Thursday, August 4, 2016

Cap d'Agde

Cap d'Agde

The river Herault 300 metres from Cap D'agde railway station.

The Canal du Midi, only a stones throw from the railway too. 

Visit GuerillaZ's sister site: Singing Bird Tea here

Drinking Oriental Beauty in Vung Tau

A market stall at Cap d'Agde

By the marina in Cap D'agde. It is oddly low key. This was the last week in June. Perhaps I was expecting Ferraris and great motor launches, catwalk models and tycoons on holiday. No thing of the sort here.

There was a market selling things nobody much wanted. There was a city of moored yachts. But this town has a number of atmospheres. This marina, a naturist beach (and wife swapping) part of the town, a lugubrious old town and other areas not visited.

What I like about France. It is usually low key. 

My mother on the left, her friend Jenny on the left.

They visited for two weeks.

Surprising that vines can even grow in the middle of garrigue terrain. 

So many cheeses. 

Cleaned and ready for lunch

The local wine domain headquarters.

Happy Travelling!

Friday, April 1, 2016


Welcome to readers from Taiwan, South Korea, China and Peru

Mount Fuji from my window in Narusawa. 

Narusawa really was such a small village. It sad astride the equivalent of a B road.

Like most villages in England you could walk around it and barely see anyone. On one side was an escarpment with pine trees on its upper reaches. On the other side of the village woods that gave out to the rising landmass of Fuji itself. You needed some kind of permit to climb Fuji and well I've more or less stopped climbing now unless it is on a bicycle.

Fuji from space

The tallest mountain in Japan Fuji stands at 3776 metres. Each year around 250, 000 climbers scale Fuji. In the non-climbing season another estimated 150, 000 manage it. It is the most visited peak in the world.

The View from the summit, c 1910

Being near Fuji  draws out the impulse to be blase. From its base Fuji looks like a stroll with some slippery stuff halfway up. The Eiger, Mont Blanc, Popocatepetl, Kanchenjunga (double the height), the Jungfrau are all mountains I've visited. And they look terrifying. Surely you can walk up the gentle slopes of Fuji?

Here is what it is really like if you climb Fuji and slip.

Ice-fall on Mt. Fuji

The mountain really is beautiful and it's difficult to take your eyes off it. Even when it wasn't visible I found myself looking for it. After seeing those images I remember why I love flowers, drinking tea, reading and meditating.

Lake Fuji-ko

This was more like it. A stroll around the lake with the mountain appearing occasionally.

Super neat ploughed arable land

Okay so I'd been in Japan for a month and was getting to end of my budget. A month cost somewhere in the region of $3000. And that was super budget accommodation (except for 2 nights in Bessho), budget food, snacks more like, from the local store. An apple was $2. Ok, it was quite a large apple.

The village where I stayed

Happy Travelling this year! Year of the Monkey

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Visiting Bessho in the Japanese Alps

Welcome to readers from Myanmar and Namibia

Bessho, Ueda.

The Asama shinkansen from Ueno station Tokyo took a supremely comfortable hour to roll into Ueda City. From there a small, six carriage, narrow gauge train called the Dentetsu took me on the thirty minute ride to the village of Bessho. I was there to feel the contrast with Tokyo’s greater metropolitan district populated by 44 million people and to visit the best example of a wooden temple in Japan.

Even though Bessho had a population of 2361 people only a handful people were visible at any one time. It was quiet.


Image result for bessho hot springs

At Uematsuya Ryokan

What a nice surprise

A matcha tea served within moments of my arrival

The food at Uematsuya is outstanding. To stay for one night with breakfast and dinner cost around $60. 

If you like matcha green tea visit: Making matcha in Uji, Kyoto

Here's something about staying in a Japanese Style Room. The flooring will be tatami (reed mats). When you enter the room you will see a low table with cushions around it. Before you go to bed this table will be moved and your bedding will be prepared in the same location. You room may contain some or all of the following, depending on the style, design, and expense of the ryokan. · agari-kamachi - after opening the door guests step into this small area and take off their slippers (do not wear your slippers on the tatami) · shoji - sliding Japanese doors that separate the agari-kamachi from the room · tatami - reed mat flooring · zataku – low, often wooden table · zabuton - sitting cushions · futon - sleeping quilts · tokonoma - an ornamental alcove built into the wall, used for placing flower vases and hanging scrolls · oshiire - a closet for futon sleeping quilts · engawa - enclosed sitting area separated from the room by shoji

Bessho Onsen

These figures sit in the forest at the bottom of the steps up to the Anraku-ji temple

Listening to: Bach's Chaconne in D minor arranged by Leopold Stokowski

Dinner at Uematsuya

Sumo hotpot

After dinner Hoji-cha

Even though it doesn't look it - Hojicha is a light, mild, smoky tea good for the digestion. 

The tea is a lower grade of tea known as bancha, a roasted green tea with low astringency. 


Just 300 metres uphill from Uematsuya lies the Anraku-ji Buddhist temple. There are few sights in Bessho but therein lies its beauty. Its alpine appointment, pretty local flowers and other Alpine flora. A few public onsen and the one located in my ryokan.


The only remaining wooden temple in Japan

When Japanese tourists visit Florence in Italy they have been known to faint at the beauty around them. They end up at the local hospital behind the railway station. I didn't faint in Japan but somehow felt bloated with the richness of what I saw. The beauty there has a purity difficult to put into words. Japan can appear inexpressible at the bottom. Describable yes but its spirit elusive. Regarded holistically Japan is a touch stultifying. It's impression needs to be reduced into working parts, stumbled upon scenarios and more then can be made of it.

One of the great things about Japanese inns is that your room carries a personal caddy of fresh green sencha tea, kettle and kyushu tea pot. 

Drinking tea and writing something is close to perfect. That beautiful taste again, rich umami, deeply satisfying. 

Mount Hotaka 3190 metres and the 3rd highest mountain in Japan

Happy travelling!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Myanmar Lost

Welcome to readers from Chile, Belarus, South Korea, Italy, Mexico, Cambodia, Switzerland, Brunei and Nepal

Just a short ride away across the Kra Buri river in Thailand is Kawthaung (formerly called Victoria Point).

Architecture in this part of Burma looks a little like England 120  years ago. The mood here is mournful leading to wistful.

Listen to Sebastien Tellier's mournful L'Adulte below:

Filmed for my favourite newspaper in one of my favourite cities, London, with my favourite music artist du jour.


Myanmar - unsurprisingly, not the easiest place to be. People here in this part of Myanmar are shy and very short of money. The combination makes visiting a little rough-going. Infrastructure is basic and commercial development almost nil. Well exactly nil. There are hotels for visitors. Inside mine the white-tiled appearance of a sanitarium. Another resembled a broken down 1970s miners social club.
Myanmar is still unused to visitors and very little grace can be found. People were half-friendly, uncertain and there was a general lack of assistance. In anything. Money goes into pockets and the simplest, quickest job is done.
Myanmar had been isolated and a pariah state since 1963. Borders were only re-opened in 2013.

This is Kawthaung. Over the river from Ranong in Thailand. It was a 100 degrees when we arrived. The streets were sun-blind and the glare off the water at the port fried indigenous hope.

You don't need a guide in Kawthaung but it helps. Only the guides speak English. Over the hill and several kilometres away an incredible beach awaited. A curving, empty beach with a basic house, a few trees for shade and some cola in the fridge. You could not stay there. Rice and vegetables could be bought from a local woman from her family's pot.

Beach. 11 am. Southern Myanmar


If you like drinking tea check out Singing Bird Tea below:

Waiting for the boat

My second and last iPod classic broke while I lived in Kerala. Now $450 worse off I decided against a third. I wished I had some music to soften up Myanmar now. Alas I had nothing. I needed a Latin sound like this by Lenny Kravitz to lift me up a notch.

Making betel leaf parcels for evening promenaders seeking relief.

Drying fish in the fishing village

The man

Tea in Myanmar

Tea dust is stewed in a kettle with milk, sometimes condensed milk.

The tea is aerated during the pouring process.

And there is your cup of sweet black tea.

Perhaps if the British had colonised China the Chinese would pour milk into their oolongs and red teas.

At a tea shop in the back of Kawthaung in Southern Myanmar I got a cup of local tea. Alongside the black tea were steel kettles full of hot Chinese tea as they called it.

In Myanmar it is necessary to have a guide. My guide said 'we drink Chinese tea to clear the palate, Chinese tea ... ' and he whispered, 'just hot water.' Further questions drew a blank as to its origin. The tea, from the fragments in my cup and the colour, presented like an oolong brewed with a lot of water.


I happen to like tea very much. Lahpet is a salad made from pickled tea leaves. What you see gluing the salad together, a speckled darkness, is a kind of tea paste made from the tea leaves. Despite eating all this I slept rather well. 17% of Burma's tea harvest is eaten.
Historically Lahpet was an ancient symbolic peace offering between warring kingdoms in Myanmar, and is exchanged and eaten after settling a dispute. In pre-colonial and colonial times, lahpet was served after the civil court judge made a verdict; if the arbitrators ate the lahpet, this signified formal acceptance of the verdict.

Set in Burma the film The Purple Plain stars Gregory Peck as a war pilot shot down in the Burmese wilderness.

The heat that kills Maurice Denham and nearly does for Peck is unremitting. Like Calcutta in late spring. Devastating heat. That same heat is in Kawthaung. The world here is an oven and the heatwaves make everything crinkled.


Thai highlands on the left, Burmese islands on the right. A view from the temple above the town of Kawthaung.


Myanmar is a country rich in jade, gems, oil and natural gas. Large sections of the economy is controlled by military interests. The income inequality gap is one of the widest in the world.

The atmosphere in Myanmar is palpable and much anger floats in thick traces on the thermals. The National Geographic recently reports ethnic and religious strife abroad in the country: -