Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Kemeri Raised Bog - Latvia

Guest Traveller: Christopher Olney from Lismore, New South Wales, Australia.

Favourite Travel Destination: Kemeri Raised Bog, Latvia.

..."So you're in a strange country and you feel like the 'commies' are looking over your shoulder. No one speaks English and all of the food menus are just weird gibberish... so what do you do??? Go for a walk in the National Forrest alone of course...

I caught the train from Riga, the capital city of Latvia and headed out west to where a brochure said a tourist information centre was. After walking an hour or so down a dirt track, I came across a building that was midway through construction. From what I could understand there would be no info. centre for at least a few months. One of the men working on the building pointed me in another direction where I came across a group of people who seemed to be studying the sticks on the ground. Slowly through a combination of broken English and German I found out that the national park was about 2 hours walk back the way I'd just come!

I set out anew with my crudely drawn map and directions in hand, wondering if I would ever see the forest. I didn't mind though, as the dilapidated buildings dotted throughout the countryside were just as interesting. I finally got to the forest only to find that it was actually a Bog. It was fascinating...

Tiny dwarfed trees stretched across the landscape to the horizon, and the sky seemed larger than life. It had a primordial feel, like something that forgot to evolve along with the rest of the planet.

The weather couldn't make up its mind and was stuck in this strange combination of a beautiful sun and rain tango. But the thing that made it, were the reflections on the water.

When the wind stilled, huge billowing clouds were reflected in the Bog ponds perfectly and the ground seemed like some distorted dimension between worlds. You gotta love the unexpected..."..

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Dolomite Mountains

Guest Traveller: Jeff Featherston from Werribee South, Victoria, Australia.
Favourite Travel Destination: The Dolomite Mountains, Northern Italy.

..."On my first trip overseas I was lucky enough to go to the Dolomite Mountains. I was totally blown away by the spectacular scenery and the unusual rock formations. The Dolomites are completely different to anything we have in Australia and I couldn't get enough of them. I went over pass after pass and thoroughly enjoyed driving on the twisting, winding snake like roads. I almost went over one pass too many. It was at the beginning of winter and the last pass I tried to cross had iced up. The car I was driving had 'summer tyres' which refused to grip on the ice. Fortunately there was a small section of bitumen showing through and using this I carefully nursed the car up and over the pass. I had to drive down very slowly - on the wrong side of the road - until it was clear again. Quite an experience!"...

The Dolomite Mountains cover an area of approximately 11,000 square kms. Nine national nature parks in the region ensure that these precious mountains are protected and preserved for all to enjoy. Often called the Pale Mountains, the Dolomites are the perfect location for just about any outdoor activity you could mention.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Holy Island (Lindisfarne)

Holy Island or Lindisfarne (Farne = "retreat" and Lindis = a small tidal river adjacent to the island) to give it its correct title is a fascinating place off the coast of Northumberland in the United Kingdom. Lindisfarne is home to the Lindisfarne monastery - now a ruin - and Lindisfarne Castle, based on a Tudor fort.

The castle is on the end of the island and you walk through the village and beside the beach to reach it. While not particularly large, it is very attractive and in a superb location for defence. Lindisfarne was once a very volatile border area between England and Scotland so security would have been extremely important.

The island is cut off from the mainland by tidal waters twice a day and because of this it is important to time your visit there very carefully. The tide comes in surprisingly quickly and many a visitor has been caught out by this phenomenon. While we were on Holy Island we watched a man trapped on a small outcrop off the main island. The tide caught him unaware and he was trapped there until the waters receded. His family went to the locals for help but no one was interested in attempting any sort of rescue. When you consider the number of visitors who flock to Holy Island annually, and speculate on how many must get into difficulty, its no wonder they are a little tired of coming to the rescue.

The township on Holy Island is basically a fishing village where some attempt is made to cater for tourists. Visitors come and go with the tides.. and I imagine its a much quieter, more peaceful life without the tourists. A very interesting place, steeped in history and well worth a visit.

*If you intend to visit Holy Island (Lindisfarne) don't be disappointed by getting there when the tide is in, download the tide timetable before you go.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Blue Grotto - a Unique Experience.

When you travel the experiences you remember the most are those which are just a little out of the ordinary. Something that not everyone may get the chance to do. One such experience is a visit to the Blue Grotto on the Isle of Capri in Italy.

I had heard about the Blue Grotto years ago when it featured in some very old movies, and thought if I ever got the chance I would love to experience it for myself. Many years later I did visit Capri but unfortunately it was at the wrong time of year and the tides and waves were too high, making a visit to the grotto impossible. A few years after that I had another chance to visit the Blue Grotto and this time was successful.

We stayed at Sorrento near the Amalfi Coast and the staff at the camping ground where we were staying arranged the Capri/Blue Grotto trip for us. The boat actually left from the bottom of their property. The trip around Capri is an experience in itself with some spectacular scenery.

Capri is actually quite a barren island largely made up of limestone. Weathering of the limestone has led to the development of some amazing caverns and rock arches.

The tour boats are met by oarsmen in much smaller rowing boats, and for a fee these oarsmen will row you across and into the Blue Grotto. A cable permanently attached to the cavern entrance is used to pull the boats inside. Guests are asked to lie down on the bottom of the boats to avoid hitting their heads on the entrance (it really is quite low).

Inside is a 'tingling on the back of the neck' experience. The water is an unbelievably bright blue and you just sit there gently rocking in your small boats in awe. We were lucky enough to have one of the boatmen burst into song - the acoustics would have made any of the great opera singers envious. The cavern is lit from beneath by light from other caverns further below the surface.

After visiting the Blue Grotto we were taken back to the tour boat and then travelled on to a small harbour where we left the boat and walked up to the township of Anacapri. You can take a bus up to the village but the walk was very pleasant. The view from Anacapri is also spectacular, in fact the whole experience is really one not to be missed if you happen to travel to northern Italy. Two thumbs up!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What's Up with Ireland?

I went back to Ireland recently for a short visit as part of a longer trip. I've never really been impressed with Ireland, probably because I seem to land there after travelling through mainland Europe and the UK. And after their spectacular scenery and structures, Ireland tends to pale in comparison. I find it similar to parts of Australia and Scotland, and I would rate it as 'interesting' and 'pretty' rather than 'breathtaking'. The main charm of Ireland is often it's people (depending on who you meet!) and its history.

After writing all that I looked back at my photos and have to admit parts of Ireland are reeeeeeally pretty and they have some fantastic old buildings.

The Cliffs of Moher

During this third visit I noticed some huge changes. It seems Ireland is 'sweeping out the old' in a big way. The landscape is littered with brand new houses standing on their own small acreage, and many of the more traditional and historic homes are gone. Most farms have a small herd of cattle (very small compared to Australian standards) and they don't sell the calves for veal as they do in Australia.

This Bed and Breakfast is an example of the 'new' Ireland. It seemed to us when driving around as if everyone there had won the 'lotto. Then we found out a major reason for this new found wealth. Things have been going very well for Irish farmers since joining the European Community. They are given huge farming subsidies (Australian farmers get bugger all) and a lot of that money is going into knocking down the more historical buildings and replacing them with these 'McMansions'. Consequently it looks like everyone wants to be a farmer. Their farms/herds seem to be of a size which must be the 'qualifying' minimum.

Irish cities still retain a lot of their character, but large housing estates are springing up at the outskirts and they feature rows of COMPLETELY IDENTICAL houses. I don't know how people remember which house is theirs!

It's a different Ireland to the Ireland I first visited in 1993. Maybe a better place to live, but not necessarily a better place to visit.