The view from above

I was having a little look at some of my travel photos recently, ones that I haven’t posted online before and I realized that I am strangely fascinated with what I can see out of the plane window. This is slightly weird because, truth be told, flying actually freaks me out a bit, but I’ve found that focusing on the view of sites and landscapes on the ground, distracts my mind, stopping me thinking about crashing down to my death in a ball of red-hot flames.

Anyway, here are a few views from the cheap (economy) seats.

Syria/Lebanon

Flying over Lebanon, out of Damascus airport, I loved the ripples and curves made by the ranges of hills and mountains in the Bekaa Valley.

Algeria

In Algeria, flying is pretty well a necessity. The country is enormous and the country’s history has left it with a legacy of, frankly, unsafe areas. There are still a few places where kidnapping is a very real possibility, making driving dangerous.

The distance from the Ghardaia region back up to Algiers is over 600km so travelling by road is a bit of a schlep. The flight is an hour and the views are spectacular. The landscape starts as golden desert, peppered with towns north of Ghardaia.

As you get further north, the landscape turns to lush green with lakes and reservoirs.

Flight from Ghardaia to Algiers, Barrage Bouroumi, Mahaizia

Libya

Flying into Tripoli, on the coastal plain were miles of neatly planted olive groves.

The olive trees look very sparsely planted but this is the only way get a good yield of fruit, as the tree roots need space around then.

Iceland

Flying out of Keflavik Airport, Iceland, I flew directly over one of the places where I’d spent much of my time on my first visit.

This is Ásbrú, a former NATO base where the festival ‘ATP Iceland’ was held in 2015. It’s all brightly coloured, crinkly-tin shed, like many of the buildings in Iceland. Simple, functional and not especially decorative.I enjoyed the festival, and I enjoyed Iceland too.

And here’s, not the Blue Lagoon spa, but a similar hot water pool.

The heated water is the outflow from the Reykjanes Power Plant nearby.

France

Flying down to Marseille, I spotted a very exciting looking quarry.

Google maps calls this the Perasso Frederic Paul quarry but I think it’s actually called the Perasso quarry of Saint-Tronc. The Perasso company quarries gravel, concrete and sand from here. http://www.perasso.fr/societe-perasso-marseille/

Germany

Flying into Frankfurt means flying over the extensive forests that surround it. I was struck by the appearance of the motorways immediately adjacent to the airport.

This is where the Bundesautobahn 5 meets Bundesstraße 43 and the Bundesautobahn 3. Not quite Spaghetti Junction, but a striking intersection nonetheless.

London

Living, as I do, in Olde London Towne, I generally fly in and out of London airports, mainly Stansted (because it’s the right side of town for me), Heathrow (because it’s on the tube) and City, (because it’s actually IN London, as opposed to being somewhere in a field in a neighbouring county).

This means that sometimes I get to fly up the Thames. This is absolutely my favourite, even though the approach to City is slightly terrifying. The first time that I was actually aware of this, and actually thought about it properly, was when I was flying back from Damascus. I happened to glance out of the window and thought, “that’s Southend Pier!”. And it was.

Since then, every chance I get, I try to spot cool ‘something-on-Thames’ things.

Here is one of the wind farms in the Thames Estuary

and nearby, the Maunsell Forts at Shivering Sands.

This is not the greatest photo because we were in a raging storm at the time, but this is a cluster of six, originally seven, ‘army’ style WW2 anti-aircraft gun emplacements, situated in the Thames Estuary. The seven individual platforms were originally connected by walkways and were arranged as a cluster of six, housing guns and the seventh housing the searchlight.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to get a bit closer to the forts as The Waverley does a couple of trips each autumn.

Further into town, we fly over some very familiar sights. The Thames Barrier

City Airport

Canary Wharf, the Isle of Dogs, Greenwich and the O2

The London Eye…

…and before I know it, I’m home. 😀

Boats and boats and boats

When I visited Nimes a year and a half ago, I’d started looking round at other places in Southern France that might be worth a look. There are loads, representing a whole range of Roman sites; industrial, commercial, ritual, residential. So much to see, but I have to start somewhere so, taking advantage of my new-found (but, alas, only temporary) freedom, I decided to pay a visit to Marseille.

Marseille, ancient Massilia, or Massalia, was founded by settlers from the Ionian Greek colony of Phocea (in modern western Turkey) in about 600BCE. The city had a significant Greek and Phoenician history before the Romans showed up, and there is plenty of archaeological evidence for his very long ancient history.

A key feature of Marseille, today as in the past, is its harbour.

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The line of the harbour, Vieiux Port, today has been regularised with built concrete harbour walls and quays, but the coast round here is very uneven, with lots of small inlets, islands and promontories.

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The ancient coastline wiggled about even more, and would have been a mass of tiny inlets, beach areas, estuaries and islands but as the city was being established the valuable anchorage in this area was being exploited and improved.

The walls of one of the docks are several hundred metres inland of the present one, in the grounds of the city’s history museum, Musee d’Histoire de Marseille. Here there are in-situ remains of part of the Flavian waterfront, docks, streets, a fresh-water storage facility and a range of buildings.

The large grassed area on the right of the wall would have been ‘ Horn’ harbour basin, with barges mooring up here, and loading and unloading.

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This part of the dock wall has been made from reused earlier Roman material.

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This harbour was subject to continual silting and was abandoned in the early third-century. The nearby fresh-water basin was constructed with the aim of reducing the silting (from streams running into the harbour), with the fresh-water used for supplying the ships.

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As an important port, handling trade and transport from other areas along the southern European coast, and also from across the Mediterranean, North Africa. Still today, Marseille is a key port for ferries and cruise ships sailing from Algeria and Tunisia.

What is great to see in the city’s museums is evidence of the boats and barges that came to grief on this coast. There are over 50 known shipwrecks in the bay around Marseille, and each one adds evidence to the story of the city.  I’m just going to go large straight away.

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In the city museum there are the remains of several large transport barges found during excavations in the city.

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6th century BCE wooden boat.

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It’s possible to see the construction methods…..

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I was particularly keen to visit the Roman Docks Museum (free entry, people!), which has actually been built around an in-situ warehouse that stood alongside the quay for much of the Roman period.

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Along the Roman waterfront, goods barges would moor up and unload cargoes of goods, including commodities like wheat, salted fish garum and olive oil, and a key feature of the waterfront is the unloading and storage area.

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The gigantic storage pots, dolia, which were buried in the warehouse floor, are still where the Romans left them. Several are intact (or reconstructed), so we can really see the massive size of these pots.

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This one even has part of the lid.

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This is only a small museum space, but there are loads of artifacts associated with the trade handled by the ancient city, many of them from shipwrecks. I love this intact pot, which has a filter element at the top.

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And if you’re interested in amphorae, this is a great place to see a whole range of the amphorae found in this area.

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There are even some of the amphora lids, detailing the contents and traders.

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As I understand it, Marseille has had quite a few ups and downs and hasn’t always had the best reputation as a city. Now it really seems like it’s on an up and I was not at all disappointed with my stay there. For a Romanist, especially one interested in maritime Rome, this is an excellent place to visit. I only wish I’d been able to stay longer.