After 5 weeks of travelling in Southern Italy, I ended my trip in Palermo, Sicily, where I was due to get on a flight to Rotterdam. On arriving there, I wandered from the bus station down a busy road, looking for a place to stay the night. Most of the hotels were booked out. I finally found a small hotel in a narrow side lane off the main road.
I didn´t know anything about Palermo and it didn´t matter; it was a stop on the way to the airport. But Palermo turned out to be far more than that.
It was memorable experience – and a quintessential Italian experience.
There are three contingents of soldiers: Egyptian, Sudanese and British.
The Egyptian and Sudanese armies have been trained by British military instructors and are being led by British officers.
We are in the heyday of The Empire, which is living on borrowed time. Come the 20th century and it will crumble before the tumult and upheaval of two world wars, a Great Depression, and two major revolutions.
But right now, in 1897, The Empire is in its full glory. No power on earth can defeat it.
On a winter’s morning in Rotterdam, in early 2016, I fell off my bike. Easy to do with a strong wing, snow on the bike track and more fatally, a layer of ice underneath.
I wasn’t wearing a helmet, which wasn’t obligatory in The Netherlands (after this incident, I promptly went out and bought one).
The fall off my bike was like in a dream.
One minute I was on my bike, the next minute I was sprawled flat on the ground. There was no sense of the bike keeling over and me falling.
As soon as I got up I knew that there was a problem.
There was blood on my clothes and on the snow. The blood was coming from my forehead.
Two other bicyclists stopped and helped me up and offered to phone an ambulance. One man looked at my forehead and said that it would definitely need stitching. For some reason I didn’t want an ambulance. Instead, I held a handkerchief to my head and rode home with one hand. The sunglasses helped in keeping the blood out of my eyes.
When I got back to my apartment, I put fresh clothes on and got a taxi to the casualty department of the nearest hospital……
It happened whilst I was descending a short flight of stone steps in the temple at Karnak, just outside the city of Luxor. In the fading light, mesmerised by the massive stone columns all around me, the largest in the ancient world, I missed a step, stumbled and fell.
When I got up, my ankle hurt.
That night, back in my room, it began swelling up.
I was staying in a seedy end of Luxor, in a low budget hotel. It reminded me of Old Dehli; there was a maze of narrow streets thronging with people and traffic. I liked the area. It was boisterous, run down, and colourful. It was a place where one could get pleasantly lost in, especially in the evenings, when it was cool and everyone appeared on the streets.
But that evening, I couldn’t go anywhere.
The pain in my ankle was searing.
I hobbled to a small backstreet restaurant but half way through my meal, with the pain throbbing in my ankle, I realised I needed medical attention. It occurred to me that I might have broken my ankle and it that was the case, then my trip was over.
The owner of the restaurant ordered me a taxi and told the driver to take me to the casuality department of the nearest hospital.
All I needed was a doctor. But I was in no mood to argue the point. The taxi appeared and away we went ……Read more →
Early on my second morning in Athens, whilst it was still dark, I got up and walked to the Parthenon. I followed silent streets until I reached the acropolis, where I began the ascent to the Parthenon over a wide, zig-zagging ramp. I got there before well opening time (8 am); I was hoping I might get a short period of relative solitude before the main tourist rush began. As it turned out, I got about a half an hour.
But it was worth it.
Aware of looking at the farcical remains of what was once an architectural miracle, I nevertheless felt elated watching the sunrise illuminating the columns, one by one, wrenching them out of the cold morning shadow. In that short-lived moment, I surrendered to the simple and incredible idea that that those columns were two and a half thousand years old, a time span as hard for me to comprehend as the distances between stars in the universe………