All posts tagged: travel writing

Vanlife remembered

We’ve been home now for over a month. I say ‘home’ but for us as a family right now, this is a vague concept that seems to merely mean not living in a van that moves every few days. At the moment this place of non-moving is my dad’s house, the house that I grew up in. Our presence here is signified by the noise and mountains of life-crud now crammed into his formerly quiet and ordered, if a little eccentric, single pensioner’s life. My dad has lived in this place since before I was born and has never (to my knowledge) had any plans to go anywhere else. While I have moved my children about almost constantly over the last couple of years, my own childhood home has barely changed. Rob finds it bemusing that we are now taking baths in the very same bathtub I sat in as a teenager; watching our feet resting on the same taps that I rested my feet upon some twenty years ago. I have found it strangely …

Paestum and the temple of Hera

Having an ex-archaeologist as a partner means that we see a fair amount of old stuff. Amphitheatres, temples, burial chambers, the lot. On the whole, the kids and I are happy to wander about these places, shoulder to shoulder with the ghosts. Some sites grab me more than others, sometimes I’m tired and suffering from ancient site saturation and I struggle to connect with the people who laid the stones, walked the streets, sat in the theatres. Other times I’m utterly alive to the humming of souls hovering just behind their thin veil of time. Whilst Paestum’s ruined Roman town was interesting – the cart tracks worn in the great stone slabs of the roads, the crumbled walls of the homes of the gentry – it was the earlier Greek temples that really stole the show. Of particular resonance for me, occasional student of the classics, were the temples dedicated to Hera; queen of Olympus, consort of Zeus. Hera is an intriguing figure amongst the ancient Greek pantheon; the people were building temples to Hera …

Cabo de Gata

Cabo de Gata, a small section of the Spanish coast where nature comes before tourism. A natural park, a protected oasis for wildlife; a place of deserts and deserted beaches, sandy coves and quiet villages and small towns. We went there on a tip off, and spent almost two weeks parked on or near beaches, wandering across arid hills full of wild thyme amongst bright flowers and pacing beaches restlessly through a spell of bad weather.   The calls of birds were our first impressions; from the natural saltwater lagoons mysterious bird calls and hootings filled the air but the reeds kept the singers hidden. We lay in bed and listened to what we thought were geese crying overhead and later realised they were flamingoes passing in flocks of red and pink feathers; surprisingly noisy, gangly and graceful. Here on this little protected toe of land, jutting out from the otherwise concrete encased Costa del Hell, we found long dark stretches of sand with barely a soul to be seen. The boys rolled in the …

Fez

Fez was to be our last big stop before we left Morocco to meet my parents in Southern Spain and we drove almost the entire length of the country to get there. Leaving the baking desert at Merzouga, we stopped only briefly at Azrou for a spot of monkey-bothering and once for an overnight rest at the Ziz Gorge, passed by the still snowy Atlas mountains and arrived in Fez only three days later. We were determined that our Fez experience wouldn’t be a repeat of our Marrakech misery and, to that end, we booked into a guesthouse within the medina itself, hoping to be able to give ourselves up to the sensory onslaught of the souks, then slip back into the calm of the dar (like a riad)* and recover. Our customary frugality was also abandoned for the weekend as we knew it would all be much more enjoyable if we could enter into some friendly haggling. To help us start our aquaintance with Fez without getting immediately lost, the guesthouse owner Brian met …

sahara desert

Into the Desert

Going into the desert. It’s a concept loaded with meaning and not just for those of us who’ve broken our hearts watching Deborah Winger in The Sheltering Sky. From Laurence of Arabia to Jesus’ forty days and forty nights, it’s impossible to escape associations with solitude, vast unrepentent wilderness and the deep domed sky. I went to the desert expecting to feel small, to look out at miles and miles of undulating sand and contemplate my own insignificance amidst the hugeness of it all. Trekking on camels to a Berber camp? A night under the desert sky? This would surely be the ultimate traveller moment, wouldn’t it? Our desert ‘experience’ started with meeting our strangely lovable tour organiser and being taken to meet our camels and guides. The guides were dressed for tourists in the blue Berber robes we’d come to recognise at all the Moroccan visitor hotspots, but my first thought as we wobbled off on our camels was that if the guides were on foot surely that made our camel transport surplus to …

Tafraoute – Finding my Travelling Feet

After Essaouira we headed off down the coast with vague ideas of spending some time near the sea before heading to Tafraoute in the south of Morocco. Tafraoute had long been an eagerly anticipated destination for us. It was always to be the most southerly place on our itinerary, the town where we would finally adopt a slower pace of travel. Whilst Morocco dreaming and Google-searching from my kitchen table in Hebden Bridge I’d stumbled across heart-stirring pictures of blossoming almond trees set against arid red landscapes and discovered that every year the town of Tafraoute held a festival to celebrate this transient spectacle. The dates of the festival were hard to determine so we pledged to try and get there for early February in order not to miss it and it was this aim that had kept us moving so quickly. Through the empty, icy nights of central France, the grim downpours of Northern Spain and and the various trials of our first weeks in Morocco, Tafraoute pulled us on. I think it’s fair …