Z is for Zagreb

I am suddenly aware that not only have I reached the end of the alphabet in this year-long series of ‘Lockdown Luggage Labels’, but for the first time in many months there is starting to be light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the relaxation of our travel restrictions. It is still to early to pack the toothbrush, and at present there are serious concerns about how long, if ever, it will take to resume the relatively easy travel patterns of the earlier years of this millennium, but now there is room for cautious optimism. This should be an optimism that we might aspire to a more sensible, and more environmentally aware travel patterns in the future. The lockdowns have shown that there are many benefits as well as disadvantages to the recent travel constraints. My visit a few years ago to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, felt a bit like walking into a time-warp. The country was newly emerging from war and economic collapse, but there was a buzz of business opportunity in the air amongst the stolid, Soviet-influenced, architecture and the old-world, Middle-European manners. Although I have ‘travelled’ to a couple of dozen countries this past year, they have all been via videoconference exchanges from my own desk-chair. The memories of actually visiting Zagreb reminds me of the novelties and exotic discoveries of travel – in this case to a former stopover of the Orient Express – and the pleasures of new food, new friends, and new experiences. Hopefully, we will relearn some of those delights in the near future, but until then, if you travel at all, travel safely.

Y is for…

I could probably include several destinations under the ‘Y’ label, such as the island of Yell (In Shetland), or York, or perhaps the Yetts o’ Muckhart (near where I lived as a child) or perhaps even the former Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, all of my photographs of those places are pre-digital images, and while I suppose I could scan a copy for posting here, my memories of those places are pre-digital as well. The Y location that really stands out in my recollections is the underground water-cistern in Istanbul called Yerebatan. Some of you may possibly recognise the image from a scene in the Bond film ‘From Russia with Love’ and while the movie shots exaggerate the size of the place, this is the largest of several hundred undergound Byzantine cisterns, the real-life visit is MUCH more awe-inspiring! This is well worth a return visit.

X marks the spot

Almost incredibly, I find that I have not visited any global location whose name starts with the letter X. Or to be more accurate, I have not got a photographic record of any such visit. As a result, I am posting a tongue-in-cheek photo that ‘X marks the spot’ of one of my favourite destinations on the planet – which is the patio at the back of my house, at the bottom of the croft. It is sheltered, yet open to the sunshine, open to the garden but close enough to the wifi hub to allow me to read a book, or work online, or simply relax with a coffee of a glass of wine. I was fortunate to be able to spend a lot of time there last summer, and as the spring days get longer, I am looking forward to spending much of the coming summer in my ‘green office’.

onto the W’s

W is for Washington DC. Although the city itself is a pretty uninteresting sprawl, the central area around the Mall is full of interest and iconic cityscapes. For me, probably the most rewarding part of my visit to Washington DC was being able to spend some days of browsing in depth through several world-class museums. I mean, where else can you see the actual Lunar Excursion Module almost within touching distance? It would be possible to plan hundreds and hundreds of rewarding lessons and innovative education field visits simply by visiting 3 or 4 buildings within one square kilometre?

W is also for Warwick. In many European countries there are castles, and there are fancy big houses that just call themselves by that name and pretend to be a castle. This is a Castle! Despite some rather romanticised (not to say wholly inaccurate) attempts to make history ‘fun’ I think the actual stories and recorded facts of history are MUCH more interesting and absorbing. One of the very positive outcomes of the current travel restrictions is that I am thinking and planning various historical rambles throughout Scotland once the restrictions have been eased. So much still to learn in this country.

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Delayed a day or two, but still travelling

V is for Valetta, the capital of Malta. For a small island, (Lewis and Harris is about seven times bigger than Malta) there is a lot of history here. Valetta is quite compact, but elsewhere there are megaliths and wonderful walks. I would like to go back and explore a bit more.

V is also for Vietnam. I was only in Hanoi, but this is another place worth exploring. I rose very early on my last day and went walkabout with my camera and a smile. The humidity was intense, and by the time I retired to a small, cool cafe for breakfast, I was soaked through. Almost everything happens out on the streets, but I wish I had even a few words of their language(s).

putting the ‘u’ in travel…

U is for Uluru (or, Ayers Rock, as it used to be called in the days when colonialists could simply rename historical places without a second thought.) I have always been a climber, from a very early age, but I felt no compulsion to climb this awe-inspiring structure. A foot safari around the base of Uluru with a personal Ranger to guide us gave us a MUCH more satisfying understanding of the ecology and cultural heritage of the rock.

U is also for the USA, which is a big place, I know, but nothing captures its grandeur for me better than the vastness and the grandeur of its natural environment (and another geological image). My (relatively) recent visit to the Grand Canyon reveal just how colossal it is, and how fascinating from many geological perspectives.

Still trundling along…

T is for Taktsang, a place possibly on the ‘bucket list’ of every adventurous traveller. This Buddhist monastery is built clinging almost impossibly to the face of a sheer cliff in the mountains of Bhutan. As a site of pilgrimage, it was a privilege to be able to visit this iconic landmark. The climb up was a bit breathless (with the altitude) but the return trip down was a joy.

T is also for Taransaidh, a small island in the Outer Hebrides. Speaking of joy, I have very happy memories of a summer fiddle-camp that a few of us used to go to. Camping in the Hebrides, 24/7 fiddling instruction with some of the best fiddlers in the world, and the occasional dram. What’s not to like?

Still here…

R is for Roghadal, a small village at the south end of the Isle of Harris, but with a very significant church building dating to the early 1500s. This photograph is one of three (hidden) gems of stonework that are quietly placed around the site. This flower is built-in to the surrounding wall (near the gate). I look forward to revisiting this thought-provoking monument.

R is also for Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, which I have enjoyed visiting many times. Despite being home to nearly one-third of the population of the entire country, the city has a quiet and comfortable feeling, and nature is never far away. This is a view from the Harpa arts centre.

Quite enough…

At the start of a new year, when travel hopes look not much better than most of last year, the Lockdown Luggage Labels continue…

Q is for Qatar, a small, hot, and dusty country that I passed through briefly. I found the people very friendly, and I would like to explore a bit more some day.

Q is also for Queenstown in New Zealand. This small town promotes itself as ‘the adventure capital of New Zealand’ and the availability of outdoor activities is prominent everywhere. I passed on the bungee jumping and sky-diving, but some of the local bush walks are pure enjoyment. The town seems to be getting a bit crowded (for NZ!) and you can get most activities in other places too, but Queenstown is certainly worth a visit.

P is for packing…

P is for Paro (in Bhutan). I have visited this reclusive and wonderful country several times, and it never fails to intrigue me. This is a shot of the dzong (fort) in Paro, taken from the College of Education, and not far from the airport which is the single point of entry to the country. These formidable dzongs are scattered throughout the country and function as administrative, cultural, and religious centres. Fabulously, they are all different, traditionally constructed without using any written-down plan, and with no nails – all the timbers are jointed. Like all official buildings in Bhutan, the colours and the architectural style conform to the same patterns, and they are stunning edifices in the landscape.

P is also for Petra, in the desert of southern Jordan. This is a classic view of the Treasury as you emerge from the tall, very narrow gorge (the Siq) that allows entrance to the site, (check out the Indiana Jones film!) Incredibly, this settlement (there are other buildings carved from the rock nearby) was ‘lost’ for hundreds of years until it was rediscovered in 1812. In my view, I have only seen two locations, built by humans, where the reality far surpasses even the amazing images seen in the media, and Petra is one of them.

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