Tag Archives: history

Jordan and Egypt

"No Camels & Horses" sign, Dahab, Egypt

I always have immense difficulty choosing my next travel destination. The bottom line is that I’d happily visit almost anywhere I’ve not been before. And even then, many of the places I have been to I’d happily go back to. With around two hundred countries in the world this presents a problem. Then you need to combine this with the fact that I love reading about travel — books, brochures, back issues of Wanderlust — and you can easily believe that it can take me months to decide where to travel to next.

I know. I lead such a hard life.

Anyway, after a relatively short holiday last year, this year was going to be India. Except. Long story short: I did not have enough leave from work to be able to do everything I wanted.

Eventually, through a process of compromise and whittling down that I couldn’t explain even if I tried, I ended up deciding on the middle east in general and Jordan and Egypt in particular. I’ve had a mixed experience with the Middle East in the past. I loved Turkey but wasn’t keen on UAE. Fortunately both Jordan and Egypt promised more of the history and culture of the former and less of the shiny, characterless modernity of the Dubai I had seen.

As I have done for the last couple of trips, I felt it made most sense to break the holiday down into bite sized chunks. I am going to cover the sights in Jordan in the following posts:

And Egypt in these:

Corsica: Ajaccio to Corte

Train from Ajaccio to Corte, Corsica

The plan today is to get to Corte. There are two trains a day, which effectively means that I have to choose between sightseeing in Ajaccio or Corte — with daylight hours fading fairly early there would be no time to do both. Since I’m back in Ajaccio on Friday evening I decide to take the early train.

A 6.30 alarm call on a Saturday comes as a shock to the system.

The train leaves on schedule and, in its two-hour journey time, takes me through some spectacular scenery. A local who introduced himself as I got on the train, clearly used to the views and the journey, seemed bemused by my constant picture taking. “Did you see an animal?” “No, just the view, the mountains.” “Oh.”

Arriving at Corte station, Corsica

Corte is very hilly as I find when I try to carry my bags to the hotel. The hills give it a dramatic setting. As the day passes I see the clouds descend, obscuring the top of the hills, and rain threatens to fall.

Before this I wander around town. The yellow buildings against the bright blue sky looks like Tuscany or the south of France, the flaking paint, which at home you’d consider bad maintenance, here looks quaint. The main street, Cours Paoli, has the usual selection of shops, including a baker, tobacconist and sellers of tourist merchandise. One unusual piece was the tee shirt with Che Guevara and the word Corsica emblazoned beneath. I wasn’t aware that he’d made it here?

Corte town centre, Corsica

Mingled amongst the souvenirs and pastries were many caf?s, one after the other. They all look pretty much the same! That is to say, pretty good. I stop at one in Place Paoli for a panini and cappuccino.

(A quick aside: Paoli is the father of Corsican independence, having established Corte as its capital city.)

Corte town centre, Corsica

I visit the Citadel, home to the Museum of Corsica. The museum is large and modern, complete with audio tour, replicas of any object they don’t have to hand and videos. The content is less impressive than the execution. Sure, it’s supposed to be more about anthropology than history but still, telling us how people used to live less than a hundred years ago hardly needs much of an imagination.

View of Corte from the Citadel, Corsica

The views from the citadel are worth the entrance fee however. It’s possible to see over the whole town and much of the valley.

View of Corte from the Citadel, Corsica

The stunning views will be paid in sweat rather than Euros for most of the rest of the week as the walking starts tomorrow.

Is MySpace really the future of email?

Am I getting old? Perhaps. I’ve been using email since 1992 when I first went to university so I just find it second nature now. It’s got to the point where I organise my whole life using it and I get quite frustrated when I actually have to call someone to get something done that could more easily be done asynchronously ((That’s to say, when I send an email you don’t have to be there to answer it. Unlike a phone call or an instant message where you do.)). But that’s not how many people think according to ZDNet.co.uk.

The gist is that many people are now using websites such as Facebook and MySpace instead of email. In fact, they claim, teenagers only use email to talk to adults.

Is this the way of the future? Is it only old-age and inertia that’s stopping people like me from using MySpace exclusively?

I don’t think so. It’s not that I’m a Luddite. I do use instant messenger and I use my mobile phone more for text messaging than for voice calls, but there are a few issues that we need to work through first.

The first and most obvious is that of convenience. With email I can use one program (or check one website) to see all the messages that I am interested in reading. With FaceBook I have to check there, and then again on MySpace for my messages there and, finally, still my email just in case someone has mailed me directly or I have a notification from sites that don’t have internal messaging. That’s just a pain! History tells us that these closed systems do not last. Let’s have a look at a couple of examples.

Let’s look at email and how it evolved. In fact, it seems to have evolved in the same direction twice, first as technology allowed and second due to commercial “lock-in.” It started out as a way to communicate between users on a single machine. This doesn’t make much sense if you’re thinking about personal computers, but in the sixties and early seventies the concept of having your own machine just wasn’t a reality. As machines started to be linked together, so did the email systems. This wasn’t always easy as the different operating systems often had their own “standards” and some, such as Unix, often came with several incompatible implementations. After local networks were installed, people starting thinking globally and started plugging their networks together, creating the Internet ((Okay, so I edited out a few details. I’m trying to show the general trajectory rather than every last twist in the story.)).

Many of the PC vendors that had not been involved in earlier eras and the bulletin boards that catered for them ((I’m including systems like AOL and Compuserve here.)) went straight for the second tier, a proprietary system barely capable of talking to the outside world.? There were a variety of reasons for this. It was by design — not wanting people to exchange messages without buying their software — or laziness but either way the result was the same. To a certain extent that’s where we are still in the Microsoft world. Exchange will talk to the rest of the SMTP world, albeit reluctantly and, even then, it’s not one hundred percent standards compliant ((Ever wondered what the winmail.dat files are when you open a message in an application other than Outlook?)). Meanwhile, the rest of the world, even companies famous for shunning technologies Not Invented There, are using industry standards to communicate.

And if we then step forward to the last decade and the progress of instant messenger software we see the same thing in the process of happening. We start with completely separate islands, where I can talk to other people on, say, AIM but friends on MSN are off limits. I either have to push my “buddies” onto the same network or use applications like Adium so I can connect to multiple networks from the same software. And then a couple of years ago we saw the first signs of interoperability, with a pact between Yahoo and Microsoft. And, increasingly, we see the uptake of open standards like Jabber which is used as the foundation for Google Talk.

So, in the case of both IM and email we started with competing, incompatible technologies that eventually merged into one unified, interoperable version. Is that going to happen with FaceBook and MySpace? I’m not so sure. After all, we already have “messaging” applications outside these social networking sites. I see both as more of a layer on top of traditional email services, acting as an intermediary when communication is first initiated.

I’m not anti-social networking (I am a member on LinkedIn) but I am keen than we don’t take a step back into the “dark days” of the Internet when we had AOL and MSN competing to keep their users separate from the outside world. Walled gardens are not what the Internet is all about; this kind of system only benefits the companies that own the various properties. Let MySpace do the social bit, introducing people, but let the experts, the proven IM and email systems, keep the communication going.

Right Nation

I was amused when, while working in North Carolina in 2003, I visited some friends for Thanksgiving. All their neighbours introduced themselves and then, on finding I was English, apologised. “It’s not our fault, we didn’t vote for him!” Stood amongst those liberal, well travelled and smart people it was difficult to reconcile this with the fact that they lived in a country that had a president that was none of those things.

It’s bizarre. Virtually every American I’ve met has disliked Dubya, yet over the whole country, despite a number of obvious set-backs, his popularity has rarely been in question. Why such a contradiction? How did it get like that and how soon will the US be returning to normal?

I decided to read “Right Nation” by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge to find out.

It is split into four sections, starting with the history, then the anatomy (the various parts that make up the American Right), then prophecy (what comes next) and finally exception (what makes America different). It drills down into each area in detail, exploring their main ideas from any number of different angles.

For those that are looking for Dubya-bashing, this is not the book for them. In fact, if anything, he has gone up in my estimation after reading it. Not to say that he comes out smelling of roses. In fact the main villain of the piece turns out to be John Ashcroft, not necessarily because he did the worst things (although the PATRIOT Act takes some beating) but because, given the power, he ended up doing the exact opposite of what he professed to support.

I can’t say that I necessarily agreed with everything in the book, but I would say that was to its credit. The authors proudly claim that they have been accused of being sympathisers of both sides of the debate, which just goes to show how even handed they’ve been. The main criticism that I would level is that it was very dry and academic in tone. The langage is precise and functional, the structure shows detailed research and clear thinking. Maybe it’s just in the nature of a non-fiction tome like it and, while not entirely off-putting, didn’t make it a page-turner. I also found some US-centric terms not defined anywhere, or maybe they’re defined once but are just well hidden. For example, I thought you bought jeans at The GOP until I looked it up and realised my mistake.

But back to our original questions — why and how much longer do we have to put up with Bush and his cronies? Does the book answer those questions? For the most part, yes. You may not agree with (or like) the conclusion, but it does give some serious food for thought and is well worth a read.

Cuba, 2004

The way I saw it, Cuba had to be visited before Castro dies. And then, two days before I fly, I see headlines in the Evening Standard: Castro has fallen and has been hospitalised. Did I get the timing wrong?

No it turns out. He’s still alive and well, locals still talk about him with a hushed reverence normally reserved for religious leaders. The other bonus of arriving in late October is that the flood of winter tourists has yet to start and it’s still in the high twenties.

Overall it’s very varied. We covered quite a distance, everything from the grandeur and squalor of Havana, to the colonial delights of Trinidad to sleeping outside a hacienda half way up a mountain in the South East and the limestone pillars in the West. Exhausting but worth it.

Havana is one of those cities with shady squares and twisty back-street that you can happily aimlessly wander around for hours. Those 50s American cars you see in the pictures really are there, although once inside you realise that the romantic imagery doesn’t quite match up to the practicalities (they’re noisy and uncomfortable).

The smaller towns were more aesthetically consistent and the locals more friendly. It was difficult going for a drink without finding yourself being dragged onto the dance floor. They just don’t believe you when you say you can’t Salsa…

In the mountains we saw Fidel and Che Guevara’s hide-away and a spike shoved up a pigs bum for our spit-roasted dinner. In Viñales we saw limestone columns, red-clay soil and tobacco growing in the fields.

Click the small pictures below for a full size version. All the full size pictures are optimised for a 1024×768 display and are in 24-bit colour. All images are copyright and my permission is required for any use.

All pictures here have been taken on my EOS300D with the 18-55mm lens. Many of the outdoor pictures were taken using a polarising filter. If anyone currently in Cuba finds my skylight filter can then please return it!

If the pictures have piqued your interest, there are a few resources that you might want to have a look out for:

  • Switching allegiances this time, I bought the Rough Guide to Cuba. While having less pictures, the text was significantly more detailed.
  • I only found the Cuba Portal on my return but it has lots of information on places that I visted.

Tibet, 2002

I assure you: it’s not deliberate. I’d like to go on record and say that I do not plan to only go to obscure — some have even said dangerous — places. I just go where my interests lie.

I’ve been to a couple of Buddhist countries recently (Thailand and Sri Lanka), but they both practise the same kind of Buddhism — called Theravada. I originally thought that they were the less pure form, the Church of England to Tibet’s Catholicism. I went to Tibet to see the “real” Buddhism, however it turns out that, in some ways, the opposite is true (it’s a long story; leave comments!). Tibetan Buddhism (Mahayana) is actually a merger of the traditional Tibetan religion, B?n, with more normal Buddhism.

My confusion over their form of Buddhism was only the start of it. It’s a schizophrenic place, one where the peoples army destroyed some temples and preserved others, fighting between themselves on more than one occasion.

The Chinese have transformed Lhasa to such an extent that there’s now a “Tibetan Quarter,” yet the Tibetans still seem to be certain of their own identity.

It’s easy to see how people become passionate about the cause of the Tibetan people, however to deny that the Chinese have had a significant positive effect (in some ways) is undeniable.

So I’m in two minds about the place. Maybe with these pictures you’ll be able to make up your own mind. Let me know if you do!

The first few pictures here are all in Kathmandu; there are so few of them that it didn’t seem worth creating a new page for them.

Click the small pictures below for a full size version.

All pictures were taken on my EOS300 using Fuji Reala ISO100 negative film except for the first two in Kathmandu which were taken using Fuji Sensia II ISO 100 slide film. Most outdoor photographs were taken with a polarising filter.

If the pictures have piqued your interest, there are a few web Sites that you might want to visit:

  • I’ve deliberately avoided talking about the politics of the area, but as a member of Amnesty it’s difficult not to feel involved to some extent. Have a look at the Free Tibet Campaign or the main Amnesty International site if you want to read more.
  • As always, there’s a Lonely Planet guide. You can buy a copy from Amazon (UK or US). However, I found the Footprint guide to be much better (UK or US).
  • You might also like to read “Sorrow Mountain” by Ani Pachen, a Tibetan Nun. The language used is almost child-like in its simplicity, but, because of what she had to endure, it’s not an easy read. Worth the effort, though. (Available from Amazon UK or US.)
  • Tibetan Buddhism Timeline. On the trip we saw many of the important sites mentioned in this list.