Category Archives: Cities

Capitals, and large towns of the world showing their distinctive character.

Four Days in Hong Kong

After years of  trying, I finally made it to Hong Kong, and as expected, it was very curious visit, and yet a very interesting one.  It was never going to be a genuine holiday, as I always felt there was not enough there to keep me busy.  Was I right?  No, I suppose I was somewhat wrong, too low and dismissive in my expectations..  But the very character of the place suggested to me though that it was never going to be one of my favorite cities.  Some things were still very obvious; the old British colonial framework, the empowering architecture all around, the very efficient Metro system, and the rampant commercialism;  all seemed genuine at my street level, and fitted nicely with the new assertive Chinese character.  I say new because in 1997 the colony of Hong Kong was returned to the People’s Republic of China, and is governed  under the new China mandate – one country, two systems.  This allows the former colony a great degree of autonomy at least for the next fifty years. This also allows the country to maintain its reputation as a major international trade port, and financial centre. It would be very interesting to see how it all turns out in years to come.

I found it much more expensive than the mainland, and in some ways lacking the charm of Shanghai, or Beijing. Yet, I am told, it is a tourist magnet, and as crowded as you would expect in places where tourism is quite prevalent.  I would have like to see more of what it looked like outside the main city limits, especially in areas like the New Territories, but there was not enough time.  I enjoyed the ambience of the place, but I would absolutely hate to have to live in one of those slender tower blocks, which appeared everywhere.  Sited as  one of most densely populated places in the world, I can understand why skyscrapers would be the obvious answer to any housing problems.

My most interesting moments were spent looking around one of the city malls (places which I normally avoid), ignoring the overpriced clothes shops, and stalking out the international restaurant cuisine.  Yes, I did find  some absolutely splendid meals which were totally enjoyable.

Winston

 

IMG_3435acIMG_3346v

IMG_3367sIMG_3465vIMG_3473vIMG_3365sIMG_3448v

IMG_3513svIMG_3393vIMG_3514vIMG_3469v

IMG_3409sIMG_3419x

February 28: Frozen

Sometimes the elements get the better of us.   It is almost the start of March, and I am returning from my Brazilian holiday, and literally flew into a snowstorm. London was very cold, and I was absolutely unprepared for this extreme kind of weather.  At Miami Airport where I usually make the connection,  I had inadvertently left my only coat which would have insulated me somewhat,  from the freezing weather.  I decided to tough it  out, and avoided committing myself to any quick or hasty purchase to solve the situation.   Somehow I managed to make my way home in spite of the many stated delays of the usually reasonable  London Underground, as the snow pelted down around me.

Once inside, there was the usual chaos, and placing my case to one side, I headed to open the back door, to survey the damage. Unusually for London the snow was building, my two greenhouses appeared fine, but all the transient plants which were haphazardly placed close to the house for protection were enveloped with snow.  Normally, there would be a corrugated plastic covering to prevent any real damage, but today most of it had been blown away by the wind.

You must appreciate that I am a plant lover, and also a plant seller; and it is very important to prevent further damage as the weather prediction had offered minus five Centigrade by evening time.  Some quick action was needed to avoid total destruction as far as the outdoor collection is concerned. Yet the snow kept falling.  A quick investigation of my greenhouse confirmed that I was right, and that most of the plants inside were in a good order.  Surveying the freeze outside, and noting the frozen tap,  it was the group that were outdoors that posed the problem. Using layers of plastic bubble I tried to add extra cover on some of the plants to prevent further damage from evening lows, even though I fared the worst.

Preparing for winter is not a very easy task for us plant lovers, and it often takes a certain degree of subtlety, as you want to avoid dragging all your specimens in a dark basement in the middle of October. At the same time, you also have to utilize as much of the good weather that is possible and that is the reason we always take a few risks.  Also, timing is very important, as on numerous occasions, you may fail because of this.  To put it bluntly sometimes you are ill-prepared when it  is absolutely necessary to be on focus, or simply be present.  This is one of these occasions, and the photos say it all.  Of course,  later after the thaw,  I will insist on new arrangements in place which must prevent the same things happening again.  But it does not always work, as nature has a way of subverting life when you least expect it.

Winston

IMG_0148p

IMG_0147p

Visiting Morocco: Memories of Fez

Visiting Morocco was always on the cards, but the timing had to be right.  Once I decided that the time had come, the big question of where to stay took much longer than it normally does for my kind of holiday.  After scrutinizing numerous hotels in Casablanca,  I found myself unable to choose . This made me shift my glance to Rabat, the nation’s capital, a smaller city with less choice and in the end an easier route to making a decision. I chose a familiar route, a French Accor hotel (Sofitel), in a country which was overflowing with French influence.  This visit took place years ago, but I thought  I would like to share it with you.

The change from Casablanca to Rabat as a base, meant that I had to reorganize my itinerary somewhat, but that was easily done. At the top of my list was Fez, a city that had always fascinated me as a youngster.  The new plans meant that I will arrive at Casablanca Airport, take a taxi to the train station, and travel by the next available train to Rabat. In practice, the plan worked fine, the train was slightly delayed, but I was impressed with the standard of the carriages.

Rabat worked perfectly, allowing easy access to all the places I wanted to go. From here, I organized my trip to Fez, which was via ONCF train system. The journey took more two hours passing through Sidi Kacem and Meknes, and was very unusual because of the open countryside in between.   Arriving at Fez station, I was able to walk to the downtown area which was far more modern than I expected. I had a look around, had something to eat, and hailed Petit Taxi, and headed for the Medina, which in Morocco was the place to visit to get a pulse of the city

It was still early morning when I arrived, and the souk was not very crowded.  I had planned to do it on my own, but changed my mind when approached by a young lady, casually dressed, but speaking perfect English and who appeared to be a university student. The Medinas are never disappointing, because of the potpourri of traditions laced with cultural and commercial icons. Here, it was much the same. Housed in an antiquated walled enclosure, it demonstrated the best example of the Arab marketplace. Leather goods seemed quite prominent, followed by brassware and ceramics, but there were lots of everything else to be had.

I had decided not to do any serious shopping, as I found the bidding system quite difficult. My intention was to collect only a few souvenirs to take back with me. Yet I still engaged a few of the traders simply to amuse myself. I greatly appreciated, though, the artists present who were practically demonstrating their trade.  My attitude to buying serious goods like carpets, blankets, etc, is you need to spend a full day to suss out the trade items or bargains; and then return the following day to do the actual purchases, or else you would simply be taken for a ride.

I was able to see one of the tanneries in operation, and was able to appreciate how the skins of animals became leather. Unsurprisingly, it was not a smooth factory styled operation, but it achieved what it set out to do and I was quite impressed. Like everywhere in Morocco, even here in the Medina you were never far from a mosque, and yet all around it, you were in a shopper’s paradise, catering to locals and the special visitors.

At the end of the tour, having exhausted all my visual sensibilities, I offered my guide a fee which I thought was adequate. She didn’t, and I was taken aback that after a tour of humble politeness, she suggested that I double the amount. I got it, even the intended fee was up for negotiation. I offered half of the extra, and with some reluctance she accepted.

For the rest of the afternoon, I embraced an unguided tour of the city which took me to the outer limits, looking at the way old and new ideas were moving forward especially in terms of architecture.  Altogether, the city was far more modern that I expected, but there was still more than enough of the old to keep me focused. By five o’clock, it was time to head back to the station having had my day’s fill, and board the train back to Rabat.

Winston