Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Back Home Again

I am back in London, where the WiFi is blessedly fast. Woo hoo! Our flights back home were uneventful -- we passed through Abu Dhabi once again, and this time we made our connection. It made for a long day of flying (about 12 hours) but we endured.

Yesterday Dave and I sat on the patio at our hotel in the Seychelles and talked about how, for the most part, we had been spared rain. Almost as soon as we said it a series of little rainstorms developed around us, including this one across the bay. We still only got spattered with a few drops.

I felt a bit stir-crazy just sitting around all day waiting for our 5:30 p.m. taxi, so while Dave read I took a walk to a neighboring beach. I found four or five little shells (devoid of hermit crabs, I swear) and some beach glass. Isn't it funny how a beach can take a broken bottle, wear away the sharp edges and turn it into something desirable?

Dave and I also spent part of yesterday talking about the things that most surprised us about the Seychelles. One is the complete absence of sea gulls, at least from what we saw. Have you ever seen a beach environment with no sea gulls? Instead they have long-tailed tropicbirds (left), the closest thing I could find to a gull. Much more elegant, and better behaved, too.

I was also surprised by the predominance of French. I expected the Seychellois people to speak English, the Seychelles having been an English colony for more than 100 years. But the earliest settlers were French, and the French influence never waned.

Olga comes home this afternoon, and then it's back to our London routines!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Big City, and a Mild Burn

Today we went to Victoria, the bustling capital of Seychelles. I say that only slightly jokingly, because despite its small size, it really is busy with cars and people. It took me a good five minutes to get that photo above, waiting for a break in the traffic.

Victoria is located on the other side of the island of Mahé from where we're staying, at Anse Soleil. Getting over there is an adventure, as we have to traverse a mountain range! We hired a taxi for the day and saw some spectacular scenery from the mountain peaks, as well as the ruins of an old Capucin Mission created in the mid-1800s to educate the children of freed slaves.

We had a creole lunch at a restaurant called Marie Antoinette, toured the local market (full of fish and mysterious produce) and visited the somewhat dusty little Natural History Museum.

Have I mentioned that it is freaking HOT here? If I have one complaint about our hotel, it's that it is a long way from everything. Even walking out to the main road, to the small settlement of Baie Lazare, means an arduous journey up and down some steep hills. I've done it twice now, including yesterday, when I photographed this colorful little building that houses the library and a crafts center.

Dave likes the remoteness. He's definitely getting his wish for a place where there is little to do but relax. I think I like a bit more connectedness, but if I'm willing to sweat it out I can explore a bit.

Of course, there's also the water, a cooler recreational option. Here's one of those aforementioned crabs, hanging on for dear life amid the onslaught of a crashing wave. I went snorkeling yesterday morning and had another miraculous aquarium-swimming experience, though it was tempered by a touch of sunburn. I am so careful about sunblock, and I even wore a shirt -- but I did not count on the elastic in my swimsuit going a bit slack so that the suit rode down, exposing what might be politely called my lower lower back to the sun. I now have a two-inch strip of sunburn that looks, from behind, like a pink belt. (Does anyone else have itchy sunburn? It doesn't hurt. It just itches like crazy.)

Here's one of those fruit bats I mentioned. They are very large. They look like circling buzzards. Apparently some restaurants serve them, and Dave kept talking about trying one, but I argued against it for ecological reasons. (There seem to be a ton of them, so I'm not sure my concerns are sound. Eating a bat just feels wrong.)

Finally, here's a little shop I found with the amusing name of G. Fock Yune. (There's also an R. Fock Yune a little bit down the road -- a relative, according to our taxi driver.)

We are headed back to London tomorrow. I'll re-enter the blog world more fully once we get home!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

From the Seychelles, Live!

Believe it or not, we have arrived at a hotel with WiFi. At least, some semblance of WiFi. If I told you how long it took to load these pictures we could debate whether I am truly connected or not -- but they did get there, eventually.

The Seychelles are almost absurdly beautiful. They're like everyone's stereotypical idea of a tropical paradise, with turquoise water, colorful birds, copious sunshine broken by brief, refreshing rainstorms, exotic flowers and plants and plentiful relaxation. Nothing in the Seychelles happens quickly, as any Seychellois person will tell you.

Getting here turned out to be a challenge. Our flight left late from London, so by the time we arrived in Abu Dhabi we'd missed our connection. The airline put us up in a hotel (for a few hours, because by this time it was the middle of the night) and when we set out to find some food, all we could come up with was...

…McDonald's. But I must say, that was a darn good Big Mac. It's all about the special sauce, isn't it?

The next morning we were on the first flight out, and our arrival in the Seychelles went smoothly. We landed on Mahé, which is the main island, and got a brief tour of the capital, Victoria (which seems to be about eight square blocks) courtesy of our taxi driver. He then took us to the jetty for the ferry to Praslin, the location of our first hotel.

Praslin is a quieter island, with idyllic beaches like Anse Lazio, where the thatched lifeguard stand provided a place for some local romance. (The lifeguard himself is on the right, and he did seem to be paying attention.)

The wildlife is amazing. This orange bird is a Madagascar fody, and they're very common, flitting around in their bright breeding plumage. I think the little brown bird in front may be the female. Only the males turn orange, apparently.

We've seen lots of other amazing birds, and huge fruit bats that circle through the skies in afternoon and evening. We snorkeled on a reef, and yes, it was like an aquarium, to use a tired but truthful analogy.

And of course, we've seen lots of giant tortoises. Literally dozens of them. They love having their necks scratched.

Yesterday Dave and I went to the Valle de Mai, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the home of the Coco de Mer palm. These palms only grow in the Seychelles, mainly on Praslin, and they live an incredibly long time for a tropical tree -- something like 800 years. They're best known for their curvy and suggestive seeds, which weigh several kilos and are the largest in the plant kingdom.

Our guide at the Valle de Mai introduced himself as Sean, "just like Sean Connery -- but I can't act."

Dave quipped, "Well, you look just like him."

We've seen lots of geckos and lizards, too. And crabs! This place is simply crawling with crabs. The good kind.

We left Praslin yesterday and came back to Mahé, where we will spend the rest of our trip, being forced to witness sunsets like these:

Yes, they really look like that. Virtually every night.

Oh, and there's going to be a lot of this going on.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Back to Thamesmead

When we were in South London on Saturday, our bus swept past this stop. I was sitting on the upper deck and I had the surreal sensation of being enveloped in a pink cloud. I saw the dirt pile out the window, the bleak industrial landscape, and imagined how the bus stop must look, with that lone pink tree standing sentinel.

I could not get that image out of my head.

So yesterday, after I took Olga to the park and as I prepared to run errands to get ready for our departure for the Seychelles today, I decided I had to go back to South London and get a picture of that tree, that bus stop. It haunted me. And I couldn't wait, because the tree would stop blooming soon -- it was now or never.

So that was my afternoon yesterday -- a tube ride, another tube ride and then a bus ride back to North Greenwich, and I am so happy with the results. I love that picture. I didn't count on the beautiful, windswept shape of the tree, which makes it all the better.

As long as I was down there, I thought I'd go on to Thamesmead, as was my original plan on Saturday. So I did, getting off the bus and wandering through a landscape of urban Brutalist architecture interspersed with big, grassy park spaces.

No one ever told me there would be horses wandering around Thamesmead. But there are. That was a surprise.

I didn't try to find specific movie locations for either "A Clockwork Orange" or "Beautiful Thing," both of which were filmed here. But I got a general sense of the settings, seeing the buildings up close and wandering through their maze-like courtyards, labyrinthine outdoor corridors and forbidding ground-level car parks.

I actually like the architecture, though the buildings are showing their age.

This morning Dave and I have to pack and get ourselves out of here. The dog is already at her boarding quarters. I'm not sure whether I'll be able to blog from the Seychelles but I'll try. If not, I'll catch you up when we return in about a week!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

South London Lunch

Yesterday we went down to South London to meet Sally and Mike for lunch. We invited along Anna, one of Dave's coworkers from the music department, and her husband Lawrence, who funnily enough just bought a house a few doors away from Sally and Mike. We figured they should all meet!

We had a good pub lunch and then made our way to Anna and Loz's house, where we saw all their planned improvements.

I admire anyone who enters the real estate market here in London and emerges unscathed with a proper house. Dave and I have talked about trying to buy, but it seems like a much scarier process than it is in the states. For example, one can make an offer on a house and have it accepted by the buyer, and still lose the house to another purchaser who offers a higher price at any point before closing. Besides, property prices here are insane, and getting more insane all the time.

Anyway, my original plan had been to leave lunch and go to Thamesmead, a '60s planned community along the river, to do some photography. Almost from its inception Thamesmead was considered a forbidding environment, representative of all the bleakness that a London council estate can embody. Parts of "A Clockwork Orange" were filmed there, for example.

But we didn't leave Anna's until 5 p.m., so I ditched that idea. Instead we walked to the top of a hill at an old quarry near their house in Charlton, from which we had expansive views over Canary Wharf (above) and the Thames Barrier (top).

Another resident of the street where Sally, Mike, Anna and Loz live is Herbie the Love Bug -- or at least his blue cousin.

I may try my Thamesmead outing again today, though with all we have to do before our trip tomorrow, it would probably make more sense to stay home.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Triceratops in Drag

Several months ago, a trio of plastic toy dinosaurs appeared in the computer room in the library at school. Lots of groups use that space, including an after-school photography program -- I thought the dinosaurs might have been models they used to teach depth-of-field or some other photographic principle. In fact, I thought about photographing them myself -- but then they disappeared before I had a chance.

Two of them reappeared this week, a Stegosaurus and a Triceratops. There were no obvious clues about where they'd gone, except that the Triceratops had been painted to look like a drag queen or a cheap tart.

Vegas, baby.

Speaking of cheap tarts, early this morning -- after I'd walked Olga, and as I made coffee -- I heard shouting from our parking area downstairs. I went out on the balcony and saw two scantily clad women squatting against one of our buildings, loudly and apparently drunkenly exchanging words as they simultaneously took a slash (as the British say). Charming. They stood up, readjusted their micro-minis and teetered out to Portobello Road on ridiculously high heels, apparent casualties of a wild Friday night.

Dave and I did our own celebrating last night, though not nearly to the same degree. We popped a bottle of bubbly (a gift to Dave from the American School in Paris, in thanks for his hosting of the international concert band a couple of weekends ago) and toasted the beginning of Spring Break. We don't have to go back to work until April 22! After a crazy hectic workday yesterday, the sub phone is turned off and my desk at the library is clear -- and I am ready to relax.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Accessiers For Sale

Another great storefront, which I pass every day on my way to and from work. It looks like it was originally called "Moon Talk," for some reason, and doubled as a travel agency. Now it has mutated into "On Talk." (And is there really a cafe in there?)

I shot a second version of this photo with a person walking in front of the store, but I don't like that one as much because the passerby blocks this priceless sign on the door (left).

Today is our last day of work before Spring Break. Woo hoo! I have been working like a dog this week to get all the subs lined up for the week of our return -- at least the ones we know we need -- at the end of April. Also, this week has been busy for last-minute sick calls, probably because everyone has the same thing I had!

The library has been busy too. Everyone wants books for the break. Well, all except the high school students, who seriously never read a book, it seems. The middle school kids go through books like water. Then they get to high school and recreational reading apparently grinds to a halt. I suppose they get too busy on Facebook. (And yes, admittedly, with loads of homework.)

Our Seychelles departure is coming up in just a few days. I haven't done much to prepare for this trip. Yesterday I bought a guidebook, and just this week it occurred to me to check and see if we need malaria medication -- but surprisingly, given that it's Africa, there's no malaria in the islands. So that's one complication we won't have to deal with!