Chicago

Chicago
A pigeon, with excellent taste, fascinated by the guide’s description of Anthony Calder’s Flamingo, standing outside a Mies Van der Rohe building

For four days I wandered this amazing city, my emotional state switching back and forth from heightened anxiety to awe and wonderment.

The suburbs are reputedly very scary places, the maps marked with every reported serious violent crime would put one off from visiting alone. However I didn’t look at those maps, I just booked an AirB&B and took my chances.

As it happened, I was perfectly safe  in the area known as Grand Boulevard down in the south towards the end of the Green Line train, 47th street station.

The first person I met when I got off the train after my flight from London was a white policeman in his car with his partner. He said ‘ Lady, what are you doing here?’ You have to imagine the incredulous tone of his voice and the weight of the stone falling into my stomach.

I explained that I was staying a few days at an Air B&B, he said  ‘we’ll follow you till you get inside the door, don’t go out at night, don’t use the train, get an Uber cab to come right to your door”.  With fear and some confusion, I trundled down the road with my shiny new wheeled suitcase, to the house, knowing I was being watched (an odd feeling in itself). I accessed the apartment and drank a large gin and tonic – duty free from Gatwick Airport.

And so I began my four days with such a burden of fear, it plagued my sleep and became my constant companion, even downtown in the “Loop”, where the main tourist areas are located.

I contacted a good friend who travels alone to far more unsettling places, she gave me excellent advice and suggested that I needed to follow some simple rules and relax, enjoy the city.

I loved Chicago, I have no regrets whatsoever about having been there, stayed there, explored everywhere I wanted to go. I talked to a lot of local people, on the trains, in the streets, in the shops, made a great new friend. Since my return home, I now know that this summer the rate of violent crime has soared.

I have no answers to the problem of escalating violence but the way its being dealt with currently is obviously not working. It is a disgrace that in this large wealthy city not all its citizens enjoy the quality of life they deserve. Racial segregation and the housing “projects” of an earlier era have caused misery to many lives. Gun crime is rife,  many lives could be saved by a ban on guns.

I was inspired to go to Chicago by a lecture at the Victoria and Albert Museum given by a young Chicagoan Timothy Long who told the incredible history of the pioneers, entrepreneurs and downright scallywags who created such a vibrant and extraordinarily forward-looking culture.

It was all about trade, exploration, determination and guts. The discovery of the water routes from the north east coast, through the Great Lakes to the southern end of Lake Michigan, thence the relatively short overland distance to one of the tributaries to the Mississippi and on downward to the South, opened up trades routes of great importance.

But the real key was the building of the Illinois and Michigan Canal allowing shipping from the Great Lakes through Chicago to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The population grew exponentially from 350 to 4000 in just 7 years.

And instead of low rise wooden buildings, the majority of which  burnt down in the great fire in 1871, the city is now the finest example of city planning and inspired building design and techniques. Indeed it is considered to be the birthplace of the skyscraper.

Photographs do not do justice to the exhilarating city but here are some attempts to capture an essence.

If you get the chance to go – go, do not be frightened of by a couple of white policemen in a squad car. One of them kindly gave me his personal email address, perhaps I should write and tell him that i’m fine and that I loved his city. He said “don’t leave without eating a Chicago deep pan pizza”,  and that was yet another piece of advice of theirs that I did not follow!

 

 

Pembrokeshire

Recently I spent a week in South Wales, St David’s Cathedral is a very special place, I last visited more than 30 years ago in the pouring rain, it looks gorgeous in sunlight, though the deep purple of the stone stands out so much better in rain.

St David's Cathedral


St David's CathedralSt David’s Cathedral

St David's Cathedral
Tombstones leaning against the perimeter wall
St David's Cathedral
Stained glass window

 

 

The Sun at last

Our boat trip lasted about 12 hours and during that time the sky was pretty much clouded over but during our trip back to Longyearbyen harbour the sun finally appeared. The sky turned blue and so of course did the water. The ocean was calm and smooth as silk, I’ve heard that expression before but this time it really moved like silk and was very reflective. I tried to focus on the birds following above us but it seemed impossible, as an amateur, to get the focus right as the birds flew unexpectedly close.

I’m pretty sure the generous shots of whisky provided by our delightful guide Stein only helped my technique. He was kind enough to say that our trip was the most convivial he had guided this year.

IMG_7539
Stein from the MS Langǿysund, watching out for Polar bears, sadly we didn’t get to see one.
IMG_7596
A bright blue line appeared along the coast, I caught it on camera so it can’t have just been an affect of the whisky.

IMG_7554IMG_7556IMG_7558

IMG_7560
A Minke whale flashed its white back at us a we sailed past

IMG_7575IMG_7584IMG_7586IMG_7587IMG_7606IMG_7612IMG_7619IMG_7621IMG_7624IMG_7625IMG_7627IMG_7644

Pyramiden

Pyramiden is one of several abandoned Russian coal-mining towns, there is also Barentsburg which seems to have been larger and more complex. We chose to go to Pyramiden because the boat sails past the Nordensköld glacier.
A busy and fully equipped mining town, it was abruptly abandoned at the demise of USSR in 1998. Here is an excellent site giving full details of its history but these photos demonstrate how it looks right now.
Some of these images were taken with a phone camera but most were taken with a borrowed camera. The charming and kind Lisa lent me her camera to use, with my SD card, because my lovely camera had a hissy fit and decided it couldn’t bear the cold wind, the shutter refused to shut or open unless I removed the lens and kept the body of the camera warm for 10 minutes.

Lisa and Severin are half way through a 6 month tour of Scandinavian countries driving and living in an adapted Mercedes van. What a fabulous trip, I would love to do that. Such interesting people doing such a great thing, and so generous with their camera. (thanks )

 

What a feast! Huset Restaurant in Longyearbyen

I had the amazing opportunity to visit this restaurant and indeed all the other fabulous places in Norway that I got to see because of my travelling companion Heather who researched so diligently.  Without her hard work I would certainly have missed all the best stuff.  She booked all the trips and decided which were the best things to do, what a champion. perhaps she might change jobs and become a tour guide/organiser. They even made the Heather Honey ice-cream in her name!

Longyearbyen to the Nordensköld Glacier

Taking a boat trip was the probably the best thing we did during our visit to Svalbard.
We sailed on MS Langøysund with our guide Stein (pronounced more like Stain) from Henningsen Transport.

IMG_7387
Leaving Longyearbyen harbour

Steaming off around the western tip of the mountain range to the north of the harbour, we saw a few Minke whales as well as lots of different seabirds, even Puffins. The land around seems almost barren with no trees but plenty of grass and moss and in a few weeks there will be colourful shows of wild flowers.

IMG_7395

As we passed Bird Rock on the southern side of Sassenfjorden,  thousands of birds were swarming, swirling in the skies and screaming into the wind. A sharp-eyed young man shouted out “there’s a fox” we could just make it out as it ran with a white bird in its mouth, seeking his foxhole for some privacy.

IMG_7419

IMG_7430
Bird Rock, guano not ice
IMG_7436
Nordensköld glacier

 

IMG_7451
These huts are available for researchers to stay in for a few days.
IMG_7452
These two people had been photographing sea birds and staying in one of the huts. Our boat will collect them and take them back to Longyearbyen

IMG_7460

Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway

IMG_7280
The town from the South

Longyearbyen is the largest permanent settlement of Svalbard, with a population of just over 2000. It is fully dark for 4 months during the winter, the sun never rising above the horizon. In summer the sun stays well above the horizon 24 hours.  So dusk and dawn only happen in Spring and Autumn. Northern Lights are happening all the time but they can only be seen when the sky is dark.

longyearbyen
The area outlined in pink is the “safe” area, where polar bears rarely roam.One can only go outside of that whilst accompanied by a trained rifle shooter carrying their rifle.

We spent 4 days here, beginning with a bus tour lasting a couple of hours, slowly driving around the outskirts and through the town being shown various points of interest, whilst being served traditional dishes from the area. Lamb that had been dried for 6 months,  dried fish and two kinds of smoked or dried pork. All of which were quite chewy but surprisingly tasty, though the fish is definitely an acquired taste.

Later we were served with a large plate of delicacies, including reindeer heart, very tender and savoury, three kinds of smoked fish, mashed swede, and cubed beetroot and pickled berries. All delicious – though I didn’t eat the swede, bad memories from school days. Several cheeses were served last of all along with a small pot of cheesecake made with Norwegian “fudge” cheese.  Artic Tapas Tour

IMG_7315
On the road below the last remaining working mine (number 7) in the area, directly East of the town in the Adventalen valley. A shaft of sunlight in an otherwise cloudy few days.

IMG_7382

The remains of one of the first coal mines, unusually the strata is horizontal and each coal seam is around 2 metres in height. The town-scape is dominated by abandoned and decaying signs of its earlier coal industry.

IMG_7300

 

IMG_7381
Low hanging cloud with the coal seam just visible below.
IMG_7284
The university brings a constant flow of geologists and researchers, plenty of fascinating conversations going on in the bars and restaurants.
IMG_7270
The church to the west of the centre seen between apartment blocks. All the housing is built to modern standards of insulation.
IMG_7351
Geodesic Greenhouse

Ben is an enterprising young man exploring solutions for growing fresh green foods in challenging conditions. He is building an enormous greenhouse to supplement the local diet. The structure is based on Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Dome. It will be covered with one of three types polythene . Whatever the angle of the sun there will be a panel perpendicular to it  maximising the intake of heat and light. The local temperature rarely exceeds 7C even in summer. The structure available in various sizes from Arctic Dome Greenhouses also has extremely high wind resistance.