Algeria – Oran’s Fort Of Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is the place to visit in Oran and the Wikipedia article gives plenty of background information.

santa-cruz.jpg

It’s possible to walk up the hill, but be prepared for steep paths and exposure to sun and wind. Alternatively, take a taxi. The price for going up, the driver waiting and getting you down again depends on the goodwill of the taxi driver and your negotiating skills. We paid the meter price (about 800 Dinar), but people have also paid much more than that.

Santa Cruz 2

Unless you’re heavily interested in Spanish military architecture, the fort itself is not that exciting because it’s mostly empty halls and yards these days.

One goes up there for the views (and possibly the picnic area). You can see all of Oran, the Lion Mountains and Canastel to the east, the big salt lake to the south and more hills and the military port to the west (not photos of the latter though – the military doesn’t take kindly to that).

When we were there the church was still under reconstruction, as is the cable car which might hopefully be running again … soon. Things take time in Algeria, but they get done eventually. So, here’s to our next visit, including l’église and le téléphérique!

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Algeria – Around Tlemcen

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my first trip to Tlemcen. Of course, my friends and I not only spent time in town, but explored some of its surroundings. So here’s a map to put things into context. We went along road N7 up to Ain Fezza and back and to the lake south of the city. The National Park in the southwest is at the top of my wish list.map Tlemcen Area

Scenic stop number one was at the apex of the hairpin on road N7. There’s a spring which is considered powerful for healing body and spirit. The place is nestled in what in ancient times seems to have been a waterfall. The cliffs are towering over a tiny hamlet which only seems to exist to regulate access to said spring. The exciting bit of architecture is formed by an enormous bridge constructed by Gustave Eiffel.

From there, we headed towards Ain Fezza, and then pretty much up the mountains whose cliffs we had just admired. It was freezing cold, but oh joy, there were raptors circling high up in the air!

So, after a picnic with sparrowhawk, Bonelli’s eagle and some local cats we descended down into the caves of Beni Aad. The whole cave system reaches as far as Morocco, but the part accessible for visitors is small. Nevertheless, you can walk around just on your own, take photos, shake your head about the morons who try to leave their signature in the dripstone, and best of all, spot the bats.caves of Beni Aad

Ascending from the fairly warm caves, we ventured into town, did some sightseeing there and then went up the southern hills again to the view-point of Lalla Setti. The views towards north and in the direction of the Med were impressive. Apparently, on a clear day it’s possible to see Spain.Tlemcen northwards

Our last port of call was the reservoir just south of Tlemcen. We stopped at some farmer’s stall to get some free-range eggs, butter and other locally produced food. Yummy! The lake itself was wonderfully quiet and home to some gulls and waders. The perfect place to finish off our tour.

Dinosaur of the week: Rose-ringed Parakeet

Psittacula krameri is also known as ring-necked parakeet, Kingston parakeet or Twickenham parakeet. The last two names signify that these birds not only live in tropical Africa and Asia, but also in London. I saw this one at Kew Gardens. It’s tricky to spot the birds among the foliage, but their calls can be heard even when the planes are flying over.

Bath – Between the Romans, Art and Astronomy

Thanks to two lovely Scottish ladies I spent a wonderful day in Bath.  There’s so much to see and do that this was really just a taster. Foodwise, by the way, I can highly recommend Comptoir Libanais.

Bath is town full of art and a wide range of architecture. The most famous architectural style is Georgian, like the Circus. The city centre is a world heritage site.

Bath is also the only place in the UK with natural hot springs. It’s possible to go into one of the spas (which I didn’t), or to see how the old Romans did it (which I did). What I admired most at the baths in Bath, however, was a relic of Sulis Minerva, goddess of the hot springs.

My personal highlight was somewhat off the beaten track. Welcome to the Herschel house! Caroline and William Herschel were two astronomers who were famous for their telescopes with home-polished mirrors, and comet hunting. If you feel like walking in their footsteps, you can be a citizen scientist and help with one of the astronomy projects on the Zooniverse platform.

Dinosaur of the week: Orange-breasted Sunbird

A few years ago, we had some time on our hands when we were near Capetown. So we spent a few days in Somerset West and visited the Helderberg Nature Reserve. There, we encountered this Anthobaphes violacea. The species needs fynbos vegetation to survive. So as long as there’s fynbos, there will be sunbirds (hopefully).

Dinosaur of the week: Brown-headed Parrot

A few years ago, during a visit to Kruger Park I saw this Poicephalus cryptoxanthus. Although the species is listed under a conservation status of Least Concern, it ‘is increasingly vulnerable to habitat loss and fragmentation with illegal capture for the bird trade of concern in Mozambique‘ (http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22685317/0).

Dinosaur of the week: Striated Caracara

Phalcoboenus australis is classified as nearly threatened. I met this individual on Carcass Island which is part of the Falkland Islands.

In the background, you can see that even on the fairly remote Falklands there’s plenty of (plastic) rubbish on the beach.