Quebéc: Oasis of calm

THERE IS SUPPOSEDLY a café somewhere in Paris that offers a ten per cent discount to English tourists who don’t try to order in French.

If only the French had the charm of their Canadian cousins in Québec, who are delighted by any attempt to speak the language, and whose nasal North American twang removes any inhibitions about a poor accent.

Continue reading “Quebéc: Oasis of calm”

Australia: Reef madness

THEY promised me millions of stars, here, on the Great Barrier Reef, many miles and an ecosystem away from the light pollution of land.

They promised me the experience of a lifetime, spending the night on Reef Sleep, a pontoon moored on the edge of Earth’s biggest living organism. And they weren’t lying.Continue reading “Australia: Reef madness”

Osaka: Yen for life

WHAT struck me during my first visit to Japan was our similarities rather than our differences.

A small island, lying off the coast of a large continent which it has alternatively threatened or been threatened by during its history; a population that has developed an elaborate set of manners, much of it a legacy of feudalism, to cope with living cheek by jowl with the neighbours; a love of tweed and Argyle socks; and, of course, a universal adoration of David Beckham.Continue reading “Osaka: Yen for life”

Ethiopia: Land of legend

MY FIRST reaction is: ‘Why have a I never heard of this place?’ Axum, in the extreme north of Ethiopia, is the country’s oldest city and was its ancient capital. In the heart of Tigray province, the roots of modern Ethiopia lie in the Axumite Empire that was once one of the world’s four greatest powers, along with Persia, China and Rome. From 200 BC to 700 AD, its empire traded across the Red Sea as far as India and China and had its own alphabet.Continue reading “Ethiopia: Land of legend”

Ethiopia: Rock of ages

IT’S BARELY DAWN and I’m cold, tired and hungry. Last night it seemed like a good idea to get up at 5am to see a Sunday service in one of Ethiopia’s famed rock churches, here in Lalibela.

This morning, despite the inevitable grumbles, it feels like an even better one. Not that very much is happening; a cluster of priests sit on carpets in one corner of the courtyard; a group of worshippers gather round the church door. If you go in, you can’t leave until the service is over. And since that might take three hours, it’s better to be outside.Continue reading “Ethiopia: Rock of ages”