Saturday, June 4, 2016

Rainham Marshes

This is a place we've been wanting to visit for a long time now. From hearing about it since we first moved to Kent 6 years ago to making the 15 min journey across the tunnel into Essex, we now have on our hands a spirited toddler who loves the outdoors and has a few ideas on the kinds of wildlife he wants to see. A while ago we were on a safari in a zoo, and as we pointed in the direction of giraffes walking in a distance, his little face lit up as he pointed to something he has spotted - "A Crow"!

It's a beautiful morning. Blue skies and gentle sunshine all around. We drive into Rainham marshes and walk into the visitors center. The helpful staff tell us about routes as we stroll off along the circular 3.8 km stretch that takes us around the parts of the reserve which have been developed. The reserve itself stretches far beyond with the high speed rail line drawing a boundary across it.

The marshes are part of the Thames estuary and was used by the ministry of defense for more than a 100 years. The M25 hugs the periphery and is a constant reminder of how close the city is as we walk through this beautiful stretch with golden reeds sticking out of the water. Migratory birds traveling along the estuary are often sighted here and we see lots of people with serious looking cameras scanning the waters to catch sight of some of them.

Signposts indicate what we should be looking out for and are both entertaining and informative.

Walkways make the entire route buggy friendly and we stop periodically to look out for water voles and birds. We see coots, mallards and geese and it's wonderful to be able to listen to bird song in the middle of the city.

Cows graze in the fields beyond and we occasionally see Eurostar trains zip past on the high speed rail track.

We pass a wall with numbers, which is supposed to be a firing range built in 1906.

We can see windmills in a distance against a backdrop of beautiful grey skies. Seeing the city at the fringes of the reserve is a reminder that these marshes have some how managed survived the onslaught of human development inspite of it arriving at it's door step. The RSPB now owns and maintains the site.

The walk takes us right to the C2C tracks and we can hear the hum of electricity from the power cables ahead. Petrified remains of tree trunks stand carefully preserved and are from a neolithic forest believed to be more than 6000 years old.

We are nearly at the end of our walk when we spot a frog beautiful camouflaged in the emerald green water, it's rhythmic breathing giving it away.
Also in the picture is what could be a water vole, but I can't be entirely sure.

When we finish the walk we spend some time in the very well maintained cafe and enjoy lunch of hot jacket potatoes and tea.
This has been a lovely walk and given how close it is to where we live , we will be sure to visit again.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The great big family holiday..

After two years of thinking about it and about eight months of planning it, the great big family holiday to Yellowstone National Park finally happened.
Apart from the awe inspiring experience of actually being on top of an active volcano which I must add is due to erupt anytime *Shudder*, this was the first big adventure with our little traveller who coped admirably.
We must admit travelling takes on a different meaning as a parent. But sometimes a child's innocent comments and questions can unmask a journey of discovery like no other.

Two and a half weeks took us from London to Boston , Boston to Yellowstone , a drive to the Grand Tetons and all the way back to London  

Thursday, November 6, 2014


I've been thinking about resurrecting this blog .
Between Turkey and now, life has been full of adventures.
With parenthood upon us, our little munchkin took to travel quiet early.
But the will to write about it disappeared as catching up on sleep and other things took priority .
Apr this year, still saw us do our ritual travel break and this time we followed the tulip trail from Turkey where we left off last year to he Netherlands
So what inspired this sudden urge to write. Was chatting to a colleague  on a business trip to Oxford .
He is from Italy and was explaining to me about the different kinds of olive oil in the market , and how he would pick the authentic kind . Memory has roots and something surfaced, a flash of whizzing past olive fields in Turkey and the voice of our guide telling us about how Turkey produces much of the olive oil that was then exported and rebranded elsewhere .
That's when I realised , I had left a lot of that adventure unsaid here , and I shall write about it retrospectively when I can .
Then there has been a lot of breaks to the English countryside , so lots of pretty pictures to be put up and talked about .

What has changed though is that while we were once quite fearless in our Travel choices, I now see danger everywhere . I think it's one of the things about being a parent .
Hopefully we will find ways around this and my travel takes will soon commence .


Thursday, February 6, 2014

The tale of the two storks atop the temple of Artemis..

After visiting Ephesus, we stopped to visit the Temple of Artemis , one of the wonders of the ancient world. What can you say when all that is left of one of the marvels of the ancient world is reduced to one tall column standing in the middle of what looks like a swamp. It is only history that marks this place as important and what stands is a sad tale of how an important monument sits in a museum while the site itself stands frozen in time mourning it's loss

The site of the temple of Artemis..
After it's discovery by John Turtle Wood in 1869, Extensive excavations followed for the next few decades and the relics and sculptures discovered now sit in the Ephesus room of the British museum.
Compared to the spectacular ruins of Ephesus, there is only so much to see here and we stand enveloped in a strange sort of silence.  However the most arresting sight in this whole place is not made of stone, but of features and a beak and two longs. Two beautiful storks sit atop their large capacious nest and from their vantage point I can see how clearly they must be able to see the worlds beyond.

The next atop the remains of the temple of Artemis..
In this dull April afternoon, they sit preening their feathers and in an unhurried way that suggests the confidence that only comes from practise they tend to their hatchlings.
The nesting storks..
They are gorgeous birds and the last thing I expected to see in this barren desolate landscape and their presence breathes life into the dead past.
A closer picture of the nesting storks..

A parting glance at the nesting storks..

When we walk way I look back every now and then as if to make sure they are still there and so we say goodbye to  Ephesus with a smile on our faces.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Ephesus, Where the past and the present collide..

Visiting Ephesus was definitely the biggest wow moment of our entire stay in Turkey. We have visited ruins, but in no place did the stones come alive as they did in Ephesus. We arrive at Seluck, rested and ready to explore.

Our bus journey was filled with ancient tales, myths and legends. As we listen our guide tells us that Ephesus is believed to be the city of the seven sleepers. I am not going to bother about dates, may google take you to them, but the tale goes such. To escape Roman persecution, a group of seven christians hid in a cave in which they fell asleep only to awake from their slumber 180 years later. This cave is believed to be somewhere close to Ephesus and the tale also find mention in the Quran.
Ephesus is where the apostles Paul  and John are said to have lived. The testament of St John is also believed to have originated from here.

When we finally get to Ephesus, we see clumps of tourists standing around guides , like trees in a thicket. The place is no doubt busy.

Entering Ephesus

First Sights..

My eye is drawn in every which direction. There are boulders strewn and crumbling columns standing here and there. I spy an amphitheater in the distance.

Walking down the reconstructed street..
We finally stand at the entrance of a reconstructed street, a column of pillars stand on either side. Ephesus like most old cities has seen rulers come and go, chief among them the Greeks and the Romans. The architecture here is a legacy of their rule.

A fleet of stairs takes us to the Odeon. With a seating capacity of 1500, the odeon served two purposes. It not only was the place where concerts where staged but also where the senate met. With Grey stones neatly stacked drawing the eye to the center I can only imagine what this place must have looked like when the city was at its zenith.
The Odeion - The small theater..
Several pictures later , we walk along admiring the views the unfold. In a distance we can just begin to see the outline of the Celusus library. Built by Galius Julius Aquila, the library stands in memory of his father Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus.

Celsus Library in the background..
As we walk along Ephesus's streets, the city is now ruled by cats. They seem to be everywhere, basking in the sun and brushing past our legs playfully as they walk by.

The cats that rule Ephesus..
The street leading up to the library is absolutely beautiful. Lined with columns, the Curetes street once had shops and buildings the remains of which stand in a heap of rubble.

Walking down to the Library of Celsus..

Some sort of an urn..

Engravings on Curates street..
Intricate patterns in mosaic line the street, the colours still bright inspite of withstanding the ravages of time. The street is absolutely gorgeous. The gate stretches all the way from the Gate of Hercules to the Celsus library and gets it's name form priests who were called Curetes.
Curetes street..
Off the street, are the public toilets of the time.
Entrance to the public toilets..

The Latriana - Public toilets of the time..
We walk by 'The Latriana',  public toilets of the time, neatly arranged with a square pool in the middle. Two cats sit basking in the gentle April sun, blinking at us as we pass by as if to say , we are tired of you nosy tourists.
The square pool..

We finally arrive at the library, spilling over with people, clearly the main attraction of Ephesus. This library is believed to have once held 12000 scrolls and is two storeys high. It is even more beautiful seen up front and though even though in ruin has a fragile beauty to it that makes me feel it might disappear any moment.

The library of Celsus..
We walk into the library. I am amazed at how beautifully this place has been preserved. We are at this moment standing in a monument which was built in 117 AD. It gives me goose bumps to think , that once this was the seat of knowledge, of books. If only some of them had survived.

Harbour Street..
Harbour street isn't as pretty as the one we just saw, but is no less interesting. One of the best things we saw there was a map indicating the location of the harbour, the brothel and the baths.
Map on Harbour Street..
Finally, finally we come to what I will always remember Ephesus by, the mighty amphitheater which is believed to have a eating capacity of 25000! It is absolutely gorgeous, beautifully preserved and stands there today a picture of peace , in complete contradiction  to the blood and gore that was once spilled inside these walls
The Theater..
It is incredible that the theater built in the 3rd century BC still stands today, a gory reminder of times gone past. Three storied, Excavations even uncovered the emperor's box!
Where the gladiators were housed before their fights..

We walk away turning back every few minuted to see the amphitheater , like an artist stepping away to see his masterpiece. Someone mentions that a gladiator's graveyard was unearthed here.

It is only at Ephesus that I begin to understand how much effort goes into archeological excavations. To see something that is brought alive from the dead and preserved for all to see is remarkable and is a tribute to all the archeologists who have painstakingly uncovered stone by living stone in this amazing place!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The ancient ruins at Pergamon...

What is left of the once great city of Pergamon, are now the ruins . We rolled into the sleepy town , past rows of houses, their rooftops peeping up along the sides to watch us go. The rains threatened to spill over any moment as we stepped out of our tour bus and beneath the canopy of grey we took the cable car to this beautiful archaeological site .
I hadn't read enough and even if I had I don't think I would remember , as this place had history spilling over from every corner of this arresting ruin . For a while I just shut off , as our guide spoke on and let myself soak up the incredible sights and sounds around me .

The cable car to the site..

A sea of daisies , an ocean of white rises and falls with the blowing winds. Beyond we see the village of Bergama as it is now and  the two images stand side by side as if to remind us that all cities transition into nothingness as the relentless wheel of time soldiers on.

First sights...

The landscape is draped in white, stone peeping out and breaking the surface in stubborn defiance of being buried and forgotten. "We still remain",  they seem to say though we are not what we were once.

The archeological site of Pergamon

Exploring the ruins..

History has a long arm, reaching out towards time itself. Only parts of stories that make up this place are known, some fact and some legend. At its Zenith, Pergamon stood capital to the Attilad kings of the Pergamon empire somewhere in the 2nd century BC and later in the Roman period was the capital of the Asian province. From then the site has seen a succession of kings and princes, rulers and dynasties, its influence waxed and waned and finally went into steady decline with the arrival of Christianity when the site was considered home of the Pagan Gods.

Pergamon and the Bible..

Pergamon finds mention in the Book of Revelations as one of the seven churches of Asia. We pass what is a white stone with inscriptions of what we are told are the words of Jesus Christ.
I stare at the letters and imagine a world where we still had some of these beautiful characters as part of our alphabet, though some like the As and Ps tempt me to read them out loud. What come out of my mouth are alien sounding words , clearly wrong :)

The white stone at Pergamon with inscriptions of Christ   -   "And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write.He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it" (Rev 2:12, 17).

The Altar of Pergamon

In the middle of the site stands what was once the great altar of Pergamon, built by the Greeks in the 2nd century BC in honour of the Greek god Zeus.  Excavated by German archaeologist  Carl Humann in the 19th century, All that remains now is the base. The altar was shipped out by his team and  sits in a museum in the Pergamon museum in Berlin.

Our guide talks about the countless instances such as this , when historical artifacts were stolen and poached and now sit in museums in Germany, France and Britain . While it is great that museums preserve important relics for posterity, this need cannot justify acts such as these. What would be a better way to see them than in the midst of these incredible ruins, their rightful home?

Almost in parallel, I also remember reading about a Banksy painting , bought in an auction .
The people of the town campaigned against the painting being moved as hey felt it was part of their heritage . Now how different is this from the requests of other counties asking for part of their heritage to be returned, like for instance the Kohinoor (One of the largest diamond in the world , now part of the crown jewels, shipped out of India during the British colonial rule ) ? Colonialism lives on even if through these ruins

The remains of the great altar of Pergamon..

The Amphitheater

When the guide said vertigo inducing, I thought this was just another word that becomes part of the cliched trousseau of adjectives that describe a breathtaking sight. But staring down at this beautiful BEAUTIFUL structure I could imagine the roar of the 10000 strong crowd it could house and it did make my head spin. Built during the hellenistic period, it was altered by the Romans. Stones lay strewn along the hillside where the theater grows and over the years the grass seems to have silently grown over the proud structure

We finally walk through a maze of alleyways , when the rain beings to pour.
They look like damp cells, but this was once some sort of market place.

Like an old man well past his prime , whose eyes shine in memory of a life well lived, Pergamon sits quietly proud atop its hill top perch. As we walk away from this place of a thousand stories, we wave goodbye to the history that still lingers on.



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