Watched a Ridley Scott film last night and still a bit giddy about getting hold of Photoshop, so I thought I’d play around with atmospheric skies and exaggerated lighting on some old photos. The top two images are of a Temple to Augustus in Pula, Northern Croatia. The third was taken in Silves, Portugal (I liked the mix of domestic and military frontages). The fourth and fifth images feature a solid, imposing old bell tower at the centre of a Byzantine basilica in Porec, N. Croatia. The sixth image was taken in Lagos, Portugal, the seventh in London, and the last at Warwick Castle.
The London pictures are becoming a bit stale, so I dug out some old photographs from a holiday in Istria, Northern Croatia. Within a few years Croatia will be absolutely overrun. I imagine it’s how most of Mediterranean Europe must have looked before burnt Brits and Germans decided to start colonising the coasts. Although towns like Porec and Rovinj are already on the tourist trail, they’re still quite unspoilt. Inland, we found some absolute gems like Groznjan, a tiny hilltop town approachable only by a precipitous gravel road, with a few hundred residents (mostly artists) and just one restaurant (top three photos). Rovinj, on the coast, was like a little crumbling Venice.
Went on a very long walk today around town. Initially I had hoped to see Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon filming near Kings Cross but found nothing, so I headed down into Covent Garden and Soho. The first two are shots of Soho. The third features a billboard which reads ‘Welcome to London. The world’s capital.’ The world’s optimist, maybe. The third is a garden near Centre Point with a toolshed, vegetable patches and wheelbarrows which sits awkwardly amongst ugly office blocks. Surreal, and full of tottering nutters.
This was the most beautiful place I visited in my time in South East Asia. It’s an old French colonial town on a semi-island wedged between the Mekong river on one side and a tributary on the other, which creates the odd impression that the town is afloat. It’s a quiet place of sleepy temples, wandering monks, and silver galleries and cafes occupying the old colonial houses. The more I like a place, the less I actually photograph it because I know an image could never do it justice. So these are just a few little details that have been digitally antiqued for nostalgic reasons, and one of a Mekong tributary. The icon is actually the image used on the Rough Guide cover, and it was almost like finding an old friend when I first saw it on a temple wall.
A tiny old town about half way down the Vietnamese coast, Hoi An is unbelievably pretty. We spent about 4 days here and couldn’t stand leaving. It’s low-slung streets were quite difficult to photograph though, so I’ve just posted one street shot. Here’s something I’ve just written about the town for a travel writing competition run by Rough Guide:
‘As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hoi An is remarkably well preserved, but it is nevertheless already embedded in the tourist trail. This is, as yet, not an entirely negative thing: the town is peaceful but also practical. There are already a host of good, inexpensive hotels, particularly the wonderfully unpronounceable Phuoc An, squeezed down a narrow lane five minutes from the centre of town where an immaculate double room with a great breakfast, access to a tiny swimming pool and charming service costs around $12 a night. Cheaper still are the family-run guesthouses right in the town’s historical core, where facilities are similarly historic but prices correspondingly low. Sanh Hien, just moments from the Japanese bridge, is a steal at under $10 dollars a night; though expect that night to be a hot one under the fans. There are a number of good restaurants, particularly on the Bach Dang by the river, which serve up great Vietnamese and international food for a few dollars. Café Can and Hong Phuc are particularly good, especially for the Hoi An speciality of Cao Lau; a delicious broth of noodles, pork and bean sprouts served with visible pride. There are a few good bars where the beer is cheap and plentiful. Minibuses leave periodically from Before and Now, taking curfew-dodgers to the beach to party on.
When not eating or drinking, it’s enjoyable and mostly free to simply stumble about ogling the architectural layering of the place which tells of its history; the Japanese bridge under its intricately carved canopy, the Chinese Assembly Halls and merchant houses along Tran Phu. For bargain-hunters, the town’s galleries, though tourist-oriented, offer some beautiful and inexpensive handicrafts. The town is also famous for its tailor shops which line almost every street and whose displays are a riot of bright, silk-clad mannequins. They will produce stunning custom made clothing within hours and for a few dollars, and stay open late to catch the inebriates who decide, on reflection, that they really do need a cashmere suit.’
A completely mad city, but a lovable one. We spent a good few days here. Hanoi makes London seem a sleepy, quiet place. Here are a couple of journal entries:
‘It’s easy to while away a few hours just stumbling about this fascinating and frenetic place. Alongside the tourist shops and galleries are dark, grimy workshops where gaunt men burn magnesium without masks and semi-naked. If half of Hanoi’s motorbikes are battling it out on the road, the other half are in pieces on the side of it. We turn down a tight alleyway overhung with a cobweb of wires and washing only to meet a dead-end and a gang of slobbering dogs.
For all its rugged charm, Hanoi is an exhausting place to be. Aside from the massive heat and heaving traffic, the realities of being part of a moneyed, white travelling minority are equally as grating. At every corner, men sit and holler ‘motorbike?’ at passing backpackers. Cyclo drivers draw up alongside, leering and offering ‘cheap cheap’ tours. Women playfully push their yokes and coolie hats on to you before (rather less playfully) demanding money. Men sidle up with trays of tat or racks of crudely photocopied books. For the Hanoians, we represent only economic potential; gullible, wealthy whites who of course want a Zippo, some Ray-Bans and an illegible copy of Memoirs of a Geisha.’
‘Evening. We eat some street food on tiny blue and red plastic chairs beside vast cauldrons of hissing oil. It vaguely resembles a Cornish pasty but neither of us dares to scrutinise its insides. Suffice to say that it was 30p and tastes ok. Still hungry afterwards, we find a proper, air-conditioned restaurant where I commit the cardinal sin of using a knife and fork instead of chopsticks. Around me, locals dementedly catapult rice into their faces and I wonder why I feel apologetic for practicing a superior form of dining.
We go for some beers at the ‘Hanoi Backpackers Hostel’, where all the westerners in Hanoi recline in their loose linen and ethnic accessories, talking to other westerners, listening to western music and drinking western beer. A place where you hear things like ‘the phosphorescence was overrated, man’, ‘it smells fucking organic up here’ and, my personal favourite, ‘there’s a swastika there… I had no idea Vietnam was Nazi.’’
Conflicting memories of this place. It is, of course, naturally stunning and unlike anything I had yet seen, anywhere in the world. But, after a microsecond too long in the sun on a beach at Cat Ba Island my back was burnt and my experience of the place was from that point uncomfortable. We did see an absurd sunset though, canoed among the floating villages and jumped into the jellyfish-ridden water from the top of the boat. It was over too quickly and we regretted buying the ‘package’ experience. If ever you do go, just get a bus to Ha Long City and go down to the water’s edge where locals lounge around with their own craft. They’ll take you where the tourist boats don’t go, and cheaper.
In the Summer of 2009 I travelled through Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. It was absolutely incredible, and almost hard to concieve of now it’s over. Here are some images of the far north of Vietnam which was, to reluctantly drag out the exhausted cliche, ‘like going back in time’. There is, excepting the odd tourist bus and dying minsk, hardly anything modern there at first sight. But after some time there the image begins to crack. Our guide wore her traditional Hmong garb in the day but a fake designer t-shirt in the evening, and some of the rustic homesteads - seizing on the steady flow of western tourists - contain huge fridges full of beer, which we almost emptied on the night we stayed. Then we moved on to the snake wine, a vat of which brooded in a dark corner. When my cup was poured a dead seahorse flopped into it, and after downing the liquid I though I might join it. This was the most photogenic region I visited, and the people were particularly interesting.
I’m new here. That is, this blog was started on February 1st 2010. I’m not really sure why I started it or what to do with it, so for now I’ll just post some of my photos to flesh it out a bit while I have a think. Within a few days I’ll probably be ranting, which may indeed be why I started it. I’m hoping it will eventually morph into some kind of outlet for thought on people, places, film, maybe even politics. And there will be lots of photographs.
If this blog awakes even the remotest interest in anybody, anywhere, apart from myself, I’ll be happy. If it doesn’t, I’ll probably still be happy because i’m none the wiser.