Thursday 31 October 2013

Freya Stark: Part the Second

I spent an eight-hour flight to the Arabian Peninsula becoming better acquainted with Freya Stark - this time through her biography Passionate Nomad by Jane Fletcher Geniesse.  What comes across most strongly is Freya Stark's determination to break down the walls of her life, constrained as she was by lack of money, family obligations and health problems.  Plus a world war and the inescapable fact of her femaleness.

Freya Stark was 34 before she embarked on her first true adventure: to spend months improving her Arabic (which she had insisted on learning, despite protests) in the Lebanon.  She wanted to live a big life, an important life.  Perhaps this thirst to keep pushing, to score exploration 'wins', had a negative impact on some of her relationships later on - perhaps.  It's a truism to say that fame changes people; of course it does, but then we all change anyway, regardless of fortune.

The point, she observes, and I have observed, is that travel seems to bring out one's essential self, for better or worse.  Accordingly, Miss Stark suggests that 'the pleasantness of being liked for oneself might ... be added to the five reasons for travel give me by Sayyid Abdulla, the watch-maker'.

You would of course like to know what the five are.

Sayyid Abdulla's Five Reasons for Travel:
To leave one's troubles behind one
To earn a living
To acquire learning
To practise good manners
To meet honourable men

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Overseen: Oslo City Hall

I have a weakness for the socialist realist style of building adornment: all those stern, chiselled-jawed men and valiant, banner-wielding women.  So I was very appreciative of the decoration on Oslo City Hall - a mostly 1930s building, though some parts weren't completed until after World War II.

There is something of a gender bias in the sculptures, though.

These men are hard at work,

while these women seem altogether more frivolous.

Men build, women adorn?

Here at least is some equal-opportunity frolicking - 

while this stout fellow keeps watch below.

Monday 28 October 2013

Messing About In Boats

Oslo is a lovely and interesting - if expensive - city.  But I think to truly appreciate it, you need to see it from the water.  After all, this is a city on and surrounded by water; the capital of a nation of sea-farers and explorers (since way back in the way back, when sea-faring and exploring were means to an end of looting and pillaging.)

The beautiful opera house is reflected in the harbour, its marble structure more than a little reminiscent of an iceberg.

Given my love of islands and ferries and museums, you can understand that I'd be charmed by a ferry to an island of museums.

For 50- krone you get wonderful views of Akershus Fortress,

the colourful boats belonging to local sailors,

the container port,

and the distinctive A-frame of the Fram Museum.  Though I didn't visit on this occasion, it is wonderful and the trip is well worth it to find out more about the great Norwegian Polar explorers.

In fact I was bound for the Viking Ship Museum, housed in a building that looks more than little bit like a church.

The viking ships are glorious: three of the best-preserved (if not 'the' best-preserved) Viking ships anywhere in the world.  The Oseberg ship was the burial place for two women.  I like thinking of these two early lady travellers, embarking on their voyage to - they hoped - Valhalla.  Perhaps they hoped to make some interesting detours on the way.

Here are some other adventurers - when I saw them out of the corner of my eye, I wondered what they were waiting for.  It took a while for the penny to drop that this was tribute to Roald Amundsen and his fellow explorers, looking, looking out to sea.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Under the Matterhorn

One fine day in mid-September, the Swiss Family Lady Traveller set off on the Hohbalmen walk from Zermatt.  The walk is about 19km, starting at a height of 1620m and climbing to 2741m at the highest point.  So: steep, but all the while you walk you get the most glorious views of the Matterhorn and the Alps bordering Switzerland and Italy.

The first stretch of the hike, up to the Trift Hotel, didn't leave much breath for photography, but every now and then I stopped to smell the Alpine flowers.

Ro lifting her eyes to the hills.

We arrived at the Trift Hotel around 9, just in time for second breakfast: Apfelkuchen and coffee.  For any would-be wanderers I'd just note that the food is brought in by helicopter and the prices reflect this.  (Though the cake was excellent.)

Soon, though, we left our picnic table behind and pulled up another steep slope.  Here's one last look at the Trift Hotel before we turned a corner and arrived at the Hohbalmen meadow.

And the views ...!

Please note that over the left-most peak in that photo, is what appears to be an alien spaceship hidden in cloud cover.  It stayed there ALL DAY.  Just saying.

We were grateful for the wooden benches placed at strategic intervals along the path, many of which bore humorous plaques.

And here she is: the Matterhorn, kindly pointed out by Lady Traveller's Little Sister.

Many photos were taken of us + Matterhorn.  (Matterhorn + us, that should probably be.)

From this point, the walk is mostly a gradual descent through alps and valleys.  LTLS spotted an edelweiss and I spent quite a long time lying on my belly on the path taking photos of it.

Mid-afternoon, we reached Zmutt, which is a hamlet of sorts - a collection of chalets and an inn about 45 minutes walk from Zermatt.

My family, striding purposefully towards Zmutt.

We decided a cheeky beer wouldn't be a bad idea and, indeed, it was good.  From a cold start, the day became very hot, which is why I'm wearing my scarf around my head.

A sign to point us to the last stretch of the way:

And a mountaineer to greet us back at Zermatt, eight hours after we'd left.

Monday 14 October 2013

Geneva, Cite de Refuge

HTLT has been racking up the airmiles of late - even more than usual.  Switzerland, Norway, Sweden (briefly - running from one end of Stockholm airport to the other doesn't really count), the Netherlands plus my regular London commute.  The irony isn't lost on me: so much to blog about, so little time to blog.  Still, I'm trying to get through the backlog and I am taking notes as I go so at some point I hope to have caught up on myself.

First up is the beautiful sunny day we spent in Geneva - me, my sisters and my brother (family bonding + melted cheese = win).  One of the main sights of Geneva is the fountain on the lake, so that's where we headed first.

For the rest of the morning we wandered around the city and I photographed flags and signs, as is my wont.