Snowdonia and Anglesey

Wide vistas in Wales. Soon to become wet vistas in Wales.

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From Abergele at the Irish Sea I cycled into the mountains. To avoid A-roads with heavy traffic I took to the back roads.

Steep

Seriously?

Some of these roads were impossible to cycle (see photo above) and I even had trouble pushing the fully loaded bicycle uphill at some points.

Not far from Curig Capel I found a small campsite where I pitched my tent between grazing sheep.

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It was at the second attempt that I was successful at summiting Mt. Snowdon. The first time was under averse conditions: rain, strong wind and I had started too late because I had to cycle up to the car park first. High up the mountain it appeared that everybody had left for the day and with almost being blown off the mountain, soaking wet and slippery conditions, I decided to abort the attempt. I wasn’t having  a good time either.

The next day was beautiful and it was hard to see how I could have missed the path on the previous day. From the Pen-y-pass car park I now took the Miners Track that joins the Pyg Track that I had tried the day before. After reaching the summit I walked over to the other summit, slightly lower, for good views of Snowdon itself and without the crowds.

The day after conquering the highest mountain of England and Wales, the weather held out and I set out to hike to another mountain with lots of wandering sheep, soggy grass and windswept rocks. Then the weather turned bad again and for one whole day it rained steadily and I kept in my tent reading the Count of Monte Cristo and making coffee. Fortunately, I had lots of coffee.

Yes, it was better before, the woman said. I think we had a heat wave some weeks ago. A heat wave? I thought. But then definitions might vary. Maybe a heat wave in Wales is three consecutive days over 20 degrees centigrade with no rain to speak of. The last time that these circumstances occurred was in 1974.

Mount Everest was named after George Everest, a Welsh surveyor in British India, and forever mispronounced. It’s eve-rest and not ever-est. Another Welsh connection is the Western Cwm, a well known feature of the highest Himalaya peak. In Welsh a cwm is a valley. So no typos on your map there.

When it brightened up again I packed my tent and crossed the Llanberis pass to a picturesque lake on the other side of the massif. This is where the slate industry took off in the 19th century. Very interesting if you’re in roofing.

Road signs are often an entertainment when touring through Wales. I think the one on the left means something like: Careful. Hobbits. Ysgol is sooo Lord of the Rings! By the time you have finished reading the other one, you’re sure to have forgotten it actually meant to say not to drive faster than 40 miles per hour. Miles? Yes, despite years of going metric, they still use miles….
Milk is sold in 568 mils and coffee in 227 g packets. Very metric.

Anglesey. This is the island at the very north western point of Wales.

Not far from Holyhead, where the ferry for Ireland leaves, is South Stack with its cliffs, sea birds and rainy weather. There was a lighthouse too. I saw a somersaulting chough (a bird) but failed to photograph it. So I tried an easier target: myself:

Despite all the rain and the sometimes impossible inclines, Wales is still  one of my favourite destinations so far.

North Wales

At the toilet block I met a man who started talking to me but I could not understand him.
The Cockney drop their aitches but this man seemed to have dropped virtually all his consonants.
Not wanting to be offensive I nodded whereupon he made another effort of communication which proved equally ineffectual.
He seemed friendly.

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Sketch of Conwy Castle

The castle in Conwy was built by Edward I when he led the Norman conquest of Wales. It was one of a series of defence structures from this period that later became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In one of these castles was born his heir, the future Edward II, who became the first Prince of Wales. After that, many more followed.
Wales has more castles per square mile than any other country.
They are everywhere.

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The Welsh Riviera

On my way to Conwy I followed a coastal pathway along the Irish Sea and admired the Welsh beaches. An astonishing number of people congregate here on these shores every summer eagerly waiting for the rain to stop pouring down on them.

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St. Trillo’s Church

Smallest church (Rhos-on-Sea) in the British Isles that seats six, though I could well see how a few more people could be squeezed in. Many centuries ago a hermit built his cell here (St. Trillo I assume) and there is a well in front of the altar that has been used for its healing powers ever since. That is, until a modern hospital was built.

From the same town hails Prince Madoc who sailed from Rhos-on-Sea and discovered America in the 12th century. He landed in Alabama. Most historians seem to believe this invalidates the claim.

To Wales

When I am not listening to the rain coming down on the canvas of my tent I am reading  a history of England and it is thus that I learnt about King Richard the Lionheart, the good king who features in the stories of Robin Hood. As it happens he wasn’t such a good king; he ruined the country with his costly crusades, and neither was he very English. He spoke French and visited England only twice.

From Nottingham I rode to Ashbourne just south of the Peak District where I stayed a while. It was raining at intervals but when it was dry I made some trips in the hills and found out why it’s called the Peak District. The scenery was nice with the typical stone walls along the narrow lanes and the fields with sheep and… well, sheep mainly.

bull in field

and bulls…

 

In Youlgreave I wondered briefly around the 12th century church. It was, as one expects, very old. After that I continued my way to Arbor Low Henge and nearby Gibb’s Hill. A henge, I now found out, is not a circle of stones, but a type of Neolithic earthwork. According to Wikipedia somebody even took the trouble to actually classify henges.
Gibb’s Hill had, after 6000 years or so, lost quite a bit of its appeal in my opinion. I have seen better hills. Not far away there was another stone circle but steep inclines, especially around Stanton in Peaks where I had to push the bicycle, made me realise that I was not that interested in Neolithic architecture after all. Seen one, seen them all, I say.

My two favourite places in Ashbourne were the library, which was warm, quiet, had books and free wifi, and the Aldi which had none of the above but was cheap.

From Ashbourne I cycled in two days through Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire. These shires were evocative of the rich history of England and I could imagine Sir Lancelot, Robin Hood, Gandalf and Elton John, all sitting together drinking a pint of ale and swapping stories. Well, maybe not Elton John….

Field in Shropshire

Field in Shropshire

 

From Whitchurch I followed the border of England and Wales and made a brief foray into that last country. Twenty minutes later I hopped back into Cheshire. Later in the afternoon I crossed a picturesque bridge over the river Dee back into Wales. I hoped somebody would ask me whether this was my first visit to Wales, whereupon I would reply: actually it’s my second…. this day. But nobody asked.

Welcome to Wales

Near Gresford, which is just inside Wales, I pitched my tent in a field behind a country pub. In the tavern a bunch of builders was sitting at the bar.
– Do you have a local brew? I asked.
Well, we have Foster…
– Foster?
– It’s what all the lads drink here…
The lads looked at me.
– Right, I’d like to have one of those, please.

By accident I came across this rhyme that lists the Seven Wonders of Wales:

Pistyll Rhaeadr and Wrexham steeple,
Snowdon’s mountain without its people,
Overton yew trees, St Winefride’s well,
Llangollen bridge and Gresford bells.

As two of them were not far from where I stayed I decided to tick them off. In Gresford I waited till the clock struck twelve but was then not particularly impressed with this wonder. Inside the church was a stone that had been dug up and which dated back to Roman times. It showed a faded image of Atropos who cut the life thread of mortals with his shears. Very old.
In Wrexham I saw my second wonder of Wales: the gothic architecture of St. Giles’ Parish Church. A replica of the tower is built at the prestigious Yale University in America. In the churchyard I found the grave of that university’s benefactor, Elihu Yale, merchant, philanthropist and, er…, slave trader.

Two out of seven. Not bad for one day.

In England’s green and pleasant land

Green. So why is it so green?
Couldn’t possibly be the rain, could it?

The photos above are from me looking smug on the ferry from Hook of Holland to Harwich. At the office I asked how much the ticket would be.
It’s 67 euro, she said.
Then, seeing the alarmed look on my face, she added:
It’s 15 euro cheaper if you book online.
I raised my eyebrows.
There’s free wifi in the waiting room.
Thank you, I said.

No pirates, no flying storms and no icebergs. Just expensive food.

From Harwich I cycled to Rendlesham Forest at the Suffolk coast where I found a cheap campsite. In 1980 there were sightings of a UFO in the forest. Reports of a team of servicemen from the American base there describe a conical object, the size of a car, metallic with black markings, floating 12 inches above the ground.
These days there is a UFO trail established by the local authorities which, given the scarcity of UFOs, is also made accessible for hikers.

On a daytrip to Orford I visited the castle. It was a beautiful day and I had lunch at one of the picnic tables overlooking the castle. An old man came over to  my table.
Where are you from?
Holland.
I have a brother over there.
Oh really?
Yes, in Eindhoven.
A lovely town,
I lied.
He died there in forty four.
Oh, I am very sorry, I said.
The castle, he explained to me, was a so called King’s Castle, built by Henry II to deter the Barons in the surrounding area who had  built their own castles.

Bury st edmunds

The old Abbey in Bury St Edmunds. Very old.

Later, on my way to Cambridge, I passed through Bury St. Edmund where I saw the Abbey where the Barons supposedly convened to discuss the Magna Charta. Very important.

cambridge college tree

Tree in Cambridge.

on the way

Horse. I think.

ceci ne pas une telephone

Ceci n’est pas une telephone.

It’s a defibrillator.
Much to the annoyance of people who badly need a phone and not necessarily want to defibrillate anyone.

ford

Careful. Ford.

Near Nottingham I found a small campsite at a farm. An old lady opened the door.
We don’t see many people with tents here, she said.
Maybe because of a large sign that says: ‘caravans only’, I thought.
But you do accept tents, I asked.
Oh yes.
It was a beautiful field with lush grass and several trees. All for me.

nottinghams famous

Robin Hood. Fake person.

 

Things to avoid in England: Black pudding.

Cycling again

In  June I visited friends and family in the Netherlands. To do this on a budget I decided to get my bicycle operational again.

Cycling in the Netherlands.

I rode 10 kilometres through Germany which I thought was quite enough. It took me through the Reichswald where Otto III, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, was born. His mother, Theophana, daughter of the Byzantine emperor, was married to Otto III and gave birth to the future emperor when she travelled through the forest. It wasn’t quite Constantinople, but it had to do.

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The infrastructure for cycling in the Netherlands is superb. From there it is all downhill.

This blog post will be short due to shortages of electricity and wifi… Only 3% left. Got to go!

Next entry will be from England where I am cycling at the moment.

 

 

Dubai and Brussels

One sunny day, the government of Ethiopia decided to cut off the entire internet. It was only for  ten days, so that was alright. The reason were the upcoming exams and the fear of exam papers being spread on the social media as had happened last year.

One woman in the hotel, with an Eastern European accent, said she would leave Ethiopia. She couldn’t live without internet she said and I had to admit that she looked pale, as if life was leaving her quickly.

From Addis Ababa I flew to Brussels with a long layover in Dubai. Although it was after eight in the evening, it was still 40 degrees and stifling hot. Besides the debilitating heat, there are several more reasons why the city is such a popular travel destination, but I can’t really think of any at the moment. Shopping  malls apparently….

The airport is not a bad one when it comes to lengthy layovers. There are many vending machines that sell cheap snacks and coffee for under a dollar (3 to 4 dirhams). Drinking water is freely available as is wifi.

In Brussels I entertained myself with a short walk in the surrounding countryside and this is where I saw a cow. It looked very peaceful and I made a photograph of it:

Brussels_cow

It made me think of lunch.

Another highlight of Brussels was a visit to the Magritte museum:

Magritte was an artist who made beautiful paintings of a ball (top left) , a woman (bottom left) and some creatures that seem to have come in peace even though the subcontractor had goofed up the windows of their hotel (right).

 

Ethiopia wrap up

It’s been a while since my last blog post. I am happy to report that I still have all my teeth and most of my money. I am sitting on my balcony and on good days the wifi reaches to here and I can watch YouTube videos.

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Coffee in the Trianon (watercolour)

It’s difficult to ignore injera. They are the spongy, fermented pancakes that form a staple in Ethiopian cuisine. Injera is used to wrap up the food (mostly spicy meat) and eat it with your fingers, I mean, with the use of your fingers.
It’s okay to clap your hands in Ethiopian restaurants to call for attention. Waiters sometimes look ugly if you do, but that’s just because they make very little money.
Fasting days are Wednesdays and Fridays, on which days Ethiopians traditionally indulge in  Spaghetti and ‘Talitelli’  with vegetables. [It’s my theory that the spelling of  ‘talitelli’ is simplified because it is written in four letters of their abugida].
Sometimes you find a lot of grass on the floor of a restaurant. Don’t bother, it’s meant to pleas the spirits or ‘zars’. They don’t exist anyway.

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Preparing injera (photo National Museum)

The dominant religion of the Highlands is the Ethiopian Orthodox church, which, interestingly, is a pre-Chalcedonian church. You can read all about it on Wikipedia.

An interesting story that harks back to biblical times when The Queen of Sheba (who, according to legend, lived in present day Axum) visited King Solomon. Their son, Menelik, nicked the Arc of the covenant and took it back to Ethiopia. It still resides there but you can’t see it. Nobody can see it except to the appointed guard

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Queen of Sheba (watercolour)

The above is an artist’s (i.e. mine) impression of the Queen of Sheba. It’s actually a watercolour sketch I made after a still in Tina Turner YouTube video where she’s singing River Deep, Mountain High.

The Naional Museum

Austraulopithecus

The museum is most famous for Lucy. The young Australopithecus afarensis found in the Afar region. She was looking for her make-up mirror when she accidently slipped, died in a river bed and fossilised to the merriment of future anthropologists.

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Self portrait (watercolour, not in the museum)

Above a self portrait of Homo sapiens sapiens, a slightly more intelligent creature.

LastSupperEth

An Ethiopian version of the Last Supper. It is very similar to the famous interpretation of Leonardo da Vinci. The food looks yummy. Well, no injera at least….

olmec

In 2010 the Mexicans gave an Olmec statue to the People of Ethiopia. The People of Ethiopia said a polite thank you and put it in the garden of the National Museum.

On the top floor of the museum were some ethnographic knick-knacks on display which included some old black and white photographs. They provided me with an opportunity to try something else besides self portraits….

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Sketch after photograph in the National Museum

When I approached the shared toilet of the hotel I met an Ethiopian man leaving.
I smiled.
I am fine, he said.
Good to hear that, I said. I am fine too.

Next post will be from Europe to where I escaped after my long exile in Addis Ababa….