Tag: Cultural Highlights

Spring arrives in Vernon

Spring arrives in Vernon

The UK’s Daily Telegraph calls it ‘over-rated’ but we decided to take the Okanagan route to Vancouver. This is where Canada has Summer fun – but we’re here three weeks before the season really kicks off. So for us there’s no playing lakeside beach volleyball or picking fruit from the many orchards.

First stop Vernon. A sprawling town of motels, soulless retail and new housing that hides its charms well. However, the expensive tourist brochure prompted us to visit Main Street and a lone historic house. And a local setting out to go kayaking pointed us towards the lakeside provincial park. We enjoyed our brief stay.

Christine gave us a personal tour of the 1910 built Mackie Lake House. With Canada not having the equivalent of the UK’s National Trust, it’s great to see this slice of English life on a Canadian lake so well looked after
Every Canadian town we are visiting seems to have a pathological need to promote on its streets the benefits of diversity. This is from the Vernon “Respect Lives Here” public arts project
Hilary at the peaceful Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park – Vernon is in the far distance. After the snow of the Rockies we appreciate the coming of Spring
Playing the Delta Blues

Playing the Delta Blues

It’s known as the Mississippi Delta. The flat alluvial plain stretching from Vicksburg to Memphis that’s famous both for its fertile soil and its poverty.

We parked in Clarksdale to explore some of the sights associated with the development and revitalization of Delta Blues; one of the earliest styles of blues music.

Pre-WW2 blues music in segregated America was known as Race Music. Only when it was renamed Rhythm and Blues in 1949 did it become accessible to white people – going on to directly influence Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones.

Women singers led the way recording some of the first blues records. Bessie Smith’s Down Hearted Blues sold 800,000 copies. She died in this former blacks-only hotel after a car accident. She might have lived if they’d let her into the whites-only hospital.
Blues fans know this as the Highways 61 and 49 crossroads. It’s where Robert Johnson made his pact with the devil in his song Cross Roads Blues – which was later re-recorded by Eric Clapton’s band Cream
Morgan Freeman owned Ground Zero hosts blues bands most weekends. Downtown is largely dependant on blues tourism and we met a couple of outsiders – moved to live here by their love of the blues
On the plantation

On the plantation

Driving along the Mississippi you see the old sugar cane plantation houses. Elegant and beautiful. Yet now forever associated with slavery.

Of course the buying and ownership of people is disgusting, but we suspect the reality for the slaves was more nuanced than many might wish to believe today. And, it’s worth remembering,  there are more people – especially women – held in slavery right now than at the height of the African slave trade.

We visited Oak Alley Plantation famous for its unique avenue of 300 year old Virginian Oaks. The dappled sunlight shining through these trees was sublime.


Cajun Country – made by ethnic cleansing

Cajun Country – made by ethnic cleansing

Our road trip takes us east along the Interstate 10 into Louisiana and Cajun Country. We stayed in Eunice and visited both Opelousas and Lafayette.

We have the Brits to blame and the Spanish to thank for this outpost of Frenchness in the swamps.

As part of the mid 18th century Grand Dérangement (maybe better described as ethnic cleansing) the British forced the French-speaking Acadians out of Nova Scotia. And it was the Spanish settlers in South Louisiana that welcomed the Acadians (Cajun is the English bastardisation) to join the descendants of the original European settlers – the New Orleans dwelling Creoles.

We loved the mix of buildings, friendliness of the people and most of all, sitting on the plentiful verandas imaging life back then. Everything is real quiet and laid back.

NASA – the ultimate traveller

NASA – the ultimate traveller

To those who look beyond the horizon and wonder, NASA’s journeys have been inspirational.

We remember where we were on 21st July 1969; Roger at home in Wimbledon in front of the family’s b&w tv, Hilary on holiday watching on Swedish tv with her parents. Grainy images of Neil Armstrong descending onto the moon are part of our lives.

Now – 48 years later at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre near Houston – we saw a full size prototype of the Saturn V rocket and sat in Mission Control. This was a travel experience to treasure.

The historic Mission Control Room looked much smaller in real life. There’s more computing power in our iPad than in those desks.

We expected to stay at the touristy Space Centre for a couple of hours but ended up leaving late afternoon. It was not only a wonderful nostalgic trip. As you may know, NASA are now actively working towards a manned Mars landing in the 2030’s, so there were plenty of pitches for continued funding.

The last craft to go round the Moon – Apollo 17. And we got to touch it!
The piggy-backing of the Shuttle onto a 747 was surely one of NASA’s craziest ideas. But it worked

Otavalo markets

In the town square it’s hats, bags and blankets for tourists. In the side streets it’s vegetables, fruit and  second-hand clothes for the locals. And across the Pan American highway it’s cows, pigs and hens for the plate.

Saturday is market day in Otavalo; the biggest in Ecuador. We weren’t here to buy anything, just to watch and take in the atmosphere. Indigenous people dressed in their beautiful, traditional clothes in scenes that probably hadn’t changed that much in decades.

The animal market is raw. Especially when the screeching pigs are separated from their babies, the hens are tied up and carried off head down, or the cockerels sold off for fighting. But at least here it’s in the open and personal, not hidden behind sheds and abattoirs and on an industrial scale.

Cementerio de la Recoleta

We enjoyed a walking tour of the cemetery – an hour of stories about the mausoleums and their occupiers

The Recoleta Cemetery is where every wealthy citizen wanted to be buried. The dead are not equal.

Many of the residents have fascinating stories, but none more so than the tragic death of Rufina Cambaceres in 1902. She was beautiful, aged 19 and dressing up to go to the Teatro Colon. Her parents were waiting downstairs. After two hours they discovered her, apparently dead in her bedroom. She was given a hurried burial, only to discover some days later that her coffin had moved within the mausoleum due to her frantic efforts to get out. She had suffered a cataleptic attack and been buried alive.


Of course, Eva Peron is the most famous resident. As the young, glamorous wife of the President she became massively popular with the poor people but was hated by the rich. When she died at the tragically young age of 33, there was much dissent as to what to do with her body. It is a long and sorry tale of embalming, hiding, moving, burying and exhuming. She is at rest in La Recoleta now, but we heard she will be moved (again) in two years time, to finally be buried alongside her husband.

Life and death in Salta

Salta’s main square with the Cathedral on the right

Due to a four hour border crossing we arrived in Salta very late, but thankfully we had already booked our Airbnb.

Five minutes from the main square – the most attractive we have seen so far in Argentina – the flat made a welcome space for us to cook healthy meals and wash some clothes. Not since we left Santiago have we enjoyed our own kitchen.

The star attractions in town are the amazingly preserved 500 year old Inca children who were drugged by their parents and left to die in a sacrificial ritual at the top of nearby Llullailloco Volcano. The three are displayed in rotation at the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology and we saw The Lightning Girl; so called because after her burial a bolt of lightning burnt part of her face. She is still perfectly preserved in a special chamber at -20 degrees.

Close up of The Lightning Girl – a pic sourced from the web as photography in the museum was not allowed

Orvieto – a hidden gem


After seven weeks in Italy you might suppose we’ve seen enough hill-top towns, piazzas or duomos. But then we arrive at Orvieto with perhaps the best location of them all and the duomo with perhaps the best facade we have seen so far. And for us it was brilliantly lit by the early Sunday sunshine.

The construction of the cathedral lasted almost three centuries with the design and style evolving from Romanesque to Gothic as building progressed.

And the inside is impressive in scale and art too. We had the Cappella del Corporale all to ourselves. It was built between 1350 and 1356 to house the stained corporal of the miracle of Bolsena.

Celebrating two English women

Two English women who came to Taormina for very different reasons left their mark.

Whilst walking in the welcoming public gardens we discovered a named statue of a woman; which is a rarity in any country. She was Florence Trevelyan who came to Sicily in 1884 to escape the scandal of a “sentimental liaison” with Edward VII. She fell in love with the town and also conveniently married one of the town’s wealthiest men and devoted herself to creating the public gardens, which we are still benefitting from today.

The other English woman was Daphne Phelps. In 1947, she inherited a house, Casa Cuseni, a rambling run down mansion on the edge of Taormina, set in about two acres of land.

She was encoutraged to sell the house, but instead devoted her life to its upkeep, by taking in artists and writers, making enough to keep it going. Greta Garbo, Tennessee Williams and Bertrand Russell all stayed there for the peace and quiet and views of Etna. Daphne wrote the book A House in Sicily about her time in Taormina and you can still get a tour of the house and garden by private appointment.