Mystery: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge!

Welcome! Come and join the Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos! Oh, wow, I can’t believe this challenge marks six months of Thursday Photo Challenge! Time flies when you’re having fun.

This week’s challenge is a mystery.

Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.

Neil Armstrong

What photos can you take to depict a mystery? My photo comes from Angkor Wat, Cambodia. There are few explanations for anything at the huge site as you walk around. It’s all a mystery. You can learn more about Angkor Wat at the museum in Siem Reap, though.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Sleepy: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge

Welcome! Come and join the Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience. This is the ideal life.

Mark Twain

This week’s theme is sleepy! What can you come up with?

My photo is from a rare animal rescue cafe in Seoul, South Korea. Basically, they took in rescued animals who had been bought as exotic pets then abandoned by their owners, and was completely funded by the money people paid to see them. It was like a cat cafe, but with different animals and a lot of strict rules like no touching the animals and no feeding them. This dog is so sleepy at the top of his slide!

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

5 places where you can see Roman remains in York (3 are free)

York is a city famous for its rich history. However, York’s Roman past can be hard to find on your first trip to the city, as most of the historic buildings are younger. Here is a list of five places where you can see some real Roman remains in York (three of them are free) and a little bit of York’s Roman history!

The Roman city of York was founded in 71AD as an outpost fort and later a city called Eboracum. The Roman Empire was quite late to Britain. Rome had colonised Spain in 206BC, the Greeks in 146BC and France in the 1st century BC, yet they didn’t manage to take Britain until 43AD. Only Germany was conquered later- a defeat that ultimately led to the downfall of the Roman Empire, but that’s a topic for another time.

The Romans extensively colonised the south of England, but their presence in the north was less established, because of the perpetual threat from the Picts in what is now Scotland. Additionally, the cost of over-extending the Roman Republic was starting to take its toll on Rome’s ability to defend itself in every direction, due both to money and manpower.

When the Roman Empire went into decline and withdrew between 405 and 420AD, York remained populated, and ultimately grew into the city you see today.

It is estimated that only two per-cent of ancient Eboracum has been excavated. This is because the city expanded enormously during the medieval period and a lot of this was built over the remains of the older, Roman city.

I love discovering aspects of a city’s past, especially somewhere like York where there’s so much of it. Here are five places with Roman remains that you can find yourself (three are free) on your York adventure, plus a sixth bonus statue that isn’t Roman, but it’s of a Roman Emperor.

Roman Baths

The Roman baths are, funnily enough, situated beneath the floor of the pub Roman Bath. What you will see here are the excavated remains (you can’t take a bath here). You will spot them immediately on entering the pub.

If you’re wondering, the type of bath here was most likely a balneae, a small public or private bath, not a grand Imperial thermae. This bath was used by the Roman army which occupied York, and was probably built by them. The remains of other Roman baths have been found around the city, but the ones at Roman Bath pub are the only ones that you can go and see. If you visit, remember this is a pub and a business. You don’t need to pay entry, but you can support the bath by buying a drink.

Roman Column

An 8m tall column sits outside the Minster. It was one of many which supported the Basilica–a huge Roman building. The Roman Column was discovered in 1969, during excavations around York Minster. It was raised and left on display near where it was found. It was donated to the city by the Dean and Chapter. Unfortunately, the builders made a terrible mistake and it is, in fact, upside-down.

To find it, head to the main entrance of York minster. From the entrance, locate the black metal gates that can be used to close the road. The column is on the right of the railings, near the school. Free access 24/7.

The Basilica

More of the Basilica can be seen in the Undercroft of York Minster, where the foundations have been excavated. The Basilica was built in 100AD, only 29 years after Eboracum was founded. It was a huge civic building intended for use as a courthouse and other public functions. Usually, basilicas were sited next to a forum, but none has been discovered in York, yet (also missing: York’s Colosseum).

You can visit the Undercroft by going inside the Minster and buying a ticket. There are three different areas of the Minster with separate tickets; be sure to get a ticket specifically for the Undercroft to see the Roman remains of York’s basilica.

The Roman wall

The Romans built walls around many of their settlements. Most archaeologists will tell you walls are there to keep invaders out, but Bar-Yosef put forward an alternative idea in 1986 which deserves more attention; walls can be used as a flood defence and to prevent mud flows damaging the city. Walls also keep people in. It is much easier to control a population when they can’t simply get up and leave, and it’s also easier to find criminals and to accurately collect taxes inside a walled city.

Most of the Roman wall actually lies beneath the Medieval wall you can walk on. The Roman remains are tucked within the embankment that holds up the Medieval walls. But in a little green area, beside a car park on Museum Street, there’s an exposed area of the original Roman walls. From the art gallery, walk to the gate of King’s Manor and don’t go inside. Instead, go left along the pavement toward the theatre (don’t cross the road).

The Roman wall is immediately on your right.

The Yorkshire Museum

Of course, you’re going to find a lot more of York’s Roman artefacts if you visit a museum. The Yorkshire Museum holds quite a collection of small finds, including the reconstructed Coppergate helmet (which the reconstructors got wrong, I believe the museum now goes into detail on this). There are also Roman sarcophagi and other large items like a mosaic floor and a wall fresco. I think a better way to present the past is to do what they do in Athens and leave it in-situ but put protective glass over it, so the past becomes part of today’s buildings, retaining the context of where they were found. However, this is why I don’t work in a museum.

So there you have it. Five places you can see York’s Roman past.

And the sixth (not quite Roman)…

As a bonus, check out the statue of Constantine outside the Minster. This isn’t a Roman find, but was created later to memorialise the Emperor due to his ties with the city. His father Emperor Constantius is one of two Roman emperors who died in the City of York (the other is the African-Roman who became Emperor of Rome, Septimus Severus). Constantine the Great (pictured below) was the first Christian Emperor of Rome, legitimising the religion in 312AD and paving the way for its widespread acceptance in Europe.

CC Zero

Spot: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge

Welcome! Come and join the Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

This week’s challenge is spot.

Within your heart, keep one still, secret spot where dreams may go.

Louise Driscoll

Do you have a favorite spot? A spot where you love to hang out? A spot where you enjoy walking? A spot of tea? Spot the Dog? Do you love spotting birds? Or you could take this literally and show me a spotty dog (Edinburgh slang for a dalmatian) or spotty wallpaper. Let’s be dotty about spots, this week!

My photo is of the sunset on Christmas Eve 2017 in Pattaya beach, Thailand. It was a great spot to just let go and have a quiet holiday at a point when my husband and I were living in China and working very long hours.

What can you come up with?

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Towering: Thursday Photo Challenge

Welcome! Come and join the Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos! Anyone can join in with any type of camera.

This week’s challenge is towering.

I ought to be jealous of the tower. She is more famous than I am.

Gustave Eiffel

What way will you interpret this challenge? A photo of something tall, perhaps, or of a person who is a tower of strength? Everything is relative, of course, so perhaps you might want to take this in another direction and find something really small that lives in a world of towering giants?

My photo is of some huge palm trees towering over a waterfall and a flower in Palm Springs, California, on a cloudy winter’s day.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Childlike: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge

Welcome! Come and join the Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

This week’s challenge is childlike.

There are no seven wonders in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.

Walt Streightiff

The subject could be a child or you could attempt to take a photo through the eyes of a child. It’s notoriously difficult for adults to see the point of view of children, so this challenge might push some people out of their comfort zone.

My photo is the excitement of going on a plane as a child and seeing the world from above. That sense that you could live amongst the clouds and build snowmen out of them. The rollercoaster thrill of taking off and the uncertainty about how the plane will ever touch land safely again. I never went on a plane as a child, so the first time I experienced the awe and wonder of air travel was when I was eighteen.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Sorry, Italy, I disagree about coffee

In Italy, they are very particular about their coffee. It stands to reason, since they’re famous for coffee. Half our coffee words are direct loan-words from Italian. Latte, cappuccino, espresso, doppio espresso, to name a few.

Many successful coffee shop chains have given themselves Italian names and the main coffee machines used in those coffee shops come from Italy. The Gaggia machine is made in Milan, and that is the industry standard for professional coffee-making equipment.

So it’s generally acknowledged that Italy knows a thing or two about coffee. But I’m not so sure. When I went to Verona more than a few years ago, I wandered across a huge piazza to a cafe with dozens of seats outside. Wanting to experience some local culture, I sat down and a waiter came out.

– What would you like to drink? he asked.

– A cappuccino, please, I replied.

– No. We do not serve those after 11am.

– Could I have a latte instead? I wondered.

– We do not serve those, now, either.

– Americano? I (out of desperation) asked. I was starting to feel as if I’d landed in Monty Python’s Cheese Shop sketch.

– We don’t make those, he replied.

I couldn’t think of any other types of coffee right then. It seemed so weird that an Italian cafe wouldn’t sell coffee. I could see people drinking around me. I blinked once. Twice. Three times. My brain had to reboot. Then it gave up. So did I. I thanked him, left the table, and headed back across the square to the McDonald’s where they were not so strange about their coffee.

I only found out later that the waiter was being a coffee snob. The thing is, in Italy, you are not supposed to drink cappuccino or latte except with your breakfast. The rest of the time, you must only drink espresso.

I find this bizarre. Milky coffees are extremely high in calories and, due to a hormonal issue, I struggle to keep weight on. On top of that, I have abominable stomach acid and, because I overcaffeinated when I worked eighteen-hour days as an inner-city high school teacher, I now get jittery if I have more than 2 real coffees within an eight-hour stretch. I used to be well-known for being able to drink coffee at 2am and fall asleep at 2:20am, but these days, coffee really affects me if I have too much.

I don’t think I’m the only one. I know loads of people who have cut out caffeine in an attempt to cull mood swings, anxiety, or jitters.

Largely, I drink decaf. But a decaf espresso is the most pointless drink known to humanity. The 50ml shot of decaf neither hydrates you nor wakes you up. Actually, they’ve invented non-alcoholic shots of “spirits”, these days, so that’s up there as pointless, too. Not drunk. Still thirsty. Pointless.

A long drink with a ton of extra calories and some protein, like a soy latte or cappuccino, has a purpose. It gives me energy, from the calories, and stabilizes my weight, so I don’t waste away from breastfeeding. While I was pregnant with Jellyfish, I drank two or three decaf iced lattes every day to keep my calories up, to make up for the hell of hyperemesis (extreme pregnancy sickness) which had made me lose 5kg (10lb) of weight in the first trimester.

When you think about it, this whole obsession with Italian coffee makes no sense. None. Coffee came to Europe from South America. There are not many Italians in South America. People were drinking it over there for a very long time. And North America has some of the best-known coffee outlets, too. Starbucks. Seattle’s Best Coffee (which, BTW, was my favorite haunt in Osaka). Tim Horton’s (which is in my top ten eateries in Belfast). Need I continue? Italian coffee is like fancy shoes. Great to make you feel special, but day-to-day I’d reach for my Skechers or sandals. America knows coffee better than anyone, and I think they’re the ones getting it right.

So I’m sorry, Italy. You’re wrong about coffee. It doesn’t need to be strong. And it’s okay to put milk in it after 11am. It won’t catch fire.

Shadows: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge!

Welcome to the Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

This week’s theme is shadows.

The eye is always caught by light, but shadows have more to say.

Gregory Maguire

Shadows lurk around the edges of our consciousnesses, intensifying our feelings, darkening our thoughts and making us question things. But without shadows, we wouldn’t be able to see anything at all! Your challenge is to capture an image of a shadow.

These can be real shadows or imaginary ones. They can be images representing the shadows which hold you back or make you doubt yourself, or the shadows that dance under the kitchen light when you make a midnight snack. I can’t wait to see what you can come up with!

My photo is of the shadows that formed beneath a staircase in Seoul, South Korea, at twilight. I love the way these shadows seem to show the spiral isn’t at the same angle across the three turns of the stairway. At the top was a beautiful flower-filled bridge with trees planted in containers that seemed to be floating in the half-light.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution and check out your blog.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Postcards to my baby: Cambodia

Dear Jellyfish,

I don’t think I will ever go back to Cambodia unless it changes enormously. It’s taken me three years to gain some perspective on my time there and to be able to actually write about it.

There’s an elephant in the room which no naive, bright-eyed twentysomething travel blogger seems able to write about.

Cambodia is grotesque. I’m sorry, but it is.

The whole thing is a manufactured tourist trap designed (presumably by organized criminals) to appeal to the American “white saviour” complex that gets American tourists parting with as much money as possible at every point in their journey. I’m not American, by the way, so I know this will offend those who are.

I don’t think I had a single genuine interaction the whole time I was there. Every word people spoke was patter. The child selling postcards for one dollar apiece, that would have cost 20p in England. The museum, expensively decked out in stark contrast to the unpaved roads to Angkor Wat. The museum gift shop, full of $40 crocheted bags that you could pick up for $10 in Thailand. It was all purposely designed to appeal to fortysomething and fiftysomething Americans. The people with the money.

One thing that deeply bothered me was the fact no locals can afford in a million years to go and see Angkor Wat, despite the fact it’s their heritage that’s being exploited, sacrificed in a sickening cargo cult designed to lure in rich American tourists. It’s only full of tourists.

The entire country is just scam after scam. Looking around at all the people begging, and all the American tourists blithely handing over money thinking they were helping the poor, I wanted to vomit, because they’re making things worse.

Stop thinking with your heart and think with your head.

Let’s look at the floating village.

A bag of rice doesn’t cost $50 and neither does a 24 pack of pencils for the school.

But let’s imagine it does. How many dozens of American tourists on boats get whizzed past the same floating village, told the same tale of woe, and hand over $50 or $100 for a $5 bag of rice in ONE day? Why, then, have the villagers still not got any rice? Americans have been going there for about 15 years, now, and you’re telling me these people are still hungry? Why?

Because the money isn’t going to them. It’s going to organized criminal gangs.

How much money does the child flogging $1 postcards actually get? Nothing. He hands it over to his master.

How much does the taxi driver get when you give him a tip? Or the beggar when you give them money (and be sure, they’re not begging from other Cambodians, they’re begging from tourists)? Where is the museum entry fee going? Why are there still no paved roads outside the cities?

I am in no doubt the poverty you see in Cambodia is genuine, but everything about the way it is presented to you, the way it is exploited, and the way you are told you can “help” is fake. People who get drawn into the lie are not helping, they are part of the problem. Every time someone hands over $50 for a bag of rice or $1 for a 20p postcard, this justifies in the minds of the sellers that their scam has worked, so they keep doing it.

It’s painfully awkward being in Cambodia, seeing the scams, having to engage with people who see you as a big target. Whatever the country’s identity was going to be, tourism has ravaged it. I’ve seen scams before, but never anything on this scale. It’s just so well-orchestrated.

Tourism is a huge and very busy industry, but none of that money is going back into the local community, it’s being siphoned off.

Something in Cambodia needs to change massively at an organizational level.

I hope, little one, that by the time you grow up, Cambodia has sorted out its problems and works properly for the people who live there. But while “white saviours” are busy doing bad deeds to ease their own consciences, that’s not going to happen.

Moving House Abroad: 20 Packing and Moving Tips From An Expert

So we’re moving countries again next week. New tax system. New car registration system. New everything.

At least we’re not moving far geographically, this time. So while we’re in the middle of all this packing mayhem, I thought I’d share my packing and moving tips for moving house abroad, since this is the third time I’ve moved countries between two different continents, and about the zillionth time I’ve moved house in total.

  1. Have the biggest clear-out. Some people say to do it before you start to pack but I find it’s better to do it as I’m packing because that way I know what space I have and what I need to take.
  2. Make the most of your luggage allowance or the space in your car. We like to do as few trips as possible. When we moved from England to China and from China to Northern Ireland, we just took what we were allowed to have with our plane tickets.
  3. Don’t waste money, time, space or the environment on bubble wrap (or even newspaper). Wrap your delicates in your clothes. Seriously, you have these squishy things and these delicate things, put the two together!
  4. Pack out any space inside mugs, pans etc with clothes or other fabrics.
  5. Try to keep books to a minimum. Those are heavy and they take up a LOT of space. Anything that’s not a profound, life-changing, awe-inspiring tome of knowledge with a cover that belongs at the Tate should be switched for a Kindle version (get the Kindle app for your phone or consider a Kindle tablet), and take the hardcopy to a charity shop.
  6. Weigh your suitcases! Use your bathroom scales or get a hand luggage scale. If they’re over 35kg (about 70lb) most airlines won’t take them, so at that point, your best plan is to split your luggage and pay for an extra bag.
  7. In your carry-on, have a few things in case your checked bag gets lost. You’ll want at least a change of clothes and a toothbrush.
  8. Take a handbag/purse. This one’s mostly aimed at guys. You are leaving valuable luggage space on the table if you don’t get a man bag or laptop bag and pack it to the max with bits and bobs. You are allowed to take a carry on case and a handbag/laptop bag in the cabin of every airline.
  9. If you have medications to take with you, be sure to get a doctor’s note (in America) or print out a photo of your prescription (in the UK) so you can prove you were prescribed them properly. Look up what you can’t take into the country, because some places (like UAE) have very, very strict rules. Never, ever take prescription meds into a country with the sole intent to give them to someone else.
  10. Pack your cosmetics according to the temperature of the airports you’ll be passing through. Any cosmetic that’s super-unstable in heat or coldness should go in your carry-on, if possible. Check out my complete guide to traveling with cosmetics.
  11. If you’re moving with a hire vehicle such as a self-drive van, be sure you’re legally allowed to cross country borders with it. Some vehicles won’t let you, or charge you extra for “insurance”.
  12. If you’re taking a fridge, there are special rules for moving a fridge. Don’t ever lay it flat on its back. Empty it and defrost it before traveling. Tape the doors so they don’t fall open and get damaged. Either move it upright or, if your van can’t do that (as many can’t), prop it at an angle using a sturdy box. If that’s not possible either, lay it on the side opposite the door hinges. Let it stand 8-24 hours before turning on, depending how long it was in transit.
  13. Shipping companies will move your stuff around the world if you need them, but they are very expensive, so be sure you really want to take everything you’re moving.
  14. Label your boxes. Even small boxes packed in a suitcase. It’s too easy to forget what’s in them when you arrive, and that means you have to open them all before figuring out which room they go in.
  15. Take boxes directly to the room they’re for. That keeps your thoroughfare clutter-free while you’re emptying things.
  16. Protect your new carpets by putting down cardboard or linoleum in the main walkways e.g. around your front door. Otherwise, everything will get grubby, fast.
  17. Get your electricity, heating, water and broadband services connected up before you arrive. Some countries can take over a month between you signing up and them actually connecting you!
  18. Take a flashlight or torch, a blanket and a solar battery charger (if you’re moving locally, get a solar generator and some charging panels) as backup in case your electricity isn’t on when you arrive. I have moved house dozens of times and I have almost never arrived to find the electricity is working immediately.
  19. Check the car licensing restrictions before moving your car. You may have to swap your licence for a local one, and you will almost certainly need to re-register your car, and you may have to do this within a fixed time. In China, if you want to drive, you’ll need to apply for a driving test and pass it.
  20. If you don’t have curtains, yet, you can get some privacy by draping towels or sheets over the curtain rails, or if you have the right kind of windows, you can jam the top of a bedsheet in there and cover the windowpane with it. If none of these apply, get some liquid Windolene (not the spray stuff) and put a thick layer over your windows with a cloth. People used to do this all the time back in the 80s and 90s.

Moving abroad is pretty stressful, but try to focus on the end point – living in your exciting new country! And share your best tips in the comments!