Lake District and Derwentwater

During my trip to the United Kingdom, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in the Lake District of Cumbria, with the generous loan of a caravan situated between Penrith and Keswick. This is a beautiful, unspoilt and verdant part of the country, and the weather also obliged, granting us four rain-free days.

Keswick is a beautiful town along the banks of the River Greta, with narrow winding cobblestone roads, and a traditional town centre. It afforded  great shopping, and I picked up some lovely jewellery pieces (including an unusual silver spiral set of earrings from Special Expressions – where I got talking to a lovely chap who was originally from New Zealand). Amber stones set in both gold and silver are very popular in this region, however none of the pieces I saw were particularly appealling. The region is also renowned for Honister slate, which is commonly observed as a building material in fences and walls. This light grey-green coloured stone was also to be seen in many pieces of jewellery, but being such an unusual colour I didn’t think any of the pieces would suit the complexions of those I was buying for.

Another attraction of Keswick is the Cumbria Pencil Factory Museum – located on the site of the old Derwent Pencil factory, which has since relocated production to an industrial estate further west in Cockermouth. The Museum provided a good overview of coloured pencil production techniques, and outlined a number of the compounds used to produce the varied hues of the pencil filling. The souvenir shop was limited, but did have a great range of Derwent pencils, includings seconds bundles for only 2GBP each.

There were a number of great little coffee places in Keswick, but my favourite was Java and Chocolate, who made a delicious hot chocolate and weren’t bothered at all that I asked for soy. Also had something called a Toblerone Tartar here which was a type of mousse cake with crispy wafer layers – haven’t been able to find any recipes or pictures which adequately describe what it was like.

Another key observation about Keswick, and the Lake District in general, was that many people have dogs – almost one in two to one in three people I saw had their faithful fido with them. The most popular breeds appeared to be border collies, labradors and a variety of generally large terriers. Not a chihuahua (or corgi) in sight! Many shops advertise their dog-friendliness, and many cafes made provision for dogs with bowls – and treats.

Penrith was similar to Keswick, with a traditional town square girt by narrow undulating cobbled laneways. Again, slate was a key building material seen in many fences and walls.

The highlight of my trip to the Lake District though was the hike around the Derwentwater – a large lake to the south-west of Keswick. The day started out very bright and sunny, but very cool – with frost icing the trees and shrubs until about morning tea time. The walk was strenuous – and I was grateful for a loan of hiking poles, as the path was as narrow as eight inches in some parts, and very slippery. The scenery was absolutely stunning – with the sun bouncing off the placid lake like droplets hitting a mirror. The air itself was like breathing purity – cold, and pure, and heavy at the same time, smelling of fresh moss, sodden earth and unbrushed wool from the black faced sheep who grazed along the edges of the walk. It was pleasing to see so many walkers – called ramblers – out and about – and more so because the vast majority were middle aged or older – and their fitness levels all put me to shame!


Ruins of Carthage

The second day in Tunisia started at 0630 – by which time it was already 30 degrees and about 95% humidity! The long-ingrained Australian habit of carrying water with you wherever you go definitely served me well 🙂

Getting out early meant that the souk wasn’t yet open – and it was relaxing to walk through the cobbled alleyways without the hassle of people trying to sell me trinkets. To be fair though, a lot of the economy around Hammamet and Tunisia is built on tourism – and the sellers rely on the income of tourists to eke out a livelihood.

The Yasmine Hammamet complex is so named for the jasmine plants that are around the resort – although there aren’t that many. The resort staff have continued the theme – and even the soap in the room smells of jasmine.

There’s a definite social hierarchy in the Residence too. At the top are the reception and management staff, dressed immaculately in business suits. Next are the staff who help take bags to the room and at the bottom are the blue and white-clad domestic staff – all women – who clean rooms and do laundry. Their uniform – floor-length long sleeve white tunic with blue edging – is reminiscent of a nun’s habit. I haven’t quite figured out yet where the street vendors sit in the hierarchy – I think they’re around the same level as the gents who help take bags to the rooms. The separation of genders and gender roles is quite marked. Disappointing, but unsurpringly, there seems to be a correlation between the social hierarchy and ethnicity. Many of the domestic ladies are African, and there are also many Indian ladies. The staff who help take bags to rooms are invariably African, while the management and reception staff are predominantly Arab or French-Arab.

The staff here are very friendly – they’re probably instructed to be so – but I’ve had the opportunity to chat to a few in my broken French. When asked where I come from, there’s definite surprise at the response of ‘je suis Australien‘ – Aussies are rarities en Tunisie. Often I’m mistaken for Austrian instead! One of the gents – Hesham – turned out to be rather friendly and wanted to walk everywhere arm in arm. He seemed to take it rather well when I explained my boyfriend wouldn’t approve 🙂 Next time it might be a good idea to wear a wedding ring (as I did when travelling in Indonesia) – it just stops a lot of questions – “Madame et mademoiselle“?

My first taste of breakfast at Yasmine Hammamet was delicious. The area around Tunisia grows a lot of grapes and stone fruit, and breakfast consisted of la grillade with tomatoes, scrambled eggs (yum) and sausage and ham (avoided), generally catering to English and German tastes. There were also a lot of breakfast pastries and toast, served with huge bowlfuls of fig jam, apricot jam and quince jam – delicious! Oh, and the coffee here is hot, brewed, and strong. Delice!

The land around Hammamet is sandy and rocky; the city is flanked by tall mountains with evergreen trees – mostly conifers and cypress. The land seems too barren to yield such beauties. Travelling by road, you see piles of rubble in many places, where it seems buildings have been knocked down and not yet rebuilt. Many buildings seem to be either dishevilled or in a state of disrepair; like the carpenters have downed tools and are waiting to come back from lunch. Again, the sense of Tunisia being a country trapped between the past and the future is echoed. On one building you will see massive solar panels and satellite dishes; the next will have washing strung across an open roof house.

The houses are interesting; square, generally clay or mud brick that is rendered in various shades of white, grey or brown, and on the more expensive ones there will be blue- or green-painted iron work, harking back to Tunisia’s French colonial history. There does not seem to be a sense of pride about many of them though; weedy plants line streets, punctuated with litter and piles of rubble and broken tiles. The French influence is seen too in the cars on the road; many are Peugeot or Citroen.

The highlight of today was definitely the ruins in Carthage. This ancient civilisation was quite advanced; the remains of a fully operational aquaduct system can still be seem amongst the tile and marble in the ruins. Evidence of master stonemasonry can be seen in the intricate carvings and marble columns; in one way it makes you wonder whether the automation of today that is supposed to give us so much free time is worth it. Here, it would have taken months to carve a single stone plinth, but it’s lasted for millenia. Palms and date trees would have flanked hand-cut stone arches, while women did washing and cooking in ceramic pots that still exist to this day.

Next on the sightseeing tour was Sidi Bou Said, where the main attraction are the houses painted white with blue trim; this was lovely, but very touristy.


The journey so far..

As with every journey, this one began with a small step. From the Gull Bus to Melbourne Airport (MEL) I boarded a flight to Dubai (DXB) – and rested peacefully on the plane. DXB was beautiful – and there was even a miniature lake in the middle of the airport. The Emirates food was superb, and I got to catch up on some movies to while away the time.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen‘ was an appropriate choice given the corner of the world I was headed to. Expecting a soppy romantic comedy (and somewhat – pardon the pun – disheartened – at this prospect), instead this bittersweet and at times hilarious movie examines the dissatisfaction of the main character with his mundane academic life and loveless marriage, and follows his journey as his passion for life – and for fishing – is reignited through an unlikely project.

The characters in ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel‘ also follow a journey; most of them reaching their senior years, various reasons lead them to be staying at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. For some it is the end of the journey of life, but for others their time there opens new doors, and gives them renewed vigour.

Margaret Thatcher follows a journey of a different kind in ‘Iron Lady‘; Meryl Streep’s performance of this one-imperious and internationally formidable woman in late stage dementia conversing with her long-dead husband is one of the best biopics of recent years. The story portrays her progression from grocer’s daughter, breaking with convention to win a safe Conservative seat, and successfully challenging for the leadership of the British Conservative party. The poignancy comes as her strong will, refusal to be swayed from her fiercely held convictions and self-belief eventually lead to her betrayal by her cabinet. Iron eventually rusts.

In Dubai, there was a four-hour layover before the connecting flight to Tunis; I used the time to get re-acquainted with parted to repartition an SD card that had previously been used for Raspberry Pi goodnes, but was now my spare camera card. After much referral to the man pages, I eventually managed to partition the card and create a new filesystem. Win.

Arriving in Tunis, I was taken aback at customs; carrying foodstuffs I chose to declare and the customs officials as good as laughed at me. “We love food!” they exclaimed. We Aussies must be so used to not bringing anything back into the country!

From Tunis it was an hour’s drive to Hammamet, the tourist resort south of Tunis. The contrasts here couldn’t be sharper; in the space of 100km you see desert, mountain region, and flowers planted by the roadside in rich bloom. The traffic is best described as ‘batshit crazy’; he who honks the loudest has right of way. Tunisia appears to be a country torn between two ages; an historic past echoed in the clay-walled, open-roofed houses and at the same time looking towards the future with the development of tourist centres such as Yasmine Hammamet.