The Outer Hebrides is a chain of hundreds of islands in the far flung Western corner of Scotland with the west side facing the Atlantic ocean and the east side, the Minch sea. The crashing waves of the Atlantic ocean carves a very jagged landscape into the islands and also creates a landscape unlike any other in the world. Only a few of these islands are inhabited and the total population of the whole chain does not exceed 30,000, it wavers depending the influx of new people and the outflow of the locals who seek more lucrative employment in the bigger cities of the mainland Scotland. The number of visitors have been increasing steadily. So more work catering to visitors are now available and has managed to keep more young people at home. One can go from South to North or North to South to explore these islands, they run about in a straight line, from North to South. Castlebay in the South is a very popular entry point. One can take the 5 hour ferry in from Oban in the mainland or fly in from Glasgow. I was at Castlebay airport one morning to wait for the 10am arrival of the flight from Glasgow. The runway is the beach at Cockle beach. (in between flights one can rake for cockles?) I made sure I had a good vantage point to snap some photos, I wanted to take the sand, the plane and the Machair and frame them all in one. This was the result. Many people do turn out to watch this on the mornings that the flight comes in.
The Outer Hebrides is a chain of islands in the far Western corner of Scotland. Few people even know they exists and only recently did Guidebooks gave it a blurb on their pages. It is a chain of some 500 island which only 17 are inhabited by a very hardy people. Today it is easier to visit because of air, ferry and road links. The Western coastline has some of the world's loveliest shell sand beaches and one is almost alone in most of them. It is the Machair that drew me to the Outer Hebrides, these grasslands which in Summer gives this incredible display of wild flowers much like a colorful Persian carpet. Less people mean less land given up for cultivation and grazing, thus leaving wide tracts to be Machair.
These are the thick marram grass that grows in the Outer Hebrides, they serve to hold the dunes together. They are found on the Atlantic side of the Isles of the Outer Hebrides. They are still cut to be used as thatching for the roofs of croft houses.
Covent Gsrden is now a favorite place of mine to hang out in while in London. This is Neal's yard, a corner in Covent Garden. It is fun, colorful and inspiring. If you are in London next be sure to visit Neal's yard at Covent Garden.
The North field meadow in Cricklade in April has the most of snakehead fritillaries in England. They cover this meadow as far as the eye can see. These are very unusual flowers and has very specific needs, moist soil and their habitat are disappearing. Cricklade has 80% of all the snakehead fritillaries in England.
Snakehead fritillaries are normally purple. White is not common but here in Oxford, I found some white ones. In late April they are almost spent and over and I was afraid that I came too late in the season but not until my next destination.....
It started at the end of April with a trip to Oxford, to see the snakehead fritillaries. A train ride out of London got me there in no time. Even as the year is ending and I feel a chill in the air, I am putting together next year's itinerary and it is going to be epic. There is really nothing in small plans that would excite anyone. It has got to be so huge that it is scary and that's the kind that would wake up even the dead. I am excited about it.
The Outer Hebrides is a chain of hundreds of islands where only a handful are inhabited. The population if there is any is sparse and so are the visitors. The few people who has discovered these islands are a special group, they come once and return every year or whenever they get a chance. The services in these parts are very basic. It used to be difficult getting around here if you don't have a car or a bicycle. It is easier today but not by much. Some places are so small that they cannot support a tiny store or cafe. These things are miles away. I was very unprepared during my trip here in July this year. But that was the charm of the whole trip, everything was serendipitous, especially that day when I was dropped off by the bus on the main spine road, my intention was the hostel in Howmore. Coming from Los Angeles, we had everything, I expected a little store where I could at least get some food. The bus driver pointed out a new white building and told me that was where I should be walking to. My spirits were high, at least its a brand new building, I thought. After 20 minutes of hauling my luggage on the road, I came to that gleaming white building only to find out, it was a church and that the hostel was a dilapidated building in front of it. My spirits sand. Oh no, I thought, this place looks like it suck. It wasn't like I could walk out of there. I will catch the bus the same time the next day when it comes up this way again. I was alone, dumped my luggage in one of the rooms, and started to explore. There were bathrooms and a fully equipped kitchen but no food and no where to buy food. I had a bar of chocolate which I could eat half for lunch and the other half for dinner. I thought to myself, I'm going to be alright for one day. I took my camera and went out to photograph the Machair, after all that was why I was there for. When I returned to the hostel, someone else had arrived. It was Steve who cycled there from Berneray, another island. We introduced ourselves and I told him I had no food. He found somme dried pasta left from another visitor. I cooked that and there was an opened can of tomatoes in the fridge, I mixed it in and that was my lunch and dinner that day. Steve had his own food. He was a funny guy and hails from the Isle of Skye and he started to tell me stories of his adventures in the Outer Hebrides to which he has been coming for years. He told me of the great group who frequents the other Gatliff hostel in Berneray, where I'll be heading in 2 days. He told me someone stole his bike on one of his visits which is almost a very rare occurrence. Then we were joined by another cyclist, Alan Jones from Coventry. The three of us spent the next few hours chatting. It was very windy that night, the winds were howling and the door to my room was rattling away. I had to put a plastic bag to tighten the seal to stop the rattling. I left the next day even as the winds continue to blow but Steve and Alan stayed because it was just too windy to cycle. The same bus that dropped me off the day before picked me up and dropped me off at my next stop, just a few miles up the road, to a B&B, a much more comfortable place where I was fed a great breakfast!
The Summer is almost over but there is always next year. Next year when the hills of Southern California will be covered with wild flowers, I hope, instead of wild fires rampaging through them right now. The fires are slowly abating and hurricane 'Irma' is barreling down the coast of Florida and the Carribean. We've just had hurricane 'Harvey' paying the Gulf coast a visit. Such is life and such is living in this great place called the USA!
This year started with chasing flowers in my own back yard, near Disneyland in Anaheim was this beautiful patch of native California lupins. We had record breaking rains this year after 6 years of drought and the wild flowers just couldn't wait to reappear. We've never seen Southern California so lovely before. This has been a great year and even as it winds down, I'm looking forward to more and new adventures.
For some reason trees grow bigger here at Ninfa and flowers bloom extra big too. Its true that the varieties of blooms were selected for their huge size but even so they do extra well in the Garden of Ninfa. I've been checking airfares. Norwegian air are selling tickets for 2018 and they leave from major cities in the USA. In May next year if you book now fares from Los Angeles to Rome are as low as US$189 one way. What are you waiting for? I'd go except I need to go elsewhere to explore and collect more stories. I have a Youtube channel too under my name. I use my real name in all my social media channel.
The sweet sound of the trickling of water is soft and barely audible. The river Ninfa flows through the whole property making it an incredible water feature for the water loving Gunnera and the Iris. The water is as clear as glass and extremely cold and is alive with numerous reeds living in it. One needs to experience the Garden of Ninfa in person to appreciate fully its charm and beauty. When I see all the ugliness in the whole, the anger and the violence, I wished that they could just pause to admire such beauty and their lives would be so changed. I get trollers and spammers on my social media pages and I always reject them with the caption, 'no strange or ugly people please.' I cannot stand ugliness especially in people's attitudes.
Norwegian air is selling really cheap tickets for next year. Direct flights to Rome from major cities are now available especially from US cities. Check it out and plan your trip to Rome and to one of the opening days at the Garden of Ninfa. I've just released an eBook on the garden of Ninfa. Check that out too on Amazon.
This is what the Machair looks like in June and in July other varieties start popping up making it look like a Persian carpet. In August they all die and only the heather blooms and the whole area becomes purple. Most of the world's Machair are found on the Western side of the Outer Hebrides because conditions for it are ideal there. While there are some in the Inner Hebrides like this patch in Calgarry. To really see and experience the Machair you have to go to the Outer Hebrides and in July if possible.
Some of my best memories are to places where there is not a single painting, no buildings, no musical instruments, no modern construct, to places where mother nature does her thing unimpeded.Here I was sitting on the Machair in South Uists of the Outer Hebrides enjoying mother nature where except for a midge bite I was so contented.
After traveling for the last 20 years, cities don't excite me anymore. I need to see and experience the wild and natural places. I discovered the Machair 2 years ago and found out that 70% of the world's Machair are in the Western Isles of Scotland. So I made 2 trips there and have plans to embark on a third. I'm writing an eBook about it too even as the eBook on the Garden of Ninfa is now available on Amazon Kindle. The plan is to seek out the world's extraordinary places and write about them. More about Machair is coming.
This is the eBook I just published on Amazon Kindle and is available for sale. It gives a more detailed history of the people responsible for the garden and how and when to visit. Its not a lot of money but I think is worth the read. I'm working on my eBook on the Hebrides right now and am looking for ideas for other titles. I'm looking for more obscure places that are worth the effort. Many of us are seasoned travelers and like me are running out of cute and extraordinary places to go to. Let me help you.
Of course when you go is important. To see the roses in their splendorous glory, the first 2 weeks of June is ideal. I was here at the end of April and though the roses did not that much of a splash, I did see some. I will always love the garden of Ninfa, there is none like it.
As one visitor described it as 'a medieval Pompeii' it was once a thriving city with numerous churches, city walls, and castles. Today only the ruins remain and before they were cleaned up and restored, they were covered with ivy that draped over everyone and made it look totally spooky. The Caetani family because of their connection with the Pope was able to acquire the whole village and turned into their country estate which they restored to the dazzling beauty that it is today. Being dubbed, 'the most romantic garden in the world' it certainly behooves us to visit it at least once in a lifetime.
The garden of Ninfa, just outside of Rome is known as the most romantic garden in the world. I had the joy of visiting it this las April and it is truly marvelous. There's not another garden like it even as I just uploaded my ebook on the garden and its history. Check it out on Amazon Kindle.
The brambles are early this year. They usually don't ripen till mid to late August. The long lane leading up from the main road to the entrance at Scotney castle was lined with brambles. The walk to the entrance was done with another English couple so while we did a little picking we chatted most of the time. I did a lot more foraging on the way back to the main road where the bus dropped us off. I dawdled, picked and ate. It was a childhood dream of mine living in a British colony and reading books about life in England. I must have been 6 when I read this English reader about a little girl and boy who went out picking blackberries with their grandfather. The grandfather used the crook of his cane to reach those blackberries high above their heads. That story has stayed with me for 60 years and I've always wanted to do that. The past years have seen me do a little foraging but not to the extent I did this trip. This memory will stay with me for a very long time.
Trust me, this photo wasn't photo shopped even though it looked like it. For a while now I've seen the evocative pictures of Scotney castle and have it on my iPhone to remind me that I need to visit. Its so easy these days, just google anything and the instructions on how to get there pops up. So armed with the information off I went that morning in London. The train from Charing Cross station took me to Tunbridge Wells. At Tunbridge Wells High street, bus 256 will take me to Lamberhurst and from there a long walk (20 minutes) will lead me to the front entrance of Scotney castle. This is the old castle, 630 years old which the owner has let become a ruin turning it into a romantic folly. The residence is up the hill and was built in 1837. There is a massive moat that surrounds this old castle. I walked its whole perimeter taking pictures from every angle. She doesn't have any bad side at all. She's beautiful and so evocative. If you happen to be in London on days that Scotney castle is opened, make the effort to visit.
I was on a quest, in search of the Machair, those flowery meadows of the Outer Hebrides. I found more, I found those beautiful white sand beaches and icy blue ocean waters that are the beaches of the Outer Hebrides. The Outer Hebrides are those far western island chain of Scotland that borders the Atlantic ocean on one side. It is the Atlantic ocean side that has these kinds of beaches. They are so evocative and exceedingly beautiful. I just came back and already making plans to return.
My Hebridean adventure ends on the Isle of Skye. The Isle of Skye is considered part of the Inner Hebrides. It is also known as the garden of the Hebrides. It is filled with wild flowers that line the roadside and also unused fields. It lacks the drama of the Machair of the Outer Hebrides but is not any less delightful. Portree, the capital of Skye sees a lot of visitors, a lot of Asian visitors. Most visitors to Scotland, besides visiting the biggies like Glasgow and Edinburgh, also visits Inverness, Loch Ness and Skye. So accommodation is really tight in Portree. I'm staying 3 nights, each night in a different place. Last night was at a B&B outside of town. Tonight I'm staying in this 200 year old mansion. Tomorrow I'll be moving to a hostel downtown. That will signal the end of this trip, as I return home to complete the ebook on the Hebrides, both Inner and Outer! I love the wildness of the Outer Hebrides and I find nothing in the city that could compare to it. I see a field of beautiful purple thistles and I want to run through it. Of course that's not advisable, I'll get pricked in the bottom before I could get very far. Its been amazing! Its hard to top this!
This is my last stop, Stornoway, in the Outer Hebrides. I'm leaving from Tarbert tomorrow, taking the bus there and then a ferry will take me to the Isle of Skye. Getting accommodations in Skye was a nightmare. I spent most of yesterday making my onward arrangements but I did 2 places to stay in Skye, one for 2 nights and the other for the 3rd night. It is very expensive too if you can find any rooms. I've been told Skye is very beautiful. I shall miss all the wild flowers. It was planned a year ago to be here in July to see the beautiful wild flower fields called Machair. Its going to be a book on the Hebrides. I was at the Inner Hebrides last year. I want to come back. It is so beautiful and unspoiled and the people are so nice.
This was a week ago at the start of my Outer Hebrides adventure. I'm still in the Outer Hebrides wending my way North covering a lot of ground in a short time meeting some of the friendliest people and seeing some of the most wondrous Machair. The Machair is unique to the Outer Hebrides and is absolutely stunning. That is the reason why I'm here. There are fields and fields of Machair everywhere. There are wild flowers everywhere and beautiful scenery, beaches, rock outcrops and wild life. This was taken at Barra airport a week ago.
This was my hostel yesterday, at first sight, a very dismal and dumpy place but I had the best time here. I stayed a night here. I was alone, then I was joined by Steve, a bicyclist and mush later Alan, another bicyclist. All three of us talked the night away. I didn't know Howmore was so small. It had no shops, cafes or anything. I had a bar of chocolate with me. I told myself, half of it is for lunch and the other half for dinner. But when Steve arrived, he boiled some pasta left over by another party and there was half a can of canned tomatoes left in the fridge. With that I made a sauce and had enough for lunch and dinner. This trip was all about serendipity. The hostel was right smack in the middle of a mach air and I had the best time of my life living on such minimal of things. There was of course no Internet and I was off the grid for 24 hours.
Home is Southern California, home is Los Angeles, home is Hollywood, home is the Pacific ocean! While I love to be home, I love to wander also. I'm going wandering in a few days and be away for a few weeks. But I can't wait to get home and to entertain again. I wander the whole world over looking for wild flowers and going next week to do exactly that, look for wild flowers. In March this year, I didn't have to wander far, just 30 miles away, to the hills and to this magical canyon which was ablaze with the wondrous sight ever, wild flowers everywhere in them hills. I've never seen Southern California so glorious. I love you, California!
While everyone in my dorm were still sleeping, I'm out and about at 6.30am and am heading for the train station at Paddington. I'm on the 8.15am train to Swindon and right on time the train pulls out of Paddington station. I spot the spirea in bloom. Emma Bridgewater wrote in a recent book that the best way to see wild flowers in England is from a moving car or in my case from a moving train. We passed the numerous varieties of wild flower species that dot the sides of the motorway or train tracks. I'm in England on the trail of snakehead fritillaries. What? I know, I know, few people have even heard of them. While roses and peonies are in such abundance, the habitat of snakehead fritillaries is already very limited and is getting smaller. They like their feet kind of wet so a marshy field is ideal. There are only a few areas where they are found in any large quantities. Magdalen field in Oxford is one and the other is Cricklade's North meadow. So I'm on my way to Cricklade. Upon arrival at Swindon, I went to the bus station and boarded a bus for Cricklade. No one knew what I was looking for but the tourism office in Cricklade knew and pointed the way to North meadow. Cricklade is so small, there is only one street and if you walked it to the end, you can't miss North meadow. The display of snakehead fritillaries was spectacular, a wide and expansive field colored purple with snakehead fritillaries. This is the motherlode! Every year in the month of April, they appear and is so magnificent. Few people venture this far to see them but those who do is rewarded tremendously. Mind you I live in Los Angeles and made the effort to track them down. It was a wonderful experience bar none!
I traveled for 3 months in Scandinavia in the summer of 2015. Something had just happened in my life that left me devastated. I was fired from a job I had for some 30 years. My license was placed on probation. Its easier to talk about it now but not at that time. I could not speak about it without breaking down. I've never revealed this publicly though family and close friends all know about it. Not that it has any bearing on my travels. Correction, it does, I had time on my hands and I could just go and stop only when I felt like it. I did, going all over Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and also to England. I wasn't sure how my finances could hold up but after 2 years of the incident (I never went back to work, I didn't need to) and after seeing that my finances was fine and I could weather being unemployed for the rest of my life, did I relax and enjoy my freedom. The 3 months was very liberating, very cathartic, I regained my self respect and could face any challenge thrown at me. Today I just sit, read, write and plan future escapes. Be watching for future escapes.
I spent 3 months in the summer of 2015 in Scandinavia. One of my most favorite places is Christiania in Copenhagen, a little hippie community that is so lovely in summer. I went here twice because it was that lovely. I'd go again if I'm in Copenhagen again!
What is a Machair? These grasslands in the Hebrides are referred to as the Machair. This was the Machair in Calgary on the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides last year. I decided that the next year I will visit the Outer Hebdrides where the Machair is even more spectacular. So the next year has arrived and I leave in a few weeks for the Outer Hebrides.
'The pleasure of ruins' is a book by Rose Macauley. She had a blurb about Ninfa in it. If ruins could talk, and the stories they can tell will be amazing. However the garden of Ninfa has seen its own glory days in the Middle ages and then its own ruin. While it was untouched during WWI, it was close to the action during WWII. Correction, during WWI it was a place they kept captured Austrians prisoners of war. It was very close to the action during WWII when the Allies tried to capture Monte Cassino and destroyed it. An appeal was sent to the Pope to ask the Allies to spare bombing certain historical sites. The Caetani family were in Ninfa and the nearby castle at Norma, high in the hills. One of the Caetani women hung a bed sheet on the castle roof saying 'Americans live here'. Marguerite Caetani was American!
As one visitor long ago wrote of the garden of Ninfa and describes it as 'a medieval Pompeii.' One of the people in my group asked if the stones were there for effect. How ignorant! Ninfa was once a prosperous medieval city with 7 churches, city walls, castles and stone buildings. It was destroyed by neighboring village people because of jealousy and fell into disrepair for hundreds of years. The Caetani family has always owned it and in the last few decades has drained the Pontine marshes, got rid of the malarial mosquitoes and rehabilitated Ninfa. Today the Fondazione Roffredo Caetani runs the place. There's no other garden like it in the world.
Ninfa is only opened eleven months in the year and only a few days each month. So if your visit to Rome doesn't coincide with one of its opening days, you won't get to visit it. I planned my trip for a whole year making sure my trip to Rome coincided with one of Ninfa's opening days. There were only a handful of us from outside Italy, the rest were Italians. It is the most beautiful and most romantic garden in the world.
Though Ninfa is in Italy it is by no means an Italianate garden. It is planned to look unplanned. Roses and clematis climb up and tumble down from the ruins in a most delightful manner. The family, though of aristocratic Italian roots has English and American in their heritage. The English side brought with them the gardening style and the choice of plants especially the roses and it is so evident in the garden today! I'm writing an ebook on Ninfa right now. I can't put the subject down. This rose is like a Banksia rose though the guide said it wasn't a Banksia. Its her favorite rose!
A new book came for me today from Amazon.com, rather a used book but its new to my now burgeoning collection of books about the garden of Ninfa. I myself is planning on writing an ebook about it and that's why the books written about Ninfa previously are being left on my door step by Amazon.com. This one that just came today has such magnificent photographs. They are breathtaking. I photographed some of them and here is one.
Fountains and nymphs, this was the background of Ninfa, a magical and extraordinary place. One writer said, 'a medieval Pompeii' and another 'the most romantic garden in the world' are all apt descriptions of this place. I've been so privileged and blessed to have visited.
I can't look at the pictures and not still be thrilled to bits. How can a place evoke such emotions. There are a few of such places in the world, magical and extraordinary. I'm working on an ebook about it. The family it belonged to also has a fascinating history.
While this is not Ninfa but a house , abandoned outside the gates of Ninfa. It was a thrilling moment when I arrived that early morning. I waited outside with baited breath. I have waited a whole year to visit and now I was at the cuspid of my visit. It finally opened and visitors started to trickle in, mostly locals but then a few foreigners including some Chinese students. I told the Chinese students that the English tour will start later but they told me they were students at an Italian University and was fluent in Italian. Oh well! Pardon my ignorance.
I went especially to see the snakehead fritillaries and I saw lots of them. While Magdalen field in Oxford is supposed to be the best place but I arrived 2 weeks late. They were mostly spent. North meadow in Cricklade still has them in full bloom and here was where I was the happiest. There were acres and acres of them, purple ones mostly and some albino ones among them.
Today is the last day of my month long trip abroad. I head home stateside tomorrow and I'm ready. I've collected lots of stories and inspiration and am ready to work on them. I took the train to Whitstable today. It wasn't beach weather, it rained the whole time. For years I had wanted to go to Whitstable and I finally made it there. I had some oysters, a lunch of lobster with a glass of hard cider. Life is good, very good.
Finally on my last day I got to eat this. I tried them from other stores but these are better from the original store. The first time I was here a week ago it was so crowded that I couldn't get near the counter. I bought 2 for 2.20 euros, went next door to Starbucks for an espresso and ate my tarts. Mmmmm they were good. Goodbye Portugal, this is my last day, leave tomorrow for London.
A little known church with the most gold. The carvings are wood but painted with real gold and is in such disrepair. It is so sad to see it the way it is. An unpaid caretaker keeps it opened to visitors and works tirelessly and passionately to keep it opened. If not for the walking tour I took this morning I would never have known about it either let alone be able to see it. This was the best part of today, my last day in Porto and I thought I ran out of things to see and do. I leave tomorrow for Lisbon for 2 days before I leave Portugal altogether. You can google this church and see photos of its past glory!
I haven't been updating this blog. I left Madrid days ago, went to Lisbon, then to Coimbra and this morning I arrived in Porto and will be here for 4 days before returning to Lisbon. I arrived to pouring rain and my suitcase wash;t waterproof. So I have all my clothes laid out. Its a good thing there is no one else but me in this 4 person dorm room. This was my lunch today, fried sardines and tomato rice with a bottle of water costs me 7 euros. It was really good too. My FB page is anne chung 56, google it, its opened to everyone. You can even comment except ask to friend me. I'm very selective about the people I friend with!