by green canvas, sometimes steaming a little in the open air.  The smell of future fertility.  More pungent is the schüti  (if that’s how you spell it – my dictionary doesn’t do dialect).  That’s the cowshed effluent, collected in large vats where it ferments until the farmer and the weather decide it’s time to spray it on the paddocks. The smell of schüti is totally accurate forecaster of rain.

So the smell cycle goes …. Cut the grass – fragrant; spray the shütti – pungent; watch the crows, seagulls, and yes our resident storks, hurry in to catch the small tasty things exposed and brought to the surface.

We passed a cut field of grain with its warm dusty smell, and suddenly I was back 60-mumble years, in an ancient farm shed, turning the handle of a what-seemed-massive old iron grinder.    I was grinding the wheat and corn for the hens, in what was a favourite task – not a chore at all.  Perhaps it was the pleasure of a small girl in the power she could exert through a machine.

Workload sharing!

The smell of horses and cows is just as potent a carrier of memory. There’s something of warmth and comfort, something of a feeling of safety alongside the bulk of familiar animals with warm breath and their own being.

And then come the sweetnesses.  The almond perfume of the Meadowsweet. Its English name reflects the fragrance; its local name Wiesengaissenbart,(field-goat’s beard) picks up the visuals. It’s a great herbal too. 

The surprising fragrance of a field of Echinacea.  I’ve grown it in the garden for Mani’s herbal remedies, but never thought it had a scent until I was surrounded by it.

And – bless the gardener who put a line of roses alongside our path.

Another (fragrance-free) treat to share: a cluster of old farm buildings.  Don’t you love the person who, some years back, painted these.









Linger moment, thou art fair.

Christopher Marlowe – Dr Faustus



Revisiting Verona


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2016 – “we will return!”

Much of the amphitheatre [in Trier] has disappeared, its stones being recycled over the centuries.  But you can explore the cellars under the arena. A while back we’d seen a television programme reconstructing the underground stage machinery for lifting cages of lions, gladiators, and other entertainment into the centre of such arenas.  Amazing to be able to visualise that.    A couple of weeks before in Verona I’d just prowled around the outside of the arena, saving the excitement of being inside for when we go back there for the opera, maybe next year.

Me, in 2016


Maybe the middle of a heatwave wasn’t the easiest time to revisit Verona – but it certainly made for balmy evenings at the opera. Still sleeveless at midnight.

We tried a different way of doing things – a bus tour opera package, with five of us (Stefanie, Maria, Fredi, Mani and me) boarding in St Gallen and being driven in air-conditioned (thank heavens!) comfort to Verona, our hotel, and back to the centre for the Aida that night.

The next day, a city drive, followed by a walking tour (TOO hot!) and then a horror realisation that we were to stay in the city until that evening’s performance.

Rebellion and renegotiation.  Some of us at least, wanted to shower off the rivers of sweat and relax a little before our appointment with The Barber of Seville.  Our driver complied – though not with the greatest grace.  He was a very good driver; just not a great tour-host.  Consensus:  we’re better at being independent travellers.  The driver might concur.

But ah, Verona.  The romance of the place, the shabby beauty, the graceful lines and higgledy-piggledy conglomerations of buildings.

I observe the masonry-catching nets under some particularly rickety balconies and firmly suppress all thoughts of earthquakes.

Of course a week later we’re watching the devastation of the bridge collapse at Genoa, and thinking again about the cost of being Italy:  a huge deficit, deferred maintenance on every part of the infrastructure, and the responsibility for so much of Europe’s cultural heritage.


Those of us who come to marvel pay a little tourist tax on our hotel bill, spend a bit in the cafes and restaurants, dicker over the price of the seats in the Arena,  and…   What would it take for the world to decide to distribute its wealth differently?  Spend a heap on climate change mitigation, another heap on poverty, another heap on conservation and preservation, and starve the military, stop investment in militarising space… You’ll have your own list, but there’s nothing like standing in places where 2000 years of history are visibly present to make us think about our priorities for the next 1000.




Back to the Arena!   It was built in CE30, when Tiberius was emperor.  For those of us who like timelines, think Julius Caesar, who made his protégé and great nephew Octavius his heir; Octavius was the first Roman Emperor, renamed Augustus; Tiberius succeeded his stepfather in CE14. That meant three very successful administrators and nation-builders in a row.  What might they do with Italy now? Augustus had been interested in restoration as well as building – he’d had Athens and the Agora restored.   Our kind of ruler!  Tiberius continued the building programme. Although he was not himself a happy chappy, he obviously knew the value of bread and circuses for keeping the citizenry amused – so up went the Arena.

It could take 30,000 spectators, in 44 tiers of seats.  Now they offer only 15,000, ‘for security reasons’. Another thought firmly suppressed.  In we went, through the dark stone passage between what is now the outer ring, and the inner one.

We’re sitting on metal seats placed on top of the ancient stones. Not what you’d call comfortable – but better than directly on the stone seats which is where the ‘unnumbered’ tickets go.  Cushions are for sale for just a few euros.  I buy one for the 2nd night.

The original outer ring of lovely pink and white sandstone almost all came down in an earthquake in 1117 (stop thinking!) just leaving the ‘ala’ (the ‘wing’) standing to catch the light of the sunset.

There’s something a little different about the wait for an outdoor opera to start.  The people-watching brings so much more diversity to the eye. Summer frocks, haut couture, jeans; jandals and accident-waiting-to-happen heels…

The set calls to your imagination about what they will do to it, to create scene-changes without the benefit of wings or a fly-gallery.

Aida – “set in waiting”

Aida – in action

And here in Verona, it’s a daily breakdown of the set from last night’s opera and installation of the one for tonight.

Aida the morning after, and awaiting it’s next performance


The Barber of Seville – roses of course, for heroine Rosina. The maze, I think, for the deceptions of the plot.

Then, the wonder of the acoustics.   The Verona Arena is the third largest in Italy, after the Colosseum and the amphitheatre in Capua – 140 metres long, 110 metres wide – and with a perimeter around the seating of 391 metres.   Yet, it’s grand opera unplugged! No amplification, no cunningly concealed microphones. The power of the human voice is all there is. And all it takes.     There’s a special engagement when you need to really listen to the dynamics of the sound instead of just having it pumped into your ears.

Years back, I was astonished at the acoustic of the ancient Greek theatre at Epidaurus – but that was designed for theatre, not as ‘sports’ venue like a Roman arena.  Times, tastes, and values change though, and when Emperor Honorius banned gladiator games in 404CE, the Arena ‘went black’ for centuries.   In the Renaissance they used it for theatre, then in the 1850’s there were some operatic performances – and now, as in the Roman days, people come from all over.

It doesn’t take much of a leap of the imagination to re-costume the people milling around waiting for the show to start.  But no animals (or humans) were harmed in the staging of this production.  That said, we couldn’t help but miss the elephants and horses and chariots from Aida‘s Grand March, the way they did it in the Steinbruch at St Margrethen!

Next year….?

More Verona… with sad thoughts towards Genoa.

Porta Nuova – well, new in the early 16th C – welcoming us back.

Ponte Pietra, built on the road going to Genoa, 100BCE … and still standing.

Fortified Castel Vecchio Bridge or Scaliger Bridge, over the Adige River. Built in 1350s, and yes, still functioning.

Seeing the Stork



Having eyes, but not seeing beauty; having ears, but not hearing music; having minds, but not perceiving truth…These are the things to fear…

Tetsuko Kuroyanagi

There are times when you just have to laugh in delight at your own blindness.

Here we were, out biking a favourite path.  “Let’s go and see if the stork is there” we’d said.

First stork-sighting, 3 weeks ago. (Echinaea fields beyond.)


It had been there several times recently, standing in the field, watching for small morsels – and wearing its leg-bands that indicate the history of reintroduction.

It had been there a week ago when we went into the fields of echinacea to pick flowers for making tincture (with the farmer’s permission of course).

We’d had the conversation about when and whether they might nest locally again, because it’s only in recent years that we’ve seen them return.

But today, no stork.  We sat on a favourite bench. I took photos of the trout in the pool, avoiding the shadow the pole behind threw on the water.


We started biking back, and I glanced behind……



We’d been so intent on looking for the stork on the fields we’d not seen that sometime (my earlier photos had missed that spot) someone (next time we see the farmer we’ll ask who) had put up an absolutely unmistakeable, unmissable pole by the pool, and topped it with a frame for the stork to build on.



Hah!  We had only to lift our sights……


Midnight in Tromsø


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People who study evolutionary biology might hazard a guess …. But I’ve been wondering how long it could take for humankind to get over our desire to sleep when it’s dark and wake when it’s light.   We change hemispheres, and it doesn’t take long for our body to adjust to night being day, and vice versa.  Some of us adjust to long-run nightshifts, and function pretty well.  But given the opportunity, it’s back to waking with the sun.

For Mani and me, the shortening of the day, even more than its cooling, produces the strong urge to head to the ‘other side’, where the light is extending.

Of course, these musings come from visiting the land of the midnight sun. We sailed north as the calendar moved into spring – and daylight accelerated its extension until dusk was morphing into dawn.  Magic.

The evening started with a dinner of king crab — and this view out the window.

Then a stroll on deck … these are around 10.45pm.

And most magic of all …. A midnight concert at the Arctic Cathedral in Tromsø.

Quarter past midnight, looking back across the harbour to the Kong Harald

The Arctic Cathedral – think slabs of ice tied together with light

In, in the twilight.

We were sitting in the pews. A young woman had come to the front and made the normal call on cellphones.  And disappeared.   Then from the organ loft behind us, cello and organ in an ethereal fugal arrangement of a Samis song.  The sound slipped into the back of our heads and surrounded us.    Then the young woman’s soprano lifted in a Greig song.  Another organ piece.   Then a pause while we started to breathe again and shuffle and snuffle as an audience does.  And the trio were up front, the organ exchanged for a piano …  and a gently mixed programme of folksong arrangements and of course more Greig.


Out, in the dawn.

1.25 am

And still wondering about how people sleep and wake… Locals told me they do all sorts of outdoor things in the midnight sunlight – and save their sleeping for winter.   Are they differently adapted?  Or teasing me.

A group of teenagers joined us to go a couple of ports along. Maybe this is the way to do it.

A Nordkapp Celebratory Gallery: Time-shifting Spring


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(Re-)Crossing the Arctic Circle.

I’ve called this a Celebratory Gallery because … we went, and it was wonderful.  Mani had driven to the Nordkapp – the northernmost point of mainland Europe – many years back on a boys’ roadtrip with son Daniel and nephew Christian.  Some 7000k’s from Switzerland and back. Somehow the idea of driving it again felt a bit extreme – so a visit by ship seemed the answer. It was. We went on the Hurtigruten Kong Harald – in and out of 34 port towns, some just for half an hour in the middle of the night because the job of supplying all those towns must go on, and some for long enough to make an excursion – like to Nordkapp.  And with an expedition team on board to satisfy my inner info-junky. Ideal.

And celebratory because … I’ve just finished turning some of the photos into a couple of DVDs.   It’s one of those cool-day jobs with lots of small pleasures along the way – self-congratulation on how some of the photos turned out, and joy in finding the music which works, editing it to fit, and seeing how it all comes together.  Of course I had to use some Greig, but new, for me, were two of Norwegian Sami composer-singer-musicians, Mari Boine  and Frode Fjellheim.  Mari Boine’s work I’d heard on the voyage, and Frode Fjellheim I found thanks to Wikipedia and iTunes and he’s now firmly in my firmament of stars.

So lots of causes for celebration.  Share a bit of the pleasure.  Let’s focus on the Spring, and look at other themes later (promise!)

Bergen in early May was showing a haze of green buds over bare-branched trees, and as we sailed out past farms, there was greening under the snow-yellowed top grass.

By Alesund, daffodils and hyacinths are bright in civic gardens.




Northwards — now the trees show no green, the mountains are snowy with the stark structure of their rocky ribs showing, and now patches of snow on the shaded parts of fields. 

Across open seas to Lofoten Islands, and ice still on the lakes, thawing now around the some edges.  The fields are sodden with melt.

North again through sounds and fjords to Honnigsvag – and by bus through snow-ploughed roads to Nordkapp. The reindeer are back on the island now they can get through the snow to feed. They’ve been shipped over, or brought by truck through the undersea tunnel.  After a summer of fattening up, they get to swim back.

The quick shot out a bus window – otherwise we saw only tracks!

Guide’s joke, pointing out a snow barrier “see that fence? The herders make the reindeer jump over it, and raise it every week, until by Christmas they can fly.”

Obligatory “I was there” photo. My ruddy cheeks tell the temperature!  BTW – as at Cape Reinga, there’s actually a slightly northerner point – but this is where history has set the mark.

Around the top to Kirkenes on the Russian border, and snow is still a metre deep in back gardens, melted back from the sun-gathering warmth of wooden fences and bare-branched bushes.

Sailing southwards again…

Did I just catch an avalanche?

… and we’re fast-forwarding spring.  Lichens and mosses are greening, and people relaxing…

Spot the stars and stripes onesie!

By Bronnysund, the exact half-way point along the length of Norway, the buds are bursting on the trees, and an otter is sunning itself in the stream.


Trondheim was in glory.

Nidaros Cathedral – only Spring could make it more beautiful

A fortnight after we left, spring has fully sprung.

Is there a ‘best time’ to do this trip?   Early May was pretty good!   More snow, and the drama of the rocky ridges would be hidden. High summer, and the sudden transitions of a northern spring would be lost. Northern lights season, and the sea-landscapes would pass in twilight.  I celebrate Spring!


Out of the Ashes – Alesund’s Art Nouveau rebirth


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They say Ålesund is one of the most beautiful towns in Norway – and it is. But it’s so much more.

The sea-edges of the town are built on and in the water, Venice-style, and the buildings themselves are a concentrated gallery of Art Nouveau, or Jugendstil.

It was a devastating fire in 1904 that destroyed the town. In 16 hours 850 buildings burned down.  10,000 people were homeless in the depths of winter, but only one person was killed: she’d gone back into a building to save something. A town built on water – lost to fire.

In rushed assistance, architects, and craftsmen. Norway was in economic difficulties at the time. This was opportunity for employment, and the chance to be part of something significant:  to rebuild entirely in concrete and stone, and in the contemporary style of the time.

50 young Norwegian architects, many of whom had worked and studied in wider Europe, were commissioned and set to work.

The fire was 1904.  I saw one building with 1905 on its front, several with 1906, and by 1907 the job was done.

I spent a little time (could have been more, but the boat waits for no one!) in the Jugendstil Centre which is in the Swan Pharmacy built with characteristic turrets and flourishes in 1907.  What was wonderful was the way the displays honoured the people who were responsible for the rebuild, the architects, yes, but also the builders, plasterers, finishers…









And then a quick canter around town – seeing their work.  111 or so years on there are of course some modern buildings, but mainly sympathetic.  There’s scaffolding evidence of continuing maintenance, and some ‘hmmm’ moments wondering about sea-level rise…  but it’s gorgeous, and glowing with civic pride.


So of course my mind turned to Napier, arisen from earthquake and fire in its Art Deco incarnation some 25 years after Ålesund.  Again, speed, determination and a coherent design philosophy … executed in the middle of a depression.   And I wondered what, in say 50 years time, we will be able to look at as the defining features of the Christchurch rebuild.  Probably not speed.  But what will it say about the people and style of our time?

The memorial to those involved in the Great North Sea Escape Route from Alesund – plus obligatory seagull.

Another thing about Ålesund.  It was a really significant contributor to the Great North Sea Escape Route – later known as the Shetland Bus.  As soon as the Germans had invaded Norway in April 1940, flotillas of fishing boats started ferrying people to the UK, some to escape, many to join the forces.

Underground groups in Ålesund formed, hosted and shipped fugitives. From May to December 1940, 29 vessels left from Ålesund  –  nearly half of all those that left Norway – and during the entire war, 88 vessels and 800 people made the run from Ålesund, despite brutal attempts to stop them, and the dangers of the route.

The cost was 18 vessels and 158 people, lost, 130 captured, 51 executed.   A part of me wonders if the pride and resilience developed in the early 1900s was part of Ålesund’s determination to organise and act.

Then, it was back onto Hurtigruten’s Kong Harald to continue our cruise to the Nordkap.  But not before I had to accost a couple of bemused people in the street.  What were they doing with Kiwi-branded (plastic!) grocery bags?   The answer was in a not-so-Nouveau building up the road.

Shapes of the past, space for the future?

And another look at built beauty… and a wistful thought about a long cup of coffee and just letting the boat go on.