Thursday, 22 April 2010

Lea Roaming

Things always look better when it's sunny and warm... so we took the opportunity to walk along the River Lea towards the Olympic Park to see (again) our rapidly changing landscape. Starting at Millfields we passed the barges that seem to be multiplying along the towpath, our own somewhat disheveled Little Venice. Trees decked in blossom, verdant river banks and swans sailing serene on the water reflecting flawless blue sky fused with the jagged edges of the demolished Lesney's factory as the industrial terrain and compact housing blocks lined the way to the huge development that is the Olympic Park.
It changes weekly, burgeoning in it's advances upon 2012 - the enormity of this development clearly emerging behind the tall fencing and surveillance cameras.
Stopping briefly at the Big Breakfast house by the Old Ford lock we carried on along the Greenway (a public footpath along the southern boundary of the site) where we enjoyed a panoramic view across the park ... the main stadium in the foreground, the aquatic centre, the velopark and in the distance the Olympic Village and Westfield Shopping Centre.

Groups of tourists were being herded around the area near the View Tube ( a visitors centre/building made from recycled shipping containers) by tour guides. We browsed the art project mounted along a corrugated walkway. A series of wooden crates each created as a personal window on local life.

Having marveled at the progress of our 2012 site we ambled back over the river to nearby Fish Island, a hive of  industrial activity with creative aspirations at Hackney Wick - so called because all it's streets are named after types of fish.

We stopped for brunch in Roach Road at the incredibly cool Counter cafe on the Hertford Union Canal, where some artsy folk were enjoying lunch al freso amidst manoeuvring juggernauts and general commercial bustle on the pavement outside. One was wearing a tricorn accessorised with a blue plastic clothes peg and another sported a fabulous handlebar moustache. We joined them outside to sample eggs benedict (and great coffee!) and flicked through the Stool Pigeon music paper before meandering back along the riverbank to Clapton, much inspired by our fascinating Hackney habitat.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Taygetos Mountains

The views from the Taygetos mountain range which stretches 100km down the Peloponnese region in Southern Greece are truly breathtaking. The tallest peak, Profitis Ilias reaches almost 8,000 feet and rises above pine clad slopes (some of which were hit by the devastating fires of 2007).
The Vassiliki Forest covers a vast area of the Southern segment of the Taygetos (and forms part of the E4 International walking trail). We set off in a jeep climbing from the village of Saidona up a stoney dirt track. Although some attempt this route in non 4x4s, I wouldn't advise it - especially in a hire car! The views all the way up are fantastic, although you do need a head for heights.
From the fire watch post at the top we could see right down the Mani peninsula to Cape Matapan and stood a while marveling at the contours and the majesty of the mountains set against the blue mediterranean horizon.

Entering the forest the tall pines were decorated with the cocoon-like silk spun nests of the Pine Processionary Caterpillar. Along the forest floor long lines of these caterpillars made their way along trails marked with a pheromone secreted from their body. They rely on these trails to find their way between their nest and feeding sites. We watched these hairy creatures with interest as they emerged from underground cocoons and instinctively joined their processions, taking care not to touch them. Their hairs can cause nasty rashes.
Dotted around the vast forest there are little communities of tin huts and log cabins, and a few farms in the sheltered grassy valleys. Following the track that loops around the forest the summit of Profitis Ilias was always dominant. The only sounds was the song of birds and an occasional tumbling brook. Clusters of spring flowers, primroses and violets punctuated the forest floor. Once over to the Laconian side of the mountains we took the route down toward Githeo.
The Vasiliki Forest is well worth a visit if you're in Laconia or Messinia, Peloponnese, Greece.