Category Archives: Travel

Boyana Church (БОЯНСКАТА ЦЪРКВА) to Boyana Waterfall

We were almost a week in Sofia before heading towards Mount Vitosha for hiking…it had been so hot, and then stormy. We took the metro to Vitosha station then the 64 bus. Public transport here is a bit terrifying until you figure it out, this helped immensely unlike many another site, especially official ones.

It’s a short walk to Boyana Church, which was amazing. From the UNESCO site:

Located on the outskirts of Sofia, Boyana Church consists of three buildings. The eastern church was built in the 10th century, then enlarged at the beginning of the 13th century by Sebastocrator Kaloyan, who ordered a second two storey building to be erected next to it.

boyanachurch

A schematic drawing of the church from the church website:

The frescoes in this second church, painted in 1259, make it one of the most important collections of medieval paintings. The ensemble is completed by a third church, built at the beginning of the 19th century. This site is one of the most complete and perfectly preserved monuments of east European medieval art.

The frescoes are amazing. We were lucky enough to be the only ones there for a short time — having walked from the bus there was no press of people, no time limit. The caretaker gave us some beautiful stories behind the depictions. Photos are not allowed and are in short supply on the internet, my favourite there is not be found. A poet, whose eyes watch you wherever you are in the church. They are vivid and very beautiful, what photos do exist do not come anywhere close to capturing them. But I recognised the crowns of these immediately that we had seen the day before at the National Museum of History where they have been copied and sit on display. This is Tsar Constantine Asen Tikh and Tsaritsa Irina:

From there we walked up the hill to find the trail up to Boyana waterfall. We weren’t quite prepared for an hour and a 45 minutes or so of steep uphill climb with little break to get there, the guide book might have been a little more explicit. But the woods were beautiful, the falls lovely, and we did have some cheese and wine to work off.

Coming back down we encountered these amazing creatures — Dryocopus martius — their calls are quite eerie in an almost silent forest. Apparently if you can imitate them they will come find you. If only we had known, we chased them down switchbacks through the trees but they caught on to our game soon enough.

The mountain now, and some of its wonders:

boyanawaterfall

boyanachurch

The waterfall

We were up and back in around two and a half hours, then walked down the hill to Cinecitta Osteria Italiana, who let us in despite being a little more dishevelled than the other guests and having no reservation. A delicious meal. Glorious day.

Howth

So lovely and that place where Yeats once lived in a lovely white cottage overlooking the water and where once upon a time Molly said yes I do yes I will yes or something rather close to that, but no one knows just where…thank god, or they’d commodify that too. It was full of birds and wildflowers and stick men blithely walking off of cliffs and long moments of silence and being alone in the wind and the rain. But also much of the time tourists and Dublin youth dressed like it was 1984.

Sweetwater trail, AZ

Mark, Julie and I on New Year’s Day, snow on the Tucson Mountains, seeing quail, coyote, deer. Taking these as tokens of the year ahead, even the dead tarantula curled up in the middle of the small wash. Working to ignore the unsustainable arrogance of wealth mushrooming across the desert in the form of giant block houses. I hope my year is full of wilds and family and love, some writing, some working to change the world.

Jerome and Haynes

Jerome is one of my favourite mining towns, I came here with mum on the great road trip of ought eleven, which also included Wupatki, Montezuma’s Castle, and Tuzigoot. We missed them all this trip but Jerome was lovely. From 2011:

And now:

We went this time to Crown King Mine, which was once Haynes Arizona. It is full of mining equipment, old house fittings, a monument to the Evil Dead in the form of a shed filled with every kind of chain saw, wondrous old cars including an old electric model, dentist chairs and mangles and school desks. All of it is collected from this ruined town and others, from the shacks that grew up everywhere around these holes in the ground filled with copper, silver, zinc, molybdenum.

So much abandoned and left, either when the minerals and the jobs ran out, or when people grew too old to stay there. I keep thinking about extraction, the way it demands that people come and then it expects them to go. Very few people ever get rich and they generally were rich already, lived elsewhere, dabbled in claims that others had prospected and staked. Most of those doing the mining itself eke out a living at great risk to life and health, but there is something about it that most of them love even as their labour is extracted from them just like copper or gold. Until there is nothing left.

Somehow in the midst of that they come to come to love, grow to feel a connection with a place. I was thinking about the fight to keep towns like this alive, how it comes from the lives built here, the memories, labour, laughter, friends, family. Things worth fighting for.

I was thinking also though, that maybe it’s best to leave as easily as you came so many years ago, let the land return to what it was before machines ripped the heart from it or return to the wild with it.

Impossible to say which way I fall, but then, it is not for me to decide for others.

I love what remains standing.

I mourn what stands no longer, like the Mexican community of Daisy Town just outside of Jerome, where nothing remains but foundations. As the sign says: ‘Small ethnic communities were common around the mining developments of the West,’ it doesn’t mention of course this was usually for their own protection, though in some cases I expect they might well have been there first.

Daisy Town

There is of course, also a long history of labour organizing here too — La Liga Protectora Latina (not much about that), and the IWW (some awesomeness about that).

Verde Canyon Railroad

The train runs from Arizona’s first company town, Clarksdale, through slag heaps and on up the most beautiful canyon to the remains of Perkinsville. Bald eagles, deer, not sure quite how much harmony exists but this was most lovely…

Sandwiched between two protected sanctuaries, the Coconino National Forest and the Prescott National Forest, the Railroad runs a rare ribbon where dramatic high desert meets a precious riparian area. Such scenery comprises only 2% of the Arizona landscape.

Since 1912 the train has existed in harmony with the wilderness and its native inhabitants…

Verde Canyon Railroad website

Requiem for bedrock

From one sublime to another, we stopped here early in the morning the day after the Grand Canyon. It was 8 degrees, frozen wind, they unlocked the door for us, the first visitors. We had it to ourselves to recapture our youth.

It’s been sold, and the day before we arrived they had begun moving the figures. Small surprise they started with Betty Rubble, Wilma, the giant Pebbles.

What a loss.

Santa Claus to the Grand Canyon, Route 66

From Kingman we had a quick drive down to Santa Claus…once a colorful old-school developer’s dream, a cashing-in-on-Christmas-to-sell-Real-Estate that didn’t work at all, though it proved immensely popular while it was maintained — Jane Russell maybe threw a party here. Arizona Highways provides a short history here. Robert Heinlein wrote a story in which it featured (‘Cliff and the Calories‘), which is rather hilarious.

The sign read Santa Claus, Arizona. I blinked at it, thinking I was at last seeing a mirage. There was a gas station, all right, but that wasn’t all.

You know what most desert gas stations look like – put together out of odds and ends. Here was a beautiful fairytale cottage with wavy candy stripes in the shingles. It had a broad brick chimney – and Santa Claus was about to climb down the chimney!

Maureen, I said, you’ve overdone this starvation business; now you are out of your head.

Between the station and the cottage were two incredible little dolls’ houses. One was marked Cinderella’s House and Mistress Mary Quite Contrary was making the garden grow. The other one needed no sign; the Three Little Pigs, and Big Bad Wolf was stuck in its chimney.

“Kid stuff!” says Junior, and added, “Hey, Pop, do we eat here? Huh?”

“We just gas up,” answered Daddy. “Find a pebble to chew on. Your mother has declared a hunger strike.”

Mother did not answer and headed toward the cottage. We went inside, a bell bonged, and a sweet contralto voice boomed, “Come in! Dinner is ready!”

The inside was twice as big as the outside and was the prettiest dining room imaginable, fresh, new, and clean. Heavenly odors drifted out of the kitchen. The owner of the voice came out and smiled at us.

We knew who she was because her kitchen apron had “Mrs. Santa Claus” embroidered across it. She made me feel slender, but for her it was perfectly right.

Can you imagine Mrs. Santa Claus being skinny?

“How many are there?” she asked.

“Four,” said Mother, “but – ” Mrs. Santa Claus disappeared into the kitchen.

Mother sat down at a table and picked up a menu. I did likewise and started to drool – here is why:

Minted Fruit Cup Rouge
Pot – au – feu a la Creole
Chicken Velvet Soup
Roast Veal with Fine Herbs
Ham Soufflй
Yankee Pot Roast
Lamb Hawaii
Potatoes Lyonnaise
Riced Potatoes
Sweet Potatoes Maryland
Glazed Onions
Asparagus Tips with Green Peas
Chicory Salad with
Roquefort Dressing
Artichoke Hearts with Avocado
Beets in Aspic
Cheese Straws
Miniature Cinnamon Rolls
Hot Biscuits
Sherry Almond Ice Cream
Rum Pie
Pкches Flambйes Royales
Peppermint Cloud Cake
Devil’s Food Cake
Angel Berry Pie
Coffee Tea Milk
(Our water is trucked fifteen miles;
please help us save it.)

Thank you. Mrs. Santa Claus

It made me dizzy, so I looked out the window. We were still in the middle of the grimmest desert in the world.

Now that almost everything has been stolen, it’s all grim apart from the desert. This trip had several of these moments where it felt like we were just in time.

From there we drove down Route 66. I wish we’d had time to stop in Oatman, in Hackberry, in Valentine — nothing more frustrating than a road trip on a time table, I can’t wait until we are retired. Anyway, we followed the train tracks across the landscape.

Route 66
Route 66

Passed Peach Tree Springs

Peach Tree Springs, Route 66

Back down to the main highway to speed towards the Grand Canyon. There were great dark clouds with beams of light pouring down across the valley.

The Grand Canyon — words can’t describe it. It was Mark’s first time, Last I was here, we drove up to the rim, parked, hiked down the Bright Angel Trail. Despite the government shut down everything was open, but the parking lot was massive and full to overflowing and you have to take a shuttle and…

I felt old, wished for the good old days, wished for half the people and none of the cars. But still. It was wondrous in the snow and with the sun setting through the clouds.

Life breaking through the rocks.

  • Grand Canyon, South Rim
  • Grand Canyon, South Rim
  • Grand Canyon, South Rim
  • Grand Canyon, South Rim
  • Grand Canyon, South Rim
  • Grand Canyon, South Rim
  • Grand Canyon
  • Grand Canyon
  • Grand Canyon
  • Grand Canyon
  • Grand Canyon
  • Grand Canyon
  • Grand Canyon
  • Grand Canyon


Wickenberg to Kingman

A long drive from Tucson but a rather beautiful one, we came up via Gila Bend to bypass Phoenix and they finished the new divided highway — though I wish I had looked for the old road, the beautiful old bridge where you can almost always see pelicans along the river. This is from 2014.

Bridge over the Gila

Ah well, next time. We did stop at the space age lodge for lunch, where I always stop, because it’s got a home made flying saucer and you can’t do better than that.

Wickenberg did not disappoint with its jail tree, its strange figures, it’s old-town feel.

We drove up through the forest of Joshua trees that I never even knew were there, they were stunning and I wish we had had some time to stop. Past Nothing, AZ. Finally landed in Kingman, which I loved.

We stayed at El Trovatore, which was fabulous, not least because of the owners dispensing stories (and route 66 pins!) about the town — the tunnels constructed underneath so that the Chinese population could move about unhindered by curfews and racism (came in handy during prohibition, I was gutted they are not open to see), the marriage of Carole Lombard and Clark Gable (church pictured below), the speeding ticket given to Jean-Claude Van Dam and his two weeks of community service there, the DUI given to Pamela Anderson followed by the indecent exposure charge after her playboy shoot near the local church. D’z Diner, the way a diner should be (though service was agonizingly slow). The hotel itself is marvelous, the first to be built with en suite bathrooms so it’s had its share of famous folk. The fixtures were original, and I can’t believe I didn’t get pics of the incredible showers (black and white tiles, arched entrance into the shower room, with the taps on one wall and shower head on the other!) And of course Andy Devine grew up here in the Beale St Hotel — we watched The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence in his honor. He’s the reason we were here, to see the room dedicated to him in the local museum.

Graz and worlding sf

We were in Graz for the conference, more precisely my partner was keynoting and I was once more along for the ride. Almost all of the talks were brilliant, something I find all too rare. Where the wondrous cities of Lisbon and Covilhã had been the higlight of our earlier trip given the hopefully-soon-forgotten nature of the conference, here the city perhaps suffered just a bit.

Once the seat of the Austrian Habsburg branch, it too is a city of faded imperial memories. It is beautiful and ornate. Like Prague, it contains high buildings along a handful of wide streets, arcades leading back to courtyards–some still with their medieval cobbling–in what I find such a lovely style of urban architecture.

Herrenstrasse, Graz
arcade, Graz
medieval courtyard, Graz

It also has steep roofs and signs warning of falling snow. In the older sections clustered at the base of the hill it is all winding medieval streets (best preserved in Europe they claim, so very hard to photograph) — the city once appeared this way.

The castle was reduced to rubble by Napoleon however, and the city itself expanded far beyond those old walls.

My favourite view, descending from that very hill:

It now has wonderful trams, good buses, a wonderful art museum (more on that later) and we were lucky enough to be there for the Christmas lights and decorations.

But what I will remember most is late nights with friends (nextmornings not so good, but we managed). Our last night there wandering home in a group through still-not-empty streets at 4:30 am, something I haven’t done in ages, so happy to be surrounded by such amazing people. From photography to Scottish literary figures to apocalypse to hilarious stories to obscure punk bands, conversation was of the best and I cannot wait until we are all reconvened again, though we represented many countries and it will never be quite the same. Wouldn’t want it to be, but I hope for a few more such nights.

My favourite non-human things:

The doppelwendeltreppe, a rare double spiral staircase:

Where Kepler once lived.

The city is beautiful.

Lisbon’s Gar do oriente, effective public transport made beautiful

I was blown away by this station, this Gar do Oriente. It brings together the metro with inter-city trains with buses — that alone seems like something more than you can hope for from any station. Yet this station is also so beautiful, and I mean SO BEAUTIFUL. I could have wandered around that place for hours taking pictures, and wished to come back on a day of pure sunshine rather than pouring rain — I might have taken some pictures from the outside then. More of my low-light pictures might have come out. Or in the evening when light would spill very differently through glass panes and around towering concrete columns.

It has a fabulous open air bookshop.

This is essentially the most I could find about it:


Located in Lisbon’s Eastern zone, Oriente Station was designed as an intermodal station to support Expo’98 and was also intended as the city’s main transport interface, integrating metro, train, a road terminal and parking.

The station was designed by the distinguished Spanish architect and engineer, Santiago Calatrava, who is world renowned for his unique style that combines materials such as concrete, glass and steel, achieving visibility for structures that other architects hide.


CP – Comboios de Portugal (Gare do Oriente)