Looking at photos of the amazing ‘rock town’ of Adrspach-Teplice Rocks, it’s easy to assume that this is someplace in China, perhaps. Certainly before I went, I’d never have guessed such an arresting landscape could have been found in …the Czech Republic… but yep, it is – up near the Polish border, about 170 kilometers from Prague, and the largest and most spectacular of several geological curiosities found in this part of Europe, both in the Czech Republic and over the border in Germany, near Dresden. Continue reading
Slovensky Raj: spectacular (and easy) hiking in eastern Europe
Summer is long gone, and my travels in eastern Europe seem like a distant memory by now, but before catching up with a few of the remarkable places in Taiwan we’ve been exploring the last couple of months, I had to make a brief blog about two amazing European day-hike spots, one each in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Continue reading
An English Lakeland Summer
The English Lake District has been well and truly on the tourist path for the last 150 years or so, yet although as a teenager I spent long expeditions collecting the area’s numerous waterfalls for a youthful (and finished but never-published) book documenting the complete waterfalls of England, last week was the first time I’ve ever climbed any of the peaks in the National Park. The extraordinary beauty of this area has been well documented since Tennyson’s time, of course, but in fine, sunny weather, and with the company of a few like-minded hikers, considering the tremendous rewards to reaped for relatively little effort, the Lake District’s peaks simply can’t be beat in my book. It’s simply fabulous up there! Continue reading
A Balkan Summer
I know: Europe’s Balkan peninsula is hardly a little-known area of the world these days, but it’s definitely one of the earth’s more beautiful corners, and exploring just a few of its countless attractions this year made for an unforgettable summer. Here are pics of few favourite places. Most of these places are written up in plenty of guide books, so I’m not gonna add any more here, but instead simply say that if you get the chance to go – GO! It’s a stunning, stunning region. Continue reading
The Strange Case of Transdniestr: a ‘Country’ recognized by no one
Taiwan has long bemoaned its lack of recognition by the rest of the world, but it’s a long, long way ahead of places such as Somaliland (a de facto sovereign state which has just one embassy, in neighbouring Ethiopia), or Kurdistan (an autonomous region of Iraq which welcomes tourists and, unlike the remainder of that sad country, is quite safe).
And then there’s Transdniestr, a ‘country’ which has its own president, government, its own currency, its own police force and army, and maintains border controls with neighbouring Ukraine and Moldova. Yet not one country in the world recognizes it as a separate state. In fact to the rest of the world it’s the easternmost part of Moldova, one of the most obscure ex Russian republics, and itself a country that I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of until I started researching this summer’s big trip, to Ukraine and the Balkan peninsula. Continue reading
Ukraine: an Undiscovered Gem
I left Ukraine a few days ago for a country even less well-known among travellers, Moldova, but inexplicably overlookedUkraine was so fun that I’ve got to devote an entry and quite a few photos to the parts of this wonderful, fascinating, different country. It’s very well worth exploring if you get the chance!
I still remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on September 11th 2001: laying on the bed in my old apartment in Beitou listening to a CD of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony on my Walkman (iPods weren’t around in those days). I was in the middle of the slow movement (which is probably one of the profoundest statements in Western music, by the way), when David rushed in and told me what had just happened. As we watched the news the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center and my last vain hope that this was some kind of catastrophic accident were dashed.
Fifteen years earlier, I can’t recall what I was doing when news first started leaking of the nuclear accident at Chronobyl on April 26th 1986, but the following days, as the cloud of radioactive debris began circling around Europe and the extent of the disaster became known, are still pretty clear in my memory.
Like 911, the Chornobyl accident is a prominant landmark in recent world history, yet it’s surprising how little I actually knew about it until on my present trip to Ukraine (and the Balkans) this summer I had the perfect chance to learn much more about it. Chornobyl and the surrounding exclusion zone can now be visited (although it still scares most people off – only 14,000 visited in 2012!), and despite all the rumors that it’s a risky or dangerous excursion, it’s quite safe with a qualified guide, and is an absolutely, humblingly, enlighteningly fascinating experience. Continue reading
Ethiopia’s Erta Ale Volcano and the Danakil Depression
Erta Ale is something else entirely. I seriously doubt there’s a more primeval, raw permanent example of the Earth’s volcanic forces than this utterly awe-inspiring place, anywhere in the world. Erta Ale is one of only a couple of permanent lava lakes in the world, and probably the only accessible one at present (the other, at Virunga National Park in eastern Congo (formerly Zaire) is affected by civil war and out-of-bounds to tourists at present, while tourists can’t walk up to the edge of the two on Kilauea volcano in Hawaii for a look inside. although of course the point where the lava flows into the ocean is a famous tourist draw).
The fact that Erta Ale lies in an extremely remote and inhospitable place (statistically the hottest place on earth) makes visiting it an even more unforgettable experience. There are no handrails, no marked footpaths to be kept to, and no park rangers blowing whistles if anyone gets too close to the edge. You’re free to stand right on the lip of the crater and goggle at the ovoid lake of molten lava just 20 meters below, its congealing surface constantly cracking as the liquid rock beneath forces its way through, while sprays of molten rock burst out of a cave on the far side of the crater like a geyser.
Ethiopia’s extraordinary Rock-hewn Churches: Abuma Yemata Geh and the Tigray Churches
It’s less than an hour from the end of the 4-wheel-drive track to the fabulous rock-hewn church of Abuma Yemata Geh in Ethiopia, but what an hour! This incredibly perched place, carved into the side of a huge, vertical pillar of rock, would be a wonder in any country (although tourists would never be allowed to make the dodgy climb up there in many), but in Ethiopia, where the jaw-dropping physical location is complemented by a fairly remote and utterly spectacular setting, fascinating people, and a way of life (and worship) that feels as though it belongs to a time in the far distant past, the trip to Abuma Yemata Geh is probably one of the most extraordinary, fascinating, and occasionally terrifying couple of hours I’ve spent in my life! Continue reading
Ethiopia’s Simian Mountains: an easy trek in mindbogglingly spectacular scenery
Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, the Otter Trail, Toubkal: Africa has some incredible hiking; sad to say I’ve done none of them yet (although I did make it half way up Toubkal many years ago). Add to that list the Simian Mountains in Ethiopia. Ethiopia doesn’t immediately spring to mind as prime hiking country, yet although well-known these days for the incredible rock-hewn churches of Lalibela (a popular candidate for the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’) and as the alleged site of the Arc of the Covenant (said to contain the Ten Commandments: remember it from the end of Raiders of the Lost Arc?), it has two world-class trekking destinations. Continue reading