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.

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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!

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 a 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.

WorldBookProject – Island Hopping

WorldBookProject has taken me to many unexpected places, but this time I went to some extraordinary corners of the world. I had some kind of map with me almost all the time while reading these books. Quick overview: Guernsey is in the Channel (between France and Great Britain), the French Southern Lands are also known as the Crozet Islands and  Kerguelen Islands in the Southern Ocean south of the Indian Ocean, Heard Island is just around the corner from there, and Mauritius is in the Indian Ocean.

Many thanks to Aran and her friends from Slovakia who organised the Mauritius book for me.

129 Bailiwick of Guernsey: Diana Bachmann –  A Sound like Thunder

Generally, I like reading historical fiction, and a book set around 1930 to 1945 should make for a gripping/haunting read. Unfortunately, this one didn’t quite deliver to my mind. I found the characters way too stereotypical and the plot too soap-opera-like. Having said that, I thought the author managed very well to convey the feeling of utter despair people on the island must have felt after the Allied landing in Normandy  when Guernsey was left in Nazi-German hands for another year. The book is the first part of a trilogy.

130 French Southern and Antarctic Lands: H.W. Tilman – Mischief among the penguins

Mischief, who would have thought, was the name of a sailing ship, and the author its skipper. Together with a handful of male companions (women were not allowed) they sailed from England to the Kerguelen islands and back. I learned a lot of sailing vocabulary, but I still don’t know really what a gybe is (only that it’s bad). I don’t like people who slaughter penguins, but the sailors’ sense of adventure was brilliant. And I unexpectedly met the skipper again in book 132.

131 Mauritius: Ramesh Ramdoyal – Tales from Mauritius 

The stories offered insights into the lives of the communities of fishermen and their families, and also some background on the island’s history, such as slavery. With most of them, you could always see an invisible finger telling you how to behave. It was rather moralising at times. However, a lot of the tales had an unexpected creepy twist or a funny bit, which reminded me somewhat of Roald Dahl’s stories. There’s a second part, More Tales from Mauritius, which I’ll read in good time.

132 Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands: Philip Temple – The Sea And The Snow: How we reached and climbed a volcano at the ends of the Earth

Like book 130, this was the account of an expedition, and as mentioned above, the skipper was the same, albeit on a different ship. This time, the blokes (again, no women) went to Heard Island to climb the local volcano. It was impressive to read how they dealt with all that Antarctic nature threw at them. Less impressed was I by their careless attitude towards the environment, something the author acknowledged in the 50th anniversary edition which I read. I really liked the openness and honesty of the writer – how people behaved and how they dealt with the psychological stress on top of the physical exhaustion. And I think this must have been the very first expedition I read about which contained descriptions of relieving yourself overboard or in freezing conditions on a mountain slope.

 

At the London Wetland Centre

London has so much to offer that some not so well-known places are more or less off the radar of tourists and even locals. The London Wetland Centre seems to be, and totally undeservedly, such a place.

We went there mid-May, and had a wonderful day out. The one and only drawback is that it is located under a Heathrow flightpath. Makes for good photo-ops though.

flight path

Of course, we went there for the wildlife, and there is plenty to be seen. You can find very common birds, and also some rarer ones. As always with wildlife, a bit of luck is involved.

The WWT is also involved in conservation work. They care for some local species, like sand martins.

sand martins

The trust also supports conservation efforts from further afield. If you go on one of their tours (for free, and highly recommended), you’ll hear a lot about all the species and the WWT’s work with them.

It’s easy to get there: you can either walk along the Thames Path, or follow the instructions on their website.

It’s a very family friendly place, but if you prefer quiet and peace with the birds and the reeds, that can be found easily too.

May Morning

Oxford is home to many traditions, and one of them is May Morning.

This is how you do it: get up at about 4am, try to put on your clothes the right way round and walk into the city centre. Don’t jump off Magdalen Bridge.
 

Stand in front of Magdalen Tower and admire the people who come from last night’s party and look more awake than you will feel for the whole day. Wait for crowds to assemble properly.

Wait patiently until 6am. Listen to Magdalen College Choir intoning the Hymnus Eucharisticus and madrigals, and the chiming of the tower bells. Applaud.Magdalen tower

Follow the crowds on the High Street up to Radcliffe Camera. Leave a minute or two to ponder any signs you come across.

Divert your attention to May Morning get-ups ranging from leafy headgear to walking trees.

Upon arrival or along the way, take in any occurrences of Samba, pipers and Scottish dancers, rock music, English folk music or Morris dancing.

Finally, try to find a pub that’s only 105% full so you can have breakfast. Failing that, try and make your way home. Can’t guarantee that’s possible, though.

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