Tag Archives: Architecture

Angkor Wat

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library, Angkor Wat

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relieved Richie overcomes vertigo after descending the near-vertical stairs from the Bakan (inner gallery)
relieved Richie overcomes vertigo after descending the near-vertical stairs from the Bakan (inner gallery)
queuing for a sunset moment (shades of Vatican Museum)
queuing for a sunset moment (shades of Vatican Museum)
Bodhi tree growing from the ruins
Bodhi tree growing from the ruins
Ta Prohm, the 'Tomb Raider' temple
Ta Prohm, the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple

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swarming over Bayon
swarming over Bayon

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a dissolving apsara
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enigmatic faces, Bayon
Richie's remarkable elephant photo
Richie’s remarkable elephant photo
taking it all in
taking it all in

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Angkor art in action
Angkor art in action

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a cheeky face amid the ruins
a cheeky face amid the ruins
Richie & Paul, tomb raiders
Richie & Paul, tomb raiders

To see some more photo galleries of Angkor Wat check our Richie’s blog

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Balkan letter to a friend…

Dear Andreas

Transylvania is sweltering! Indian summers are all well and good when Jim Morrison is elegising, but in reality they wear a girl down. It’s borderline 40 degrees and not a drop of rain in sight. I was hoping the ‘murky forests’ you spoke of would be fruiting with wild mushrooms, but it’s not so. Perhaps in a few weeks or a month? Rain is predicted for tomorrow but I remain skeptical. I’m hoping for a cracking Queensland-fashion thunder storm to break the heat and rip its belly out. The leaves on the trees are talking about autumn, but nobody’s listening.

A solid 3 months since rain. The corn crop has withered in the fields and farmers have harvested hay only once, not twice, as they normally do. The hayricks are still standing. They lend the countryside a rustic sculptural elegance. Did you ever read The Worm Forgives the Plough? Don’t suppose there’s much cause for building hayricks in your line of work? But if there were, this would be the first place to look for advice. The apples here are small and tangy, there’s more than you can eat, but where’s the cider?

We passed the Carpathians on the train on wednesday. Splendid. Continue reading

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Venice: between heaven and hell

If the devil is Venetian, wears storm-trooper boots, black sunglasses and operates via Couch Surfing, then Roberto (alias) is his name.

Roberto was our ‘fall back’ option for accommodation in Venice.
“Call me,” he said in response to our Couch Surf request, “in case of emergency, if you get stuck, or if you really can’t find a room.”

Within a day and a half (and a lot of rain) of arriving in Italy the conditions that Roberto had described had indeed come to fruition: we were stuck, it was an emergency, and we couldn’t find a room (that we could afford).

“Who should call him, me or you?” I asked Richie.
“You do it. You’re the one who wrote to him.”

Despite having a rather fearsome profile on Couch Surfing (think Sid Vicious crossed with Che Guevara) Roberto was gracious about letting us stay. He met us at Venice’s St Lucia stazione and took us back via a circuitous route to a squatted university building where a ‘happening’ was underway. He introduced us to his friends and gave us a running commentary on the history of the building; its apotheosis as a squat, and the reasons why Venice’s grand buildings were being systematically sold off as luxury hotels.
“There’s more tourists here than residents. We’re outnumbered 3 million to 60,000,” he told us flatly.

After the ‘happening’ at the university we were frogmarched to a bar on the other side of town where an anarchic bunch of rabble were loitering alongside the canal, drinking beer and listening to heavy metal music: more leather than the Fez tanneries and more dogs on leads than Miami beach.

It was not long before Jason wandered over and started talking to us… again. He’s joined us for drinks at the university, impressing us with his distinctive appearance (he wore what can only be described as a leather cape) and intriguing persona: part Ezra Pound, part Mick Dundee. His mother was Australian but he was born in Venice.

“Nice Irish accent,” Richie scoffed once Jason had excused himself to search out a cigarette.
“It’s no Irish, it’s Australian. Watch the pen. He’s got my pen. I bet you he’s going to pocket it. You can’t trust writers!”

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The Wonder of ‘Alhambra’

Richie and I tend to eschew the type of tourist ‘experiences’ that require you to part with fistfuls of money. Waiting in line at the Alhambra ticket office in Granada was a fairly joyless experience. Richie fidgeted with his respectably hairy chin and seemed as likely to bolt as a colt after its first taste of the bridle bit.

I watched enviously as tourists who’d had the prescience to buy their tickets online breezed toward the open gates; silk shawls fluttering and leather sandals slapping the hallowed earth.

Eventually, after nearly forty five minutes of waiting, we acquired two tickets. Audio guide NOT included. “You’re kidding,” Richie breathed as he inspected the tickets. 2 hours to fill before the allotted time.

We walked back downhill over the saddle of Sacromonte where the sound of flamenco heels rapping on timber floors was almost sufficiently enchanting to disperse our penny-pinching fugg.

Through white streets; past portholes leading into mountain dwellings (the interiors of which we were never likely to see), we succumbed to the sadness and dislocation of being gypsies… of sorts…

Back up on the Alhambra we made ready to enter with our ticket and tourist map. “Choose wisely which monuments you visit,” the guide warned us, “save your legs.”

Richie’s permaculture perversion did the talking as we followed the shaded cyprus walkway to the gardens of the Generalife.

With the first glimpse of terraced gardens, fountains and scalloped bowls of trickling water everything was forgiven.

Richie was rapt by a series of channels and cisterns transporting flumes of water from terrace to terrace.

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Rooftop Ruminations

Rooftops are magical places. It’s little wonder that travellers are drawn to countries like Morocco and India, where builders have the good sense to design buildings with flat roofs – ample spaces for relaxing, socialising, hanging wet washing, affixing satellite dishes and accommodating extra guests.

In Chefchaouen I’ve been rediscovering the pleasures of the roof and remembering the many roofs that have given me shelter over the years and provided me with a loftier view of life… 

Rooftops have always been important to me. In Australia, where I grew up, the roof of our family home was steeply pitched, clad with corrugated galvanised iron – a vernacular style of architecture known as a ‘Queenslander’. Before each major storm, when the wind blew up and the first droplets of rain flooded the veranda, Dad would duck into the shed to fetch his ladder and we’d be on the roof in no time – brushing leaves from  gutters, sending debris overboard… keeping our footing safe by restricting our footfalls to the seams of screws connecting the metal sheeting to the timber beams below.

When the opportunity presented itself for me and my partner to build a living roof in our garden in Norfolk (England), I was thrilled. Within days I was up on the roof in bare feet, treading in turfs we’d cut by hand, thinking of a time when the roof would be in bloom and bees would come to visit our lawn in the sky. One cup of tea was all we managed in the way of rooftop picnics before it was time to come away, to Morocco, the first staging point of our ‘overland to Oz’ adventure.

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Which brings me to Chefchaouen, the blue city nestled at the doorway to the Middle Atlas – 3 hours by bus from Tangier and roughly the same distance from Fez.

Like Jodhpur is to India, Chefchaouen is Morocco’s blue city. If you look out from the vantage point of the Spanish Mosque you can see perhaps one thousand blue roofs – each one jutting up like a chimney from the cobbled together hillside – each one home to its own collection of satellite dishes and drying washing. Photovoltaics are yet to catch on here. If they did, Chefchaouen would be a true blue sun trap: supplied with its own power as well as its own clean supply of water from the mountain – a transition town in the making.

In terms of rooftops, Chefchaouen leaves little to be desired. Our rooftop – the rooftop of our pension – is a case in point. It is a generous square, roughly 14 metres by 14 metres. The outer perimeter is shaded by an awning, while the central area is exposed to the sun. The undercover/open-sided design makes it perfect for escaping the heat during the middle of the day, and enjoying the sunshine during the cooler hours. A clothesline is strung diagonally between two far points – ideal for airing foisty sleeping bags. In the centre is a canopy and a grate to prevent pigeons from flying down and befouling the tiles in the central courtyard. It’s a genius way of stacking functions, harnessing the elements and making peoples’ lives more enjoyable. It’s what good design is all about.

Since arriving in Chefchaouen, I have made the roof my second home. The view of the mountains is a real drawcard, but it’s the sense of space and seclusion that draws me back again and again.

In the morning I come to the rooftop to meditate. During the day, if I’m not out walking or taking coffee in the market square, I return to wile away a few hours with a book or pen. Afternoons are for yoga, and in the evening it’s time to take the washing down and set the sleeping bags back on the bed. If I’m lucky, I’m up on the roof in time for the 6pm adhan (call to prayer); a sound that loads my heart with joy.

In the evening there’s only one place it’s better to be than on the roof – in the square: watching children jostle one another for popcorn; swapping banter with waiters whose only desire it is to seat you in their cafe; or watching couples as they cross the square, hands surreptitious brushing.

In a few days we will askew the rooftops of Chefchaouen and make for Fez or Meknes. There will be other rooftops and other cities. Other medinas and other squares. But I do like a good rooftop. Even when there’s no grass, no gutters, and no corrugated iron.

There’s the first phrases of the call to prayer: “Allah is great… hurry to the prayer…” that’s my queue to exit. I have a date in the square. Richie is waiting, and Mohammed is cooking harrira and fried fish!

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