An Arctic Adventure 2017

The Arctic Circle, Ice Hotel 27 and Husky Dogs

The Original Ice Hotel Year 27

If you want to see the Northern lights Sweden is an excellent area to go to see this interesting phenomenon and the Ice hotel in Jukkarjarta makes for a doubly wonderful experience.

The Northern lights or ‘Aurora borealis’ is a natural phenomenon which occurs when there are collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres, these are called the ‘Aurora borealis’ in the north and the ‘Aurora Australis’ in the South.

Aurora displays appear in many colours with green and pink being the most common however shades of red, yellow, blue and violet have also been reported and are seen in various formations from patches of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays across the night sky.

According to researchers, the lights of the Aurora generally extend from 50 miles to as high as 400 miles above the earth’s surface, an astounding distance.

For many years I have been intrigued and drawn to The Original Ice Hotel in Sweden just off the Arctic Circle and this year (2017), is its 27th Anniversary, so it is referred to as Ice Hotel 27.

The original Ice Hotel is totally unique as it is reformed every year, designed by a team of artists, architects and snow builders Worldwide, it comes from the Torne River and is built with approximately 1,000 tonnes of Ice and 30,000 m3 of ‘snice’ a mixture of ice and snow.

The structure is put up then each ice room is hand crafted uniquely, there are great long hallways with chandeliers, made of ice of course, an ice chapel where you can legally get married and an ice bar with ice glasses for drinks.

In the springtime, it is left to naturally melt away back into the Torne river from where it came.

An Ice Room

Creative Ice Room

My dream has long been to experience staying in an ice room at the ice hotel so I put a tailored trip together and decided that it would also be interesting to visit another part of Arctic Sweden and experience the Tree Hotel where they have some extraordinary treehouses, the most interesting three being the UFO, the Birds Nest and The Mirrorcube.

Set up on a hill in the forests of Lulea are these fabulous little retreats, the UFO was the one that appealed to me so I put together a customised 5 day trip via Arctic Direct to visit both places and travel across country by train from Lulea to Jukkasjarvi.

I flew from London Heathrow Airport to Lulea via Stockholm, there were no direct flights, however this journey was effortless to make and the airports were easy to navigate around.

In January the days last approximately 4 and a half hours in Lulea and in Jukkasjarvi the daylight lasts around 3 and a half hours.

As the plane started to land in Lulea I looked out and saw nothing but miles and miles of snow covered forests, the natural beauty was staggering along with the vast space in comparison to the UK where everything feels tightly packed in.

The Tree Houses

Arriving at the Tree Hotel in Lulea was exciting, there is the main house at the foot of a snowy hill which is a homestead, you can have a glass of wine there or a lingonberry juice and this is where you will eat.
There is no set menu, it is whatever they are serving on the day, but there is an option for vegetarians as long as you let them know in plenty of time prior to the meal.

The Homestead is a family run place and is decorated with memorabilia of the 1950’ it is warm and welcoming in there and you can sit and enjoy a drink by the open fire.

The light was fading fast when I arrived, about 2:30pm in the afternoon so I left my bags in the homestead hall and went off to find the tree houses.

To get to them you will be walking about 500 metres up a steep hill through the forest, it can be slippery where people have trodden in an icy path so there is a rope tied to the trees to help you pull yourself up or hold onto when going up the hill.

I entered the next lot of trees and got my first view of the tree houses, I could see the more conventional ones first of all, beautiful wooden structures and there was the smaller colour changing one which goes from red to blue depending on the outside temperature.

The Colour Changer

Next I saw the stunning Mirror cube, this one was superb as it had the reflections of the sun setting in the trees making them a dark golden orange in its sides it was really well camouflagued and if you blinked it disappeared blending into the forest.

The Mirror cube

I wanted to find the UFO which is where I was to stay and so continued on just a little further up the hill until it came into view, this one is spectacular, if you were a believer in UFOs and did not know about the tree houses, you might well think that the little green men had stopped by.

The UFO

Entrance in

The UFO is huge, five people can sleep inside, there is a step ladder up into it, to get in you must climb up the icy metal rungs then push the heavy wooden trap like doors upwards, it is not very easy to do so not the most accessible thing to get into. You will struggle to take anything up there apart from essentials, it is best to leave most of your things back at the homestead down the hill.

Inside the UFO is definitely not as exciting as the outside, it has very basic Ikea décor inside and I think that it could be made to look a lot more interesting although the round windows are a nice touch, however you are not there to spend too much time inside, the best views are definitely from the outsides of these unique tree houses.

Climbing back down I went to find the Birds Nest tree house, this one was so cleverly disguised that I walked past it twice before I spotted it as it is literally designed to look like a giant birds nest with huge twigs sticking out everywhere.

I made my way back down to the homestead, it was now dark and I had a glass of wine by the fire and sat and made some notes and chatted to a local Swedish man who told me he has started his own business as a travel guide for tailor made trips.

At dinner he came and joined me and we talked about the Ice Hotel and adventures in general, he was great company for that meal and I wished him luck with his new travel business.

The food was fantastic, gourmet style oysters, potato and vegetables, beautifully presented and absolutely delicious.

The next morning I had a breakfast of herrings, cheese and bread with olives and then set out to explore for the last hour there before my pickup. The dawn started at around 9:00am and the sky started to light dramatically with streaks of orange, red and gold through the darkness.

I raced around in the snow looking for the best places to take pictures and capture the sunrise and managed to get a few just before my taxi turned up.

I then left one beautiful place for another and made my way in the taxi to Boden Train Station and got a train from there on to Jukkarjarta where I was met by another taxi to head to The Ice Hotel.

The Ice Hotel

Stepping out of the taxi I looked around in wonder and excitement at the huge archway that marked the entrance to the Ice hotel areas, it was an extraordinarily beautiful sight.
There is the warm hotel area where you check in, you can leave your luggage in a locker, you get two huge lockers and the keys to keep with you.

There are wooden Nordic chalets, these are warm areas which you can hire and I had one for two nights, but my first night before that was to stay in an Ice room in the cold hotel and I could not wait.

The Original Ice Hotel has a real air of mystique about it, the outside looks like a giant igloo with two huge doors at the front and two huge doors at the back, of which are covered in reindeer skins with huge antlers for door handles.

The entrance

Inside is a long corridor dotted with chandeliers made of ice, careful not to slip, walk slowly, along the corridor are doors into different worlds, each one as amazing as the last, I walked into vast rooms full of ice carved sea creatures, a Casablanca film setting, there was a Victorian suite with books of ice, mythical beings, mountainous landscapes, each door led into a space that felt like a well-kept secret.

I found the ice chapel with rows of ice pews covered in fur throws and an ice alter, it was really impressive.

This year there is also the new 360 degrees Ice hotel which, unlike the original ice hotel, does not melt back into the river but instead stays open all year round and is kept cold by freezing generators inside.

This was rather grand looking with huge impressive doors which looked like stained glass windows, inside was the Ice bar, a superbly done area, where you can order a cocktail or a glass of wine in an ice glass.

You can also walk around and see the deluxe ice art suites in the 360 ice hotel, it was so interesting and fun to see all the different rooms, one was a Victorian Suite with Ice books and ice lanterns, another was called the Casablanca with some intricate ice carvings inside, truly stunning pieces of work.

The Casablanca Suite

There was a room with Jellyfish carved out everywhere and another called Pick your Moustache with different sized moustaches carved into slabs of ice, each room was so uniquely different to the next.

The Sugar Suite was really pretty with its ice bed lit up pink and other areas of ice lit in different colours for a pop look, my favourite was a suite called Living with Angels and had a blue light to it, this one felt so calm and peaceful, whereas some of the others felt a little crazy.

The Sugar Suite

Living with Angels

Living With Angels

There was one with huge spikes of ice from the ceiling and the floor, I am not sure I would have got much sleep in there with huge spikes of ice set above me, but it was beautiful to look at.

Spiky room

The Meal

I had a meal at the ice hotel restaurant which is over the road, again the food was exquisite here, it is very pricey with a glass of wine costing from £16-£20 for one small glass.

The food was gourmet and in a league of its own for fine dining, one of the best dishes I have ever tasted, my dish was called Arctic Char (as recommended to me by a local) and consisted of Arctic Char fish, fine vegetables and cod roe with a truffle sauce.

For afters I had a lemon mousse dessert with local cloudberries, it was a delicious melt in the mouth dish, the meal cost me £88 for the two courses but it was a divine one off, the next day I found a Swedish co-op and bought a loaf of bread and a tub of Philadelphia spread for £8.50.

Here is the 5 course classic set menu from there served on a plate of ice if you want to push the boat out:

Frøya salmon, wakame salad, wasabi mayonnaise, soy jelly, rice vinegar gel, served on ice.
Arctic char, parsnip purée, browned butter hollandaise, dill powder.
Slow cooked- & cured fillet of elk, blueberry jelly, spruce shoot mayonnaise.
Fillet of reindeer, juniper sauce, almond potato purée, carrots, shiitake purée.
Chocolate & arctic brambles, served on ice.

My Ice Room
I was filled with excitement about sleeping in an ice room at the ice hotel, having spent the afternoon admiring and photographing the deluxe art suits there, I had expected my room to be like an igloo with nothing fancy to it, just plain.

Getting ready for bed was fun, you had to get changed into your nightwear, some people hired extra thermal clothes, but I decided to wear my Marks and Spencers pyjamas, a bobble hat, gloves and warm socks.

You wash your face in the evening (Nordic style) but not in the mornings as the cold weather dries out your skin, so skipping a wash keeps it supple.

The Ice hotel will give you an Arctic sleeping bag to take in and there were three reindeer furs on the bed of ice, my room number was 201 and I made my way out the back door of the warm part of the hotel, into the snowy outdoors across walkway then through two covered doors into the ice hotel.

Along a corridor of ice, again careful not to slip, huge ice chandeliers hang above every couple of metres, when I saw where my room number was and walked in I was so excited.

It was stunning!

My room was far from the basic ice tomb I had imagined, instead there were huge ice columns that had been carved out around the ice bed and at the end of the room, these I found out represent mountains. I was in a room full of Ice Mountains, lit up blue, it was so beautiful.

I took my boots off and tucked them into each other, so that they would not freeze too much, then set my sleeping bag ready and got into it, then after zipping myself in, pulled over two of the reindeer skins, using the third one as the base to lay on.
I certainly needed both reindeer skins, but it felt peaceful and restful in the room, I did not hear any sounds at all in the night, it was totally silent.

My ice room

My Ice room of Mountains

It took me a while to get off to sleep as I was so excited and enjoyed laying there just taking in the beauty of the room, it really does feel very special to sleep in an ice room and it is difficult to portray by the written word.

I woke up three times throughout the night from the cold, usually my face feeling cold, but each time would curl up into a snug ball and use my body heat to warm up, it seemed to work well enough.

The next morning I awoke about 7am, I went outside and across to the warm building as I needed the loo and saw a few people in their sleeping bags fast asleep on the floor of the shower areas, these people did not make a full night in their ice rooms the receptionist told me, so they had to sleep on any floor space they could find.

I went back to my ice room one last time and took some more photographs of it, I would have happily stayed there another night, but they generally recommend one night only in the ice rooms, it was a fantastic experience

The Warm rooms – Nordic Chalets

After handing back the arctic sleeping bag and sorting out my locker, I had a shower and a lingonberry juice before going to check in to the warm building for an allocated Nordic chalet.

These are great little places to stay with bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen/lounge area, my bedroom had a huge window and I could lay in bed looking at the stars, it was superb, although I got little sleep as I set my alarm for on the hour every hour to get up and look out for the Northern lights.

Outside in the grounds there are little kick sledges that you can use to get about on and I would take one and sledge over to where the Northern lights are said to appear with my cameras.

The Northern Lights

The Northern lights did appear, I was lucky enough to get a sighting three nights running, the first night when I had set the alarm on the hour every hour was the best sighting as they seemed to be strongest at about 1am -3am with green swirling streaks cutting into the black starlit sky.

Husky Dog Sledding

I was very excited about Husky Dog sledding, it is something that I have wanted to do for years and today was the day to do it.

As you approach all the dogs start to howl with the excitement of a run and to greet you, they sound exactly like a pack of wolves and I recorded this sound.

Two of the dogs from the team

I was with two teams of dogs, they all have very different personalities and characteristics, there are two dogs who really have a love for each other and even when they have been separated these two dogs have escaped to be together again, now the dog handlers always ensure they are kept together.

Both of those dogs were in my team and I noticed that they do look out for each other the whole time and as soon as we stopped they lay in the snow to cool off and nuzzled up to each other, it was very sweet to see.

The dog sledding is a wonderful experience, the dogs respond to simple commands and off you go, all you can hear is the whoosh of snow as the sleigh cuts through it.

The dogs are trained not to stop until commanded, if they need to wee or poo they have to go as they run, I though this a bit cruel, but the instructor says that they soon get used to it and otherwise you would be stopping every few seconds as they do it such a lot.

We went across The River Torne and under a semi-circular bridge out over the snowy wilderness, it was so peaceful, you will need a balaclava and some snow goggles though as the cold breeze is biting.

Eventually we stopped at a Tepee and once the dogs were secured we went inside to warm over a camp fire and toasted cinnamon buns on sticks over the fire with hot tea, it was great to warm up.

Camp

I went outside to stroke the dogs and one of them jumped up and bit my hand, I was told to be careful, some like to be stroked but others do not, I need to read the dogs more carefully.

I think that because I had a camera hanging from my snow suit it was seen as a threat, I should have remembered this as wolves are also the same about cameras.

On the way back I rode at the very front of the sled and that was really nice, it was a great experience and one that I will never forget.

The dog sledding journey

Horse ride through mountain forest

Following my Husky Dog Sledding day, I wanted to sign up to something for the following day and opted for horse riding through a mountain forest to look for wildlife.

I am not by any means a horse rider, I have ridden twice only in my life and was terrified on both occasions, however this was a chance to get further out and explore the forests so I took it.

A car picked me up with three other people and off we headed to the stables, it was a 2 hour drive there, on the way we saw a pure white Arctic Fox run across the road, it was too quick to get a photo, but great to see.

By the time we reached the stables daylight had come and the light was very beautiful, it had a beautiful glow to it.

We were greeted by the owners and a friendly black husky dog and were taken to a field where the horses were and each given a horse to suit our heights and weigh, my horse was a male, dark brown almost black, he was quite a grumpy horse but we worked well together.

I was given a stable for him and shown how to groom him so I brushed off all the snow that he had been covered in, then I was shown how to fit the saddle and bridle, in the bridle room a huge fat cat sat high up on one of the saddles, a great place to watch everything or sleep from.

We took the horses back out into the snow to mount them, once on I took the reins and we were off, accompanied by the black husky dog who led us out through the forest, it was wonderfully peaceful, weaving our way through the snow covered trees, there were just 4 of us so it was quiet and good for looking out for any wildlife.

Occasionally we would go up or down a steep hill and the horses often slipped on the ice, that was a little scary for a novice like me, but most of the time the horse just followed the leader with no problems at all.

It started snowing heavily and at one point it was hard to see the person in front as the snow was so thick coming down, much of that time I tucked my camera under my coat to protect it from the elements.

Riding through a snowstorm

After a couple of hours we were lucky enough to see some wild mousses, a mother and a baby, they were through the trees further up but I managed to get some zoom pictures of them and a single adult who I got a clearer photo of, I had to be careful though as my camera would only work intermittently in the cold and damp snow fall.

Wild Mousses

We saw a couple more Mousses, one was laying down in the snow, almost out of sight then we saw another mother and baby huddling together, despite their thick fur they also looked cold.

The ride got colder and colder as the snow continued to come down, I kept brushing it off my horse as he was getting covered in it and he must have been cold too, it was a beautiful ride though through that quiet forest with just the sound of the horses breathing and walking, however it was now so cold that I felt pleased to be heading back to base, we had been out several hours looking for the Mousses.

The black husky dog stayed at the back this time, then just as we got nearer to his home he raced to the front and led us all back proudly, it was nice to have the dog leading us.

Once back at base, we cleaned down our horses in the stables and took off their saddles and reigns, then led them back out into the snowy field where there was fresh water and hay for them, the other horses neighed loudly and ran to the fence to greet them.

Afterwards we went into the farmhouse and had a homemade tasty meal and hot drinks to warm us up.


The Snow Mobile Ride to look for the Northern lights

This was a trip to look for the Northern lights away from the grounds of the ice hotel across the river Thorne further up near the mountains, to get there it meant travelling on a snow mobile to cross the great iced river and speed off beyond, it would be a 6 hour round trip getting back to base at around 01:00 hours.

I took the advice of the locals and wore the snow suit provided by the ice hotel for that extra bit of warmth, as well as my own balaclava and gloves, two pairs of socks and ski goggles, all of which was needed as it was bitter out at night, especially when you had the breeze biting at you as you whizzed along, the motorised snow scooters go at quite a speed.

We were warned that the great river which we would be crossing twice had many weak spots in it due to the weather not being as cold this year and to follow the leaders tracks exactly, as he knew where these weak spots were and not to venture off from his tracks, if your snow mobile goes down under that ice you are not coming back .

Most people were paired up and I was put on the back with a Swedish man to share the snow mobile, there were quite a few people on this trip, it was very noisy with all of the engines going, we looked like a line of Ice Hells Angels travelling along with our head lights all switched on.

It was once again bitterly cold, as expected, but this ride felt very, very long, an Irish couple I had met had already done this trip and warned me of it, now I knew how they had felt, after about 4 hours I was bitterly cold and had had enough.

The fun bits were whizzing through the forest tracks over the ice, it was really pretty to see the snowy trees come out of the darkness as they lit up by the head lamps one by one, the noise became wearing after a while though, like being at a Grand Prix, the Northern Lights could be seen at the point of destination, but in honesty I saw them clearer the two nights prior to this back at the Ice hotel grounds.

Finally we all stopped and had a meal of reindeer meat and berries, I had the vegetarian equivalent of spicy beans and berries with hot lingonberry juice to warm up, then we set off again for the journey back, I had not been able to warm up sufficiently in that time though and still felt shivery getting back on the snow mobile.

Even in two pairs of gloves my hands were bitterly cold, as was my face and although the snowsuit proved to be a good shield, I found my whole body shivering more and more as the cold set in.

We started the long snow mobile drive back to the ice hotel, myself and the Swedish chap were at the back of the group but speeding along nicely through the forests and over the snowy plains, after what seemed an age we finally hit the big Torne river, where the ice is a metre thick in places.

Suddenly there was a loud crack and a popping sound, I knew exactly what it was but the driver stopped and asked me if I had dropped my camera in the ice, I was panic stricken and shouted back to him that ‘no the sound was from the ice cracking’, he looked terrified, quickly re-started the engine, and still to the sounds of cracking ice, we sped off, the cracking underneath seemed to follow us for a bit then stopped.

I had been petrified for those for seconds, with grim thoughts of going through the ice down into that river and disappearing into the icy depths.

When we finally got back to the ice hotel outer grounds I felt very relieved and jumped off the snow mobile, clutching my camera and trying desperately to warm up by jumping up and down, the driver also was very happy to be off that ice river, in fact everyone looked relieved to be back, I think it had just been a particularly bitter night, around -30 with the added wind chill on top.

I walked back through the grounds alone and as I looked out across the skies, there were the Northern lights dancing about right in front of me it seemed, greener and brighter than I had seen them before now, I felt as though they were almost taunting me after those long hours out in the cold, but they were also a very welcome sight.

Back in my Nordic chalet I brewed up a hot chocolate, it took a while to get warm and stop shivering, it felt great to be back and to have experienced the snow mobiles but I was soon to be back outside, camera in hand trying to capture images of those Northern lights.

I found the Northern Lights difficult to photograph, more practice needed for me, but if you fancy trying it, below is the recommended process to capture the Northern lights on your camera:

1. You must have a tripod
2. Set your ISO to between 400 and 1000
3. Adjust the aperture to as wide as your lens will allows, i.e. you want the smallest number, ideally f2.8 or f1.4
4. Switch to manual so that your lens doesn’t keep moving back and forth trying to latch onto something (no autofocus)
5. Focus on a distant line of silhouetted trees, the moon, a brightly lit log cabin etc. to test it out
6. Start with a shutter speed of about 30 seconds, but be sure to review each and every exposure and make adjustments accordingly
7. Keep spare batteries snug in your coat pocket! – freezing temperatures and long exposures drain camera batteries rapidly
8. If you take your camera from a warm building out into the freezing Arctic night and try to take pictures straight away you will end up with a distinctly ‘soft focus’ effect due to condensation forming on the lens. Avoid this fogging by keeping your camera at as near an outdoor temperature as possible.

I stayed up until about 3am popping out every 30 minutes to see the if the lights were there, but they got fainter and fainter as the night went on so I finally gave up and went to bed, at least I had seen them strong, even if it was for those brief few minutes coming back in.

The next morning I was to head back home, so I made the most of the morning by roaming the grounds and taking some final photos of the area, the light looked amazing and I felt sad to be leaving, I took my backpack to the ice hotel check out point via a kick sledge, but still had a couple of hours to enjoy and take a few last photos, it was so incredibly beautiful there.

Its amazing what you can pack into 5 days and with years of travel behind me this short trip proved to be one of the happiest and most exciting that I have ever been on, I hope to go again one day, perhaps next time to experience the midnight sun but I shall no doubt be back to have another go at photographing those Northern lights.

Tailored trip – two flights over and two flights back with a train journey across country once there

Monday 16 January 2017
Flight Info: London Heathrow / Stockholm, Arlanda
Check-in: 04:40 London Heathrow Terminal 2 for Flight SK1530 – Scandinavian Air
Depart: 06:40 London Heathrow Terminal 2
Arrive: 10:05 Stockholm, Arlanda Terminal 5 – Monday 16 Jan 2017

Flight Info: Stockholm, Arlanda / Lulea
Check-in: 09:25 Stockholm, Arlanda Terminal 4 for Flight SK008 – Scandinavian Air
Depart: 11:25 Stockholm, Arlanda Terminal 4
Arrive: 12:45 Lulea – Monday 16 Jan 2017

Transfer Information: Tree hotel
Transfer will be from Lulea at 12:45 arriving Tree hotel at 13:45
Accommodation: Treehotel
Room Type: Treehouse The UFO

Transfer Information: Boden Central
Supplier: Tree hotel
Transfer will be from Tree hotel at 10:00 arriving Boden Central at 11:00
Train Info: Boden Central / Kiruna Central Train Take train across country
Check-in: 11:37 Boden Central for Flight 95 –
Depart: 11:37 Boden Central
Arrive: 15:09 Kiruna Central Train –
.
Transfer Information: Ice Hotel
Supplier: Ice Hotel
Transfer will be from Kiruna Central Train at 15:09 arriving Ice Hotel at 15:39
Accommodation: Ice Hotel
Room Type: 1 x Ice room

Husky Safari
Please arrive at 09:30 – 18/01/2017
Experience the dogs tremendous desire to run and pull as you travel through the beautiful
landscape of northern Lapland, the silence is broken only by the runners whooshing through the snow end up in wilderness by an open fire.

Accommodation: Ice Hotel
Room Type: 1 x Ice hotel Nordic chalet

Northern Lights Tour on Snowmobile
Please arrive at 19:45 – 19/01/2017
a night excursion in search of the magical northern lights. For the best
chance to see this phenomenon you will head out into the untouched wilderness on
snowmobiles.

Transfer Information: Kiruna Airport
Supplier: Ice Hotel
Your Transfer will be from Ice Hotel at 12:30 arriving Kiruna Airport at 13:00
Flight Info: Kiruna Airport / Stockholm, Arlanda
Check-in: 12:15 Kiruna Airport for Flight SK1045 – Scandinavian Air
Depart: 14:15 Kiruna Airport
Arrive: 15:50 Stockholm, Arlanda Terminal 4 – Friday 20 Jan 2017

Flight Info: Stockholm, Arlanda / London Heathrow
Check-in: 16:15 Stockholm, Arlanda Terminal 5 for Flight SK533 – Scandinavian Air
Depart: 18:15 Stockholm, Arlanda Terminal 5
Arrive: 19:55 London Heathrow Terminal 2 – Friday 20 Jan 2017

For the complete gallery of Ice Images, please go to www.amanda-king-akimages.com

Banwell Bone Caves

Banwell Bone Caves

Imagine entering a tiny opening on a hillside into a slippery, rocky cavern to explore pitch black chambers by candlelight, the lowest one revealing a turquoise blue lake and much later a further discovery of a cave filled with thousands of animal bones, the like you have never seen before.

In 1842, a human skeleton was found on the grounds of the estate close to the caves and remains an unsolved mystery to this day.

Banwell Bone Cave

Banwell Bone Cave

In the 19th century the reopening of this lost cave, followed by the second cave stacked with bones of animals no longer living in Britain found on Banwell Hill, caused a great deal of interest.

At the time, the land was owned by the Bishop of Bath and Wells, named George Henry Law who believed that the bones had been washed in by Noah’s flood.

He invited people to come and see the caves to witness the aftermath of Gods punishment of a wicked world as a warning of their own fate if they did not live their lives within the ideals of the church.

Nowadays, we know that the bones are from animals who lived in the ice age and the little known site in Banwell village has been classed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and important to the scientific study of Ice Age Britain.

According to John Chapman, who made a short film about the caves, any bones found of the ‘same period of the Ice Age as these bones are known as ‘Banwell Type Fauna’ and the caves are one of the best areas in Britain for the protected species of Greater Horseshoe Bats.

The bones are now known to be from the Pleistocene period, 50,000 – 80,000 years old, it would have been arctic landscape in that time and the animals had been living above the caves on the land and their bones would have washed into the cave by melting ice and high rivers.

The Natural History Museum has identified the bones as:
Bison (Bison priscus)
Otter (Lutra sp.)
Wolf (Canis lupus)
Wolverine (Gulo gulo)
Arctic Hare (Lepus timidus)
Reindeer (Rangifer taradus)
Northern Vole (Microtus oeconomous)
Brown Bear (Ursus arctos)
Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
Arctic Fox (Vulpes lagopus)

Whalebone cave entrance

Whalebone cave entrance

At the time of the discovery the public were fascinated by the site fueled by the Bishops wild religious beliefs and people flocked to see the caves, the Bishop planted woods on the hill and built follies, summer houses and a tower.

Then in 1834 he built a small Druids temple to show visitors how ‘the wicked Pagans were punished for their way of life.’

According to local men John Chapman and John Haynes the caves were popular for about 40 years but then people lost interest and the caves were forgotten for a long time.

These two men, who I shall refer to as the two Johns have taken people to see the caves, but nowadays it is by invitation only as they are both retired and struggling to keep it going, on the website it stated ‘No tours in 2016’.

However I wrote to them and asked if I could see the caves and they willingly accepted and on meeting them it was apparent that their enthusiasm and passion for the caves is still very much alive.

So, here is the story of the caves illustrated with some of my photographs.

Many years ago Banwell Hill was just a meadow which was being mined for lead, ochre, calamine and barites, in 1757 some minors chipped their way through into a large cavern full of stalactites.

There are records of it being as big as the inside of Banwell church and according to writings from a local Solicitor George Bennett, the village choir went in and tested out the acoustics of the cave.

The interest in the cavern passed and the cave eventually collapsed preventing anyone from entering it, but in 1824 the local Vicar got curious about the cave and organised a new search which led to the re-opening of the cave.

He hired two miners and paid them 50p each to excavate the old mine shaft which took them a week to complete, the cave now had an entrance but it meant that visitors had to climb down two ladders to reach it, which was considered to be unsafe.

The Vicar wanted to charge the public to come and see the cave and put the profits towards the church and the local school, to make the cave more accessible to prospective visitors the minors went for an alternative route in through a small opening in the quarry.

This opening led into a completely different cave which instead of stalactites held thousands of animal bones from species that no longer lived in the UK, it was an incredible find and made this cave far more interesting than the original one that they were trying to get to.

More bones

More bones

The Vicar was totally awe struck and convinced that such a large collection of animal bones in that cave must have been the aftermath of Noah’s Flood from the bible, he truly believed this and thought that to have such an important find would put Banwell and its caves on the map.

In 1924 George Henry Law became Bishop of Bath and Wells and the owner of the estate where the caves were and he took over the opening of the caves to the public. He sold the idea that if people saw the bones of all the animals drowned in Noah’s flood as a punishment for a wicked world that the people would think about their own life styles.

As an added attraction he had a mock Druids temple built on the land, even though the Druids in fact had nothing to do with the area, he also added the Trilathon, which was a mound with three stones on and a stone circle around it, this was to make visitors believe that the Pagans were also punished in the flood.

The Druids Temple is very simple with a stone table representing an altar inside, at the entrance of the doorway are written these words:

Here, where once Druids trod in times of yore
And stain’d their alters with victims gore
Here, now, the Christian, ransomed from above
Adores a God of mercy and love.
This was clearly written to make people contemplate the Druids in comparison with that of Christians and the Bishop played out a very strong message of this in the grounds.

Stone Table in Druids Temple

Stone Table in Druids Temple

Of the summerhouses built by the Bishop, by far the most interesting was the Pebble House which was a small building with three arches and pillars inside and decorated with hundreds of pebbles.

The ceiling looks incredible with a spiral of pebbles, even the pillars are covered in the smooth oval pebbles of all different shades, on the roof stand two animal statues to guard the building; one of the statues was a lion and the other a camel.

The lion was stolen but has since been replaced, however the camel, which lay on the ground for years before being restored to the roof, is still the original statue.

Behind the summer house are stone steps that lead to all the stones and rocks that were taken out when making the tunnel to the bone cave, all neatly stacked against a wall.

This was a really interesting place to look around and when you stand inside and look out, you can see out across the Bristol channel and surrounding areas.

Pebble House

Pebble House

571

Pebble Roof

Pebble Roof

Banwell Tower was built at the hill top as well as hundreds of trees which had been planted to make a wooded walk way up through to the tower, the woods nowadays look stunning.

The Tower

The Tower

The Banwell tower that Bishop Law built still stands today and is 50 feet high, constructed of lias stone from the nearby hamlet of Knightcott, the tower cuts a handsome spectacle for all to see.

If you are willing to walk up the steep, narrow stairwell to the top of the tower on a clear day you will be rewarded with views as far as the Brecon Beacons to the North and Exmoor to the South as well as the woods of the estate.

The Trilathon was demolished in the second world war because the RAF, who had set up a camp in the grounds, could not turn their vehicles around as this mound was in the way.

The woods with ruins

The woods with ruins

The Bishop had put a great deal of effort into the caves, he later appointed a farmer called William Beard who taught himself about bones and it was he who kept the public interest up in the caves after the Bishops death in 1845, so enthusiastic was he, that he continued taking people in to see the caves until he was 93 years old.

In 1868 William Beard died and the caves seemed to die with him as interest in them all but disappeared and they were virtually forgotten about by the locals.

A human skeleton was found close to the caves which was more modern than the animal bones, William Beard took the skeleton to the other end of the estate up through the woods past the tower and buried it beneath a stone there.

On the stone is written the words:

A human skeleton found near the Bishops cottage 1842
Beard with his kindness brought me to this spot
As one unknown and long forgot
He made my grave and buried me here
When there was no kind friend to shed a tear
My bones are here but my spirit is fled
And for years unknown numbered with the dead
Reader as I am so shall you be
Prepare for death and follow me

Quite a creepy statement I thought.

William Beard (1772 – 1868) played an essential part in keeping the bone cave open and created public awareness about it through drawing people in with the mystery of the bones, a young female visitor wrote a poem about him in the visitor book and he kept it by his side in his notebook.

Stranger, to Banwell Heights, where gently blow
The soft sea breezes! Thither thou must go.
Bend thy unwilling steps in cavern drear
Behold earths ancient relics hidden there
Bones of the Buffalo, the Wolf, the Bear
And pass a moments time, in thought severe
But not alone, let those your thoughts engage,
There lives, who in your memory claim a page,
One, of whose patient searching you have heard
Famed for his kindness, as his learning, sound
Without whose skill, those bones had near been found
Stranger! I need not say his name is Beard!

A worthy tribute and thank you to the man who was so passionate about the bone cave, if it was not for him, the cave would have disappeared without any further interest.

Nowadays the caves are conserved by the Banwell Caves Heritage Group, a small group of local people who, along with the land owners are trying to ensure that the unique caves remain protected.

If you wanted to visit the caves you can request to see them through www.banwellcaves.org and John Chapman and John Hayes will take you round after showing you a short film about the history of the caves.

These two men are retired and are struggling to keep it all going, they were so interesting to talk to and I felt extremely privileged to have had the chance to go and see the bone cave and meet the two Johns.

I really do hope that the Banwell Bone Cave keeps going, it would be so sad if the candle lit light of interest finally went out on this cave after all of the efforts to keep it going.

A.K.

Egypt – Cairo, Luxor and Aswan

Egypt

Egypt

Egypt

28 years ago (1988) as I ate some scrambled eggs on toast at my parents’ house, my Mother suggested going away for a trip to ‘see some wonderful things’ and would I like to go with her?

Yes I would.

She originally wanted to go to Israel, however when I ran down to the Travel Agents, they told me it was too hostile at that time and to choose somewhere else. I went for Egypt as I had always been drawn to the mystique and charm of this wonderful country with its rich, diverse history with beautiful strange constructions, artefacts and hieroglyphic carvings.

This trip is really where all of my travels began and where I got ‘the bug’ for globetrotting.

So Egypt it was, following a short flight of just under 5 hours we arrived in Cairo and for the very first time I stepped out into hot, heavy night air, something that to this day never fails to surprise me when it hits and something that I always enjoy.
There was a small group of us; the others were John and Ema, Jo, Barbara, Peter, Terry (Mummery) quite an apt surname considering we were in Egypt I thought and lastly an American writer called Monica.

CAIRO – The capital city of Egypt and the largest, this place was a bustling metropolis of people, animals, cars and mopeds, crossing roads here was not easy as motorists seemed to have no sense of the pedestrian. The company (Hayes and Jarvis) had over booked us all so our small group was upgraded to the Sheraton Hotel in Cairo, overlooking the Nile.

One of the most prominent memories I have of Egypt is the very loud singing over a microphone by a Holy man reciting prayers at about 5am in the morning and then again at about 7pm in the evening, it sticks in my mind to this day.

Our guide for the whole trip was called Farid, he was a huge plump man who really knew his stuff on Egyptology and encouraged us to see as much as possible, our driver was a funny little man who was also very likeable, he taught me some Egyptian swear words including “Imshi” which I would shout out daily to all who passed us by, not realising until it was too late that I was in fact telling them to ***k off!!!
Step pyramid

Step Pyramid

Step Pyramid

Giza has three Pyramids, the largest is known as ‘The Great Pyramid’ was constructed around 2560 BCE and is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the World, then there is ‘The Pyramid of Cheops’ built as a Tomb for the Pharaoh Cheops.
This Pyramid has three chambers inside starting with the lowest chamber which was cut into bedrock and was unfinished, then there is the Queens Chamber on the mid layer and the Kings Chamber is at the top of the pyramid structure. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the only pyramid in Egypt known to contain both ascending and descending passages.

You can go inside and up to the King’s Chamber to see his Tomb which is a granite rectangle coffin called a sarcophagus. To get to see it you have to climb up wooden rungs via the Robbers Tunnel for about 89 feet, it was very hot and stuffy in there but I did not care as I just wanted to get to the chamber, it felt highly exciting to be experiencing this.

The sarcophagus is larger than the entrance of the passage which leads up to it suggesting that it must have been put into the Chamber before the roof was built, it is clearly rough and unfinished with saw marks still visible in several places. Generally these are finely finished and decorated as found in other pyramids of the same period, however, it has been said by guides that the original coffin was lost in the Nile so a replacement was quickly made and used instead.

Monica (the incredibly annoying woman from America) actually complained that there should be ‘an elevator’ up to the chamber…..I remember looking round at her in utter disbelief at such stupidity!!!

The Sphinx are fascinating to see, these ancient stone statues based on mythical creatures have the body of a Lion and in Egypt the head of a human and were used as a guard to the sacred temples, these statues are huge and very impressive, though over time they are now eroding quite badly.
They have an air about them, a presence that cannot be explained other than perhaps my being in awe of these huge statues and what they stand for, I certainly felt that they would make effective protectors for the temples.

The Sphinx

The Sphinx

The annoying American woman was getting on my nerves; the joy of travelling in a group, never again thought I and hastily moved off to avoid her and headed to an Egyptian who was hiring out camels to ride across the desert.

The camel I chose was a really bad tempered male who spat at me when I attempted to stroke his nose, he also did not make it easy for me to get on him and he tried many times to shake me off. It was fair enough, if I was a camel I would not want anyone on my back either.

The ride started off well until he took off at full speed across the desert so I had to cling on hard and wait for him to stop running, still I managed to stay upright and once further out into the desert it felt suddenly really peaceful to be in such a vast, stark area and my camel calmed down.

The deep blue, cloudless sky was a real contrast to the colour of the sand of the Sahara desert and out there with my bad tempered camel I felt a real sense of escapism from the rest of the World. It is not a place, however that I would want to be lost in, going a relatively short distance from the Pyramids was enough for me to experience seeing just desert and nothing else and easy to imagine what it must be like travelling for days with just that starkness and nothing else.

The group members were really nice, apart from Monica, who I was not keen on, as she compared everything she saw to Arizona, it bugged us all that she could not just appreciate the beauty and history of where she actually was, in one of the most fascinating places in the World.
Farid took four of us on a walk across the desert, I cannot remember how far we went, I do remember that it was for about 8 hours walking with some lunch in a tent in the desert, no vegetarian food, all very odd looking meat, just meat, nothing else so I went without that day, it did not matter to me as I was more thirsty than hungry.

On the walk if you needed a wee you could go and bury it in the sand, there was one ramshackle old wooden cubicle in the desert, I thought it was hilarious that there was a toilet pan in there going just into the sand, I had to go in just to experience it, I wish I had not, would have been better going in the sand, once I had the door shut I saw a huge spider Egyptian giant Solpugids, or better known nowadays as the Camel spider, these things can jump and have a nasty bite, but unlike the internet warnings you see of them they cannot kill humans.

Even so, I did not fancy being bitten by this thing so got out as quick as I could but without alarming it and making it jump, in order to get out I had to get very close to it and squeeze by, I was very pleased to be away from the thing, nowadays I am fine with any spiders, I love photographing huge tarantulas, but back then this was my first encounter with one and camel spiders are pretty large.

The Museum of Antiquities
You cannot go to Egypt and not see this museum, built in 1835 it houses the largest collection of Egyptian Antiquities in the World, including the show piece mask of Tutankhamen made from 11kg of gold. The museum has everything from papyrus, to ancient coins to mummies, the mummies were incredibly eerie to look at, it felt like an imposition to be viewing them so publicly somehow.
Tutankhamen’s death mask was incredible to see, housed in a glass case it felt surreal to be gazing upon this blue and golden wonder and is something that stayed with me for some time.

We also went to the Papyrus museum which was interesting, the papyrus plant grew along the wetlands of Sudan and the pith of the plant was pressed into a paper like material that could be painted on. I bought a couple of small paintings on the papyrus, it is a very effective way of portraying romantic ancient scenes.

We wandered through the local markets too, these were colourful, bustling and great fun, to buy something you must barter, they do not like it if you try to pay the price marked on the item, rather they enjoy the game of the customer haggling to get the price down, they will barter and once a price has been agreed only then can you buy the item. It is a tradition that they like to keep going.
Power cuts were an ongoing part of day to day life, usually every few minutes and something that you quickly got used to, not so great if you were visiting the Dentist though.

I remember Jo biting into a lychee at a fruit stall and breaking her tooth, she walked about until she found a backstreet dentist to get it filled. Unfortunately the electricity kept going so not only did the light in the windowless room keep going out, plunging them into complete darkness but also during the drilling of tooth, it caused the drill to stop every few seconds.

We also had a power cut at hotel in the early hours when we were due to set off for the day, so we made our way through the corridors and down stairs with our torches, it just added to the experience, if anything I much preferred it

LUXOR – This part of Egypt is lusher, greener and hotter, it felt instantly more humid on arrival, we stayed at the Hilton resort and spa, a lovely retreat. I got the ‘jippy tummy’ that everyone seems to get in Egypt at some time or other, it was bad timing for me though as I missed one of the highlights if the trip, the Valley of the Kings. Tombs cut into stone where the pharaohs Tutankhamen, Seti I, and Ramses IIwere buried. I would love to have seen this and must go back to have another chance at exploring this exciting area, pets were buried nearby too as well as material goods and treasure, much of which has been robbed over the years and surviving artefacts are in the museums.

Karnak Temple – Karnak temple was one of my favourite places, this impressive temple took over 1,500 years to construct and has had over 30 Pharaoh’s walking amongst its uniquely inscribed walls. In the evening there was a ‘Son et lumiere’ – sound and light show of ancient tales told to the viewer by music, illuminations and projected images, I sat in the sand (see photo below) and was instantly mesmerised by the wonderful and evocative depiction of Egyptian times past.

Kom Ombo Temple – This was a beautiful small Temple overlooking the Nile and the hottest day when we visited, so much so it felt hard to breath as the air was so stifling and seemed to sick in our throats, however it held my attention and was fascinating to see mummified crocodiles in glass cases. These crocodiles were there as it was once a place to worship the Crocodile God Sobek, so these crocodiles were preserved in this way and looked upon with awe, they looked creepy to me but I was fascinated by them, the Egyptians also worshipped the Falcon God Horus here.

Amada Temple – This was the oldest of the Lake Nasser Temples with carvings from Military events

Denderah Temple – This Temple is in excellent condition with much of the walls still intact it was dedicated to the Goddess of love Hather, part of this complex is now closed to the public as a tourist got too close to the edge and died falling to the rocks below, but back then we could wander freely around the whole site.

Kalabasha Temple – Dedicated to the Gods Horus and Mandulis, this construction has a fascinating history in itself as it was once under threat from the rising waters of the high Dam at Aswan, so this 323BC building was taken down in over 15,000 pieces and moved to the banks of Lake Nasser where it now safely remains.

ASWAN – This area is even hotter and greener, the banks of the river Nile are lined with lush green palm trees and white sailed feluccas glide on the water allowing the tourist to get the breeze in their hair and cool down from the heat.

We were very fortunate in that we got double booked at the hotel where we were to originally stay so we were taken by feluccas across to the 5 star Old Cataract Hotel, which was a stunning Victorian Palace right on the banks of the Nile. The interior of the Palace was by Sybille de Margerie and blends Moorish arches, with marble floors, red chandeliers and rich Persian carpets.

My favourite day was sailing in a Felucca on Nile to Elephantine Island and Kitchener Island, the first one being the larger of the two and having botanical gardens on it, sweetly scented tropical flowers that I had never seen the like of before. It was intoxicating and wonderful to see these brightly coloured flowers covered in butterflies and dragonflies, all very magical.

The smaller island was Kitchener Island 2,460 feet long and given as a gift to lord Kitchener for his loyalty and serving in the Sudan campaign in 1896 for 2 years.

It was simply beautiful.

In the evening of our last night there we went to a buffet outside and I got to experience dancing with Nubians, the Native Africans of Egypt, they were a lovely friendly bunch and great fun to spend that last evening with, the music was enchanting.

Rameses II

Rameses II

I loved Egypt so much that I went back a second time, sadly though in just a few years it had lost much its magic due to so many hotels being built, many of them very close to the Pyramids, the locals also latched on to tourism and would bombard you with goods to buy whilst saying over and over again ‘lovely jubbly’ quoting from Only Fools and Horses.

It is a real shame as I still remember my first sighting of the Pyramids all those years ago and how the silence allowed the awe to set in, with the chaotic sense of tourism that now surrounds the area it is very difficult to appreciate the beauty of them as you are constantly being distracted by salesmen.

If anyone is planning to go, I definitely recommend hiring a camel and going off to a quieter spot where you can enjoy the view of the Pyramids without the hustle and bustle that now surrounds them.

I will most definitely be visiting Egypt again as I want to revisit it all again and this time must see The Valley of the Kings.

Venice

Venice is an intriguing and awe inspiring city, set in a large lagoon it is made up of canals bridged by some impressive and elegant architecture, Venice has been given a few names including City of Canals, City of Bridges, City of Masks and the Floating City amongst other names, all of which fit perfectly, my favourite name for it though is Queen of the Adriatic, a suitably romantic name for this beautiful place.

A most beautiful city

A most beautiful city

Beautiful it may be, filled with reflections and Expressionistic shadows everywhere you look, nicely scented it is not. The canals can be quite pungent at certain times of the year, the high summer can be particularly bad at times and is best avoided in my opinion, as well as it being crazily busy with tourists then too.

I went to Venice for a short break as I was drawn to the photogenic canals and bridges as well as the famous Masked Carnival, which claims to be the Worlds largest and most famous masked party, it arose in the middle ages but flourished in the 18th century and nowadays people fly from all over the World to take part in this grand spectacle.

I arrived in the city at night and was instantly taken with how the reflections in the water, lit up by the golden light of the street lights made some of the buildings distorted and exaggerated, whilst others in still water looked identical to the real thing and if you got the angle right, you could take a mirror image photograph, where you can hold the picture either way up and find it difficult to tell which is the real building and which is the reflection, these are always fun to take.

The next day I could not wait to get out and explore the area and was not disappointed at all, the whole place was a visual feast and a photographers dream, I took hundreds of pictures at every turn it seemed and eventually came to the conclusion that I must slow down and enjoy the views with the naked eye rather than looking through the lens of the camera all the time, yet within minutes once again I could not help myself and continued snapping the shutter at everything in sight, the beauty of the narrow streets of water just has to be captured.

I then decided to go and look for a suitable mask and costume to wear to the Carnival, meal and Masked Ball for the evening, it was so exciting wandering into each shop and trying on different masks, there are very obvious differences between the male and female masks, the female mask is alot softer and usually can be quite flattering, the male masks were very characterised, some with long pointed noses to show off their masculinity, the classic black mask with long nose is actually quite intimidating, these were very popular and are seen everywhere, very iconic of the male Venetian mask.

The shops are filled with these masks, some basic black and white, others brightly coloured, some that look like humans, others in the style of animals or just ornate shapes that fit to the face with feathers springing from the sides or top, some have sparkles.

I went for a red velvet mask with some feathers and a silk red hooded cape to throw over a black dress, it seemed to work well and I was pleased that I had something comfortable but fun to wear for that evening, I also bought a softer green and lilac sparkly mask to wear about Paizza San Marcosquare where hundreds of people flock to either wear masks or just enjoy the spectacle and soak in the atmosphere.

Piazza San Marco is the place to be in Venice, famously described by Napoleon as ‘The Drawing Room of Europe’ it really is a colourful scene and the place to both see and be seen if you are wearing your costume, I found it thrilling seeing so many people dressed up in decadent costumes, it is totally surreal and the atmosphere takes you by the hand and insists on showing you around.

In the evening the whole atmosphere of the place changes and at Carnival time you cannot fail but get swept up in all the excitement, this night I was due to attend a concert followed by a masked ball party.

Even queuing up for the concert was exciting as people had gone to so much effort to dress up beautifully just to attend as the audience, it is usually customary to dress up for a concert in the UK of course, but this was on another level, some of the finery that people wore was just breathtaking to look at.

The concert was impressive in the grand hall and as I marvelled at the clothes of other people and the splendid decor of the hall as I listened to pieces by Schubert resonate around the building, it felt wonderful to attend and be part of that concert and got me in the mood for the second half of the evening.

I went back to the hotel afterwards and changed into the costume for the masked ball, for this I wore a red silk dress and matching cape with hood and of course the red mask that I had bought in the shop earlier with the feathers, just putting this costume on made me feel like a totally different person. Dressing up like this was allows people to become someone else, you can become a character or just feel as though you are anonymous in the crowd, it is quite liberating and of course it is also thrilling to see what other people are wearing too.

The streets quickly filled with people dressed in their costumes and masks making their way to the various balls that were going on that night and excitement could be felt wherever you went.

A regular sight at night

A regular sight at night

I enjoyed walking down some of the darker alleyways and seeing people in their capes and masks, there was something very ‘Phantom of the Opera’ about it. Although I wandered down a very narrow, dark alleyway which was clearly a dead end, I noticed before turning back though that there was a streetlight lighting up the wall at the end, on the wall was blood, a considerable amount, I quickly turned and left the area.

I took a fast boat down the canal to where this particular party that I had signed up to was taking place and enjoyed watching people in the Gondolas being punted down the canals in their finery, there was something very decadent about it.

Finally I reached my destination, a secret ball, the entrance was through what looked like an old trap door into an old cellar, getting off the boat you had to be careful and jump over onto the concrete quay.

As I stooped to go through the old wooden trap door, I walked into a darkened area which at first looked a little alarming, however once in it soon became an Alice in Wonderland feast for the eyes, down a narrow corridor lit with candles to a grand staircase and up into one of the most decadent halls I have ever seen.

Large mirrors were everywhere with chandeliers and long tables were set out for a banquet, gold and silver plates adorned the tables, wine flowed and although I felt rather awkward, I should have gone with a group of friends perhaps, once seated the conversations flowed as easily as the wine.

Fine Dining

Fine Dining

Food was brought out constantly it seemed, course after course of chilled soups, hot meats, fishes, roasts and then the most tempting sweet dishes, there was a chocolate fountain and also platters of fruit, there was something very regal about the meal.

After the meal it was down into the large hall for the dance, this was a totally different atmosphere, the hall was vast with stone pillars and polished floor, the music began and people danced, I watched from the sidelines and enjoyed seeing that some were excellent at dancing and had clearly had some tuition.

The Dance

The Dance

Some of the Costumes

Some of the Costumes

The colourful costumes all seemed to merge into one as I watched people swish about the room, I stayed until 11pm but then ordered a boat back as the dance turns into a Disco and this did not hold my interest, so back down the long corridor I went, gathered my cape and gloves off the masked man at the door and stepped out onto the waiting boat.

Speeding down the canals the cool air woke me up and I enjoyed the full moon and the crazy reflections on the water, I was pleased to have come and experienced this but in honesty never had I felt so utterly lonely, most people there had been in couples and although I a used to being alone, it highlighted to me that I really was alone,, it would have been grand to have had a man by my side to dance with instead of being a wallflower spectator at the side of the room, perhaps I will go back another time.

Pigeons in Venice are a controversial subject, often looked upon as a mascot of Venice, thousands of these birds congregate in St Marks Square, when I was there you could feed them and just a scattering of crumbs would draw them to you in seconds and you would be engulfed in these birds.

Famously in the 1950’s an Insurance company used the pigeons as a promotional gag, by scattering corn about the square so that the birds would flock to it, if you looked downwards onto the feeding birds you would see the initials of the company AG which stood for Assicurazioni Generali.

In the end the local authorities decided that the birds were a nuisance and banned the feeding of them, this is a shame as they were a tourist attraction and I am pleased that I got to experience them when I was there.

There are a few men who used to sell the birdseed cheaply to tourists, they have been particularly upset by the banning as they are out of work but also some of them were clearly passionate about the birds according to certain articles, however city officials are said to be offering them alternative work or giving them a cash payoff to apease them.

However to be fair, the pigeons have been causing damage to some of the buildings and to encourage them with feeding is only going to cause further damage and expense, they crave calcium for their eggs and peck away at marble statues to try and extract the stuff, there are pack marks and scratch marks over the historical landmarks which is making people angry and resentful to the birds.

Deterrents have been put on some of the buildings such as spikes which often mame the birds, I think this is particularly cruel and I hate to see it, so perhaps the prohibition of feeding them is in fact a better solution.

The magic of Pigeons

The magic of Pigeons

To sum up, Venice is a gem of a place to visit, I would definitely go again, the only thing I would change is that I would like to go with a partner, being one of the most romantic cities in the World it seems rather a waste not to be able to experience it with someone you love.

Perhaps I shall visit it again one day.