In which I have a Byronic moment

Former dictator was a big fan of building bunkers. Everywhere.

Following my usual habit of taking to the hills in case of temperatures above 25 C for long persids of time, come August and sick and tired of temperatures which resemble the outer reaches of the Sahara, I retreated for a long weekend to Albania.

Sometimes, the only thing to do is leave town

Continue reading


Back from Ohrid.

Lake Ohrid looking baleful and not wholly suitable for a beach holiday.

Just stating for the record that Macedonia has not disappointed, what with peacocks and monasteries and bona fide miracles and coffee and Roman bits and pieces and ten whole minutes of sunshine. There was a bit of minor excitement in Skopje this afternoon which I hope for everybody’s sake does not get any more exciting, but it has otherwise been a gorgeous weekend of which more anon.

No cavemen though, and no sheet-folding lakeside ladies, although in fairness the weather was not terribly conducive to laundry, so I am prepared to let it go for the moment;  I may have to come back in the summer to check.

Pelicans, cannibals and waterfalls that aren’t: Bahir Dar and around

St. Sebastian is not having a good day. Also, Jesus appears to be trying to set his mum's cloak on fire.

The thing I regretted most about my work in Ethiopia (give or take a bacterium or two) was that I didn’t have any time to properly explore the massive amount of architectural and arcahelogical goodies that are so thick on the ground in the north of the country. Sadly, in spite of my initial enthusiastic planning, fieldwork did not turn out to be a synonym for “six week holiday” and my architectural investigations were generally limited to attempts to determine the precise location of the leak in the ceiling of my hotel room. In desperation, I did manage to sneak away from a climate change conference in Bahir Dar to see what might be offered by the “Ethiopian Riviera” and neighbouring Lake Tana, and managed to be a tourist for a couple of days.

Continue reading

Lake Tana

Tankwa carrying firewood, Lake Tana.

Everywhere on Lake Tana you see these little papyrus canoes called tankwas – exactly the same as you see in images on ancient Egyptian tomb paintings. People living on the lake shore collect firewood and ferry it across to Bahir Dar to sell, a trip that takes five hours of serious paddling. When the lake stills in the afternoon, dozens make the trip – I counted sixty strung out across the horizon.

Yurting holiday

Dawdling in Kyrgyzstan is an almost entirely pleasant activity, even if its object (to wait out the violence down south) is somewhat less so. The reason for this is primarily because it is so easy to engage in said time-wastage in yurts up in the Kyrgyz mountains, which flicked in a day from spring to summer – morning drizzle gave way one day to bright afternoon sunshine that hasn’t let up since. With this in mind, I coralled a trio of Swedes (travelling with Swedes is great: you learn the best Norwegian jokes) and we hired some horses and a guide to disappear for a few days into the hills in the centre of the country, where yurts sprout like mushrooms and there are ibexes (how do you properly pluralise an ibex? ibices?) on the mountain ridges and marmots (not marmosets. This caused a certain amount of confusion for a while) running shrieking at your approach.

Time for some yurting.

I really can’t get enough of the mountains here. Even when the horses are intransigent (Kyrgyz horses know damned well that foreign tourists have imbibed too much animal-welfare nonsense to follow the single piece of advice that constitutes riding instruction in these parts (“just hit it”) with much conviction, and take full advantage of this, with the result that you frequently find yourself stationary in a patch of wildflowers for extended periods of time with the horse stuffing its face and you prodding it cautiously the whip, vaguely worrying that an RSPCA inspector is going to pop out from behind a rock and do you for animal cruelty, while the guide disappears over the horizon. Or possibly that’s just me.) and the “saddles” appear to have taken their notion of comfort from a medieval torture chamber, everything feels fresh and bright and clean, with the high still covered with spring flowers and dozens and dozens of meltwater streams running off the hills. Wandering around the valley one evening I suddenly remembered what one is supposed to do when faced with a multitude of small streams and a large supply of flat stones and mud, and spent a very happy couple of hours damming and diverting several streams, and anyone who doesn’t fully appreciate how supremely satisfying an activity this can be is probably dead inside.

Continue reading