In this look back at 2013, I wanted to share with you my thoughts about some of the places I visited and why they speak to me. Some pictures might seem exotic, others less so – but each tells a story.
When returning to Oman in spring, I ventured up into the Al Hajar Mountains of the interior. Here, on the high plateau, pomegranate trees and rose bushes grow and life in the villages that cling to the mountainside follows a different pace as cockerels crow and people tend the centuries-old terraces. An early morning walk through the orchards was a world away from the traffic and noise of the capital Muscat. The rose petals are used for making rosewater at a traditional distillery in one of the villages.
Visiting North Korea, I was curious as to what I would find. In many ways, the country was much how I had imagined it to be, but – as I indicated in my end-of-year video message – there were also some surprises. I learnt more about the Korean Peninsula’s rich 5000 year history and saw some strikingly pretty landscapes. Sadly, much of the architectural heritage was destroyed during the Korean War, but some elements survive. The photograph shows traditional houses in the border town of Kaesong. Given that much of the country was heavily bombed during the Korean War, such buildings are quite a rare sight.
Travel is also about spending quality time with those dear to us. Last summer, a friend invited a small group of friends to join her in celebrating a special birthday at an old palazzo in rural Tuscany. We enjoyed lazy afternoons among the shadow and light of the trees in the garden and long evenings cooking together and chatting over dinner and drinks…
…or simply admiring the surrounding countryside.
In a short visit to Karachi, Pakistan, I experienced a vibrant, colourful city. For this retrospective, I’ve chosen a photograph of spices in the Itwaar Bazaar and a picture of the Mohatta Palace. I find food markets and souks fascinating – a veritable feast for all the senses – and always try to visit them on my travels. Even supermarkets are a window into daily life.
The Mohatta Palace was built in the 1920s by the successful business man Shiv Rattan Mohatta. After Partition, it housed Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs before later falling into disrepair. Renovated in the 1990s, today the building is a museum with regular exhibitions. When I visited, a series of thought-provoking works by the contemporary Pakistani artist Rashid Rana were on show.
Since I first set eyes on pictures of the ancient pyramids at Meroë in North Sudan surrounded by golden-orange sand, I knew I had to see them for myself. I was not disappointed and even brought some of the sand home in an empty water bottle as a souvenir.
Crossing the seemingly endless Bayuda Desert on the way from Khartoum to Karima, we stopped to say hello to some nomads who were drawing water from a small well. The men were very friendly and kindly took a short break from their work to pose for a photograph – a brief encounter between two very different worlds.
I used to live in Berlin and am still a frequent visitor to the city. The first time I went, the country was still divided into East and West. It is hard to imagine now, but Friedrichstrasse S-Bahn (light railway) station in Berlin used to be a border crossing between the two countries. You would board the train at Bahnhof Zoo and when you got off at Friedrichstrasse you would go through passport control. I remember waiting nervously in the closed cabin with mirrors above me while the East German border guard checked my papers. Every time I exit Friedrichstrasse station, I recall being there in 1989 and stepping out into not just a different country, but into a different world. It is a sobering reminder that freedom cannot be taken for granted.
After having wanted to go for many years, I finally got to visit the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic. The swirling cloud added a sense of mystery to the place. Although it was a short stay, even now I get flashbacks of the towering cliffs, emerald grass, wooden houses and dramatic waterfalls: there was something about the rocky archipelago that made a lasting impression.
You do not have to go to the ends of the earth to find fun or interesting things. One summer’s evening when strolling through Brussels with a friend, I stumbled across this large mural on the gable end of a building. Such paintings are quite common in the city and often depict characters from comic strip books, such as Tintin. The so-called ‘ninth art’ is very big in Belgium with albums being read by people of all ages. The mural shows Blake and Mortimer – two fictional 1950s heroes – in the scene from the cover of one of their adventures, ‘The Yellow M’.
When I’m not travelling, the vast Forêt de Soigne just outside of Brussels is a wonderful place to go for a relaxing walk with my dog Mortimer. Beautiful at any time of year, much of it is made up of a so-called ‘beech cathedral’ – a managed woodland of beech trees whose smooth grey trunks rise to form a high canopy. When snow falls in winter, the forest reminds me of the one in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and I can almost imagine bumping into talking animals, dwarves or satyrs. In summer, thick undergrowth shoots up, providing cover and tasty nibbles for the roe deer and wild boar that roam, but which seem disinclined to stop and talk…RETURN