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Kastellorizo - island at the end of the Greek world
I began writing this as a letter to the participants on my last Sea to Sahara Tour of Morocco, after we spontaneously started chatting on our 'Whats App' group recently. Nostalgic for our travels and fantasising about getting together for another journey, many asked what I'd been doing since we parted company in Casablanca. Above 3 pics: (1) The island of Kastellorizo (Greece) (2) The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca (Morocco) overlooking the Atlantic ocean (3) Kastellorizo port So emotionally transporting was this reminiscing, that for the first time since lockdown I was been blissfully unaware of the anxiety that curfew imposes. Here's the letter I shared with this great group of travellers about my post-tour tour from the Western extremity of the Mediterranean to the Turkish coastline in the east ... the very area which Greece and Turkey now vigorously dispute. Above 4 pics : 'Sea to Sahara' Travellers October 2019 : (1) In the Sahara; (2) with our friend Samir in Fes; (3) Getting familiar in Tangier; (4) Freezing in the High Atlas LEAVING CASABLANCA "I left not long after you all departed Casablanca, to visit an old friend in Greece, thinking I'd spend the languid month of November on the island of Hydra, taking it easy after a frenetic year of travel. I'd spent two years here in the early 90s, but since then, my friend had moved across the water to the town of Ermioni, a tiny village on an appendix of land opposite the island we had loved beyond words - yes, Hydra was still a uniquely vehicle-free place, but now fiercely expensive, because or despite, having been catapaulted by TripAdvisor into its list of 'Top Ten Things To Do in Greece'. Above 5 pics: Ermioni is on the mainland of Peleponnese, in a tiny bay formed by a long isthmus - called 'Bisti' or 'tail' - with lovely swimming spots, reached from pine-scented paths. The island of Hydra, where I'd spent 2 years living in the 90s, is only 25 mins away by water taxi. (Map Wikipedia) "As good as it was to catch up on island gossip and sleep in the same bed for more than 3 nights at a stretch, I was soon itchy footed. My heart could not yet contmplate a return to Hydra, filled, as it is, with emotional memories of almost unutterable nostalgia. So after a week of leisurely lunches and long walks on pine-scented pathways, Plan B effortlessly hatched, although it consisted of no more than booking a ticket to Athens and a cabin on a one-way ferry journey south. FROM HYDRA TO ATHENS The journey to Athens only takes 2 hrs by the hydroplanes known as Dolphins, but with 6 hours to fill-in before the ferry departed, I trundled my luggage to the Piraeus train station, bought a return ticket and made for the elegant leafy streets of Kolonaki behind the parliament square, to revisit my favourite of Athen's many excellent museums, the Benaki, with its exceptional collections of ancient textiles and jewllery. above 7 pics: The finest extant examples of embroidery from the Dodecanese islands, where I was heading towards, are on display at the Benaki Museum. Breathtaking gold jewllery too. Athens used to be a maddening city. Like Greece itself, it invoked a love-hate reaction which seemed to join us 'ex-pats' together in a shared predicament, as if we were somehow not here of our own volition. It was the place we loved, and loved to hate. We didn't want to be anywhere else, and this morning, Athens was absolutely where I wanted to be, and the Benaki's beautiful terrace restaurant was the perfect place to glimpse Athens' ladies who lunch. By 2.30 pm I was back, boarding the ferry, and with a timeliness that perhaps in Greece only happens at sea, pulled out of port at precisely 3pm, the small brown smudge of Athenian air above the hill crowned by the improbably tiny Acropolis, receding slowly from view. SAILING TO KASTELLORIZO Once aboard, I was in a visible minority, the majority returning home to islands whose legendary names are the stuff of history. Inured to the natural beauty passing by outside, most settled into TV lounges for the long hours ahead, so I made for the linen-draped tables of the smallest restaurant on board, hoping this would be the quietest corner to idle before an early retreat. Although the eatery was about to close before re-opening for dinner at 7, the waiter generously indulged me a leisurely couple of hours to savour seafood risotto, a full-bodied Mani red, as sturdy as a Pugliese primitivo , and kindled our conversation by endlessly replenishing the crusty bread and peppery green olive oil. I love tucking into bed aboard trains and boats. I even look forward to the shuddering night halts, and distant voices outside or below, as passengers and goods are shunted on and off the platform or the gangplank. To be honest, even the word 'gangplank' makes me excited at the thought of a journey ... so between naps in my comfy cabin, I was usually on deck to watch the nocturnal comings and goings as we docked into one Dodecanese island after another ... Kos, Kalymnos, Leros, Patmos, Lipsi, Symi, Karpathos ... each name for me now, framed by the dark outline of its port, with shapes to be filled in one day. I even enjoyed the pre-dawn breakfast of too strong coffee and an oily tiropata , a triangle of feta cheese baked within layers of filo pasty hardened beneath all-night cafeteria lights, and now served listlessly by bleary-eyed waiters patiently attending to young mothers who needed bottles warmed. On the upper deck, I propped my feet against the rails and waited for Dawn's rosy fingers to extend across the churning wash and illuminate the scrubby silhouettes which hove in and out of view as we made our way to the South Eastern extremity of the Greek nation. Above 4 pics: (1)The Dolphin pulling into the port of Ermioni at 7am on Day1. (2)The ferry from Piraeus to the islands. (3) and (4) best restaurant and cabin accommodation at the end of the Dodecanese archipelago, and finally disembarking 1pm on Day 2 at Kastellorizo . (map Wikipedia) ARRVING AT KASTELLORIZO Anyone left on board after Rhodes, the penultimate stop before our final destination, was disembarking at Kastellorizo, the smallest of the Dodecanese islands and the farthest east. On board now for almost 24 hours, we've travelled 570 Km southeast from Athens. There's a feverishness for land, and immediately the gangplank clanks open the few remaining passengers are quickly absorbed into the waiting crowd, which thins rapidly to be replaced by those gathering for the return journey. I'd booked ahead for 3 nights and was met by my host at the boat. A man of few words, he hasn't offered to help with my luggage and I hurry to keep up as we wind in-between people sipping frappes at outdoor café tables, the narrow quayside never intended for anything wider than a heavily-laden donkey. After a few minutes, a small village square, the Plateia Ethelondon , opens out, along whose sides are a small supermarket, laudromat, public bathrooms, iron benches positioned to keep an eye on practically everything in the port, and a boat ticket office advertising reduced opening hours, and reduced boat departures. A good month after the end of the tourist season, many shops are already closed, Athenians packing up their summer houses, and the daily ferries were pared back to twice weekly. Everything on the port was miniaturised by a massive, dark cliff face already blocking the sun, and bearing a giant Greek flag painted upon its limestone walls. Kastellorizo certainly seemed more than a little foreboding, but something about the paintbox colours of the tall, narrow houses with their distinctive wooden balconies still catching the sun farther along the port made me ask if my room was available for a week. Of course it was . So that was it then. I had a week to explore Kastellorizo. 4 photos: (1) Kastellorizo port lies in the shadow of a foreboding cliff face. It's only by late morning that the port is illuminated (2) the Greek flag adorns the cliff face which dominates the town (3) The Palace of the Hospitaller Knights of Rhodes, 1306, is generally considered to give its name to the island - meaning 'red castle' - although there are other explanations (4) The crennellated walls of the red castle. The 24/7 presence of the Greek navy vessel in the foreground is a constant reminder of the tensions with Turkey, just 5 km away. What you can't see here is the military installation over the ridge, where soldiers and equipment are stationed ready to spring into action at the slightest provocation. My room was reached by a steep climb up a creaking narrow staircase to the top floor of a restored stone building, with spectacular views to the cliffs and port. Every hard surface was painted in glossy blue enamels, with white, hand-made lace covering the bed and softening the edges of the turquoise window sashes. A time-worn rug of old rose colours made it snug. It was pretty and Spartan at once - nothing superfluous and neat as a pin . Placing the ceramic jug I'd bought at the Benaki Museum giftshop on a lacy doily, I went off in search of lunch and flowers. Above 4 pics: (1) the port's narrow quayside bounded by buildings that served as warehouses in the island's late C.19th heyday when it served as a shipping emporium between Anatolia, Egypt and Rhodes. (2 and 3) cobblestoned alleys get very slippery with the salty a lead to my guest house, most houses deserted now for the winter (4) Octopus salad - delicious until one sees an octopus actually being clobbered to death It's easy for lunch to become dinner at this time of the year when days darken by 5.30pm, and my desire to fit as much as possible into each day seemed at odds with the incredibly relaxed atmosphere which pervaded the small village. Late Autumnal sun, gentle and brief, telescoped any desire to swim into a 3-hour window from midday. On a port still shadowed by 10am, and the choice of tavernas narrowing daily as one after another drew shutters and boarded up the doors ‘til Easter, breakfast is late and leisurely before a walk to the end of the port. Ducking beneath a fence and scrabbling over rocks to reach the spot where the locals dip, the cool, clear water quickly deepens to sapphire blue, barely fringed by shallows, and suddenly, eerily dark when the sun slips behind a cloud. Sunbathing is a feat of endurance amongst these rocks, squirming for comfort and warmth as the sun makes its way over the dark hills behind the port. Eventually I feel faintly ridiculous sitting alone on a barely-beach, eeking out the last of the day already at 3pm, and wander back for another coffee before darkness quickly falls and the soldiers who maintain a 24/7 presence over the ridge come and take all the tables. There are so many reminders that Turkey sits just 2 km away and stares back at Kastellorizo over visibly militarised waters. (above) Although summer tourists will hire boats to take them to blue grottoes and other pretty turquoise bays, the locals dip at the end of the port, near a white building which served as a warehouse for sponges, one of the island's lucrative industries. THE KASTELLORIZANS It is no exaggeration to say that the islanders are not an overly friendly lot. Exhausted by the fag end of summer, money made to last the winter and, for those who run boutiques, a long stint in Bali or Thailand ahead to replenish stock for the next season, they’re not especially conversational. No one cares where I’m from. I remember this self-isolation from my 2 years on Hydra. Tourists come, spend, go. Those who show signs of lingering must prove themselves with weeks, if not months, of self-sufficient presence before anyone permanent will even register one’s existence. With any luck, an invitation to Paska , Greek Easter, several months ahead, might be the reward for months of politely-nodding persistence. Eventually this changes, and one can spend years living in a community, possibly as part of it, but often not, on first name terms with people whose surnames will never be known, defined instead by their occupation - 'Dmitri the donkey man' … people who will do anything for you – eventually. It is this very internal cohesiveness which defines islanders. Identity remains, regardless of rulers - and none more so than Kastellorizo, whose fortunes have swung wildly since Dorian times, (C.5th BC), when it was first called by its formal name 'Megisti'. Centuries of colonisation and domination by Ottomans, Franks, Italians, even the Knights Hospitaller in the C1.4th, who had made Rhodes their seat of power, have forged a fiercely Kastellorizo-centric mindset. By the time I arrived, foreigners had all but gone, if we don't count the rather well-dressed Syrian refugees camping in the forests. I was content to set off on day-long walks alone, picking up a picnic of cheese pie and cinnamon cookies from the only bakery still open, and carrying water, as there was absolutely nothing available beyond the thin crescent of the port. It was a week of unlonely solitude, but the desire for conversation can either be a bonus or a burden when travelling alone. Perhaps it was no coincidence that I was to meet two of the island's more unusual residents. THE SCULPTOR Swimming beyond my comfort zone on a sunny day when the depths seemed less threatening, a tall, wiry-limbed man with long grey beard waved lazily from the shore where he stood at the arched doorway of a white-washed building not much taller than himself. I waved back and swam to the steps where he stood. "Would you like a coffee?" The small stone, barrel-vaulted building at the far entrance to the port had been a warehouse when Kastellorizo was a thriving emporium at the shipping crossroads of Anatolia, Egypt and Rhodes, and for the last 40 summers this w ild-haired character had set about sculpting the surrounding terrain into a sort of Socratic garden. Reclusive and scathing of the locals, he reluctantly came into port for supplies, barefoot and biblical-looking, and spent most of his time excavating his damp abode by lantern light, carving the stony outcrops within into an enduring work of art. That this Spartan bedsit, the kind where every object has a little nail upon which to hang, has claimed more than half a lifetime of summers endeared him to me enormously, and over coffees made on a primus stove propped up with books, I learnt that his native land was another harsh and rugged region - hills of Thessaly, at the other end of the nation. I wondered what he did there all winter. above: Th artist who has spent his last 40 summers on Kastellorizo, sculpting the rocky surrounds of his studio into a kind of Socratic garden, Alexandros Zagoras hails from Thessaly in the far north of the Greek mainland THE PUZZLE INVENTOR I met a puzzle-inventor who was searching for, and mapping, ancient sites on the island. Glad of the company, he invited me to accompany him on energetic walks across scrubby westward-facing hills. He showed me wine presses carved into limestone outcrops, Mycenean walls, barely documented - who thought their civilisation stretched so far south?, rock-cut tombs, even. Above 5 pics : (1) The puzzle inventor who sends his spare time discovering and mapping ancient ruins and sites (2) a wine press carved into limestone uses gravity to do the decanting (3) limestone wine press (4) Mycenean ruins (5) rock-cut tombs KASTELLORIZO'S FORTUNES Kastellorizo's prosperity finally came to a dramatic end when an Allied ammunitions site exploded in 1944 destroying almost half the island's houses, which had numbered around 10,000 in 1900. Thus, the final blow to an already dwindling population forced the majority into a diaspora whose identity remains forged amongst this harsh landscape, and now counts Perth and Sydney as major centres of 'Kazzie' culture. Those that remain "wouldn't live anywhere else". Above: You'll have to pass Maria's house on the Plataeia Ethelondon to reach the only bakery open during the off-season. A vigorous sweeper of public spaces, she laments the 'nuisance' of refugees who don't bother with the rubbish bins And the children of those that left are starting to return. Many of the stone ruins that cover the hillside above the C.18th Ottoman mosque (now a museum), which sits on the promontory opposite Alex's studio across the bay, display the names of new owners. Defiantly spray-painted to deter the likes of holiday-makers heading for the real estate brokers, they promise, or threaten, years of expensive restoration, for stone masonry is seasonal work requiring teams of craftsmen and labourers, often sourced from the Turkish coastal towns where many islanders shop for cheaper groceries and produce. I'll admit that the lure of restoring a ruin to life here is a bit irresistible. Kastllorizo's architecture, defined by tall, slender 2 or 3-storey homes with wooden balconies are a decorator's dream of riotous colours, their striking individuality almost a metaphor for the islanders themselves. Above : (1) ruinous properties sold to younger generations of 'Kazzie' families (2+) the undeniable pleasure of contemplating a colour scheme for your new island holiday home. On Sunday morning I set off for the Church of St Constantine and Helena in the slightly elevated suburb of Horafia. Along the way, small brass cups of smoking frankincense set on walls waft fragrant tendrils laced with the zing of fresh basil, a contrast to the church interior, all waxy polish and smelling of disuse. No one was particularly surprised as I took a seat in the high stalls which lined the sides of the gilded interior, women to the left, men to the right, and followed their actions of standing and sitting as the priest went through his sung liturgy. The women numbered less than ten and stayed for the entire service, whilst the few men turned up towards the end of the service, paid their respects at the icons whom most leant to kiss, and left. Two male singers of fine voice sang back and forth in the dramatic way of Orthodox services, and happily received my compliments when we found ourselves breakfasting together in the port later, the priest now enjoying a cigarette and thoroughly preoccupied with his daughter and grandchildren. Above: Sunday mornings make for a fragrant time to wander the streets of Kastellorizo as smoking frankincense and springs of basil scent the pathways. HORAFIA and MANDRAKI BAY Horafia, and its small adjoining port of Mandraki, offer another dimension to living on Kastellorizo. Majestic views across the languid stretch of water separating Greece from its nemesis, Turkey, are wistfully shadowed in the Autumn afternoon. The water laps so quietly at the sandy shore that I can just make out the evening call to prayer from the mosque on the mainland. Above; with the shires of turkey sunlit in the distance, Horafia and its mooring area of Mandraki Bay offer a more languid ambience than the commercial centre of the port. Here, where cultures meet, and at times have coalesced, the panorama of a vast history is pulled into focus. How much this tiny island, no more than 11 sq.km in area, has suffered, prospered, laboured and sparkled, with at least two and a half thousand years of habitation. That it now draws its far-flung families back to retrace family histories seems only natural - indeed I have come here precisely because the only friend I'm still in contact with since primary school has spoken its name since childhood. Her mother taught me to crochet. I am sure I will return. Greece has that way - even when one is not of its shores. The only cemetery at the water's edge near Horafia offers a poignant snapshot into the island's recent history. Anna travelled to Greece for the entire month of November in 2019, staying for 7 nights on Kastellorizo, before taking a ferry to Rhodes, 143 km north. This is my final vista of Kastellorizo, with the cupolas of St Constantine and Helena on the distant left, the very steep path to the ridge in the top right corner, and the rocky terrain with the ancient winepresses over the edge of that ridge. My guest house is located to the right of this picture, in the centre of the port, and the swimming spot is to the far right, whilst the old mosque is to the far left. The castle dominates the town just out of picture to the lefthand side forground. All photos in this story are Copyright, by the author, except for the maps (Wikipedia) and the group photos taken on the Sea to Sahara tour in Morocco. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the story - do please share! and now you leave me a comment below (just keep scrolling down a bit ) - I'd love to hear from you - and I'll be sure to get back to you, Cheerio Anna
Living in Sri Lanka - foraging in lockdown
For the last ten months I’ve been living on a skinny isthmus of land that separates the Negombo Lagoon from the Laccadive Sea on the southwestern edge of Sri Lanka. The warm sea currents ebb and flow refreshing the vast Arie Lagoon, whose placid, watery fields yield crabs so splendid that even in Singapore's seafood restaurants they're known as 'Ceylon Crab'. With its densley-populated canals, fishing communities and many beachside hotels, Negombo and its larger Gampha district have endured more and longer lockdowns than most other parts of the island these last 15 months. Out here on the edges of the lagoon, literally 'fringe dwellers', we cling to the mangrove-edged shores, where harvesting lagoon or sea is the main economic activity. It has no postcode, and no street name. 'Thalahena' says it all. Thalahena, Negombo, Sri Lanka. Thalahenites survive the stringently-enforced lockdowns knowing they can sustain themselves with seafood, the bartered produce of household gardens and subsidised staples of rice and lentils.
But what happens when a ship whose leaky containers catch fire, spilling nitric acid into the sea just beyond the port it was waiting to enter? Image: Al Jazeera: The fire broke out while the Singapore-flagged MV X-Press Pearl was anchored about 9.5 nautical miles (18 kilometres) northwest of the capital, Colombo [Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP] Within days of the MS Pearl raging uncontrollably with oil-fed flames just offshore from here, fishing was banned for a distance of 8o km along the coast, and suddenly there wasn't a boat to be seen on the lagoon either. Deprived of work, my neighbours mend their nets, attend to home improvements and spend uncountable hours chatting, waiting for the monsoon to swoop in, when they can justifiably do even less. Antsy adolescents turn up their awful amplifiers, and little girls in pleated frocks play hopscotch in our lane, thankfully too narrow for vehicles to enter. Now entering our second month of lockdown, I don’t step beyond my gates, save for the bread man to whose fluffy sweet wares I’ve finally succumbed as my food stores diminish. A sweet bun pumped with raspberry-coloured glug arrives oven-warm in a singing tuktuk at the irresistible hour of 3 pm. It’s tempting to buy two. His 6am counterpart brings giant slices of pre-toasted bread and flaky curried vegetable pastries. If I feasted on nothing else but bakery products all day I’d spend less than a dollar, and, yes, undoubtedly sport the pot belly that most people here - man, woman and many children – carry about unselfconsciously. Vegetables have become pricey. Fatal floods destroyed market gardens upcountry in a pre-monsoon deluge two weeks ago. It seems that the Teadrop Isle can't take a trick at the moment. The delicious curry aromas that used to waft into my garden when I first moved here two months ago have ceased, and I’m guessing that in the absence of fresh fish and affordable vegetables, seasonal yams and jackfruit are filling up families. Unfortunately, I’ve not yet acquired the taste for a nice starchy tuber curry, so when Saranga calls on Saturday morning to say the supermarkets have re-opened , we're on our way immediately - I'm imagining long queues and my favourite brown bread already disappeared. Saranga is my tuk tuk driver. I say 'mine', because he's always on the spot, helps me avoid dud fruit and vegetables, and will trundle through a rainstorm to deliver a new battery for my mouse.
These days, any travel is exciting. Four kilometres towards the mouth of the inlet, and the famous fish markets by the bridge, normally a thronging, smelly hub of commerce, are abandoned. Image (A.K.): Negombo fish markets, 19 June We navigate the zig zag of security barriers and I flip open my passport for an officer who may have been in school last week. Already he’s acquired the contrappost o stance that accompanies the insouciance I associate with ill-fitting khaki uniforms anywhere.
It's eerily quiet. A few trucks sell pineapples and papaya. The supermarket is closed. And the next one. All of them. So much for urban rumours. "Let's try the Tamils?" I suggest, remembering a dark, cluttered shop where it takes two people to ring through the purchases - one to read the label, the other to punch in the keys. There's a small queue, no sanitiser, and a curiosity towards me that wearing a mask seems to facilitate with less covertness than usual. The spherical little lady in front of me, barefoot but well dressed with flared frock and a dipping petticoat whose broderie anglaise edging suddenly reminds me of a school sewing project, crinkles her eyes in friendly acknowledgement. I love these guys. Sacks are shouldered from their footpath delivery into a backroom where young men operating heat-sealing machines busily re-pack everything from chia seeds to dates into small, unlabelled bags piled up on messy shelves.
Grains, spices, cornflakes, OJ and aforementioned seeds and dried fruits - a month's worth for around 10,000 rupees (reality check: a housekeeper working 8 hrs /day, Monday-Saturday earns 25,000 - 40,000 rupees)
Should you ever need to find them, just ask for the church of St Sebastian (the one that suffered the brunt of the Easter Sunday bombings two years ago), with this shiny shrine pointing the way.
On the way out I'm pinched on the back by the petticoat lady who grins when I whip around to see what the heck. Around the corner, the only organic fruit vendor I know of keeps a low profile. The gate's locked. He only has what he has. There might be pineapples in abundance one day, and boxes of straw-packed eggs the next. But I come to see him for the best chili paste and chili-with-Maldive-fish sambal I've ever tasted. It's in another home-packed bag, and through the door I see his wife and daughter smoothing out gilded foil on cardboard cake plate circles ... Tamil home industry at work again.
Today he has dragon fruit and avocadoes. Hmm, could be a painting too. And the man in the truck across the road has a great deal on papaya ... 50 rupees a kilo (that's 30c). Saranga knocks them all for a strong hollow sound and chooses a good one as big as a soccer ball. We're doing well here. Now unless you have need to visit a pharmacy in Sri Lanka, chances are you'll never know the riches they can offer. Choose one close to a fancy private hospital, and it's surprising what's inside. Slipping past the prescription queue inside the aptly-named 'Unique Pharmacy', I make straight for the till, behind which sits a low display stand piled with a random assortment of ridiculously expensive imported delicacies. Older Sri Lankans remember the days when bringing back anything imported was enough to guarantee Christmas cards for life; when lipstick was a luxury and foreign labels the bee’s knees. The thrill of finding an industrial-sized jar of Polski ogorki cannot be over-estimated, but the true gold? Real pesto Genovese sauce. OMG. I’ve suddenly become a hoarder. That evening my new landlord drops in – did I tell you I’ve moved? - apologising that he couldn’t bring a bottle of wine, but would the brandy do? ”All the bloody liquor stores have been closed for weeks.” “Oh well, maybe that’s not such a bad thing for a little while?”, I venture. “Yes, yes, but all my friends are saying our wives are looking like witches” he laments. I’m mentally scanning these two parameters for cause and effect, until he says, “you know, the beauty parlours are also closed for too long”. I casually reach to smooth down the fringe that I cut by myself last month, which hasn’t done at all well with the humidity. “Let me know what I can bring next time – did you hear? The lockdown’s been extended”. FOLLOW Anna on Facebook and Instagram
"Gdziekolwiek, byle upalnie" : polsko-australijskie historie powojenne
A story of Polish postwar-emigration: a collaboration between Anna Kwiecinska and a genealogist based in Crakow, the hometown of my father, Zbigniew Tadeuscz Kwiecinski. Published today, June 2, on the 99th anniversary of his birth in Poland, the country he fled in 1949 to make a new life in Australia. This article appears today in Poland's newsportal ONET Here's the original English version Wielu jest takich polskich bohaterów, którzy w wyniku zawieruchy II wojny światowej emigrowali – dla wielu ta emigracja była przymusem. Jednym z nich był Zbigniew Tadeusz Kwieciński, wnuk Macieja Kwiecińskiego zasłużonego polskiego lekarza. Jak wyglądała jego droga do Australii i budowanie nowego domu po drugiej stronie kuli ziemskiej, o miłości, rodzinie, długim cieniu przeszłości – opowiada jego córka – Anna Kwiecińska. Urodzony w Krakowie, tato miał zaledwie 17 lat, kiedy został zmobilizowany do Wojska Polskiego w sierpniu 1939 r. Początkowo służył w jednostce obserwacyjnej pułku artylerii przeciwlotniczej, ale w listopadzie 1939 roku został zaprzysiężony, jako członek Polskiego Państwa Podziemnego. Zbigniew służył wówczas głównie w jednostkach wywiadowczych, gdzie szczególnie cenna była jego doskonała znajomość języka niemieckiego. W randze kapitana został w 1944 roku aresztowany przez Niemców i wysłany do obozu jenieckiego w Niemczech, gdzie w następnym roku został uwolniony przez aliantów. W obozie dla przesiedleńców w Ingolstadt poznał Węgierkę, z którą miał wyemigrować do Australii w 1949 roku. Kiedy spotkałam ją wiele lat później, w Perth - Zachodniej Australii, przypomniała sobie pierwsze słowa taty, które wypowiedział jej we wspólnym tańcu: „Jeszcze tego nie wiesz, ale zostaniesz moją żoną”. Korzenie taty sięgały Bielska Białej, a tamtejsze długie, mroźne zimy były powodem, dla którego oświadczył: „gdziekolwiek, byle upalnie” - gdy został poproszony o wskazanie preferowanego kraju do repatriacji powojennej. Gdyby nie jego niecierpliwość, by zejść ze statku z Neapolu w chwili, gdy po raz pierwszy zacumował w Australii, mogłabym dorastać w Melbourne (jeszcze przez kilka tygodni żeglugi dalej na wschód). Jak się okazało, Fremantle (miasto portowe w zachodniej Australii) był tam, gdzie on i Elly wysiedli i natychmiast wsiedli do pociągu w głąb lądu, aby spędzić kilka następnych lat w kolejnym tymczasowym hostelu, tym razem na odludziu w Zachodniej Australii, gdzie Tata po raz kolejny wyróżniał się swoimi umiejętnościami językowymi. Dad's Application to seek asylum in Australia Australijczycy z Zachodu nazywają siebie „sandgropers” - kochamy plażę! Wielu (większość) jego współczesnych mu Polaków, a czasem ich dzieci - moje pokolenie - zawsze uważało, że Polska jest naprawdę domem, ale tata zawsze był dumny, nazywając siebie „Sandgroperem”, ponieważ całym sercem uczynił Australię swoim domem – wraz z moją matką, dziewczyną z Perth - której dziedzictwo w Australii Zachodniej sięga czasów przybycia pierwszych brytyjskich osadników w latach dwudziestych XIX wieku. The Anna Salen, Naples - Australia ... the ship that Dad and Ellie travelled on from Europe. It's been suggesed that I was named after a ship, but actually I remained unnamed for a fortnight before my mother's aunt suggested 'Anna' (after the ballerina, and yes, I went to ballet lessons from 3 years of age) Dziś, po kilku podróżach, które odbyłam z Tatą do Polski, w połączeniu z nostalgią moich dorosłych lat, mogę tylko zacząć wyobrażać sobie ogromny wysiłek, który zawładnął jego życiem wewnętrznym, jakim było stłumienie przeszłości, aby zapewnić przyszłość rodzinie. w 1945 roku - grzechotał w naszej szufladzie ze sztućcami, jego wojskowy beret w szafce i tajemniczy, wepchnięty z tyłu jego szafy, ciężki skórzany, wojskowy płaszcz. Mój tata niewiele mówił o wojnie. Polish ex-servicemen in Tasmania, 1948 Ciągły głód, „tajne misje” we Lwowie, jego matka zmarła z powodu wylewu krwi do mózgu zaledwie kilka dni po tym, jak była świadkiem rozstrzeliwania żydowskich sąsiadów na ulicy pod jej oknem w Krakowie... te kilka obrazów pozostało w mojej wyobraźni, aby wypełnić wiele luk a propos ostatnich lat taty w Polsce podczas drugiej wojny światowej. Dad with his in-laws, my grandparents: Malcolm &Thelma Jones, Auntie Maidie and Mum. My parents met at a repertory theatre - Mum was a script editor, and Dad did the make-up! Zdjęć było kilka. Ponadto pamiątki: widelec armii amerykańskiej - kwestia regulacyjna dla wyzwolonych z obozów jenieckich To były jedyne trzy obiekty z „przeszłości taty”. Tło, z którego nic nie zostało, nawet krewni. Zawsze wdzięczny, że był ojcem dwóch córek, a nie synów, „bo dziewczyny nigdy nie będą musiały iść na wojnę”. Był jednak staroświecki w kwestii dyscypliny, w myśl, której „dzieci i ryby głosu nie mają”. Maszerowałam korytarzem do łóżka - „raz, dwa, trzy, cztery” – tato często kołysał moją siostrę i mnie do snu, nucąc polskie pieśni partyzanckie lub ten wojenny klasyk Marleny Dietrich „Lili Marleen” po niemiecku, którym jak już wiadomo, mówił doskonale. Jeśli mama spała zbyt długo w szkolne poranki, zwykle tato nakazywał mi „wskrzeszać ją do działania” wersją Reverie na trąbkę, a nasze gnuśne zachowanie było potępiane słowami: „Obudź się, Twój kraj cię potrzebuje!”. „Patrzę na to teraz i zdaję sobie sprawę, jaka maleńka byłaś”, mówi mama, unosząc plisowaną bawełnianą sukienkę, która była moim pierwszym mundurem Brownie [juniorki w Girl Guides]. „Wydawałaś się taką dużą dziewczyną”. Zazwyczaj w każdą sobotę po południu dochodziło do bójki, aby dostać się do Brownie na czas. Po porannych lekcjach mowy i gry na fortepianie z mamą, czasami towarzyszyłam tacie w drodze do „europejskiego rzeźnika”, żeby kupić polskie ogórki, śmierdzące sery, pomarszczone kiełbaski i ciemny, gęsty chleb. Przed spotkaniem Brownie, tato zawsze musiał dokładnie sprawdzić mój mundur. Polerowany od krawata, błyszczący pasek, niezmiennie na nowo układał mi beret. Ze stanowczością i zręcznością sierżanta, część mojego munduru, która najmniej mi się podobała, została przesunięta z niepewnego położenia z tyłu mojej głowy na właściwe miejsce - czyli dokładnie 1 cal nad moimi oczami. Mały żołnierz był wreszcie w pełni przygotowany do akcji. W międzyczasie tata spędził wiele sobotnich popołudni w domu, słuchając w radio meczy piłki nożnej i malując metalowe tablice, których słowa w posrebrzanej płaskorzeźbie upamiętniają żołnierzy Australii Zachodniej zabitych lub zaginionych podczas pierwszej wojny światowej. Każda tablica została umieszczona u podnóża wysokiego drzewa eukaliptusowego wyścielającego kilometry „Alei Honoru” we wspaniałym Parku Królewskim na Górze Elizy w Perth. Chociaż tata ostatecznie przewodniczył komitetowi RSL [Returned Services League – organizacja wspierającą osoby, które służyły lub służą w Siłach Obronnych Austrlii] w Sub-Branch Highgate zarządzającym Aleją Honoru, ta historia dzieje się dużo wcześniej. Dla niego utrwalanie i przechowywanie tych przejmujących zapisów, świadczących o tysiącach ludzi, którzy wypłynęli, by walczyć o wolność, było sposobem na okazanie wdzięczności krajowi, który przyjął go na swoje łono w 1949 roku. Jednak tablice te wymagały przemalowywania z taką częstotliwością, że nawet, jako praca łącząca pobudki serca z obowiązkami obywatelskimi, stała się ciężarem dla starzejącego się mężczyzny. Pomocnicy taty też nie stawali się młodsi, podobnie jak ich kolana. Coraz więcej tabliczek było przywożonych do domu do samodzielnego naprawienia. Kiedy ja dołączałam do malowania liter na srebrno po tym, jak tata skończył je czyścić drucianą szczotką i pokrywał błyszczącą czarną emalią, szybko okazało się, że małe, zwinniejsze palce mogą z łatwością wykonywać tę pracę. I tak właśnie, po długich konsultacjach, Girl Guides w Australii Zachodniej połączyło się z RSL, aby zezwolić na usługi Brownies w utrzymaniu tego miejsca publicznej pamięci, a nasz czas został doceniony poprzez przyznanie upragnionej „Odznaki za służbę”. Nie jestem pewna, kiedy ta wyjątkowa symbioza ustała, ale ostatecznie Kapitan Harms przeszła na emeryturę, a ja opuściłem Girl Guides. Tata pozostał niezwykle aktywny w RSL przez 50 lat członkostwa, podczas gdy mniej więcej w tym czasie założył Mensę w Zachodniej Australii - ale to już inna historia! Archival images courtesy of Victoria Collections: Polish Museums and Archives in Australia Exhibitions on Polish heroes in the Western Australian Parliament in Perth - 6-15 November 2018 - News - Institute of National Remembrance ipn.gov.pl Brief History of Poland - Institute of National Remembrance ipn.gov.pl FOLLOW Anna on Facebook and Instagram
YALA! Sahara with the 3 Mohammeds
Dipping my toes into Saharan sands on my Very Personal Camel Trek gave me a week of Saharan Dreaming at a time when it was already too hot to safely contemplate a longer trek, but all I wanted was more . So this 2nd trip is a reconnaissance in preparation for my next, longer walking trek with camels. Inshahallah - 'if God wills it'. That's what Moslems say anytime you mention something that takes place in the future - be it tomorrow, or the next life. Thank you for reading and watching! Subscribe to my Spice Voyager News for the next instalment and more stories If you're interested to know more about my next tours to Morocco in 2022 FOLLOW Anna on Facebook and Instagram
Negombo's Famous Ceylon Crabs
With so many of Sri Lanka's premium mud crabs exported, I'm up early to find some choice specimens for my Negombo Coconut Crab Curry. Despite the hefty cost, one of the most sought-after dining experiences in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, is 'The Ministry of Crab', located in the humming dining hub that is the Old Dutch Hospital. Sri Lankan crab curry is a real delicacy, and along with 'hoppers', a signature dish of the Teardrop Isle. In pre-Covid times, optimistic diners lined up every night hoping for a cancellation to join the those draped with huge linen napkins tucking into enormous crustacea drawn just hours before from the island's lagoons and seas. I've been wanting to prepare crab dishes since I arrived to stay in Negombo 5 months ago, but the local fish markets aren't the best place to go. Sri Lanka's crabs now account for over 10% of their seafood exports, with the very best despatched to Europe and South East Asia - in Singapore it's even called 'Sri Lankan Chilli Crab' - so today I'm trying a different tack. After several months of living on edge of the lagoon, watching fishermen quietly casting nets into powder-grey waters - and at night, rather eerily, those without a boat wading through mangrove shallows with a torch seeking smaller prey - the cooling easterly breeze known in Catholic Negombo as 'the Christmas Wind', finally picks up, heralding a prime time for me to go in search of premium lagoon crabs. Above: I'm staying on the narrow strip of land, on the Western side of the Negombo Lagoon Dawn and dusk are the best times to collect crabs, but, so they say, not at full moon. Wisdom or anecdote? Many believe that crabs moult during the full moon, but this belief probably arises from the fact that the moulting cycle of a market-sized crab is about 30 days and can seem to coincide with lunar cycles, but for younger crabs, where the cycle is 12-15 days, it obviously doesn't hold true. Still, I'm looking forward to the next full moon to test out this age-old anecdote and I'll let you know. Meanwhile, standing astern on his narrow-hulled katamaran, Kumar, my boatman, as thin as his oar, silently punts into my watery garden, his angular form like a stencil against the dawn sky. An imperative chorus cuts the stillness. Thousands of crows are flocking southwards to spend the daylight hours - from, and to where, exactly, I can't discover - but their presence means it's just after 6 am ... I awoke a half hour earlier to the daily mass, broadcast from the nearby church of Santa Barbara. Such are the daily punctuation marks of life on this lagoon. Carl, a retired airport sniffer dog whom I look after, and I perch on boards - I'm happy that this is a two-hulled boat, many have just a single skinny hull). Silence hangs easily between us as mangroved shores recede. Dawn-silvered water ripples rhythmically behind us as we pass the jealously-guarded fishing territories of those lucky enough to have secured the rights to set up small crab hotels, fish cages about a metre square, resting on the lagoon floor. It's languid and lovely, water and air the same colour, misting from view the built-up side of the lagoon where one arrives at Bandaranaike International Airport. Contentedly surrounded by nature - I could happily be punted to the mouth of the lagoon and back - a poignant film moment from 'Siddhartha', Hermann Hesse's allegory of the Buddha, flickers into memory (so I'm paraphrasing ) ... " What can you do Siddhartha?" asks a boat owner of the young man seeking work on the shores of a river in India. "Can you catch fish ?" "No, Sir" "Can you paddle a boat?" "No, Sir" " ... well, what can you do ?" " I can wait". Reality meets reverie as the crab farmer I've arranged to meet punts into view. Following, we eventually meet at his territory, and he greets me, palms together. "Ayubowan". Long life. Heaving up the heavy cages, there's a clattering scramble inside to reveal 10 large black mangrove crabs or Scylla serratas. Although they seem to have plenty of room, this is maximum occupancy, as they'll cannibalise one another if they're not kept well fed. These fellows have been fattened over the last three months on a twice-daily diet of bivalves and fish, with an extra-big meal in the evening to keep them satisfied overnight. Now at about 500 gm each they're soon ready for his main buyer in Singapore. Choosing two frisky (that means they're healthy) specimens, darkly mottled greenish black creatures with healthily marbled legs, he deftly tucks in their claws - called chelipeds (love that word!) - ties them up with strips of cotton cloth, and hands them across to Kumar, while I pass over 2400 Sri Lankan rupees (about AuD$18) to his little boy. We'd already agreed the price, and it's a fair one. Bidding farewell, I call back to ask how often he eats crab. "Too expensive" he says, laughing. At more than the cost of a housekeeper's daily wage, a crab in the cage is certainly worth more than one on the plate. Ready to Cook? . FOLLOW Anna on Facebook and Instagram
Negombo Coconut Crab Curry - Spice Voyager Recipe #3
Sri Lankan Crab Curry, a signature seafood dish from the shores of the Negombo Lagoon cooked at home with Sri Lanka's premium cinnamon - Cinnamon Alba A delicately-spiced, lightly-textured curry with an exceptional aroma - preparing this with fresh spices is a joy in itself! ANNA'S TIP I'm not using curry powder in this recipe. Home cooking often uses pure spices ground freshly so that the the flavour can be controlled to really highlight the flavours of the meat. The delicately-flavoured crab meat is complemented here with fresh curry leaves and cinnamon, see my blog: The Spice That Put Sri Lanka On The Map For this recipe I am using the very highest grade of cinnamon available in the cinnamon market anywhere. It’s called ‘Cinnamon Alba’ for the pale colour of the thin quills whose immediate sweetness is followed by a bright tang without any bitterness, the delicate texture and the gorgeous aroma. It’s such a cleansing flavour hit that a small piece is a very pleasant mouth freshener – remember Cinnamon Tic Tacs? … a piece of Cinnamon Alba is more tasty and no sugar, and True Ceylon Cinnamon has health benefits too, which Cassia cinnamons from Vietnam, China and Indonesia do not. True Ceylon Cinnamon is graded into qualities. 'Cinnamon Alba' shows densely-packed quills, yielding a sweet, pure flavour with outstanding aroma (top upper quill) Medium and poor qualities are coarser, darker and more fibrous, with less aroma and flavours that can be bitter. Below: cinnamon alba on the left shows its pedigree. ANNA'S TIP Buy your cinnamon as quills, reassuring yourself that when you grind or grate it for powder, your spice is the quality you paid for, and not a mix of who-knows-what. Where to get Cinnamon Alba NOW FOR THE CRAB CURRY Cooking time 37 minutes Here's what you’ll need for each person Prepare all the Ingredients before you start cooking, as this all happens very quickly! 1x 500 - 600 gm (in shell) crab per person - this will yield about 150 km of white meat (in the claws and the cavities of the 'purse' on the underside ), and about 50-60 gm of brown meat. I'm cooking a freshly caught lagoon mud crab. The Aromatic Spices : the 3 C’s Sri Lankan Cinnamon 3 cm broken into pieces. Use the best quality you can find Cloves - 5 whole Cardamom - 2 whole pods crushed All the curry flavourings Fresh ginger - 2 cm, peeled, sliced and finely chopped Garlic cloves - 4 large, finely chopped Pandanus leaf - 12 cm (optional – it enhances the aroma, barely affecting the flavour – although pandanus leaves that I use in Bali add a distinctive colour and flavour … so this is very regionally dependent) Red onion - ½ large onion, sliced into slivers Tomato - 1 large, chopped Curry Leaves - 35 fresh or dried, whole Red chilli powder - 1 very heaped teaspoon Turmeric powder - 1 level teaspoon Black pepper - 1 rounded teaspoon of freshly ground pepper Salt - half a level teaspoon Green chillies - 2 sliced diagonally, seeds left in Lime - 1quartered and de-seeded for garnish Vegetable oil of frying – 1 tablespoon Wok and stirring spoon, and a warmed serving dish Prepare Your Crab with Kindness Crabs are best cooked immediately after killing, and o nce a crab dies if it’s not immediately cleaned then the crab is unfit for human consumption. So trying to do this as humanely as possible, the RSPCA recommends putting the crab in the freezer for 45 - 60 minutes so that it becomes slow and lethargic - and possibly desensitized. Don't freeze it completely. This is preferable to dropping it into boiling water, which apart from all the other considerations, causes the animal to contract with stress and toughens the the meat. You can prepare the crab pieces in various ways, but for this recipe : Lay the crab on its back and with a tea towel beneath it or the board, for traction, and twist off the front black-tipped claws - this is where most of the best meat is. Now put the crab on its back with the eyes towards you and, using both hands, push up the six legs. Press your two thumbs either side of the eyes and push away the triangular ‘purse’ or 'apron' (that is the central body part). Male or female crab? On a female crab (which may have roe beneath this plate), the apron is oval shaped, and on a male it is triangular. Don't wash all the flavour out! You will now need to clean the crab by peeling off the back shell and discarding it. Use your fingers to pull off the feathery gills - called 'old man's fingers' - at either side which are just attached at the shell's edge (it is essential to remove these - they should not be eaten - very bitter). Clean out the remaining guts - or not - depending on your taste. The brown organs are strongly flavoured and may be to your taste. In any case, don't wash this shell too vigorously, or you'll loose all the tasty bits. You can cut the crab in half or quarters - for this recipe it's quartered. So, now using a heavy knife, cut the round purse into four with the legs attached. This exposes the white meat, which can be picked out. At this point you could freeze your crab prior to cooking it or cook it, but remember that cooking times are a little faster when you have an already cleaned crab Here's a very helpful video showing crab cleaning from the Sydney Fish Market - YouTube DON'T FORGET to crack the big claws with a mallet or crackers to allow all the cooking flavours to penetrate the meat, just before you start cooking. How to Cook Choose a wok which will allow you to give the crabs plenty of room to be tossed around Heat the oil in the wok on high heat. Fry the garlic and ginger 1 minute, stirring Add cloves, cinnamon and cardamom and cook for 2 minutes, stirring Add the pandanus leaf (optional) Add the curry leaves and fry for 2 minutes, stirring Add onions, stir for 30 seconds Add turmeric powder, stir for 30 seconds Add salt and chilli powder, stir for 30 seconds Add tomatoes, stir for 30 seconds Add the green chillies , stir for 30 seconds Add all of the crab and stir to cover the crab in all of the other ingredients Add 1 tablespoon water , place lid on wok and cook on ‘high’ for 15 minutes Remove from heat, stir thoroughly, reduce heat by ¼ Add 1 tablespoon water , stir and re-cover. Cook for a further 5 minutes, or until water starts to collect on the inside of the lid. Now reduce heat by another ¼, to half , re-cover and cook for a further 10 minutes. Add the coconut milk , stir, and cook without lid until desired gravy consistency. Turn entire contents into heated dish and serve immediately. How to serve ? This dish is traditionally served in Sri Lanka with a vegetable called ‘drumsticks’, or murunga , but sliced okra stir fried with a little garlic, is a delicious alternative. Some serve it with coriander or parsley leaves for a pop of colour, although I find neither flavour a pleasing addition. A squeeze of little lime is my choice, but really, the curry is good just the way it is. A bowl of rice? – I prefer the ‘heritage’ varieties of red rice, with their coarser, nutty flavour and very low GI (so you won’t feel hungry quickly, and much healthier and nutritious in many ways), and a salad. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoy this one! If you would like to receive my stories and postcards straight into your mailbox, please consider subscribing to my monthly newsetter. OTHER SPICE VOYAGER RECIPES and STORIES FROM SRI LANKA Negombo's Famous Ceylon Crabs Rajasthani Biryani Sri Lankan Spiced Fruit Cake The Spice That Put Sri Lanka On The Map - the truly fascinating story of Cinnamon FOLLOW Anna on Facebook and Instagram Postscript 5 July, 2021 ; https://wapo.st/2UrjnYA - from The Telegraph, reporting on Animal Rights.
The Spice That Put Sri Lanka on the Map
How did a small island between the Arabian sea and the Indian Ocean became the epicentre of a European battle for dominion of the costliest spice in the world? There's a spicy recipe at the end, so let me introduce its star ingredient ... WHO AM I? For three centuries the island of Ceylon was the epicentre of a global battle for domination of me, one of the most costly goods on the planet. Prized more highly than gold in the ancient world, I was one of the world's first-traded spices. I was first mentioned by the Greeks in a C.7th BC poem by Sappho; an Apollonian temple bears my name inscribed in a list of gifts, and the Roman emperor Nero, in an ostentatious display of contrition, spent several lifetimes of working men’s wages to scent the fires of his second wife’s funeral pyre with my revered perfume. My acquisition was an enterprise rivalling the labours of Hercules. Men were said to brave swamps ‘at the end of the world’, forge serpent-infested canyons and lure giant birds to gorge on chunks of oxen, only to have their massive nests tumble from insurmountable peaks when they returned to their mountaintop lairs, fat and heavy. What fell to ground was collected and brought to the Red Sea where Arab traders could demand what they wanted for me, a mythic substance essential to embalmers, anointers and preservers of meat. In the C.1st AD Pliny the Elder opined my source as Ethiopia, already a place of legendary mystery, and for another 1100 years Venetian traders, who owned the monopoly on my European trade from the port of Alexandria, did nothing to disavow these gilt-edged fictions - although interestingly, Marco Polo remained quiet on the subject, despite the fact that ‘kwai’, my oriental cousin, had been mentioned in Chinese medicinal texts since 2800 BC. When the Mamluk sultans assumed power in Cairo 1250, and the Ottomans only 49 years later in Constantinople, the Mediterranean seaways were disrupted, and the Arabs’ best-kept secret became even more exorbitant. Having controlled my trade for millennia, and being, at the time, the world’s best cartographers, it's not surprising that it was an Arab geographer, Zakariya al-Qazwini, who first mentioned that I grew on the island known as ‘Serendib’. The year was 1270 and 22 years later this was repeated in a letter by the Archbishop of Peking, Giovanni de Montecorvino, a Franciscan explorer statesman who founded the earliest Catholic missions in India and China. Modern cartographic conventions are reversed in the map above - it's 'upside down' - but the most comprehensive map of its day shows how prominently the island of Ceylon, featured in world knowledge - the tiny teardrop isle is almost half the size of India! But it would be another 200 years before Europeans, now really struggling to meet demand, felt compelled to seek me out for themselves. Disappointing Queen Isabella, sitting up there in Grenada’s Alhambra, both Christopher Columbus and Gonzalo Pizarro failed to find me in the New World, while her greatest rivals, Portugal, who'd been exploring the Arabian sea, finally discovered me in Ceylon around 1518. Wasting no time to control their fragrant quarry, the Portuguese conquered Ceylon's coastal kingdom of Kotto, enslaving the population who would enrich Portugal over the next century. Meanwhile, Ferdinand Magellan continued Spain's search, his efforts somewhat rewarded with a sturdy relative of mine in the Philippines. But it was the teardrop isle between the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean that commanded the great trading empires’ attention. "The shores of the island are full of it," a Dutch captain reported, "and it is the best in all the Orient. When one is downwind of the island, one can still smell it eight leagues out to sea." Only 20 years after establishing their own trading post in 1638 and quickly taking control of Portugal's ‘manufactories’ in 1640, the Dutch, allied with the central Ceylonese kingdom of Kandy, overthrew the Portuguese in 1658. However, if the Kandyans thought they’d just scored a victory, they were very mistaken. The Dutch defeated the Portuguese but held the kingdom in their debt for their military services, so once again Ceylon was occupied by European traders – this time for 150 years. The Kandyan kingdom, solitary and isolated in the mountainous centre of the island and surrounded by opportunistic colonists, cleverly held onto provincial power, and learning from bitter experience, used it to parry with the Dutch government for protection from foreign invasion in return for land rights. I became the jewel in the Dutch East India’s crown, their most lucrative export. They systematised the harvesting of these wild perennials of the laurel family that flourished between upcountry and coast, eventually beginning cultivation, including 289 acres in 1789, just 3 km south east of Colombo. But time was running out for my luxury status; by the early 1800s despite my unique qualities, other species were being exported from China and SE Asia, and when Britain wrested control of Ceylon - Kandyan kingdom and all - in 1796, they already had massive plantations in Kerala on India’s SW coast, and besides, tea and rubber were the now the world’s products du jour. … and those 289 hectares near to Colombo? They became the city’s elite residential precinct, a by-word for privilege and cosmopolitan style. Cinnamon Gardens. More likely than not, that sprinkle of aromatic powder on your cappuccino is the grounds of the thick curls of bark peeled from the felled trees of C innamomom cassia , native to China, now widely cultivated in Vietnam and Indonesia where it's known as ‘Kayu manis’, sweet wood. Much cheaper and more widely available, its stronger aroma is matched by a coarser texture when ground, darker colour and a spicier flavour– it bears only passing resemblance to Cinnamomum verum , ‘true Cinnamon’, or ‘Ceylon Cinnamon' which originated in Sri Lanka, and today's world production is still produced mainly on the island, with the other 10% from Seychelles and Madagascar. Cinnamomum verum and Cinnamomum cassia are totally different spices. The major difference is the coumarin content of each spice. C. verum contains ultra-low coumarin content compared to cassia and its varieties: True Cinnamon (~0.004% coumarin) and Cassia (~ 5% of coumarin). Why is this important ? In 2006, Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment warned against regular usage of cassia , due to its higher coumarin content, which is linked to kidney and liver health, whereas Ceylon Cinnamon has many purported health benefits, and a surprising amount of nutrition So as you shop for the ingredients for this Sri Lankan Christmas cake, it's an opportunity to watch out for the distinctive quills of Sri Lankan Cinnamon, and very much worth the effort to find the real thing. Chinese Cinnamon is a single, thick, curled layer of reddish bark, but notice how in cross-section Ceylon cinnamon quills are made of many layers of crumbly, paper-thin bark in about 8 cm lengths, rolled into cylinders about 1 cm in diameter Sometimes quills up to 1m in length can be found here in Sri Lanka - seen in this early 1800s photo. The colour of true cinnamon is a uniform light brown to pale tan. The fragrance is sweet, perfumed, warm and pleasantly woody with no trace of bitterness or dominating pungency. It's best to buy the quills and grind as you require rather than powder, as what's inside can be less than the quality stated on the packet. The three spices above - cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon - are the warming spice ingredients for my Sri Lankan Christmas Cake. Happy Cooking - and do let me know how your cake turns out! And a safe and Happy Christmas from lakeside Negombo, Sri Lanka Anna PS : Wondering where to get True Sri Lankan Cinnamon? Here in Sri Lanka I've discovered a small family company who grow their own spices and will send them all over the world in small, vacuum-packed quantities. Ask for Mr Chandana - a lovely fellow, easy to communicate with and passionate about spices. In my next Spice Voyager recipe I'll be using Cinnamon Alba - the best cinnamon available anywhere ... it's just arrived and I can't wait to try it. This blog also appeared in the December edition of elanka news If you would like to receive my stories and postcards striaght into your mailbox, please consider subscribing to my monthly newsetter. FOLLOW Anna on Facebook and Instagram
Sri Lankan Christmas Cake - Spice Voyager Recipe #2
This richly flavoured fruit cake is flourless and made in two easy parts On Day One you steep the fruit in spices and brandy and five days later you mix in the other ingredients and bake it for an hour and half. Here's what you need to start: 100 grams each of : whole currants whole sultanas 100 grams each of roughly chopped : red glace cherries - try to use real cherries glace ginger - the more syrupy the better raisins cashew nuts, unsalted and unroasted mixed peel - the Sri Lankan version is thickly syrupy candied pumpkin - again a local ingredient, substitute with candied pineapple The fruit will expand by almost 50% during steeping, so choose a large bowl to add all the ingredients together with: 6 tablespoons of brandy the juice of an orange 1 generous tablespoon of mixed spice The Spice Mix 1 large nutmeg without the covering (which can be ground separately for 'mace' but not used in this recipe) 1 8cm length of (Sri Lankan) cinnamon. Where to get true Ceylon Cinnamon? 17 cloves Grind to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder (There should be a little more than required for the recipe, keep this allspice mix airtight for another recipe. By the way, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon weighs 2.6 g). TIP I made this cake again using Cinnamon Alba , the highest grade of cinnamon available anywhere in the cinnamon market, and the difference in aroma was dramatic. The flavour was richer - more 'cinnamony' - without actually being stronger. I'd recommend using this if possible, but don't put off trying this cake whilst you look for cinnamon alba - it's so delicious it will be gone in no time! Mix all ingredients well, seal tightly with plastic wrap, wrap in a tea towel and leave to steep at room temperature for 5 days. 5 DAYS LATER Here's what you'll need Before you start: pre-heat oven to 150 C butter a 20 cm square cake tin, followed by 5 layers of butcher's paper and finally a layer of buttered greaseproof paper Ingredrients: 100 gms of softened butter 50 gms of castor sugar (the Sri Lankan version calls for 100 gms, but I found this teeth numbingly sweet. Next time I'd even reduce the 50gm to 40 gm) 100 gms of semolina 6 eggs separated 1 teaspoon of bee honey 1 teaspoon of almond essence 1 teaspoon of rose essence 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla essence grated rind of 3 limes Beat the sugar and butter to a creamy consistency and add egg yolks one by one, then add the lime and essences. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks Mix the semolina into the steeped fruit Pour the butter/egg/sugar mix into the fruit and fold through well. Fold in the egg whites at the last moment, being careful not to mix more than necessary Pour into the cake tin, bake in the middle of the oven for 1hr 30 minutes and test with a skewer. Note: I added in a good extra slurp of brandy at this stage, and found that the extra moisture required another 20 minutes in the oven ... the butcher's paper lining ensured that the cake wasn't a bit overcooked. Cool completely before turning onto a rack. I've decorated mine with mangrove flower sepals from the lagoon here, studded with Sri Lankan cloves, and I store in the refrigerator for easier slicing. Well, finally feeling festive, and celebrating with a nip of 'Rosetto', a spiced wine also full of cloves and cinnamon, made by the Rosarian Sisters from the little convent I visited a few weeks ago in Jaffna, at the northern most tip of the island ... but that's another story. Happy baking, Anna WHERE TO GET TRUE CEYLON CINNAMON? I've discovered a company here in Sri Lanka who grows their own spices and exports vacuum-packed products around the world to individuals - lovely people to talk to, easy to communicate with and very responsive - ask for Mr Chandana who started the company and is passionate about spices. There are 4 grades of Sri Lankan Cinnamon - Cinnamon Alba is the costliest and most refined of all, and I've used it in this crab curry. Negombo Coconut Crab Curry - Spice Voyager Recipe #3 . Learn more about the fascinating history of Cinnamon The spice that put Sri Lanka on the map And if you love a good Biryani try out this recipe from Jaipur Spice Voyage Recipe #1 for Biryani Lovers You can also find this recipe featured on : eLanka UK | eLanka | Sri Lankan Christmas Cake - eLanka UK Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy the results of your cooking. Let me know how you go in the comments below! FOLLOW Anna on Facebook and Instagram
Remembering Poppy Day in King's Park
Dedicated to Zbigniew Tadeusz Sixtus Jerzy Grabiecz Kwiecinski AO June 2, 1922 - July 16, 1999 My Dad didn't talk much about the war. Constant hunger, 'secret missions' in Lvov, his mother dying from a brain haemorrhage just days after witnessing the shooting of Jewish neighbours on the street below her window in Crakow ... these few images have expanded in my imagination to fill the many gaps that will probably always remain about Dad's last years in Poland during the Second World War. There were few photographs. A U.S. Army fork - regulation issue to those liberated from prison camps in 1945 - rattled around in our cutlery drawer, his army beret in a cabinet, and, stuffed like a guilty secret into the back of his wardrobe, an enormously heavy leather greatcoat liberated from its owner on 'the other side'. These were the only three objects of 'Dad's past'. A background of which nothing remained, not even relatives. Always grateful that he was the father of two daughters, rather than sons, "because you girls will never have to go to war", he was, nevertheless, an old-world disciplinarian where "children and fish have no voices". Marched down the hall to bed - "hup two, three, four" - my sister and I were often lulled to sleep by Dad deeply crooning Polish guerilla songs, or that wartime classic Lili Marleen in German, which he spoke perfectly. If Mum slept in too late on school mornings, I was usually directed to rouse her into action with a hand-trumpeted version of Reverie, and slothful behavior was denounced with "wakey wakey, your country needs you!" So it's little wonder that my enrolment into the Girl Guides couldn't happen early enough. "I look at it now and realise what a tiny little thing you were", says Mum, as she holds up the pleated cotton frock that was my first Brownie uniform. "You seemed like such a big girl". There was usually a bit of scuffle to get to Brownie's on time every Saturday afternoon. Having gone to speech and piano lessons in the morning with Mum, I'd sometimes then accompany Dad to the 'European butcher' to buy Polski ogorki, smelly cheeses, wizened sausages and dark, dense bread. Weekend brunches were olfactory treats cut short by my 2pm pack meeting. Mum, once again taxi'd me to and fro, but not before Dad checked my uniform. Tie badge polished, shiny belt, he'd invariably, however, re-arrange my beret. With the spic and span deftness of a sergeant major, the part I least liked about my uniform was pulled from its precarious placement on the back of my head to a regulation inch above my eyes, with a precise tug to the right for good measure. Little soldier prepared for action. Captain Harms discharged her duties as Brown Owl with a broad brogue. While it's true that I was often more fascinated by the dark hairs squashed beneath her stockings than mastering a repertoire of knots, I took to the challenges of collecting badges with zeal. The Girl Guides Handbook was a wealth of information. Along with comportment and thrillingly grown-up advice about personal hygiene, lay a catalogue of endeavours, the mastery of which resulted in badges to sew on our sleeves. Over my last three years at primary school Captain Harms handed out these cloth awards for everything from 'camp tenderfoot' to 'singing', and we celebrated with cordial and cake baked by her snowy haired mother who came to every meeting. Meanwhile, Dad spent many Saturday afternoons at home, listening to the football whilst repainting the metal plaques whose words in silvered relief commemorate Western Australian soldiers killed or missing in action during the First World War. Each plaque was staked at the foot of a towering eucalyptus tree lining the miles of 'Honour Avenues' in the magnificent King's Park on Mount Eliza in Perth. Although Dad would eventually preside over the RSL (Returned Services League) Committee in the Highgate Sub-Branch managing these Honour Avenues, this story happens well before that. For him, maintaining these poignant records bearing witness to the thousands of men who set sail to fight for a far-away King, was, I know, his way of offering gratitude to the country which welcomed him in 1949. However, the plaques needed repainting with a frequency that, even as a labour of love galvanised by civic duty, became a burden on ageing men. Dad's helpers were not getting any younger and nor were their knees. His busy-bees were harder to fill and more and more plaques were brought home to fix alone. When I joined in to paint the letters silver after he'd finished cleaning them with a wire brush and coating them in glossy black enamel, it was quickly apparent that small, nimbler fingers could do this job easily. And so it was, after considerable consultation, that the Girl Guides Association in Western Australia joined with the RSL to permit the services of Brownies in the maintenance of this public icon, with our time acknowledged in the awarding of the coveted 'Service Badge'. I'm not sure when this unique symbiosis ceased, but eventually Captain Harms retired and I left the Guides. Dad remained incredibly active in the RSL throughout his 50 years of membership, whilst around this time also starting Mensa in Western Australia - but that's another story! Today, the leafy verges of the Honour Avenues are often parking areas and joggers crunch past. Occasionally I notice a flower stuck behind a plaque, but on Remembrance Day, late Spring sunshine brings a flutter of colour to the temporary flags at each tree, an invitation to stop, read and reflect. On those Sunday afternoons my young imagination barely understood the implication of the words Ypres, Somme, Poizieres ... some plaques bearing the names of three or even four brothers, or a father and sons. But today, imagining the dreaded telegram arriving home, I wonder who was left behind to wonder where my father was when peace was declared for a second time, just 27 years after Armistice Day. oOo In Flanders Fields In Flanders Fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place. While in the Sky
The larks still bravely singing, fly
Unheard, amid the guns below.
We are the dead, Short days ago
We lived, felt dawns, saw sunsets glow;
Loved and were loved – but now we lie
In Flanders Field Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from falling hands we throw
The torch, Be yours to bear it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep tho’ poppies blow
In Flanders Field. by Lt. Col John McCrae Composed in Ypres on May 3, 1915 and recited by Leonard Cohen in 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKoJvHcMLfc A detailed account of Dad's life is chronicled in his obituary by Ken Bladen, the State President of the RSL, on pg 15 of "The Listening Post' Marlene Dietrich singing the original version of Lili Marleen. the next international Girl Guides jamboree is in Poland 2021 https://www.girlguideswa.org.au/ The Returned Services League of Western Australia Highgate Sub branch of the RSL in Western Australia King's Park Botanic Garden Thank you for reading. If you would like to receive my travel storis and postcards staright into your inbox, please consider subscribing to my occasional newsletters. FOLLOW Anna on Facebook and Instagram
Sri Lanka in Lockdown - a tale of serendipity
Serendipity : a word coined by Horace Walpole in 1754, describing the heroes of a Persian tale who were 'always making discoveries, by accident or sagacity, of things they were not in quest of'. Hundreds of year earlier, Arab traders, plying the island we know as 'Sri Lanka' for rubies and cinnamon, called it 'Serendib'. At the time of writing, May 3, it’s now 44 days since Sri Lanka imposed a strictly-enforced COVID curfew, and I’m worried that when it eventually comes to an end I’ll have, in a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome, fallen in love with my captor. Just to be clear, though, I haven’t found myself taken prisoner by the Sri Lankan constabulary or been body snatched by fisher folk. above: It's the First Full Moon in May today (7th May), and my street is decorated for Vesak Poya - 3 days celebrating the Birth, Enlightenment and final passing of the Buddha Arriving in late February after working in India since December, I’d timed my week’s break to renew my Indian visa with an invitation from friends for a long weekend by the beach. I’d be back in Jaipur before the end of the month. Easy Deviation from Plan #1: The Road to Colombo Now let me just say that I adore India. As a peak travel experience, the Sub-Continent set my benchmark years ago. It is the definition of exotic. A land of everything. And everything to excess. In India, more is more. But put me in a swift AC taxi as I exit from Sri Lankas’ friendly little airport, whizz me along the smoothest road I’ve experienced for months, and suddenly, I’m on holiday, and somewhere between lowering the window to feel that moist night air brush my skin and alighting into Colombo’s cultural heart, I’ve decided that I deserve a fortnight here. At the invitation of Sri Lanka’s luxury hotel company, Jetwing, I spend the weekend discovering the East Coast. Decimated during the 2004 tsunami, the region has languished in the island's tourism stakes, although surfers well know Arugam Bay’s famous right-hand break and its cruisey bamboo beach shacks, but our journey reveals unexpected riches... Buddhist ruins, more than 2000 years old, sprawling amidst jungle enclosures along quiet, barely sign-posted roads; a colonial homestead in low-lying tea hills offering rustic fare transformed into haute cuisine, and the rarely-visited Kumana National Park, which I found so much more interesting that its nearby, and more famous rival, Yala. above: ornate ablutions within a queen's bathing precinct. Despite Sri Lanka's 2500 hundred years of written history, the details of this ruin remains obscure and conjectural. The pearl in our oyster of weekend indulgence is ‘Jetwing Surf’, a lazy haven of sea-side living, its pavilions and bungalows inspired by conch-shells and shaped in natural materials. Just being amongst this architecture is an adventure, the dazzling cuisine a bonus. Often inspired, and sometimes designed by Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa - who gave the world 'Tropical Modernism' - Jetwing’s hotels are a collection of 40 unique properties. As the founding family who still manage the business are dedicated art lovers - it’s how we met 3 years ago - I’m thrilled to next be accompanying them ‘up station’ as they review their recently-opened 'Kandy Gallery', a boutique haven by the riverside, just 20 minutes from Kandy's bustling centre.. Home to Sri Lanka’s last kingdom before it succumbed to British rule in 1815, Kandy’s gilded pre-eminence as the jewel in the island’s cultural crown remains undisputed. For Victorian tea planters and the generations of colonialists who followed them, the neat green hills are one of many elevated respites from impossible coastal heat, but for Sri Lankans, Kandy is the very heart of the nation’s identity, for here resides the nation’s most venerated religious relic: the Buddha’s tooth. In kingly times it was said that whosoever held this tooth, held power. Cool tea slopes and musty temples prove irresistible, and for my second week I head to a high altitude guesthouse in the pukka Richmond Hills, all Corinthian columns and sweeping staircases - a colonial setting just begging for a Barbara Cartland novel throbbing with tropical ardour. Above: Not recommended for luggers of heavy luggage … Richmond House In Kandy - the only way is up Deviation from Plan #2 : India Locks Down Meanwhile, India’s first corona cases emerge in Shekawati, just 5 hours north of Jaipur, and friends there advise me to postpone my return - the spectre of a pandemic running rife in the Pink City too horrifying to imagine. So I engage a 3-wheeler tuk tuk driver for the week ahead (far more economical than day-by-day, and so much less argey bargey), and we contentedly trundle up and down the Kandyan hills, from one sacred site to another, slipping rupees to well-fed monks whose hands slyly extend from saffron robes before they’ll produce a key to open ancient cave temples painted in lolly colours and smelling of candle wax. By mid-March, Sri Lanka’s first COVID patient is successfully returned to China. My 30-day visa will soon expire so I take the glorious Blue Train to Colombo, only to find everything closed, as ad hoc ‘public holidays’ are declared in an effort to keep the population off the streets while the government considers its next move. above: Confusion plus on the platform of Kandy railway station … could I be forgiven for thinking that the famous Blue Train with its AC observation saloon would actually be... blue ? March in Colombo is enervating. Stepping from my cool bedroom into the hallway of a lovely home designed by Geoffrey Bawa acolytes, the morning heat reaches out and wraps itself around my bare arms and legs like a panting animal breathing on my skin. Moist and threatening, the heat has a presence. It feels very alive. It takes real determination to not merely slump after breakfast and await the possibility of an afternoon sea breeze. However, relieved to have my visa extended by a month, I begin to get my bearings in C5, Colombo’s gentrified suburb of large homes behind high walls. Now looking forward to the weeks ahead, dawn walks beneath the beautiful spreading foliage of Independence Square, coffee here, juice there … I’m secretly pleased for this opportunity to feel at home in another place in the world. Deviation from Plan #3: Sri Lanka Locks Down Now, just sometimes in life, synchronicity takes on a dimension so astounding, that truly, there ought to be another name for it. My phone lights up with a message “ Are you ok? I can be there in 2 hours ” Which part of this story is missing? Ah yes, the part where I return from my morning walk to discover my host in a state of panic, alarmed that the government of Sri Lanka has just announced a nation-wide curfew from 4 pm today … until further notice. In hindsight, I realise that whilst the implications were only dawning on me, my host, who had stalwartly remained in Colombo throughout the years of civil war, knew well that having another mouth to feed through prolonged curfew was a serious liability. I had to leave. And sure enough, by the time my bags are packed, the garage door rises on a tall, lean bloke in wrap-around sunglasses getting out of a ute. A Vision Splendid! Instantaneously cossetted by a blanket of safety I didn’t realise I missed, I silently thank Facebook for the one-in-whatever chance that a lovely woman who had several years ago joined one of my Bali art and yoga retreats, happened to notice that I was in Sri Lanka and notified her husband there that I might need a hand. Deviation from Plan #4 : Curfew in Kalutara Exactly 43 km south of Colombo is North Kalutara. The bookends of my life have started, perhaps, to assemble with my arrival here. A lifetime ago I arrived on the train, which I now hear rush past every other day – the track is just 50 meters from the house where I stay. In the other direction, then, as now, groves of beachfront coconut palms strung with hammocks lean seawards, but the beach shacks are replaced by resorts nervously pampering pale Russians and sunburnt Brits in the last few days before Sri Lanka’s only airport closes. Back then I’d arrived with a copy of John Irving’s The World According to Garp. Now I’m grateful for a collection of random paperbacks well-thumbed by the Aussie miners who’ve set up a base here for an operation they’re anxious to get underway. The manager departed not long after bringing me here, leaving their three houses in my care for the last 6 weeks. The curfew is mooted to end next week, after Vesak Poya , normally a huge celebration heralded by the May full moon to mark the birthday, enlightenment and final passing of the Buddha, but this year, a quiet suburban affair - like so many birthdays at home during COVID. ‘Adventures’ are not something one usually associates with being confined to home, but I have to confess that I’m already wondering if I really have to step outside the gate so soon. Something very special has evolved here since March 20. I’m incredibly grateful not only for a home, but a gently, distant sense of community which is still evolving here and marks for me, a very personal experience of Serendipity, that "chance occurance and development of events in a happy or beneficial way''. I hope you enjoyed the story - and you can leave me a comment - just keep scrolling down a bit - and I'll be sure to get back to you . If you would like to receive my travel storis and postcards staright into your inbox, please consider subscribing to my occasional newsletters. More Sri Lanka stories The Galle Literary Festival My Ayurvedic Retreat in Sri Lanka FOLLOW Anna on Facebook and Instagram
Looking back to 'Sea to Sahara', Morocco 2019
Morocco is one of my favourite countries to spend extended time in - when I first came here in 1986 I recall thinking that it seemed to incorporate 'everything' within its compact borders, tucked up into the north-western-most tip of Africa. This year I led two 18-day tours around the country on programs I designed after living here for extended periods over the last 4 years, (including eight months living in Fez, and studying Arabic language, 2017/18). This photo essay captures some of the highlights from the September Tour with eleven awesome women from Australia. What does Morocco conjure up for you? Carole in Marrakech surprised herself! Mediterranean shores with ancient Phoenician and Roman cities scattered along an awesome Atlantic coastline. Three mountain ranges whose inhabitants speak, dress and create beautiful artefacts distinctly different from one another. Wind-rippled golden dunes at the edge of the Sahara desert where Berber tribesmen have mingled with Sub-Saharan Africans to form a culture whose music reflects an exotic Sufi tradition. And legendary cities whose very names - Fez, Marrakech, Casablanca and Tangier - provoke a tumbling of images, imaginings and, for those fortunate enough to have experienced them, memories which, like a favourite scent, are impossible to forget the feeling of - long after the details have slipped from memory. Morocco has it all Casablanca is our starting point . When the present King's father, King Hassan II, built the eponymous mosque on the Atlantic shores in the late C.20th, he created not only the 3rd largest mosque in the world (after Mecca and Medina), but majestically articulated the dreams of a country released by his father, Mohammed V, from the yoke of colonisation. In 2019 our Sea to Sahara tours headed towards Tangier, a city often neglected on tours because it requires a 5 hour drive north. For me, it's 'a must' not only because you'll meet the most exceptional Tangerine to share his city with us for a whole day, but our luxurious and historic hotel, two nights of exceptionally cultivated dining, the fresh Mediterranean air, light glistening off the white kasbah and the diversity of cultural life here makes it a city to savour long after you've left. In Tangier we visit a synagogue as we continue our exploration of Morocco's vast history. After 1967, Morocco's significant Jewish population were largely resettled in Israel, abandoning homes and shops in the areas which came to be known in each city as the 'Mellah' - interestingly, despite its formidable Jewish population, Tangier did not actually have a mellah - unlike all other areas of Jewish population in Morocco. Surprising the Tangerines with a dawn dip in the Mediterranean before heading over the Rif Mountains (L to R : Anna, Kathy, Fiona, Evi and Amanda). The Bay of Tangier Driving from Tangier to Chefchaouen we pass the turn-off to Tetouan, and if time permits, we can, as we did on the second tour in October, stop for a brief guided walk through the ancient medina in the town from which that great traveller of the medieval world, Ibn Battuta set forth in the 14th century. On a more leisurely tour we head straight towards the blue town of Chefchaouen, famed for its indigo streets and, so they say, world's best hashish (did you know that the local street code for this is 'coriander' ?) Two ladies, two cultures . (above) Living side-by-side, the woman on the left dressed in traditional garb of her Berber people of the Rif mountains, and a lady of Arabic descent wearing a gelaba, a traditional robe with a pointed hood (unique to Morocco), still used as an overgarment for street wear by men and women, young and old, city and rural. Chefchaouen Morocco has four imperial cities. Its capital, Rabat reclaimed its C.11th glory and today is an elegant and surprisingly quiet city with a 1000 years of history surrounding it. So too, Meknes (below) the C.17th imperial home of the Berbers whose lineage hailed from Rissani in the Saharan south. Together with the nearby ruins of Volubilis , the largest Roman site in Morocco which reached its zenith in the C.2nd, we get to take in an incredible expanse of history in one day Being silly in Meknes! (above ) Built by the C.17th sultan whose stated aim it was to outshine the Sun King, Louis XIV of France, you have to imagine magnificent stallions stabled here whilst just across the way in a subterranean mirror image of this vast enclosure were prisoners destined for the slave markets, snatched from the shores of Europe by Barbary corsairs. When we arrived in Fes after a long day of travel there were sighs of awe and admiration all round as we were welcomed by the Gallic charm of the well-stocked Dominique. Rooftop Riad Dining in Fes. After a warm day of driving and fossicking over ruins, cool beetroot soup followed by the delicate flavours of Atlantic seafood were a welcome repast as the lights of Fes' 9400 streets twinkled below. All of our hotels are chosen for ambience, authenticity, beauty and hospitality, as we usually dine at least once in our accommodation, especially after a busy day. Photo: Fiona delighted at the prospect of French bubbles! Evi, above, gingerly avoids the lamb skins whose scoured and cured hides have been brought from the tannery and dried on nearby hillsides before being brought by donkey to artisanal dyers who hand-colour each skin in Fes, famed for its fine leather since the 10th century when the first tanneries were built - one of the main reasons for Fes' location on the river of the same name. Fes is the perfect place to indulge in a little shopping - especially if you're thinking of having a jacket made to measure, as most of us did on this tour. We left Fes early morning, after 3 nights in the medina, ascending the Middle Atlas mountains where we stop for a wild and wonderful lunch of grilled lamb chops sliced straight from the sides of meat hanging outside the grill restaurants. Voted by many as one of the best meals on the tour, we tried to repeat this repast at a later location, only to learn that the Middle Atlas really excel in their barbeque skills. We definitely had better luck with dates. Amanda (above) deciding which of Morocco's 40 varieties of dates she'll indulge in as we drive into date capital of Morocco - Erfoud Just practicing (above) We spent our first day in the south leisurely exploring Rissani, having made sure that our tour aligns with one the only two market days in this great Saharan centre. It was the perfect opportunity to buy our headscarves (below) Rissani I think this gorgeous photo of Helen, below, needs a caption competition ! Today, day 8, we enjoyed lunch with a French ex-pat resident of Merzouga who shared her love of this country with insights into culture, cuisine and fashion - yes! another shopping opportunity. Mint tea, sweet pastries soaked in honey ... it's time for some serious poolside lounging before we set out for our sunset saunter on our camels. Saharan views (above) - Evi and Maria poolside in Merzouga Yes! that's our Rose (above) setting out on our sunset camel trek to our tented camp Is this everything you dreamed of in a luxury desert camp? A night under canvas with A/C and hot and cold running water, Gnaoua musicians (gnaoua is the word used to describe the Africans from Mali and Sudan, who having adopted Islam, eventually combined it with their own tribal religions to create a sufi-like practice with mesmerising music that plays all night long, sending adherants into a trance-like state), linen on the table at dinner and a sky full of stars. Sunrise in the Sahar. Not everyone could be roused from their giant beds in their luxury tents - but for those who made it, with cold sand between our toes and the distant call to prayer, the solitude was perfect for a little meditation and Fiona's Daily Downward Dog Worth it ... Gill, Maria, Fiona, Kathy and Amanda with our camp in the distance and cameleer keeping an eye on us. Always a little sad to leave the dunes behind, but so much still awaits us - we're still only 9 days into our 18 day journey. Today we head for the magnificent Todra Gorge. Unlike most tours which nudge into the gorge for a quick walk about before hopping back on the bus to get between Merzouga and Quazzazate in one day, we take an extra night to spend deep inside the gorge at a unique accommodation with excellent food and wine, and spontaneous outbursts of song by the staff! The Subiaco Post Newspaper makes its Moroccan Debut in the Todra Gorge It's time for a Big Break - what better place than the only permanent oasis in Morocco, a beautiful area called Skoura, located strategically at the confluence of two rivers whose waters feed the palmeries which have enriched these dwellers over generations. Dates, roses and vegetables make for a rich culture of kasbahs and riads and relaxing gardens Gaye's relaxing by the pool after her rose-scented hammam (or 'Turkish bath') Refreshed by two sublime nights in Skoura we're ready to take on Marrakech. There are two ways to reach this legendary city, founded 1000 years ago. We opt for the High Road, via the UNESCO World Heritage Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou, so as to enjoy the spectacle of the High Atlas mountains with the constantly-changing geology and dramatic gorge views. All this driving makes one hungry! We lunched royally on lamb and chicken tagines full of toasted almonds, dried apricots and pineapple, prunes, sultanas and figs stuffed with walnuts, a scattering of sesame seeds and fresh thyme. The High Atlas, like every other region in Morocco, has evolved its own distinctive textiles, and none more so than rugs which are woven or tufted by village women in almost every home. Using sheep, goat and camel fibres, and often, just, the natural dyes of saffron, mint, rose, and mineral salts, each woman weaves patterns which reflect both her personal and tribal history Sonja drives a hard bargain with Mohammed - his ultimate compliment being 'you are half Berber'! (with a pretty gorgeous kilim in the background). Most of us took the opportunity here to avoid the souks of the cities and enjoy the performance by a true High Atlas man where the rituals of mint tea and the too-ing and fro-ing of bargaining resulted in many beautiful rugs being loaded into the back of our bus! No one can pretend that it's an easy days' drive into Marrakech from the south. So the sense of relief at arrival is certainly heightened by the smoothness with which we arrive into town, are met by men rolling carousas (luggage trolleys), and leading us towards the riads which will be home for the next three nights ( we were a group of mainly single occupancy rooms, so as most traditional riads have between 5 and 8 rooms we needed to occupy two close-by riads in a couple of city locations) One of our Marrakech Riads - both had pools which was a delicious respite here as we struck a couple of days of unseasonally hot weather. If it looks as if we just move from one delicious meal to another - well ... here we are enjoying lunch in a slightly out-of-the-way part of Marrakech medina - house specialty? Saffron -infused tagliatelle with gremolata and a sprig of thyme followed by an equally fragrant experience at the Museum of Perfume (below) - where, yes it must be said, we really did linger too long amidst the clouds of scent being prepared for our individual orders of argan oil infused with rose and lemon. With two full days to explore this 'edge' city we spent the first in a leisurely way, with a guided walk to the Bahia Palace, Saadien Tombs and Koutoubia Mosque in the morning, followed by food and perfume and then a dash to the rug souk before making our way back to the riad to rest and relax. On our second day in Marrakech, after a morning spent exploring the labyrinthine souks, and taking advantage of our riad pools in the afternoon, tonight a special concert in a wonderfully-restored riad of great historical importance in the heart of the medina, at Mouassine, where the oud player and his lustily throated partner treated us to songs from the bygone age of Arabic rule in Andalusia. The Jardin Majorelle, and since 2018, the Yves St Laurent Museum are, I feel, two destinations which are so complete and engrossing in themselves that one doesnt want to overlay their experience with anything much else in the same day, so we leave it 'til the third moring to spend time here before a restful drive towards Essaouira, our last destination, on the Atlantic Coast Moroccan mint tea should be served with as much frothy bubbles as possible, and here in the Jardin Majorelle it is indeed a performance art! Our last two days of touring are spent in Essaouira, another UNESCO World Heritage medina, where we were able to stroll leisurely and unhassled in the fresh Atlantic breeze. last-minute shopping, fabulous silver jewellery artisans and exotic food offerings amongst many highlights as huge Atlantic sea gulls swirl past. Ready to dine out in Essaouira And here are Rose and Gaye at El Jadida, another Portuguese sea post on the Atlantic coast as we nudge closer to our final night on the tour, back to Casablanca. Sea to Sahara and back to Sea. An epic journey, with few stones left unturned. 'Thank you' to all the ladies who joined this Sea to Sahara tour, for your humour, strength, forbearance through unseasonal heat, sore rumps from 2 hours of camel riding (sorry!), and the wisdom and stories you all brought to make this journey so memorable. Thank you for reading! Want more of the Sahara? YALA! That's 'let's go' in Arabic - Sahara Dreaming My next small group tour to Morocco in 2022 FOLLOW Anna on Facebook and Instagram