Crossing Europe by Train to get to Africa!

My planned six-month backpacking trip through Africa, back in 1981, had one small disadvantage: At 107 pounds (48.5kg) the backpack itself was a challenge! (An insight into what it contained may be seen in my previous post — see the foot of this page.)

I was young and fit, so carrying it wasn’t really the problem — although I certainly wasn’t planning on running any marathons with it — the actual challenge was with baggage limitations on aeroplanes. The cost, plus a necessary extra bag to split the load, was out of the question.

It was clear from the outset that my plans had to allow for getting to and from Africa without flying, and given that my initial destination had to be Cairo, this would be no easy feat.

The answer proved to be crossing the English Channel to Ostend by ferry, catching the Tauern Express train from there to Munich, take a brief break to see the city, catch the Hellas Express train from Munich to Athens, and again take a brief break to see the city.

From there, I would catch a ferry from Piraeus to Alexandria and then find some way to get from Alex’ to Cairo.

The Olympic Village, Munich, on 15 January, 1981, where I was a guest of my German IPA host.

I could effectively have gone right through without any breaks in Munich and Athens but as I had never been to either of these cities before, that would have seemed like heresy. Just as importantly, however, it also gave me the opportunity to meet some fellow police officers, through an organisation called the International Police Association [IPA] which exists to further fellowship and goodwill amongst officers around the world.

Those police officers, in turn, proved to be very willing guides for showing me around their respective cities…. tremendous fun.

My journey across Central Europe met plenty of snow, with more to come from these clouds over Munich.

As for the trains, the one from Belgium to Germany was modern, quiet, smooth, fast, well-equipped, pleasant and easy.

The one from there to Greece, however, was owned by the then Yugoslav Railways and it was the absolute opposite. The expression ‘hell on wheels’ took on a whole new meaning for that part of the trip.

Through southern Yugoslavia, as the train approached the Greek border, the snow started to disappear.

I will only list the worst failings otherwise this post would be pages long! The worst involved filthiness, ancient damaged seats, no food or water available for the entire trip (which stretched to over 30 hours due to snow drifts repeatedly stopping us), and no heating. The toilets were literally just holes in the floor, with the track passing by below, and to quote an old song “the wind whistled merrily around me!

We were at that place it says on the sign! {:-)

After leaving Munich and later passing through Austria, the train entered what in those days was still Yugoslavia but the same trip now would take one through Slovenia, Croatia, the northeast corner of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, and North Macedonia, before reaching Greece — every new nation that was part of the former Yugoslavia, except for Montenegro.

After what felt like half a lifetime of unpleasantness and serious discomfort, the train entered Greece, and around the same time, the sun came out and the snow swiftly fizzled out. Indeed, the rocky gorges and beautiful mountains the train passed through put paid to my muttering and grumbling… I was a happy little chap once more.

Two days later, after an utterly wonderful time with my host from the Greek police and their branch of the IPA, I got onto a large ferry in Piraeus — a dramatic story in its own right — and sailed away from Greece.

With my excellent Greek police [IPA] host Anthanassios Georgilopoulas

At long last…. after waiting what felt like my entire lifetime…. I was truly on my way to Africa.

Backpacking Across Africa 40 Years Ago

From the age of perhaps six or seven, I was besotted with wildlife television programmes — all in black & white back then in the early 1960s — by the likes of Armand and Michaela Denis, ‘Look,’ by Sir Peter Scott, and ‘Animal Magic,’ by Johnny Morris. 

Before the trip, my mother told me not to come back with a beard but when she saw it was bright ginger, she was convinced this was our Scottish and Viking ancestries shining through and jokingly forbade me to cut it off! My father was much more pragmatic, He simply wanted to know which one was the chimpanzee. {:-) As for the baby chimp, its parents had almost certainly been killed for ‘bush meat’ and its owner claimed he had ‘rescued’ it, but it wasn’t being adequately cared for — a very common, sad fate. (More on this story in a later post.)
Continue reading

Acadia Birding Festival 2015 – Day 1

The Acadia Birding Festival is Maine’s premiere bird watching festival and was established in 1998.

Group at Indian Point Blagden Preserve

Group at Indian Point Blagden Preserve

This year, the Festival is from 28-31 May, plus two post-festival trips on 1-2 June, and over these days it visits 27 different birding locations.

Continue reading

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Our first visit to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens at Boothbay was most certainly worth the effort.  The location is about an hour north of Portland, ME, and three hours north of Boston, MA.

This isn’t an article/text blog so hopefully I’m just going to let my    photographs speak for themselves:

The 'Bleu Aimable' tulip

The ‘Bleu Aimable’ tulip

 

The 'Angelique' tulip

The ‘Angelique’ tulip

'Rote Glocke' Pasque Flower

‘Rote Glocke’ Pasque Flower

'Rote Glocke' Pasque Flower

‘Rote Glocke’ Pasque Flower

'Pink Chintz' Wild Thyme

‘Pink Chintz’ Wild Thyme

'Pink Chintz' Wild Thyme among 'Angelina' Stonecrop

‘Pink Chintz’ Wild Thyme among ‘Angelina’ Stonecrop

And last but not least some wonderful ferns

And last but not least some wonderful ferns

 

 

Garden in the Woods – NEWFS

Garden in the Woods, at Framingham, Massachusetts, is a remarkable piece of woodland that has been developed and nurtured over many decades with the primary aim of encouraging the use of NE USA native plant and flower species in people’s gardens, and the protection of endangered species.

One of the ponds at Garden In The Woods, Framingham, MA.

One of the ponds at Garden In The Woods (cellphone photo)

It  is  the headquarters of the  New England Wild Flower Society [NEWFS]   and   –   especially in May – is a delight to visit and see so many flower species in bloom.

A Trillium (I believe 'grandiflora', but I need to check that.)

A Trillium (I believe ‘grandiflora’, but I need to check that.)

My own first visit to G.I.T.W. was a couple of years ago and I will always remember it for two reasons.  The first of these was that I had never encountered such a delightful setting for so many species of wild flowers.  The second, however, was for one of the worst-possible reasons, and that came in the form of a telephone call from my wife, telling me that evil, homicidal morons had just set off a bomb at the Boston Marathon, only a few miles to the east.  Enough said.

Not exactly a native species, but azaleas are an obvious, spring high-point in virtually any garden.

Not exactly a native species, but azaleas are an obvious, spring high-point in virtually any garden.

Since then, I have been back three further times, including my most recent visit, to which this post refers.

I have to confess, though, that I have yet to time a May visit to perfection – in other words to be there when the spring ephemeral flowers are at the height   of   their   glory.  This time I was just a few days too late.

A small but very eye-catching mint or deadnettle species that I need to check more thoroughly.

A small but very eye-catching mint or deadnettle species that I need to check more thoroughly.

 

Star Flowers

Star Flowers

Bad timing aside, this visit did bring me into contact with some extremely pleasant people, the first of whom – Dave T. – is a volunteer at Garden in the Woods.  Dave, I enjoyed our conversation greatly and a large part of that enjoyment came from your knowledge and great enthusiasm for this remarkable place.

As a Twitter acquaintance wrote, that's me "getting down and dirty!"  Yes... Can't deny it. But I like to think it was in a good cause! {:-)

As a Twitter acquaintance wrote, that’s me “getting down and dirty!” Yes… Can’t deny it. But I like to think it was in a good cause! {:-)

And then there was an immensely pleasant couple who were sufficiently amused to find me laying flat on my face across a path, in order to take a photo of starflowers, that the gentleman in question photographed me doing so, and one of his shots is shown above!  (Please know that my daughter in England saw your photo on Twitter and made me laugh when she commented:  “My Dad is so normal. I know who to blame now!”  {:-)

The pendulous flower of a Purple Pitcher Plant

The pendulous flower of a Purple Pitcher Plant

Oh, and for those of you with children or grand children to entertain, I was really pleased to see that a very imaginative and very natural play area has been installed that is clearly on a woodland theme and will undoubtedly be a great and rather crucial way to introduce youngsters to the natural world that is nowadays increasingly ignored in favour of computer games and other, related distractions.

I intend to add more to this post in a few days’ time, after my wife and I get home from a few days vacation in New England (some of which will be the subject of additional wildlife photography posts in this blog).

I can't close without showing you a lovely little 'Skipper' species of butterfly on Eastern Bluestar

I can’t close without showing you a lovely little ‘Skipper’ species of butterfly on Eastern Bluestar

Until then, I hope that at least you can enjoy the photos I have posted here.

Stay well!

Eddie

Other Photos from Five Rivers

Common Yellowthroat yelling "Witchety, witchety" at me.

Common Yellowthroat yelling “Witchety, witchety” at me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia) in breeding plumage

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia) in breeding plumage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spotted Sandpiper in flight, showing wing and tail markings

Spotted Sandpiper in flight, showing wing and tail markings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No, I still can't resist getting shots of Tree Swallows!

No, I still can’t resist getting shots of Tree Swallows!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern Painted Turtle in the water

Eastern Painted Turtle in the water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern Chipmunk

Eastern Chipmunk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well-camouflaged grasshopper on wood mulch

Well-camouflaged grasshopper on wood mulch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A geometrid moth larva, looping.

A geometrid moth larva, looping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Azure butterfly on the invasive plant, Garlic Mustard

Spring Azure butterfly on the invasive plant, Garlic Mustard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Azure butterfly from above while feeding

Spring Azure butterfly from above while feeding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Geranium

Wild Geranium

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I believe this is Corn Speedwell (Veronica arvensis)

I believe this is Corn Speedwell (Veronica arvensis)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See also: ‘Here Be Dragons and Damsels‘ (same location & same day)