Searching For Street Art in Georgetown, Penang

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With a rich colonial past and Unesco World Heritage Site status, you’d expect Georgetown to be a cultural gem rather than covered in graffiti. But, in fact, it is the street art that is one of the highlights of the Penang capital. … Continue reading

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Drinking A Cup Of Tea In The Cameron Highlands

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Those who work with me know how much I like a good cup of tea. What I didn’t appreciate, however, is how much time and effort it takes to produce a good brew. This is the Sungei Palas tea plantation, … Continue reading

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A Watercolour Sunset Over Royd Moor, South Yorkshire

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I snapped this on my iPhone on the way to my other half’s parents in Penistone, South Yorkshire. I like it because the sky looks like a watercolour painting, with thick brushstrokes of amber, blue and grey. But look closer and … Continue reading

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Heather On The North York Moors

There’s something about the North York Moors that is magical. Barren, windswept and without a tree in sight, moorland is seemingly habitable for only the hardiest of creatures – predominantly sheep and grouse.

North York Moors

Yet for just a short period each summer, this inhospitable environment springs into life with a carpet of vibrant purple.

Heather is a resilient plant and three types of it grow on the Moors – ling, cross-leaved heath and bell heather.

Gamekeepers keep it under control through burning, leaving some younger plants for grouse and sheep to eat, and some older plants for grouse to nest in.

The result is that of a patchwork quilt, with bright splashes of purple interspersed with patches of bright green grass and darker, more mature plants.

For more information visit North York Moors National Park.

Copyright Natalie Marchant/Tales From Taliena

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A Symbolic Sunset Over Havana

Last week, the US embassy in Havana opened for the first time in 54 years. It symbolised a major thawing in the distinctly frosty relations between the US and Cuba, themselves a stubborn hangover of Cold War politics.

sunset over vedado in havana, cuba

That’s the embassy in the distance, the small and comparatively squat building to the right. Until a few days ago that had officially been called the US Interests Section since diplomatic relations were called off in 1961. In front of it stands the deliberately provocative Plaza Anti-Imperialista, an open-air amphitheatre built especially to obscure the site.

This relationship, or lack thereof, came to define Cuba over the last few decades and we had long been keen to see it before things changed.

Turns out that within two months of our visit in September last year, the US and Cuba announced they were restoring ties.

Restoring US-Cuban relations

Also of note in this picture is the curiously-shaped apartment building to the left, Edificio FOCSA. When it was built in 1956 it epitomised modern living and was reportedly the second tallest concrete building in the world – with a shopping centre, swimming pool and even a cinema in its base. But after the Cuban Revolution of 1953-59 it was used to house Soviet personnel and over the years began crumbling into disrepair. It was finally renovated in the 2000s.

To the far right is the empty plinth that is the Memorial a las victimas del Maine. The monument was erected in the memory of the 260 crew members who died when the US battleship The Maine was blown up in Havana in 1898. It used to feature a large, heavy iron eagle but that was pulled down after the revolution. The government later added an inscription to those “sacrificed by imperialist voraciousness”.

So it turns out that this snap of a sunset over Havana is a bit more symbolic than I could have ever realised at the time. For although the buildings remain, their significance has already changed – and indeed, will change again as Cuba moves into a new era.

Copyright Natalie Marchant/Tales From Taliena

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Poems, Prayers And The Promise Of A Good Night’s Sleep In Hawnby, North Yorkshire

With such a big wide world out there, it’s easy to forget the beauty on your doorstep. But with the North York Moors just an hour or so drive away from my front door, it certainly would be foolish to me to do so.

The village of Hawnby in the North York Moors

A few months back my other half and I were lucky enough to have a night in Hawnby, a quaint little village in Ryedale, North Yorkshire. It’s a curious place, seemingly split in two with an Anglican church a short walk away again from the lower end of the village.

Hawnby Dreamers

The story goes that in the 18th century two men – Cornforth and Chapman – were working in the fields near Hawnby when they both took a nap. They awoke to find they’d dreamt the same dream – that God was calling them.

They told their tale to a friend, John Hugill, who felt the same. So the trio travelled to Newcastle to hear the famous preacher John Wesley, were inspired by his words and returned home as Methodists.

This caused great scandal in the area and the local landowner, Lord Tancred, expelled them from their homes on the hill. They ended up settled down by the bridge and so the village was split – with the original settlement up the hill and the Methodist community at the bottom.

Inn at Hawnby

We stayed at the wonderful Inn at Hawnby, a pub and B&B in the upper part of the village which offers fantastic food and a range of real ales. We wanted a break in the middle of nowhere, where mobile phones are rendered redundant, with gorgeous scenery and little to do aside from relax, walk and gorge ourselves on wonderful food. The Inn provided just that.

The Inn At Hawnby

We arrived one Spring afternoon and we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful evening. Having settled in to our room, that’s the one on the top right, we went on a wander down the hill, through the lower end of the village, past the church and back up the other side.

Aside from the shopkeeper of the Hawnby Stores and Tea Room, we saw no-one on our stroll bar a field of sheep and some rather excitable farmyard dogs. But upon our return to the Inn we were somewhat surprised to find the dining room nearly full.

Great food with local ingredients

The Inn has a reputation for good food and it seems its reputation is entirely justified. For mains we both settled for leg of lamb steak, with Mediterranean vegetable ptitim (it’s a bit like couscous), walnut and watercress pesto and black tapenade, followed by a selection of English cheeses and a tankard of port.

But of particular note was my starter, whipped goat’s cheese with wild garlic baked carrot, alongside pine nut and carrot top risotto. The Inn uses locally-sourced ingredients where possible and it astonished me that the humble carrot could be elevated to something quite so tasty.

All Saints Church

After a decent night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast we went back to All Saints Church, which is situated a surprising distance from the village. This pretty little church is thought to date back to the 12th century, surviving a 14th-century ransacking and a devastating flood in 2005.

All Saints church in Hawnby

But idyllic as this countryside church appears, it hides a sad past. The most striking features of the interior are the stained glass windows, which commemorate the “fighting parson of Hawnby” Revd William Hughes, his wife Mary and his sons who died fighting in the First World War.

Rev Hughes inspired the moniker by encouraging 61 men in Hawnby to enlist to fight. By the end of the Great War, 17 of those recruits had died – including three of his four sons.

A dedication at the bottom of the window depicting St Stephen and St George, below left, reads: “In loving remembrance of Harold George Augustus and William Hughes killed in action in 1917. Sons of William Hughes rector of this parish, and Mary his wife. RIP .  Valiant dead take comfort where we lie. So sweet to live, magnificent to die.”

All Saints Church in HawnbyAll Saints Church in HawnbyAll Saints Church in Hawnby

Another window, above right, features a passage from the Bible and the parable of the sower: “Some seeds fell by the wayside, and the fowls came and devoured them up. Some fell upon stony places. Some fell among thorns; but other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit.” It is dedicated to Rev Hughes and his wife, erected by “their sons and daughters”.

But perhaps the most poignant of the windows is at the back of the church, above centre, which features a soldier looking up at Christ. Two medical staff are seen carrying away another victim in the distance. It is a scene familiar to history books but rarely those of a church. A Remembrance wreath of poppies beneath it commemorates those who fell.

A Poetry Church

Also at the back of the church is a poet’s corner – with books, folders and pens encouraging visitors to write their own.

Poetry books in All Saints Church in Hawnby

Flipping through the pages of poems is a great reminder than even the smallest of places can have a thousand stories. You just need to find them.

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On Safari In Sabi Sands, South Africa

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This week we’re on safari in South Africa. Back in 2009, four of us travelled to Sabi Sands Game Reserve. It is a private reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park and is particularly known for its leopards. There we saw … Continue reading

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The Lovely City Of Ljubljana

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Good things come in small packages, and nowhere is this more true than the delightful city of Ljubljana. With a population of under 300,000 and one of the prettiest riversides in Europe, the Slovene capital is perfect for wandering. It has a … Continue reading

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The Weird and Wonderful Backstreet Cultural Museum In New Orleans

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This week we’re paying tribute to the weird and wonderful Backstreet Cultural Museum in New Orleans. Set in a former funeral parlour in Treme, this eclectic collection was curated by Sylvester Francis to document local African American traditions and includes … Continue reading

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Sunset Over The Alte Donau

“If the world comes to an end, I’m moving to Vienna where everything happens 50 years later,” the saying goes. Well I can testify that this particular scene – looking up the Alte Danube towards Leopoldsberg – has hardly changed … Continue reading

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