Postcard from... Tarragona

Tarragona.jpg

By Tim Woods:

A string of global top ten hits; a world-famous fashion icon; the star of era-defining TV shows. But when you hear ‘Minogue’, do you immediately think ‘Dannii’?

Tarragona suffers from a similarly overbearing sibling. It has everything a visitor could want from a Spanish excursion – coast, culture, cuisine and cerveses – yet for many, Catalonia means one thing: that overcrowded, football-famous metropolis up the coast. Even names such as Sitges and Salou will often chime more readily. These nearby resorts offer little more than sun, sangria and “Full English, only €15!!!”, yet still attract more tourists. Some hotels even offer trips to Tarragona as an afternoon excursion: “Only four hours there and back!!!”. Being little more than a time-killing detour from these culturally devoid upstarts must be hard for a former Roman capital to bear.

Yet could the times be changing? Barcelona’s authorities are actively turning tourists away, and there are only so many boiled-lobster beach-lovers that can be squeezed onto a beach. There is a void to be filled, a market to be served, and Tarragona is more than equipped to step up.

Late afternoon, I lose myself in the constricted alleys of its honeycomb old town, the docile ochre of the buildings disrupted by the Catalan flags that flap from every other balcony. I am hardly alone; a steady stream of tourists meander with me, and we are all eventually drawn to the steep steps of the cathedral, where perching space is at a premium. But drift along any of the streets that radiate from this central point and you have space, time, quiet; a stillness rarely found in Barca.

I head to the rambla, where I can actually ramble, rather than being jostled along with a crowd’s haste. Fish and tapas restaurants flank either side, but there are spaces to be had at the tables. The tiny bars selling home-flavoured vermouth are hidden just a couple of streets away. Later, I head to the Balcó del Mediterrani. It’s a hazy, lazy evening, perfect for outside, yet there is still ample room at the city’s prime lookout, from where you can soak up the ancient Amfiteatre to the north, or the fishing boats spinning around at sea.

Humbler Roman sites crop up unexpectedly. Next morning, in search of watermelon for a hungry toddler, we stumble upon the Teatre Romà de Tarragona. This spectacular site pops up unexpectedly; there are no signs, no tour parties, no fuss or fanfare. It’s just there, should you want to see it.

Or not. Up to you.           

Tim is an editor on Elsewhere: A Journal of Place and the author of Love In The Time of Britpop. You’ll find him on twitter here.                 

Postcard from… Múli, Faroe Islands

TimFaroes.jpg

By Tim Woods:

There is a temptation to romanticise the lives of those in remote outposts. On the extremities of our lands, they are immersed in nature, in tune with their ecosystem; pursuing a simpler, less cluttered existence.

Yet it is not always a choice. Some inhabit these places through circumstance alone. And the other side of this coin is often hardship and poverty, loneliness and isolation. There is little romance in any of these.

Múli, near the northern tip of Borðoy, is one of several deserted hamlets scattered across the eighteen Faroe Islands. But its abandonment is more recent than most: the last inhabitants only left in 1998. There was no disaster, no seismic event that forced them away; they had simply had enough. The gravel road, built not long before then, was a noble attempt by the Faroese authorities to connect the hamlet to Norðdepil and Klaksvík; instead, it simply made it easier to get away.

I drove along that road one evening in June, the light not even close to fading during the endless days of a Nordic summer. It hugs the edge of a dramatic glacial landscape, all plunging cliffs and bowl-like valleys, plus many other features familiar to anyone with a GCSE geography textbook. After parking, I followed the path beyond the four houses of the hamlet, dodging the fractious kittiwakes leaving their cliffside nests to shoo me away. That romantic side briefly took over: what a place to live this would be.

But five minutes later, I’d reached the farthest point accessible before those fearful cliffs take hold once more. It’s not even three hundred metres from the houses; a remarkably small space from which to eke out a livelihood from farming.

Passing back past the houses, I noticed smoke from a chimney and voices inside. They are not completely abandoned, having taken on a new life as holiday lets that are regularly booked out during the summer. Landscapes such as this are, it seems, best enjoyed for a few days rather than a lifetime. Perhaps Múli has finally found its purpose.

Postcard from… Szent Mihály, Balaton

 Photo: Katrin Schönig

Photo: Katrin Schönig

By Paul Scraton:

From the bike path that was leading us around Lake Balaton, a small track led up through the trees, winding its way around a couple of tight hairpins until it reached the top. There were picnic tables up there and a clearing in the woods that clung to the hillside, offering views across the curve of the lake’s western shore, back to Keszthely where we had started out that morning and across to Fonyód where, the previous day, we stopped to watch a congregation of egrets as they stalked along the pebbled shore.

 Photo: Katrin Schönig

Photo: Katrin Schönig

Also atop the hill was a white chapel, bright against the blue sky, and a series of crucified figures, carved out of wood and looking sorrowfully down towards the picnic tables and the views belong. The chapel was dedicated to Szent Mihály, and St Michael’s chapel had been built on this promontory above the lake for a very specific reason. The chapel was there to remember a day almost three hundred years before; a day very different to the one we experienced beneath a hot, June sun.

Over the winter of 1739, a group of fishermen walked out onto the ice on the edge of the partially frozen lake. As they worked, lifting fish from the cold waters, the ice they were standing on broke free and began to float off into the lake. The waters were so cold it was impossible for them to swim for safety. Six died, from the cold or from falling into the water. The other forty were left, floating on the lake, waiting to meet a similar fate.

That the forty fishermen survived was thanks to a shift in the wind, which began to move the ice floe back towards the shore. Once back on dry land the fisherman decided to build a chapel in thanks to their miraculous survival, and they built it on the hill that looked down on where they had returned to shore, so that it could continue to watch over the fishermen of the Balaton from that point on.

It was hard to imagine the lake frozen as we sat there on the picnic table beneath Christ on the cross and the tower of St Michael’s chapel. There seemed little movement on the lake as the sun rose higher in the late morning sky. But the church on the hill stood there as a reminder, not only of those who survived that winter’s day, but those that hadn’t been so lucky to be saved by the changing wind.

About the author:
Paul Scraton is the editor in chief of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place. Paul’s book Ghosts on the Shore: Travels along Germany’s Baltic coast is out now, published by Influx Press.

Postcard from... Cafe Leopold, Mumbai

Marcel Mumbai.jpg

By Marcel Krueger:

In the sweaty humid madness of the cyberpunk city that is Mumbai, where 60-storey skyscrapers rise into the night sky behind crumbling British colonial buildings and where men with typewriters and computers sit in little wooden booths offering letter writing and translation services on the streets, Café Leopold has been haunted by generations of foreigners. Lonely Planet calls it a ‘clichéd Mumbai travellers’ institution’, and it features heavily in Gregory David Roberts’ 2003 novel ‘Shantaram’, about an Australian hiding from the authorities in Mumbai and a staple in the literary diet of backpackers coming to India – they even sell it at the counter in the café.

The café itself however does not seem to live up to its reputation. Its small entrance is almost completely immersed in the tourist infrastructure of the equally touristy Colaba Causeway, the main street of this southern Mumbai neighbourhood. It’s flanked by small stalls and shops selling trinkets, fake jewellery, smart phone covers and T-shirts, and only the two security guards wearing ‘Leopold’-T-shirts at the entrance give it away (and check your bags for dangerous items). What I like about the place is its matter-of-factness. Despite being in business since 1871, there is no European café grandeur amidst the languid air pushed around by the many ceiling fans on the ground floor, only Indians and foreigners, backpackers and businessmen who come here for cheap food, cakes and cold beer.

Maybe it is this matter-of-factness that made it one of the targets in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, when the attackers sprayed the café with bullets from their AK-47s, killing ten guests and injuring many more. Some of the bullet holes can still be seen in the walls, between old beer advertisements and Pulp Fiction posters. Café Leopold defiantly re-opened only four days after the attack, and I for one believe that cold beer and cake will always beat terrorists and their bullets.  

Postcard from... the Salt Range and Islamabad

Islamabad.jpg

By Leylac Naqvi:

I am on the motorway between Lahore and Islamabad. At the point where the plains of the Punjab meet the Salt Range, I look and for a minute it seems a mirage, then more details of the shape, scope, and size of the hills emerge from the remnants of the mist I am leaving behind in Lahore. The sun is out, and I’ve got a cup of coffee in a styrofoam cup from the service station at Bhera in my hand. And as I ascend, and the sun is shining, I am seized with a sudden, unexpected happiness.

-

I wake up in the morning to golden light. I remember that about this place. I remember that I like the wind and the light and the way the dust makes everything look as if through a filter, slightly antiqued.

-

In contrast to Islamabad’s relatively staid exterior, the land seems to somehow call out from under, over and around its surroundings – the cloudless blue sky, the wind pushing the (imported) eucalyptus trees around, bright sun in the afternoon – they seem to try to speak even when the city itself is muted. Islamabad, situated on the Potohar Plateau and framed by the Margalla Hills, seems to have an undercurrent of vitality that is at odds with its usually calm surface.

-

Originally from Oregon in the U.S., Leylac Naqvi called Pakistan home for several years and now lives in Singapore. This postcard is a composite of moments from multiple return trips to Islamabad over the years since she moved away.

Postcard from... Cabo de Gata

fraile.jpg

By Paul Scraton:

The walk took us through the desert town of Rodalquilar, past the abandoned mine workers’ cottages and the remnants of the goldmine on the hillside, until we reached the ridge and dropped down towards the green valley below. The road, built for the trucks and other vehicles that moved between the different mines of this corner of the Sierra de Cabo de Gata, was wide and rocky, the preserve not only of walkers and mountain bikers, but also families in their cars, rocking over the rough terrain on an Easter day-trip through the hills.

We stopped, just before the mountain trail turned the final corner to meet the cabbage fields of the high valley, to follow a tunnel through the rock to discover mine buildings abandoned in 1936 at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Mining continued in the area after the conflict, with over 1,400 workers living in Rodalquilar and earning their living from the gold and minerals pulled from within these mountainsides. This lasted until the 1960s, when calculations showed that the constant scraping and digging at these hills no longer made financial sense, and the buildings were left to crumble beneath the sunshine of Europe’s driest corner.

This was a place of stories. In the high, farmed valley, a straight dirt track lined with prickly plants between the cabbage fields led us to another abandoned building. The Cortijo del Fraile is the farmhouse of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding, based on a true story from 1928 of a young bride-to-be running away with her cousin, only to meet the would-be groom’s brother at a crossroads where the eloping couple were gunned down. The cousin died, but the young woman survived, living in a nearby village until the 1990s. She never did get married.

Later, after the events depicted in Lorca’s tragedy, the farmhouse provided a suitably atmospheric backdrop for scenes in A Few Dollars More and The Good The Bad and The Ugly, but now it is collapsing in on itself, surrounded by fencing to keep visitors experiencing deep Ruinenlust from stalking the now overgrown rooms of the old farmhouse or stepping through holes in the walls. We sat for a while next to the farmhouse beside it’s old water-tank – the only part of the complex that has been renovated – and watched as the Easter day-trippers climbed out from their cars to wander the perimeter. From a valley beneath the mines to the theatres of Madrid, and now, ninety years on, a destination for those still fascinated by the stories of the past, whether they get there on foot, by bike, or behind the wheel of an increasingly dusty SEAT.  

Paul is Elsewhere’s editor-in-chief and wrote about Cabo de Gata in Elsewhere No.02, available in our online shop. Paul’s book Ghosts on the Shore: Travels along Germany’s Baltic coast is out now, published by Influx Press.

Postcard from... England (Covered in snow)

Snow.jpg

By Paul Scraton:

It felt like an escape, when the train eased its way of the Leeds station on its way south towards London. There was snow on the ground and more to come, the newspapers losing their minds over the SNOWMAGGEDON to be brought down upon the country by the BEAST FROM THE EAST. Somewhere on the edge of Wakefield, where fields crossed by electricity pylons met the last garden fences of a housing estate, kids pulled sledges in the direction of a hill as crows circled above.

At London Bridge station, construction workers threw snowballs at each other, exploding them against hard hats and the metal fences, laughing and calling out to each other in the accents of many different nations. A man in a suit stood next to a young woman with a backpack in the door of the station, watching the snow falling before pulling out their phones to capture the moment. Everything seemed to have stopped to watch it come down. Station workers, travellers and the pub-door smokers.  The city, so loud and intense only a moment or two early, was now muffled.

Watch out mate, came the shout, as a misguided snowball sailed over the fence from the construction site, just missing my head.

The next morning Clapham Common was white but the roads were clear as we caught the bus to Vauxhall. Once there it began to snow again, so intense this time that the opposite bank of the river was obscured and the Houses of Parliament were nothing but a ghostly, Gothic shadow in the gloom. With nowhere to be that we couldn’t reach on foot, the snow for us was just a distraction, a pleasant break from the norm. Newspapers told a different story. Cars stranded on the M80. Army deployed in Lincolnshire. Scotland and Ireland on shut-down.

We have bread, the sign said, snow piling up against it outside a grocery store somewhere along the east coast of Ireland, and now appearing in my social media feed.

In another gap in the weather, we made it south to Hastings, where the announcer at the station greeted us with apocalyptic warnings of impending doom. An hour or so later it began to snow again. All trains cancelled. We walked over the hill and down into the old town, along fairy tale streets of crooked houses, like a Dickens scene in the snow. On the beach waves crashed against the snow that had settled on the pebbles and around the fishing boats pulled up high, away from the water. An eerie scene. We were alone, for a time, until a group of exchange students appeared out of the sea mist. Phones raised, they captured the icy onslaught of the snow and sea spray as it blew in from the English Channel.

The next morning it was time to leave. Most of the snow had gone. Another travel window in the weather, rolling north through frosted fields and past white cliffs towards Gatwick. I was heading home, from home. Always a strange feeling and it was made odder still, having spent five days in an England covered in snow.

Paul is the editor-in-chief of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place. His book Ghosts on the Shore: Travel’s along Germany’s Baltic coast is out now from Influx Press.

Postcard from... the Canal Bank

Canal.jpg

By Paul Scraton:

To reach the canal bank the path moves past a stonemasons, where headstones wait in rows for future owners behind a chain link fence, and through a colony of allotment gardens, mostly locked and shuttered for the winter. Gnomes, felled by the last big storm lie on the lawn. Puddles gather in the centre of sagging trampolines. Leaves that fell months ago clog the drainage channels. The courts of the tennis club stand empty, the nets packed away. Grass grows long on the American Football field. Across the Atlantic they are preparing for the Super Bowl. Here, the season is long over.

Past a patch of wasteland of chipped bricks, blackened fire circles and piles of empty spray cans, the path runs alongside the canal now, through a tunnel of overhanging trees. Every so often a road crosses above, taking buses and cars in the direction of the airport. Thousands of people must pass this way each day departing or arriving in the city, but down here by the water is the domain of only a few. Joggers and cyclists. Council workers cleaning up the verges. Dog walkers. The canal itself still takes a barges or two, laden with coal, gravel or scrap metal, but as long as it is not frozen this is a place that belongs to the grey herons and mallards and the rowers with their metronomic strokes and heavy breathes. Their coaches ride ahead on little motorboats, issuing commands through a loudhailer, the only sound competing with the jet engines of the planes as they come into land.

In the summer, with the allotments in full swing and the path part of a major cycling and walking route, the canal bank will be alive with people. Alongside the rowers there will be kayakers on the water. The smell of barbecues and the sound of pop music from the gardens. The ringing of impatient bicycle bells. In the winter it returns to the edgelands. An in-between place. On the opposite bank from the path, smoke rises up from a houseboat in the shadow of a young offenders unit. Workers park their cars in front of steel and glass office blocks serving an airport well past its sell by date. Beyond the high fences, all is quiet and still in the army barracks built for an occupying army that left decades ago.

Places get their character from their surroundings. From the tennis club and the gardens. The proximity of the airport and the still waters of the canal running through the middle of the scene. But they also get it from the weather. From the season of the year. From the time of day. Now, with the rowers out of sight and earshot, everything on the canal bank is calm. Even the planes seemed to have stopped taking off or coming in to land. Winter mist above the water. The sudden movement of a jay, spotted through the trees. A siren in the distance.

A large branch, felled by the storm and not yet dealt with by the council workers, blocks the path. It doesn't matter. This is far enough. It's time to turn back.

Postcard from... Gdańsk

Gdansk.jpg

By Paul Scraton:

Under the archway at the end of the Long Market, two photographs looked down on the pedestrians as they moved through to cobbled streets of the Main Town or out to the car park by the theatre, where the Christmas Market was in full swing. Not many people looked up, to contemplate the vision of Gdańsk as it was at the end of the Second World War. Perhaps they had seen them so many times before. But for the new arrival, they were enough to make you stop and stare.

Here, in the city where the war began, roughly 90% of the buildings were destroyed. The photographs showed the devastation in brutal black and white. It was possible to make out the streets, but barely a single building survived intact. What remained were the stone steps, leading up from the street to where once elegant townhouses stood, now reduced to piles of rubble.

The rebuilding of Gdańsk was an incredible achievement, the Main Town of the city once again reflecting the Hanseatic heyday of this port city that would later come to symbolise the opposition of everyday people to the Communist elites via the Solidarity movement born in the shipyards. On the waterfront or along the Long Market, in front of the grand churches or the amber shops of the atmospheric Ulica Mariacka, the rebuilding made it possible to imagine a city where the war never happened; even with the knowledge that behind those façades, so true to the originals, were buildings of a much more modern construction.

Elsewhere in the city, the reminders of what happened in Gdańsk in the 20th century were easier to discover. The Old Town, to the north, was a fairly nondescript residential district, with only a few pre-War buildings, such as the iconic Post Office, still standing or rebuilt. There were many memorials, of course. To the Post Office workers who held out against the German forces. To the victims of the Second World War and the Communist regime that followed. There were museums seemingly around every corner, trying to tell the story of the city via the many events that shaped it and the different periods of its long history.

Kashubia and Poland. Hanseatic League and Teutonic Knights. Prussia and Germany.

Free City. Destroyed city.

Danzig / Gdańsk

But perhaps the most striking reminder of the past appeared back in the Main Town, on Świętego Ducha. There, on one side of the street, the houses had been rebuilt as elsewhere. Red brick and ornate façades. Crow-stepped gables and Dutch-inspired roofs. But on the other side of the cobblestoned street, the space had been left empty when the rebuilding began, eventually filled a little by trees, a car park and a public toilet, standing in the shade. On that side of the street the steps that survived the war lead up from the pavement to only the memory of the building that stood there before. A ghostly entranceway to a city almost completely destroyed, now re-imagined. The steps were like a postcard from the past, enough to stop you in your tracks – just like the photographs, hanging beneath the city gate.  

Postcard from... Hyltenäs kulle

 Image: Katrin Schönig

Image: Katrin Schönig

By Paul Scraton:

The marketing material promised ‘West Sweden’s most beautiful lookout point’, the Hyltenäs kulle rising above the dense forests and lakes of the Mark municipality, but as we followed the narrow, winding road up the hill the mist was descending and a light rain had begun to fall. At the top, a solitary man stood with an umbrella against the drizzle, looking out into the gloom.

‘I’m supposed to be photographing a wedding up here,’ he said, glumly.

‘When?’ I replied.

‘In about an hour.’

I left him to his thoughts of where he could place the bride without getting too much water on her white dress, and began to explore the summit of the hill. In the early years of the 20th century, the merchant George Seaton built a huge hunting lodge on the hill, which at the time of construction had been cleared of all trees and other plant life in order to maximise the views for Seaton and his guests. Perhaps this was tempting fate. They barely had time to enjoy it – just a handful of hunting seasons – before the lodge was destroyed in a fire. Now all that remains are the stone foundations and the hill, declared a nature reserve in the 1970s, is once more overgrown with a forest of oak, birch, hazel and mountain ash.

But the views that brought George Seaton to the Hyltenäs kulle remain. However dreich the day.

Paul’s essay ‘Bordercrossing’ appears in Elsewhere No.05 – Transition. You can order the latest edition of the journal and all back issues directly with us, via our online shop.

Postcard from... Samarkand

 IMAGE: Tim Woods

IMAGE: Tim Woods

By Tim Woods

How did I get through 39 years – four of them studying geography – without even hearing of Samarkand? A vital stop on the Silk Road for centuries, and today one of Central Asia’s major tourist attractions, I knew nothing about it until I had to travel there for work and started reading up. How did that happen?

The answer is in its location: I’ve never had much reason to think about the countries of Central Asia. For most of my childhood, they weren’t even countries, just unmentioned parts of the USSR, then briefly the CIS. They were not part of the backpackers’ highway by the time I’d reached that stage of life, their brief heyday as a hippy route into Afghanistan long since over. Too far east to sneak into Eurovision, and too rubbish at football to qualify for the World Cup, they never crossed my frame of reference and I rarely gave a second, even a first, thought to Uzbekistan or its trickily spelt neighbours.

My loss. Samarkand is incredible, an irresistible combination of breath-taking buildings and security so lax that you can walk among these ancient sites that would be cordoned off in most places. I only stayed for one night, but was grateful for a glimpse; one day I’ll hopefully return and give the city the attention it deserves.

Postcard from... Bingley Five Rise Locks

 IMAGE: Paul Scraton

IMAGE: Paul Scraton

By Paul Scraton:

We walked up the Leeds and Liverpool Canal from Bingley town centre, past old factories and the quay where barges would once have been loaded and unloaded. The towpath was busy; Easter weekend and the walkers, runners and cyclists were out in full force. When the canal network was built, its function was transport and the aim was making money. What it is now is a reminder and a resource, a web crisscrossing the country that at once offers us a stroll through some of the country’s most beautiful scenery while charting the rise and fall of industry, and how water was replaced by rail and road.

I grew up a few hundred metres from the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, in West Lancashire on the other side of the great divide from Bingley. The canal was an ever-present in my childhood and teenage years, a place of walks and birthday bike-rides, the place where we snuck our first cans of beer and then – later – our first legal pints in a pub by the locks. There was a mill in our village. Now it has been turned into apartments. Where the bridge crossed the canal on my way to school there has been a new development since I left home, a cobbled courtyard surrounded by cafes and restaurants, galleries and other craft businesses. The 21st century industry on the banks of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

At Bingley Five Rise Locks we arrived as a barge had just entered the first of the locks. The lock keeper had come down from the office and was making the initial steps of opening and closing the various parts of the five-step system. In less than a hundred metres, the barge would rise nearly twenty – the steepest canal ‘staircase’ in the British canal network and a marvel of engineering. When the Bingley Five Rise locks opened in the 1770s, almost thirty thousand people came to celebrate. It was the 18th century shuttle launch, a technological wonder, and in all those years since there has been no real need to substantially alter the locks system. It just works.

We stayed to watch the barge make its progress, ever upwards, until it had reached the top of the locks. Later, I learned a word that seemed almost too good to be true. A gongoozler is someone who enjoys watching activity on the canals, born out of a derogatory term canal-workers used for those who stood idle while they worked up a sweat. The lock keeper at Bingley Five Rise did not look like he needed any help, so we let him get on with it. On either side of the canal, the gongoozlers stood and watched. We joined the club. 

Postcard from... the Rakotzbrücke

 IMAGE: Katrin Schönig

IMAGE: Katrin Schönig

By Paul Scraton:

The basalt columns reach out from the sandy soil to create perfect hiding places for the mystical creatures of the forest as they move down to the water’s edge. The stones tumble into the gloomy lake, as if to provide a landing stage for the creatures lurking in the depths. And the bridge curls in an arch from one bank to the other, its reflection in the lake creating a perfect circle. 

This is, surely, the devil’s work.

In this corner of Germany, close to the Polish border, the Rakotzbrücke has also been long known as the ‘Devil’s Bridge’, but in reality the structure, along with the basalt columns and the other rock formations that stand at the water are the work of very human hands. The bridge is at the heart of the Azalea and Rhododendron Park in Kromlau, Gablenz; a landscaped garden created in the 19th century by the local landowner along ‘English’ lines. With the end of the Second World War the park became property of the local community, and since 1948 it has been protected as a nature reserve.

But despite the fact that you know this structure was created by mortal hands, and despite the queue of photographers at the head of the lake, looking for the perfect angle to capture the perfect circle, it still has a strange impact when you approach it through the woods. It could be the stage set for some fantastical film or HBO series. It could be the nocturnal playground for all manner of beings. And it is not hard to imagine it as a playground for those mystical creatures of the forest, even if they themselves have no idea how it got there.
 

From the hills above Frigiliana, Andalusia

 IMAGE: Marcel Krueger

IMAGE: Marcel Krueger

By Marcel Krueger:

I guess it was worth it, schlepping my overweight, 39-year old body up the hill. I had set out early in the morning and walked through the valley of the Higueron river, with the white houses of Frigiliana disappearing to my left and the Chillar ridge rising up to my right. Then I huffed and puffed up the 400-meter hill, and now sit on a stone on top of the ridge, with the brown and green flanks of the Sierra de Enmedio rising into the blue sky, early bees are busy around me in the morning sunshine, and across the Mediterranean I can see Africa through the haze. But as this is the Anthropocene, there is also the surf of the nearby coastal motorway soundtracking it all.

Before I make my way down the hill and to breakfast again, I wonder what a Castilian foot soldier might have thought, when stomping through the same hills hunting for Moriscos, descendants of Muslims under Castilian rule who were in rebellion in the 16th century. Probably the same thing foot soldiers have thought from the Crusades to Auschwitz: 'The man paid me for it, so best get over with it'. 

Postcard from... Sarajevo

 IMAGE: Gavin Greene

IMAGE: Gavin Greene

By Gavin Greene:

The early evening rain spattered onto the marble floors of Sarajevo's Baščaršija, polished smooth over centuries by passing travelers, merchants and tourists. It fell in large spots at first, then smaller, lighter drops. Sitting on a rickety chair under the canopy of a dimly-lit café, I watched as the bustling market hastily retreated undercover to escape the shower. Traders hurried to cover their stalls with tarpaulins while young families dived for the cover of stone doorways.

From the sanctuary of the café, I looked up towards Mount Trebević, a looming shadow over the city, visible beneath the low clouds that had rolled into the valley. The mountain had hosted Sarajevo's 1984 Winter Olympics, and the world watched athletes speed down icy runs and steep snowy slopes. Just years later, skiers and spectators became snipers and mortar posts, raining destruction and tears onto the city below for over a thousand days. Again, the world watched.

Steam twisted from the copper pot of coffee at my side, swirling and hovering before disappearing into the crisp evening air. In the winding alleyways of Sarajevo's markets, the smell of roasting coffee blends with the warm aromas of herbs and spices of hidden backstreet food stalls. The sound of hammering metal and the gentle chatter of locals gives way only to the call to prayer from nearby minarets, and the pealing church bells echo across the city valley. The gentle drumming of the rain on the terracotta rooves of the bazaar built to a crescendo, the streets empty and shimmering with this latest deluge.
 
Sarajevo still bears the scars of the siege, but life has moved on, and there is now hope for this beautiful city. As I watched, three young children dared to dance in the rain, ducking and diving between raindrops. On the same road a few years before, their parents would have done the same, ducking between doorways to dodge the barrage from the hills above the city.

The rain continued steadily, now dripping from the canvas awning of the café into the gutter below, gathering pace and coursing down the narrow street, filling the scars left in the marble from the mountain high above. 

Pouring coffee from the pot into a small ceramic cup, the dark liquid turns to rich foam. They say the key with Bosnian coffee is to take your time. No rushing, no takeaway coffee in a paper cup. Time, patience and careful attention are all that is needed.
 
A break in the clouds let a shaft of sunlight onto the city and the stone buildings glistened in the warm evening light. Children emerged from their hiding places behind market stalls to splash in the fresh puddles, their reflections dancing and rippling in the clear water. Their parents watched on, smiling. The rain has stopped. The sun shines, and once more, Sarajevo is the most beautiful place on earth.

Gavin Greene is a travel writer and photographer based in London. Currently working at one of the world’s largest travel sites, it is Gavin’s aim to visit all of the 47 countries in Europe by his 47th birthday. You can read more of his work on his website The Travelogue.
 

Postcard from... Papaverhof, The Hague

By Kelly Merks:

I was riding my bicycle when I first saw the Papaverhof. The sense of place I felt is unforgettable: with the simple motion of turning a street corner, my 1930s brownstone neighborhood ceded to a horseshoe-shaped row of low-lying but imposing white concrete blocks. I froze in fascination, and my bike slowed gently to a stop.

“It’s De Stijl! In real life!” my head clamored. My eyes followed the geometric masses of white that tumbled down the street, hemming in short and bold lines of black, blue and yellow. The scene recalled Piet Mondrian’s iconic Tableau and Composition series; the buildings mimicked the paintings’ cubic rhythm and primary colors. This unique housing development, the Papaverhof, was like nothing else I had ever seen, and my modest district of The Hague was not the place I would expect to see something like it... but here it was. 

The discovery was only a personal one, of course, because people have been living in the Papaverhof for almost a century. It’s a housing development that represents a unique moment in Dutch and local history, yet many people in The Hague don’t know about it. 

After the First World War, Dutch cities faced a shortage of adequate housing and building materials. In 1917, before the war ended, a 25-hectare (61.7-acre) plot between The Hague and an adjacent village called Loosduinen was created as a suburban extension and given the name Daal en Berg after the farmland it occupied. This new development was meant to help alleviate the region’s crowded urban living conditions, and is seen today as an early example of Dutch suburban social housing. Later the same year, Daal en Berg became a Coöperatieve Woningbouw Vereeniging Tuinstadwijk — roughly translated, a Cooperative Housing Garden City Association. I found no evidence that this garden city initiative was influenced by Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City Movement. Daal en Berg’s reality, in fact, was closer to that of a mini garden suburb. Garden suburbs are built on the outskirts of cities and are typically absent of industry, density, or connectivity: the antithesis of Howard’s garden city dream. 

Daal en Berg’s social housing complex—called the Papaverhof in keeping with the area’s botanical street names, like Rozenstraat, Magnoliastraat, and Irisstraat—went from concept to creation under the direction of architect Jan Wils. In 1919 Wils was favored in a design competition by the cooperative’s commissioner, Hendrik P. Berlage. Berlage is regarded as the patriarch of Dutch modernist architecture. He was especially enamored with Frank Lloyd Wright’s work after a 1911 tour of the American Midwest and east coast, and he became a liaison between Wright and “both the expressionists of the Amsterdam School and the rationalists of the De Stijl movement,” according to the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust. 

Indeed, the Papaverhof is not only one of Wils’ and Berlage’s important works, but bears the fingerprints of other contemporarily and regionally influential artists and architects: Gerrit Rietveld, Vilmos Huszár, Piet Mondrian, and the De Stijl movement founder Theo van Doesburg, who lived at Daal en Berg (on Klimopstraat, across from the Papaverhof) for 20 years. 

The Papaverhof is also an exemplar of a short-lived architectural movement called Nieuwe Bouwen, or “New Building”—an offshoot of Functionalism that centralized economy of scale and relied on modern technology. If De Stijl provided the development’s aesthetic, Nieuwe Bouwen concerned itself with materials and organization. It was a response to the interwar demands of economic and demographic expansion. Nieuwe Bouwen reorganized the home to provide more light, air, and space, focusing on efficiency and modernization instead of ornamentation. “Form follows function” lives on at the Papaverhof.

Despite its architectural and social importance, the Papaverhof’s 128 units were initially slow to sell. People were wary or just turned off by the large open garden in the center. But this problem doesn’t exist anymore; residents tend to stay for decades, and the waiting list to buy is long. The Papaverhof is among the top 100 national rijksmonumenten, or heritage sites, and one of only 11 in The Hague. 

Today the city has subsumed Daal en Berg. The once-suburban satellite is now well within city limits and sits only a short walk from the Laan van Meerdervoort, the longest avenue in the Netherlands at 5.8 km (3.6 miles). To celebrate Daal en Berg’s 100th anniversary in 2017, residents of the Papaverhof have created a virtual tour of a model home, and hope to eventually recreate for virtual tour a home as it was designed by Jan Wils in the early 1920s. 

(Follow this link to take a virtual tour of the Papaverhof)

Kelly is an American enjoying life on the frigid North Sea after a few years in Japan, having swapped great sushi for better beer in the Netherlands. As the daughter of an aerial photographer and a geographer, she grew up in a home of mapping equipment, old globes, and atlases that have informed her search for hidden contexts of the landscapes we travel and live in. You can find her on Twitter at @flaneurie and read more of her work on her blog, Bullet Trains and Bike Lanes

Postcard from... Conakry

By Tim Woods:

Conakry is a city with few options. Surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic, the only direction in which it can expand is inland. New apartment buildings rise rapidly in the hills to the northeast, with poorer dwellings springing up wherever there’s a gap in between. Yet the city’s heart remains in Kaloum, out on the peninsula’s furthest tip and where the main port, markets, office blocks and government ministries are found.

The result? Traffic clogs the three main highways to Kaloum from before sunrise to long after dusk. My taxi to Ratoma – barely a quarter of the way through the city’s total area – takes more than two hours; the driver’s frequent attempts at a short cut being beaten by potholes, floods or others with the same idea. 

“Traffic’s quite a problem in Conakry,” I venture.
 “Problems have solutions,” he smiles. “Here, traffic is just life.”

Postcard from... Koh Kret

By Julia Stone:

As we approach the island by boat, the chimney has the appearance of a ginormous tree, sprouting high above the coconut palms and temple rooftops. Out of the mouth of the chimney a bush of some sort is growing, like a head of curly hair.

Koh Kret became an island in 1722, when a canal was constructed to create a shortcut in the Chaophraya river. To this day there is no bridge connecting the two by two kilometre island from the mainland, and only bicycles and motorbikes travel the path that runs around it. You will find Koh Kret to the north of Bangkok, in the district of Nonthaburi, where I my dad lives. I love coming to Koh Kret for the rural atmosphere and absolute contrast to the bustle and noise of the mainland, just a two Baht ferry ride away, although not on the wekend, when hordes of Bangkokians arrive to eat, buy pottery souvenirs or visit the Mon temples on the island.

Mon immigrants settled Koh Kret after the destruction of Ayutthaya in 1767, during the Siamese-Burmese war. Today the majority of Koh Kret's population is still Mon, with their own distinct version of Buddhism and a traditional style of Mon pottery called kwan aman, for which Nonthaburi and especially the island are famous.

The chimney is the remnant of a pottery village, I can see some of the brick kilns still standing below as I approach it via an elevated path between crops growing in water, but it looks like it hasn't been used in quite a while. As a kid, my mom used to take me to the Koh Kret and sometimes one of the potters would let me have a go at forming the clay on the rotating wheel, but now I wonder about this inactivity. As the visitors pick over the choice of pottery souvenirs in the village shops I have to question whether they are even made here any more. 

Postcard from... the Eternal Sea

By Julia Stone:

It was the name on the map that intrigued us. Scanning through the places and landmarks of Ostfriesland the name jumped up off the page. Ewiges Meer – the Eternal Sea. We knew nothing else but the name was enough. We took a detour and followed a wooden path above the marshy moor for two kilometres, all the while watching the sky warily for the onset of a promised thunder storm.

We found the lake and immediately noticed there was none of the usual reeds and other plantlife growing in the shallower waters along the shore, and from the information boards by the path we learned that this was a result of the nutrient poverty of the moorland waters. The Eternal Sea is a Hochmoorsee (high moor lake), around which peat was long extracted until it was declared a nature reserve in 1939. It may be only three metres deep but it is 1.8 kilometres long and almost a kilometre wide.

Under darkening skies the waters were choppy, and although the information boards promised a variety of birds and other wildlife there was none to be seen. No people either, and standing out there with no chance of shelter from the cloudburst, feeling rather disconnected from civilisation, our surroundings felt strangely timeless... you might even say: Eternal.

Elsewhere No.04, featuring illustrations and artwork from Julia Stone, is out now. You can order your copy directly with us via the online shop.

Citrus Country: Mildura, Australia

By Nick Gadd:

Eat an orange a day. Oranges keep the blues away, reads the large painted sign on the north wall of the former Sunraysia Citrus Management Company. On the right, the signwriter added a bunch of segmented oranges, like a Dutch still life. On the south side is a matching sign for lemons, reading Lemons add to life. Be in it! There’s no doubt about it: you are in citrus country.

Mildura is a regional city on the Murray River, which marks the border between Victoria and New South Wales, and without the river the city would not be here at all. In the late 1880s, two Canadian brothers, the Chaffeys, irrigation experts, moved to Victoria from California, where they had established successful fruit-growing colonies. They persuaded the Victorian government - after much political shenanigans - to allocate them 250,000 acres for a similar colony on the Murray.

The creation of Mildura was a remarkable feat of public relations. How else to explain the fact that droves of people from Britain, Europe and elsewhere threw up everything to travel to this non-existent settlement in a remote part of Australia? They were responding to an international advertising campaign that made shameless promises about the profitability and fertility of the land. Victoria had experienced a gold rush a few decades before: this was a fruit rush. 

Many would be disappointed. The Chaffeys were not as well capitalised as they claimed; their irrigation works were incapable of delivering as much water as was needed. Settlers had to clear their blocks of huge, stubborn mallee roots. There was no railway, making it impossible to transport the fruit to markets. And then, of course, there was the river, which proved an unreliable partner. In some years the Murray shrugged its mighty shoulders, swelled and flooded over the orchards and vineyards. In other years it turned its back, shrank to almost nothing, became a dusty gutter. 

The Chaffeys went bankrupt, resulting in a sensational public inquiry at which settlers accused the brothers of conning them. In spite of all that, the settlement survived. And through the extraordinary efforts of the remaining pioneers and their descendants, along with government support, a successful city based on irrigation did indeed develop.

I’m here in citrus season, and everywhere I go people press fruit on me: oranges, lemons, mandarins from their own trees. It’s not all citrus: today, farms producing grapes and almonds swallow vast amounts from the river.  Now the debate is: How much irrigation is too much?  “We’re OK for now, but when another drought comes, we’re stuffed,” a local greenie told me. Here, as in many parts of the world, how well the water is managed is the critical question for the future. 

Nick Gadd was writer in residence at the Mildura Writers Festival in July 2016. You can read more from Nick on his website Melbourne Circle: Stories from the Suburbs and follow him on Twitter. Nick was a contributor to Elsewhere No.02 where he wrote an essay on the ghost signs of Melbourne.

Elsewhere No.04 is published on 28 September 2016 – Order your copy here.