Thursday, 28 August 2008


Croatia is stunning. Had an excellent time at Electric Elephant. Spent the majority of the time lounging during the days on the beds and couches shown in the photo, listening to great music, catching up with folk, having a giggle on a great site by the Adriatic. The Electric Chair saved my life boat party will be remembered fondly for a while. Came down to Split today and enjoying a quiet day by myself. The landscape here is stunning and I've still got to get over to Hvar, Korluca and Dubrovnik which are supposed to be even more amazing. Really looking forward to the next 5 days of Island hopping.

News in during the festival for those back home. Simon D had a daughter, Anna. All well there. And Mitch and Catherine had a son (as yet unnamed). Unconfirmed rumours the kid has a shock of frizzy hair like dad still to be resolved! Mum and child well though.

Off to see Hajduk Split play Deportivo in the UEFA cup tonight. The town is buzzing with locals and has been all day. Its a riot of red and white. till later.


Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Rome, Tunisia and sustainability

Having had a bit more of a night out than intended yesterday, I'm slowly seeing my final day in Rome. Woke up thinking not of my next destination, Croatia, but distilling all the nerdy Roman history I've been filling up on in the last fortnight. How does it fit together?
What does it tell us about how we live now and why do I take such an interest in something that happened 2000 odd years ago?
Having gone to the Colosseum on Monday, I went to the Forum yesterday - see pic. For 500 years this small area was the centre of the Western World. Caesar moved here when emperor; it was the Westminster of its day, where all the political discussions occurred and decisions were made; where Caesar himself was cremated and Mark Anthony read out his will. An empire whose legacy has left us with a huge influence on language, architecture, political and legal systems, culture and more. What did the Romans ever do for us? ;-)

I'm supposed to be trying to write a piece or two on Sustainability and slow travel for whilst I'm on this trip and I was thinking about how I could tie together lessons from then with now. As we know, the Romans were known for plundering what they could as well as providing the countries they invaded with straight roads, central heating and baths etc. After all, having an empire doesn't pay for itself...

Then I logged on to see the news, and the headline in the Guardian today reveals that the WWF (environment folk not the Wrestling fraternity) are warning that the UK has become the 6th largest importer of water in the World, a total derived not only of what we consume and use daily at home but also includes 'virtual water' used in the production of imported food, textiles and the like. Apparently this figure totals something like 4500 litres a day per person.

And this is where it got me thinking about the legacy of the Romans. According to the report, Spain, Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, Israel, Pakistan and Uzbekistan face acute water stress and yet supply the UK with substantial exports of their water through producting stuff for us. We've been aware of food miles for a number of years, but maybe this report demonstrates the scale with which it is impacting the countries we rely on most and their natural water levels.

We think about environmental damage such as this as perhaps recent phenomenon, but I saw in Tunisia the effects of excess want from Europe 2000 years ago causing just the same pressure that the WWF report identifies now. After defeating Hannibal and the Carthiginians in 146 BC, the Romans built up huge wheat growing plains in the North of the country. By the 1st Century Tunisia was supplying 60% of the Empires grain requirements. Huge tracts of forest were felled to provide land. From the cleared jungle and surround, the countrys elephants, lions, tigers, cheetahs etc were whisked away, to the Roman centres such as El-Jem in the South and the Colosseum in Rome to sate the populations appetite for the sport of the day.
After the Colosseum was completed in 80 AD, the Emperor Titus ordered 100 days of continual games. An estimated 9000 beasts were massacred and of course over the next 500 years various breeds of animal were rendered extinct.

Thing was though, that after the beasts and jungle had gone, the Empire only managed to get a couple of hundred years worth of grain production from the soil before it became desert. When I was travelling in these areas the Earth was scorched. The only thing I saw growing were Olive trees pretty much. What was really noticeable when I got into Rome, ironically enough, the deep dark soil looks so much more fertile. What was growing everywhere I looked? Wheat of course!

So where does that leave us? Leaving aside Gladiator fun and games, it shows how short sighted dependence without a sustainable plan in place leaves a once rich resource redundant. With some scientists warning of freshwater dependency as 'the new oil', seemingly we'll have to act swiftly, as individuals and consumers to ensure we don't make the same mistakes the Romans did.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Coming into land

So I'm beginning to understand what slow travel means. Its taken a long time to get here. And you begin to appreciate distance a lot more than flying. Since my last post I've clocked up the miles going further South down the Tunisian coast to Sousse (the countrys second city), Mahdia (imagine a small Greek fishing village) and then back up to Hammamet. And then made the 2 day voyage over the Med from Tunisia to Rome, where I am right now. I left my travelling companions Stella and Vangelis in Mahdia. They'd been my saviours up to that point. Driving me and my library of books with them - as chance would have it - to the same places I'd wanted to visit. We had a great time and they were great company.

So in Hammamet, I visited the uber swish centre culturel international within whose grounds there's an open air amphitheatre overlooking the Med. Checking the travel guides I had, it turned out the annual Hammamet music festival was on. Though by no means 'Having it' as you might at Glastonbury or similar in the UK, the prospect of checking out some Tunisian live music in such a setting had to be done. Check out the picture to see what I mean. The wind blew strongly in off the sea, the piano player lost his sheet music, but an orchestra kept playing really rhythmic Arabic tunes. A tight percussion section and drummer really kept things moving along at a good pace with a traditional string section and various singers and soloists joining in through the show. I believe they were musicians for Tunisian National radio. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.

The audience was a strange mix. Mainly female, either really old and dressed traditionally or really dolled up in their Sunday best and much younger (in their 20s) designer clad Tunisian girls. Despite being hailed as a progressive Islamic country, as a Western bloke you don't get to mix with females still in everyday life. But I was surrounded! Just my luck I was plonked next to the older ones on my row. I happily listened, sipped my complimentary Apple Fanta, and tried to concentrate whilst the attractive girl in front clapped along and clicked her fingers in what she thought was perfect timing with the music.... Bless her, she'd missed out on that gene.

So afterwards, I made it back to Tunis and then took the ferry from there to Palermo. Dirk, a German guy who we'd camped in Nabuel
with, was on the same ferry, and with some time to kill after the ferry docked in Palermo we headed to the Catacombs of the order of Capucin monks in the city. As you'll see from the pictures I've cribbed from someone, its a pretty gruesome sight. Hundreds of preserved bodies on display. We looked round, talked about life and death a bit as you would in such place, then did a quick tour of the city by Motorbike which was cool.

Had the 4 person cabin all to myself which was nice all the way from Tunis to Rome. Well, would have been perfect apart from being woken by a family with a small child at 1.30 in the morning on the first night who thought their cabin was mine. That'll be 8604 love, no 8406. Bless 'em.

Rome has been a revelation. Took ages to get from the port to the city but its an amazing place. Definitely got to return here. Where I'm staying with a guy from Couchsurfing
is on the edge of the city in the direction of Tuscany. Went for an amazing run near the flat after touring the city, running through woods, next to fields and the old aqueduct which served the ancient city in Roman times. Within 20 minutes by tube, you're in the centre of Rome. I'm enjoying where I've stayed with Couchsurfers. They're so far really sound individuals, open and generous and a much better way to see a place than staying on your own in a hostel or hotel. To an outsider it might seem a dappy idea, but can thoroughly recommend it.

Till after Croatia.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Palermo & Tunisia

Palermo was great, the guy I stayed with, Carlo, was a terrific host and in 24 hours I managed to go out with his friends to a champagne bar to celebrate the first birthday of one of their kids right in the heart of the old city; go on to a spectacular outdoor club till the early hours; take in the Royal Palaces and cathedral and still have time just to bimble around the old city, have a great lunch in a square and enjoy the roof terrace at Carlos place before he helped me with my luggage to the port where I got the ferry to Tunis.

I lucked out sitting next to a nice couple from Greece who had driven down from Athens and with whom Ive been going to all the places I wanted to visit. The night on deck was a bit uncomfortable, choppy seas and people chucking their guts up overboard, yards from where we slept. Luckily ive got a cabin on the return journey.

Ive nerded out on loads of Roman and Carthiginian history, visiting the spectacular Bardo museum which houses possibly the finest collection of Mosaics in the World from different eras and been to the ancient ruins at Carthage. Rather touchingly the main museum there is housed next to the Cathedral and is in the Seminary where my Great Uncle received his order of commendation from the Pope (which I have framed at home in London).

In the last few days we have been camping under olive trees in the grounds of a really nice hotel in the seaside town of Nabuel. Just spent time reading, going to the beach and relaxing. I finally managed to complete not just 1 but 6 lengths in the hotel pool. My heavily pregnant swimming coach said by text how proud she was of her protege - though I have to thank Vangelis (the guy of the couple) for helping me with my technique.

Went for an early morning run today. I managed 4.5 miles in 40 minutes which was a minor miracle in the heat. Needless to say it is hot as anything out here. In the mid 30s. Im back down the beach to sit in the shade, paddle and take onboard loads of water. Off to Sousse and Kairouan before I head back to take the ferry to Rome on Saturday night.

In a bit. S x